As a Reform Jew, I have long struggled with the meaning and ritual of Tisha B’Av. I have learned and studied over the years; this week at the Hartman Institute, we wrestled with the notions of and texts on communal mourning. I do not wish to see the Temple rebuilt speedily in my day, and so what do I do with this holiday?
While we aren’t still wandering the wilderness of Maob, or navigating the hard working conditions of the lower east side, we must not forget what it means to be a newcomer to a foreign land. And we must take alongside us the reminder that we are the links to our past and our future. We serve as the reminder to not take for granted our ability to be both freely Jewish and American at the same time and to empathize with the conditions new Americans face today. For just as we were slaves in Egypt, so too were our families the ones who paved the path for great opportunity.
It’s been two weeks since our New York Educator’s Workshop, and I am still amazed at the places we visited and all that was taught by Etta, Ellen, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, and all the participants and presenters in attendance. It occurred to me recently how connected I feel to the labor rights movement, which we discussed as we stood in the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Of course there’s the Jewish connection: Jews made up a large percentage of the population of advocates and protesters in the fight for labor rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America. Jewish teachings and Yiddish phrases were often incorporated into the battle cries of the rioters. For me personally, there is much more to it than that.
A few years ago, after moving to Cincinnati for Rabbinical School at HUC, I saw a sign along the interstate with a quote from the book of Jeremiah that stated “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.” The quote refers to God comforting an incredulous Jeremiah after being told he will be a prophet to all the people at an almost impossibly young age.
Since April 29th of this year, citizens of the great state of North Carolina have been engaging in an ongoing event called “Moral Mondays.” Coordinated and led by the NC-NAACP, Moral Mondays represent the true essence of the Tarheel State—a state and a citizenry who is not afraid of standing up to oppression. It was only 53 years ago that Greensboro, one of the largest cities in NC, experienced this civic action first hand when four African American students from NC A&T staged a sit-in protest at a Woolworth’s segregated lunch counter.
Someone with a sign that read “ask me about my abortion” told me her story with tears in her eyes. She was finally escaping a physically and emotionally abusive relationship when she discovered she was pregnant. She already had a child from a previous relationship, and she was scared for his life as well as her own. An abortion saved her life, and allowed her to escape. After the procedure the doctors discovered a malignant tumor on her ovary, one that had been missed at her previous gynecological checkup. The abortion she received to escape her abuser not only saved her from her hell, it saved her from cancer as well. Those tears in her eyes? They were tears of joy, not sadness. “I can’t help but cry,” she shared, “when I see the entire community out to support women.”
The young actors learn about each other’s cultures (through a Passover seder, Spanish lessons, and more) while learning about themselves. I am constantly amazed by the power of theatre, even after experiencing it personally throughout my education. Watching Liz Swados and her production team interact with the teens reminded me of all the incredible teachers and directors I had the pleasure of working with in high school and college. Theatre gave me self-confidence and taught me the importance of community, and it’s clear that the teens involved in Sosúa learned the same. This fascinating movie provides great insight into the magic of theater as well as into a little known aspect of Shoah history.
Although my friends usually come into the conversation unable to comprehend why nice, Orthodox girls would want to enter the rabbinate, I certainly hope they leave the discussion slightly more enlightened. They don’t have to agree with me at the end of the day; Judaism is very fluid, and no two people must come to the same conclusion regarding the interpretation of halakha. I just hope they can understand why women like the recent Yeshivat Maharat graduates may want to choose the rabbinate or a religious leadership role.