This is what I know to be true.

Every year, these nine days of mourning immediately before Tisha B’Av bring me to my spiritual knees.

When the fast day of Tisha B’Av finally arrives, it is a struggle to pass my nefesh and my memory through the destructive flames of history, through the teeth of the lion who rules this month, and come forth unscathed.

Witnessing the rising plague of antisemitism, the current injustices in the world, the state of our natural environment, and the pandemic affecting our human community, coupled with my own personal experiences of trials by fire and water, sickness and sword, have made the approach to Tisha B’Av this year the most difficult yet, by orders of magnitude.

Not only is this time of year difficult for me, it is difficult for my family. And not only for my immediate family, but for our entire people, scattered as we are throughout the world.

Hear this metaphor:

You are faced with a yawning, dark divide in the earth, and you must get across it. You cannot return the way you have come: You can only move forward.

The only way to traverse the pit without falling into it is to jump across. You take a breath and focus your gaze on a point, a foothold, on the other side.

Here is the rub:

If you focus on the far edge of the cliff, when you jump you might land there or you might come up short. Chances are, focus your sights at the edge and you run the risk of losing your footing, slipping, and falling, or worse: never making landfall at all…that is, until your body meets the belly of the chasm.

To give yourself the best chance of jumping across safely, you must adjust your strategy.

In Memory of Avraham Cohen

A few years back, I decided to take up the teaching of Professor Elie Wiesel z”l, and simply remember one person–one name–each year to honor those Jews who have been killed throughout history.

Here is this year’s collective memory.

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When this photo was taken, Avraham was still a young man with a jaunty mustache and a promising future. Avraham was born in 1930 to his parents who had made Aliyah (moved to Israel) from Russia in the 1900s. He was the only son and only child of his father, who died from cancer of the brain when Avraham was two, and his gentle mother, named Rivka.1

This picture was taken just before Avraham’s death.2

Though young, Avraham chose to join the fledgling Jewish resistance fighters – then known as the Palmach (now known as the the Israeli Defense Force) – to defend the Jewish people against attacking enemies under the British Mandate before the foundation of the State of Israel.

By the moral code of the Palmach, based on the teachings of the Torah, any only child, especially an only son who was also an orphan, as Avraham was, would have been excused from combat duty entirely. And so Avraham was excused.

Avraham’s life and his death were interwoven with the birth of the modern State of Israel. In order to learn his story, we must also learn hers.

When the United Nations passed the resolution declaring the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel) led the newborn Israeli country in declaring her independence on May 14th, 1948.3

His remarks rang with a heartfelt request for peace, signed and sealed in the text of the Israeli Declaration of Independence:

“WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.

The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”4

On the night of Israeli Independence, our grandparents and great-grandparents were dancing in the streets.

Then, seven Arab nations rejected Israel’s outstretched hand of peace. Instead, they declared war on our tiny country: Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen. By morning light, the Jewish people, newborn Israelis, were fighting for their lives.

No one believed that Israel had any hope for victory against such odds, especially not the retreating British who had controlled the area since wresting it from the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

What happened was this: In May of 1916, by means of a secret treaty called the Sykes-Picot Agreement (also called Asia Minor Agreement), The United Kingdom dismembered large portions of the Mid East, including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. They divided the land up between themselves and the French, with the assent of Imperial Russia.5

The British legitimized their control of the area of what would later become the State of Israel through a Mandate for Palestine from the Council of the League of Nations in July of 1922.6

By dawn of the third day after Israel’s birth, the British and the surrounding countries fully expected the seven Arab armies to have crushed the new Jewish country. After all, the British did all they could to ensure this outcome, which was in line with their unfortunate anti-Semitic cultural bent. Moreover, an Arab victory would serve to protect their oil interests in the Middle East and their established relationships with the Muslim countries and rulers in the region.

To strengthen the Arabs and their many armies against the fledgling Jews, the British gave their control of strategic strongholds, complete with a full supplement of arms and ammunitions, to Arabs rather than to Jews as they pulled out of Israel and mandate Palestine. Even though both Arabs and Jews were living side by side in many areas, and neither had official control of the territory. The Partition Plan, after all, gave the Palestinian Arabs as much of a chance at creating a country of their own as it gave the Palestinian Jews (as all Israelis were identified under the British, pre-1948).

Not only did the Jewish people witness the British empowering Arabs with weapons and fortified stations all around them, they also witnessed the British training Arab soldiers and entire armies in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt.

By contrast, it was illegal for any Jew to even own a gun, under penalty of death.

Once the Arab nations declared war, instead of making peace, it should have been an easy victory for the seven armies against the fledgling Jewish State of Israel.

It was like David and Goliath, but this time, David was outnumbered by many Goliaths.

Nebi Yusha

IMG_0244
“Nebi Yusha: In Memory of Avraham Cohen”, detail. Artwork by M. Monoprint on paper.

At the center of the print above is the British police station built on the highest point above the lake Kineret in the Galilee. This outpost was known as “Nebi Yusha”, the Arabic pronunciation of the place called “Navi Yehoshua” — after the biblical Prophet Joshua.

The British gave this stronghold to the Arabs before they left the area – along with arms and ammunition – and did the same with many other strategic military strongholds upon their retreat from the land as the British Mandate for Palestine was close to expiring.7

From the police station at Nebi Yusha, the Arabs were poised to attack all the Jewish civilians living in kibbutzim in the area. These attacks that targeted unarmed men, women, and children, had been perpetrated by Arabs against Jews in the land of Israel since the late 1800s.

But the situation was now much more dire: The call of the Arab armies was to “Push the Jews into the Sea”, to exterminate them from the face of the earth, to destroy the new country of Israel to her very foundation. M., Avraham’s first cousin and the one who told me this story, recalls hearing the call for Arabs to exterminate Jews over the mosque loudspeakers her village and in the nearby city of Tel Aviv. She recalls the exodus that took place of Arabs leaving their homes on the promise of a quick victory against the Jews by their leaders, and that “they [the loudspeakers] said they would come like a giant wave across the land and wipe us [Jews] out. When we looked through the windows of their empty houses we saw that the Arabs even left their coffee steaming on the table! They were so sure that we would be killed within a few days and they would return and take any Jewish house they wanted for themselves.” 8

The attack of the seven armies was, in essence, a denial that Jewish roots run deeply down into the land, roots that connect our people to the Land of Israel over the course of four thousand years. From the Jewish perspective, the newborn state was, and is, “the direct continuation of Jewish history that had been interrupted 2,000 years earlier when the Roman legions had crushed the Hebrew freedom fighters and banished the Jews” from Judaea, renaming it Palestine. Ben-Gurion viewed the Jew’s period of exile as a “prolonged interlude in the history of Israel and declared that they had now regained the rightful home.”9

After the British gave Nebi Yusha to the Arabs, the Jewish freedom fighters realized how critical it was to get it back in order to defend the surrounding kibbutzim.

An attempt was planned by the Palmach to recapture the station, and Avraham Cohen learned of it. Though he had been excused from combat, Avraham confronted his commander, and demanded to be allowed to fight alongside his fellow Jews. He argued that he had trained in the use of heavy arms and cannons, training that was rare for military equipment that was even rarer, and that he was the only one in his group who had this training.

His request was granted, on the condition that Avraham would visit his mother beforehand.

Avraham was given a few days’ leave to travel to Jerusalem before the attempt to recapture the Nebi Yusha outpost. An unheard-of privilege in those days for a Palmach member of any rank, Avraham was flown directly to the holy city.10

His mother Rivka had remarried the year before and had just given birth to a new baby girl. Avraham met his half-sister and spent a day or so with his mother. Their final hours together may have been the afternoon of Shabbat HaGadol, the Sabbath before Passover.

Had he remained in Jerusalem for the length of his entire leave, Avraham would have missed the battle, and perhaps this was what his commander had hoped for. But he left Jerusalem early in an “armored car”, what the Palmach called a car with a few panels of scrap-metal bolted to the exterior of the vehicle.

At the time, Jerusalem was under seige. The “armored” cars were the safest way in or out of the city along those treacherous winding mountain roads, but even so, Arab snipers lay in wait on the hills for any car journeying to or from Jerusalem, and the sides of the road were littered with milestones of car carcasses. Their metal bodies lie there until this day.

And Avraham got into a car, and they began the slow drive down the mountain, away from Jerusalem.

Stronghold of Strength

Avraham made it safely back to his unit.

About twenty other young Jewish soldiers had waited for him. They left under the cover of night to make their approach up the Nebi Yusha mountain. They planned on attacking the outpost in the darkest hours before dawn. But there was some sort of delay. Perhaps the climb took longer than they expected. Instead of arriving at the hill below the outpost at midnight, they arrived at 2:00AM.11

Back home, their families were preparing for Passover.

Dawn broke early, exposing the young men on the face of the mountain. Avraham was gunned down by enemy fire, along with his unit.

IMG_0244 Nebi Yusha Palmach
Palmach unit of Avraham Cohen. “Nebi Yusha: In Memory of Avraham Cohen”, detail. Artwork by M. Monoprint.

The Arabs were ruthless in war, in that they shot to kill, they did not take prisoners, and they did not let the Jewish soldiers’ bodies lie to be collected and properly buried by their friends and relatives. Instead, after they massacred the Israeli soldiers, they then cut up their bodies and scattered the pieces on mountainside. Little remained of Avrhaham Cohen or his comrades. Even the cloth from their clothing was shredded.12

That Passover was unlike any other. Once the news reached Avraham’s family and friends that he had been killed, once his mother heard that she had lost her only son and that his remains had been desecrated along with all those of the young men of his unit, the pain and shock they felt was so great that it stands undiminished until this day.

It is a trauma that has been passed through three generations.

That Pesach seder was truly bitter. That year, our ancient liberation story was told haltingly, through choked sobs from behind a veil of tears.

IMG_0244 Nebi Yusha Palmach copy 3
Palmach unit of Avraham Cohen. “Nebi Yusha: In Memory of Avraham Cohen”, detail. Artwork by M. Monoprint.

After two unsuccessful attempts, the Jewish Palmach fighters succeeded in capturing Nebi Yusha on the third try – when the Arabs abandoned the station. The station was then called Metzudat Koach, a Hebrew name meaning “Stronghold of Strength”. This name was chosen for the numerical value of כֹּחַ (‘koach‘), strength is 28, commemorating the twenty eight soldiers who died during the battles to conquer Nebi Yusha’s outpost.13

Avraham was killed during the first attempt along with twenty other young Jewish soldiers. The group pictured here are the close friends he trained with.

IMG_0245 Nebi yusha grave site
Mass Grave of Avraham Cohen and his Palmach Unit. “Nebi Yusha: In Memory of Avraham Cohen”, detail. Artwork by M. Monoprint.

A grave marker was put in place over the place where those brave soldiers had fallen. Those here pictured are paying homage by adding stones to the marker.

The HaReut Museum was founded in 2014 to memorialize the casualties of Nabi Yusha with a focus on comradeship “reut“, prompted by the efforts of the late Yehuda Dekel z”l. His friends and various institutions joined forces with The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites in order to establish the HaReut Museum in memory of these young men who fell in war.14

Avraham Cohen is survived by his family, who still feel the sharp tragedy and pain of his loss, and yet honor his ultimate sacrifice.

We remember Avraham Cohen, who was killed by Arabs in the first battle of Nebi Yusha / Navi Yehoshua before erev Pesach, 1948, the 11th of Nisan, 5708.

השם יקום דמו

May Avraham’s memory be for a blessing.

Star-of-David

Adjusting Your Gaze

There are too many stories like Avraham’s, too many tragedies for the individual to absorb, recall, and retell each Tisha B’Av. Too many Jews like Avraham Cohen whose deaths marked the end of the ancient line of their family.

Furthermore, for every departed soul we remember, there are millions upon millions more who are nameless, whose dates of birth and death are lost to history, who no longer have any living soul to speak their names, remember their faces, or light a candle in their honor.

It is this crushing loss of our ancestral memory, of whole communities, whole worlds that have been snuffed out and have passed into oblivion at the hands of the enemies of Israel, that is truly, irredeemably, deeply disturbing.

I now realize that the reason my approach to Tisha B’Av has been so labored and so painful this year is because I have been focusing on the darkness of the pit of Av – on that tohu va’vohu, that chaotic cruelty, which is terrifying and entrancing in itself.

The fear I’ve been feeling has been paralyzing, and the terror valid: If I were to try to cross the mouth of the chasm while looking down into the flames below, how could I possibly make it?

But I woke up this morning with a new thought.

Even while we are approaching Tisha B’Av, the absolute lowest ebb of the entire year, the most tragic day of the most tragic month of both the lunar and solar cycle – even now, as we draw near the edge of this fiery pit of despair, there is one way to persevere.

This morning I realized I had to adjust my gaze.

When it comes time to leap across the maw of Av, one must focus on the light of dawn. Or, if it is still night, on a star just above and beyond the horizon.

Then, when you jump, you will clear the divide.

It is the combination of two special Shabbatot that has helped me realize this: Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision, which precedes Tisha B’Av, and Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, which follows it.

As individuals who form a people, we can make it through the distress, anguish, and heartbreak of this most terrible day—the day we allow ourselves to feel the full measure of mourning and pain for every outrage perpetrated against our G!d, our ancestors, our family, our land, our Torah, and ourselves by our enemies over the last four thousand years—if we set our sights not on it, or in it, but beyond it.

Chapter of Song

There is a certain book that comes to mind that I would like to share with you.

Perek Shirah has been translated as “Song of Nature” or “Song of the Universe”, and the origin of this book is mysterious, authorless, but the text sublime.

Perek Shirah is not a new composition. Rather, it is simply a collection of biblical verses, each verse ascribed to a particular plant or animal, or a certain aspect of nature. The artistry and inspiration comes from which verses the author chose to ascribe to each.

Many of the verses of Perek Shirah, like the song of the rooster, the vine, and the rain, make perfect sense, as the verses themselves reference that aspect of nature. And yet, others are perplexingly counter-intuitive.

Such is the song of the fiery death pit, Gehenna.

As it is erev Tisha B’Av, the day of national mourning and tragedy (HaShem yinachem v’yishmor otanu) it seems appropriate to quote this verse of song.

Gehenna says:

כִּי־הִ֭שְׂבִּיעַ נֶ֣פֶשׁ שֹׁקֵקָ֑ה וְנֶ֥פֶשׁ רְ֝עֵבָה מִלֵּא־טֽוֹב׃

“For G!d has satisfied the thirsty spirit, and filled the hungry soul with good” (Psalms 107:9).

One might think that the fires of the World to Come would sing a different song, one of punishment, suffering, distress, or even justice. But no. Perek Shirah teaches a different lesson.

In our tradition, any suffering in the World to Come is not permanent but temporary: a purification, in a sense, that purges the soul so it can then move onward and upward into the higher reward above. The length and intensity of that purification period varies from person to person, based on that soul’s life choices in this world, but the ultimate purpose of Gehenna is to sate the soul’s yearning for good.

Such is the wisdom of Perek Shirah.

The Song of the Lion

In Perek Shirah, that anonymous Song of the Universe, many animals are given voice. The lion is given a powerful line.

The Lion Says:

ה֙’ כַּגִּבּ֣וֹר יֵצֵ֔א כְּאִ֥ישׁ מִלְחָמ֖וֹת יָעִ֣יר קִנְאָ֑ה יָרִ֙יעַ֙ אַף־יַצְרִ֔יחַ עַל־אֹיְבָ֖יו יִתְגַּבָּֽר׃

“HaShem will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse vengeance like a man of war;

He will shout triumphantly, even roar, His enemies shall He overpower”

(Isaiah 42:13).

On Tisha B’Av, we afflict ourselves by not eating or drinking, bathing, anointing, drawing near our spouse or even greeting loved ones. We sit on the floor, the taste of ash in our mouths, and allow ourselves to cry as we recall every tragedy that ever befell us on this day throughout time: The destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the expulsions from many foreign lands in the millennia afterwards, the hotblooded butchering of families of Jews and that cold-hearted calculous of mass genocidal murder of the Jewish people, Torah scrolls, manuscripts, books, culture, tradition, language…and so much more, that we have suffered and survived throughout time.

We wrestle with these memories, generation after generation. We hope for a peace to arrive that will bring us rest from such warfare.

It is hard to accept that the Lion of Av permitted our enemies to fall upon us. His reasons for doing so are hidden. Unknown. He allowed our adversaries to use their free-will in evil against us.

To understand the Lion’s song more deeply, let’s look at it in context. The verse quoted in Perek Shirah precedes this small perek (section) of Isaiah’s poetic words:

הֶחֱשֵׁ֙יתִי֙ מֵֽעוֹלָ֔ם אַחֲרִ֖ישׁ אֶתְאַפָּ֑ק כַּיּוֹלֵדָ֣ה אֶפְעֶ֔ה אֶשֹּׁ֥ם וְאֶשְׁאַ֖ף יָֽחַד׃

“I have kept silent far too long, kept still and restrained Myself;

Now I will scream like a woman in labor, I will pant and I will gasp.

אַחֲרִ֤יב הָרִים֙ וּגְבָע֔וֹת וְכָל־עֶשְׂבָּ֖ם אוֹבִ֑ישׁ וְשַׂמְתִּ֤י נְהָרוֹת֙ לָֽאִיִּ֔ים וַאֲגַמִּ֖ים אוֹבִֽישׁ׃

Hills and heights will I scorch, cause all their green to wither;

I will turn rivers into isles, and dry the marshes up.

וְהוֹלַכְתִּ֣י עִוְרִ֗ים בְּדֶ֙רֶךְ֙ לֹ֣א יָדָ֔עוּ בִּנְתִיב֥וֹת לֹֽא־יָדְע֖וּ אַדְרִיכֵ֑ם אָשִׂים֩ מַחְשָׁ֨ךְ לִפְנֵיהֶ֜ם לָא֗וֹר וּמַֽעֲקַשִּׁים֙ לְמִישׁ֔וֹר אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים עֲשִׂיתִ֖ם וְלֹ֥א עֲזַבְתִּֽים׃

I will lead the blind by a road they did not know, and I will make them walk by paths they never knew;

I will turn darkness before them to light, rough places into level ground — these are the promises— I will keep them without fail.

(נָסֹ֤גוּ אָחוֹר֙ יֵבֹ֣שׁוּ בֹ֔שֶׁת הַבֹּטְחִ֖ים בַּפָּ֑סֶל הָאֹמְרִ֥ים לְמַסֵּכָ֖ה אַתֶּ֥ם אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ׃ (ס

Driven back and utterly shamed shall be those who trust in an image;

Those who say to idols, ‘You are our gods!’”

(Isaiah 42:14-17).

The greenery around us may burn, the waters may dry up, we may be walking blind through this difficult time, but we have here a prophetic promise of many comforting things.

The same Lion who remained still and silent when we were being torn by other animals is the same Lion who comforted us afterwards and confronted them, seeking terrible retribution in full from the guilty. He comforts us, still.

Turning Darkness into Light

Focus on the light, pleads Isaiah. Fix your eyes on the light from a star above the horizon. Avoid placing our trust in the mirage of images, and place it in the right Makom, and, in this way, the pits in the earth will become paths. 15

אָשִׂים֩ מַחְשָׁ֨ךְ לִפְנֵיהֶ֜ם לָא֗וֹר

“…I will turn darkness before them to light…”

Isaiah promises that HaShem will change darkness into light, just as dawn brings light out of night every single day.

To tell you true, it is not only the twin Shabbatot which helped raise my eyes but also something more: My family gave me a letter. Several actually, that I could read. Then, my siblings gave me a letter – one I could touch.

A gift of a gold seal to seal my letters with the letter that speaks.

The first time I poured a seal with the warmth from a candle, the crimson wax burst into flame as it lay pooled on the cream paper of the envelope, charring the oxblood black. The bubbling, blood-colored beeswax burned. But we blew the flame out. And the paper was not consumed.

IMG_7668

The Seal of Truth

We are limited by our mourning on Tisha B’Av to the study of a handful of Torah texts. One of these is the book of Iyov. A word appears within this book that only appears once in all of TaNaKh (The Hebrew Bible), the word: תָּ֭וִי tavi, “my mark”.

Here is the verse:

מִ֤י יִתֶּן־לִ֨י ׀ שֹׁ֘מֵ֤עַֽ לִ֗י הֶן־תָּ֭וִי שַׁדַּ֣י יַעֲנֵ֑נִי וְסֵ֥פֶר כָּ֝תַ֗ב אִ֣ישׁ רִיבִֽי

 

How indeed to translate this. Here is my truest effort.

“O who will give me a hearing? here is my mark, let the G!d of compassion answer me; and would that my antagonist penned his own confession.16

אִם־לֹ֣א עַל־שִׁ֭כְמִי אֶשָּׂאֶ֑נּוּ אֶֽעֶנְדֶ֖נּוּ עֲטָר֣וֹת לִֽי

Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me” (Job 31:35-36).17

Take what upon your shoulder, Iyov? The letter written by your enemy? G!d’s answer? Your mark? Or all three?

The Final Letter

TAV from Hebrew Letters
From “The Hebrew Letters”, p. 323.

On Tisha B’Av, more than any other day of the year, we cry out for compassion, kindness from G!d, and a fair trial opposite those who have embittered our lives for millennia – those who kill the fatherless, the orphan, the widow, the babe, the old men and wise women…and take pleasure in it.

The root of the word “Tavi”, my mark, as appears in the above verse, is the word תו, mark. 

This is the name of the final letter of the Aleph Bet.

tav letter ancient to modern

The mark of the Tav could not have a more humble or more touchingly human origin: Two sticks placed across one another to make an “X marks the spot” sign. This is the same sign that the illiterate use to this day to write their own existence on a legal paper, or to give someone else their marker.

In Jewish philosophy and mysticism, the letter Tav means more.

Rashi explains that the inscription here: תָּ֭וִי , “tavi”, “my mark”, is referring to the words with which G-d Himself had described Job at the beginning of the book: “and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared G-d and eschewed evil.” According to Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, this is the mark of the righteous soul.18

The letter Tav represents not only a simple mark of sticks, sand, or ink. That is how humans form the letter. The way in which the divine forms this letter is with a stamp or seal.

G!d’s seal is truth, as the word אמת (emet), formed of the final letters of the three last words in the account of Creation, testify:

אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים לַעֲשֽׂוֹת

“…which G-d in creating had made” (Gen. 2:3).

The three letters, Aleph, Mem, Tav, which spell Truth are the beginning, middle, and ending letters of the Aleph Bet.

Writes Rabbi Ginsburgh, “the seal of G-d’s seal–is the letter tav, simple faith, the conclusion and culmination of all twenty-two forces–letters–active in Creation.”19.

We haven’t the time to go further into the mysteries of this letter together now. But now we know more than we did before.

Tav is a sign for us, as the last letter of our alphabet yet the first of tomorrow, תִּשְׁעָה ב׳אב,  (Tisha B’Av); it is an impression, a code, a sign reflecting the music of creation, expressing light from the darkness.

Tav is a seal of truth. A promise imprinted on the book of creation that ultimately, goodness and righteousness will endure.

There is a saying that an acronym for ישראל (Israel) is:

יש ששים רבוא אותיות לתורה

“There are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah”, the original count of the Israelite nation upon setting forth from Egypt. This acronym linking letters to legions is teaching us that each of us have our very own letter in the scroll. Each member of Israel has a letter to guide them.

If you heed it, a single letter of the Torah is as bright, and guides as true, as a star.

And yet, unlike a star, its light does not shine from out of the past.

The glow from a letter in our scroll glows with a light that is past, present, and future all at once. And, unlike a star, the light from a letter never grows too dim to see in the clear light of day.

Follow the Light

And so, we set our sights on the light of a letter as we leap across the pit of this upcoming day of Tisha B’Av. Like Iyov, we trust in the Tav and in the seal of truth, wearing it like a crown. Then, the torrential flames of Av will no longer have any power to damage or hurt us in any lasting, negative way.

Rather, those flames will have tempered us, even done us good, like silver in the forge. After the crossing, we can then move forward into the Shabbat of Comfort with strength to face the future that we did not have before we made the leap.

Let us seal these lessons on our hearts. Let G!d seal the red maw of Av with the final letter, so that the depths of despair will at last become the heights of delight.

And, as my Rebbi would say, HaShem should be with us every step of the way.

צום קל ומועיל

An easy and beneficial fast

to all those observing Tisha B’Av


מְסִירוּת לרבֿ לית

עם הכרת טובה וכבוד


 

With constant thanksgiving to my family, my community, my teachers, my rabbis.

Penned with gratitude to יוסף, who taught me that friendship cures fear.

Dedicated to کتاب, who caught me when I tripped, and stood me back up.

مرسی


  1. Facts of Avraham Cohen’s life gathered through a series of oral history interviews conducted by the author from the memory of M., Cohen’s first cousin. Interviews conducted in July, 2018 and July, 2020. Names and dates verified from rare history books in M.’s personal library.
  2. Photo source: ישראל טיבר: חייו ופעלו. הוצאת בית טיבר. תל־אביב, תשל“א, 1971. Hebrew. Unpaginated image section.
  3. Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel (English subtitles). <https://youtu.be/6ZDSBF5xtoo> YouTube: Feb. 4, 2010. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  4. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. May 14, 1948. English translation by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. accessed July 29, 2020.
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916)”. <https://www.britannica.com/event/Sykes-Picot-Agreement&gt;. Accessed July 28, 2020. Note that the name of the agreement was taken from the chief negotiators of Britain and France, Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot. Sergey Dimitriyevich Sazonov was also present representing Russia, the third member of the Triple Entente.
  6. Fraser, Peter Marshall; Albright, William Foxwell and Others. “Palestine: The British Mandate”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, inc.: February 24, 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Palestine>. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  7. Facts on Nebi Yusha verified by booklets obtained from the HeReut Museum in the Upper Galilee, devoted entirely to this battle, which took place on April 20, 1948. Museum opened in 2014.
  8. Oral history interview conducted by the author with M., Avraham Cohen’s first cousin. Interviews conducted in July, 2018 and July, 2020.
  9. Bar-Zohar, Michael. “David Ben-Gurion”. Encyclopaedia Britannca. Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc.: October 12, 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/David-Ben-Gurion>. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  10. This was before Israel had any sort of airforce, well before the days of El-Al.
  11. From oral history interview conducted by the author with M., Cohen’s first cousin. Interviews conducted in July, 2018 and July, 2020. Names and dates verified from rare history books in M.’s personal library and by the HaReut Museum.
  12. This was before Israelis even had uniforms: The young men wore their own clothing.
  13. The Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel. “HaReut Museum, Metzudat Koach”. <shimur.org/sites/hareut-museum/?lang=en>. Accessed July 29, 2020.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Makom means ‘place’ or ‘area’. In Judaism, Gd has many names: HaMakom, “The Place” is but one of them.
  16. Translation based on The Koren Tanakh, Koren Publications: Jerusalem, 2010; The Holy Scriptures: A Jewish Bible According to the Masoretic Text, Sinai Publishing: Tel Aviv, 1984; NLT, online, accessed July 29,2020.
  17. Koren Tanakh translation.
  18. Ginsburgh, Rabbi Yitzchak. The Hebrew Letters. Ed. Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman and Rabbi Moshe Yaacov Wisnefsky. Gal Einai Publications: Jerusalem, 1992. pp. 323-337.
  19. Ibid.