Last Saturday night was Tisha b’Av, so instead of having a late dinner, sitting outside under fairy lights in the backyard, listening to the near-deafening cricket chorus, my husband and I went to a parking lot in South Orange.
There, under the more standard streetlights, we skipped dinner, sat in low chairs close to the still-sticky pre-baked asphalt, listening to the same near-manic cricket chorus, and at times over and at times under the crickets, depending on the reader’s volume and his or her relationship to the microphone, listening as well to the raw agony and haunting melody of the book of Eicha. Of Lamentations.
That evening, four Conservative shuls joined forces for Ma’ariv and then Eicha. For one thing, it’s convenient. We’re still all better off outside anyway, with covid not gone yet; and the theme of corrupt human institutions being returned to their wild natural state, while not entirely easy to map onto a suburban parking lot, makes more sense there than in a building. It’s always possible to imagine shapes in the shadows.
The partnership also was good, though, because unity is better than disunity. Coming together, overlooking differences, is better than staying apart, nurturing them. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any differences, even between groups that are superficially similar; it just means that we can overlook them. (And it’s always easier to overlook things in the dark anyway.)
We’re now entering the seven weeks of consolation. This Shabbat is Nachamu. Consolation. I always think with great joy of my daughter Miriam and her friend Rachel singing the Ramah melody of Nachamu at Shabbat dinner for years and years; of how hopeful they sounded.
But now, as Alexander Smukler tells us in this newspaper, as our eyes tell us whenever we scan our social media or a website or newspaper, as our ears tell us when we listen to broadcasts or podcasts or even our friends, is not a particularly hopeful time. It is a time of danger and instability, the kind of historical period that most of us thought was long gone.
But no. it’s back.
The divisions in this country are ratcheting up. And it is perhaps no surprise that antisemitism is popping out as those bonds tighten. It is entirely possible that the situation we face now will resolve itself, that the forces of lies and violence will retreat, because in the end lies can’t hold up. There’s nothing real shoring them up. They’re built on sand. If that happens, we’ll be okay.
If not — well, never mind.
Sinat chinam, senseless hatred, lead to the destruction of the Second Temple. We hear a lot about it leading up to Tisha b’Av, and then we hear little about it for 11 or so months. But it doesn’t go away during those times. It just hides and strengthens. We will have to fight that hatred, and the division, as powerfully as we can, so that we can earn the Nachamu.