Tu b’Av (the 15th of Av), celebrated today, follows on the heels of Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av – clever). Tisha b’Av is the culmination of a period called the Three Weeks – a time of mourning, grief, and lamentation. On it, Jews remember the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temple, the Bar Kochba Revolt, the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), the authorization of the Final Solution (1941) and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka (1942). All of these, coincidentally, happened in the Jewish calendar on the 9th of Av, no matter the date on the secular calendar.
Tu b’Av follows on the heels of all of this. And what is most interesting is that Tu b’Av is a festival of love. Some call it the Jewish “Valentines Day.” Historically, women would dress in white and communities would go out to dance and frolic. Today, it is a hard holiday to figure out how to celebrate.
This year for Tisha b’Av, I helped to organize and lead a fairly large public ritual at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn that focused on the mourning we are doing for black lives, black churches, and black communities facing destruction due to the racist violence that has always been part of this country, but that has emerged into our news stream, and we are fighting against anew, now. Lament: A Tisha b’Av about Racist Violence and Destruction wove together the chanting of Eicha – Lamentations, the book read during Tisha b’Av services – with statements of grief and mourning from black leaders, along with prayers from our Jewish community, seeking healing, renewal, and most importantly, justice. It was amazing to be together in public ritual, grieving the murders and deaths of black people and the burning of black churches, due to racist violence. It was so clear to me: I cannot mourn the destruction of Jewish people and Jewish communal institutions historically, if I am not mourning the destruction of Black people and Black communal institutions, both historically and currently.
How are we supposed to move that grief, which has not abated, into love?
The thing is, I have learned far more about love in being in the struggle for racial and economic justice than I have anywhere else. Love is hard. It requires attachment, forgiveness, grace. It requires patience, getting MAD, going away, and coming back again. It requires trust, belief, hope. Love is the foundation of any dream that the world can and should be different than this one that we live in. This world that right now feels like it is built too much on the backs and blood of black, brown, and poor people. People who, no matter who we are, are our people. Because we all are our people. There is no ‘we’ that is separate from ‘us’ that is separate from ‘them’ or ‘you.’ We are all in this together. Love is what helps us make those connections, those realizations, those relationships true. And it is also what helps us to be able to call each other into better versions of ourselves, and a better tomorrow.
So maybe it is not so out-of-the-blue that this holiday of love comes on the heels of Tisha b’Av. Not only is it a reminder that we are deserving of life, love, connection, intimacy, and sensuality even through the darkest periods. But it also offers love as the antidote to the terror of the world. We don’t fight terror with more terror. We don’t pile grief upon grief upon grief. We figure out how to love ourselves and each other into a different world. Into one in which this destruction will never be possible again.
The great teacher and revolutionary Assata Shakur teaches:
r/evolution means the end of exploitation. r/evolution means respecting people from other cultures. r/evolution is creative.
r/evolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. r/evolution is sexy.
r/evolution means respecting and learning from your children. r/evolution is beautiful.
r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet.
r/evolution is love.”
Maybe the rabbis didn’t have a total revolution in mind when they instituted Tu b’Av. But maybe the did. It is so hard to know. It certainly feels like revolution, in these days, to be building loving and dynamic relationships in the face of such destruction. Love is saying yes to life. Love is saying there is possibility, there is tomorrow.
What does it mean, then, for us today, in our multi-racial and multi-ethnic Jewish communities, to step into Tu b’Av as a way of continuing to resist the racist violence that plagues our world? How can we use love as a motivator and envisioner of change, life, vitality, and hope for our world? How will we step into loving each other, and loving black communities, into healing, today?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.