“I can’t fall asleep,” my son told me as he walked into my room one evening last week.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We watched a movie about the Holocaust today in camp,” he explained.
The Holocaust, I thought – giving Jewish children nightmares since the Holocaust. It was the right thing to show at camp, since it was the Nine Days, which is a time when we remember the tragedies that have befallen our people. I told him that it’s OK to feel sad, because the Holocaust was incredibly sad, but that thank God, we are safe. I added that when I constantly remind him how blessed he is, this is the sort of thing I’m referring to. But in the back of my mind I was thinking: kid – things could change at the drop of a hat.
A few days later, I was reminded of just how right I was. My friend and I were walking home from shul on shabbos afternoon, which happened to be Tisha B’Av – the most calamitous day of the Jewish year which marks the (twice) destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, as well as numerous other catastrophic events throughout Jewish history. It was the beginning of our exile. The beginning of our living in a world where not every gentile is necessarily happy we’re around.
When Tisha B’Av falls out on shabbos, due to shabbos’s sanctity, we push off most of the mourning practices until the next day, so much so, that you could almost forget about it. And as my friend and I strolled along the sidewalk, on that sunny afternoon, enrapt in our conversation, I almost did.
But then, all of a sudden, I heard yelling from behind us. We turned around to see a woman standing by her front door, who began to berate us:
“You people never say ‘hi’ to anyone but each other. You just walk along, ignoring everyone else.”
My friend and I were stunned. You people? We stammered out the word “hi,” but were so speechless, being referred to this way and accused of something we don’t do. We both go out of our way to say “hi” or nod and smile at everyone we pass. I believe ALL Orthodox Jews should do this. We simply didn’t see this woman.
Our neighborhood is not an insular or extreme place where the Jews stick to themselves. People are friendly and worldly and open.
“I wonder if she would have been happy watching Nazis round us up if she had the chance,” I asked my friend as we continued on our way, suddenly struck by the fact that our otherwise “pleasant” shabbos Tisha B’Av was pierced by the hatred we were supposed to be remembering.
Just as the shabbos had concealed the severity of the day, so too, a stretch of quiet and peacefulness can lull a people into thinking that virulent anti-Semitism is a thing of the past. But Jewish history has a way of repeating itself. And until we bring the lessons of Tisha B’Av to the day after, the week after, the month after, and so on, we will have no comforter; our friends will betray us; they will become our enemies.