In Pursuit of Happiness… Getting Ready to Mourn

By Ilana Fodiman-Silverman

My daughter set out for her first time at sleepaway camp this summer. Within hours of her departure, family, friends and acquaintances turned to me with the same question, “Is she happy?” Frantically, I tried to piece together the pictures that the camp posted online and the 3 minute phone call before Shabbat. In one picture she is off to the side, in another she is surrounded by faces that I don’t recognize. Is that a smile or a look of panic? When I managed to pull myself out of the twilight zone of today’s version of parenting-a-child-at-sleepaway-camp, I started thinking about my own experience at camp. I remember the tension of waiting to be picked for a sports team along with the thrill of rappelling down an omega cord. I remember the smell of the fresh country air along with the stiff uncomfortable feeling of being covered head to toe in dirt from an overnight campout. I remember the feeling of fierce independence in being on my own and the primal longing for the comfort of a parent. Was I happy at camp?

In preparing for the 9th of Av, the day on which we mourn the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the day that the Jewish people lost the majesty of a tangible House of God, the day on which we cry for the hundreds of thousands of Jews sent off to the slave-trade of Rome, I am struck by the complexity of our national consciousness. Throughout the year, we sing in celebration of the exodus from Egypt, and mourn young men and women who die defending our dream of Israel; we lament the pain of the Crusades and party with revelry celebrating our triumph over the decree of Haman; we stand awe inspired by the ingathering of exiles and accomplishments of the modern State of Israel and break a glass under our wedding canopies in expression of the destruction of Jerusalem. Is our nation a happy people?

Enjoying the luxuries of summer schedule, I took my son to the movies. While he reveled in the large popcorn and orange soda, I was entranced with the film, Pixar’s ‘Inside Out.’ Beyond the impressive developments in the animation industry, and the ever-beloved ritual of intermissions in the middle of a movie in Israel, I was deeply moved by the cartoon. The movie took us inside the mind of an 11 year old girl named Riley who is controlled by five competing emotions  – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. While these colorful personified emotions all share the same command center in Riley’s head. Joy spends much time assigning busy work to Sadness in order to distract her from taking a turn at the control console. As the movie unfolds, Joy comes to appreciate the value of the other emotions. Joy surprisingly discovers that the complexity of the human condition means that without free reign for range of emotions, even Joy cannot find true expression.

In preparing for the experience of the 9th of Av, I focus on the loss, pain, fear, and trauma of this memory of Jewish history. However, as I open the floodgates of these emotions, and face my darkest Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger, I am reminded that this is a part of the process in the path forward. This is how we live as authentic dynamic beings.

As the wisdom of our sages teach, ‘All who mourn Jerusalem, merit to rejoice in it.’ I look forward to my daughter coming home from camp with all of her emotions fully engaged.

Ilana Fodiman-Silverman is Co-Founder and Director of Moed, promoting a diverse community’s shared engagement with Jewish life in Israel.