As I write, the calendar of our people is approaching its most sombre moment, the observance of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av. It is the paradigm of lament in our tradition, and indeed, the book that is chanted to mark the observance is called Lamentations in English. Progressive Jews have been uncomfortable with observance of Tisha b’Av, at least in part because it laments the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Progressive Jews do not desire the restoration of the sacrificial cult in a rebuilt Temple, so Tisha b’Av has played a minor part in our calendar. But, like so many traditions of our ancestors, it is there, waiting for us to need it. And suddenly, unpredictably, we do.
Over the last few decades, we have become increasingly aware of “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” and we have begun to learn how to deal with it. We are less familiar with the situation we are collectively experiencing these days, which was the subject of a recent webinar sponsored by the CCJ, the Council of Christians and Jews, entitled: Living with Lament: Resources for Faith Leaders in Time of Reconstruction. This is not just a trauma, which would certainly be challenging enough. It is a collective trauma – when a community or group is traumatised; in this case, the entire world. The Revd Dr. Carla A. Grosch-Miller taught that collective trauma can happen in two ways: a group contains a significant number of traumatised individuals and their pain radiates outwards; or something happens that impacts some individuals directly but primarily impacts the ways of relating of the group and the the group’s worldview in ways that threaten the lives of individuals. A group can also be traumatised by the response of others to events. There are a number of aspects of collective trauma, including feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, acute disruption of daily existence, extreme discomfort, and shattering of assumptions. These all sounded familiar to me, as I imagine they do to you as well.
Recent studies, cited by The Revd Dr. Grosch-Miller, have analysed the response to disasters into the following phases, without suggesting that they will or must occur, but recognising them when they do: the heroic phase, the disillusionment phase, the rebuilding and restoration phase, and the wiser living phase. I think we are just moving out of the heroic phase, when people do amazing things, powered by the fight/flight physiological response. This burst of activity helps the body to metabolise the flood of stress hormones. It might be followed by the disillusionment phase, which is characterised by exhaustion, low energy, tensions in the community that may become outright conflicts, hopelessness and the utter unpredictability of yours and everyone else’s emotions. We are most in need of supervision and support at this time and least likely to seek it out. The restoration and rebuilding phase is characterised by a general sense of moving forward, in a “two steps forward, three steps back” sort of way. And finally, what we may hope to see, though probably not soon: wiser living, when the grief of what has happened has been individually and collectively lived with and lamented, the struggle has been integrated into the story of the community and is no longer avoided, and the faithful remnant has settled into a new normal.
Rabbi Alexandra Wright of The Liberal Jewish Synagogue spoke about the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Av: From Lament to Consolation. The Three Weeks is the period of mourning commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples. The Three Weeks start on the seventeenth day of Tammuz and end on the ninth day of the month of Av. The ways in which our people have contextualised and institutionalised the impact of the destruction of the Temple can be revisited in the light of the losses we are suffering today, and this is particularly useful because, like today’s trauma, the destruction of the Temple was a tectonic shift in our people’s existence; to this day, all modern Judaism lives in the wake of that event. It is in our collective Jewish memory. The webinar noted that we are in this for the long haul. I think the “long haul” is what our traditions specialises in. Two thousand years of rituals, traditions and emotions attached to that ancient loss may help to guide us through this modern one, to a time of better, wiser living.
Rabbi Cantor Gershon Sillins