I write to you just as Tisha Be'av is about to begin. Two years ago, I sat in a Jerusalem playground on Tisha Be'av with my children, listening to their laughter in a thriving city, wondering why I was stepping into the ritual sadness commemorating Jerusalem's destructions.
I still wonder. I'm not sure about Tisha Be'av, and I imagine I'm not alone. Theologically speaking, many of us believe about God's involvement in politics quite differently from the Book of Eicha, which we'll read tonight at 8pm at shul (please do not forget a flashlight). The rituals of mourning (refraining, as on Yom Kippur, from pleasure) are ones that seem foreign to our contemporary Jewish sensibilities. And yet, some of us will join Tuesday morning at 8am at Beth Israel for davening and communal learning (10am) as we mourn in unity. Then we'll begin our transition from mourning to national comfort with Mincha at Netivot Shalom Tuesday at 7:15pm.
What does all this mean to us? Aren't we past all that? Hasn't the Jewish People emerged from its fragility? Related: how can we we imagine a loss of our sacred home? What does the deep sadness of Tisha Be'av mean in our beautiful Jewish home on University Avenue? Why enter into a period of historic Jewish mourning when Jewish children can once again play in Jerusalem - and in Berkeley?
My precious community, I write to you plainly about where my heart is on the eve of Tisha Be'av this year. All is not well in the Jewish world. Not in Israel, nor at home. Tisha Be'av is all too relevant this year.
The CNS chevreh that traveled to Israel this summer encountered much that is in need of dire healing. Some of us are planning a return on the Masorti Foundation Leadership Mission this January to learn more deeply about one particular challenge. The growing social protests in Israel, the continuing challenges of inter-religious conversation, and Israeli Jewish pluralism are challenges that, in the words of Masorti Rabbi Andrew Sacks:
"...strike at the heart of Jewish democracy. The government must alter national priorities in a profound and comprehensive manner, to be attentive to the cry of the people and to preserve our uniquely valuable homeland. (http://www.forward.com/issues/2011-08-19/)"
And, back "home" in Berkeley, the CNS Board has been working intensely to launch a Capital Campaign in time to meet our financial obligations and continue our life as a vibrant and powerful sacred Jewish home. This is no exaggeration. These next few months will determine the fate of our precious community at Netivot Shalom as we confront our current financial situation with open eyes and firm hearts. While we have grown from 280 to 418 households in four years, with more each day finding their dreams cared for at Netivot Shalom, we also carry the debt of a beautiful building and the considerable expense of a professional staff worthy of our mission. Netivot Shalom is a place where children and grown-ups learn, and laugh, and cry - and feel. That is an expensive set of commitments, which is upon us to embrace with passion and creativity this year.
We have serious work ahead this year. Tisha Be'av 5771 is our clarion wake-up call, as a People, and as a shul community. We will sit on the floor tonight, reciting words of historic Jewish anguish. And tomorrow, we will rise and commit ourselves to doing everything in our power - and then some - to foment Jewish strength and hope.
I do wonder about Tisha Be'av. But that's because I can't wait to laugh and play as a Jew. That's what my soul aches for today. That's the very dream of the Book of Eicha - to be safe enough to laugh as a Jew.
May the legacy of Netivot Shalom be strong, long, and secure.
May our People, community by community, be rebuilt every day.