Last Sunday was Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and in the history of the Jewish People. It commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. Tisha B’Av concludes a three week period of grave sadness and tragedy historically, as a tremendous number of horrific events began in the three weeks preceding this date (for a complete list, click here).
I happen to love Tisha B’Av for its intensity, its 25 hour dry fast (the only other such fast being on Yom Kippur), and for the earthy quality of our mourning: Jews sit in grief until it is a part of us, not resisting it, not being distracted from it, not running from it. For better or worse, that is our ancient tradition which still holds power in modern times.
I spent Tisha B’Av as many did, conserving energy and staying close to home. I sat on the floor or on couches or chairs with the cushions pulled up; uncomfortable indeed, but swiftly reminding myself each time I squirmed in my uncomfortableness that my discomfort pales in comparison to the suffering of the Rabbis who died proclaiming God’s oneness under threat by the enemy, or the people whose lives were taken simply for being Jewish. I told you: we sit in our grief.
I had a friend come over, and my parents brought my sons lunch, and we had our boys’ closest friends come over for a play date after their family had gone to church. I felt most hungry and weak during that play date, as the voices of four boys carried throughout the house and I tried to stay awake and figure out how I would put the house back together before bedtime with no energy.
Then my husband reminded me he was handling it. Why? Because the CBS Television Critics Association party was that night and it was a “have to go” event for me, especially since this would be my first public appearance since I was nominated for an Emmy. Sure, I could have refused to go, but at this stage of my career and life, this was an event I was told was required as part of my job by people who know not to tell me that unless it’s true. Thankfully, I did not have to attend The Critics Choice Awards the previous night which was the evening of Tisha B’Av (and it would have started before Shabbat even ended so that would have been an added complication).
The press event consisted of a red carpet with tons of photographers and on-camera interviews followed by schmoozing galore amidst fantastic food and fun drinks. And all of the people who negotiate my contract and pay me and keep me employed were there. So it’s that kind of schmoozing. With my bosses.
I had my hair and makeup done, aware of the fact that “anointing” ourselves on Tisha B’Av is not something we do. A car picked me up and took me to the hotel where the event was (unlike Shabbat, one can drive on Tisha B’Av, but the car was part of the CBS deal) and I walked the red carpet with my publicist and got asked a lot of questions about the new Big Bang season, about the Emmy nomination, and about my vintage dress which I really felt comfortable in.
I changed into comfortable flats partly because I have weak knees, and partly because after not eating or drinking and talking and standing and socializing, I was afraid I might feel faint. I actually got a great second (third? fourth?) wind at the event. The adrenaline took away the gnawing hunger and I felt pretty good. It was a celebratory mood, which is not at all how Tisha B’Av should be, and for that I felt conflicted.
Melissa Rauch and Kunal Nayyar from Big Bang were there and we all hugged and hung out. I met David Duchovny at the event and in my fasting stupor proclaimed to this star of one of my favorite shows ever (X-Files), “I am totally flipped out right now!” I saw LL Cool J and Carrie-Anne Moss and a bunch of other CBS stars from shows I have never seen. I spoke to a lot of CBS executives and felt like I could make it until the end of the fast if I just kept walking and talking and schmoozing.
I left the party on the earlier side and I proudly made it through the entire fast. A sense of somberness set in when I got home. My life and career are much more complex than I would have imagined; as a mother, as an observant Jew, and as a socially awkward, if veteran, actress who was just nominated for my first Emmy. The party was necessary, but it was still Tisha B’Av.
I admire public Jews like The Maccabeats, Matisyahu, David Sacks, and Senator Joe Lieberman for their examples of observance in its purest form. I admire public Jews like Sacha Baron Cohen who have brought issues of observance into the public consciousness in smaller ways. I know people admire my yiddishkeit, but I hope it’s also for my presentation of the duality of my experience, the conflict therein, and the assertion that my devotion to God and to my religion does not waver even if my execution of it is not yet perfect.
One day, I pray that it will be.