Arts & Culture


Sitting at an outdoor café on Broadway with my friend Lori, we are talking about eggs and cholesterol one minute, and in the next we’re discussing how, when someone or something disappears from one’s life, "You can feel empty," Lori … Read More

By / July 22, 2009

Sitting at an outdoor café on Broadway with my friend Lori, we are talking about eggs and cholesterol one minute, and in the next we’re discussing how, when someone or something disappears from one’s life, "You can feel empty," Lori says, "but that emptiness can also be space." 

Personally, I need a lot of space.  When I get too many phone calls, too many text messages, too many e-mails, too much communication in general, I start to withdraw, just to put more space between me and others. 

Space is on my mind later that day because it’s the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and the first walk on the moon.   In 1969, I remember being a part of the national excitement.  It was an amazing, mind-boggling feat, to see the rocket soar into the heavens and to touch down on the moon, this planet that was so much a part of our everyday lives but, we thought, unreachable to humans.  However, after a few years of watching NASA send its space shuttles up, the whole undertaking became practically passé.  Of course we could go up into space, what’s the big deal? 

Who could have imagined then how much we would shrink the distance in space in 40 years?   And how  blasé we would become about being able to communicate by phone or video with someone on a mountaintop in the Himalayas, or to observe, in real time and from the comfort of our living rooms, a war being waged on another side of the world?  My children take this for granted, as much as I took space exploration for granted.  In today’s world, it feels not like a privilege but like our birthright to be able to connect with someone, anytime, anyway, even if the other person doesn’t want to.

Next week is another anniversary, far less glam than the moon walk, and not nearly as well known.  It’s Tisha b’Av, the ninth of the month of Av, the date on which both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.  It’s a day of mourning and fasting and contemplating not the vast reaches of space into which we might venture, but the internal, sad space from whence we come. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Tisha b’Av.  It’s just one big, gloomy Gus of a pity party.  As sad as the destruction of the temples was, it happened a long time ago and frankly, we’ve managed to do okay without them.  There are those who would dispute that, and argue that there’s value in recognizing loss, in remembering. Anyway, it’s a little hard to relate to the destruction of the temples, because they haven’t existed in anyone’s real memory, though obviously in our collective, historical memory.  And we didn’t watch them getting destroyed.  Where was CNN when the Romans were pillaging?   On the other hand, maybe being privy to it would have rendered us even more blasé – hmm, Romans sacking and pillaging, I think I’ll turn the channel.  Saw that yesterday.  And the day before.

More interesting to me is a relatively recent destruction that also occurred and is commemorated on Tisha b’Av –  the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.   Some say it isn’t coincidental that Christopher Columbus was in a hurry to get out of Spain by that date, because he could have been, himself, a converso.  Columbus’ presumed Jewish roots, (which have been well-documented and discussed amongst scholars) might, then, have partly provided the impetus for him to escape, along with a bunch of Marrano Jews who were part of his crew, the day after Tisha b’Av and discover a new land, one in which Jews wouldn’t have to secretly practice their faith. 

On Tisha b’Av, we try to relate to the past not by viewing video footage of the actual event, but by mustering up our own individual abilities to empathize.   Certainly, when you fast you feel the emptiness within, and who knows, maybe that’s a very small metaphor for the emptiness that we, as a Jewish people, feel without the Temple, which was the space in which God met man.    

It’s curious and very human, this instinct to close or bridge the distance between ourselves and outer space, between ourselves and the distant past, between ourselves and others.    But the question for me is, to what end?  So what if we recognize the loss of the temples?  And as cool as I think it is that America sent people to the moon, it didn’t do much for me individually or for the world, except for non-stick frying pans and more advanced computers.  I could live without them both.  A philosopher would say that it’s only in looking back at the past, utilizing our ability to remember, that we can understand our present.  Without our individual or collective memories, we’re lost in space.  Similarly, scientists say, well, now we can understand our own origins better, but that’s completely not true and even if it were, again, so what?  To my mind, it seems more like an excuse for these (mostly) men to send their phalluses up into the air, seeking to conquer space that doesn’t belong to them and in which they have no business, much the same as the conquering armies took Jerusalem, to stick their flags (so to speak) on territory that was not theirs, and just as Christopher Columbus sought to make a land grab on the other side of the world on behalf of Spain.  This, I’m aware, could be perceived as an anti-American and anti-progress and perhaps anti-man sentiment, but I’m holding to it.

Admittedly, I’m one who finds it off-putting when my space is invaded, even if it’s only with too much communication.  I need my space.  It’s not emptiness.  It’s just space – between us and the past, between us and the stars.  Why not let the space be?