From the Rabbi's Study



By Rabbi Jenny Steinberg-Martinez JD CHT

The peaceful Buddhist country of Tibet was invaded by Communist China in 1949. Since that time, over 1.2 million out of 6 Tibetans have been killed, over 6000 monasteries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned. When the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Sanctuary, was invaded by the Chinese, and the surviving monks were sent out into the world to survive, he called upon Jewish leaders for advice. Why? It is because we are strong in our identity and have remained true to ourselves in a life of Diaspora. With our strength we have managed to touch all four corners of the globe with our wisdom, joy, and traditions.


The summer time in the Western World brings celebration, barbecue, swimming and fun. It seems a strange time of year for our most somber holiday. Tish B’ Av, the sacred fast, arrives this month to remind us of the 9th day of Av a day when a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon's Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem.


Tisha B'Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is thus believed to be a day which is destined for tragedy. The observance of the day includes five prohibitions, most notable of which is a 25- hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem is read in the synagogue, followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and Jerusalem. As the day has become associated with remembrance of other major calamities which have befallen the Jewish people, some kinnot also recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres in numerous medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades.


So how do we honor this day with an appropriate balance of reverence and optimism? This is how; we claim our Diaspora as a beginning and not an ending. We claim our Diaspora as a call from God to persevere in the world and be a force of Torah for all to experience. We claim our strength. It is when we claim these things that we can help bring unity and healing to the whole world without preoccupation with what was lost; for we have found more than we have lost. We have found our power. We are strong!


*To read more about the Jewish and Buddhist conversation: The Jew in the Lotus, by Roger Kamenetz

“Know that every deed counts, that every word is power. . .

Above alll,

remember that you must build your life

As if it were a work of art."

-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Every year Jewish people all over the world observe the 9th  day of the Month of Av as a day of mourning. Tisha B’ Av marks the time of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the beginning of learning how to survive in exile and remain faithful despite persecution. It is a day that calls us inward to our soul sadness in order to reach for strength and motivation to affect positive change in the areas of our modern world. Through the memory of the destruction of the temple we find the courage in our grief to rebuild.

This paradox of strength and sadness lies at the essence of Jewish identity. We, as a People, do not turn away from tragedy; rather, we use these moments to build a better world for those around us.

As we approach this time as a Community, I would ask that we reflect not only on what is lost, but on what we can build in its place together. When we take the time to go into our sadness and loss and rejoice in the gifts that we found, we creatively bring those gifts into the color of our present lives. Thus, we will truly be living in the essence of Torah. Heschel stated, “You must build your life as if it were a work of art.” Art that is reflective of grief and loss, like the cracks in the earth, allows the new grass to push through.

I’m suggesting that we take Heschel’s idea and push it further forward to the following thought: “You must build your community as if it were a work of art.” Consider building our schul as a colorful place in which every word is a word of kindness, truth and compassion, and where every action fosters growth of the imagination through the learning and expression of Torah!

Our cultural destruction and diaspora, like the seeds from the tree boldly blowing in the wind, will find fertile earth here, in Joliet, as our community continues to grow.


Rabbi Jenny's Bi-Monthly Sermonette —  Aug. 1, 2022


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