Voices from the field

How Do We Tell The Story of Tisha b'Av?

By Shalom Orzach

How do we tell the story of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the date in which the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed? 

The Talmud (Gittin 55-56) relays the story, where a certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. He threw a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza. When the man who gave the orders saw Bar Kamtza at his party, he said, “You are my enemy; what are you doing here? Get out!” Bar Kamtza replied: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”

The story continues to describe the futile efforts of Bar Kamtza to avoid being embarrassed and appealing to the host to allow him to stay, to no avail. Bar Kamtza, seeing the Rabbis choosing not intervene was so incensed that he decided to inform the Roman emperor that the Jews were rebelling against the government. The Talmud outlines the plot and the tragic consequences that lead to the destruction of the Temple.

The story resembles Comedy of Errors – the simple tale of a mix up of identity takes on disastrous repercussions. Why do the Rabbis choose and create this event to represent the tragedy which, at the time, was of unprecedented proportions? It seems to me that the story wishes to impart the root cause, a senseless hatred that takes on Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect”; small events that have colossal impact. The tale is frustrating – it evokes an agonizing “if only…” But the “if only” is also empowering to invite the readers to imagine "if that were me..." and to propose a resolution. What I'm saying is – the story invites us to fix it!

It is paradoxical that for summer camps, Tisha B’Av is the only “festival” that occurs during the camping season. Summer camps are places of celebration, every aspect of their daily living cycle provides for moments of radical amazement. The antithesis of Tisha B’Av is tangibly demonstrated through the warm, loving and supportive communities; camps provide the very ambiance and skill sets to “fix it."

Not wanting for a moment to belittle the enormity of the tragedies that this day marks, I believe camp personifies the antidote in profound ways. The compelling accounts of “CAMPza” and “Bar CAMPza” are rewritten every year, let’s do more to collect, tell, and celebrate these stories.