Different paths to mourning and repentance

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As is well-known among those familiar with Israel, the country has a unique way of mourning. On Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day, sirens sound throughout the country. For 60-120 seconds, the population of the country stops whatever it’s doing and shares in a nationwide moment of silence to honor the dead.

That is, most of the country stops. 

Some people say that, during the Holocaust Remembrance Day siren, they’ve seen some ultra-Orthodox Jews continuing activities such as walking while talking on a cellphone, seemingly oblivious to the siren. Some people will break from their own silence to remind these people that the siren is going off and that they should remain silent.

These events happen often enough that, in defense of those with different practices /beliefs /cultures /ways of approaching a topic, people have tried to justify the behavior of these ultra-Orthodox Jews. Especially since not all ultra-Orthodox Jews disregard the siren though it’s made to seem that way. We cannot stereotype anyone in this manner.

The main example used in comparison to the Holocaust memorial siren is the day of Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av). This day is the anniversary of many Jewish tragedies throughout history, particularly the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple). For 25 hours, observant Jews mourn by refraining from eating, drinking and participating in enjoyable activities such as listening to music. There is actually a three-week period with accompanying customs of mourning leading up to this day. 

To those who berate Jews who ignore the Holocaust memorial siren, some pose the question, “If you saw a Jew eating a sandwich or listening to music in public on Tisha B’Av, would you also approach them and tell them what they’re doing is wrong?”

One should not make assumptions about another person’s beliefs or where these beliefs stem from. It is counterproductive to discuss someone else’s beliefs.

To better understand this other viewpoint, I asked an ultra-Orthodox friend what his opinion was about all of this. His reply: “It’s not that I don’t commemorate the Holocaust. It’s that I commemorate it in a different way on a different day. To me, Tisha B’Av encompasses all Jewish tragedies throughout history, including the Holocaust. Tisha B’Av is the day I spend 25 straight hours mourning for all Jewish victims throughout history, including victims of the Holocaust.”

While the tradition of the siren has been around for a few decades, the tradition of mourning on Tisha B’Av has been around for thousands of years. The precedent for mourning for victims of Jewish tragedies lies with the older tradition. One is a national day of commemoration while the other is a religious event.

For the record, I remain silent and standing during the siren and also strictly observe the customs of Tisha B’Av. I personally feel that these are the appropriate things to do. However, my point here is not to say that a person should do one, the other or both.

I bring this up now because of the time of year we find ourselves in. As we begin the Jewish New Year, our focus is on forgiveness, repentance and improving ourselves for the year to come.

In the High Holy Day prayers, we do not beat our chests saying, “I have sinned.” Each phrase in our prayers is phrased as the communal “We” – “We have sinned.”

So, whether observant or not, it’s always worthwhile to ask – Are you improving yourself and your community by pointing a finger outward and placing the blame on someone else? Or can you better yourself and your community by focusing more inwardly and seeing how you can be your best?

And that can be as simple as approaching someone you don’t understand and saying to them, “Please explain to me why you believe what you believe. I want to understand you better.” If we enter the New Year with a focus on improving the world around us by understanding the point of view of others, doesn’t that sound more constructive than simply casting dispersions?

DANIEL STIEGLITZ (dstieglitz@gmail.com) is a certified Life Coach who lives in Jerusalem. His collection of short stories, “Tavern of the Mind,” is available for paperback and Kindle purchase on Amazon. www.amzn.to/2Izssrz.