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From Ruth to Lamentations

When I was just 24 years old, we made a decision right after Shavuot to come to Israel, which we did on August 27th 1967 (55 years ago). This year my birthday is on Tisha B’Av. The two plus months, from Shavuot, when we read the book of Ruth, to Tisha B’av, when we read Eicha, the book of Lamentations is a relatively quiet time—holiday wise. True, just as there are 49 days of Omer, leading up to Shavuot, there are the “three weeks” leading up to TBA. If we look at the Jewish calendar, these 9 weeks between holy days is the longest it gets. For me, this year, it is a time of introspection—since next year I turn 80 years old. When I was younger, I identified with Ruth (and wished my mother had given me that name). Today I identify with Naomi, who grasps on to life with both hands in order to have continuity. However, when I read the book of Ruth as a parable of exile and then a return to the land, and realize there are only 9 weeks until we read Lamentations, where we are kicked out of the land because of our sins, I become somewhat despondent. Is there any way we can avoid this fate?

I digress:

Three things kept my sanity these last two plus years when I was an endangered species: one was my daily swim (when the pools were open and no threats of war); another was my discovery of zoom which enabled me to continue teaching bible as a volunteer and the third was my “continuing education” at Beit Avichai which opened its classes for free on zoom and which I attended (and continue to attend) religiously every day at 9 AM. It has become my motivation to get up in the morning. I rarely leave the house except to swim and to go to the synagogue on shabbat morning. One of the reasons is that I don’t like to wear a mask. And now that no one has to wear a mask anymore, the world is fraught with danger for people in my age group. Even the dressing room in the pool is potentially dangerous: I put on a mask when little girls come in. Their physical presence doesn’t bother me; what does bothers me is the noise they make. The decibel arises with them—they scream, but do not realize they are raising their voices.  My fellow swimmer in the changing room, a retired teacher, says, this was not the way it was in the “good old days”. I point out to her, that they learned this from their teachers who were always screeching. She said, “well, what can you expect if we had 45 kids in a class—how else would they listen to us”. When I pointed out that screeching teachers are not the best role models, she finds it hard to respond. Former polite American that I am (even though I’ve been living here since 1967), I don’t want her to feel bad about not having the last word. So, I point out, that maybe they are all hard of hearing and don’t even know they are screaming. Yes, she points out, “all of today’s youth are listening to loud music and have their earphones in all the time, so what can you expect.”

I come home and think about this conversation and wonder if it’s not connected with the problem of discourse (or rather lack of it) in modern society. No one listens to the other, so we raise our voices. We are a country of immigrants, so to make sure the “other” understands us, we raise our voice, assuming that if we scream loudly enough, something will penetrate. It is a cliché to point out the discourteous models of discourse that we regularly see on television interviews, the Knesset etc. All of this filters down. There is a lack of respect for opinions that are not our own. In the good old days, if you were a principal, a doctor, a president, a prime minister, a parent, that would guarantee respect. Elders had experience and we were prepared to listen to them. However, those days are gone. No one respects the other, we don’t even respect ourselves, so how can we be expected to respect those who are different from us. We may not be killing each other (yet) as they are doing in the U.S. where every day brings a new shooting, but we are killing each other with disrespect. Every day brings another challenge to the government. Without any shame, the opposition is prepared to bring down the government and vote against law and order in the West Bank, and passing a bill for funding soldier’s education. We live in dangerous times when there is only disrespect, shamelessness, and self-interest. Is this what we pass on to the next generation?

I now return to the hiatus between Shavuot and Tisha B’Av. Is all the bounty and good that we got when our ancestresses Naomi and Ruth came back to Bethlehem going to end in destruction and banishment from this good land if we don’t get our collective acts together? Good question! With a little hindsight can we avoid this? I wonder! To illustrate this, I will end with a true story that happened a few years ago. In the good old days, when we used to go to the opera in Tel Aviv, we would take the train from Beersheba, and then from the Tel Aviv train station we would take a taxi to the opera house. One day, the only taxi available was not in the usual taxi stand. The driver demanded 50 shekels for a 4-minute trip. My husband was willing to pay; I balked at this and said to the driver, “this is literally highway robbery.” The driver answered: “The prime minister is a thief, with his hands in everyone’s pocket, why should I be different?” I responded: “You know; you’re absolutely right and I will be repeating this story for years”. We got in, paid and got to the opera with more than enough time to spare and 50 shekels poorer. But it was worth it for this anecdote. As we say in Hebrew: ha-mavin, yavin! Or in Aramaic dai lehakima be-remiza. The wise person will get the hint!

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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