Yesterday, Jews all over the world observed Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Observance consists of refraining from luxuries such as wearing leather shoes (not an issue for this vegan), showering (not an issue for this overwhelmed mama), and not eating (a very big issue for this lover-of-food who is still nursing and can on most days use that as my excuse for constantly eating).
Not all Jews observe Tisha B’Av, and we don’t all observe it in the same way, but I find observing this day as a reminder that we are literally and figuratively living in exile. I was not raised religious, but I have come to find this day life-affirming and beautiful in its tragedy and complexity.
However, as the mother of an almost 3 and almost 6 year old, I struggle to find ways to explain the day to them. My older son knows the Temples were destroyed and he finds it sad–in an age-appropriate way–that Jews weren’t allowed to practice our religion and that the Babylonians and the Romans desecrated our Temple and all the things that we believed in. However, that’s about as far as it goes for him.
His day doesn’t stop simply because I am not eating. He still needs breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks in between. He still rejoices in small pleasures: a new set of marbles (with a “shooter”), buying party favors for his brother’s upcoming birthday party, the way our cat rolls on the carpet in the sun to warm up. These things bring joy to my son every day, including on Tisha B’Av, when laughter, rejoicing, and celebration are significantly tempered among adults.
The beauty of this day is that in all of its sadness and profundity, we see as parents that life goes on. I may sit on the floor in mourning in disheveled clothing and feel heavy and sad, but you cannot ignore the innocence of a child even through a lens of focusing on death and sadness. I wondered today what children were like in the time of the Temple’s destruction. They must have been devastated and it must have been a tremendously tragic existence to live amidst all of that sadness. But I also know that children then, as now, rejoiced at a set of new marbles. They rejoiced when they were generous simply because they felt generosity well up inside of them. They rejoiced when they observed the wonders of the world. Just like my son did today.
Being a Jewish parent means living with tension no matter what you practice or how or why. How do we embrace our past while allowing our children to move into their own future? We can’t stop their rejoicing any more than we would want to quash their innocence and we also can’t stop them from hurting any more than we would want to shelter them from reality.
To every thing, there certainly is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.