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Excerpted with permission from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook (Jason Aronson Inc.).
Have you ever been in a relationship that ended? Or watched a great chance come and go? Or made a choice you later wished you could reverse? How many times in your life have you said “I should have” or “if only…” It is difficult enough to let go of something you have in hand. But often a large part of the pain comes from the sense of loss over what you could have had.
You would not engage in “what ifs” if you were happy with a current situation. Displeasure with it and sadness for squandered potential or lost opportunity can be incapacitating: It’s extremely difficult to stride ahead when you are continually looking behind you. The rabbis of the post-destruction decades recognized this. So they concentrated the period and practices of mourning to free the people, so they would be able to move forward with their lives. If in your mourning you focus on identifying what is wrong and figuring out how to make it right, the experience can be cathartic and constructive.
That is exactly the purpose of a fast day: to give you a chance to momentarily retreat from your imperfect present, the imperfect world, to step back and indulge in your dissatisfaction with it, and then step forward and take action that will lead to positive change. Tisha B’Av allows you to experience loss for what was and what might have been, individually and collectively. If used well, it can help you create what can be, personally and communally.
There may be any kind of past loss or regret in your life whose hold you need to relinquish. But what is it Jewishly that you miss? If it’s the smell of chicken soup on Friday night, the sales techniques of Maxwell Street, the colors and characters of the Lower East Side, or Bubbe [gradmother] and Zaide‘s [grandfather’s] Yiddish-accented speech, you’ve got a case of nostalgia, the source of melancholy reminiscence, perhaps, but not a reason to cry. As the once-popular poster of an oversized bagel suggested, there’s more to 2,000 yearsof Jewish civilization than this.
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