LESSONS LEARNED: The Hebrew Month of Av Brings with It Two Timely Messages

By Rabbi James Greene
Over the summer, we commemorate one of the most tragic days in the Jewish calendar–Tishah B’av (the ninth day of the month of Av), which begins this year at sundown Saturday, August 6. It was on this day that both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and the history of the Israelite people changed forever. It was also the time when the Alhambra Decree of 1492 was issued, expelling the Jews from Spain. In more recent history, Tishah B’av is the day on which Hitler began the mass deportation of the Warsaw Jewish community to Treblinka. At Camp Laurelwood, Tishah B’av is observed with a brief ritual at the Revolutionary War-era cemetery in the middle of our property. This sacred space, which serves as the resting place for several veterans of our nation’s War of Independence, is a reminder not just of the tragedy of war but also of the need for collective remembrance. Although so much of the loss in our world seems so far away, I am grateful for our tradition’s approach to collective remembrance. There is time built in to the schedule to be sad; time to mourn our dead from years past and from more recent loss. There is time to grieve that the world still contains suffering and conflict, even as we work to build the world that we aspire to live in; and space to grieve for all that has been lost in our journey through time. We also allow our hearts to heal and give ourselves time to repair and rejuvenate. Time to stand up and recommit to living lives of meaning. And, time to be in community and remind ourselves of what it means to be alive in this moment with all its possibility and promise.

Love is in the air just a week later with Tu B’av (the 15th day of the month of Av)—often referred to as the “Jewish Valentine’s Day.” Beginning this year at sundown on Thursday, August 11, Tu B’av is an ancient holiday that dates back to the period of the Second Temple. The Mishnah describes Tu B’av as an annual matchmaking day when unmarried people would dress in white and dance in the grape vineyards outside the walls of Jerusalem in search of their life partner. If it is healthy to make space for collective remembrance, surely it is even more critical for our community to make space to build the future. In Israel, many couples will exchange flowers or go out for a romantic dinner. Tu B’av turns the tide of sadness of Tishah Be’av. In Hebrew, the word for love is ahavah and comes from the root Alef-Hey-Bet which means to give. At Camp Laurelwood, we help our community cultivate kindness, and we know that love involves giving. It is about giving your attention, giving your respect, and giving your time and energy to others. The lifelong connections built through giving to others is just one of the ways that we mark Tu B’av in a contemporary context.

Rabbi James Greene is a 2008 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and is the executive director of Camp Laurelwood in Madison, CT. He is currently serving as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

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