Today is Tisha Ba'av. Literally, this means the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the 1st and 2nd temples as well as other occasions in history where the Jewish people were killed or exiled simply for being Jewish. It's a very solemn holiday, similar to Yom Kippur in that many Jews fast and attend special t'fillah services. I have to admit that until this week I'd never heard much about Tisha Ba'av or it's significance, as many reform Jews do not observe the holy day, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to study and create a meaningful experience of it here in Jerusalem.
Last night, a group of HUC students arranged an amazing service in a garden that faces the Old City. The service had many typical prayers and lovely readings, but the most beautiful and resounding part was the reading of Eicha, the book of Lamentations. Elana, one of my fellow cantorial students, chanted the text in hebrew while Rachel, a rabbinical student, simultaneously read the english translation aloud. The trope Elana used to chant the text was different from normal Torah trope, one that I'm assuming is used for specific holidays and festivals. The combination of the simple reading of the translation paired with the not-so-simple chanting of the text was a beautiful, chilling, and inspiring reminder of how devastating this holiday is to the Jewish people. It gives me goosebumps now, just thinking about it.
After the service last night, there was a group text study and tour of the Old City and Kotel (Western Wall.) I opted out of the large group tour in favor of a visit to the Old City with Steph and my friends Jen, Dan and Ariel. It was my first trip to the Old City since I've been here this trip, and I have to say that the experience as a whole was a little underwhelming. First of all, there were THOUSANDS of people there (literally), and the Old City streets are not made to hold that many people. It was a wee bit too crowded for me (and by 'wee bit' I mean WAAAAY too crowded), so crowded that we couldn't even get up to the Kotel. We sat in the Kotel plaza (in front of the wall itself) and watched the people for awhile, and I was struck by both how many people there were and how many of the faces we saw were those of teenagers, people younger than ourselves. In a way, it was inspiring to see the many young faces greeting each other and making their way to the wall to pray. It would have been more inspiring had an Orthodox guy not pushed me out of the way to get past me (I thought Orthodox men don't touch strange women...) but that's another story.
This morning, we had 1 session of ulpan (we normally have 3) and then a text study followed by a mincha (afternoon) t'fillah. The text study was by far one of the coolest things I've done here so far. It was led by the director of outreach and admissions here, Rabbi David Wilfond (AKA Gingy.) We basically looked at texts in the Mishnah that explain the biggest reasons for the destruction of the temples. For those of you who may not know, the first temple was built on what was the holiest spot in Jerusalem, where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Issac, his beloved son, because Gd commanded him to. It is said that the 1st temple was destroyed because Jews were acting unjustly; worshipping idols, engaging in inappropriate sexual acts, and murdering innocent people. Gingy told us that committing these crimes is a violation of the 3 most important commandments in the Torah, and while it doesn't help cushion the blow, it does give some appropriate reasoning for the destruction of the temple. The temple was rebuilt after the first destruction, and in 10 A.D. it was destroyed again. It is said that at the time of the second temple, the people were studying Torah and performing mitzvot (commandments) and deeds of loving-kindness, but it was also a time of causeless hatred. The destruction of the second temple is obviously much harder to swallow, as the reasons for it are much more ambiguous. There were several stories we looked at which talked about small acts of hatred which escalated into the destruction, and while I'm not sure I believe them 100% I am able to more clearly define what "causeless hatred" is and why it led to the destruction of the holiest site in Judaism.
I'm happy that I finally understand what this holiday means to the Jewish people. To the best of my knowledge, it was never discussed or commemorated at my home congregation (which is common amongst Reform Jewish synagogues.) I realized today, sitting in Gingy's text study, how happy I am to be here discussing Judaism with 50+ other people who think about Judaism on such a passionate level. I learn something about Judaism from my classmates and professors everyday, and I cherish all of the lessons they are teaching me.
I've been thinking that I need to get on the ball with my actual studies this summer. Besides hebrew, I feel like there's a lot I need to learn in the way of liturgy and cantillation before classes begin this fall. A lot of my classmates come with a lot more Jewish experience than I do; they know how to chant Torah, they are familiar with weekday liturgy and melodies, etc. I'm unsure of where HUC starts us in our programs, and if we're expected to know certain things or if we're starting completely from scratch. Either way, I'd like to catch up to where some of my classmates are as to not feel totally overwhelmed by the time school starts. I've been working on my cantillation this week, which has always been something I've wanted to learn, and it's really exciting for me and kind of fun.
Speaking of studying, my hebrew flashcards are calling my name, so I will end this here. Much love to everyone!