Tammuz

Living according to the Jewish calendar aligns one with the meaningful rhythms of loss and renewal. On the 17th of Tammuz we begin a three week period mourning with a minor fast day (from sunrise to nightfall) that culminates with Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the day we mark the destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE, along with many other tragedies that have befallen our people throughout history. Since the 17th of Tammuz falls on Saturday this year, we observe the fast on Sunday. On Tisha B’Av the fast begins in the evening and lasts until the next night.

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There are many mourning rituals during this three week period whose severity increases as we approach Tisha B’Av. We refrain from listening to live music, from getting haircuts, and shaving. During the first nine days of Av, we also refrain from eating meat or drinking wine, yet Shabbat meals override this restriction.

Each Shabbat morning during the three weeks, we read a special haftarah whose intent is to jar us out of complacency to take actions that will reverse or at least mitigate our harsh experience of history and reshape the world according to our highest values.

On Tisha B’Av itself, we begin the night chanting the book of Eicha, Lamentations, while sitting on the floor of the synagogue in the dark by the light of a candle. We either chant the prayers in a dirge-like melody or we simply say them. We don’t put on Tallit or Tefillin in the morning. We don’t study Torah or do other pleasurable activities.

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At the afternoon service, the tone shifts towards healing and rebuilding. We put on Tallit and Tefillin and read sections from the Torah and prophets about comfort and forgiveness.

This begins the seven-week period, shiva, of healing, culminating with the renewal of Rosh Hashanah.

On each Shabbat, we read a haftarah of comfort. The first Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu and the haftarah beautifully opens with Nachamu Nachamu Ami, Be comforted, be comforted, my people.

From the outside, all of these rituals may look antiquated and extreme. For the one who lives in-sync with the Jewish calendar, these rituals guide one on a journey of transformation and renewal. The rabbis teach, “All who mourn for Jerusalem will merit seeing her joy, as it is said, ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all who love her; all who mourned her will rejoice with her (Isaiah 66:10).’”

Tosefta Sotah 15:10-15

Another word about fasting. Here is one of my favorite teachings-

As Rav Ḥana bar Bizna said that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida said:

What is the meaning of that which is written: “Thus said the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness,and cheerful seasons, to the house of Judah”(Zechariah 8:19).

It calls them days of “fast” and it calls them “times of joy and gladness.” How so? When there is peace in the world, they will be times of joy and gladness, on which eulogies and fasting are forbidden; but when there is no peace, they are days of fasting.

Rav Pappa said that this is what it is saying: When there is peace in the world and the Temple is standing, these days will be times of joy and gladness; when there is persecution and troubles for the Jewish people, they are days of fasting; and when there is no persecution but still no peace, the halakha is as follows: If people wish, they fast, and if they wish, they do not fast.

Rosh Hashana 18b

-Rabbi Barkan

Camp Ramah: The Happiest Place On Earth

My family calls Camp Ramah the happiest place on earth. It is amazing how Ramah creates an intentional Jewish community that supports each child to thrive. This is an enormous responsibility that is planned thoroughly and professionally. The leadership demonstrated at all levels of Ramah is impressive and consistent.

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Most of the youth from our congregation featured in this picture are in the older groups. Two of them are counselors. Yet there are two others here who are in the youngest group signaling that a new generation of Ramahniks is rising in Tucson. It is a joy to support this generational transition in our community. 

I grew up as a camper at Ramah and I returned as a counselor and teacher for five years. The greatest joy of my experience this week was witnessing how my two-year-old daughter thrived in this kibbutz-like context. When she would wake up she would be excited to see “the people.” She loved how each day we ate meals prayed and played together. It was extra special that two of my cousins from Las Vegas also came to camp. Another generation of Ramahniks is rising up in my own family. 

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I had the privilege to teach groups of all ages and sizes throughout my week there as the visiting rabbi. I explored ancient texts with teens going into 10th Grade about strategies for Jewish engagement from which we gleaned insights about how we can use Social Media as a tool to engage Jewish youth today. I told stories to kids going into 5th and 6th Grades about how I started to keep Shabbat. My favorites class was with teens going into 8th Grade. We addressed in a direct way the fundamental question of why be Jewish. They shared openly about their different expressions of, and challenges with, Judaism. Through the process of affirming where each one was at in his or her development, I was able to share how Judaism provided me the framework and guidance to find my place and purpose in the world. 

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My wife who also grew up at Ramah and served on staff, volunteered, as she does each time we are there, with campers who have different abilities. There are children of all ages who form a supportive group that accommodates their various abilities while being an integral part of the camp. This includes a group of young adults who are empowered to work in different roles around Camp.  This is another shining example of how the camp empowers everyone to thrive in his or her way.  The Jewish values deeply embedded in the structure of the community and daily life of Camp combined with a vibrant and supportive communal context within which kids (and adults) can be themselves truly makes Camp Ramah the happiest place on earth. 

Thank you Camp Ramah for a wonderful week and a lifetime of amazing memories.