Brian Blum
August 9, 2011
Segway riders at the Haas Promenade

As David wrote yesterday, the holiday of Tisha B’av has befallen us (morbid pun intended) and Jews all over the world are spending the day reflecting, fasting or otherwise using the holiday’s restrictions to avoid shaving and bathing for a day.

On the evening of Tisha B’av, it is traditional to hear the book of Lamentations (Eicha) being read in a communal setting. In Jerusalem, there is no lack of options. One of the most moving is outdoors at the Haas Promenade (the tayelet in Hebrew), which overlooks the Old City. If one isn’t sure why we still bother to mourn the destruction of the Temples so many centuries ago on this day (especially when we have regained sovereignty over the land), you can just gaze from this lookout point and imagine what if the Jewish state no longer existed and access to what Judaism calls its most holy places was cut off (as it was between 1948-1967). David’s quote of Rabbi Stewart Weiss’s essay drives the point home.

But there’s a “lighter side” to Tisha B’av, as my experience last night at the tayelet proved. The scene is quite remarkable: tens of different minyans, small and large, bumping up against each other on the paved upper part of the promenade, on the grass below, and even further down in the direction of the Peace Forest. Unlike at the Western Wall, many are co-ed. The participants range from overseas yeshiva students to egalitarian vegetarians (each with their own group and leader).

I chose to attend a mixed modern Orthodox reading. I arrived late and sat near the edge of the congregation while a man chanted the 5 chapters of Eicha in a soulful yet dirge-like voice. About halfway through, another minyan set up camp directly above me and began their own reading of Eicha. The two were out of sync, the interplay playing out like an impromptu and not entirely welcome duet.

The effect didn’t make for easy listening; I eventually closed my book and stared into Silwan, the Arab village surrounding the City of David, adjacent to the Old City. Then, inexplicably, I heard a rumble from not too far away. It got louder and closer until about 15 men and women on Segways came barreling through our Eicha encampment. The Segways  stayed to the pavement, but it was still an amusing juxtaposition – the tall, sleek, two-wheeled vehicles with their helmeted riders bobbing back and forth, zipping past hundreds of modern day mourners seated on the ground in the dark with flashlight illuminating their prayer books.

The Segways made a second pass before leaving us in peace, but I couldn’t help thinking: if the goal is to remember the bad things that have befallen the Jewish people, some in this very spot, and in my case by soaking in the visual environment rather than following the text word-by-word, couldn’t you do it just as well from a Segway as from a 2000-year-old scroll?

With the Segways gone, it was back to the dueling Eichas. Remarkably, the two readings ended at the same point – kudos to the conductor (or as some would say the Conductor with a capital C).

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