Should We Still Mourn on Tishaa Ba’av? An Olah Chadasha Perspective.
As I prepare myself to listen to Eicha, I step out of my new home in the hills of Jerusalem and observe her. The barren, destitute city that I know is waiting for me within those pages is nowhere to be seen. Instead, I see a landscape full of twinkling lights, highways full of cars, homes brightly lit up- indicating that someone is home. She is vibrant. Vibrating. Alive and well.
My initial reaction to needing to mourn the city that stands before me feels strange. Doesn’t the fact that Jerusalem is teeming again with Jews, indicate that the mourning period should end? In my own life, does the fact that I just arrived here in Tzion, essentially on the wings of an eagle, to build a home in Jerusalem with my family, mean that we are living part of the prophecy of redemption?
Today on Shabbat, I had the privilege of seeing my children run and play in a utopian scene. In the foreground were families from all over the world; Russians, French, British, American, South African, Australian, South American- all speaking to their children in their mother tongues, only to be responded to in Hebrew. In the background, the hills of Jerusalem lent their beauty to the moment. The ingathering of the exiles felt so present. What a blessing to be a part of this fortunate generation.
Upon further reflection, when questioning why we still need to be mourning, I realized that this idyllic image of Jerusalem that lay before me, is in fact, quite current. It has been only 51 years since Israel was able to reclaim their holy city- and in that time, this place has been rebuilt anew. I had never known a Jerusalem that I could not experience- and yet that reality is not far off in the scheme of history. The truth is, our presence here is tenuous at best. As full and overflowing with Jews as Jerusalem is, we are always under threat from surrounding forces who wish to rip her away again. The threat of terrorism always looms and promises are made in foreign governments to separate Jerusalem from her Jews. Our connection to her is fragile, and yet in our prayers and dreams, everlasting.
Perhaps we are in the beginning stages of a new era of redemption. As the sages teach, the Temple was taken from us because of “Sinat Chinam” – baseless hatred. Today, we focus on labels and externals and less on the human experiences that bind us. We need to work harder to connect with each other in healing and bring in those who have been shunted to the outside, in. We have work to do; to dissolve the differences between us, to be what God wants us to be, “Ish echad belev echad- One person, with one heart.”
This Shabbat while I sat in the park, I saw two Jews walking towards each other. One dressed in a bekeshe and hat, and the other in workout clothes. As I was marveling at the diversity of Jerusalem, I fully expected them to walk past each other and move on with their afternoons. Instead, they called out to each other and warmly embraced. They saw each other for the goodness within, for their inner sparks, for their shared bond of nationhood. It was beautiful to behold and it made me hopeful for the rest of us.
So this Tishaa Baav, we still mourn the destruction of Jerusalem. Perhaps we mourn to remember that the relationship between our city and our people is complicated and symbiotic. Our intentions to build Jewish homes, Jewish institutions, Jewish communities based on Ahavat Yisrael- these intentions fuel the spirit of Jerusalem.
From the view of my new bedroom, there is a synagogue that was loosely modeled after the architecture of the Beit Hamikdash. This building looms large in the horizon, the famed spokes on top peeking out from its surrounding buildings. It’s a facsimile of something we are yearning for, a reminder of what could be. Since I’ve been here there last three weeks, every night and every morning, through my open window, I wonder what it would be like to be in the presence of the real thing. How Jerusalem would be transformed once again. To truly know, what it would be like to live in peace and harmony.
As my husband, who is a Levite, left to hear Eicha at the Kotel tonight, he turned to me with a wink and said, “I’ll let you know if they ask me to work late at the Beit Hamikdash, if Mashiach returns.”
I pray one day soon, to receive that call.
May the Jewish people and Jerusalem be redeemed, speedily in our days.
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism. She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community. She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience. Shira made aliyah with her family a year ago to Jerusalem.