Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alone in a Large Crowd

I wasn't going to post this, but my friend Trep just inspired me to do so after all. I don't like to write posts that seem to kvetch about other people, especially on matters of religious observance. It's actually one of my largest peeves that so many people in my shul like to gripe about others. It seems particularly wrong on Tisha B'Av, when hatred between Jews led to the destruction of the Second Temple, and to our continued exile.

However, Trep's post about searching for the right atmosphere on Tisha B'Av resonated so strongly that I felt the need to express myself on this subject.

Last night, during Eichah and afterwards, I found myself disgruntled because so many of the people in my shul were treating this as a social event. They couldn't even wait to leave the shul building before the hand shakes, back slapping and laughing began. Someone had even brought a small child into the shul during Eichah, so some of the men reading had to compete with the sound of a child's laughter. Normally one of my favorite sounds in this world, it was completely inappropriate last night. And this happens every year. The rabbi always makes a special point of emphasizing that we traditionally do not greet people on Tisha B'Av, and it always falls upon deaf ears.

I always have the same reaction. First I find myself irritated that so many people 1) seem to miss the point, and 2) blatantly ignore what the rav of the shul just said 2 seconds ago. After all, I clearly remember my father teaching me that we don't greet people on Tisha B'Av, that this is a sad occasion, and that no one will take it as rude if I don't say hello. I learned this well over a decade ago, so why can't other people grasp this concept?

Then the second reaction sets in- I feel guilty for thinking negatively about others. I start thinking that these kind of thoughts, directed at other Jews for not behaving in the way that I was taught as proper, are really no different than the thoughts that eventually turned into sinat chinam, the baseless hatred that caused the destruction of the Temple. And then I start thinking about relationships between different Jewish denominations today, and how little has changed. We still have these giant chasms between different groups of Jews, and still have far too many people unwilling to bridge those chasms.

Last night followed this same pattern. So I did what I always do- I made my way through the crowds of people, not greeting anyway, and scooted on home to think in solitude. Trep's post, and the beautiful picture he posted, made me realize that it really doesn't have to be this way.

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