Waters of Babylon

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Frankly, the whole idea of a messiah feels a little, well, foreign to me. “By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept for Thee O Zion.”

Tisha B’av. the Ninth of Av, 5776 in the Hebrew lunar calendar, begins this year on August 13, 2016 in the Gregorian Calendar. It marks the day of greatest mourning for the Jewish people, the date when both the First and Second Temple were destroyed, and is also associated with the final date of expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and with critical events of the Holocaust.

Yet sometime in the future on this day, it is also said in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, the Messiah will be born and it will be our day of greatest joy.

I can understand this in a metaphorical sense, that hope is born out of tragedy, but it just simply was never a part of my consciousness growing up in the Reform tradition.

But now, with the Christian right’s evangelical focus these days on looking for signs of end times in danger of being self-fulfilling, not to mention the exacerbation of tensions around the Temple Mount, the second-guessing of the Iran nuclear deal, talk of the Mahdi, and Donald Trump’s choice of a born-again Christian for a running mate, I have to pay attention to the concept. And, I’d like to look at this from a different perspective.

“Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today,” the American Vedantist Alan Watts pointed out, in The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.

This day can be our day of greatest joy as we remember all we have lost.

How could that be?

Through acknowledgement of what we have lost, we find what we value, who we are, what we need to recover, what mistake we need not make again, what goal we can reset our sights on.

We never seem to be able to see as clearly in the present as we do when we look back, and thereby sometimes we see better what we are dealing with.

So how then can today be a day of joy? Because the tragedies of the past can be averted, they can be prevented, not repeated. The world community can stop the environmental destruction of its resources. The arc of civilization need not devolve into chaos and nations into dictatorships.

While Tisha B’av may be a day of remembrance – it does not then necessarily follow that it is destined to repeat a day of tragedy.

We can find this day to be of greatest joy right now, in honoring the day itself; because to live only for the past is futile, and to live only for the future is to invite tragedy: the coming of the Jewish Messiah, the coming of the Moslem Mahdi, the return of the Christian Christ – like a bad Western, all three gangs are converging on the same town at high noon, gunning for Armageddon. Messianic fervor is rising, and with it, fanaticism.

So, remember, on this day of greatest sorrow for the Jewish people, to also Let it Be, and to Be Here Now.

“Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities,” an exhibit of more than 175 artifacts from Spain, Mexico and the U.S. that charts the history of Sephardic Jews from Spain who went to Mexico and then further north into what is now New Mexico in flight from the Inquisition, is on exhibit at the History Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico through December 31, 2016. Read more at www.dianejoyschmidt.com.


About the Author
Diane Joy Schmidt is a regular correspondent and columnist for the New Mexico Jewish Link, the Gallup Independent, and a recent contributor to Hadassah Magazine. Her columns and articles have received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Jewish Press Association's Rockower Awards, the Arizona Press Association, and the Native American Journalists Association. She grew up on Chicago's North Shore in the traditions of Reform Judaism, is anchored by her memories of the fireflies at Union Institute camp and the Big Dipper over Lake Michigan, and is an admirer of all things spiritually resonant.
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