Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Italian Jewish Custom Kindles Hope on Tisha B'Av

So far, so good. It's the first quiet day we in Israel have had for weeks, and ironically it's Tisha B'Av -- the day that defines Jewish sorrow. After all that Israelis have been through over the past 4 weeks, I wonder if there is any cause for optimism, especially since it's Tisha B'av -- prime time for collective mourning.

I mentally conduct a quick historical survey. Tisha B'Av made its entry onto the Jewish calendar with the destruction of both Holy Temples 500 years apart. The irony of Jewish history stepped in with other catastrophes occurring on this date -- the first Crusade began on Tisha B'Av, killing 10,000 Jews in the first month; the Expulsions of Jews from England and France began on Tisha B'Av (1290 and 1306), as did the Spanish Expulsion; and let's not forget the Holocaust, with "The Final Solution" gaining final approval on Tisha B'Av 1941.

So, optimism? It's too early not to be jumpy over anything that sounds like a siren. I still surf the Israeli press every 15 minutes for news updates and can easily remain glued to the TV screen, listening to endless analysis. And then I remember an Italian Jewish custom that I discovered six years ago while researching my book Hanukkah Around the World.

Italian Jews connect Tisha B'Av with Hanukkah through a candle.

The same candle that provides them with enough light to read Eicha -- the Book of Lamentations -- on the eve of Tisha B'Av, is the candle they use as the Shamash for their Hannukiah. Once they finish reading Eicha they blow the candle out, wrap it up and put it away for safekeeping. Come Hanuukah they unwrap it and put it to work once again. By doing this they close the circle, for on Hanukkah we celebrate the rededication of the Temple.

So optimism on Tisha B'Av? Let's rekindle a much needed dose during these tumultuous times.

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