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The Homeless Jew

July 16, 2012 | by Deborah Eichler

For a child of divorce, feeling tears on Tisha B’Av is easy. It’s finding hope that’s the real challenge.

Last summer was the first Tisha B’Av I was not in synagogue listening to Eicha, the biblical Book of Lamentations. I was at home while my year-old son slept peacefully in his crib. I sat on the floor and read the English translation of Eicha.

In previous years I had always been taken aback by the gruesome images portrayed by the prophet Jeremiah – images of mourning and destruction; images of people lying destitute in the streets and of children begging for food.

This year felt different than it had in the past. I ate the meal of bread and ashes. I changed out of my leather shoes. But for some reason the air did not carry that same heavy sadness that it had previously. This time, the painful longing and mourning was still there, but a sense of hopefulness and life stirred in the recesses of my mind.

“God does not reject forever,” the prophet Jeremiah explains. “He first afflicts, then pities according to his abundant kindness…"

As a child of divorce, I understand the destruction of a home.

Tisha B'Av has been described as a challenge – a challenge to see that it is “not only a day for tears, but also a day for hope." In previous years I have always felt the tears of Tisha B’Av. As a child of divorce, I understand the destruction of a home. On Tisha B’Av, this is precisely what we mourn – the destruction of the ultimate Jewish home, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. While certainly not destitute, nor faced with gruesome death, I understood the pain of wandering all too well. I, too, had lost my home. I, too, felt as though I had been living in exile. Certainly, in some situations divorce is necessary and the Torah allows for it. But it still comes with consequences.

Milestones that would have otherwise been reason for celebration now had become fraught with tension. With whom would we celebrate my high school graduation? My mother’s side? My father’s side? Happy occasions were now exercises in diplomacy. The security of being a child had been taken from me as I had quickly become the negotiator, peacemaker, and supporter for my parents

Both my mother and my father eventually found new significant others and moved on with their lives. While I knew my parents loved me and cared for me, I often felt like the remnant from a marriage gone bad. Yes, I had a loving mother and father, but the feeling of belonging that comes with having a family and a home long eluded me. I felt this pain most intensely after a particular summer when I had gone to live with my father. His new wife and I did not see eye to eye on most things. And while we tried our best to maintain a civil environment, our personalities clashed. I left my father’s house at the end of the summer feeling hurt and abandoned. His wife and I were like oil and water. I felt as though a stranger had moved into my house. I knew that we could work on our relationship and most likely come to a place of relative peace, but ‘home’ would no longer be ‘home.’

There were several very painful and lonely years. As a single young adult I felt as though I had no home base to go back to. I went out with various people with the hopes of building my own home, but date after date nothing seemed to be working out. I ultimately became involved in various Jewish activities. I enjoyed the Shabbat experience, a loving community, the spiritual connection. Yet it was on my first real Tisha B’Av that I made the commitment to a Torah lifestyle. Reading Lamenations that time, and seeing those sitting around me with tears in their eyes over the destruction of the Temple, struck a chord in me. I realized that Judaism must have something truly real to move people in such a deep and meaningful way. It was clearly far more than just eating bagels and lox. Torah encompasses all human experiences and emotions. I felt understood on Tisha B’Av. We had lost our national home, our closest connection to God. This was something to which I could relate.

This past year, however, Tisha B’Av was different for me. No longer sitting in synagogue, I finally had my own home. Now as a wife and as a mother, this chapter of my own personal exile has ended.

Yes, I still mourn the Temple and bemoan the fact that the Jewish nation is still in exile. I still feel that pain.

But I also know there is hope. I have a wonderful husband and a beautiful son. There were many challenging years, and at the time I never could have imagined anything good coming of my situation. But tremendous blessing did come. If I had not struggled through my parents' divorce, through those lonely and difficult years, I don't think that I would have sought out nor found the riches that I have today. Living through my parents’ divorce forced me to realize that marriage takes more than just ‘romantic love.’ Divorce has unfortunately become so prevalent today. Yet, as I became more involved in the observant community, I found more and more intact families with healthy marriages.

Just as my personal exile has ended, our national exile will come to an end as well.

Certainly, the Orthodox world is not immune from marital difficulties or divorce, but I was finding that the people around me had the tools to better deal with challenges they experienced in marriage. The emphasis on shalom bayit (domestic harmony) and the belief that your partner is the one that God has intended for you were powerful concepts that impacted me deeply. I also realized that dating for the sake of dating wasn’t going get me the home, the love, or the security that I was seeking. I needed to date with a purpose. I needed to find someone with similar goals and similar values. And I thank God every day that I finally found that person.

My experiences give me strength to face the challenges that I have today. Even if something seems “bad,” I know that God has a plan and whatever I am facing now is for my ultimate good.

As I approach Tisha B’Av this year, I try to take these lessons to heart. The suffering that we experience is not in vain. It is truly a part of a Divine plan. And I know that just as my personal exile has ended, our national exile will come to an end as well. May it be speedily in our days.


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