Tisha Be’Av in Portland

In the previous post I wrote about visiting Oregon and my overall experience there, but I skipped the big part of it on purpose because it’s about Jewish fast called Tisha Be’Av (9th of Av), this day commemorates the destruction of both First and Second Temple and it’s kind of complicated to explain why it’s important for me. But since it’s one of the few Jewish things that I actually do, I decided to make an attempt in this post to explain what does it mean for me and how it’s connected to visiting Portland.

So first of all a tiny bit of the history – around 3000 years ago Solomon build the temple on the mountain that his father David conquered. The main goal of the Temple was to unite children of Israel around the idea that the only way to worship the monotheistic God that they believed in, is through special animal sacrifices that could be done only by specific cast of priests (cohanim) and only at one location (on mount Moriah near Jerusalem) or in another words – to be united you need to have centralized power. And it kind of worked because we know that Solomon created a very powerful kingdom. That happened also because of the vacuum of power that existed then between Egypt and Mesopotamia, but mostly because of his smart politics and successful unity of previously rival tribes of Israelites. Unfortunately the situation didn’t last long and after his death tribes started to pull the strings of power to different directions and one of the tools that northern tribes used to decentralize the power of Jerusalem and Judeans is to create alternative ways of worshiping their God, often borrowing pagan rituals from the neighbors. Shortly later the separated kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the new power from Mesopotamia, Assyrian empire and 10 of the 12 tribes vanished from history. Judean kingdom thought that they are saved, but around 150 years later Babylonians destroyed the kingdom and the Temple.

In exile, leaders of Jewish community decided to put an end to what they though was the source of their weakness – idol worshiping, or simply various ways of religious practice and created a single standard on what Judaism is as a new attempt to centralize the power in their hands again. With a good historical timing of course it brought them success:  Babylonian power was replaced by the Persian one, and the new emperor wanted to get as much support from different groups as he could get. The way to please Jewish community was very simple to understand – all they wanted was to rebuild the Temple and continue the way of worshiping that they were familiar with, and they did so. Half a century after the destruction of the First Temple, the new one was build. But the priests didn’t completely get rid of the source of weakness because they didn’t understand it. 600 years later the situation was even worse, the divide among different groups of Jews was so deep that it wasn’t even about who has they power and what is the correct way of worshiping God, it was just pure hate with no reason. In surrounded by Romans Jerusalem Jewish gangs were killing each other “better” then Romans could do and the end was inevitable- the city felt and the Second Temple was destroyed. Jews were kicked out of their land and most of them still spread around the world.

The tradition says that the reason of destruction of the First temple was idol worshiping and when people realized their mistake and stopped doing that God allowed them to build the Second Temple. But then it was destroyed because of the hate and the Third Temple wasn’t build yet because the reasons for the punishment are still here. I absolutely agree with this interpretation, with one difference – I think that idol worshiping of the First Temple period and nowadays rivalry between reform and orthodox Jews, secular and religious, hawks and doves, Moroccans and Russians, have exactly the same reason – people tend to focus more on their differences rather then on their similarities and many times this focusing causing hate. King Solomon, priests or any other Jewish leadership tried to solve the issue by centralizing the power, law, religion, but as history teaches us it never gave everlasting solution, because the only solution is the deep mentality shift by the people instead of the surface chance by some ruler.

And it’s not only relevant for Jews. This is an example of dark side of the human nature. Our world has more then enough problems caused by this way of thinking – sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, racism, etc. The list is very long and the reason why it’s so long is because each one of us has an input each one of us adds a little bit to this global hate fest. That’s why I like to commemorate this day by fasting and spending the entire day thinking about my own behavior, trying to understand in which situations I’m wrong. But I also enjoy company and having a conversation about social problem caused by our shameful behavior. That’s basically the reason why I wanted to be around Jews during this weekend, and also because it’s too annoying to explain every time why I don’t eat or drink.

The easiest way to find Jewish community in USA is through synagogues, because the thinking that religions can summarize Jewishness is still predominant. That’s why I just emailed different synagogues asking if anyone willing to host me for Shabbat and Tisha Be’Av and waited to see what will happen. Not surprisingly the most common answer was just an auto reply telling me that this or that rabbi on vacation and in the case of emergency I should call some cell phone number, let’s not forget the importance of summer vacation even if it’s at the time of second most important fast in the Jewish calendar. But eventually I did received two phone calls, one from chabbad rabbi that invited me to Shabbat dinner at his house with young adults with a promise that I’ll find somebody to host me there, and from Ben who also happened to be a couchsurfer and when he heard about me from renewal rabbi he decided to invite me.

Both experiences were fantastic! Ben and I went to the services at the chabbad synagogue even if he usually doesn’t go there and after that I met many amazing people at the dinner at rabbi’s house. What I really enjoyed to see is how diverse the crowd was – everything from hardcore chabbadinks to super hippies and it made me think that with openness like that, with little steps one day we’ll overcome this stupid idea that we should concentrate on differences.

The next two days I spent mostly with guys from Portland Moishe house that I met at the dinner because they actually pretty awesome, and also they offered free vegan thai food before the fast and beagles with chive for breaking the fast, so how I could refuse the invitation. We also enjoyed some typical Jewish Tisha be’Av “entertainment” – watching holocaust movies, and this time was “Europa Europa” that’s actually very good movie. The reason for that is a tradition that developed to commemorate also other tragedies of Jewish people like Alhambra Decree and Holocaust.

So even if it doesn’t sound like a great time spending, overall it was a very pleasant experience, especially the fact that so many people welcomed me just because I’m Jewish (that is very different feeling from couchsurfing where you usually should prove yourself with references and well written profile). So I only hope that one day in the future every human being will welcome the other without any prejudice, respecting the differences and celebrating the similarities.


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