This Wednesday night/Thursday (July 26/27) marks what is known as the saddest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. On this day throughout history the Jewish people suffered persecutions of all kinds – from the time of the Holy temples in Jerusalem being destroyed to the expulsion of Jews in Spain during 1492, it is no surprise that this day is considered a heavy day of mourning. From sunset until an hour after sundown the next day, the Jewish people enter a state of mourning – we fast and sit on low chairs, we don’t bathe or do laundry, we avoid intimacy and wearing festive clothing, and we go to synagogue and listen to a detailed account of the history of our exile.
This day is also the culmination of the three weeks prior that we mourn, and specifically 9 days before that in which traditionally we don’t eat meat. Needless to say, this month is rich in traditions, Jewish history, and a state of mourning. It’s basically one whole month of Grief with a capital G.
Like many other important dates in the Jewish calendar, this day always stood out to me with (aside for the sadness and anxiety of having to fast 25 hours) the ancient traditions that still stood in place to this day. For 9 days, everyone’s conversations consisted of “what will you make for dinner if we can’t have chicken or meat?” My mother’s famous pancakes always had to make an appearance, as well a specific tomato soup that I think actually came from a can but for some reason she only made it during this time.
Just yesterday my sister posted a photo to my family group chat of her dinner she made for her kids – including my mom’s pancakes with a photo of her next to them. Immediately all of my sisters joined in chatting about different memories we had of my mom at that time and the warmth of that instant connection to her that we were able to feel. Growing up during this period of time, although there was a heavy feeling in our schools and in the community, especially as this is also considered a superstitiously dangerous time in which we refrained from traveling or any activities that may cause us harm, it was also a time in which we united together as a family and as a larger nation to mourn over events that have happened thousands of years ago.
Some people view this time as just following along with Jewish tradition and barely give it any notice, while others sit on the floor and truly mourn over the destruction and grief that has followed our nation. The one advantage that we fellow all-year-round grievers have in this time is it is slightly easier to tap into this state of mourning. We know what it feels like to feel hopeless, to feel isolated, to feel that nothing will ever be okay, to believe that salvation will never come. We feel this on an intimate level in those moments we mourn for our loved one. And now, during this week and next, we can feel this on a national level and use this grief to connect deeper with our communities and our nation.
If you choose to fast or to go the synagogue on Wednesday night to hear the book of Lamentations, I invite you to use your grief that you may normally shy away from and to instead fuel it as a way to connect deeper – to your nation, your religion, and most importantly, to yourself.