In recent issues of The Jewish Link, there have been advertisements for Tisha B’Av programs for children that are not in the spirit of the day. Tisha B’Av has the potential to be one of the most important and meaningful days on the Jewish calendar. It reminds us that as good as we think things are now, they are nowhere near the ideal and that we are greatly lacking due to the absence of a Beit Hamikdash. Additionally, it is a time to be sad about how little we really know about what we are missing. How many of us can truly appreciate the spiritual void in our lives that has occurred for the past 2,000 years?
The main part of the Tisha B’Av day is the recitation of kinot, which are written in a very difficult Hebrew that many people cannot understand. People spend the entire morning struggling with the language and trying to find some connection. Recently, many shuls have acknowledged that kinot are challenging for many congregants and have instituted a version of explanatory kinot where the rabbi of the shul will give background for each kina and the tragedy that it commemorates. This adds great meaning since we can understand the particular calamities that have occurred throughout Jewish history and how they are memorialized.
Unfortunately, this appropriate contemporary approach to Tisha B’Av has not been expanded to reach our children. In these pages, there have been advertisements in recent weeks for children’s programs on Tisha B’Av that sound very exciting. These programs include basketball and prizes and will be, for the most part, indistinguishable from a typical day of summer camp. For children who are beyond the age of chinuch (early elementary school), there are many ways that activities can be planned for the children that are age-appropriate. Some potential activities would be learning about the Beit Hamikdash to know what we are missing, working on midot and learning about lashon hara.
Since fasting is difficult for many people, this activity does not need to be all day, but should be long enough to make the day meaningful for our children. As anyone who has gone to a sleepaway camp can tell you, Tisha B’Av is very meaningful there. The entire camp environment changes and the veil of mourning is visible across the camp. Even many years and decades later, people have remarked to me how their most meaningful Tisha B’Av was when they were at sleepaway camp. As a community, we need to find a way to give our children this feeling of how to properly appreciate the gravity of the Churban.
Similarly, there is a great need to enhance the activities for our children on the Yomim Noraim. Many shuls are very full and have difficulty finding space for all of the minyanim they are hosting. Group leaders are busy davening, and the task of watching our impressionable children often falls to non-Jewish babysitters either in our own homes or provided by the shul. While these babysitters provide a comfortable and caring environment, this is not the essence of these days. For a grade-school child who has learned all about Rosh Hashanah being the day of judgment and one of the most important days of our year, spending his entire day on the playground feels problematic. What are we teaching our children when their only experience of Yomim Noraim is playing? In many shuls, there seems to be a stark dichotomy for what we should do with our kids. Either they need to be able to sit quietly in the regular shul service (which is often difficult even for many adults), or they are supposed to spend the entire day, from Kol Nidrei through Neilah, with a babysitter. There needs to be a middle ground and a way to get our children to appreciate the gravity of the day in an age-appropriate manner.