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Turning Mourning into Action 

08/02/2022 03:51:22 PM


Rabbi Kelly Levy

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). Like many of you, when I read this well-known verse from Psalm 137, I immediately think of this version by Boney M. from 1978. The upbeat tempo and catchy melody are beautiful, but don’t really express the devastation behind the words.

In just a few days, we will commemorate Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, with the recitation of Psalm 137. Tisha B’Av is considered a day of mourning and lament, a day to remember the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the many other devastating events that occurred in the Jewish community. When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 B.C.E., thousands of Jews were displaced. They found themselves grieving the loss of their beloved home, their sacred space, and their lives as they once knew them.

Psalm 137 was written in response to their sadness and despair, a way to express the longing and pain they felt following the events in Jerusalem. But just as the people seemed lost in their mourning, they rise up, determined to remember the holy Temple. That determination becomes another well-known verse: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour” (Psalm 137:5-6).

Tisha B’Av is indeed a time to remember the loss of the Temple and the many terrible events that befell the Jews in the centuries that came after. Reform Jews tend not to commemorate this day as we traditionally do not mourn the loss of Temple life, or rather, we do not wish to return to sacrificial rituals. And yet, Tisha B’Av is more than a memorial to a life our ancestors once led; it’s a reminder of the pain and suffering our people have endured for thousands of years.

That reminder helps us to see the suffering of those around us, to have compassion for others, to find ways of supporting our community. Because as we know all too well, our people have experienced hardships and oppression, difficulty and despair. We can take the pain of our past and turn it into something good, something peaceful, something that makes the world a better place.

On this Tisha B’Av, while many Jews fast and remember the pain of those who came before us, let us find ways to heal those in our midst, to provide for the stranger and the poor, to create an abundance of kindness for all people. Let this Tisha B’Av remind us of the work we have yet to do, and that it is up to us to keep creating peace in our world. As Rabbi Tarfon famously said so many years ago, “It is not up to us to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784