I am a recovering football fan. When I was a child, most weeks I, and 40,000 other people, would congregate at Stamford Bridge to watch 22 men kick a ball about. I still do sometimes. We would cheer, sing songs, have a laugh etc. But the most satisfying matches to watch by far were the let-downs: when we were robbed blind, when the referee had a shocker, and I and 40,000 other people could join together in shouting the most angry and vitriolic critique at one man in the middle who was having a bad day at the office. Those afternoons are not the most fun, but I believe they represent perhaps the most essential work of being a football fan – work, that is, in the sense of therapeutic work. After all, we had all had difficult weeks, let-downs and dissatisfactions, but here we could come together and burn it off, getting it off our chest. Catharsis is really the word for a good football match. It’s a tough life for a referee, but those days they really stood in place of therapy for me.
I began to lose interest in football when I started to gain interest in shul (a correlation which I appreciate is far from necessary). Judaism, I found, was for me a far richer and more demanding way of burning off those feelings which I had been letting off at the football. Judaism should be the engine for our anger, our bitterness, and our guilt; or, perhaps, those feelings should be the fuel which Judaism helps direct towards a more productive goal.
On Yom Kippur we imagine that everything in the world is really our fault, mobilizing guilt and regret and to inspire better living. On Tisha b’Av we mourn, we reflect on the sorry, sorry state of the world around us, we cry for the decline of the Jewish people. We cry for the pogroms and for the persecution and for the destruction. But we do more than that. We create a cathartic space where our sadness can be worked on – where the load can be lightened, and the energy redirected towards living better. The best football match can leave you cleansed of your anger, and a good Yom Kippur leaves you washed free from guilt. Tisha b’Av is one of the most beautiful days of the Jewish calendar because it gives us a space and a time for our sadness and for our mourning. And the world is not so perfect that any of us have nothing to be sad about.
During Tea and Torah on Wednesday 26th July we will learn some passages of Eicha (Lamentations), the book traditionally read over Tisha b’Av. That evening, at 6.30pm, all are welcome to join Rabbi Kathleen and me for some topical learning. There will be a break from Tisha b’Av solemnity for the Mosaic Board meeting at 7.30pm. At 9.15 pm there will be a candlelit Ma’ariv service – open to all, using the Masorti liturgy – including recitation of Eicha and selected kinnot (mournful poems for the day). The next morning there will be Shacharit at 8.30 AM – again featuring Eicha and selected kinnot.