Tisha Be’av in corona times

Reflections and online inspiration

Tisha Be'Av in Safed (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Tisha Be'Av in Safed
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
In the past, it has been hard for me to enter into the Tisha Be’av mood. Living in our young and modern Jerusalem bursting with energy and life, surrounded by family and friends, the laws of mourning of the Three Weeks and imagery of the Tisha Be’av texts seemed so distant from my own reality.
I always amused people when I said I looked forward to Tisha Be’av. Apart from having to fast, I actually enjoyed the day – reading Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) overlooking the stunning Old City, the learning programs galore and seeing Jerusalem’s streets packed with young people.
Indeed, the highlight of my year was singing “Ani Maamin” at the Kotel at the end of Tisha Be’av, with tens of thousands of others, before breaking my fast with friends in the Kotel plaza area.
Due to corona, this Tisha Be’av will be so different. We still don’t know what the Health Ministry regulations will permit us to do – if anything. Our favorite Tisha Be’av hangout places will be closed, gatherings forbidden and many people are nervous to even walk the streets.
Furthermore, due to the heat, outdoor minyanim – the preferred choice for many of us – may not be an option and therefore we will probably be praying and reciting kinot (Tisha Be’av elegies) alone at home and using Zoom (read more about this in the “Guidelines” section below).
WHAT WILL people be focusing on this particular Tisha Be’av? In Jerusalem spoke to locals.
• Tikva Blaukopf reflected, “Perhaps we will feel the desolation that much more when we mourn the previous two Temples, now that corona has exiled us temporarily from our centralized shul worship. Perhaps corona has thrown us deeper into the place of our own grief. Mourning alone is existentially terrible, but we must remember that she who mourns the fall of Jerusalem will merit to witness its rebuilding.”
• “As I’ll probably be staying home this year, I’ll use Tisha Be’av as a day of introspection and focus not just on the external toxicity but the toxicity within. There seems to be such a desire for outrage and confrontation,” said David Wiseman. “Sinat hinam [baseless hatred] has never been more apparent. On a day that we fast, we need to focus on what comes out of our mouths.”
• “Sadly, due to corona, the usual programs I attend won’t be happening, but I plan on listening to shiurim online – such a variety,” Elissa Krycer said. “We all need to find a way to make the day meaningful – even in these difficult times.”
• “When I see the arguments and comments on Facebook with regard to Health Ministry corona regulations and the recent demonstrations, it makes me realize how much sinat hinam exists and how much we need to use Tisha Be’av as a day to repent and focus on the importance of unity,” Avi Dzik asserted. “People often post things on social media without thinking and it really doesn’t bother them. This year, instead of going out and attending all the programs, we should focus more on how we treat each other – particularly in our speech.”
• “I actually think, thanks to corona, we can have a deeper understanding of what Tisha Be’av is really all about. We are experiencing breakdown – of our economy, financial security and our relationships.” said Anders Newman. “Just like after the destruction of the Temples, we are now experiencing personal destruction.
“At the same time, just like we are promised that the Temple will be rebuilt and in fact, we see, living in Yerushalayim, that this process is beginning, so too, we must believe corona will pass and life will be even better afterwards. The yearning we have for life to go back to normal now gives me an understanding of how I should be yearning for the rebuilding of the Temple.”
AS MOST will be staying in, what online programs are happening this Tisha Be’av to inspire us?
In Jerusalem spoke with a number of educators at our local organizations to get a perspective of how we should be approaching Tisha Be’av this year, as well as to check the online programs they will be providing us with.
• Rabbi Dr. Daniel Reifman, at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, said, “The imagery of Eicha starts with the description of a city that was so full of life and energy and is now empty. This theme of loneliness, so central to the readings of Tisha Be’av, also describes what many are going through currently. Our loneliness now, like then, is not just physical and emotional – but theological, too. We feel apprehensive about the future. How can we connect with God in this new reality? When will this end? When will things go back to how they were? We now have an acute sense of what it was like after the destruction and other tragedies of Jewish history.”
“After the destruction of the Temples, we felt estranged from God. We asked questions like: ‘Is God still with us?’ ‘How is our relationship different now?’ We felt a sense of dislocation. We don’t know how to respond – there is no script – this was how it was like after the destruction and this is how it is now. Corona has put us in the right mindset for Tisha Be’av. In a way, we can connect better this year to the day – our sense of comfort has been taken away. We are reminded that we are not masters over nature. We can use Tisha Be’av this year as a day for contemplation.”
Pardes will be having an online program on Tisha Be’av: “Will Things Ever Be the Same? Jewish Tradition as it Adapts and Resists Disruption/Destruction,” taking place at noon US Eastern Time and 7 p.m. Israel time. For more information: www.pardes.org.il/9av
• Chaya Bina-Katz, director of development at Matan – The Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, told In Jerusalem, “Tisha Be’av is a day of remembering, reflecting and reexperiencing the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people over the centuries. This year in particular, with corona, we are experiencing suffering at a global level. Matan aims to bring people together and give the day added depth and meaning.”
This year, Matan’s Tisha Be’av program will be broadcast via Zoom from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, including kinot, led by Rabbanit Shani Taragin and graduates of the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute, with shiurim in Hebrew and English by Rabbi Ari Kahn, Dr. Yosefa Wruble and Rav Prof. Joshua Berman. For more details: www.matan.org.il/en/.
• World Mizrachi is offering an online program for Tisha Be’av. Rav Hillel van Leeuwen, head of leadership development, told In Jerusalem, “Tisha Be’av is quite a unique day in Israel, with many people fasting and using the day for introspection and soul-searching. This is especially the case this year with the corona crisis, which has affected everybody in challenging ways. And specifically in Israel, alongside the serene mourning of what was, many feel an undercurrent of appreciation of what is, and of excitement in anticipation of what will soon be coming our way, please God.”
Mizrachi will broadcast 10 hours of classes, kinot and virtual tours on their Facebook and YouTube channels, cross-posted to communities around the world. For more information on the Mizrachi Tisha Be’av program: www.mizrachi.org/threeweeks.
Jonny Lipczer, at World Mizrachi, expounds, “There are two highlights of our online Tisha Be’av program: 1) ‘Kinot on Location’ – explanations from key sites around the world (including the Arch of Titus by an Italian rabbi, the mass graves of the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, etc.) and 2) The ‘Har HaBayit b’Yadeinu Debate.’ “Bearing in mind many will be unable to go to shul, we’re also screening a reading of Eicha, read by chief rabbis from Israel and around the world,”
• Rabbi Sam Shor, program director at the OU Israel Center, adds, “In these days of corona, we are more alone and have time to be more reflective, in our smaller social circles. Corona has given us the opportunity to focus more on our interpersonal relationships – on our bein adam le’chavero (how we treat others) – to call people to check they are OK, help the elderly with shopping and to give more tzedaka to needy families – this is perfect preparation for Tisha Be’av. By bettering ourselves both as individuals and as a nation, we are rectifying the behavior which caused the destruction of our Temples.”
The OU will be putting on an online program on the day of Tisha Be’av from 10:30 a.m. with kinot insights and lectures from OU Israel Faculty – including Rabbis Manning, Goldscheider, Friedman and Shor. Information will be on their website: www.ouisrael.org.

• The WebYeshiva will offer an online program and tour: www.webyeshiva.org/course/?topic=261.
• The Emek Learning Center will also have an online program: www.emeklearningcenter.com/.
• Most shuls will be having some form of Tisha Be’av program in the evening and day, as well as afternoon learning programs on Zoom.
AT THE beginning of Eicha, Jeremiah cries out, “She sits alone; the city which was great with people has become like a widow.” How pertinent is this moving description of Jerusalem after the destruction, also relevant to our lives now – when we are all having to cope with the coronavirus. People have died, been infected and sat in quarantine; the streets, shuls and shops are empty; community life and smachot (celebrations) are on hold; so many are unemployed and struggling financially; and our families and friendships have been broken apart.
May the days come soon, not only that the Temple will be rebuilt and Jerusalem return to its former state of glory, but also that our lives will be rebuilt and return to how they were – when families can sit together around the Shabbat table and grandparents can play with their grandchildren, without having to wear masks and keep a distance.
May our fractured Jerusalem and world be healed soon – Hadesh yamenu k’kedem!
This year, Tisha Be’av will start in the evening of Wednesday, July 29 and end the following evening.