Av: A Fresh Start

A mural depicts a Roman-style column-lined forum where crowds of people trade, haggle, and exchange livestock. One man rides a donkey, another tends a camel. In the foreground, a line of broken columns suggest that this could have been the very location of the artist's imagined forum.

I may lack the proper reverence for Av. I’ve heard it called the Moon of Destruction, of Thresholds, of Beginnings and Endings. It’s the month in which many of our people’s greatest tragedies took place—the destruction of both Temples, our expulsions from England and Spain, and numerous massacres stretching back from the Holocaust to the Crusades and beyond. We traditionally mourn them all on the same day, Tisha B’Av (the “Ninth of Av”), the saddest day of our calendar.

It’s not that I don’t think these things are sad. Of course I do. It’s the reverence for tragedy that doesn’t sit quite right with me. It’s the elevation of a single day of mourning above all others—pick almost any day of the year between 1939 and 1945, and you’ll find plenty to grieve.

And it’s the fact that at the root of it all is our lamentation for the loss of our Temple in Jerusalem. As the center of Jewish life for a thousand years, it stood as the core pillar of our collective identity, an organizing force around which all other aspects of Judaism-as-religion would come into being.

When it was destroyed (for the second time), we became a people in exile. A people without a land, scattered to the four corners of the earth, cursed to wander without ever setting roots. We’re meant to feel a great and terrible loss at this fact.

I’ve moved a lot in the last few years. After spending the first 18 years of my life pretty much much under one roof, I’ve hardly settled in a single place for more than a year since college. My cat has become a seasoned flyer.

By coincidence, several of those moves have occurred in Av. It does make sense—Av usually falls in August, lining up nicely with those end-of-summer/beginning-of-school-year transitions—but some of our recent moves have fallen strangely close to Tisha B’Av. Last summer, we left our home in Florida on the twelfth. This year, we parked the U-Haul in front of our new apartment in New York on the evening of the Ninth.

It felt symbolic, I’ll admit it. The end of our life in Colorado—for the time being. It wasn’t a destructive end, just the beginning of something new.

I have a hard time deciding where to call home. Am I a New Yorker now? A Coloradan? A Californian? I don’t think I’m a Floridian, though my lease there was the longest of my (short) adult life. In that sense, I’m the definition of rootless.

I don’t hate it. It doesn’t make me sad. My identity isn’t tied to a place, but to the people I’ve met and loved in countless cities, who stretch across the country in a network of couches that will always welcome me to stay.

When I think of the destruction of the Temple, I don’t think of what we’ve lost. I think of what we’ve become—a multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-national Diaspora of interconnected cultures. Our people survived and thrived to make lives for themselves across the globe. We still share a core—one that we recognize when we meet each other on a plane or at an office mixer or halfway around the world. But we’ve bloomed, too, with an abundance of unique foods, customs, styles, and experience.

Does mourning the Temple mean valuing unity over plurality? Homogeneity over diversity? When people on the internet call on me to “decolonize” myself as a “Judean,” it feels difficult not to hear an unspoken, perhaps unconscious, disdain for the multiplicitous innovations of the Diaspora. I just can’t bring myself to brush aside everything we’ve gained—even if that includes pickled herring.

I don’t long for a Golden Age.

There’s another holiday in Av, not quite as well-known. Less than a week after our day of mourning, the full moon rises on Tu B’Av, the Jewish “Valentine’s Day.” In Temple times, it served as a matchmaking day, when unwed women would dress in white and dance together in the vineyards. For almost 2,000 years it went uncelebrated, but in recent years, it’s experienced a resurgence as a day of festivity and dancing—maybe an answer to St. Valentine, maybe responding to some craving for joy to balance out our sorrow.

This year, as the full moon rose, I found myself in Central Park, passing out free ice cream with my cousin. We were taking part in the first ever (that we know of) Jewish Zine Fest. Our zine shared the story of Lilith—which is a post for another time—along with recipes we developed inspired by the history, incantations, and lore around her character. We sat in the grass on my first Thursday in New York and licked melting drips off our spoons and dreamed of a sweet future.

The moon is waning on Av. Soon it’ll be Elul, the month of Awakening, when we prepare ourselves spiritually for the promises of the New Year. Before we dive in, take a moment to pause. Linger here in the rubble of what no longer serves you and take a bite of something sweet.

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