— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram
Tisha b’Av is a fast day in which we are turning our consciousness away from food, and onto how we tear down the fabric of society when Jews hate one another. Such hatred is traditionally given as the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple and is invoked in regard to other tragedies that have beset our people. A recent JTA article mentioned a video recently posted online, of a “Shas” (Sephardi Orthodox) rabbi declaring Jews in “knitted kippas,” i.e. modern Orthodox Jews, to be “Amalek.”
“Amalek” refers to the mitzvah of stamping out those engaging in pure evil. This evil is associated with those who assaulted the weak and elderly Jews at the rear of the Israelite exodus through the wilderness, later with Haman and his family in the Purim story, and eventually with Hitler and Nazism. Take a deep breath — and before vilifying the rabbi above, as he has reportedly done to other members of the Jewish people — let us not dare to be so easily goaded. Let’s rather “be peace” and maintain an intention within our Tisha b’Av practice of creating room for the many religious and secular cultures within Judaism. I so deeply want to be what I am asking for — to “be peace.” Yet, can I? Can you?
More after the jump.
It’s not easy, even within my own family. I was just recently attempting to pray on the women’s side of a synagogue, behind a mechitzah, the division between males and females — one taller than any of us women, made of thick plasticized canvas. Our connection to the prayer experience felt to me to have been deemed irrelevant in that darkened, muffled, scruffy space. Under such circumstances, inevitably most of the women chatted and few prayed. It was hard to be fully proud of the bright and caring bar mitzvah lad’s entry into young Jewish adulthood, with such substantial impediments in place.
Oh, what’s that, I hear? Inside of me, a voice whispered then, and now, “Be peace.” In Jewish tradition, one of God’s 105 names is Shalom. So, in my prayers, then, and now, I returned my intent to this goal, silently blessing the lad and his community with health, happiness and ahavas yisroel — to find ways to include all branches of the Jewish people in this mitzvah of love.
As depicted in the photo, when one of the women opened the mechizah for a peek, I, too, took a look, as the men were all focused in the direction of the ark and not at us. Later, at the reception, women and men were seated at separate tables. Upon picking up my “Mrs. Goldie Milgram” name tag, my step-grandson raced over to me calling, “Rabbi Goldie, Rabbi Goldie, how are you?” For the first time he did not offer a hug, as I am not a first degree blood relative. By dint of my being a step-grandmother, he can no longer touch or be touched by me, save by my words. So I told him, “Thank you for the wonderful, inclusive welcome! Perhaps you are a spark of the mashiach (messiah) — one who may kindle peace through keeping the flame of love among Jews and towards all. For by interpreting the mitzvah of ahavas yisroel as respectful, supportive interconnection within the Jewish people, it becomes more possible among the nations.” His reply, “I know, Rabbi Goldie. And I will, I will!” I am so proud of him.
Even while marinating today, on Tisha b’Av, in the horrors recorded in traditional Book of Lamentations (Eichah), I will not descend into hate and fear. My intention is to follow the instruction, to “Be Peace,” and to return to this intention as each verse and thought comes my way.
The news also includes some inspiration and hope, that of the solidarity of Italy’s Jews in support of the first black minister, who has been publicly degraded for her race. May we each and all be blessed with the courage to Be Peace, and for an easy and meaningful Tisha b’Av fast day of prayer, reflection and kind connection.