Tisha b’Av is a day for being in your feelings. Traditionally it's about feelings of despair over our people’s history of being persecuted, our holiest places set on fire and debased, then after rebuilding ruined again; our people (including some of my ancestors) taken as Roman slaves. The point of Tisha b’Av is to feel the thing. To sit in the sorrow and mourn what has been, and what could have been. To think of ourselves as a people and the tragedies we’ve faced. Tisha b’Av is the day we reserve for screaming into the wind and ham handed metaphors trying to explain our pain, it’s when we let go of embarrassment and stop trying to distract ourselves and feel the depths of it with the promise that tomorrow we will stretch to the bottom and be a fuller self able to attend to the rest of life.
It is a people’s, not an individual’s or even a family’s, mourning. It is the feeling queer people had after Pulse, each American city’s after their own mass shooting. it is seeing war and loss and climate change. It is about letting ourselves grieve the violent change that resulted in a beautiful Jewish diaspora. Some diasporists go so far as to be grateful for the exile, for us being kicked out of Yerushalayim back when it was holy, for the destruction(s) of the Temple(s). Without the exile, we wouldn’t have the talmud; the reinvention of judaism post-Temple destruction in babylonian exile is responsible for large parts of judaism as it exists now.
I am not there, and I do not see myself ever getting there. I can recognize what we have now and the geographic spread of Judaism as a positive, with its decentralization and diversity, held together with continued mourning of tragic events from thousands of years ago. These changes were fueled by a huge cultural trauma and loss. I am mourning exile and refugeehood even as we celebrate Jewish diaspora and work to enrich it. I mourn the Temple’s loss, I mourn a type of traditional Judaism I wouldn’t have had access to even if I lived then.
A few weeks back, I attended an art event on talmud and diaspora, connecting new works of art with some traditional old-school text study on how and where wisdom is centered, whether a people’s heart lives in its past or its present or its future or all of the above; the attendees spoke about justice struggles in their own lives, on the peoplehood-level about other groups and about Judaism and about specific sub-groups within; about personal experiences protesting injustices; about hope and futility both.
The destruction of each of the two Temples and resulting exile(s) from jerusalem caused a sea change in how judaism was practiced not just as a religion but in how our culture was structured; it was, literally, a breakdown of authority. The ability to have a priest-class or even a Jerusalem-centered high-authority sanhedrin (high court) changed; bavel (babylonia) became a center of the jewish world. The talmud works through these issues in between conversations about all kinds of other things around Jewish life. I mourn the unreachability of the before time, even though I do not want to reach for it directly.
I am an anti-zionist as well as a diasporist. I do not want the state of israel to exist in its current form, or in any form that overrides other rightful inhabitants of the land. My antizionism also works with, not against, mourning the destruction of the Temples. On Tisha b’Av, as with all holidays, I reject zionist connections between the eretz yisrael we had in the early days of Jewish peoplehood and the state of israel now. I believe there is potential for Jerusalem to once again be a holy city. I believe, right now, that it is not—that the way the israeli government holds it and behaves is itself a sin, desecrating the potential for holiness and moving us farther from the age of the moshiach.
Sitting with my feelings is not something I’m good at, regardless of scale. I can shove them down or hum them or turn them into words or blurt them out to the person they’re about, but how do you feelingsblurt to G*d, praying: I am so sorry for our sins, we have misbehaved and the world is ending, please allow us to correct ourselves at the last moment and stay our total destruction as you have before in times of crisis?
It’s uncomfortable to sit with a feeling and not do anything about it, not force it into a shape or process or do anything but feel and mourn in a group of people feeling and mourning. But sitting with your feelings is the most important piece of noting, consecrating, existing through the 9th of Av. It’s a day where it is ok to be selfishly sad about your and your people’s experiences, even though others have been treated as badly or worse.
Things are bad. Things been bad. Give yourself permission to feel the negative feelings around the edges and sit with them a little. This is not giving up; it is part of experiencing the world. It is ok to be sad.
I am glad there are people preaching hope. I am sometimes one of them. But sometimes we have to sit on the floor and be sad for a day before we can go back to work. Monday we’ll get up and push back on it but maybe today can be for sitting with it, grieving, processing.
We are at a time in the US where everyone is having a depth of sorrow and panic and mourning. We are facing two shootings in one day in the lead-up to 9 av, and an additional one since the fast of tammuz. We are in a time of change, where we are constantly facing questions: are mass gatherings, festivals, events safe?
Simultaneously, we are facing an era of Never Again, of "what if I were an average German citizen during the shoah". Jewish groups organize #NeverAgainIsNow protests days apart around the country, at regional ICE headquarters and detention centers, in partnership with immigrant rights groups. Saying the United States are a nation of immigrants undermines indigenous sovereignty and rights to the land we currently occupy, but we as Jews are truly a nation of immigrants, our forefathers (ideological or biological or both) traveling between lands in search of our own, then exiled from there repeatedly and perpetually, whether our "there" is Cordoba or Jerusalem or New York City or somewhere else entirely.
So, here we sit and lament. Digest feelings. Sometimes of fear or terror, sometimes of thought, sometimes of itching for action.
The next month in the Jewish calendar is Elul. We go from peoplehood-level experiences of mourning straight to personal recollections of sin and teshuvah (repentance). In the Jewish calendar as in the rest of the world, the difficult and important things cluster in time. If we act now, and act frequently—today or tomorrow or next week or next month—maybe true justice will be closer. If we feel and process today, maybe we will have better endurance for the work, whether that work is the internal reflections of Elul or external justice actions.
The point is the doing, but before that: here is our day for processing our very own large-scale intergenerational trauma. Sitting with it, and attending to our feelings, doing the uncomfortable bad self-care, dealing with the parts that don’t involve indulgence or responsibility, just digesting and collectively processing thousands of years of loss.
Tomorrow, more work. Today, I sit.