Fear & Tragedy on Tisha B’Av

As Tisha B’Av approached this year, I was found myself having really mixed feelings about it.

The date itself is always a sad one for me; I think of being at the Arch of Titus and feeling my heart break as I thought of all the destruction the Jewish people had endured over the years–and that was a full four years before I became officially Jewish, and a whole year before I started seriously considering it.

I expected the other feeling: anticipation for an upcoming moment of joy. Last year, as the darkness of Tisha B’Av began to recede, I entered the mikvah as Leiram and exited as Eliava–and I had hoped that this would always bring peace and solace after the storm that is the ninth of Av.

What I wasn’t expecting was the third feeling that assailed me this year: fear.

I did not understand just how fearful I was becoming until I read Melissa Cohen’s post, “When I Converted, I Never Expected It Would Come to This.” In particular, there were two moments that struck me. The first:

When I talk to my husband, to my friends who grew up Jewish, they aren’t shocked by the recent waves of anti-Semitism. They expect it, almost. One of the questions the beit din (rabbinical court) asked me before we went to the mikveh was why I would want to become Jewish. Why would I want to be a part of a group of people who were so often discriminated against and the object of so much hate?

I remember hearing this question long before I stood (or, rather, sat) before my beit din on the 10th of Av of 5773. Multiple Jews I met, upon hearing that I was conversion candidate, asked me some version of this question. Most of them seemed genuinely surprised when my response was either “I already feel Jewish, and I just want to take the next step” or, after I became tired of hearing the question, “Well, why not?”

And then, the second moment:

I didn’t really think it would happen. I thought anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. I knew the history, but I thought, naively, that the world was a different place now. There was the conflict in Israel, but that was half a world away. I didn’t expect to have to have these conversations with my children.

As silly as it sounds coming from someone who calls out the continued existence of racism and discrimination as much as I do, I genuinely believed that we were past hatred and fear of Jews. I felt that if it were to happen, it would happen in isolated incidents. I felt that I, as an adult, could engage in discussions and change people’s minds about Jews. I felt that, after the horror of the Shoah, people would not be so quick to turn away and allow anti-Semitism to reign. But now that I am outside of the bubble of Christianity, there are many things I see clearly–and one of them is how overwhelmingly Christian my world in the United States is, for all the country’s claims of being so very secular.

We run on a Christian schedule, which means that it is the rest of us who have to use personal business days and sick days to celebrate holidays. It is also the rest of us who have to make accommodations to respect our time and dietary restrictions (a pain that my vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free friends share). Although now it is taken for granted, for almost two school years it was a struggle for me to establish that no, I am not chaperoning XYZ on a Friday night and no, I can’t attend professional development on a Saturday “just this once” and no, I certainly cannot reschedule Rosh Hashanah for a less inconvenient time for the school.

Yet the really scary part for me is that last sentence: I didn’t expect to have these conversations with my children. It took me back to my visit to B’nei Jeshurun last fall, where I attended a Saturday morning service and saw this wonderful young woman name Hannah become bat mitzvah. It was such an honor to be there, albeit coincidentally, as she chanted Torah and Haftorah with confidence and grace–and I remember sitting there thinking, “I can’t wait to watch my daughter become a woman in Jewish law and have a moment like this, where it just her and HaShem’s words before her as members of her community watch her bloom.” The thought surprised me because, even though I now I want children someday, I am nowhere near having any but what I was feeling could only be termed maternal pride and longing. But now the thought haunts me a little: will my future daughter suffer for such a proud display of her faith? Will it even be possible? Will my children’s lullabies be tinged with fear and a hope for immediate redemption?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, and perhaps that is the scariest part, but I am hoping that asking them now will help prepare me for all the work that will need to be done.

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