How is your Tisha b’Av going? We thought we’d share an excerpt from one of our newest books, Hyman by Lawrence Bush. This satirical novel by the former editor of Jewish Currents focuses on Rabbi Hyman Babushkin, the (fictional) leader of the (fictional, but probably quite familiar) Encounter Judaism movement that he founds after leaving Orthodoxy. You can order the book from us with free shipping.
The beginning of Chapter Seven focuses on a pivotal event in the rabbi’s life, one that falls on Tisha b’Av…
“The 9th National Summer Encounter of the Encounter Judaism movement, gathering at the ninety-acre Fellowship Farm retreat center in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, with the theme, “Jews of the Future,” has been scheduled, at Rabbi Babushkin’s urging, for the weekend of Tisha B’Av. Traditionally a day of fasting and abstinence, Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av) commemorates the destruction of Judaism’s first and second temples in Jerusalem — the first by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, the second by the Romans six centuries later — along with many other horrors that are deeply etched into Jewish memory.
Eight registrants had voiced complaints in advance about the scheduling, ranging from What kind of conference does not have food? to I want the Encounter to be enlivening and uplifting, not filled with tragic memory.
Reb Hyman had responded to these concerns indirectly with an intriguing message in the registration packet, mailed out ten days in advance:
Not to worry. Our Tisha B’Av will be a feast day.
The Temple still stands tall, but it has gone Planetary!
Five of the complainants, all from Orthodox backgrounds, had nevertheless cancelled their reservations. Reb Hyman felt unperturbed, however. In the nine years since the Summer Encounters began, this one had attracted the largest registration ever, three hundred strong counting the children, and nicely diverse in generational terms, from young parents to baby-boomers in their fifties and sixties. Most of them, he knew, had little familiarity with observing Tisha B’Av and were simply looking forward to experiencing his creative spin on the day.
But first came the sabbath, which traditionally takes precedence over all other Jewish holidays and had therefore bumped the Ninth of Av to the Tenth, Saturday night. By then, the crowd had been well- nourished with organic vegetarian meals and enraptured by the creative spirituality and sharp intellectualism of various workshops: a Thursday-night session led by Rabbi Bobbi Greenbaum and Dr. Becca Cantor on “What Could It Mean for Judaism When Women Take Over?”; another Thursday-night session led by Monica Zimmer, a psychotherapist from Toronto, titled “Blessings on Your Head: Parenting and the Spirituality of Surrender”; a raft of kinesthetic workshops on Friday morning, including “Elementary Contact Improvisation,” “Walking with the Trees,” and “Following in the Footsteps of Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslav”; a Friday lunch concert by Hyman’s teenaged pianist son Daniel, followed by his brief exposition on “Why Is Synagogue Music Generally So Lame? (and What To Do About It)”; and a Friday afternoon plenary led by Rabbis Isaac Cantor (New York) and Deborah Feigenbaum (St. Louis) on “The Critical Hyphen: Jewish Social Response-Ability.”
There had also been group Friday-afternoon mikvehs (sex-segregated, bathing suits optional) in Fellowship Farm’s stream-fed pond; a brief outdoor performance by the children of Encounter Kindercamp; and four varieties of Torah study on Saturday morning, followed by a three-hour prayer service.”
…..after this Shabbat event, Tisha b’Av proper begins, including a lineup of Tisha b’Av seder guests, and various rituals, sometimes bizarre, sometimes genuinely touching:
“Babushkin walks over to the one of the giant Post-it sheets and uncaps a marker that has been clipped to the page. “I guess you could call me a universalist to the nth degree. I strive to be as Jewish, as richly Jewish, as I can possibly be — but I do so in service to humankind. That may sound very grand, but ‘grand’ doesn’t mean ‘untrue.’ I do believe that we, our Encounter Judaism movement, we are catalysts of a broader transformation. We are catalysts, and we can join with other catalysts to bring about a reaction that can cause all the human elements to meld into a compound of mentshlikhkayt! And when that happens, that’s when moshiakh, the messiah, comes. That’s when we enter the messianic age by treating one another as human beings, made in the image of God!”
On cue, Reb Deb steps up to read passages from Jewish sources about the messianic age: “From the Jerusalem Talmud, Berakot 2:4: ‘On the day the Temple was destroyed, Messiah was born.’”
Babushkin repeats: “On the day the Temple was destroyed, Messiah was born.”
She reads: “From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b: ‘All the calculated dates of redemption have passed, and now the matter depends upon repentance and good deeds.’”
Babushkin repeats: “Repentance and good deeds.”
She reads: “From Franz Kafka: ‘The Messiah will come only when no longer necessary.’”
Babushkin repeats: “When we no longer need him. Thank you, Deborah.”
Now he walks to one of the Post-It sheet and prints words beneath the heading, “WHEN MOSHIAKH COMES . . .” “Forgive my handwriting,” he says, then reads aloud what he has written: “When moshiakh comes . . . the White House will be renamed the Rainbow Room.”
The room fills with laughter. He walks to the next pad and writes again: “Those who steal will be given what they want.” And again, to a third pad: “The President will be in therapy at least twice a week.”
When the laughter subsides, Babushkin holds out the marker. “It’s your turn, kinderlakh. What will happen when mentshlikhkayt becomes the way of the world? What does the revolution look like? You know, it’s easy for us to say what we don’t like about this world, but can we envision a better one, and put it into words? This is your
chance to help write our new, universalist Torah.”
Max from Teaneck steps up, takes the marker from Reb Hyman’s hand, walks to a fresh sheet, and starts writing.”
We wish you a meaningful Tisha b’Av – one way of observance or another!