Jonathan Horowitz | Nyack
Jonathan Horowitz, alias Joho, is a recent graduate of Binghamton University, where he studied Judaic Studies and English/Creative Writing. A self-identifying “Jewish semi-pro”, Joho has worked as a counselor and Rosh Edah at Ramah Nyack. He loves writing and cooking, and has huge soft-spot for a hearty, Ramah-style Kabbalat Shabbat. Joho can be reached at theycallmejoho.com.
I have a confession to make.
I have confidence issues.
Growing up, I had always been very sure of myself. I was proud of the person I was and knew exactly what I wanted to with my life: become a rabbi. Through my time in USY, and most importantly at Ramah Nyack, I loved Jewish learning, I loved inspiring others to follow their convictions, and I loved helping others connect with their Jewish identities. I was set.
I would soon come to adopt the idiom “Man plans, and God laughs” as part of my personal philosophy. During winter break after my first semester at Binghamton, my parents were involved in a serious car accident. My mother didn’t survive.
Needless to say, my perspective on life got turned on its head, then inside-out and ripped to shreds. Everything I thought I knew about myself, every security that I came to own about myself, every dream and aspiration I had faded to dust. The rest of college, with the help of my fraternity, my friends from near and far, and my family, was spent taking the pieces of my shattered identity and rebuilding something new. I’m still amazed at how far I’ve come in terms of viewing myself positively, but I realize that I will always have room to improve on myself.
Since graduation, though, I’ve been noticing the familiar grip of hopelessness that I’ve tried so hard to shake. Unemployed, unhappy that I’m unemployed, and not knowing what my future will bring, I feel like I’ve jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, and I’m not quite sure how to get out. What I would give to be going back to Binghamton this semester.
Tisha B’Av has been even more difficult than usual to stomach since my mother’s death because I connect to feelings of grief easier. This year was no different, but I began to view Tisha B’Av in a different light. The Ninth of Av memorializes the numerous tragedies that have befallen Jews throughout history. The rabbis attribute the destruction of the Temples to Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, and the literature and liturgy we recite on Tisha B’Av reflect this claim. Tisha B’Av serves to remind us Jews in the modern age of our people’s darkest times, and that the cause of those dark times were by our own hand. Not a great message for someone who suffers from confidence issues; what is the point of trying to be good if everyone around me is acting immorally? What could I, a mere individual, possibly do to make the world a better place if I can’t even make myself feel better?
This year though, I realized that the meaning of Tisha B’Av is not found in the public mourning or the sorrowful melody of Eichah or the fasting. Instead, the meaning of Tisha B’Av is about you react to the fact that your world has been turned on its head and inside-out; about what happened after the Temples were destroyed. The Shabbat after Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbat Nachamu, named eponymously for the words we read in the Haftarah, delivered by the prophet Isaiah: “Nachamu nachamu ami yomar Elokachem” (Comfort ye, O Comfort ye, my people, says your Lord). The rest of the reading continues to outline a message of rejuvenation and hope for the Children of Israel — in light of the gauntlet that they have been through, even though it was caused by their own greed and hatred, God still loves his Children. Tu B’Av, a day that honors the beginning of the grape harvest and is regarded as a day of joy and love, is celebrated not a week after Tisha B’Av; a clear reminder to Jews that even when we lose everything, it is still possible to rebuild, to hope, to love.
And then comes the month of Elul, which the Talmud says is an abbreviation for “Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li” (I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine). This is one of the more well-known lines of Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs), the great love poem composed by King Solomon. A culmination of God’s promise to us that we have not been abandoned and that we have been forgiven, Elul is set aside as buffer period between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana. It is often said that it is impossible to love someone else before you can love yourself. This couldn’t be more true, as it is imperative that we forgive and love ourselves before we come to the Gates of Heaven and ask God to forgive and love us.
I have confidence issues. I am highly critical of myself, and have gotten into the addictive habit of self-loathing. However, as I prepare myself mentally and spiritually for the High Holidays this Elul, I will tell myself that there is hope. I will reassure myself that I still have worth. I will take advice from Justin Bieber (did I really just say that?!) and promise that I will go and love myself.