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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A quiet place to sit

Every year since moving to Israel I have gone up to the top of Herodion on the evening of Tisha B'Av to read Eichah (Lamentations).  It is an inspirational setting because some of the last members of the Jewish Revolt who were atop Herodion in 70CE watched from their desert vantage as the smoke and flames rose from the Temple mount in Jerusalem.  What better place to sit and recall our terrible loss?

But each year, as more and more people have told their friends about this special setting, Herodion has become impossibly crowded on Tisha B'Av.  So much so, that instead of being a somber, inspirational experience, it has become a 'happening'... an almost festive 'scene'. 

Despite the tradition of not extending greetings or shaking hands on Tisha B'Av, the gathering together of so many Jews in one place pretty much ensures that people who haven't seen each other in a while will be calling to one another over the crowd... shaking hands... slapping backs... laughing.

This year, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere quieter, yet with a similar connection to the past.

Several years ago I wrote about a ruin called 'Anim' that I had stumbled across while exploring a small side road on the way home from work.  Anim was a Jewish town that existed in the Mishna - Talmud period (approx. 200 – 400 C.E.) which had been built atop the ruins of another Jewish town from the First Temple period (825 - 492 B.C.E.).

This enormous area on the edge of the Yatir Forest is strewn with Anim's stone foundations, toppled buildings and an extensive network of caves/tunnels.  And in the center of the ruins is a lovely Beit Knesset (synagogue) with the floor and four walls still mostly intact.  You can even see the place along the northern wall (the one closest to Jerusalem) where the foundation for the Aron Kodesh (ark which held the Torah) was built.

Over the past week, I spoke with a few friends and asked them if they would be interested in going somewhere 'new' to read Eichah on Tisha B'Av.  Once I had a minyan (ten men) committed, I stopped making calls.

So, after finishing our Seudah Mafseket (the meal before the fast) yesterday around 7:15PM, a bunch of us drove with our families in a caravan through the Hevron Hills towards the edge of the Yatir Forest... to the ruins of Anim.    We arrived just as the last rays of the sun were disappearing behind the horizon and sat down on the warm stones of the old synagogue.

Unlike the dull roar of the crowd atop Herodion, our small group sat in pristine silence... said Aravit (the evening service)... and heard every word of Lamentations.   The only sound came from the soft voice of the reader... and the whisper of the wind through the nearby trees and across the ancient stones.

I think I've found a new place for Tisha B'Av.


Tzom Kal (an easy fast) to those who are observing this difficult day.


Posted by David Bogner on July 24, 2007 | Permalink


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Well done, Trep.

Of course, the problem is that since you have the #1 blog in, like, the whole world, next year everyone is going to be at Anim. (and I would be delighted to join you next year, as well).

Posted by: dfb1968 | Jul 24, 2007 11:02:08 AM

It's the first time I ever fast for Tisha Beav so I don't really know what to do with myself. But I'm learning, I'm learning...
dfb1968 is right, next year you'll have to find a new place!!!

Tsom kal to you.

Posted by: miss Worldwide | Jul 24, 2007 1:34:28 PM

dfb1968... Part of what makes Herodion so popular is its proximity to Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. Anim is near a few small settlements... but is at least 30-45 minutes from any large population centers. I think we'll be safe for at least a few years. :-)

miss Worldwide... Good for you. I have to admit that I'm enjoying the small glimpses you are providing of your journey towards greater observance. Note that I didn't say 'becoming religious'... because that's not really the same thing. I know many deeply religious people who are completely non-observant. And I know more than a few observant people who aren't particularly religious. I like thinking about you on a journey towards observance because it really is about the journey... not the destination.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 24, 2007 2:36:04 PM

What a beautiful spot for Eichah! That picture really is worth a thousand words.

Posted by: psachya | Jul 24, 2007 9:22:49 PM

I spent one Tisha B'av in Jerusalem and it was really inspirational. Your new spot looks perfect, but if you want privacy, you really shouldn't post about it on your oh-so-popular blog :)

Posted by: Sara K | Jul 25, 2007 4:56:55 AM

it looks like you've found a way to make the day moving, quiet and most importantly, inspirational. i think if i sat there i would be too awed, wondering what those ancient synagogue stones have seen, to actually focus on eicha.

Posted by: nikki | Jul 25, 2007 11:17:51 AM

Hi Trep,

That is beyond cool... I mean for something so depressing. I hope that Hashem finally turns around the luck on that day.

Positive vibes to you and your family!


Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Jul 25, 2007 5:41:02 PM

It is the remembering that I honor. It is the way that you seek the spirit of the moment that I respect the path that you follow.

Posted by: christopher | Jul 26, 2007 10:17:00 AM

isn't it amazing that in all those years, those stones haven't been recycled?

Posted by: asher | Jul 29, 2007 12:38:59 PM

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