Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sweltering and Suffering...Tisha b'Av in Seattle

I was thinking of writing this since Thursday, but it was far too hot to sit upstairs in front of my computer.

On Wednesday, July 29, the thermometer on my balcony, and the one showing the outside temperature when driving in my car, both read 105 degrees. For hours. The thermometer on my patio, where the sun bounces off the pavement, read 112. The official Seattle temperature that day, 103 was the hottest ever recorded. That's ever.

We do not have air conditioning in our home. The air conditioning in my car was broken, until Wednesday, when I got it fixed, costing $629. Worth every penny.

On Wednesday night, the members of my synagogue quietly filed into our non-air-conditioned building for observance of the saddest day of the Jewish year, Tisha b'Av. That's the day God designated for punishment, for sadness, and tragedies throughout history, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, occurred on that day. The Ninth of the Jewish lunar month of Av is a 25-hour no-food and no-drink fast culminating three weeks of mourning, increasing in intensity, during which time joyful events and even minor sources of pleasure (e.g. swimming, listening to music) are curtailed.

But the sorrow crescendo'd on the hottest day in Seattle history, when we sat on the floor in a stifling synagogue and listened to the book of Lamentations read in a low dirge. Was it perspiration or tears dripping from the solemn faces of the congregants?

Thursday, along with Jews worldwide, we donned our old clothes and non-leather shoes, and again, sat no more than about 12 inches from the floor. Summer days are gloriously long in Seattle, and our mouths could take no liquid until about nine-thirty at night. That includes brushing teeth. The prospect of no liquid while profusely perspiring was daunting.

But then I recalled twice having Tisha b'Av in Jerusalem, where summers are always sweltering. One, shortly after I was married, was spent hiking the circumference outside the walls of the Old City. We broke that fast at a restaurant called Benny's Dagim (Fish), still open. Unfortunately, the agony of Tisha b'Av lasted another two days as the water in Israel--which we had consumed by the pitcher-ful after a day of gruesome heat--contained micro-organisms that gave us the most excruciating intestinal malaise, called "shil-shul," or "the chain" (aka Monetzuma's Revenge) since its victims are chained to the toilet.

Two years ago, we again experienced Tisha b'Av in Jerusalem, walking with silent crowds converging from the streets to the kotel (Western Wall), for Jews the center of the world. It's an amazing thing to share a communal emotion in the place where the Temple once stood, since now the Mount is occupied and directed by The Supreme Muslim Council, the PLO Waqf, whose excavating of the most holy Jewish spot in the world has resulted in piles of precious debris, trucked off-site. The sense of tragedy is constant and unspoken there. The warm Tisha b'Av evening is heavy with loss.

Seattle is not accustomed to hot weather; air conditioning is considered extravagant, given that only a handful of days per year surpass 80 degrees. But on Tisha b'Av this year, we truly suffered. Well, not necessarily. A friend whose home does have the extravagance hosted our Thursday Torah class, where we learned to wish friends a "successful fast" rather than an easy one, and where I gave over an excellent piece from "Tisha b'Av To Go" issued by Yeshiva University. We ladies sat on the floor around the coffee table, lingering in the refrigerated air as long as possible.

Our house was like a sauna, so my daughter and I decided to go to the mall. No purchasing, just strolling through the air conditioning. But it's torture passing stores with big "Sale!" signs and not buying, so we endured some dripping-wet hours at home, and finally made a supermarket run to prepare for the break-fast. What they say about shopping when hungry--or thirsty--is true. I bought lettuce, cucumber, juice, milk, and seltzer water. That was it.

When the fast concluded, we drank. Those wonderful gulps that finish with a painful palate from dehydration.

And then...the weather turned. Softly, the leaves stirred on their branches. The wind-chime made a lilting melody. We sat outside in the moving, cooling air marveling at the change, from the claustrophobic thickness of enveloping heat to the soothing, gentle, more bearable warmth.

Was it a coincidence that Tisha b'Av came on the hottest day ever in Seattle? Could be...

1 comment:

  1. I can't imagine Seattle being hot! How poignant, though, the way and time it came for you this year. Speaking of, I'd love to come visit, and certainly while it's very warm!! I'll talk to Rob. Much love.