When Tisha B’Av begins this evening, we will conclude the period known as “between the straits” – bein ha’meitzarim – of the 17th of Tammuz (when, historically, the walls of Jerusalem were breached) and the 9th of Av (when the Temple was destroyed), resulting in the exile of Jews from the land of Israel. Traditionally, these three weeks of mourning are days that we do not throw parties, cut our hair, or buy new clothes. This year, unfortunately, many of us did not need these added behavioral restrictions to inculcate within us a deep feeling of grief. For many of us, with every glance at our Facebook pages and twitter feeds, with nearly every conversation with friends, we are reminded of the pain and suffering in Israel.
This coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu. The word nachamu, which comes from the root word meaning comfort, appears in the haftarah read in synagogue the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av. God says, “Be comforted, be comforted my people.” The haftarah explains that we must “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, call to her; her hard service has been complete.”
This week, more than any other Shabbat Nachamu that I personally remember, these words are already repeating in my head. Most years, the haunting words of Eicha, The Book of Lamentations, which we read on Tisha B’Av, run through my head, invoking the loneliness, the desolate-nature of Jerusalem. This year, I only want to look forward to comfort. “Be comforted my people” is a mantra that I am repeating with deep hope and longing.
Each week for the next seven weeks, the haftarah read in synagogue will include words of comfort. I hope and pray that these words will be a living prophecy for Israel and the Jewish people.
Abi Dauber Sterne is the Hillel International Vice President for Global Jewish Experience & Director of the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience.