Summer is a relatively quiet time in the Jewish calendar. From midsummer on, there is the slow but steady movement toward the High Holidays. That’s when Tisha B’Av makes a sudden and perhaps unwelcomed appearance. Simply translated as the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, Tisha B’Av is a day of remembrance—a day of mourning that is as private as a yahrzeit and as public as Yizkor. Tisha B’Av is a crater I stumble into every year—a crater filled with ancient and modern traumas. Israel’s holiest temples were each destroyed in different years on this date.

The symbolism of that wholesale destruction comes back to haunt Jews even on the happiest of occasions, as in the breaking of a glass at the end of a wedding ceremony. Other historical tragedies befell Jews on that day as well. Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade in which tens of thousands of Jews were killed, and many Jewish communities were annihilated. Jews were expelled from Spain on Tisha B’Av in 1492. World War I broke out on Tisha B’Av in 1914 and set the stage for the Holocaust. Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were deported to Auschwitz on the ninth day of Av. Old and new histories are omnipresent during a month in which the Talmud instructs that we must reduce our joy.

Related

This year Tisha B’Av is observed from sundown on Monday, July 31, to sunset on Tuesday, Aug. 1. Congregations across the Jewish spectrum will read from Lamentations, known in Hebrew as Eichah. Some traditional synagogues will darken the ark where the Torah is kept. Other congregations may sit on the floor as is customary while mourning. There will be fasting. There will be elegies.

Rabbi Katy Allen will be adding an interfaith component to Tisha B’Av observance by leading services at Open Spirit Center, a place she describes as a “combination of multi-faith and wellness center.” The setting suits Allen, who has led numerous interfaith initiatives for Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Shabbat. She’ll be in conversation and prayer with a Christian pastor on the eve of the holiday. Bringing in interfaith elements particularly into the Tisha B’Av liturgy is an exciting experiment for Allen.

Allen, who received her rabbinic ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic seminary in Yonkers, New York, does not affiliate with a particular branch of Judaism. “I’m on the liberal end,” she says. “I do alternative things like conduct services outdoors. I like doing interfaith work as well as meeting people in the Jewish community who are trying to find a place in Judaism.”

Allen notes that “a lot of people who are interested in Tisha B’Av don’t have a strong connection to the holiday. But they can relate to themes of loss and displacement and the need to reinvent oneself. These things speak to me in particular as a climate activist.”

Allen cites the teachings of her colleague Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a leader in Jewish climate change, as describing the grief that comes from the ruination of Mother Earth. Waskow writes:

“From the seed of heartbreak can grow the tree of life, determination to make healing happen. This warning that human failing may bring about the destruction of Temple Earth and this beckoning to heal her wounds and our own has at last become not a philosophical theory but a practical fact. So we suggest that observance of Tisha B’Av this year look more broadly at this danger.

“And we invite not only Jews but the members of other religious, spiritual, and ethical communities to undertake their own observance of a universal Tisha B’Av, using whatever date may best express their love of Mother Earth, their grief at her wounding, and their commitment to heal her.”

Allen believes that observing Tisha B’Av may also help people to cope with the frightening turn of events the world seems to be taking. “Tisha B’Av,” she says, “is particularistic, but there are aspects of it that are universal too. The holiday is very much a combination of grief and the hope that the Messiah will come at the end of Tisha B’Av. This combination of grief and hope inspired me to do this interfaith service. This is the first year and we’re still tweaking the liturgy, but we hope to supplement Lamentations with modern readings as well as bring in the Christian perspective.”

While modern readings will speak to themes of grief and hope, Allen is intent on sharing the holiday’s Jewish perspective. “I will definitely use the text of Lamentations,” she says. “It not only gives historical context in terms of the destruction of the First and Second Temples, but it also sheds light on how Tisha B’Av figures into later Jewish history. Judaism is also one of the vehicles for experiencing what is going on in the world today.”