Why I dread Tisha B’Av

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I know it’s pretty much the point, but I hate Tisha B’Av. The fast of the 9th of Av begins on Saturday evening through to Sunday night. It’s one of the two 25-hour fasts in the Jewish cycle, and I’m dreading it much as I have dreaded it year after year after year.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Aug 08, 2019

It could be that I find it difficult to get my head around the magnitude of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people on that day – and has continued to befall us throughout time. Perhaps it’s that I struggle not to greet people, which is a requirement of observance, or simply that I generally fair better in happier times.

I wouldn’t have been successful as a professional mourner as I’ve often found myself to be the life and soul of many a funeral. Even sad ones.

My back hurts when I sit on low benches (another requirement of the day) for a sustained period, and the lighting in synagogue tends to give me a headache. It also doesn’t help that I’m possibly the world’s worst faster, as a result of which I suffer from extreme anxiety for about a week before the actual day.

You definitely don’t want to join my family for the meal that precedes the fast. It’s unpleasant in the extreme. And I’m to blame. Fully. The food (in my view) is either too salty or tasteless, and I complain a lot.

I can never remember what I’m meant to do when – whether it be leather shoes off, drink tea in the doorway (I think my grandparents made that one up), and something with ashes at some point. My wife, who is able to fast for three days before remembering that she hasn’t eaten, generally shields our children from my irrational outbursts, but no pet is safe during this dangerous time.

And that’s before my sugar levels drop.

I’ve even resorted to acquiring a “fasting coach”. True story. He’s a doula, only you don’t give birth to anything other than a migraine. His plan involves cutting back slowly on coffee for a week before, drinking lots of water the day prior, and some bananas at some point.

My family isn’t supportive of this strategy as it claims that it’s preferable to deal with a miserable me for 25 hours when I’m impossible in any event than to have me at my worst for an entire week as I detox.

It has helped me to fast – somewhat. For the past few fasts, I haven’t been found lying on a random floor at around 14:00 begging that someone end it all for me, “right here, right now”.

I would’ve done it myself, but I’ve never had the strength.

Speaking of desperation, some years ago while living in the United States, I even tried caffeine and Tylenol suppositories. They weren’t pretty, but they were wonderful – but that’s a story for another time. They aren’t available at South African pharmacies, and Takealot doesn’t stock them.

What does help me through the experience is to focus on some of the other messages of the day. We are told that “baseless” hatred has been the cause of many of the tragedies that occurred during this time. The challenge of this is the word itself, as very few of us will admit – even to ourselves – that we hate “without base”. Our brilliant minds are able to construct theoretic reasons for most of our emotions, and dislike of others is no different.

If we strive to take the day a little more seriously than we have in the past, we have to spend a moment trying to be honest with ourselves. To hold the mirror up close. We have to identify the origin of the negative feeling. We have to face why it is that that person causes us to feel the way we do (what it says about us), and we have to try and find a way to let the feeling go.

If we are able to do this, then a difficult and challenging day might be exactly what the fasting coach ordered.


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