Friday, August 01, 2008

From Mourning to Magic: Reflections of the Ninth of A
By Amichai Lau-Lavie

“Rabbi Judah the President wanted to cancel Tisha B’ Av, but the other rabbis objected.”

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megilla 5.

CAJE (Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education) is the biggest annual international conference for Jewish Educators and this year – its 33rd year - opening day is on Tisha B’Av. Kicking off a conference on fast day is a logistical necessity and challenge - but also a creative opportunity for honest dialogue and inspiring conversation about priorities and choices facing Jewish educators and leaders at the dawn of the 21st century. What is the legacy that this ancient fast day brings to modern Judaism? What is the role of mourning for the past as our communities struggle to craft Jewish experiences that will engage present and future generations? How much time, energy and resources should be focused on remembering what was vs. creating what will become? (Consider, for example – how much funding was allocated in the Jewish world this past year on Holocaust education vs. environmental awareness?)

Storahtelling is honored to present the opening program at CAJE this coming Tisha B’av (August 10th, 2008) , and as our team of educators and artists began planning this event, these difficult questions became the focus of our intention. Central to Storahtelling’s work is the restoration of ancient stories for new generations, inspiring Judaic literacy, personal empowerment, and societal change. With these goals in mind we went back to the classic Judaic sources that discuss Tisha B’Av and brought them back to our current realities and personal struggles. We discovered that we are not the first ones to ask these questions – almost 1,800 years ago, and only a century after the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Judah the President, leader of the Jewish People, tried to get Tisha B’Av off the calendar. His campaign failed, but ultimately sparked an important Talmudic conversation about the strategies needed for the preservation of national history as well as the healing of national wounds. That conversation continues today.

We chose to reflect on the lesser known legends that link this ‘saddest day of the year’ to one of the most mysterious holy days on the ancient Hebrew calendar – the Fifteenth of Av – the full moon summer celebration of wine, love, and hope. According to Midrash Rabbah, the seven nights that separate the fast from the fiesta represent a mythic and psychic transition, an annual, cyclical journey, both personal and collective - from grief to joy, and from despair to optimism and opportunity.

As we crafted this program, each of these seven nights became a candle of remembrance – illuminating seven specific tragedies that befell our people on Tisha B’Av. But also, each of the seven nights became a beacon of light - an invitation for courageous change in our thinking and a passionate plea for honoring the past but focusing on the present and bringing on the bright lights of the future we all yearn for.

We invite you to travel with us tonight, reflecting, remembering and learning together - from the ruins of the Jerusalem Temple, through the ports of Spain, the train tracks of Poland, the streets of Buenos Aires and the vineyards of Judea – to the hills of Vermont. As we gather for the 33rd CAJE conference may we all learn from each other, from the past, and from the dreams of the future, and find the balance that will celebrate and honor our unique legacy. May the ancient become new –and the new become sacred.

We dedicate this opening program as a prayer for peace and consolation, all over the world.

July 2008

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