Chaplain's Corner: It's time to be universal


We read in Ecclesiastes, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.” (3:1) There is a time for tearing down, and a time for building up. There is a time for seeking and a time for losing. I would add a pairing fit for our time: a time to be tribal, and a time to be universal.
Our calendar is filled with holidays set for every season, for every experience under heaven. But there’s a catch. If the way we observe holidays does not evolve to suit the needs of the time, these holidays cease to serve a relevant purpose. 
Tisha B’Av is one such example.We recently observed the holiday this year beginning at sunset July 29. For centuries, Tisha B’Av served a crucial purpose: to respond to the tragedies that occurred to the Jewish people on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. 
This holiday enabled us to mourn our losses. We lost the 1st and 2nd Temples, the place where heaven and earth met. After being expelled from various kingdoms, we lost our rootedness. We lost our lives at the hands of Nazis and their perpetrators, when they purposely slaughtered us on this date.
For centuries, this was our tribal date, focused on our tribal suffering and loss. But in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, what purpose has Tisha B’Av served for the overwhelming majority of Jews in America? For too many, Tisha B’Av has lost its significance and its effectiveness of being a mechanism for us to mourn. Tisha B’Av has become an abstraction and is losing its purpose under heaven.
But what about if we view Tisha B’Av through a universal lens? It can be a holiday to connect with everyone for whom systematic discrimination, persecution and violence are not abstract concepts, but all too common occurrences. What if we marked Tisha B’Av not in our synagogues, but side-by-side with Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and those in the LGBTQ community … with anyone who has been targeted, attacked, arrested or worse simply for observing first amendment rights, questioning those in power, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
One such universal observance of Tisha B’Av took place during the evening of July 29. An interfaith gathering, led by Rabbi Debra Kolodny and Rabbi Benjamin Barnett, met at Portland City Hall. We decried the injustices being perpetrated against the Black community and demanded for our city government to institute changes for the sake of justice. I was proud to be present, along with my children. You can watch a video of the gathering at:
Tisha B’Av need not fade away. There is a time to be tribal and a time to be universal. Now is the time to be universal.
How we observe it will be up to our imaginations and our creativity. To oppose those who afflict us with injustice, fear and bigotry, may we unite universally with those who are targeted, subjugated and oppressed.


As the Community Chaplain for the Greater Portland Jewish community, Rabbi Barry Cohen serves as a resource for all Jews in our community. He can be reached at 503-892-7401 or



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