Today is Tisha B’av, the ninth of the Jewish month of Av, a day when Jews traditionally remember the destruction of the Temples and other tragedies of our history by fasting and reading from the Book of Lamentations, culminating a three week period of remembering and mourning. As I fast, I am remembering the destruction that so many teachers, advertisements, politicians, a lobby group, and synagogues have tried to instruct me to ‘forget’ or not know: the destruction of Palestine. This destruction continues today, as we see the actions of modern day Israel in repressing freedom of speech, movement, and quality of life.
The idea of destroying someone’s sacred site had always been appalling to me – shouldn’t holy grounds remain beyond the reach of warfare, just as the lives of children should remain untouchable by the clutches of warriors? My naivety has waned as I have grown to understand that warfare is a blind beast that cannot help but harm the innocent and the sacred, like a bull in a china shop. Nonetheless the reaches of the violence of occupation are still unnerving. One year ago I was standing in a destroyed Palestinian village in northern Israel, staring at what was once a sacred mosque, and is now an off-limits crumbling building, sealed by the same barbed wire that kept my not-so-distant relatives in the death camps in Poland.
How do we mourn destruction while it continues in every moment? Even as I write this new settlement homes are being built in the West Bank and companies continue to profit from occupation. For so long many have cried out for an end to the destruction, shook their fists in the air, marched, rallied, lamented, sobbed. It is essential to feel our grief and to vocalize it, but it is not enough. Today is a day that my people do not eat to express our grief. But there is something more we can do. We can refuse to buy the products that continue to destroy people’s lives, homes, and sacred sites. By putting our money where our mouths are, and refusing to imbibe products that have led to the suffering of people elsewhere on the planet, we can embody our values.
And truly embodiment is at the core of Tisha B’av. During the time of wandering the desert for 40 years after fleeing slavery in Egypt, legend says that my Jewish ancestors would dig shallow graves for themselves on the night of Tisha B’av and lie down in them to sleep, so that when they awoke they literally crawled out of their graves and were reborn anew. Tisha B’av is not only about mourning death and destruction, then, it is also about rebirth and renewal, the promise of creative innovation that destruction forces upon us.
Mishna Taanit 1.6-1.7 states that the public ritual during days of fasting include imposed limits on “buying and selling; on building and planting; on betrothals and weddings; and on inquiring about each other’s well-being…” Perhaps we can continue to carry this imposition through for the following weeks until the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year, a time for reflection, mourning, and the creation of resolute commitments for the year to come) and beyond, until a just peace is attained in the Middle East. We can refuse to buy goods made in the Occupied Territories, or do business with companies who are illegally profiting from the occupation; we can refuse to support businesses that contribute to the building of settlements; we can ensure that all people can live, love, and grow in peace.
As I write this, an angry backlash has sprung up in response to one moral act of boycotting a business involved in the illegal occupation of the West Bank: ultra-Orthodox and pro-occupation groups are calling for a buycott of illegally-made Ahava cosmetics sold at Ricky’s, a family beauty supply chain in New York City. The buycott call comes after peace groups CODEPINK and Brooklyn for Peace coordinated a public action outside the Brooklyn store on July 9. An online “mud fight” erupted in the comments section of a Brooklyn article about the peace action, in which people commenting went so far as to equate one activist with pogroms and make comments about her vagina and sexuality. Groups including the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) on the East Coast have stepped up to defend the occupation by promoting this product. Read more about it in Adam Horowitz’s post on Mondoweiss. It seems that when the ugly truth behind fancy skin care products is revealed, the beauty of Jewish teachings in the minds of those who profess to be most observant is more dead than the Dead Sea itself.
May the ancient teachings of Tisha B’av be remembered in place of modern attempts to wipe out the history of a people living in a land that was given to a people without a land.
“Any person who can prevent the people of their household from committing a sin but does not is responsible for the sins of their household. If a person can prevent the people of their city from sinning, they are responsible for the sins of the people of their city. If the whole world, that person is responsible for the sins of the whole world.” ~ Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b
Rae Abileah is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and lives in San Francisco, CA. You can join the monthly Jewish Fast for Gaza at http://fastforgaza.net/ and pledge to boycott of Ahava products at www.stolenbeauty.org.