Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just Yom Kippur on which Jews avoid food and drink for a day of seriousness and self-reflection– turns out there are five fast days throughout the year and today is one of them: the 17th of Tammuz.
The 17th of Tammuz, a fast day that runs from the first hint of light in the sky until stars come out tonight, begins a somber period of time on the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks, or Bein HaMetzarim/”Within the Narrow Places,” leading up to Tisha b’Av, our collective Jewish day of mourning for our broken and unredeemed world (and if you were wondering, that’s a fast day, too).
Most of us would prefer not to actively step into a posture of sadness, especially in the middle of summer weddings, picnics, and outdoor concerts, particularly if we’re in a good place in our own lives. What could possibly be the value in focusing on suffering during this period of time?
But the wisdom of the Jewish calendar says: take this time to learn how to approach the suffering and vulnerability of the world that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. To chip away at the walls that we’ve put up between ourselves and the pain of the world, and the walls that protect us from our own pain, and learn how to feel that pain without letting it completely overwhelm us. To hold suffering within community as the bridge that connects us with one another as human beings, and because the burden is easier to bear when it’s shared among us.
Erica Brown, a DC-based Jewish educator and author, writes,
Suffering humanizes us. Ignoring suffering dehumanizes us. I don’t want to ruin my good mood by looking at that homeless person, so I turn away – and with that turning, I let go of my social responsibility to him. Attunement to suffering makes us more compassionate. It also helps us appreciate where we come from and all that it took to get us where we are. We have to remind ourselves that we don’t diminish our happiness when we spend a day or a few weeks meditating on the tragedies of history from which we emerged. We become more grateful, holding on tightly to our blessed lives because we can…
There are a number of different practices that you might choose to help you approach the next three weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av. Some of the traditional Jewish practices during this time are taken from Jewish mourning rituals (refraining from listening to live music, shaving/haircuts, weddings and other big celebrations) and others are taken from rituals of introspection (fasting and prayer today and on Tisha b’Av). Here are a few other ways to step into this season:
- Join the Social Justice Beit Midrash on housing and homelessness – Tuesdays, July 11, 18, 25. Register here.
- Take part in the Destruction Workshop with Maggie’s Place on Thursday, August 3.
- Read one of these Tisha b’Av-focused books for deeper learning and inspiration:
- Volunteer to cook and serve lunch at Lincoln Park Community Shelter on Sunday, July 23rd – email Jen Kouba ([email protected]) to sign up.
- Attend JCORE on Tuesday, July 25 – JCUA’s regular organizing meeting to get involved with the current campaigns on police accountability and immigration here in Chicago. RSVP here.
- Join us on the South Side on Monday evening, July 31 (exact location TBD) for our Tisha b’Av observance in partnership with JCUA and community members on the south side. We’ll be connecting with the themes of Tisha b’Av through reading the Book of Eikha/Lamentations interspersed with poets sharing their own take on the desolation of our city and our broader world.
May this day and the coming three weeks be a powerful time of opening, of noticing, and of repairing the brokenness within our grasp to repair.