Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history. (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.) I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust. I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av. I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting. I hope to finish it in a couple of years. Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories. I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).
In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group. (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!) I’ve never been there in person. I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people. I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered. The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust. I was surprised how big the site it was.
It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it. Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious). With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that. There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.
I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past. It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable. There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like. But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.
(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)
In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow. I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future. That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is. It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer). But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me. That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.
It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future. I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.
I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience. He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.
As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should. I get irritable with my family. I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”). I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way. I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly. My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.
I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.
* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.” Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.