The story of Tisha B’Av, the saddest event in the Jewish calendar – Surrey Live

Posted By on July 29, 2020

Most events in the Jewish calendar revolve around celebration, but Tisha B'Av this Wednesday and Thursday (July 29 and 30) takes on a more mournful tone.

With Surrey's largest Jewish community, Weybridge is home to North West Surrey Synagogue where this event is being marked this year with a live stream alongside other synagogues instead of face to face services.

"It's not celebratory at all. It's an opportunity to confront the dark side of life and ask questions about why these terrible things happen, says Anthony Sheppard, a warden at the synagogue.

The synagogue is affiliated with the Movement for Reform Judaism, a form of Progressive Judaism, although Tisha BAv is commemorated across Progressive and Orthodox Jewish communities.

It is a day that commemorates tragedies linked to Jewish people over the years, dating back to the falling of two temples in Jerusalem in 568BCE and 70CE.

It is traditionally commemorated with fasting, although many do not fast, and services relating to the Book of Lamentations. As with many different religious services, it takes on a new meaning with each passing year services can involve reference to modern tragedies including World War II and the Holocaust.

That will certainly be the case this year, in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. North West Surrey Synagogue is taking part in a joint live stream with Sha'aeri Tsedek North London Reform Synagogue and Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, in which they will be talking about the theme of Tisha B'av in the time of covid-19.

Mr Sheppard says that coronavirus may not be a military disaster like so many of the occasions that the date commemorates, but it helps the event take on a greater resonance. In a 'normal' time, an evening service would involve subdued lighting and people seated on the ground at the synagogue.

Unlike some places of worship, North West Surrey Synagogue has not re-opened its doors even partially as restrictions have been eased, not even for private prayer - the Rabbi Kath Vardi takes services from her own home.

Mr Sheppard explains that limiting numbers goes against the community ethos of the building. "The problem about going back in, if you have to have seats two metres apart - that is going to cut the people that can come in by a half. To have to decide some people can come in to the building, some can't, is really quite divisive [when there are just under 500 members]."

Liz Sawyer, chair of North West Surrey Synagogue, has previously told SurreyLive that live streaming has been an excellent way to reengage with former members of the community.

It is important to reflect on the darker sides of history and issues in the present. As well as coronavirus, the event this year falls in the same week that many people, including public figures such as Martin Lewis, are taking part in a temporary boycott of Twitter under the hashtag #NoSpaceForJewHate, in protest over the social media platform's handling of anti-Semitism.

Tisha B'Av however, is also about looking forward with positivity, and even the Book of Lamentations it is based around finishes on a note of hope.

Counsel member Valerie Levy says they are looking at reopening and finding creative ways to celebrate upcoming events of celebration, including Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah taking place in September.

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The story of Tisha B'Av, the saddest event in the Jewish calendar - Surrey Live

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