Tisha B’av and the Process of Mourning

This past Sunday, we at BIMA and Genesis gathered to commemorate Tisha B’av, a Jewish day of mourning. I personally struggle with how different rituals that I perform on Tisha B’av — namely fasting, sitting on the floor until midday, and refraining from listening to music — help me evoke the sense of brokenness that we are meant to feel.

From that struggle came the idea for my session, where I sought to compare the ways in which mourning is ritualized on Tisha B’av, a very old day, and 9/11, when we remember the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Ritual is meant to evoke particular feelings and emotional responses. They are just as much a response to tragedy as they are a way to remind us of the tragedy.

We began by listing the different ways in which these two seemingly very different dates are marked. From there, we transitioned into a discussion about the ways in which these different rituals affect us, or not. Some participants in the discussion expressed frustration at the ways in which 9/11 was not discussed at all in their schools. Others felt uncomfortable with the ways in which we mark Tisha B’av.

Both of these days are rife with different rituals of mourning and reflection, although both of these are days that many of us do not remember personally. However, there are also significant differences. Tisha B’av is a day when we remember how our actions led to disasters– the rabbis of old blame us and our actions for the destruction of the Temples, not the Babylonians or the Romans who carried out the physical destruction. In contrast, 9/11 is a day when we mark what others have done to us.

This, in turn, spurred a discussion of the ways in which rituals — actions — function in time and place. It is not just enough to fast on Tisha B’av or hold a moment of silence on 9/11. These must be done in the context of other people and on certain days for the desired effects, whatever they may be. Ultimately, what emerged from this discussion were new ways of thinking about ritual in relation to tragedy, and also how we use rituals to connect with events which we still feel the effects of.

 – Community Educator Amram A.

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