This piece of Tisha B’Av #TorahForTheResistance is part of a campaign by young rabbinical and religious students about Jewish resistance to Trump through the lens of faith, Judaism, and spirituality. Read the full series here.
Prepared by the whole #TorahForTheResistance team:
Jews are suffering. Jews have suffered. Jews will suffer. This is not the full story.
[/pullquote]Jews are suffering. Jews have suffered. Jews will suffer. This is not the full story. Nor is it the only story. But on Tisha b’Av, this is our primary story. Unlike Pesach or Yom HaShoah, in which we acknowledge that the Israelites and the Jews were not the only people to suffer at the hands of cruel political leaders, Tisha b’Av calls our attention exclusively to Jewish suffering. In a political moment in which accusations and acts of anti-Jewish oppression are flooding the left and the right, it can be dizzying and painful to focus on anti-Jewish oppression for one day. But Tisha b’Av is not meant to be comfortable. Tisha b’Av is an invitation into the most painful parts of Jewish history and the most painful parts of our Jewish lives.
Tisha b’Av marks the date of the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. Historically, it also overlaps with numerous moments of persecution over the centuries, like the Edict of Expulsion from England in 1290 as well the last day that Jews were legally permitted in Spain in 1492. Tisha b’Av requires us to consider these moments experienced by our ancestors and to be present with their legacy.
To show up for movements for change today with integrity, we need to be honest about what is at stake for us as Jews. While most of the public discussion around anti-Jewish oppression focuses on Israel, we also need to be able to articulate what it looks like here in the U.S., beyond the Israel conversation. While the Right errs on the side of overstating its presence, the Left errs on the side of understating it. Neither of these approaches serves us. We need a clearer vision that we can integrate into work for justice. What we need is for Jews to be thinking critically and reflectively about what our suffering looks like and what it means today. This does not mean that we are entitled to the most resources or protections. This does not mean that we will only look at our own suffering. What it does mean is that we need to increase our capacity for honesty, courage, and vulnerability. What are the stories that we need to tell to make contemporary Jewish suffering fully legible to ourselves and others? How do we acknowledge the persecution of our collective past and its legacy without conflating it with our contemporary experiences as a radically diverse, Jewish people?
How is our present like the past? How is it different? What is happening now?
[/pullquote]In the Jewish calendar, there are three minor fast days that lead up to Tisha b’Av. The first, just after Rosh Hashanah, is Tzom Gedalya which marks the assassination of the governor of Judah and the end of Jewish political autonomy in ancient Israel. The second minor fast is the 10th of Tevet, just after Chanukkah, which marks the beginning of the Babylonian siege against Jerusalem led by Nebuchadnezzar II. The third minor fast in this cycle is the fast of Tammuz which was three weeks ago and marked breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. While these historical moments from two thousand years ago may not hold the same painful resonance for most Jews today, they are a reminder that tragedies do not come out of nowhere. They build. They take time. While oppression has flashpoints of heightened visibility, it is also a process that this annual cycle of fast days calls to our attention. While Tisha b’Av is the primary invitation to consider anti-Jewish oppression in our days, it is not the only one. This cycle of fast days gives us moments throughout the year in which we can pause, step back, and examine how anti-Jewish oppression is functioning. How is our present like the past? How is it different? What is happening now?
I do not draw on this history of tragedies to conflate the past with the present. God forbid there is a tragedy for the Jewish people today that would be as horrific as those marked on any of the fast days. I draw on these painful moments in Jewish history because we need to be honest about what Jewish suffering is today, and what it is not. In addition to the the stories of the past, we need to tell the anti-Jewish stories of the present, like a recent community petition to take down an eruv in New Jersey that included statements about Jews like, “They are known for taking a lovely community and turning it into a run down, dirty, unwanted place to live,” and “They do not clean up when they leave our parks even their children do not play nicely pushing our kids down on the playground.” We need to tell the increasing number of stories of hate crimes against Jews and the various ways our government and institutions perpetuate Christian hegemony.
“Maybe, there is hope.”
[/pullquote]This work is not easy. I find inspiration for walking down this path in our morning liturgy. In it, we describe the chorus of angels that praise the Holy One in song. We recite, “kulam ahuvim, kulam b’rurim, kulam gibburim/all of them are loved, all of them are clear, all of them are courageous.” First, we must remember that we are all ahuvim–loved. Whether we find this love from God, from the dear ones in our life, from our ancestors, or from our non-Jewish allies who are thinking seriously about and combatting anti-Jewish oppression, we must remember that all of us are loved by a great and unending love. When we remember that we are loved, we can breathe into our present moment and be b’rurim–clear. We must perceive our present moment with sharp clarity, not panic or naivete, but clarity. It is through that clarity that we can accurately articulate a political vision that holds our suffering alongside the suffering of others. We can then be gibburim–courageous. Our courage will allow us to speak the truth of our lives and and our history, and to seek the support we need.
The liturgy continues, “v’chulam osim b’eymah uv’yirah/and all of them act in fear and dread.” This work is scary. As we look honestly at our oppression and speak it into the world, we may experience fear and dread. Like the angels, I believe we can do it with love, clarity, and courage, despite our fears.
This is the charge of Tisha b’Av. To walk weeping through the remnants of the Temple and to mourn the past so we can stand clearly in the present. In doing this, we can show up for others with integrity because we will have been honest about what is at stake for us. As we solemnly chant from Eicha 3:29 this day, may we come to know that, “Maybe, there is hope.”