Why I’m fasting on Tisha B’av

Today is Tisha B’av, the ninth of the Jewish month of Av, a day when Jews traditionally remember the destruction of the Temples and other tragedies of our history by fasting and reading from the Book of Lamentations, culminating a three week period of remembering and mourning.  As I fast, I am remembering the destruction that so many teachers, advertisements, politicians, a lobby group, and synagogues have tried to instruct me to ‘forget’ or not know: the destruction of Palestine.  This destruction continues today, as we see the actions of modern day Israel in repressing freedom of speech, movement, and quality of life.   

3632535579 0c8595c90c zThe idea of destroying someone’s sacred site had always been appalling to me – shouldn’t holy grounds remain beyond the reach of warfare, just as the lives of children should remain untouchable by the clutches of warriors?  My naivety has waned as I have grown to understand that warfare is a blind beast that cannot help but harm the innocent and the sacred, like a man sick with the disease of addiction who will harm those in his path, a bull in a china shop.  Nonetheless the reaches of the violence of occupation are still unnerving.  One year ago I was standing in a destroyed Palestinian village in northern Israel, staring at what was once a sacred mosque, and is now an off-limits crumbling building (pictured right), sealed by the same barbed wire that kept my not-so-distant relatives in the death camps in Poland.

How do we mourn destruction while it continues in every moment?  Even as I write this new settlement homes are being built in the West Bank and companies continue to profit from occupation.  For so long many have cried out for an end to the destruction, shook their fists in the air, marched, rallied, lamented, sobbed.  It is essential to feel our grief and to vocalize it, but it is not enough.  Today is a day that my people do not eat to express our grief.  But there is something more we can do.  We can refuse to buy the products that continue to destroy people’s lives, homes, and sacred sites.  By putting our money where our mouths are, and refusing to imbibe products that have led to the suffering of people elsewhere on the planet, we can embody our values.   

And truly embodiment is at the core of Tisha B’av.  During the time of wandering the desert for 40 years after fleeing slavery in Egypt, legend says that my Jewish ancestors would dig shallow graves for themselves on the night of Tisha B’av and lie down in them to sleep, so that when they awoke they literally crawled out of their graves and were reborn anew. Tisha B’av is not only about mourning death and destruction, then, it is also about rebirth and renewal, the promise of creative innovation that destruction forces upon us.     

Mishna Taanit 1.6-1.7 states that the public ritual during days of fasting include imposed limits on “buying and selling; on building and planting; on betrothals and weddings; and on inquiring about each other’s well-being…” Perhaps we can continue to carry this imposition through for the following weeks until the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year, a time for reflection, mourning, and the creation of resolute commitments for the year to come) and beyond, until a just peace is attained in the Middle East.  We can refuse to buy goods made in the Occupied Territories, or do business with companies who are illegally profiting from the occupation; we can refuse to support businesses that contribute to the building of settlements; we can ensure that all people can live, love, and grow in peace.   

As I write this, an angry backlash has sprung up in response to one moral act of boycotting a business involved in the illegal occupation of the West Bank: ultra-Orthodox and pro-occupation groups are calling for a buycott of illegally-made Ahava cosmetics sold at Ricky’s, a family beauty supply chain in New York City.  The buycott call comes after peace groups CODEPINK and Brooklyn for Peace coordinated a public action outside the Brooklyn store on July 9.  An online “mud fight” erupted in the comments section of a Brooklyn article about the peace action, in which people commenting went so far as to equate one activist with pogroms and make comments about her vagina and sexuality.  Groups including the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) on the East Coast have stepped up to defend the occupation by promoting this product. Read more about it in Adam Horowitz’s post. It seems that when the ugly truth behind fancy skin care products is revealed, the beauty of Jewish teachings in the minds of those who profess to be most observant is more dead than the Dead Sea itself.   

May the ancient teachings of Tisha B’av be remembered in place of modern attempts to wipe out the history of a people living in a land that was given to a people without a land.    

“Any person who can prevent the people of their household from committing a sin but does not is responsible for the sins of their household.  If a person can prevent the people of their city from sinning, they are responsible for the sins of the people of their city.  If the whole world, that person is responsible for the sins of the whole world.” ~ Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b  

Rae Abileah ([email protected]) is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and lives in San Francisco, CA.   Join the monthly Jewish Fast for Gaza at http://fastforgaza.net/ and pledge to boycott of Ahava products at www.stolenbeauty.org.

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 3 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. annie says:

    hi rae, i read this last night and went to add another comment on the brooklyn link. thanks to your emails i first read that a few days ago. i’m so heartbroken lately about the escalation in the jordan valley.

    i want to thank you for your endless work and tireless goodwill and the way you spread joy and radiate. i admire you so much, you and your limitless bounty to just keep giving.

    your photograph. i remember being there with you. our guides memories of being a little boy evicted from his land. his prison term for trying to resuscitate their mosque. listening to him was the first time i realized for many israeli palestinians the right of return meant the right to move back to their villages just couple miles down the road. we just turned up the entrance to this road off the main highway and up less than a mile it turned into dirt and we got up and walked to this gorgeous little hilltop and there is was surrounded by trees and shrub in all it’s glory. i don’t know why they won’t allow them to pray there, under threat of going to prison.

    he was so cool and our two beautiful young israeli female guides. that day was incredible and you made it happen for us. i will remember that day as long as i live. we must keep on even when it seems the most bleak. thank you for carrying on your tradition in the most honorable way.

    you are so beautiful

    • annie says:

      and the old spring that used to serve quite well for all the farmers now diverted and converted to an israeli enterprise of selling bottled springwater. but back behind the shrub it is still there, what is left of the palestinian irrigation system. palestinians had a beautiful life there at one time and now their spring water is bottled up and sold far away while they are prevented from watering their fields.

      that last village we visited late in the afternoon near the border of jordan. the amazing site of an old synagogue right next door to a decaying crumbing christian church. both we climbed thru shrub and over boulders of broken concrete to walk inside w/the amazing light shinning thru cracks in the ceilings and remaining colored glass and all this right across the street on the corner and old mosque completely surrounded by barbed wire. three religions all so close, just footsteps away, bearing witness to a time long ago when people lived together and worshiped so close. all neighbors living side by side.

      one day, all in one day ending at that palestinian restaurant with so many wonderful dishes and friendly people and families who thanked us as we departed on our bus. someday i want to go back there when palestine/israel is once again as free as the days of those 3 religions living side by side.

  2. May the Temple be rebuilt, speedily, and in our days.