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Finding Grief, Finding Comfort

Rebecca Bram Feldbaum

This time, the meaning of Tishah B’Av was so deep in the core of my soul that it took my breath away

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

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Ihave vague memories of how Tishah B’Av was observed in the small Southern town where I grew up. At night we read from a very depressing book called Eichah. I tried to follow along in English because I didn’t understand the Hebrew words. But reading the English translation was just too scary and depressing.

I didn’t have enough of a Jewish education to appreciate theTemplewe were supposed to be mourning. I hadn’t even heard of the Three Weeks. All I knew was that there was one specific day of the year when we had an “obligation” to be sad, but fasting was “optional.” The rabbi, his wife, and a few members in our congregation fasted not only just at night, but the entire 25 hours. I learned about these “really observant” ultra-Orthodox in the Sunday school I attended. That fascinated me… imagine fasting for a whole day, like Yom Kippur!

I got the feeling that many people in our congregation, like me, did not truly understand what was going on. The one person who seemed a bit upset (besides our rabbi and rebbetzin) was a middle-aged man who had lost his entire family in the Holocaust. We knew that he’d had a good Jewish education inEurope, so I assumed he realized why we were all gathering together and trying to be unhappy. Most of the congregants just sat on the regular shul chairs, but he was one of the few who sat on a small shivah chair from our local funeral home.

My next most vivid memory of Tishah B’Av was over a decade later. Over the years, I’d gradually become more observant through NCSY youth activities and having attendedTouroCollegeand Neve Yerushalayim seminary. I got my first job inWashington,D.C.and became a part of the thriving Jewish community inSilver Spring,Maryland.

I’d “done the whole fast” for a few years but for some reason, this Tishah B’ Av stands out in my mind. Sitting on small, plastic chairs in a shul I had recently joined, I was so proud that I could translate on my own some of the words the rabbi was leining in his very mournful sing-song tone. Ironically, the few pesukim I understood spoke of an uplifting bitachon: Hashem’s kindness surely has not ended, nor are His mercies exhausted. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! Hashem is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him. Actually, I was kind of gleeful I was finally able to follow most of the service.

The following morning I went to work at a Jewish organization where none of my colleagues were observant. At around two my boss called me into his office and asked me to please leave — everyone else had broken their fast and they felt guilty having me around! That was okay with me; by then I had a splitting headache and could not wait to get home and lie down until the fast was over.

 

In subsequent years, for some unknown reason, I still let the words of Eichah and the solemnity of the day barely affect me. In all honesty, my emotions were more stirred by the Holocaust books I devoured. I read them with a burning passion. The more religious observances I took upon myself, the more I felt an insatiable desire to learn about the history of my people. In fact, that was how I usually spent the morning observing Tishah B’Av — by reading a newly purchased book on the Holocaust.

The years passed quickly, and suddenly another Tishah B’Av was upon me. Yet this time, the meaning of Tishah B’Av was so deep in the core of my soul that it took my breath away. For years, the prayers had barely touched my heart. But now I felt them surge through me.

Eight months earlier, my husband and the father of my four young children, all under the age of nine, had passed away. He was 40, I was 37. Every single day of those eight months I had mourned bitterly. I tried to keep up a good façade for casual acquaintances who greeted me on the street and for my four precious neshomos. But I knew my single-parent journey was just beginning — and it terrified me.

 

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