Summer Reading, Yes. Beach Reading? Not So Much.
07/26/2012 - 14:31
Helen Chernikoff
Lamentations
Lamentations

This weekend is Tisha B’Av, which is supposed to be depressing. For one thing, it's a fast day in the heat of the summer.

For another, it's when we read Eicha, also known as the Book of Lamentations. It mourns the destruction of the First Temple and of course makes us reflect on the destruction of the Second Temple too, as well as all kinds of other catastrophes:

See, O LORD, and consider, to whom Thou hast done thus! Shall the women eat their fruit, the children that are dandled in the hands? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?

Despite this -- in fact, dafke because of it -- I love Tisha B’Av. It gives me access to a particular kind of peak spiritual experience. Not the happy kind, where I feel inspired and energized and connected to the universe and my fellows. But the miserable kind, where somehow I feel devastated and despairing and still connected to the universe and my fellows. Funny how that happens.

Eicha is serious stuff, and cannibalism is probably enough in terms of creating those devastated feelings that enables us to connect, through our pain, with that of other people past and present, known and strangers.

But for me, Tisha B’Av has added meaning because of some extracurricular, not to say unorthodox, reading I’ve done. So I thought I’d offer some suggestions for Eicha supplements. They’re both about the destruction of the Second Temple, but they really brought home for me the immensity of the tragedy that is our loss of the temple in general.

The Dovekeepers is a novel by Alice Hoffman set at Masada. Actually, it maybe is even beach reading, because it’s kinda steamy. But its historical detail, and its attention to the essentially mysterious lives of women during this period, also makes it a treat for the brain.

Flavius Josephus, by French historian Mireille Hadas-Lebel, is more arduous and academic but it’s still a richly rewarding read. It’s a biography of the Jewish-Roman general and historian Flavius Josephus who participated in and recorded the Jewish rebellion against Rome. I stumbled on this book in a closet at my in-laws’ place and have read it twice, which says something about the power of the book. 

Check ‘em out, buy ‘em, or stick with Eicha, which will totally do the job.

helen@jewishweek.org; @thesimplechild

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