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Why I Struggle To Observe The Three Weeks

A writer finds it challenging to commemorate the period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, a period of mourning known as The Three Weeks

July 25, 2016
'The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70' painting by David Roberts, 1850. Wikimedia
'The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70' painting by David Roberts, 1850. Wikimedia

Sunday, July 24, marked the beginning of The Three Weeks, one of the most morose periods of the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and many other tragedies. In Hebrew, this annual 21-day mourning period is called Bein HaMetzarim, or “between the days of distress,” beginning with the Seventeenth of Tammuz (July 23), when the walls of Jerusalem were when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by first the Babylonians, and ending on Tisha B’Av (August 13), when the Temples were destroyed.

In observant circles, the period is marked with a suspension on listening to music with instrumental accompaniment, a temporary ban on vacation travel (excluding Israel), and, according to Ashkenazi custom, not eating meat for the first nine days of Av. (For everyone else, it’s simply no meat during the week that Tisha B’Av actually falls), The purpose of these practices is to be able to fully understand and digest the magnitude of our loss of land, Temple, and centralized social and religious life. But as a Jew of Color, I can’t really say that I get it, or connect to it.

I mean, I get the feeling of loss and not belonging. The gravity of losing our homeland and identity. I just don’t see why I need a reminder. Maybe other Jewish communities do. The ones with neighborhoods, and businesses, and JCCs, and charities.

I, however, am succinctly reminded at any given time—on, say, your average Tuesday—from either of the communities that I belong to, that “you’re one of them, not one of us.” Like the Hillel building I walked into back in college, where I was stopped at the door and asked who I was there to see. Or the “diverse” campus group I belonged to that didn’t really want to spend the money on kosher food for their big event. Or the Jewish dating site that couldn’t comprehend how I existed.

And then there’s just America in general, which I currently have to convince that my life matters.

Why exactly do I need extra mourning during these three weeks? Will eating meat make me suddenly unaware of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile? Will traveling to a vacation spot make me forget that I’m unsafe from law enforcement when I’m traveling, period? Will listening to music with instruments in it somehow cloud my eyes from systemic, well, everything at this point?

And it’s not like life is going to be different after the three weeks, the same way that it wasn’t different before them. I know I should be invested in this time period. But, right now, I honestly don’t see why anymore. This age-old tradition—The Three Weeks—does not appear to stand the test of time. For me, at least.

MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.