Cancer made me feel completely misunderstood and out of place, but it also made me more self-aware. It gave me a new perspective on the world, helping me appreciate simple dialogues with loved ones and strangers. Above all, it was transformative and empowering, giving the knowledge that only an experience like this could impart: to know what it means to be empathetic. This is my story of Tisha B’Av.
The first word for cancer to appear in medical literature, back in the time of Hippocrates around 400 BCE, was karkinos, from the Greek word for crab; it’s a linguistic coincidence, but to me it seems connected to the similar-sounding word kinos, the elegies for Tisha B’Av. Since that hour on my bed at camp three summers ago, I have searched for the notebook where I wrote my own kinos and filled pages with my own pain, but I haven’t found it. Maybe like the old Jewish custom to bury the books of kinos deep in the ground, in the hopes of not needing to use them the following year (with the rebuilding of the Temple), I buried them somewhere deep in my room. What I feared then as my life’s end, like the Temples’ destruction, turned out to require of me the courage to begin again.
—Raffi Leicht, from her powerful piece in Tablet Magazine, “How Tisha B’Av Helped Me Heal”
If you read one thing today, be sure it’s this contemplative personal history of a young, observant Jewish student who says that “cancer, and a year of chemotherapy, gave me a new perspective on Jewish holidays — starting with Tisha B’Av.”
Tisha B’Av, a Time for Lament Among Jews
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Tisha B’Av, also called the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning for Jews around the world. On this day, they commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, including events reaching back to ancient times — the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE. The Holocaust and the start of World War I are also associated with this day.
Also called the “darkest day” of the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av is observed with prayers, fasting, and very specific mourning behavior which prohibits bathing, marital relations, wearing luxuries like leather shoes, and idle chatter or leisure activities. At night the synagogue is darkened, and The Book of Eicha (Lamentations) is read by candlelight.
Mourners also gather at the Wailing Wall (remains of the second temple) to recite kinot for the dead, and in some communities blow the shofar at the end of the fast as an expression of hope for the future.
Blowing the Shofar at the Wailing Wall. (photo: Johnathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)