Tisha B’av: When basketball meant something

If you follow the Jewish calendar we are currently in the midst of the “three weeks,” a period commemorating tragedies, which befell the Jewish People throughout Jewish history. Of those calamities the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the sacking of the city by the Romans in 70 A.D takes center stage on Tisha B’av, the saddest day on the annual cycle and the culmination of the Three Weeks.

Customs pertaining to mourning are practiced and on Tisha B’Av a full fast from sun down to sun down is observed.

But that’s just the surface of what’s on my mind.

I want to talk about basketball.

You see, as Tisha B’av commences, Jews read the book of Lamentations, written by the Prophet Jeremiah, which describes the devastation of the time. A heavy atmosphere prevails until the afternoon when our sages instructed us to change our mood and focus on redemption. Some restrictions are lifted but the practical part of the day, fasting, remains the same.

When I attended Camp Yavneh in Northwood NH, my close friends and I would sleep away part of the afternoon hoping time would pass swiftly but in the evening not long before the fast ended we would head down to the basketball court and shoot some hoops.

Back in the day our bunk was unique because it was small. There were only seven of us and we’d stand around schmoozing and taking turns aiming for the rim. It wasn’t a competition nor would I even call it a game but what it radiated was true friendship in the deepest way.

Basketball was definitely a major part of our summer bonding experience and as we stood around waiting to see what the kitchen staff had in store for us, I can remember trying to soak up those precious moments in the paint. I can’t say how this strange activity began but years later when I was a counselor I couldn’t help but be drawn to that stretch of asphalt on Tisha B’Av as the fast was winding down.

Think about it: we were a group of Jewish teenagers who grew up in America fasting in the middle of the summer during the hottest time of year. Instead of complaining about how hungry or thirsty we might have been or wishing we were somewhere else we met on the court, talked about life, and made it count together.

DURING the three weeks Jews focus on the phenomenon of senseless hatred because that’s what our sages of old say drove us into exile. And while I’m sure each one of my good friends from camp and I have had our difficult  moments, on Tisha B’av our closeness shined.

Jewish tradition teaches that one day Tisha B’av will be transformed into a holiday. Mourning will cease and it will become the festival. I can only hope the Jewish People will see such a day soon and experience it together in their land but until then, while we are still dispersed around the world, we must help each other shine.

Now, handling a basketball may not be part of the wider Tisha B’av spirit  but for my friends and I, it gave us strength to finish the fast strong, together. You see, its all about togetherness because wherever a Jew finds himself, the energy of the day is present and it effects him whether he knows it or not. If its Passover, the soul taps into redemption; If its Rosh hashana, newness; Chanukah -beating all odds.

On Tisha B’av, a day of destruction, my friends and I watched together as Jerusalem burned and over the course of the day lifted each other up in the hardest hour. Even if we weren’t consciously doing it  my soul’s recollection of the moment attests to the fact it happened.

For the boys of Kerem ’89. Thanks for the memories.

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