To start this blog out on a positive note (rim shot!), I would like to talk about this experience of making our way through what are known as the “three weeks” or Bein ha-Metzarim (Hebrew: בין המצרים, “Between the Straits”) .
This period of time marks three weeks starting with the 17th of Tammuz ending with the 9th of Av — commemorating some of the biggest calamities visited upon the Jewish people including: the destruction of the Temple — not once, but twice, the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the breaking of the tablets by Moses, and the burning of the Sefer Torah, among others.
During these days, it is traditional to refrain from listening to music, dancing, marrying, cutting one’s hair or shaving, and the period is bracketed by fasting at its start and finish — all the outward markings of a people in mourning.
These weeks are considered “unlucky” — as if any bad thing that could possibly happen to you, is likely to happen during this time.
On a personal note, I lost my stepmother one week ago; my father’s partner of 28 years. I couldn’t attend the funeral, and could only honor her life privately from a distance, watching the memorial service after the fact. This inability to “properly” celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed on is characteristic of this time of pandemic. My experience is not at all unique.
As California rolls back the decision to open up the economy, and as new records are set daily identifying the number of Covid cases, to be in mourning seems an appropriate expression of our collective psyche in this time.
In fact, in a pandemic, one could reasonably ask,”What in fact do we have to be happy about? How could we do anything but mourn?”
When I was a child, my Aunt Barbara, a photography teacher, took me to visit an exhibit of beautiful black-and-white portraits of African American women whose lives made an impact and changed the world for the better. Their efforts to write, to sing, to dance, to march, to change policy, all contributed to the collective good. Their noble faces have always been an inspiration to me. The title of the exhibition was “I Dream a World.”
To borrow a quote from the photographer’s website:
“These women,” says writer Maya Angelou in an introduction to the book, “have descended from grandmothers and great grandmothers who knew the lash firsthand, and to whom protection was a phantom known of, but seldom experienced…But they are whole women. Their hands have brought children through blood to life, nursed the sick, and folded the winding cloths. Their wombs have held the promise of a race which has proven to each challenging century that despite threat and mayhem it has come to stay. Their feet have trod the shifting swampland of insecurity, yet they have tried to step neatly into the footprints of mothers who went before. They are not apparitions; they are not superwomen. They are not larger than life.”
Though white America has only lately awakened from its reverie to a world in which Black and Brown bodies are under seige, these women, who were always in it, did not wait for permission to forge a path to freedom, liberation, exalted personal expression, and justice. They moved forward without the approval of the dominant culture. They moved forward, though they were most assuredly in mourning. They didn’t wait until they felt better, or felt strong enough.
Their example can shine a beacon today for us all. We may be in mourning. We may be beaten down by images of suffering and injustice all around. We may feel helpless and hopeless. But to stay in that place of powerlessness while madly posting on Facebook and Twitter is not a solution, nor a path forward.
As I imagine Tierra Baturi, I dream a world that is built on compassion. That is built on the knowledge that we are all interconnected and that the suffering of one is a festering sore on the whole. I dream a world of abundant food, adequate shelter for all, of social collaboration, of shared resources, of respect and honor for our mother earth, of an intentional community holding as its primary goal to live in such a way that future generations will be able to flourish.
While we make space for the collective pain that this moment brings, and mourn the historical oppression of the Jewish people, let the tears we shed prepare the way in our hearts to dream a world of justice for all G-d’s children.