Monday night was erev Tisha B’Av, the holiday commemorating the destruction of the Temple and, more broadly, human suffering. I had decided that I wanted to spend it at the Wall—where else would you go if you were in Jerusalem? Luckily, the Conservative/Masorti movement (Masorti is the non-American name for it) was doing something at Robinson’s Arch, a little piece of the Wall kind of back and around to the side that they’ve appropriated, and that seemed the right place to be.

Getting there was horrible. I was in a personally funky state, and having a really hard day, and found that going to the Kotel (wall), teeming with people was more than I wanted to or felt like I could take.

Mobius over at Orthodox Anarchist got a shot of the whole mess, which is good ’cause my camera was having battery problems. Hope he doesn’t mind that I lifted this:

Anyway, I finally found the Masortim, and was pleasantly surprised to see how many people came out to pray in a mixed egalitarian group–there were maybe 100? Which is not a lot when you consider the numbers of the photograph, but in this town, where “davvening” means “mechitza” and “religious” means “Orthodox”, it was pretty cool. (Also, it’s more than almost any shul in the States would get.) It makes me sad to realize how used to the sexism I’ve gotten, though–I felt this gigantic wave of gratitude to all the men who showed up, like they were doing me some enormous favor by not cashing in the male privelige they could have in a shul where women are banished to the back and told to shut up. My expectations for decent human behavior have, sadly, plummeted.

It was great to be among my people, though. I ran into a couple of old friends–a recent-ish grad from my school who I adore and who now lives on the East Coast, and a Swedish guy that I met when I was here four years ago, a real sweetheart. Further signs I was in the right place.

The reading of Eicha (Lamentations) was beautiful, and of course both women and men read. (I noticed that men lead the davvening and gave the divrei Torah (sermons) though. Will be interesting to see if that’s an isolated thing or further examples of my supposedly egalitarian movement being better at the theory than the practice of equal leadership. That’s certainly true often in the States.) On previous Tisha B’Avs I’ve really plugged into the big themes of suffering, dispair, dashed hopes–some on my own personal walls crumbling, a lot on universal suffering. Last year I was working as a hosputal chaplain and saw how good the 3rd chapter is as a text for pastoral counseling (it works brilliantly, btw). Big picture stuff.

But this year, sitting in front of the remains of the Temple in Jerusalem, crying for Jerusalem, all I could think of was Jerusalem. They say the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred. And feeling generally terrified to walk around the city (and particularly the Old City) dressed as the kind of Jew I am, I was feeling that a lot. And of course the whole settler thing. It’s still surprising, and really jarring, how comfortable people even in my religious-fringe circles are with the fact that this yeshiva or that community is out in “Judea-Samaria”, as they call the Territories. I guess a lot of people are more ambivalent about the settlements than I am (or certain, but just certain in the other direction.) And I have no idea, still, how to handle social interactions with people I meet who are studying for smicha (ordination) at, say, Bat Ayin, the funky-hippie yeshiva that is, yes, in the settlements. Some of them are lovely people, and certainly some people wind up there because of community or learning or whatever, even as there is some deeply political white noise in the background. Maybe that’s my sinat chinam and I need to be more openhearted, but really, the whole thing, the whole communal all of it just seems so sad and messed up. The Jerusalem of my mythic imagination, the one that I–and I think all of us Jews, on some level–yearn for is a place where we don’t all have to be so afraid, all the time.

And you know, I’ve written papers about the very Jerusalem I’m yearning for. And it has probably never been what I wish it was. I remember doing a side-by-side look at the communities of Alexandria and Judea around the time of the Maccabees (so, Second Temple) and in the process comparing Judea to a woman who’s been in an abusive relationship and is still trying to figure out what healthy love is.

I picture the Banot Yerushalyim, the daughters of Jerusalem, running through the city, orphaned, looking for their people, uncleanliness clinging to their skirts.

I wonder what it is that draws so many of us here. Someone once said that people move to Northern California to heal, and I think that’s true. What process to they move to Jerusalem to enact? There’s something about God, something about holiness, and something about old, old, old family wounds. Beyond that I’m just not sure.

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