Thoughts on Rosh Hodesh Av

There is a facebook page which I follow called: “Originally from Brighton”. It consists of reminiscences of people who grew up in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston and much of what is written brings back memories from my youth.

The other day I wrote a brief posting remembering the stores that lined the small business block of the major street closest to my home in the early 1960s and asked if anyone had any memories of those stores. The first response was coincidentally from a friend of mine who had grown up around the corner and she noted that in fact the entire block on one side of the street had been destroyed by fire back in February. I searched the internet and found a video news report from one the local TV stations on the fire. It was indeed a tragic event, made worse by freezing temperatures and toxic smoke.

As I watched the report, I thought of the stores that were on that block. The corner drug store where we bought baseball cards, rubber balls to play stickball in the schoolyard and, when I was very young, fountain cokes to drink while sitting on the classic red stools that spun around when you wanted them to. There was the pizza place which was not as good as the pizza that you could buy if you walked an extra 10 minutes but which had its own unique flavor and which benefited from being so close to home. And, there was the memory of the Jewish bakery where my mother used to take me to buy rye bread. And, I thought of the very large warehouse like building which marked the end of the block. They sold auto parts or something like that and it was always somewhat mysterious to see that hulking garage so near to the smaller businesses which we frequented.

But this posting is not about my personal memories. It is about our memories as a people.

Tonight, we begin the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest month of the Jewish year. The Talmud teaches that when Av comes in, our joy decreases. This is because of the observance of Tisha B’av, the day on which our tradition teaches that both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and on which several other events took place which mark the tragic aspects of the history of our people.

The evening of Tisha B’av is marked by the reading of the book of Eicha, Lamentations, and the recitation of kinot, dirges in memory of the Temple. The most famous of those kinot is the acrostic called Eli Tziyon, “Weep O Zion” in which the author enumerates specific aspects of the Temple which we mourn: the singers, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the gatherings of the people and more.

It is difficult for 21st century Jews to be very sad about the destruction of the Temple. We have moved so far beyond sacrifices. But our tradition encourages us to remember the splendor of what was and to consider what it would have meant to us to have, in a different context, in a different time, to have experienced this place of closeness to God.

Eli Tziyon helps us to do that by giving us a list of experiences, personalities, moments we might have found meaning in at the Temple. If we read the dirge carefully, we can find some which we know we would have found meaning in had we been there.

The destruction of the Temples by the tragic fires of 586 BCE and 70 CEĀ  are part of our collective memory as Jews and each Tisha B’av, we, in essence, view the video in our minds and think about what our ancestors lost and what we, in our memory, can relate to as well.

When I think back to my neighborhood, it is sad to think of what was lost in that fire. I run through the mental list in my mind and, I’m sure, when I go back for my next visit, I’ll stand at the empty lot and think about what used to be. This is what we do at Tisha B’av. We think back to what used to be.

And, just as I have moved beyond the old drug store and pizza place to find other places of meaning, we as Jews have moved on from the Temple to find great places of meaning in our homes, our synagogues, our communities and in Israel and in Jerusalem itself.

It is wonderful to have moved on. But, we must always remember.


Leave a Reply