taylweaver: (Default)
So it's Tisha B'av again. That day when we all communally mourn by getting collectively dehydrated.

And, in general, I have trouble getting into the mood, even with the fasting. Sure, I go through the motions. I listen to Eicha while sitting on the floor. I deprive myself of food and water. I try not to do anything fun - at least until the afternoon. (Netflix. Tomorrow afternoon will be all about the Netflix.) But I don't get into the mood. I feel a bit weak and icky, but not sad. 

Even this evening, as I followed along during Eicha, word for word, my mind wandered, and I didn't really process what I was listening to. I was thinking about my upcoming move (on Wednesday) and how exciting it is, and all the stuff I need to get done before then. Not in a stressful way, just in a bored one.

But I also got to thinking about when Tisha B'av *was* meaningful, and what made it feel that way.

Up until the age of 10, Tisha B'av was a day to wear jellies (remember those? I think that was what they were called, anyway. Those slipper-like sheos made of plastic.) and be aware that my parents were fasting. That was it. 

But then, when I was 10, I spent my first summer at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where Tisha B'av was the only Jewish holiday that fell during the summer. (Unless you count Rosh Chodesh - which isn't really a holiday, or sometimes the 17th of Tammuz, which we ignored completely.) Tisha B'av at camp was a Very Big Deal. They really worked hard to set the mood.

On the evening of Tisha B'av, each edah (age group) would meet individually to say - not sing or chant, just *say* without any tune at all - the beginning of Ma'ariv. Then, when we reached the point where it was time to read Eicha, the edot would head, one by one (I think they coordinated with phones or walkie talkies, or maybe they just had a schedule), to the Beit Am, the room that was big enough to hold the whole camp on its cement floor. 

They turned out all of the lights in camp, and one of the oldest edot set out paper bags filled with sand that each held a single candle. These candles lit the path that each edah followed to the Beit Am. 

They made us walk in silence, and sit down in silence, and wait in silence until every edah had arrived. Sure, there was some whispering, but it was, overall, pretty quiet. We sat, as I said, on the floor, and all of the lights - except for the emergency lights - were off. A choir made up of staff members stood on some risers at the front of the room, and sang sad songs a capella. (Stuff like Al Neharot Bavel, opening lines of Eili Tzion, Eili Eili, Mima'amakim, etc.) At the front of the room sat a long line of campers, all ages, each of whom had learned a few p'sukim of Eicha.

They handed out Eicha booklets with Hebrew and English, and we all turned on our flashlights to follow along. The singing stopped, and a microphone was passed down the line of Eicha readers from one end to the other until the entire thing had been read. More than once, I wanted to record the sound of three hundred pages turning in unison each time we reached the end of a page. I don't know why, but even that was powerful in an oddly understated way. When we were done with Eicha, we all stood together to sing Eili Tzion, and say (but not sing) the end of ma'ariv, reading Aleinu aloud without any tune at all. Then there was more singing from the choir as the campers filed out, again, in silence. By then, the candles were out, and we had to use our flashlights to find our way back to our bunks in the dark. 

The next day, we slept in because much of the camp was fasting. After tefillot - and a second reading of Eicha, we had special activities - classes or arts and crafts, whatever they were - that related to the topics of the day like the destruction of Jerusalem, bad events, or just plain Jerusalem for the younger kids. At some point, the younger kids who weren't fasting (I think) returned to the Beit Am to set up benches. Midday, the entire camp met there for Mincha, and we got to sing this time, and they would explain how the day gets more hopeful in the afternoon. Then, lunch for those not fasting, a nap for those who were. In the afternoon, we watched serious movies like Exodus, The Wave, maybe Schindler's List. The younger kids once watched Harriet the Spy to talk about Lashon Harah. This let us keep the mood of the day while also letting those who were fasting stay in one place and not move very much - whether staff or campers. 

But what sticks in my mind the most is Tisha B'av night. 

The mood was appropriate. It was quiet and somber. It was a Big Deal. 

It was also beautiful.

As a camper, I'd sit there, transfixed, as I listened to the a capella singing. I wanted so badly to be a part of that choir. 

For six years, I spent Tisha B'av this way, and every year, I felt the seriousness of the evening. Then, I went on USY on Wheels. I don't really remember what we did. I think we read Eicha outside in a parking lot, and not really the whole thing, and some of it in English. The next day, we took a bus tour of Yellowstone, and the only thing that made it feel like Tisha B'av was that we were surrounded by dead trees, just by coincidence, due to a recent forest fire, and that we stopped, midday, to daven mincha in a clearing. Two people had to hold our (fake) Torah open in midair (It wasn't respectful to carry a real one with us as we traveled, so we used something that looked like a Torah but was actually a copy) and I read two of the aliyot. A staff member faked the third one. Then, many of us drank water, because it was hot enough out (and a high enough altitude - somehow, this mattered) that we needed to.

The year after that was my summer in Israel. Tisha B'av should be meaningful in Israel, right? But Tisha B'av was really late that year, and we returned to the US before it happened. Since my mother was on staff at camp, I went for Shabbat once I was back. Tisha B'av was Saturday night, I guess, because I was still there. I was glad to be back at camp for it, and to have the experience I had missed the previous summer. What had been meaningful at age 10 was still meaningful at age 17. That's how well camp did it.

After that, I spent five and a half summers on staff, which meant five or six more years of Camp Ramah's Tisha B'av experience. (I am pretty sure I was there for it that last summer, but I might not have been.) As a staff member, I finally got to do what I'd always wanted to do as a camper. I got to be in the choir. 

We called ourselves Makheilat Misery (Makheila is choir in Hebrew, or so I am told), or the Gloom and Doom choir. We had a ton of fun at rehearsals. There were inside jokes galore. There were no auditions. Any staff member could take part. And somehow, we sounded good anyway (at least to my ear). 

And we got to stand there on the risers, in our white tops and black bottoms, and set the mood for the campers as they entered the Beit Am. And even though I always ended the evening on a high (hooray! I sang! I performed!), somehow, it was still serious and sad.

It was also still beautiful. 

Sometimes, sad is ugly. It's sobbing and snot and feeling sick to your stomach, and you don't know when you'll ever feel happy again. That's the sort of sadness the Jews of Jerusalem probably felt when their city was under siege and under attack. But other times, sadness is gentle, and calm, dignified, and even beautiful.

That's how it was for 13 summers at camp. That's what I think back to every Tisha B'av now, when I don't have that same atmosphere to help me get into the mood. I think about how Ramah really knew how to set the mood, with proper lighting and sound, with certain kinds of behavior. And I think about that dignified, communal, beautiful sadness, and how it has always stuck with me.

I have yet to recapture that feeling outside of camp, but I hold onto the memory of it instead. So my wish for all of you who are fasting (like me) is that you have a meaningful fast, and all those who are observing in other ways have an equally meaningful day. Whether you are fasting or not, may you have the kind where you are sad not in a messy, miserable way, but in a way that is gentle and calm, and maybe even beautiful.
taylweaver: (Default)
So a few friends and I were going to go shopping for bridesmaid dresses for [livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer's wedding. [livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer suggested that Sunday the 23rd, the Sunday after Purim (Jewish holiday coming up this Friday, for those who do not know) would be a good day for her. The rest of us agreed that it would be a good day.

Then, on Friday, as I was walking from one school to another, I noticed a grocery store sign that said it would be closed on Sunday the 23rd so that its employees can celebrate Easter. Later, I saw an ad for the Macy's flower show, and it, too, will be closed on Easter Sunday.

Right. Easter. Stores close.

Maybe we can't go to the bridal store after all. Oops.

Anyway, it was a weird realization, because I am not used to noticing that things close on Easter. For that matter, I forgot that Easter was even coming up. Oddly, I was incredibly aware of Good Friday, but totally forgot that Good Friday on the 21st meant Easter on the 23rd. Of course, why am I aware of Good Friday? Because it is a weekday and my schools are closed for it. Oh, and it also has the good fortune of being the same day as Purim, such that I don't have to take a day for Purim, since it happens to be a day off anyway.

I guess the thing is that, in the vast majority of years, Easter Sunday falls in the middle of Passover. So either we are too busy celebrating our own holiday to notice what the majority of the US is celebrating, or it is the middle of the holiday and I am home with my family, which lives in a county where the stores are still closed *every* Sunday, so Easter doesn't feel any different.

(by way of explanation to those who don't know: Passover is 8 days long and the first two days and the last two days are "holidays" in the full sense of the word - observed in pretty much the same fashion as the Jewish Sabbath - no doing "work", including e-mail, driving a car, shopping, etc. The days in the middle are only half-holidays, in a sense. There is still celebration going on, but most of that "work" is allowed - which makes it a wonderful time to go shopping at the mall, or go see the circus, or whatever.)

Anyway, this is the first year in a long time where Easter has fallen on a "normal" Sunday for me, in a sense. And it's weird.
taylweaver: (Default)
So some of you may recall that, after last year, there was much cause for many friends to wish me an uneventful yom tov as we entered the last days of Pesach. I'd link to last year's LJ entry, but I can't recall how and I am tired. (If you need a reminder, it was posted May 1st, and it was one of my first entries)

Alas, uneventful was not to be. Thankfully, this year was not as bad as last year, but it was certainly more chaotic.

Erev Yom Tov, my cousin, Ben (Yes, [livejournal.com profile] rymenhild, that Ben) ended up in the hospital. After he went in with a severe headache, they discovered a tumor on his pituitary gland. They finally operated this afternoon (they had to wait until after the MRI that they did yesterday), and the surgery was successful (they removed the gland - and they are almost certain it is not cancer), but it made for a stressful yom tov.

His older sister (also my cousin - naturally) is the one who lives up the block from my parents with her husband and three kids. She spent all of yom tov near the hospital, and therefore away from the aforementioned husband and three kids. They were all supposed to be at my uncle's for yom tov, but he was, of course, near/at the hospital as well.

So my cousin's husband decided that he and the three kids would be better off staying in their own house if already they would be on their own - which, incidentally, meant they spent most of yom tov in my parents' house. (One of the big reasons why he made this decision - there were half a dozen free babysitters down the block...)

Anyway, take three kids who are a handful on a good day with both parents around, add in a last-minute change in yom tov plans, a parent who is away to be with an uncle who is suddenly sick, two days of yom tov, and the end of a week in which the kids have eaten almost nothing because none of them like Pesach food...

Yes, chaos is a very good word for it.

The entire first floor of our house became one big playroom, the cooking took twice as long - the kids love to cook - and we went through insane quantities of ice cream and chocolate chips - even the colorful ones that my mother thought were disgusting. Especially those.

It made me appreciate my family once again. I thought it was great that my cousin's husband was able to get to shul both days (remember, free babysitting) and that we not only had them over for lunch both days, but sent dinner up the block when the kids were asleep. And we got the kids to eat at least a little bit. And we all somehow got in naps of our own - in shifts - and today even the kids sort of napped... (the youngest, who turned two in November looked so cute curled up in the armchair with a mini pillow and airplane blanket, holding her sippy cup as she slept)

and somehow, despite the chaos, it felt so normal - because, of course, our house is as natural to them as their own. They even know how to get their own cereal - well, not this week - but the point is, we are used to having them around - though not usually for an entire day at once, two days in a row - and they are used to being around. Plus, it's harder to get stressed and worried when there are three kids in various states of 8th day of Pesach crankiness (actually, they were remarkably un-cranky) all clamoring for attention (again, this may be a slight exaggeration, partly because we had a very favorable caregiver to child ratio with myself, two siblings, a guest, plus my parents and their father).

And if we were all going to be stressed and worried, it's always better to do it together.

Plus, there was this added element of strangeness knowing that the 7th day was my grandfather's first yartzeit and the 8th day was yizkor, so life and death and all that was on our minds - or at least on mine - and to add on top of that the knowledge that my cousin is in the hospital, and that we knew he was having surgery but didn't know when or what was going on - and we knew that we weren't going to know until after yom tov unless something went drastically wrong - well, it was strange. To have those two things juxtaposed was very strange. Almost a bit surreal. The question loomed large in my mind: what if he died?

And Ben is my age. Which somehow makes it even stranger.

Anyway, so things were eventful and chaotic, and there was stuff going on - but somehow, it wasn't exactly bad. Ben is going to take a while to recover, of course, since they need to get his hormones back in balance and such, but in terms of how yom tov itself went, well, it wasn't restful, and it wasn't what we expected, but it was still good to see the kids - which we weren't supposed to - and it was good to be with family. And we had a meal out with the friends who couldn't come to lunch last year (again, see last year's entry) - who invited us precisely to make up for the meal they had to miss after my grandfather died. And somehow, when yom tov ended, it felt like it had been good - just different. I am not sure if the rest of my family would agree - especially my mom, who had to do a lot more this yom tov than she had planned on - but that was the feeling I was left with.

Oh, and for those who daven for people, Ben's Hebrew name is Yitzhak Liron ben Tzirel Leah

Happy chametz
taylweaver: (Default)
= very giggly [livejournal.com profile] taylweaver.

And that was only the first sedder. Somehow, a few more hours of sleep and one less cup of wine (we weren't done yet) on the following night was still enough to set me off - though I did have a little help from [livejournal.com profile] mbarr on that one... and my brother kicking me under the table wasn't exactly going to make things better...

Not my most reverent hallel.

The seddarim were good - and blessedly uneventful, as those of you who recall last year's Pesach happenings will understand. (Granted, that was mostly the last days of Pesach, but still...)

Funny, I think I began this LJ about a year ago now - Pesach was one of my first entries.

Anyway, I was not the only exhausted one at the first sedder. I think that must have been the most pathetic Nirtza ever - none of us had energy to sing. I think my sister captured the mood perfectly when, at 11:30, as we were nearing the very end, she asked, in a very plaintive tone, "Do we have to sing chad gadya?" The rest of us definitely shared her sentiment, but sing it we did, though not with much spirit.

Even on the second night, we were tired enough to lose track of which verse we were up to in half the songs - who knows one, chad gadya, etc.

But they were still wonderful seddarim, and the three days flew by - maybe because I spent so much time napping.

Hooray for time off - even if I feel like there is *nothing* I can eat for a week...
taylweaver: (Default)
Four hours.

That's how much sleep I got last night.

After five hours the night before. And the night before that as well.

I am totally going to fall asleep in the chicken soup this evening. Or at least on the busride home...

I know it's been a while - I have had a busy few weeks. Hugs to those who deserve them - you know who you are - and thanks to those who gave me the support I needed these past few weeks - a different kind of hug goes out to you - and again, you know who you are.

And, of course, chag kasher v'sameach to all who are celebrating.

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