Mourning My Way In

It’s Tisha B’Av, our holiday of communal mourning. There’s a saying in the world of professional Jewish educators, “When it comes to Jewish identity, there’s no business like Shoah business.” There is nothing like the Holocaust to engender a sense of Jewish identity.

Stinging and tragic though that statement may be, I myself am a walking testimony to its truth. A mildly-affiliated, wildly-assimilated American teen, I had zero interest in the banal goings-on of my local synagogue. The only thing about Judaism that was even remotely interesting to me was the Holocaust.

Now I wish I could say that I got turned-on to Judaism because of some joyful Shabbat song or a bite of a really finely done potato-kugel; but it wasn’t. The thing that first pulled me in was the loss of my ancestors and this sudden vast sense of history, gravitas, and responsibility towards them. My doorway in came through shared mourning, shared grief. Because something happens when we mourn together. When we weep together, we are woven into family.

When we share mourning, we share housing. When we mourn together we become mishpacha. 

This House of Israel is in mourning.
We sit upon the floor and weep
the mirrors are black,
our robes are slashed,
and leather-less our feet. 

Our clan is clad in ash and sack
a dirge between our bones
a wail of anguish unabated
rises from this home. 

The pittance of admission here
is expression of lament
—authentic, rasp and risen
mangled and intense.

Here the graves are multiple
and flanked with stacking stones
which could, perhaps, be launched at enemies
but sit instead in memory of what is gone. 

Our weaponry is our weeping;
our protection is our prayer
our strength is born when we gather to mourn
made siblings by shared despair. 

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And in lamentation lies our comfort
and in this meeting, our home is built
founded firm on the raw resilience
of the families of the killed.

But hear this, our love is
mightier than our anger!
For we are a nation of mothers
and fathers and priests.

We build houses out of war-stones
and change cemeteries into sanctuaries
with our songs of hope. 

A knock upon the lintel lets in the shiva guests.
God shuffles in amongst them
and bends to offer His condolences. 

And in the madness of the mourning
and the anguish so immense
a dwelling is suddenly erected
– regal & resplendent. 

And a sacred space is made
amidst the family who endures
such loss and grief.

And our household stands strong
amidst the weeping throng
and God’s Presence refuses to leave. 

Our household stands strong amidst the weeping throng
and God’s Presence refuses to leave.