Monday, August 14, 2017

Acceptance & Openness as Antidote to Sinat Chinam

Most years I spend Tisha B'Av at Camp Ramah. The day moves differently there. Unlike at home, where work and life move around me no different from the rest of the days of the week, Ramah moves at a different pace. The day is focused on remembrance and hope. This year there was also a frustration stemming from the feelings among staff and campers that, as non-haredi Jews, we were being shut out of Israel.

Sean and I were asked to oversee the Eicha reading and Tisha B'Av learning. Deciding what to teach is always a challenge. The traditional sources surge to the front of one's mind. The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza cannot be forgotten. Unfortunately, all too often, the story's conclusion is left off. Teachers and rabbis present the beginning of story from Talmud Gittin, telling of Bar Kamtza being publicly embarrassed as the Rabbis look on, and then informing against the Jewish community to the rabbis. But we too often leave off Rabbi Zechariyah ben Avkolas's excessive exactitude, putting his interpretation of the law before the needs of the people.

This summer's events in Israel- from the cancellation of the Kotel compromise to the continuing debate over who is a Jew, from the discrimination against homosexual couples in adoption to the name-calling and hurtful rhetoric coming from Israeli religious leaders- cannot but come to mind when studying this text. Is this the definition of sinat chinam, of senseless hatred? And what is the solution?

Each summer, as I prepare to teach on Tisha B'Av, I seek out materials to help children, teens, and adults connect with the day and with our land. The younger children and Tikvah campers again focused on the story of Bar Kamtza. Together we wondered about the act of being an upstander instead of a bystander, one who speaks up and acts, whether in the moment when that fateful party's host threw Bar Kamtza from his home or when the Sages accepted the comments of Rabbi Zechariyah, choosing punctiliousness over people's lives.

Later in the day, I spoke with a room filled with 15-16 year olds. Using the Beit Ha'am - Z-Talks supplement, "Pray For the Wellbeing of Jerusalem," the campers entered the room to a video of the women's sections at the Kotel filmed by Tehila Raanan, "Wall, Crevice, Tear." The film is peaceful, almost eerie. There's no sign of the conflict surrounding the Kotel, no anger, no hate, no protest. Campers shared their impressions of the film, and their experiences at the Kotel. My daughter spoke about being accosted by representatives of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, told her clothes were a desecration, and how much happier she was to sit and think at the Masorti Kotel. From there, we went to the end of the Bar Kamtza story, to Rabbi Zechariyah.

We talked briefly about the news of the summer and the Kotel compromise. Most of our time was focussed on the idea "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh, b'zeh," that all of the people Israel are responsible for each other. Regardless of our agreement on religious issues, regardless of our interpretation of law, we are responsible for caring for and supporting each other.

The Jewish people has never been monolithic. But perhaps we were never so splintered as at the time of the destruction. Perhaps that is our problem, and that is our solution. Just perhaps sinat chinam is the cutting off of others because they do not think or at like us, and the answer is to accept, if not to embrace, the differences.