Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

7 comments on “Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

  1. This period tells us that our present reality is abnormal and not destined to be permanent. The mourning for the past only works if accompanied somehow by hope for the future. This could help explain the nature of Mincha time during Tisha B’Av.

  2. The weight of family life, pre-set roles of communal involvement, ever heightened religious commitments, and the struggles of bread-winning make it very hard to think of much outside your present existence, time and place almost any time.

    Maybe it is an accomplishment for us if the Three Weeks, in their increasing intensity, get us to spend some time thinking about, and maybe trying to feel, the true scope and depth of spiritual and physical loss a person — and a Jew in particular — can experience.

    Maybe by that endeavor we will be spared having to experience it again… even if that formula does not seem always to have worked so well in the past.

    But if that is not the ticket, still maybe the incremental spiritual and emotional growth that comes from the distraction from our distraction that the Three Weeks provides — the brakes it puts on our constant hurtling toward who knows what? — maybe just realizing that we do register and achieve this is not so small a consolation either.

  3. personnally, I think it’s a sign of the birth panges of mashiach, and Hashem wants us to call out to Him to redeem us

  4. Thanks for a good read. Since you opened up the topic, does anyone have any personal resolutions as to why the jarring events of the last few days have come to us just now? I have heard a lot of uproar from many corners, regarding mesira, dan lechaf zechus, chillul Hashem, etc. etc. I am very confused about what exactly is the message, or is this situation so complex that there are different messages for everyone?

  5. It is indeed difficult to mourn the Beit HaMikdash; not only have I never seen it, but also my father never saw it and my grandfather never saw it and my great-grandfather never saw it, nor did his great-grandfather see it.


    “Sometimes home is a place we’ve never seen before.”
    SOURCE: page 93 of More People’s Guide to J.R.R. Tolkein, by Cynthia L. McNew, 2005, Cold Spring Press, ISBN 1-59360-026-7

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