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Tisha B’Av - Eicha 2023


Eicha 23 by Chana-Toni Whitmont

Today is Tisha B’Av, the national day of fasting and mourning, the time in the annual spiritual calendar which convulses with the energy of abandonment and exile. The invitation today is to open to collective calamities, to acknowledge the brokenness in the world, to feel the visceral gut- wrenching turbulence of Jewish ancestral trauma (tragically manifesting at this time in Israel as oppression of a multitude of “others”, in my opinion).


Historically, Tisha B’Av (9th of the month of Av), marks the dates of two events which coincided many hundreds of apart with macabre symmetry - namely the expulsions from Judea in the sixth century BCE, and again, in the first century CE, each one accompanied with hideous violence, physical destruction of the Temple (which was the epicentre of spiritual, political and economic life) and the experience of homelessness that some would argue lasted 2000 years.


On Tisha B’Av 586 bce the Babylonians destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and burned the city. The canonised response was Eicha/Lamentations, said to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah. These days, the tradition is to gather together for the mournful five chapter chant of Eicha (which means both “alas” and “how?”) sitting bare foot on the ground in a barely lit synagogue.


Eicha is written largely in the voice of Jerusalem. Interestingly, the Babylonians are not even mentioned. It is understood that the Babylonians were unconscious actors in a collapse that was really caused by sinat chinam/baseless hatred in a Judean society that was fractured in two. With the battle that is going on right now for the heart and mind of an Israel riven with conflict, the Biblical parallels appear frighteningly prescient.


On Tisha B'Av this year, yet another day when the record for the hottest day on the planet was broken once more, I was alerted to Rabbi Cat Zavis’ searing Eicha for 2023, written in the style and form of the Biblical original. This five chapter unflinching lament is written from the point of first, Israel, then Mother Earth, the US (one could easily substitute with my country Australia or a plethora of nation states paralysed by their refusal to act on justice for the planet and all its beings) and finally, young people. The fifth chapter is a desperate plea to the interbeing force that makes transformation possible (read: our higher selves or God, depending on your take on theism) to help us wake up to ourselves and pull ourselves back from the brink.


That morning also brought the shockingly sad news of the death of Sinead O’Connor, songbird and activist, brave and troubled, who railed against the very tyranny and corruption that often wore her down.


Eicha is unrelentingly bleak, but there are two openings to possibility.


In a text full of grief and pain, about half way through we get the verse, “every morning I am reminded of raba emunatecha”. Emunah, which also gives us the word “amen”, is poorly translated into English as faith. A better sense of the verse would be “You are meeting me/showing up again/being steadfast with me every morning”. This verse is the basis of the Hebrew call to gratitude, said upon waking every morning. As one of my teachers, Rabbi Dorothy Richman said recently, “From Eicha we see that gratitude is located within suffering and grief - it isn’t a separate pole. Sometimes in my despair, raba emunatecha, I can have gratitude”.


At the end of Eicha we hear hashivenu HaVaYa elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem which Rabbi Zavis interprets as “make anew, make anew our world, return us to our true selves, let us see our interbeing, the Divine in all”.


So where does this leave us? Rabbi Daniel Raphael-Silverstein so poignantly reminded us of the antidote to sinat chinam/baseless hatred in his Tisha B’Av video plea from Israel - offering practical steps to stop “othering” others based on the wisdom of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Quoting the towering figure of Rav Kook z”l, the tikkun/rectification/healing of sinat chinam is ahavat chinam/baseless love:

“If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam. (Rav Kook in Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)


My response to all of this is Eicha 23 - a multi-layered mixed media collage I created on the afternoon of the fast, with paints, inks and stencils, patterned paper from 3Quarter Designs “Precious Time” collection, paper scraps from my stash, and pieces of fire opal and Libyan tektite. The image of Sinead O’Connor is from Rolling Stone. The Hebrew and English tags include the words of Rav Kook on ahavat chinam. The main panel is a condensed version of Rabbi Cat Zavis’ Eicha for 2023.


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Chana-Toni Whitmont is a collage artist, crystal sound practitioner, creative, teacher and student whose practice and passions are born from her spiritual connection to her Jewish lineage and the ebbs and flows in the annual calendar cycle. She lives on magnificent Bidjigal, Birrabirragal and Gadigal Country (also known as Bondi), on the Pacific coast of Australia.


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