Kinot and Kintsugi

Kinot and Kintsugi

Summer in the Jewish tradition is a fallow time, with few holidays. We do, however, observe a day of communal memory and grief. The holy day of Tish’a b’Av, the 9th day of the Jewish lunar month of Av, begins this year on the evening of July 31st. On this day, our tradition tells us, two centers of the Jewish world fell to Roman attacks: the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and Masada, last stronghold of the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Roman domination, in 135 C.E. Jewish ritual observance of this day is simple. We fast; we sit on the floor, the way mourners and guests do in a house where a family member has died within the past week; and we chant aloud from the Biblical book of Lamentations.

Lamentations is named “Eicha” in the Hebrew Bible (Torah), the word a constant refrain in this pained poetry of destruction and loss. Eicha means, literally, “How.” How, the lament asks, did this come to pass? How did “the city once great with people…become like a widow,”1 where children ask in vain for food and women weep? The five chapters are a chain of songs of sorrow – kinot (“lamentations”) as the book is referred to in later rabbinic writings. According to modern literary scholarship, it was crafted intentionally for public recitation and cathartic grieving. Even the poetry’s “limping” meter, three words followed by two, gives voice to the utter desolation that the destruction and exile from a place of nationhood and citizenship visited upon the Biblical Jews.

This year, as on many years, American Independence Day and Tish’a b’Av fall in the same month. I’m struck by the contrast between the pride and joy and security that I feel when I celebrate the birth of the country in which I was born, and the homesickness and mourning, the unmoored liminal state of Jewish diaspora, that Tish’a b’Av requires me to experience. I am called to sit in this discomfort, this brokenness of homelessness as a product of violent expulsion. Many residents of our country now face the prospect of that same expulsion. Tish’a b’Av allows me to imagine, and even to experience, some of the terror and distress this inspires.

When we read Eicha through, it does not leave us unstrung by despair. Delbert R. Hillers aptly comments, “People live on best after calamity, not by utterly repressing their grief and shock, but by facing it, and by measuring its dimensions.”2 There’s power in communal expression of sorrow, and a move through sorrow to hope. The last verses of Eicha call on G-d to “Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself, and let us come back; renew our days as of old!”3 Through human repentance and right action, with a dose of G-d’s grace, the consequences of the shattering events of the past can be repaired, though never forgotten.

In the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pottery is repaired with lacquer mixed or dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The broken places become beautiful. In Haverhill and all over the Merrimack Valley, I see communities coming together in support of their residents, speaking up and saying that the separation and expulsion of peaceful families is wrong, even when their presence among us lacks legal paperwork. Temple Emanu-El, drawing on our Jewish experience and traditions, has issued a statement in support of immigrants and the Merrimack Valley Interfaith Sanctuary Network. “We pledge our support to help feed, clothe, educate, and comfort immigrants in [sanctuary]. We will support their legal defense and we will bear witness when necessary so their plights will not go unnoticed.” When we can pick up the pieces of our own past and use that experience to fuel our pursuit of greater justice for those around us, that, for me, is pure gold.

In the words of Leonard Cohen, zichrono livracha (may his memory be for a blessing): “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”4 May we become the blessing of our broken places.

  1. Eicha chapter 1, verse 1; JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2000
  2. Hillers, Delbert R. The Anchor Bible: Lamentations: A new translation with introduction and commentary by Delbert R. Hillers New York: Doubleday 1972, 1992. Introduction.
  3. Eicha chapter 5, verse 21; JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2000
  4. Cohen, Leonard “Anthem”, from album The Future, copyright Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 1992

This article was submitted to the Haverhill Gazette in July, 2017 as part of a series of articles by members of the Greater Haverhill Clergy Association on current events from a faith-based perspective.