This weekend, the holy days of the Jewish and Muslim communities come together in a way extremely rare.
For Jews, it is Tisha B’Av, traditionally the day of mourning the destruction by two Empires, Babylon and Rome, of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The ancient Book of Lamentations, called “Eicha” in Hebrew, records death and despair among exiles driven onto a death march from the Land of Israel to Babylon.
For our own sins, Eicha teaches, were these Temples destroyed. So Eicha also looks toward redemption if we can transform our own behavior.
This year, there is a wave of Jewish observance of this fast day by gazing at the present efforts by the American Empire to dehumanize Latinx communities – not only refugees and immigrants but also, as the El Paso mass murder shows, Latinx citizens of the USA. Those who today are being made victims by our own government rise up out of the ancient pages of the Book of Lamentations to face us today, and to demand we face them.
For fewer but still an unusual number of Jews, the universal meaning of the day is also being marked by mourning the dangerous wounds that modern corporate empires are imposing on Temple Earth and human earthlings.
As Eicha teaches about the past, for our sins in the present is Temple Earth being destroyed. By us. By corporate Carbon Empires, new versions of Babylon and Rome and Pharaoh, that we are not resisting. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, "Some are guilty; ALL are responsible." And by the same token, we can save ourselves and Earth by Turning in a new direction.
For Muslims, this weekend is Eid al-Idha – the celebration of the moment when Ibrahim/ Avraham/ Abraham turned from his willingness to kill his son to seeing as a substitute the ram caught in the thicket. The festival when Muslims honor the moment by sharing their food with the poor. One lesson: “Do not kill your children -- Feed the poor!” An even deeper lesson: Even at the very last moment, you can Turn yourself and Turn history around.
Across the Jewish community this coming weekend, at last a wave of Jews is observing Tisha B’Av as a day of holy mourning not for Jews alone but for frightened and desperate refugees and immigrants, the “ourselves” we see today as we recall being driven into exile on the death march from Eretz Yisrael to Babylon, or from Vienna to Treblinka.
I welcome this response to attempted dehumanization of the Latinx community; I have risked arrest three times in the past year and actually been arrested once and will risk arrest again in September to block the arrests and deportations. All for the sake of these children and families who stumble into our four-dimensional reality right out of the pages of Eicha.
And I welcome the awakening of Am Yisrael to the universal meaning of Tisha B’Av that the ancient Rabbis felt when they said the first “Eicha” was God’s “Ayekka??!” in Gan Eden as the Garden began to wither. Twice in my life I have spent Tisha B’Av on the steps of the US Capitol:
- In 1972, when about 50 of us bewailed the destruction of the trees of Vietnam by “Agent Orange” poured on its soil by the Imperial USA just as, we said, Rome poured salt on the farmland of ancient Israel.
- And nine years ago, when 300 people – Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists -- bewailed the deaths of eleven workers and tens of thousands of birds and fish caused by the greed, the arrogance, and the over-reach of the BP Big Oil empire in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2010 we chanted Rabbi Tamara Cohen’s “Eicha for the Earth.” (See https://theshalomcenter.org/node/173)
It begins this way, chanted in Eicha trope:
Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress.
Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.
Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.
flee their homes;
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.
Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.
Wetlands sigh without their song birds,
The sea is embittered.
Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.
Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit.
Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,
Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.
So I welcome our grieving not just the greed and arrogance that led to destruction in the past, but the greed and arrogance in the right-now that is traumatizing and killing Latinx children, murdering 22 Ladinx parents gathered in a store to buy school supplies for their kids, frightening millions of Latinx people living in the “America” where "From every mountain-top," we sing, “ Let Freedom ring!” -- and warping democracy for all of us.
And I call us ALSO to grieve the species just now dying and the million species already on the brink of extinction, the towns already drowned and the farmland already flooded and the homes already engulfed in wildfires and the far worse threatening the billions who depend for water on the rhythmically melting and refreezing ice of Himalaya mountains and who will die if the ice disappears entirely, the millions who will die when the Middle East suffers from months-long unremitting temperatures of 130 F.
BUT ALL THIS IS NOT OUR IRREDEEMABLE FATE -- IF WE ACT NOW! “Turn us to You Who are the Breath of Life, and indeed we shall be Turned!”
The value of Tisha B’Av is to raise our awareness to grief and to the need for Turning and redemption. I urge us all this weekend, whatever else we may be doing with and for Tisha B’Av, to use at minimum the brief passage above of “Eicha for the Earth” and if possible all of it.
From awareness must come action. When we are past Tisha B’Av I will share with you a plan for Jewish action on the third day of Sukkot in mid-October – bringing Earth and ourselves, Earth’s children, into the corridors of power to demand a Great Turning. Even on the brink of disaster, to learn from Tisha B'Ava and Eid al-Idha and all the other great spiritual wisdoms to Turn Toward Life.
With love, Arthur