On Tisha b’Av, we mark the destruction of the First and Second Temples by reading Eichah, the Book of Lamentations. “Eichah” translates as “How?” and is a text that gives us language to confront the loss and destruction we have experienced, participated in, and caused. We chant Eichah on erev Tisha b’Av to grieve collectively over the fragmentation of our communities and our ruptured relationships to each other and with the divine. Eichah calls on us to answer the “How” for ourselves in this generation, in this time. This year in particular, as we emerge from the pandemic, we pause to name and confront what we are grieving––to remember and acknowledge the brokenness that we have witnessed. Asking “Eichah?” is part of the return and the repair we need in our relationships and communities.
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The first line of Eichah is “How is it that she (Jerusalem) sits alone?!” Rashi’s commentary clarifies the meaning of Jerusalem’s isolation. A city once great with people is now desolate and devoid of her inhabitants. Jerusalem sits in isolation because her human and divine connections have been severed. Throughout the first chapter of Eichah, Jerusalem names those with whom she is in relationship: My priests and my elders. My inhabitants, festival pilgrims, Judah. My allies, foes, enemies, nations. My Lord. Not only is she mourning her severed relationship with her inhabitants, but she mourns the loss and seismic shifts in multiple other relationships. Her allies have become her foes (Eichah 1:2). Her enemies are now her masters (Eichah 1:5).
Jerusalem personified, in exile from her inhabitants, is grieving the loss of connection and relationship. And she does so alone. Jerusalem wails, “Far from me is any comforter Who might revive my spirit” (Eichah 1:16).
We have experienced a year and a half of loneliness, isolation, and exile. Our relationships and way of relating to one another shifted in the wake of the pandemic. We yearned for and replicated human connection via Zoom, we spoke to one another through masks. We lived in close quarters with people in a way that we hadn’t quite experienced before. We lost loved ones. We didn’t touch another person for a whole year. We couldn’t see our families. We missed the spontaneity of friendship, the collective joy that multiple maskless people smiling and laughing generate, physical touch and human affection. And the pandemic didn’t just cause a severing of relationships, or force us into new ways of relating to one another, but it also made it more difficult to grieve collectively over these losses as they occurred. The reality of our isolation made losses even more difficult to bear.
Eichah itself is a tool of remembering, and of coping with exile and destruction. When we chant and ask, “Eichah?” we seek to strike the balance between sitting in our grief and paving a path forward out of the rubble.
We now find ourselves emerging and returning to one another in old and new ways. We can actively remember the losses we have experienced since last Tisha b’Av in the ways we decide to return and recommit to one another. In our return, we need to bring this question of “how” into our communities. In different spaces and on varying scales––across families, social groups, neighborhoods, professional communities, over meals and at gatherings and in meetings––we need to convene and ask “Eichah?” What are we each grieving personally and communally and how do we remember and move forward intentionally? In naming the individual and collective losses since the last time we chanted, “Eichah?,” and in an increasingly face to face, in-person community, we can then comfort and be comforted. We can seek refuge in the sanctuaries of relationships, the relationships for which Jerusalem grieves.
Jerusalem cries out and there is no one there to comfort her. May we, this Tisha b’Av, cry out and name our grief in community. May we comfort one another in ways that we have not been able to since the pandemic, and in new ways altogether. May we return and recommit to the relationships that allow us to remember, heal from, and ultimately repair the fragmentation and destruction that we have endured.
Adi Alouf is a Brooklyn-based Jewish educator. Adi teaches 5th and 6th grade Jewish Studies and serves as the DEI and Service Learning Coordinator at the Rodeph Sholom Middle School.