There are so many beautiful articles and words of inspiration for Tisha Ba’v. Essays written in order to inspire us, others written about the laws of the day. When I looked through my twitter today I saw hundreds of tweets with links of such articles…. And so, on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, I, Duby Litvin , would like to inspire and touch my readers…. While I have confidence in my writing, I’m not THAT confident, so instead of trying to move you all to tears with my ramblings, I’d like to share a story. And here goes 🙂
I had the honor of spending one Tisha Bav night at the Kotel in Jerusalem. My best friend and I were in Israel at a summer learning program and we arranged to stay over at a friend’s relative for Tisha Bav. (you all know how it works in Israel – you never really stay at a house of someone you actually know! – its usually a relative of a friends’ third cousin, twice removed and even that is a close relationship!) Anyways, so we arranged to stay by this family in a neighborhood in Jerusalem and it was a short taxi ride to the Kotel. But we had not really planned on coming back to sleep much – we knew we wanted to stay at the Kotel on this very holy evening for as long as possible.
I don’t really recall actually hearing Eicha that night…. There were so many different readings going on at once, it takes a lot of effort to concentrate on following only one – but I can tell you that the Kotel on a Tisha Bav night is one that every Jew should experience at some point of their lives. To describe the scene is quite simple – every Jew – from the long bearded Mea Shearim Rabbis, to the Mizrachi knitted kippah type, to the gel haired- tight t-shirt/tight jeans wearing secular Jews – they were ALL there. I saw men of all ages spreading thin sheets on the floor and going to sleep right there by the holiest place – the Kotel. I saw people crying, sobbing while reading their Lamentations. I suppose it is a little difficult to really describe the energy felt that night- but what I can tell you is that it was so palpable it was impossible NOT to be moved by it all.
I do remember noticing that the secular Jews all migrated and hung out in the courtyard of the Kotel – while the more religious sat closer to the Kotel… In fact, I recall someone (and I don’t remember who unfortunately) made a comment to me how she felt disdainful that the secular Jews were yapping away, and smoking and they weren’t acting as serious on this very holy day. Well, of course I understood where this woman was coming from because it did seem a little strange that this vast amount of people would want to come and ‘party’ at the Kotel when the rest of the people were sitting on the floor and crying their eyes out. So at some point of the evening (and mind you, we were there till I believe around 3 am) – I took a seat at the back of the courtyard and ended up striking up a conversation with one of these “chiluni” (secular) Jews. He told me he was from Tel Aviv as was his friends that he came with tonight. It didn’t take long for me to ask the obvious question – “youre smoking, youre laughing with your friends here… surely there’s a more fun club or bar you guys could hang out at on a night like tonight… why did you come here?” looking back, I wonder why I was surprised by his answer… he said simply (and I’m paraphrasing here) – “its Tisha Bav tonight– THIS is the place to be and no other.”
There is something I personally find remarkable about Tisha Bav that you don’t find on any other day of the Jewish calendar: a leveled playing field. Sure, there are other holidays with that concept – but in my opinion, none like Tisha Bav. It’s not a few siblings sitting and crying over a lost family member, or even a large group of people mourning the loss of their Rabbi or leader. It’s the ENTIRE Jewish population – all of us – regardless of whether we have long beards and black coats, or we wear tight pants and gel our hair too much – we ALL lost something and together we ALL mourn. We ALL wear cloth shoes and we ALL sit on the floor. From the great Rabbi in the Shul to the little bratty children – everyone sits together and simply cries. The playing field is leveled in a way that you don’t find that any other time of the year. If you are a Jew – regardless of what you keep or don’t keep – what you believe or don’t believe – it’s the day we collectively, as a united people, recognize this day of loss… we cry over what we had and who we once were. We mourn over our defeat as a people and lament. But yet, we also pray and know in our hearts that one day, one day – our tears will turn into tears of joy and that ultimately, “we shall return, just as the days of old.”