The necessary business model re-org of Tisha B’Av: A personal lament

By David Sheril

I guess I’ll to be the one with the cojones to publicly announce it: we are losing Tisha B’Av. I don’t mean the date on the calendar, nor am I referring to the factual history of this tragic day. Rather, I am talking about that fact which all of us know but so few of us truly care enough to acknowledge – we feel no connection to the events, or the emotions, that occurred on this day.

I disagree with the frum social analysts who claim that our lack of feeling toward Yiddishkeit is mainly a reflection of our being jaded by all the crime and corruption running rampant in the religious community; though the two are not completely unconnected. I think it’s just that sadness is a more intense emotion than the others; it is more difficult to authentically feel – but when you do – its effects are far tougher to overcome and move on from.

I have seen genuine tears and heard heartfelt cries emanate from even the most arrogant, religiously complacent “novae riche” baalei batim during the Neilah service – people can clearly still feel intense emotion, if so why are they not so forthcoming on Tisha B’Av?

The conundrum becomes more baffling when one takes into account the fact that Tisha B’Av is – lehavdil – the Seder Night of mourning. So many different customs, from the ones which have been in practice for 3 weeks or 9 days right up to changing our shoes and eating the “Seudah Ha’Mafsekes”, then making our way to shul where the dimmed lights, low seating and hauntingly beautiful tune of Megillas Eichah all try to provoke a reaction within our minds and hearts. Often it works – at least it usually works on me, and at least until Maariv is over. On a “good” year the feeling will last through the few kinos/end of davening until I go to sleep which, due to not being allowed to read any of my usual material coupled with having to sit on the ground, is about 15 minutes after I get home from shul. Let’s call that a “win” scenario – definitely good enough for my low standards.

Welcome to Tisha B’Av morning. My mouth is dry, my sinuses are beginning to ache and I’m half asleep from a lack of an awakening face wash. But far worse than that is the fact that I’m seeing 4+ hours of uncomfortable seating, incomprehensible Biblical Hebrew poetry, the wheezy breathing of the old man in the row behind me and excruciating boredom in my very near future. It is here that something needs to be done, because I know I’m just one of the multitude of congregants sitting in shul at 9:15a.m., thinking “Hashem, please send Mashiach just so that we don’t have to go through this again next year!”

I’m a practical man; I don’t expect to spend all day as I did my previous night. Without even getting into the impossibility of sustaining any emotion for that long a period, it would be physically impractical for those of us who work/telecommute/”I’m available on my Blackberry”/take care of the kids/etc. after Chatzos.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: “they have those video shiurim being screened at all different shuls around the neighborhood” or “Rabbi So-and-so gives a great 2 hour shiur from 10-12”. True – and I have a few major problems:

1. The video shiurim cost a pretty penny ($16 and up, I believe) and I’m a Jew (aka cheap).

2. The morning shiurim are few and far between; the good morning shiurim are even fewer and even further between.

3. The videos all, almost without exception, start in the afternoon (aka after Chatzos), when I’m actually allowed to revert back to life as normal.

Like it or not, a person’s attention (if they follow the “rules”) before Chatzos can only be focused on the one major subject matter, it’s time for Rabbanim and communities to realize that and act accordingly.

Rabbis – admit it, you’re as bored as we are sitting there in shul; the only difference is we’re sneaking out of here at the first opportunity while you’re stuck on the steps of the Aron Kodesh to ride out the tidal wave of fidgety boredom to its bitter end. Why don’t you spend some time preparing, and expound on a few of the Kinos for your congregants. Let’s be honest – you get paid to speak on “all major Jewish occasions and holidays”, and Tisha B’Av is pretty major. This is aside from the fact that if you make your speech even semi-interesting you’ll win the undying love and loyalty of 80% of your shul’s membership on the spot. If you’re a terrible speaker, ask 2 or 3 congregants to prepare something short and appropriate and have them speak – worst case scenario they bore everyone but themselves, that’s still a 200-300% increase in the amount of people actually interested in being there. It’s a win-win either way.

Congregants – if you do want to speak, or are asked to give a short speech (this 2nd option is a safer bet: it means they actually may pay attention!), don’t freak out that you haven’t learned anything about the destruction of the Beis Ha’Mikdash since 10th grade. There are great books and stories published on the Holocaust or Spanish Inquisition – both appropriate subject materials as they are sad and directly connected to Tisha B’Av.

Community organizers – if there are 25 shuls in your area having afternoon video shiurim, why not arrange to have 17 in the afternoon, and set up 7 or so in the morning for the “35 and under” male demographic who crave something interesting to connect them to the meaning of the day; and yes, we may even be willing to pay for it – within reason.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, rather I am highlighting the problem we all have connecting to a time that is so integral and essential in the scope of Judaism and Jewish life – and maybe help flick on the light bulb of idea that levitates above the heads of some of our industrious leaders and community directors and yes; I hope that our “Shelo Li’Shma” reasons for wanting Mashiach combine with the “Li’Shma” and by next year this day will be a happy occasion.

Other posts by David Sheril

8 people (almost) every shul has but shouldn’t

What is your gelila/hagba radius?

5 people every shul must have to survive