Gali the sheep here– deep in thought about how we observed Tisha B’av this year. For those of you unfamiliar with this day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’av (The ninth day of the month of Av) commemorates the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and Babylonian Captivity, as well as other exiles and tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history.
In addition to telling these stories on Tisha B’av, we sing “By the Rivers of Babylon” each Friday during our kabbalat shabbat (welcoming shabbat) ritual at machaneh. The song tells the story of Jews in Babylonian Captivity based on Psalm 137 and written by The Melodians in the 1970’s.
By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down,
And there we wept, when we remembered Zion
But the wicked carried us away in captivity required of us a song
how can we sing the lord’s song in a strange land?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts
Be acceptable in thy sight…
We teach our chanichimot (campers) that as Jewish people throughout history, we have not always been welcome in the lands we’ve called home. We see this history in the lyrics above. We read this history in the book of Exodus teaching that, “A stranger shalt you not oppress; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Additionally, like in many Jewish communities, many of our population at machaneh descends from those who left their homes to escape religious persecution within the past century.
Now what does this have to do with our unique Tisha B’av observance this summer? I’m glad you asked!
Throughout the summer, Jewish organizing groups across the US have been calling on their communities to stand up for the populations of refugees and asylum seekers facing ICE roundups, deportation, and targeted mass shootings. Why? We were once strangers in a strange land. Why else? First they came for the immigrants, and I said nothing because I was not an immigrant. And on and on… [continuing Martin Niemöller’s 1946 prose].
Earlier this month, the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis decided that their Tisha B’av observance would take the form of a gathering called “For These We Cry Out: A Tisha B’Av Vigil for Refugees” staged on Independence Mall next to the Liberty Bell. We wanted our chanichimot to be a part of their community’s mobilization in real time. We wanted them to be able to tell their future chanichimot that they did not stand idly by. So we found a way to get there. And so during shabbat, we sat with our Tzofimot-Madatz (8-12th graders) and spoke about how we would be observing Tisha B’av this weekend. We prepared protest signs and packed them away for the next day’s journey.
When we arrived to the vigil this afternoon, it was no surprise that in a crowd of hundreds, we found many familiar faces. Galil alumni attending the vigil wanted to take pictures of our Camp Galil sign. Habonim alumni and parents took the stage as leaders of the program. Parents of our current chanichimot stood with groups from their synagogues and community organizations. We feel honored to be part of a web of caring and compassionate community members who also prioritized being present for the vigil today.
We thank our friends from the Board of Rabbis who provided some of the funding for our transportation to and from machaneh.
Upon arriving back at machaneh this afternoon, we felt the support of our younger chanichimot who practiced their own Tisha B’av action today. Our MishMishimot-Sayarimot(4-6th graders) wrote letters to their local senators demanding action to protect the refugees and asylum seekers living in their home states.
Activism takes many different and important forms. Together we explore the ways that our community can participate. As we learn from the lessons of our history, we say as a community that Never Again is Now.
Gali the Sheep
Ps. What do the sheep say to protect one another? “I’m looking out for ewe”