"This is the Fast We Have Chosen" by Rabbi Paula Marcus (Santa Cruz, CA)

The 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of 3 weeks of mourning that Jews commemorate because of all the calamities that befell the nation between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av). On the 17th of Tammuz Titus and Rome breached the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The Second Temple was subsequently destroyed by the Romans on the 9th of Av in 70 CE. The First Temple had been destroyed on the 9th of Av by the Babylonians in 586 BCE when they sacked the city. It is tradition for Jews to fast on the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.

The 17th of Tammuz came and went. This year, as the day approached I could not decide if I would fast.
Did I want to commemorate the day that the walls of Jerusalem were breached? What would I be mourning?
My relationship with walls has changed.

When I traveled to Israel and the West Bank with Rabbis for Human Rights in November, we traced the separation wall that divides Palestinian farmers from their fields, encloses Rachel’s tomb in concrete and wears graffiti written by peace activists working for justice. This wall has made it almost impossible for Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers to meet face to face for dialogue.

We traveled to Hevron and saw what Jews had written on the walls of Palestinian homes, spray - painted in black, six pointed stars. And I felt a wall begin to grow in my heart.

We traveled to Sderot and planted trees on Kibbutz Mifalsim. There the concrete wall was above the children’s’ house, where numerous missiles from Gaza had fallen. These kids were learning about walls from an early age.

We went for a visit to Silwan where some walls in Palestinian homes were torn down and others were crumbling due to the City of David excavations. Ancient walls were valued over the walls of peoples’ homes. Another brick added to the wall in my heart.

In our limited free time, a few of us went to the Old City. I hadn’t been in 10 years and looked forward to reconnecting with the Western Wall. We had tickets for the tunnel tours. I had been away for so long and I’d heard of the new excavations under ground. As we walked the submerged wall under the Muslim quarter I felt my internal wall strengthen. I wondered how the people living above ground felt about the excavations taking place below. And when I ran my hand against the ancient wall, I was numb to its power. My own wall had grown so thick.

I exited the tunnel and walked to the Western Wall. I stood before what I had always considered a familiar friend, a witness to the history of our people. But it was no match for my internal wall. Filled with sadness I walked away, with a lingering nostalgia for memories of how it used to feel to stand before this wall.

When I saw the invitation for his fast, I felt a crack in my wall. My heart began to soften as I considered how I might use this fast to prepare for Tisha B’Av. This fast was a way to say no to the walls that prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the people of Gaza.

In the end, I fasted for half a day on the 17 of Tammuz. I fasted for my loss of idealization of the Western Wall and all it represents. I fasted for the suffering of Jews and Palestinians who are unable to see beyond their walls.

This monthly fast is the fast we have chosen. For it carries a message of hope and solidarity. This fast is about tearing down the walls created by human hands and created in our hearts.