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Thoughts on the Nine Days

NOTE:  To learn more about Shiva Asar b’Tammuz (the 17th of Tammuz), Tisha b’Av or the Three Weeks, please see my Tisha b’Av FAQ!  I don’t usually do “Judaism 101”, but I get a lot of questions in real life and I wrote the FAQ last year when I had nothing else to do with my time waiting for the fast to end…

“Holy days [=holidays] used to be filled with activity and heavy with significance; they have been replaced by vacations, literally ‘empty’ times.” (Margaret Visser, The Way We Are, p. 80)

This is still the distinction between summertime… and a Jewish summer.  Because the Jewish summer, if you live it right, is not just an empty time between school sessions; it’s full – dreadfully full – of significant moments that you can’t help tripping over.  Moments you can’t help dreading, but I guess that’s the point.  Stuff you take for granted, usually, like:

Music:  a secular summer is full of music – it’s the soundtrack of your whole fun life, right?  Not so, the Jewish one, when we forego REAL music (forget a capella for a second) for three whole weeks.  I really miss it, and it makes every car drive seem empty and haunted.  Curious George Flies a Kite just isn’t as fun to listen to as you tootle around town.

Swimming:  who decides in the middle of summer not to swim, or even take a proper shower???  This is when you need it most, especially (I imagine) in Israel where things heat up even more than here (though I contend that humidity is always the worst of it).

Theatre and dance:  at a time of year when culture is FREE?  We’re Jews; don’t we love free stuff?  What’s not Jewish about Shakespeare in the Park, or an outdoor dusk dance celebration?  But no, for the prime three weeks, we must miss out.

Meat:  while not vegetarian, we’re some of the least meat-centric Jews in this city.  But when the weather is hot, we love to haul out the grill and toss something recently alive onto the flames, hoping something edible emerges on the other side.

A secular summer is all about baring as much as possible, having fun, doing nothing, not caring much.  Fitting in all the vacation possible during the “empty” time between work, school and other important tasks. 

A Jewish summer, in contrast, is full of awful, important tasks… ideally.

In reality, we grit our teeth and get through it.  Get through the icky feeling of not-quite-fresh clothes (though in truth we don’t wear all our clean clothes around before Rosh Chodesh, like some do, so some of the clothes are fresh – at first).  Get through the two fast days.  Get through the perception that we could be somewhere fun, doing something cultural and exciting.  Drive around in silence, not liking it, but getting through it.

Yom Kippur is different.  It’s short, it’s sweet:  I jump in with both feet knowing it’s only 25 hours.  It’s not a time for mourning, just a bit of physical discomfort.  I can live with it and I can even embrace it, and come out dancing on the other side.

Even sefirah (sefirat ha-omer, between Pesach and Lag b’Omer) is different.  It’s 33 days, but 8 of those are Yom Tov, so it’s really only 25 days.  That’s more than three weeks, but it never feels as terribly oppressive as these Three Weeks do.  Maybe because sefirah comes at a BUSY time of year, whereas in summer, there is nothing to do, it seems, but sit around and feel oppressed by the heat, the dirt, the bugs.

Which I do – I feel oppressed.  Which, I guess, is kind of the point.

p.s.  Margaret Visser is one of my go-to authors if I’m ever bored, and I have a couple of her books just sitting around for times when I have nothing else on the go.  Incredibly fun insights into the way we are.  Hence the title of this book.  She’s also a great culinary historian and all-around fun read if you’re into light social commentary.


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