Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

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.

Shutdown

I feel quite depressed today, plus I’ve had some anxiety too.  I had a bit yesterday evening, and today it’s worse.  I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  I’m pretty sure it’s stuff I’ve seen online as it restarted after being online this morning, but I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  Tablet magazine ran three stories yesterday on antisemitism in left-wing/anti-racist/cancel culture circles, which was a lot even by their standards, so that contributed to it, but it started before then and I don’t know why it restarted this morning.  There’s the usual despair about being alone and unemployed forever too.  I’m not sure whether I should worry about dying alone and unloved or being killed by antisemites.  I suppose they aren’t mutually exclusive.

I feel I have some creeping ‘pure O’ OCD thoughts again lately.  Not the religious OCD so much as scrupulosity “am I a good person?  Maybe I’m secretly sexist/racist/whatever?” thoughts.  Sometimes my thoughts just seem horrible and polluted and I wonder where they even come from.

I want to be more positive, here and in general, but it’s hard.  While my worst fears haven’t fully come true, it would be untrue to say that none of my fears have ever materialised.  The best I can say is that worrying about being lonely in the future is just contributing to loneliness now, not that I think it realistic that I won’t be lonely in the future.  I wonder if I should try to write less here, to be less negative, but I feel I need to be able to vent somewhere and it’s easier in writing.

I tried to write my novel and just started crying without knowing why.  I went back to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet for autistic comfort for a bit, trying not to think about shoulds (“I should get a weighted blanket”) and then went into a bit of a shutdown (I’m not really sure if I experience autistic shutdowns as such, but I don’t know how else to describe what can happen to me when I’m exhausted and depressed).  Eventually I fell asleep, I’m not sure how long for.

I cooked dinner, because I had promised to, as Mum had chemo today so is too tired to cook.  I also worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought), because I really needed to get that more or less finished today.  I’m a bit happier with than yesterday, but not hugely so.  However, overall, this day has largely been a mental health day.  I haven’t been well enough to do much.  I could do some more work on the novel now I feel a bit better, but I’m wary of doing it, because this evening and tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, the Fast of 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year, when we lament the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel and the many tragedies of Jewish history.  Pretty much anything enjoyable is prohibited, including (among other things) eating and drinking and Torah study.  I feel I need to relax a bit beforehand or I won’t get through it.  I won’t watch TV tomorrow and unlike Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), I won’t read fiction or graphic novels or anything fun.  So I feel that I should relax beforehand.  I’m a bit torn.

It can be hard to fill the day on Tisha B’Av; unlike Yom Kippur, there is a long afternoon to fill with no shul (synagogue) services.  I will be “attending” Zoom services tonight from my shul and hopefully some shiurim (religious classes) tomorrow, depending how I feel.  I have to eat, because I’m on lithium, but I will try to fast until halakhic midday tomorrow (the evening and morning are considered sadder than the afternoon, so it’s better to wait for then until breaking my fast).  I seem to get psychosomatic headaches on fast days as if I was dehydrated.  I don’t know why that happens.  I haven’t decided whether I will work on my novel.  Work is permitted, but “the righteous” are discouraged from doing it.  In the past, I’ve avoided work, but I can get sucked into a huge pit of dangerous despair that is going beyond what is required of the day.  Sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder each year; that each year of Tisha B’Av with clinical depression feels somehow cumulatively harder, like they carry over from one year to the next.  I don’t know what is causing that feeling.

As Good as Tisha B’Av Gets

Still, Tisha B’Av-ing today.  If I talk about Jewish festivals, people have some idea of what I might mean, even though Jewish festivals in the Orthodox community are arguably very different to Christmas or Easter as most (i.e. not religious) Christians/post-Christians observe them.  But Tisha B’Av isn’t like anything most Westerners encounter any more.

Anyway, I probably fell asleep around 3.00am last night (after the insomnia mentioned it my last post) and slept until noon.  It was a struggle to get up because of depression and low blood sugar.  I suffer from this every morning.  I would normally try to force myself to get up and eat something to deal with this, but I wanted to fast until chatzot which is halakhic midday (the middle of the day according to Jewish law i.e. the midpoint of daylight hours, which because of British Summer Time is currently around 1.06pm).  The reason for doing this is that the Tisha B’Av laws are lessened somewhat after then, so I would have fasted for the most important bit, which amounts to about two-thirds of the total.  Sure enough, once I managed to eat something, I felt quite a bit better.  (The only Jewish fast day I fast on in its entirety these days is Yom Kippur, because it’s dangerous to fast while taking lithium.)

Tisha B’Av is such a long, strange day.  It’s a full day fast, like Yom Kippur, but Yom Kippur is spent mostly in shul (synagogue), whereas a lot of Tisha B’Av is not.  Shuls do usually try to put on educational programmes in the afternoon, but even this is strange, because one is not really supposed to study Torah on Tisha B’Av, because it’s considered too enjoyable, so the educational programmes tend to be on sad moments in Jewish history, particularly the Holocaust, or on how to avoid baseless hatred and gossip (which caused the tragedies we commemorate on Tisha B’Av and are therefore considered acceptable topics for the day).  Unlike Yom Kippur and other festivals, one can work, but ideally one should not if one can avoid it.  And then it’s stranger for me because I’m not fasting any more because of being on lithium.  When I was younger I would spend the whole day sleeping and studying acceptable (sad) religious topics.  The sleeping was not good, but one can perhaps blame that partly on depression.  But these days I struggle to throw myself into it so much.  I think I’ve been too depressed for too much of my life to add extra misery on top.

I lay on my bed again, feeling not exactly depressed, but struggling to get involved with anything.  About two and a half hours passed; I think I must have fallen asleep.  When I woke up, it was late afternoon.  There was a programme of talks and prayer services that was about to begin at my shul (synagogue).  I had been in two minds whether to go; I now wanted to go, but felt I should do more of my CBT homework instead.  Fortunately, the CBT homework was about not beating oneself up for perceived faults, so I was able to use my feelings about missing the talks as raw material for this.  I did eventually get to shul for some of the later events, although I missed the talk I most wanted to go to, about the Eish Kodesh, a book that contains series of sermons given by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I have actually read the book, so I suppose I wanted to feel that I knew what was being spoken about for once, although I can’t remember much about it and have been meaning to re-read it at some point.

So, on the whole Tisha B’Av went about as well as it could go, considering (a) I still have depression and (b) it’s Tisha B’Av and until Mashiach (the Messiah) comes, it’s going to be the most miserable day in the calendar.  I didn’t spend the day angry and resentful of God, as I had been worrying I would do and I went to some stuff at shul yesterday and today.  That’s probably as good as it gets.

We now have just under seven weeks to get ready for the autumn festival season…

Tisha B’Av Night

Tonight is the night of Tisha B’Av, the Fast of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, when we recall the many tragedies of Jewish history, tracing them ultimately to the existence of baseless hatred between Jews.  This year, it’s also my Hebrew birthday.

I wasn’t intending to write anything tonight, but I can’t sleep and I’ve got a lot of racing thoughts.  Trying to write seemed more appropriate than other things I would normally do to try and sleep (read or watch something light, eat – I’m not allowed to fast, but I try to fast until lunchtime).

I struggled with exhaustion much of Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I slept through the morning again and missed shul (synagogue), which upset me a bit.  Then I slept for two hours after lunch, probably another reason why I can’t sleep now.  I did get to shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) and a couple of shiurim (religious classes) and then came back for Ma’ariv (the evening service), which today was extra long with Eichah (Lamentations) and kinot (laments).  I came home and didn’t feel like going to bed, but I didn’t want to do anything fun or relaxing because it’s not really appropriate, so I read more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, a book which I only read on Tisha Be’Av.  In three years I’ve got through about 65 pages (out of 230 or so), so it will probably be good for a few more years even if I read it tomorrow too.

Tisha B’Av is a hard day to go through, particularly with depression, because one is afraid of getting too depressed and not being able to come out of it again.  Plus, perhaps one taps into negative emotions more easily than mentally health individuals and gets overwhelmed by them.  I spent the evening with racing thoughts about whether I am a good or bad person, whether the Jewish people as a whole are good or bad, how to change myself and the world for the better and thoughts about the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews.  This got worse once I went to bed and could not sleep.  I am probably getting overwhelmed, hence trying to write to calm myself down.

***

I’m still trying to work out what to do with my blog.  It should be hidden from search engines now, but I still worry that I’ve said too much about my private life or about other people.  However, I know I struggle to write consistently without readers, so I don’t want to turn it into a private diary.  So far as I can tell from links and comments, I only seem to have half a dozen readers, so it would make sense to switch the blog to private and invite those half dozen.  But my experience is that if people don’t get posts in their blog reader, they don’t read them, even if they have the password.  It’s tricky to know what to do.

***

I reflected today that refusing to extend my contract as an assistant librarian in a further education college a year ago probably marked the point where I lost confidence in my own ability as a librarian.  It was a bad move, from the point of view of a librarianship career, as it would have been a step towards become an independent library manager.  However, the reasons I turned it down, that I felt I could not do such a user-facing role (facing students and staff) and that I felt my line manager had no confidence in my ability to do it, indicate that I realised that I was not suited for that work even if I have still been looking for less user-facing library roles.  I do think, judging by my lack of success in finding such roles, that they are too few and far between and I need to find some other career path.  A lot will hinge on whether I manage to get my book published, I think.

***

I feel sleepy now, so am about to try to sleep again.

“Now cracks a noble heart”

I feel the need to blog without having much to say.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) was awful.  It was a struggle to get through the day.  I got agitated late last night again and struggled to sleep even after I got to bed, which at least shows that the agitation is not directly linked to using the internet or TV as I don’t do either of those over Shabbat.  I slept through most of today and laid in bed much of the time when I wasn’t asleep because I was too tired or depressed to read.  I ran in to two people I was at school with who are now very religious (one at least is a rabbi) and who now have children – quite old children, so they must have been married for a while.  I run into these people quite frequently (I assume they live locally) and I’m not sure if they remember me (I have never said anything to them; I don’t think they bullied me, but I had nothing in common with them at school and don’t expect to have anything in common with them now), but it always makes me feel bad that I don’t have a wife and children like a good Jewish man should.  I suppose part of me wonders if I should have gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and become a rabbi like they did, although I can’t imagine ever succeeding if I tried to do that.

Over Shabbat I realised that really I want to die, but I can’t because a few people (friends and family) care about me.  I should feel relieved, but I feel I’m being forced to live a life that can only ever make me miserable.  I genuinely can’t ever see any hope for things getting better and I wonder if my therapist is right that I should not have turned down that job offer, regardless of the fact that I don’t think I could have managed to do the job.  However, as I have said before, there isn’t a method of suicide that is both certain and painless and with my luck if I attempted suicide I would doubtless end up alive and in terrible, perhaps permanent, physical pain, so between that and the people who care about me, I suppose I’m stuck here for the duration.  I feel as if I have been given a life sentence.

Shabbat was the 9th of the Jewish month of Av (Tisha B’Av), the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day when we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the many, many, many tragedies of Jewish history.  This is usually a fast day (as in no food or drink), but because we don’t mourn on Shabbat, it gets postponed to the 10th, which is my Hebrew birthday, which somehow seems appropriate.  On the Fast of Av, pretty much everything remotely fun or enjoyable is forbidden.  I’ve always taken it very seriously, but I’m not sure that I have the energy this year.  I genuinely don’t know how I’m going to get through the day.  I was just crying in shul (synagogue).  My brain was pretty scrambled and I was crying over stuff in my life, the sad events mourned on the Fast of Av and sad things in the world in general, all at once, without really knowing what I was crying about or why.  I just cried a lot.  I couldn’t really follow the reading of Eichah (Lamentations) or read the kinot (laments) with the congregation.  I just feel alternately despairing and exhausted, with occasional bursts of anxiety about the future and the holiday I’m still trying to avoid cancelling.

I feel there is no hope for me.  I don’t feel at all integrated into the Jewish community.  I struggle at times to communicate with my family.  My friends are all distant geographically and often emotionally too.  I have three good friends, which is more than I had a few years ago, but just knowing people care about me turns out not to magically improve my mood or self-esteem as I had hoped it might.  I can’t see myself ever having anything approaching a full-time or ‘real’ job again.  I feel I have met my bashert (soulmate) only for her to be unable to cope with my mental health issues and consequent low income.  I don’t blame her as those are big things to cope with, but I can’t see anyone else ever being able to look past them.  I really can’t see anything good on the horizon and I’m not sure how I’m going to get through the next fifty or sixty years.