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Preparing for Uncertain Days Ahead

How the fast of the 10th of Tevet, which occurs on Sunday, can help you be more mindful in the face of a stressful future

Paula Jacobs
January 05, 2017
'Nebuchadnezzar' by William Blake, depicting the king during one of his seven bouts of insanity.Wikimedia
'Nebuchadnezzar' by William Blake, depicting the king during one of his seven bouts of insanity.Wikimedia

Like many American Jews, I’ve never given much thought to Asereh b’Tevet, or the 10th of Tevet, a minor Jewish fast day beginning at sunrise on Sunday, that commemorates when King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in 588 B.C.E. But this year is different because I see it as a way to cope with the uncertainty and challenges of the days ahead. After all, the rabbis tell us that fasting is a way to become more mindful of the suffering around us.

This year, the 10th of Tevet begins seven days after the last day of Hanukkah and less than two weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump. While on Hanukkah we celebrated light defeating darkness, the incoming administration has stirred up our darkest fears about the storm clouds ahead—climate change denial, healthcare, immigration, reproductive rights, public education, anti-Semitism, and Israel’s future.

This cloud of uncertainty makes me draw comparisons to the plight of the men, women, and children of Jerusalem in ancient times who bore witness to that fateful day—the beginning of a series of tragic events in Jewish history culminating in the destruction of the First Temple. The pain, the grief, and the uncertainty about their future must have been overwhelming. I wonder what it must have been like living daily under siege. Could they have imagined that approximately two-and-a-half years later the walls of Jerusalem would be breached, the First Temple would be destroyed, and the Jews of Judea would be exiled to Babylonia?

The analogy with these uncertain and troubling times is far too striking. I especially worry about the future of global stability, rising anti-Semitism, Israel’s future as a secure Jewish state, and the continued survival of American democracy. Meanwhile, I am haunted by the images of children in Syrian war zones, the victims of gun violence in America, African refugees fleeing to Europe on overcrowded rubber boats, and the increase in hate crimes across America.

Jews in ancient Israel may not have predicted the full impact of a bully such as Nebuchadnezzar. But we have a far better idea what to expect, given Trump’s recent cabinet picks (and voluminous tweets), the frightening rise in anti-Semitism in the U.S. and abroad, and the vocal presence of the alt-right who adroitly use digital media to post anti-Semitic and racist ephithets. How to change the tide, I wonder. While some political changes may be beyond our control, we need to continue working at the grassroots level—from publishing letters and op-eds in our local newspapers to lobbying our legislators. But how do we prepare ourselves spiritually for this new world order?

Let’s mark the 10th of Tevet on our calendars as a day of mourning for our times and those ahead, as well as our Jewish past. If you’re not able to fast, attend a minyan and, as is the custom in Israel, recite kaddish for Shoah victims whose place and date of death are unknown. In any case, make sure to read the day’s haftorah portion (Isaiah 55:6-56:8) and reflect on the prophet’s call for morally righteous behavior—words that will hopefully be heeded far and wide. Jewish tradition provides us a meaningful antidote to the pain and distress so many of us are experiencing as we face uncertain days ahead.

Paula Jacobs is a writer in the Boston area.