Pre-Tisha B’Av Ruminations
Yesterday, Erev Tisha B’Av, I found myself thinking that there are few things I more nervously anticipate than the day before a fast,
It of course has to do with my love of food and coffee and the inevitable hunger pangs to come, and my worry that without water, I will dehydrate under the harsh Middle Eastern sun.
But more so, it’s what fast days bring up for me: the deep understanding that I am a flawed human being who has to do better. And that deprived of sustenance and the ability to bathe, it is easier to look inward and take my focus off work, Facebook, commitments and much of the “noise” I cloak myself with in everyday life.
In this atmosphere I try do a cheshbon hanefesh, or accounting of my deeds – and I am always forced to admit there are many things for which I need to atone.
I grew up going to religious day school and was taught that the reason for Tisha B’Av, the destruction of the Temple, was baseless hatred between Jews – which continues to this day. In other words, it’s on all of our heads, and we’re still failing.
As a child in America, I could understand that in terms of the petty things we all did to one another. But in the Diaspora, my general experience was that Jews, as a minority, stuck together – regardless of observance level – and treated each other with respect.
When it came time to make aliya, I was overjoyed at the chance to be the majority in my own homeland, and to live among my fellow Jews. I romanticized the idea out of ideology and naïvete – it didn’t occur to me that Jews could treat each other in shocking ways.
Now that 3.5 years have passed since I arrived on a Nefesh B’Nefesh mass aliya flight, I am sadly more realistic. There IS tons of chessed that goes on in the Jewish state – but there are also major social problems between different groups of Jews.
The divide, or should I say festering wound, we’ve been hearing about the most of late is between haredim and the rest of the country. In a recent development supported by most of society – who were tired of financially supporting haredim who supposedly did not respect their way of life – the law changed to remove the across-the-board exemption for ultra-Orthodox men to study Torah full-time. When the law goes into effect in a few years, they will be required to serve in the army.
Now, haredim supposedly feel their secluded way of life is under attack, and that their children will be snatched away from Torah values by what they see as the rest of the country’s corrupt Western way of life.
It’s true that there is merit to shielding youngsters from secular influences such as the media, and the army does need to do better in accommodating the needs of haredi soldiers. It’s a complicated issue whose nuances I can’t adequately address here.
But the reaction of some ultra-Orthodox extremists is absolutely disgusting: creating a propaganda campaign against haredim who have chosen to serve in the IDF, culminating this past week in beatings of religious soldiers in uniform in Mea She’arim (with the assault later directed at the police who intervened).
I can’t tell you how much this bothers me on so many levels. What could represent hatred between brothers more than the demonizing of Zionism and attacking your own people for the “crime” of trying to protect you from Judaism’s true enemies? Tired of stories like these, and how ultra-Orthodox leaders are not doing enough to speak out and stop the violence, a lot of Israelis find themselves despising haredim in return.
I am guilty of this. When I see a haredi man on the bus, my first thought is whether he will demand that I – as a woman, especially one who is not dressed according to Judaism’s tenets of modesty – get up and give him my seat. I almost dare him to do so, thinking how I will tell him off. Or I see a haredi woman with seven kids, and think about how taxpayers like me are the ones supporting her and her brood.
The truth is that no haredi man has demanded my seat, and I have ridden through some of Jerusalem’s most religious neighborhoods. And plenty of haredi woman – and in tentatively rising numbers, men – work. At the same time, I have had some nice interactions with haredim.
This year, I really want to start believing that most haredim are good people who don’t subscribe to the extremists’ demented values, and that it’s just the crazy ones who are more visible and ruining it for the rest. This year, post Tisha B’Av, I hope to give individual haredim the benefit of the doubt.
In addition to the problems between different religious groups, being in this country has also been an education in how Israelis of all stripes treat each other on a day-to-day basis. Israel is a very unique experiment, meshing Jews from all over the world into a small space – all of whom think they’re mayor. Native Israelis have the Middle Eastern survival mentality, which often doesn’t mix well with the ingrained politeness of Anglo olim.
Moreover, most Israelis, regardless of ethnicity, also deal with stressors that include: no Sunday off (Friday just isn’t the same); living in minus due to low salaries and rising taxes (where does all the money go?); and for much of the year, unbearable heat.
This cauldron of people with different customs, under pressure often manifests itself in little explosions, making daily life difficult. People push and shove and cut each other on line for the bus, the bank (with its weird hours and inexplicable policies), and the grocery checkout. Customer service seems non-existent. The phone company fails to notify you that your yearly deal is up, and when you finally realize months later after being charged at the exorbitant new rate, it refuses to refund the balance.
Though I wouldn’t have believed it a few years ago, it’s easy to glare at a line-cutter and tell them they are an “arse” with no manners, or scream at a mother with a carriage who cuts you off as you try to exit an elevator.
While some of these people deserve to be told in no uncertain terms that what they’re doing is wrong, I often find myself going overboard. I don’t like the person I sometimes find myself becoming, with no patience and even contempt for her fellow Israelis.
I forget about all the good things that people do, like the shopkeepers who happily help me with my minor requests and wave away payment, or the handymen who are genuinely concerned about how I’m adjusting to life here.
This year, I also resolve to have more patience and to remember to look upon people with compassion.
I hope this day brings you an easy and meaningful fast.