This year, the Saturday following Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Nachamu (the “Sabbath of Consolation”), was shattered by violence as a masked gunman opened fire on a crowd of teenagers gathered at the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Youth Center. This year, the close of Tu B’Av days later on Aug. 5 was marked by dozens of vigils throughout the country that mourned the victims of this senseless act of hatred and intolerance.
Tu B’Av is a holiday unfamiliar to many American Jews, but its theme is among the most resonant in our tradition: love, commitment and marriage. In Israel, Tu B’Av is a popular day — a kind of Jewish Valentine’s Day — when couples marry, reaffirm vows and dedicate love songs to each other on the radio. In the wake of Proposition 8, which revoked the right of LGBT couples to marry in the state of California, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Jewish Mosaic, California Faith for Equality and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation joined together to encourage Jews to celebrate Tu B’Av with a recommitment to the struggle for marriage equality.
What can Tu B’Av teach us?
Tu B’Av teaches us that love and equality are intertwined, a belief espoused by the women of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. The Mishnah (second century C.E.) relates that on Tu B’Av the young women would dance and sing in the streets to attract their future husbands. Garbed in borrowed white clothing, the women exhorted the men to refrain from choosing vanity and economic attainment and instead to focus on inner beauty and good family stock. The women believed that, in the realm of love, leveling the playing field is critical. For modern Jews, Tu B’Av presents us with an opportunity to emphasize traditional virtues, but also to stand with those among our children, brothers, sisters, congregants and friends who have been historically shut out and support them in their quest for equal rights in California and beyond.
Tu B’Av teaches us that society evolves, and progress is possible. Jewish tradition teaches that Tu B’Av marks the day when the ban on intertribal marriage was lifted, when unions once deemed illegal became acceptable and respected. Tu B’Av was the day when people were able to marry whomever they loved, without communal restrictions. The lifting of this ban 2,000 years ago offers those of us who felt disheartened by November’s setback in the struggle for LGBT equality the critical life necessity of hope. Systems evolve, and change happens.
And Tu B’Av teaches us that hope springs eternal. The fact that 78 percent of Los Angeles Jewry voted against Proposition 8 is a testament to the power of hope. Thinking back only a few years, many of us would not have thought this strong support for LGBT rights possible. Indeed, promise can rise from despair, and wholeness from destruction. Only seven days before Tu B’Av we marked another significant moment in Jewish history, Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av), the holiday that marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Tu B’Av’s proximity to Tisha B’Av reminds us that even after our darkest moments, joy and wholeness are possible. As we mourn the victims of the bombing in Tel Aviv, Tu B’Av can strengthen our conviction that the despair so many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have felt will end.
So until full rights and security are established for LGBT families, please consider celebrating Tu B’Av a little differently in the years to come:
• Begin by honoring love generally in your life, by letting your dear ones know how you feel about them, and by affirming the right of the LGBT community to celebrate love and marriage with each other.
• Wear white to express our solidarity with the LGBT community. By wearing white clothing, we express our belief in the egalitarianism and inclusivity espoused and demonstrated by the women of Jerusalem so long ago.
• Share the inspiration of Tu B’Av with your loved ones. Go to pjatubav.weebly.com to learn more about this little-known holiday and to find suggested action steps for staying connected to the struggle for marriage equality.
• Donate to the fund established to assist the gay and lesbian youth in Israel who were targeted in the recent shooting. Go to the “support” page at jewishmosaic.org.
In these weeks after Tisha B’Av and before the High Holy Days, the time between destruction and redemption, let us work for a world where love conquers all and the arc of history slowly but inevitably bends toward justice.
Rabbi John L. Rosove is senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood. Jaime Rapaport is the Southern California regional director of Progressive Jewish Alliance, which serves as a vehicle connecting Jews to the critical social justice issues of the day and to the cities in which they live.