Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, came and went this past weekend, and not a moment too soon.
If you never heard of Tu B’Av, literally the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, don’t feel too bad. It just doesn’t have the same commercial appeal in this country as Valentine’s Day; no way can you walk into a CVS and pick out a Tu B’Av greeting card or purchase a box of Tu B’Av bon bons for that special someone.
Not yet anyway.
But in Israel, Tu B’Av is all about amore, something that’s all the more interesting when you consider that it falls just six days after the darkest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other horrific moments in our history … the Spanish Inquisition … the Russian pogroms … the Holocaust….
It is as if God, sensing our need to feel restored and touched by our better angels, made darn sure that a holiday celebrating love came quickly on the heels of a holiday lamenting hate.
Now, more than ever, we need Tu B’Av.
The Hebrew year 5779 is coming to a close, and what an awful year it was! It opened with the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in my hometown of Pittsburgh and continued with the attack on the Poway Chabad synagogue near San Diego, California.
There were near misses, too, with police foiling plans of shooters in Toledo, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nevada, to assault Jewish targets.
Jews were far from the only victims. Two of our neighbors were gunned down at the Jeffersontown Kroger just days before the Pittsburgh shootings; two mosques were attacked in Christchurch, New Zealand; Hispanics were hunted at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and rounded up for deportation elsewhere.
In Mississippi, law enforcement officers arrested migrants at work in meat packing plants, leaving their children alone, not knowing where to go or what to do.
There was steady drumbeat of ominous news about the encroachment of climate change, with July being the hottest month in recorded history.
Most recently, a gunman shot and wounded six police officers during a standoff in Philadelphia.
All these examples, whether they involved guns or not, were acts of violence. Make no mistake.
Yes, this has been an awful year.
We need some love – now. Failing that, though, I’ll take a little compassion. And if even that is too much to ask for, I’ll settle for a respite from the bloodletting.
I may have found that last one in the same place where this year of violence began – Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the first to report that a rabbi, lay leader and members of two of the three congregations that were attacked on Shabbat, Oct. 27, 2018, have written to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, asking him not to seek the death penalty for the man charged with the shootings.
According to the P-G, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation wrote in a Aug. 1 letter to Barr, “He (the shooter) should meditate on whether taking action on some white separatist fantasy against the Jewish people was really worth it. Let him live with it forever. I am mainly interested in not letting this thug cause my community any further pain.”
And the president of Dor Hadash, Donna Coufal, wrote in an Aug. 9 letter, “A plea bargain for life without parole will prevent this individual getting the attention and publicity that would inevitably come with a trial.”
No more killing, not even for a man charged with a killing spree. Some might say these letters don’t serve justice, but I respectfully disagree. They are hardly pleas for mercy, but they couldn’t come at a better time.
Neither do these letters equal forgiveness – that type of pardon must come from the families of the victims – and they are certainly a long way from the acts of love that the world sorely needs.
But after a year of unbridled violence, not to mention political bile from the highest levels of government, they are at least an appeal for calm, a timeout from trouble, a moment for us all to listen to our breathing and remember how human we are.
No, it’s not love, but in times like these, I’ll take it.
(Lee Chottiner is the editor of the Jewish Louisville Community.)