This past weekend (from Saturday night to Sunday night) was Tisha B’Av, the Jewish date for communal mourning of the destruction of the temples in the Jerusalem as well as all other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through history.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem and perhaps that will provide inspiration for another post.
Today, however, I wanted to share something I heard on Yocheved Davidowitz A Deeper Conversation podcast episode for Tisha B’Av.
In it, she discusses the solidarity Jews experience in mourning loss collectively and also the profound rituals Jews have for funerals and the grieving process.
Yocheved then discusses how, in her work as a therapist, she would notice the sense of dread people have about feeling sadness and mourning.
It was the summer of 2018 when I crashed an Aramaic summer camp for Maronite children living in northern Israel. I got to have a blast singing songs and playing games with the children who are growing up navigating a complex identity with an extremely fraught history in a pretty volatile region.
One day during that camp, I decided to ask an 11-year-old girl named Marie who lives just a few kilometres away from the border with Lebanon, “Who do you think is in greatest need of our prayers?”
The preteen immediately answered, “The kids of Florida.”
“Florida?” I repeated curiously.
“Yes,” she told me. “Because of the school shootings there.”
I was quite struck by this answer to the extent that I still remember it.
It is interesting to consider this perspective on danger.
After all, I am sure that, were I interviewing 11-year-olds in Florida about who most needs our prayers that someone there would have told me, “The kids of the Middle East.”
Since today is the three-year anniversary of a near-death experience of mine, I thought I’d blog about the day my friends and I were attacked in the West Bank.
It was a Friday night in Bethlehem when, unlike Jesus, my American friend Ashley and I had managed to find overnight accommodations at an AirBnB there.
The following morning, on July 7, 2018, our Palestinian Christian friend Khalil came to pick us up, greeting us with the cappuccinos he’d brought for us.
Next we picked up my Canadian friend Amy and set off on our West Bank adventure. I remember we said a quick prayer for our trip.
The first place we visited was the Shrine of Our Lady of the Garden at Artas. “Tour groups almost never come here and it isn’t really a tourist site,” Khalil told us. “But this is my favourite place in Bethlehem and the most beautiful.”
What a remarkable photo it is taken by Ariel Schalit for the Associated Press. The caption in this Globe and Mail story says, “Mourners gather around the body of Shraga Gestetner, a Canadian singer who died during Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021.”
Shraga Gestetner was among those accidentally trampled and killed in the midst of a big celebration in Israel. Many commentators are reflecting on the heightened fervour and enthusiasm among those who were finally able to gather for the annual event, partly in celebration of the luminousness of Judaism’s mystical teachings.
The Montreal-born victim had been in Israel without any of his family members and he was buried immediately in accordance with Jewish law.
I first heard the following story told by the incredible storyteller and guide Michael Bauer during the 2010 March of Remembrance and Hope Holocaust study trip to Germany and Poland.
Shmuel Gogol was a Polish Jew who was born in Warsaw. His mother died and his father was expelled from Poland. For a time, Shmuel was raised by his grandmother before she eventually brought him to Janusz Korczak’s orphanage.
One day, Shmuel saw a boy playing a harmonica and he immediately longed to have one of his own so that he could learn to play it. Janusz Korczak finally gave him one for his birthday.
As I have written about before, Korczak and 200 children of the orphanage were deported to the death camp called Treblinka. However, Shmuel was not among these children because his grandmother had smuggled him out of the Warsaw Ghetto to stay with his uncle in a different Polish town during the war.
However, despite these efforts to protect him, Shmuel still ended up getting deported to Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz, all of Shmuel’s possessions were confiscated, including his harmonica.
Time went on and, one day, Shmuel could hear the sound of a harmonica from within the concentration camp. So intent was he at the prospect of once again having a harmonica that he traded several days of food rations in order to obtain it from the other prisoner.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a place to which thousands of pilgrims flock every day to see what isn’t there.
It is quite amusing, in fact, to wait in line for hours in order to see a place that you know to be empty.
Life is filled with a great many paradoxes. It is a paradox that the cross, which was an instrument of torture, became an instrument of divine reconciliation and the most enduring symbol of Christian faith. It is a paradox that the empty tomb became the sign of the fullness of Christian hope – that we “will not all die, but we will all be changed” and that “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
One site I love to visit in Israel is David and Paula Ben Gurion’s tombs in the Negev.
Sitting with a group along some stone steps as we looked toward the tombs, our guide said, “The inscription on David Ben-Gurion’s tombstone has three dates on it – the date he was born, the date he died, and the date he made aliyah [immigrated to Israel]. Why does it have the date he made aliyah?”
Our guide was serious about prompting our reflection and gave many members of our group the chance to surmise. After everyone had had the opportunity to offer their interpretations, our guide offered his own:
“Aliyah was the first step. It was the decisive turning point in the drama of his life. It was the decision he made that significantly impacted and made possible all the others. What will your first step be?” he asked, as we sat for a few moments of quiet reflection in that desert shade.
And so, I’ll now ask you: What might the extra date be on your tombstone?
Recently, in a discussion about the military, a friend of mine recalled receiving a letter when he was 18 asking him whether he would like to join the military in Belgium. This Canadian friend of mine had a Belgian grandfather, but had never visited the country. “After I received the letter from Belgium, it did make me wonder why I never received such a letter from Canada,” he reflected.
The military is not on most Canadians’ minds, particularly because Canada has one of the lowest rates of per capita military involvement in the world. According to this Macleans article, “[looking at] military personnel per capita […] leaves Canada the fourth-lowest number, with 0.0018 per person. In this instance, Canada is only beaten by India, Brazil, and China, whose large armed forces are eclipsed by their giant populations.”
Canadians are blessed to live in such a peaceful country with the best neighbour on whom we can rely for cooperation on our security interests. However, the meagre percentage of our population that serves in the military bespeaks a weakness in our cultivation of civic responsibility and even of the value of a noble patriotism.