Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tisha B'Av

In the Jewish calendar, there are many examples of periods of great sadness/reflection/somberness, and within 24 hours, the Jews are celebrating!

This is exemplified by the proximity of Holocaust Memorial Day/Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers to Independence day (Memorial day ends, and an hour later,the fireworks are blasting!), Yom Kippur and Succot (5 days difference), and most startingly, Tisha B'Av, which is the finale of 3 weeks of intense mourning over the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, and the next 3 weeks, which are, basically, summer vacation.

Tisha B'Av fell this year on Sunday, and I went with Avishai,Yochi and Hagai up to a local synagogue where they read Echa (Lamantations) in the courtyard, while everyone sits on the ground outside and follows the reading on a screen which is projected on the stones of the building. During the daytime, while the kids tried to sleep off the fast, I went to a neighbor who was hosting a "workshop seminar" for local women. The goal was to do some introspective work on oneself, building one's own "Temple" (self) in a a healthy way.

The seminar facilitator was very adept at maintaining the atmosphere of Tisha B'Av, and concentrating on what we are supposed to be concentrating on, while encouraging everyone to think about themselves and their own inner work.

The first exercise involved making outlines of our bodies on large pieces of paper,and then using colors to graphically describe ourselves, both to ourselves and others. One woman filled in her body with all sorts of colors and strokes, leaving an area in her center, her womb, empty. Little need for explanation.

Another woman used words to describe her striving to become more spiritually connected, while maintaining connections with her irreligious daughters.

A third found ways to use colors to show her longing for physical contact with a partner, and so on. Very interesting.

I, fairly "artistically-challenged", couldn't quite figure out what to do with my outline, and when asked to take my turn and show my outline, I explained "I outlined my hands, because I feel like I'm always busy, always doing something. I outlined my feet because I feel like I'm always running. I colored in my brain, because I feel like I'm always thinking about what to do about situations, problems, issues, etc. And I colored in my heart because, well, I think that it's working."

"Last Yom Kippur, I particiapted in a similar exercise with another group, when we were asked to go around and say what we hoped for for the coming year. When my turn came, I said that I hope that God grants me the strength to accept what I cannot change, and 'make lemonade from lemons'. When I look at my outline today, 10 months later, I feel like I've reached that place -- life is challenging, and it has its frustrations and places of sadness. But all in all, I'm doing OK, and I think that I'm doing a good job of raising my children, which is my ultimate goal. So looking at my outline today, I feel that, maybe I haven't reached the point of total acceptance of what God has given me, but I'm on my way."

The second exercise that we did was to write a letter to our mothers. When we shared our letters, I was quite astounded to see how many women had some difficult things to say to their mothers. I'm always suprised to find out how many people I know, who seem to be perfectly balanced and "normal" , and who are, in reality, struggling with some major issues related to their childhoods and relationships to their families. So many people who, from the outside, seem to be in a "good emotional space" in their lives are, in reality, still trying to overcome childhood abuse, both mental and physical, tensions with family members, anger at the past, etc.

I've actually come to the conclusion that those of us who were raised in stable loving families are a minority. I'm not exaggerating. After I became a "single mother", and it became public, it was actually frightening how many people, both men and women, began to open up to me, telling me about their pain and struggles. Abusive marriages, strained relationships with parents and siblings, fury at childhood wrongs...and somehow, these people succeed in being loving parents and supportive neighbors and friends.

So, my letter to my mother? A couple of years ago, someone accused me of doing something that I didn't do. I was accused of erasing an e-mail, and from that, the accusations continued...I ALWAYS erased this person's e-mails, I was trying to drive a wedge between this person and the rest of the family, I had withheld information that this person had wanted to pass on, etc.

What can I say? The accusation was so totally untrue that it still astounds me when I think about it. I had accidently deleted the e-mail, but had not even been aware that I had deleted was only when I told someone else to take a look at it, and saw that it wasn't there anymore, that I realized that I had deleted it. As to the other accusations, they couldn't have been more untrue -- in fact, it was to prevent a wedge from being driven between the accuser and the rest of the family that I hadn't told the accuser that I had always passed on her information, but the person that she had expected to respond hadn't wanted to.

Anyway, I mentioned this whole incident to my mother. My mother told me that things like that had happened to her in the past -- she had been taken to task for something or other by family members. She told me, "I always say 'I'm sorry'. Then, I go ahead and do what I think is right. But it doesn't cost me anything to say 'I'm sorry', and it keeps the peace."

Anyway, in my letter to my mother, I wrote that I want to be like my mother when I grow up, because I think that that's probably one of the wisest things that I've ever heard. My mother may take the mitzva of not speaking "lashon hara" a bit to the extreme -- in fact, she could write the book! But when I look at my family, and see that we all get along, don't criticize each other, and are pretty supportive of each other, I see that that comes from my mother, and I hope that I can impart that to the next generation.

No, I never said "I'm sorry" to my accuser. I couldn't. But I admire my mother for being able to overcome the kind of anger that I feel over an issue like this and just doing what needs to be done to keep peace.

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