Ritual for Tisha B’Av

Adapted from Tisha B’Av observance organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, Boston
July 26, 2015.  Brookline, MA.
Leora Abelson and Isaac Simon Hodes
We wrote this script for a ceremony on Tisha B’Av in the Boston area in July, 2015. The ceremony was at once an observance of the sacred day, a memorial for the victims of “Operation Protective Edge,” and a public statement of solidarity. We share it this year because what we wrote is still true, because we continue to mourn, because in some ways so little has changed. We also share it because this summer, more than ever, we know that acknowledging and honoring our pain and our history of trauma is necessary.
We are heartbroken by the response of some Jewish institutions to the Movement for Black Lives platform. We understand that our history of persecution and the legacy of the Shoah make the use of the term “genocide” in relation to Israel’s actions sharply painful for many. We recognize that members of our community are responding in different ways – some feel called to affirm this usage, some feel called to criticize it, and many feel called to seek to understand the context and intent behind it.
Regardless of our positions on that question, we must not allow our pain to stop us from supporting the transformative struggle of the Movement for Black Lives. And we must not allow our pain to curtail our involvement — as allies or members — with the Movement for Black Lives organizations that created the platform and are central to carrying the struggle forward.
This ceremony expresses our belief that grieving our own losses sensitizes us to the pain and suffering of other communities, including suffering inflicted in our name. Grieving our own losses prepares us to simultaneously fight against anti-Jewish oppression, against racism, and for liberation for all people.
1. We gather on Tisha B’Av in sorrow, but also in solidarity and in struggle.
The sorrow we have come together to share is for the death and destruction brought by the Israeli military’s attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and for the suffering of all people touched by that event on either side of the border.
The solidarity we have come together to voice is most of all for the people of Gaza, who suffered the loss of 18,000 homes in Israel’s attack; who mourned more than 1,500 civilians killed, including over 500 children; and who face an ongoing blockade as they try to rebuild. [https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/11/israeli-forces-displayed-callous-indifference-deadly-attacks-family-homes-gaza/]
The struggle we have come together to renew is a struggle for justice and peace. The attack on Gaza was carried out by an Israeli government that claims to act on behalf of all Jewish people; the attack was supported by many Jewish institutions in North America that claim to speak in our name; and the attack was enabled by tax dollars, weapons, and diplomatic cover from the United States. But those governments and institutions do not speak for us.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive.” We hope that by grieving together publicly, by speaking our sorrow and our solidarity with the people of Gaza, we will renew our commitment to struggle against injustice in all of Palestine and Israel, and against anti-blackness, racism, and other forms of oppression in our own communities.
2. Today is Tisha B’Av, which means the ninth day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning that collapses Jewish time into one moment. On this day, Jews mourn the tragedies that have traumatized our people centuries apart, from the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem to the expulsion of Jews from Spain to the Nazi Holocaust. The existence of this day in our tradition testifies to something we all know – that destruction, personal and collective, is a part of human existence, and unless we honor the pain of our trauma, we cannot move through it.
As activists, we know that the grief we feel about our own people’s persecution is bound up and interconnected with the grief with feel about the persecution of other peoples. The grief we feel about moments of destruction in Jewish history is bound up with the grief we feel about the destruction of life, of families, of communities in Gaza.
On this day, our tradition demands that we take the time to mourn. To name our losses, to feel the depth of our grief, and to do so in community. Today we mourn all the lives that were destroyed in Gaza last summer. We honor the pain of those who survived, the people of Gaza and all Palestinians, who face ongoing destruction and violence, and Israelis who live in fear. We acknowledge our grief at the unjust and unnecessary destruction of life.
We rage at the racism, imperialism, and anti-Jewish oppression that lie at the roots of this situation, that created the context in which this conflict and destruction took place, and that continue functioning to keep the dynamic of occupation and subjugation in place. And we mourn our own experience of exile from Jewish communities where we are not supposed to talk about these things.
3. As we mourn and move forward in struggle, we draw strength from both religious and secular Jewish traditions, and from other sources as well. We recognize that each of you has a unique relationship to the different parts of these traditions. We invite you to participate in the ritual as feels comfortable to you.
4. After a brief ceremony, we invite you to participate in a march. We will carry photos taken in Gaza and sing a niggun, a wordless melody, as we march. We hope that the ceremony will allow us to open our hearts deeply to the grief that we feel, and that we will bring that energy of mourning into the community.
5. [Poem recited.]
6.  [Introduction of memorial cards and testimony]
7. We now invite people holding memorial cards to come forward. These cards hold photographs and stories of individuals and families who were killed in the conflict last summer.
8. [Reading of cards by various participants.]
9. [Poem recited.]
10. We close our ceremony with the recitation of two traditional Jewish prayers of mourning. El Malei Rachamim is a prayer for the dead. Mourners’ Kaddish is for the living: we pray to continue to feel these losses deeply and let them strengthen our activism.
These prayers are Jewish expressions of the universal experience of mourning. Saying them today is a Jewish response to the horrors in Gaza, not claiming it but standing beside it, affirming the interconnection of our pain.
Saying it here [in Brookline] we speak also to the Jewish community beyond this circle, inviting them to remember the searing grief of death and loss, and to find empathy for the survivors in Gaza.
11. [Chant El Malei Rachamim and Mourners’ Kaddish]
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