A few years ago, on the last Shabbat of Tammuz, I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly moved during morning davening. Josh, our Mussaf leader that day, was reciting the blessing for the new moon, as the month of Av would be starting that week. For the short middle paragraph of the blessing, Josh chose the mournful melody of “Elli Zion” familiar to us from the Tisha B’av liturgy. And when we reached the words “all of Israel are friends”, a chill went down my spine. Usually this phrase is one of the most difficult and ironic phrases from our liturgy, given the sad and ongoing story of friction within our tribe. But intoned to the melody of “Elli Zion”, which evokes all of the darkest chapters of our history of the past thousands of years, the words rung startlingly true. We do all share the same stories. We have all walked the same tortured path. When it comes to all the things that we remember every Tisha B’av, all of Israel are indeed friends. Brothers, sisters, and comrades.
Which makes Tisha B’av, strange as this might sound, a true gift for us. It is a special and unique annual opportunity for Jews to sit together, remember together, and even articulate aspirations for the future, together. My dear friend David challenged me a few weeks after Josh’s Mussaf, asking, “is there a way that we could observe Tisha B’av next year with a broader swath of the Jewish community? Isn’t that what the day is about?”
Those experiences, combined with the enthusiasm for the idea that came from my neighborhood colleagues, brought forth an extraordinary Tisha B’av observance that it is about to mark its third year. Our (Orthodox) shul, Temple Beth Am (Conservative), and IKAR (non-denominational) now spend the last 2+ hours of the day together in learning, and soulful Tisha B’av singing. Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Rabbi Sharon Brous and I have formed a most wonderful partnership, creating the learning materials and implementing the program. The program takes place at Beth Am where Rabbi Kligfeld has, so magnificently, given the chevra from our shul a beautiful classroom where we set up a mechitza and have an Orthodox davening for Mincha and Ma’ariv, parallel to the minyanim taking place in the chapel down the stairs. And as we break fast together, the sense of family, of peoplehood, of possibility and optimism, the sense that all Israel are friends, is tangible and exhilarating.
I am sharing this with you not simply to praise my colleagues and their congregations (and my own), but to describe the possible. We’d each be happy to help you and your congregation create something similar to what, with God’s help, we’ve created here.
We need not wait for Mashiach to create this kind of meaningful Jewish friendship. Probably, Mashiach is waiting for us.
A meaningful fast to all.