Tisha B’Av

Today is Tisha B’av. It is not my favorite holiday. Is it anyone’s? This year seems especially poignant. It seems it started early, with the kidnapping of three teen age boys–and their murder–and their funerals as rockets rained down–and the murder of a Palestinian boy. And an “operation” in Gaza.

Six weeks. Six weeks of pain. Of anguish. How can anyone bear it?

Last night a group of people gathered at Congregation Kneseth Israel where I serve as rabbi, as spiritual leader. What could I say to those there?

We read the traditional Book of Lamentations. We sang the traditional songs, Al Naharot Bavel and Eifo Avraham Avinu? And I wondered where Abraham is. Did he cry for his children? Is he still crying? Eli Wisel in a full page paid op-ed piece reminds us that the stories of Abraham remind us, command us that child sacrifice is not the way.

I have asked this question before. How desperate was Hagar when she put her child under a bush and cried out, “Don’t let me look on while the child dies.”? How desperate does a mother have to be to be willing to put her child in a shelter with missiles? To see that there must be other ways?

We read about thunder in Jerusalem and it thundered in Elgin. We sang Eli Eli, a song I first sung in Caesaria where it was written by Hannah Shenesh, It prays that the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens (THUNDER!) never end. It prays that we keep praying.

We read the words of those in Israel today. The struggle for morality, for normalcy, for hope. We read a modern Hasidic tale about the Third Temple. Maybe it is the Dome of the Rock. Maybe it is already there. Maybe peace is possible. Some day. Soon.

For me, this service took a lot of energy. It was shorter than most. But painful, oh so painful.

Today is Tisha B’av and even though it is a fast day we are not prevented from working. The work begins again anew today. To work for a world without baseless hatred.

So today I will two things. I will meet with city officials, the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leader and the Elgin Praying Pastors and talk about peace. Later I will sit at the synagogue as part of National Night Out and hand out cookies (Homemade I hear!) and lemonade to our neighbors.

I can’t solve the crisis in the Middle East. I can’t make peace in Israel. I pray that the current cease fire continues to hold. I can only work here, in Elgin. And then, the words of this Israeli song, filled with hope, will become true:

Od tireh od tireh
Kama tov yiheyeh
Bashana bashana haba’ah

It will yet be. How good it will be. In the year to come.

May it be so!



I wish we could take pictures–Simchat Torah

They say that Torah is written with black fire on white fire. The black fire refers to the printed letters, the white fire to the spaces between and around them. Like fire the letters dance and seem to be alive. It is a good image for Simchat Torah, where we read the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis and start the cycle all over again. Torah is a dance. A dance between us and the Torah, between us and God. The last letter of the last word is Lamed. The first letter of the first word is bet. Together they spell lev, heart. Together this is a dance of love, of love between God who gave us the Torah and us, between us and our children to whom we pass down this precious legacy. That’s what we did last night.

Sometimes I wish we could take pictures in the heat of the moment. Simchat Torah has always been a favorite of mine. I was enthralled as a college freshman when Rabbi Jeffrey Summitt took us to the Tremont Street Shul in Cambridge, MA. I had never seen such joy. There were probably a thousand people there, dancing in the street under the stars, drinking a l’chaim, parading with flags and apples. The rabbis on the bimah were somehow creating this joy. It was a much needed break after the seriousness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Then we went to Steve’s Ice Cream afterwards. I wanted to be a part of this. I wanted to create that kind of joy. I decided right then that I wanted to be a rabbi.

Last night I was the rabbi. We did not have a thousand people. But we had people of all ages, from kindergarten and first graders through octogenarians. We davened. I loved the parts where it talks about teaching these very words to our children. That is precisely what we were doing. Creating Jewish memories. Even for some adults. We welcomed the stranger in our midst. We sang. We danced. We carried all eight Torah scrolls, the silver and the flags. We paraded. We circled the sanctuary, we circled the building, we circled the Sukkah. We unrolled the whole Torah. We needed every person to hold it, from the littlest to the oldest. I went around in a circle telling each person what they held. This was my own form of dancing. Everyone had some meaningful piece of Torah they held. Something that they can hold onto all year. Black fire on white fire.

Then we read. A Bar Mitzvah student who will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah a year from now read the very last portion of Deuteronomy. His upcoming portion. He happens to be black. He read for a former president of the congregation. Someone who was born in the community and has been here his whole life. Someone who is starting to struggle with some health issues, who hasn’t understood the direction the congregation thinks it wants to go but who cares passionately. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to come last night. He assured me that my young student was ready, that he had been practicing. He wasn’t sure that he himself was ready or that he would remember the blessings. The blessings came back to him. Watching the president beam at the young boy was the image I wish I could have filmed. The young boy chanted flawlessly in a clear, confident voice. Black fire on white fire.

Then we read the first day of Genesis. One of the newest families chanted the blessing and I read. A new beginning for me and for them. Full circle for me from that day at Tufts. Black fire on white fire.

And then we had ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla. It wasn’t Steve’s but it seemed like more black fire and white fire. A little piece of heaven.