Working With Addicts Taught Me About the Saddest Day on the Jewish Calendar – Kveller
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Working With Addicts Taught Me About the Saddest Day on the Jewish Calendar

As my children have grown enthusiastic about the Jewish holidays – of which there is no lack – so have I. If the Passover Seder had previously seemed somewhat esoteric to me, watching my three-year-old lisp through the Four Questions brought me new levels both of joy and attachment to the holiday.

Other holidays are a natural part of the yearly cycle, too. Everyone’s heard of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: The High Holidays, as we call them, which even get days off in some Public School system.  Many of us Jews also know all bout some other big holidays: Sukkot might take you to the rabbi’s house to string paper chains in a bamboo-bedecked tent, and Passover means matzah sandwiches. Shavuot, while somewhat more oblique, at least makes it to the Hebrew School curriculum, as it falls during the school year.

But Tisha B’Av? A fast day mourning the destruction of the Temple? It’s not exactly an accessible date on the calendar, at least not for me. My first Tisha B’Av was spent at a sleepover, where we made up for the lack of food with a surplus of silliness. When I learned that the commemoration is one of mourning, I tried to keep my face somber. But it was rough going. Throw a bunch of teenagers into a room and, munchies or no, they’re going to start schmoozing. And giggling.

This was going to be a tough holiday to connect to. I could never get excited about battles won and lost, about islands changing hands at the whim of lords and kings. I certainly couldn’t dredge up any level of interest in the burning of a building that happened over two thousand years ago. As for stories of rape, pillage, and exile… it was too depressing to ponder.

Even as a parent myself, Tisha B’Av remained a hard sell for me. The subject is a heavy one and not easily taught. Conveniently, this national day of mourning takes place during the summer months, so teachers never have to cover the difficult topics in depth. Of course we want our children to learn about the blacker parts of our history, but we don’t want to traumatize them. So I left Tisha B’Av alone, for my kids and for myself. Personally, I’d fast, I’d read some historical background, and toward the end of the day I’d bake cookies with which to break my fast.

And then I started working with addicts.

An addict often lives in his or her own personal prison. The people I worked with often saw those around them drinking from the fountain of life, while they drink from what feels like a poisoned well. Most of these individuals I worked with had experienced trauma and lacked the option to share what hurt them the most.

In my work, recovery was all about the process of touching the pain points, and, instead of being silenced by shame, being encouraged and supported to release the anguish, and to learn how to cope with it.

When I discovered the importance of touching the pain in order to get past it, I started to relate to Tisha B’Av. No, it’s not a fun holiday with snappy songs and jolly customs. It’s a day of introspection, of allowing ourselves to feel – even if that feeling is pain—to get to the other side.

When, as individuals and as a nation, we will touch our own pain points in an effort to process and move past them, we will escort ourselves into an era of greater acceptance of ourselves and others.  Tisha B’Av might be a sad day, but it is also a stepping stone to our redemption.

here now

This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.


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