Friday, August 08, 2003

Tisha B'Av, 2003

We are standing in the center of a long, dimly-lit hall. On either side of us, hundreds of name plaques are stacked, one after other, seven rows high. A few chairs are scattered about. A cleaning person glides silently with a broom.

This is where Marla is buried. The Cypress View Mausoleum. Located on the outskirts of San Diego.

It’s Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s been just over a year since Marla's funeral and her burial here. The choice of this date to visit seems somehow fitting.

Jody and I have come with Marla's mother, Linda. Her father, Michael, doesn’t visit often.

“Marla’s not there anyway,” he offers, more as explanation than excuse.

If you stand at the far end of the mausoleum, by the doors that open into the empty parking lot, the hallway looks deceptively like two very tall train cars with a series of endless doors, ready to open and close, open and close, to the sound of the conductor’s whistle.

Except of course that they do so just once, to the tune of a very different wail.

Walk straight through to the opposite end of the imposing space and you leave the small Jewish section. There is more light here, streaming through several large ornate stained glass windows; naked Greek statues adorn these hallways.

No matter which section you’re in, the mausoleum is pristine, fastidiously clean. As it should be, I suppose.

Except for one spot.

At first it appears a few scraps of trash have been left on the polished floor, missed by the cleaning person that day. There’s a newspaper clipping. A photograph. A rock.

This is where Marla lies. Marked by the only name plaque with both Hebrew and English on it. Miriam Chanah Bat Moshe v’Yaffa. Marla Ann Bennett. 1978-2002.

And the trash isn't that at all. The yellowing newspaper clipping is a summary of Marla’s life from the Israeli paper Maariv; the rock is attached to a note certifying that it was brought from Kibbutz Bet HaShita in Israel. These tributes have been here for months, Linda explains. She doesn’t know who left them. Inexplicably, they remain.

Cobwebs have formed.

As I stand looking at the crypt where Marla lies, looking at the rock, holding both Linda and Jody’s hands, my stomach growls. I try to silence it, but my parched throat reminds me of what day it is.

And reminds me, too, that today has never been easy for me. But not for the reasons you might think.

I’ve always had trouble relating to Tisha B’Av. Oh I know the ostensible explanations for why we refrain from eating and drinking, from wearing leather shoes or showing any sign of affection or greeting.

But that history - the Romans, The Temple, Jerusalem – it all seems so long ago. So far from our modern experience. And I live only a stone’s throw from the very Temple we’re supposed to be mourning. Israel is now a sovereign state with a strong army, a rich and varied culture.

More than that, though, I am frustrated at how Tisha B’Av has been transformed into a catch-all day to commemorate everything bad that’s ever happened to the Jews. It’s just too all-encompassing, too non-specific. The impact of the main event has been diluted.

It’s not just the day that one Temple was destroyed, but both the first and second Temples.

And the day that Betar, the last fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 135, fell.

And the day the spies gave their damning report on the land of Canaan to Moses and the Israelites in the desert.

And the day that World War I started.

Frankly, it seems like a stretch. Dayenu already.

Now, all that has changed.

By coming to Cypress View today, davka, on Tisha B’Av, I now have my own very real, very specific event to hook onto the collective nature of the day. Something painfully close to cry over. Something much more immediate.

Taken in this light, it seems the sages may have been on the right track after all when they broadened the symbolism of the day. For what has Tisha B’Av been for these past 2000 years? Truly, it’s the only day we have for national Jewish solidarity with victims of terror and baseless hatred. Victims like Marla. And countless others before her.

In recent years, I’ve considered not fasting on Tisha B’Av.

No more.

Here in the mausoleum with the naked Greek statues and the lonely rock from Israel, with loved ones by my side and the name Miriam Hannah Bat Moshe v’Yaffa staring out at me from a smooth silky wall, things look very different.

This year and every year to come, I’ll be fasting.

For Marla.

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