Today is Tisha B’Av, the saddest date on the Jewish calendar, commemorating some of the greatest tragedies that befell ancient Israelites and the Jewish people, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem; the defeat of the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans; and the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492.
Many Jews observe Tisha B’Av with a 25-hour fast and by chanting Megillat Eicha (Book of Lamentations) while sitting in synagogue or at summer camp on the floor in a very dimly lit room. Tisha B'Av is the culmination of a three-week period of increased mourning rituals, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz that commemorates the first breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the First Temple was destroyed. From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on Shabbat) and from wearing new clothing.
Although COVID-19 will prevent many of us from joining our shuls for the public chanting of Eicha, I still find incredible meaning in Tisha B’Av, as it has always represented a turning point in the summer knowing that Rosh Hashanah is just over seven weeks away. On the Shabbat immediately following Tisha B’Av, we will begin chanting the first of seven Haftarot of consolation from the Book of Isaiah. The first Haftarah, which will be chanted this Shabbat, begins with the words “נחמו נחמו” (“Console, console.”) As we emerge from the literal and metaphorical darkness of Tisha B’Av, our thoughts turn to comfort as we set our sights on Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of a new Jewish year. Moving from sadness to comfort is what Tisha B’Av has always meant to me.
I have also found comfort over the past two weeks by spending time at Hillel each day. My heart fills with joy and optimism as I observe our plans to safely reopen come to fruition, and as I become further acquainted with the teachers, staff, parents, and students from our extraordinary community. Although we are certainly living through difficult and sad times with the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout our country and the world, I hope that as we emerge from these three weeks of sadness on the Jewish calendar, you find some consolation and relief from the remaining weeks of summer, and that you can look forward, as I do, to the promise of the new school year and to Rosh Hashanah.