A meaningful Tisha Be'av

How simple it was to transform my negative experience into a positive one by a small act of kindness.

Haredim 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Haredim 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
This year, I decided to wish my family and friends a "meaningful Tisha Be'av" as opposed to the usual "Have an easy fast." I hadn't realized how relevant this decision would be. I had a doctor's appointment on the morning of Tisha Be'av and as I drove toward the doctor's office in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, I passed through Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. Destruction was all around me; There were remnants of burnt refuse and trash cans, bent street signs and missing sidewalk bricks. Graffiti adorned the walls and pavement, including one calling the police chief a Nazi, and signs were hung on almost every building making it clear that only people dressed according to their regulations were allowed in. As I approached Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, I let out a sigh of relief - I had passed the danger zone. I parked my car and limped toward the clinic (I had injured my ankle a day before), and passed by a kollel. Several young boys were playing by the staircase. As I innocently passed them by I heard one of them say "yuck" under his breath. I stopped in my tracks. I proceeded to walk up the steps and confront the boy who had made the comment and asked him why he had done so. He said he was talking to a friend. I told him I hoped he was speaking the truth, although I knew he was lying, and told him that sinat hinam (baseless hatred) was what had caused the destruction of the Second Temple, and then I left. After exiting the doctor's office I headed back to the car and contemplated whether I should go the other way which would take much longer. I wanted to avoid another possible encounter with the boys. I decided to brace a confrontation due to my injured ankle and the fact that I was fasting and did not want to walk in the heat unnecessarily. As I approached the kollel, the boys were once again playing outside, some on the other side of the street. As soon as they noticed me they signaled to the others to gather by the steps. I noticed that the children across the street were so "excited" about my presence that they crossed the street without even looking. I walked by, just wanting to get into my car and get my ankle X-rayed at the medical center so I could go home to my children. The kids began to yell, "Shiksa! Shiksa!" and quickly disappeared into the kollel. Forgetting my sprained ankle, I ran after them, determined to speak to one of the fathers or rabbis. Several minutes later, a rabbi appeared. He was pleasant and approached me warmly. I told him about the insults the boys had thrown my way, and after initially trying to excuse their behavior, he finally listened to me. I told him how it pained me that on a day like Tisha Be'av, instead of propagating ahavat hinam (unconditional love) among Jews, they were doing the opposite. I told him and the boys that their type of behavior is what triggered the destruction of the Temple and that rather than teaching the boys tolerance and acceptance, adult members of the community were propagating hatred. I told him that the destruction of the Temple was caused by this type of behavior, and not because women wore pants (such as myself). He said that I had a point, but that I must understand the other side as well. I told him that I had come to see my doctor and did not come with the intent of disrespecting them. I too was fasting, I said, and am also religious. I told him that this was not the way to go about trying to get people closer to God, and that this exact behavior is what pushes so many people to detest religious people. He listened to my words and said he would talk to the rabbis in charge. I left, infuriated. The rabbi was kind and receptive to my words, but I was so upset by the encounter I had with the boys, on Tisha B'Av of all days. I ARRIVED at the medical center and took my seat as I waited my turn for an X-ray. An Ethiopian man of about 50, with a stubbly beard, and blind in one eye was attempting to understand the secretary. "You need to go back to the kupat holim and get a hit'haivut [payment notice]!" she said loudly, almost shouting. After she repeated this several times, each time at a louder pitch, he seemed to understand and unhappily began to shuffle away. "Let me take you", I said. He looked at me, not sure if he understood. I got up and motioned for him to come with me. I told him I would take him and bring him back. He wore a kippa and I asked if he was fasting. He replied that he was. It wouldn't take long for me to drive him, but to walk in the hot sun would be so difficult for him. What an opportunity to bring some ahavat hinam into the world. The kupat holim was only two minutes away, and as we left he could not stop thanking me. I told him it was my pleasure and helped him sort out his papers and locate his card as we entered the clinic. When it came time to pay the NIS 25 fee, he was 40 agorot short. I happily gave him a 50 agorot coin and we were on our way back. When we stepped out of the car, he looked at me in adoration and said, over and over: "You are… imma, You are… imma". At first I thought he was asking me if I was a mother, but then I understood that I, a 20-plus-year-old mother of young children, had become for him - a 50-year-old man - a mother. This was very moving and I held back my tears. As I returned home, I realized that my anger had turned into content. My eight-year-old told me once that each good deed adds another brick to the rebuilding of the Temple. I felt as if I had contributed a brick. I would not describe my fast as being "easy" this year. But meaningful? You bet. How simple it was to transform my negative experience into a positive one by a small act of kindness. This small act of kindness was so easy for me to do, and most likely will never be forgotten by this man. May we all merit to sow the seeds of ahavat hinam, even as hatred encompasses us from all directions, and merit to reap the reward of building the Temple one brick at a time.