Shabbat Sheva | Tisha B’Av Epilogue
Shabbat Sheva | Tisha B’Av Epilogue
Richard Abbott, UK
I ran to meet James, my fellow pre-Jew. I’d left my phone in Spain last week and I’ve been running to catch up with life since. Fat slaps of feet on rain. No leather shoes. Basketball kosher. Green suede kippah. Long black coat.
A few important things would happen this evening. Our hebrew congregation would shine a batman symbol on the clouds to summon a minyan, I would mourn and we would all make jokes, a dear man would pay me a compliment which would hurt someone’s feelings and make me realise I was guilty of Lashon Ha Ra. All of this would culminate in the empowerment of our inner Jew, our nefesh yishrael.
We didn’t have a minyan, that was clear, so we quickly set about phoning Bristol Jews and summoning them to the shul. This is a luxury never afforded to us on shabbat due to our proclivity for evading melachas. Today though we were digital.
“What about what’s his name?”
“No, he’s away this week.”
“No, the other one.”
“Do you have his number?”
“Mendy, do you have thingy’s number?”
There’s nothing like seeing chasid’s texting.
Yoran brought his sons. His son’s brought friends. Haggai was on his way and we only needed one more. Later on, my bearded friend – John ha Cohen – would challenge James and I.
“You know, if you keep up all this diligent attendance you could be completing the minyan some day!”
“That’s the plan,” I said
“From you mouth to G-D’s ears.” said James. He inspected us closely as we waxed lyrical about out Jewish hopes. Already I was realising how badly I’d spit the dummy about him thinking of me as goyishe. You have to give people time, if they don’t get it fine, man up! Jew up. I scolded myself. John ha Cohen is a proud Jewish man who has lived a life of observance so if it takes time to win him over to my future Jewish status then so be it.
This would come to me in crystal clarity later with the compliment.
Rabbi sat on the floor calling out the mournful liturgy. Prayers for the Shoah, for exiles from Britain and Spain. The gravity of what we were doing washed over me like a tide of small stones. I sat silently before HaShem and mourned with Him His children. Rabbi Daniels sang of heartbreak, Yoran sang of heartbreak, Haggai sang of heartbreak, Mendy sang of heartbreak. Different melodies and voices all together in a succession of loss.
“Mark,” John ha Cohen called over to Rabbi Daniels, “give us a few words about Tisha B’av.” Rabbi Daniels nodded and took to the front of the room. He told us that the Judaism of today is not the Judaism of two or three thousand years ago. G-D told us how to worship Him and he gave us detail, we followed it. We drew close to Him by obeying Him. We had the sanctuary and then the temple and now we don’t and ever since we’ve been trying to draw close to Him as best we can.
It’s not the same, that’s why it’s so sad to loose the temple.
There are six hundred and thirteen mitzvot and roughly four hundred of those require the temple. We observe what we can in the home, we observe what we can in the synagogue but our hearts call out to HaShem in brokenness.
After the service the young fellahs cleared off pretty quickly apart from me and James. We stayed
for nosh and chat. There was a guy from up the road called Dominic, part of our minyan rescue team, Yoran, Haggai, Rabbi Daniels, Alex, John ha Cohen, James and me.
We chatted joked and argued. We argued about Israel and about race in America, we chatted about the Baka tribe in the Cameroon and about klezmer, Dominic offered to trade me Hebrew lessons for guitar lessons, Haggai told me about life as a taxi driver and I told him about school.
At one point I asked about a lady who used to be a member.
“I used to work in a shop up the road and an old Jewish lady came in all the time, she’d never buy anything but she’d come in to chat as much as she could.”
“She was Jewish?” asked Haggai.
“Yes and she was a taxi driver.”
“Oh, I know her.”
“Is she still around?”
“We buried her. Some time ago we buried her.”
“You knew her? Alex, Richard knew her.”
“The taxi driver lady we buried.”
“Oh.” I was really sad about this, she was lovely, I didn’t know her very well but I was always happy when she came in. She used to complain that we never had any channukah cards and then tell me rude Jewish jokes.
Later on Haggai looked at me and said “You look Jewish, you know?” he turned to James and added “You, your too pretty, but this one looks Jewish.”
I was flattered, James was heartbroken. It really affects you, friends, Jewish friends. We’re vulnerable little kids, brand new Jews and we need our nefesh nurturing. Haggai added that he got a Jewish vibe from me straight away, I knew how James would feel about this. It hurts.
He and I walked home together and we talked about it. Now this is raw and rich with feelings, but I’m sharing it because we’re all going to be there some time. Someone’s gonna see you as goy even when you’re Jewish, someone’s gonna call you out as a half-Jew or highlight that you weren’t born Jewish. You can’t expect born Jews to know what it feels like they have different struggles to over come. This one is unique to the ger.
James slammed his umbrella on the paving stone in frustration.
“I’m working so hard, I’ve been coming here a year and I do everything I can!”
“I know man, but you can’t let it hit you like this, he’s just talking, he doesn’t know.”
“But he’s my friend and I care what he thinks.”
“I know man. But you’ve got to trust what you think.”
We chatted about it for a long time, it drew up to midnight before we started to settle down. We sat in the doorway of an estate agents with car headlights glancing of the wet road and fretted. “HaShem gives us all different struggles to overcome, he’s given you this one. Before you get acceptance from other Jews you have to accept yourself. Even after you’re hallakhickly Jewish people are still gonna question you, they shouldn’t, but they will. This is your chance to get ready for that. If you can get past this, trust your Jewish soul, no one will ever be able to question your Jewishness.”
As I spoke to him about it it dawned on me how much I’d overreacted to John ha Cohen. He had done nothing wrong, I let my own insecurities amplify his words. That was a disservice I had done to him not the other way around. I made a promise to James that I need HaShem to keep.
“Accept yourself as Jewish, accept your inner Jew and they will see it in you. Haggai will turn to you and say ‘you know, you look more Jewish today.’ and you’ll feel it”