Our collective memory consists of the narratives and experiences individual Jews bring to the Jewish story.
Tisha b’Av is a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the ancient Israelite temple—first in 586 BCE, then again in 70 CE. I fast and pray on Tisha b’AvThe holiday on which the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem is commemorated through fasting and prayers., but I don’t want the Temple to be rebuilt. I like Rabbinic Judaism, but I have doubts about what would happen at a restored Temple site. I think it would resemble the scene at the KotelThe Western Wall, which was a retaining wall of the Second Temple, is all that visibly remains of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It has long been a holy site for Jews. Since 1967, when the Israeli army recaptured the Old City, including the Western Wall, a large plaza has been created where Jews can congregate and pray. The Wall has also been the subject of controversy, including for women from liberal Judaism, who have been successfully barred from reading from the Torah or donning a tallit at the wall. on Friday nights—yeshivaSchool of traditional Jewish study. Although historically only for men, today there are some yeshivot (plural) that are for women, and there are progressive yeshivot which are coed. boys doing a joyless dance, police yelling at women who sing too loud, and tourists recording the whole thing on their iPhones. It doesn’t do a lot for me.
But I do mourn on Tisha b’Av. I grieve for the lost lives, the violence, and the hopelessness that plagued our people when both Temples were destroyed. I imagine structure and meaning destroyed, trying to figure out how to live in a world where it seemed that God no longer dwelled. It is scary and empty and unbelievably sad.
Tisha b’Av is a container for sorrow and fear. For generations, Jewish catastrophes have been attached to this date. The Crusades are said to have been launched on this day. Expulsions from both England and Spain are connected with Tisha b’Av, as is the mass deportation from the Warsaw ghetto to death camps during the Shoah. Tisha b’Av gives shape to Jewish trauma; it is a day for communal mourning, for remembering what was and for lamenting the loss of what might have been.
A mythic telling of the Tisha b’Av story would end here. But that doesn’t work for me, and it might not work for you. As a Jewish people, our traumatic memory is not only collective. In the words of historian James Young, it is also “collected.” Our collected memory consists of the narratives and experiences individual Jews bring to the Jewish story. Sometimes, these experiences map easily onto the history of our people. There are firsthand accounts of Crusaders’ rampages and the expulsion from Spain. Oral history projects continue to chronicle the lived experiences of HolocaustThe genocide of millions of European Jews--as well as other ethnic, religious and minority groups--by the Nazis during World War II. The tragic events of the Holocaust are now commemorated each year on Yom HaShoah; established in 1952 by the Israeli government. Shoah (calamity) has become the term used to describe the systemic mass slaughter that occurred during World War II. survivors. But sometimes people bear sorrow that is not part of the Jewish myth, but is a central part of their own Jewish story. Death, illness and violence haunt many of us—and they often hover around the margins of our commemoration of communal tragedy. I have marked Tisha b’Av with bereaved parents and victims of violent attacks. They come to this day with their own burdens of suffering—legacies associated not with the destruction of the Temple but with random crime and incurable illness.
When I fast on Tisha b’Av, I think of these people and their pain. I layer this onto my mourning for millennia of Jewish loss. I grieve for our collective trauma and for our collected traumas. And I pray. Not for a rebuilt Temple but for a re-imagined future, where we tell stories of abundance and joy.