Tisha B’Av – the ninth day of the month of Av – is usually the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting and mourning the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, among other tragedies. But last year, our family’s Tisha B’Av was far from solemn.
Late in June, my husband, Daniel, received a phone call from his cousin Assi. His brother, sister-in-law, and one of his nieces planned to visit the U.S. the following month. “If we drive down to visit Aunt Shula (my mother-in-law), will you be around on Sunday so we can go to lunch?”
“Of course!” Daniel told him. Then he rushed to tell me the news.
Daniel adores Assi and hadn’t seen Chaim for 32 years, so he was very excited by this visit. Unfortunately, as soon as we looked at the calendar, we realized that we had a complication. The date Assi had suggested for our reunion was the tenth of Av. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but that year, Tisha B’Av fell on Shabbat. Thus, the fast would be postponed until following day. There would be no reunion at a kosher restaurant that day.
“But I haven’t seen Chaim since I was 13!” Daniel reminded me. After a moment of thought, he added, “What if we had everyone here for Shabbat dinner?”
His proposal presented a few challenges of its own. First of all, no fewer than 10 and as many as 14 guests would likely show up for this momentous occasion. While some families regularly host that many guests on Shabbat, we don’t – our apartment is about 850 square feet in size and we rarely host more than a few guests at a time. I balked at my husband’s idea, but I wanted to make him happy.
The bigger complication had to do with the gathering taking place on Tisha B’Av. Even though we can’t mourn on Shabbat, when Tisha B’Av falls out on Shabbat, the atmosphere is generally muted. “Remember the last time this happened?” I said to Daniel. “There’s a minhag not to host guests when Tisha B’Av is on Shabbat.”
He was not deterred. “We’ll ask a shyla.”
That night, Daniel and I sat down and typed an email to our rabbi. A short while later, he replied that we should go ahead with our Shabbat Tisha B’Av reunion .
A few minutes before Tisha B’Av, four cars pulled up in front of our apartment building. My husband and eldest son had just returned from early services – technically, it was already Shabbat for them – and I was just about to light my candles. There were hugs and kisses and squeals of excitement as everyone reconnected and introduced each other to long-lost relatives.
Miraculously, we found a way to squeeze everyone in. Once everyone had settled into their seats, we sang “Shalom Aleichem” and “Eishet Chayil” together. After kiddush and hamotzi, everyone began to talk in a mix of Hebrew and English. As Daniel’s non-Orthodox uncle and kibbutznik cousin shared divrei Torah over the homemade challah, salads, and sofrito (North African chicken with onions, potatoes, and turmeric), I was struck by the following: Our Sages tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed due to the sin of sinat chinam, causeless hatred between Jews. To repair the damage, we need to cultivate the quality of ahavat chinam, freely offered love.
Around our table sat Americans and Israelis; Ashkenazim and Mizrachim; secular, Orthodox, and just plain traditional Jews. We were all family. And so, despite its unconventional nature, I felt that our little reunion was a fitting way to spend Shabbat Tisha B’Av. In fact, it seemed like a glimpse of the World to Come, a time when all Jews unite as one people, with one heart.