Over These Things I Weep…
Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
I am writing this from Melbourne, Australia.
In an hour Tisha B Av will come in, unlike in the UK, it is currently winter and therefore the fast goes out tomorrow at 6:05pm!
I am here as part of a speaking tour of Australia linking up with Mizrachi over here.
However, I don’t want to write about my experiences in Australia but on my journey here – and how it relates to Tisha B Av.
The plan was very simple, to fly to Hong Kong on Sunday evening, have a few hours break while we got some dinner from the JCC and then take the 11pm flight to Sydney arriving Tuesday morning at 10:00am.
One of the problems when flying is to know when to daven. According to most opinions, you base the time on where you are flying over at that exact moment. Our challenge was to work out when exactly during our flight would be the time to daven shacharit.
Thankfully, there are now websites that you input your time and place of take-off and similar for landing, and it calculates, based on the normal route, your times for davening. So, I put in the details and the website chaitables did the work!
In the end, I didn’t need it, as with Wi-Fi on the plane I could use MyZmanim to work out exactly when the earliest time for Talit and Tefillin was – which we reached while flying over Beynue in Kazakhstan! This was about 5 hrs into the flight (11pm UK time, 5am Kazakhstan time). Most people were asleep, so the staff let us into the space between business and first where my son and I created a lovely shul at 35,000 feet. We davened, and then went to bed not knowing what adventure was in front of us!
When we took off from Heathrow, our pilot informed us that there was some nasty weather in Hong Kong, but that it would have passed by the time we got there. Thirteen hours later as we approached, it was clear that the nasty weather had not passed. We began to descend into what felt like a very dramatic roller coaster at Alton Towers! After a few attempts at landing the pilot pulled out and told us he was going to try again. Twenty minutes later the roller coaster began again to a lot of noises and cries from many passengers. Eventually this approach was also abandoned, and we were informed that no more landing attempts would be made. We would now be flying to land in Taiwan!
The rest of the hour flight to Taiwan was uneventful and gave me time to search up Jewish life in Taiwan and discovered that a Jewish Community Centre had been built and Chabad provided Kosher food!
We landed in Taiwan and after two hours on the tarmac, we were finally allowed to enter the terminal – and then the fun began. We were told that you need a visa to enter Taiwan and that British Airways has no jurisdiction in Taipei. This meant that we were not legally allowed to enter the country, so we had to line up to place us in hotels which we were not allowed to leave.
Once we reached the desk, our passports were taken, and we were given a number to identify us for the hotels. We were then given a yellow sticker and told to wait to be called. Slowly the flight was put on buses and taken to hotels all across Taipei.
Eventually we arrived at our hotel, given a room with no windows, and allowed to have dinner at the hotel restaurants. (The wonderful Chabad Shlichim delivered dinner to us as we couldn’t leave the hotel).
We didn’t leave Taiwan till the following night, I spent most of the time trying to rebook our flight to Sydney. Unfortunately, it is the Women’s World Cup here so there were no flights until Thursday evening but only to Melbourne! We finally arrived in Sydney at 10:00am on Friday morning, after 2 days in Hong Kong – exactly 4 days late! We were exhausted, but thankful and quickly got ready for Shabbat which came in at 4:55pm!
That night when I spoke in shul, I reflected on our five-day journey to Sydney and how in many ways it reflected the journeys we have had over the millennia. Papers taken away, placed on transport, unknown destinations, lots of unknowns. However, in our case, we were treated so wonderfully by the Taiwanese, had kosher food and even were given a beautiful room to daven in on Tuesday morning.
We begin Tisha B Av here in an hour and we may think we have a similar situation. So much of what we read about on Tisha B Av is a history that thank God is no longer part of our lives. The pogroms, expulsions, ghettos are a crucial part of our past but not our present. We have returned to Israel and Yerushalayim, what is the connection to Tisha B Av when we live in such a blessed time?
The answer is a multiple one.
Firstly, we know we are never far from anti semitism rearing its ugly head. We must always remain vigilant in the present and we need to remember those horrific episodes in history to recall what we have experienced.
Second, we may have returned to Israel, but we currently, upsettingly see a similar pattern to what led to our expulsion 2000 years ago, Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred. I was inspired to see a joint tefillah at the Kotel this week. We can disagree but must not drift into hatred. We pray for calm in Israel and a way forward for all.
And third and most important, we do not have the Geulah Shleimah and the Jewish people outside Israel is assimilating alarmingly as well as the connection to Israel weakening.
Unfortunately, there is a lot to cry and mourn about this Tisha B Av and we must commit ourselves to working to fix the Jewish world in whatever way we can.
Have a meaningful Tisha B Av.