Watching my mother descend deeply into dementia these past few months has been very difficult. We moved our family from Jerusalem to America in-part because we hoped to create a closer relationship between our children and their American grandmother. Covid blocked that as her care facility was locked down for the better part of two years. Now dementia is robbing us of her while she is still alive.
My mother worked for years as a Hebrew School Principal. “Creating Jewish Memories,” was her mission as a Jewish educator. We are a people for whom memories are sacred. When we joyfully we sing the Kiddush blessing over Shabbat wine, we remember both that Shabbat is the anniversary of the very first day of rest in the Garden of Eden, and we also remember that we were are no longer slaves in Egypt who had to work every day, rather we are able to enjoy of a day of rest as free people.
Freud observed that people with amnesia are unable to dream. If we want to have Jewish dreams we must have Jewish memories. The weekend is Tisha B’Av, the Ninth Day of Av on the Jewish calendar. At first glance it is a day of sad memoiresmemories. It is when both the First Temple built by Solomon in 986 BC and then destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and then the Second Temple built by Ezra in 516 BCE and then destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE., were destroyed. These two Temple stood for over 1,000 years in Jerusalem.
Tisha B’Av is both a day of sad memories, and a day of tremendous hope. Tisha B’Av reminds us of our resilience and ability to recreate life after tragedy. We Jews are still here. The Babylonians and the Romans, may have destroyed our Temples, but they themselves have long since disappeared into the dust heap of history. Why have they disappeared while the Jews remain? The Babylonians and Romans, were empires of physical domination and subjugation. Judaism’s mission is spiritual. Our goal is to lift up humanity with ethics and morals. “Love your Neighbor (Lev. 19),” is at the heart of our Torah.
Tisha B’Av reminds us that the human spirt spirit is indestructible. This gives us hope that good-will (Ratzon Tov) ultimately prevails. This is our message of hope, for ourselves that we can overcome our community’s problems, and it is our people’s gift to humanity that we can help the world overcome humanity’s problems.
Following the very First Tisha B’Av, the prophet Zachariah wrote with hope “The fast of the fifth month (Tisha B’Av) shall become an occasion for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity.” (Zechariah 8:19). These ancient words have finally been realized in our day with the rebirth of the of the Sate State of Israel. But Zachariah reminds us that our actions matter. We must remember to live with “Honesty and Integrity” for these blessings to be sustained.
For my mother, her dementia makes it impossible for to have conversations about ideas. But when I sing with her Jewish songs she smiles, breathes deeply, and she sings along with a twinkle in her eyes. Those Jewish memories are still in there.
May we as a Jewish community create meaningful memories for our children, that we may pass on the best of our values to the next generation, Ldor v’dor.
Rabbi David Wilfond