Category Archives: Chagim/Holidays

The Religious Significance of the State of Israel

I

Dictionaries tend to define the words ‘state’, ‘nation’ and ‘religion’ in the following fashion[1]:

State: A set of institutions that possess the authority to govern the people in a society, having internal and external sovereignty over a definite territory.

Nation: A grouping of people who share a common history, culture, language or ethnic origin.

Religion: A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

In the year 70 CE, in the aftermath of the burning of the second temple, Jerusalem was left in ruins and the Jewish people was dispersed amongst the nations of the world. These events marked the end not only of the temple as a religious center but also the end of Jewish statehood and nationality. No longer was the Jewish people sovereign over a defined territory. No longer did it possess any form of self governance. Jewish communal culture, language and history began to lose coherence, to gradually grow apart and differ. This clear and simple understanding of the term Galut, i.e. exile is adopted by the Maharal of Prague in his work Netzach Yisrael. He defines Galut as possessing three central characteristics: the physical displacement of the Jewish people from the land of Israel, dispersion and finally subjugation to other nations[2]. As these facets of statehood and nationality were lost, the only element remaining to define and sustain Jewish peoplehood throughout the darkness of exile was religion, or more specifically, a pattern of life revolving around Halacha and observance. According to Maharal, this is what the sages of the Talmud mean when they say:

Since the day of the destruction of the Temple, all that G-d has in this world is the four cubits of Halacha. (Brachot 8a)

This is not a maximalist statement, one that expands the scope of the God-Israel relation, but rather a minimalist one, one that narrows the scope of the Jewish people’s relationship with God. Whereas formally the Jewish people’s covenant with God encompassed all facets of individual and national life, it was now confined to the smallest possible realm of individual life and observance – four cubits.

The events of the past three generations have placed the Jewish people in a fundamentally different situation. The State of Israel is now the home of the single largest Jewish community in the world, which enjoys full sovereignty over both its internal and external affairs. The fate of the Jewish people as a nation no longer lies in the hands of foreign nations and rulers, rather in its own. An apparently dead, or at least comatose, language has come back to every day life and a unified culture and history is being created anew by a highly diverse group of Jews who have returned to Israel, or descend from Jews who have returned to Israel from various locales around the world.

The obvious centrality of the State of Israel to Jewish identity in the modern era is by no means confined to the citizens of Israel. Indeed, the existence of the State has transformed the communal identity of Jews the world over. With the decline of the status of Halacha and adherence to observance of the commandments that has occurred over the course of the last two hundred years, the State of Israel now serves as the most fundamental common denominator of Jewish identity.

II

These events and developments have led to the widespread intuitive understanding that the return to a national life in Israel in our generation constitutes a shift of biblical proportions in Jewish history which deeply impacts our perspective and understanding of Jewish identity and life; in short, that the exile has ended and is no more. This orientation, in varying degrees, is shared by most of world Jewry today and dominates Israeli society in particular.

It is surprising therefore, to find that many religious authorities oppose these conclusions and claim that nothing fundamental has changed. The most common arguments against the idea that the exile has ended can be grouped into four categories:

1) Time-frame – the end of the exile is supposed to be sudden, going from the depths of darkness to perfection instantaneously.

2) Setbacks – the setbacks and difficulties experienced by Israel in the past few decades prove the exile has not ended.

3) Spiritual level – tradition teaches that the exile will end only when the entire Jewish people return to full observance.

4) Leadership and Expectations – the personalities leading the historical events or the events themselves do not fit with our expectations.

As a counterargument, I suggest examining these arguments through the prism of the first and second redemptions, the exodus from Egypt and the second temple period. Hopefully, this will reveal recurring patterns in the processes of redemption in the past and illuminate the developments of the modern era. I will present the relevant sources ‘as is’ with only slight remarks where clarification is necessary.

First Redemption – The Exodus

Timeframe:

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt… that he built the house of the Lord. (I Kings 6:1)

The 480 years refer to the full span of the First Redemption, from the Exodus until the peak of the redemption – the completion of the First Temple by King Solomon.

Setbacks:

And Moses returned to the Lord, and said, Lord, why have you done evil to this people?… For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have you saved your people at all. (Shemot 5: 22-23)

This was only the first of many setbacks during the 480 year time period. Others were the sin of the golden calf, the sin of the spies as well as most of the period of The Judges.

Spiritual Level:

The angels said to God what did you see to spare them (the Jewish people) and plague them (the Egyptians)? These are idol worshipers and these are idol worshipers[3]. (Yalkut Har’uveni, Beshalach, 82)

Leadership and Expectations:

At the time Moshe came to the people and told them ‘this month you will be redeemed, they said to him ‘how can we be redeemed? God said to Avraham ‘thy seed… shall serve them four hundred years’ and only two hundred and ten have gone by! Moshe answered them when god desires your redemption he does not look at your calculations”[4] (Shir Hashirim Rabba, Parsha 2, Sidra Tanina 1:8)

 

Second Redemption – Second Temple Period

Timeframe:

365 BCE- Proclamation of Cyrus; return of the exiles and building of Second Temple begins[5]

165 BCE- Chanukah; Jewish independence and sovereignty [6]

From the beginning of the redemption to its peak took two hundred years.

Setbacks:

And the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build (The Temple); And hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia: And in the reign of Ahasuerus, they wrote to him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem…Then ceased the work on the house of God which is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:4-6)

These events took place after the return of many Jews from the Babylonian exile in compliance with the charter of Cyrus the Great, allowing the Jews to build the Second Temple.

Spiritual Level:

In those days I saw in Judah men treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, and figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day… Also in those days I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And half their children spoke in the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah[7] (Nechemia 13, 25-23)

Leadership and Expectations:

Ten genealogical classes went up from Babylon to Israel; Kohanim, Leviim. Yisraelim, disqualified Kohanim, converts, freed slaves, Mamzerim (born from forbidden relationships), Nesinim, Shtukim (whose father is unknown), Asufim (both parents are unknown)… Ezra did not go up from Babylonia until he made it like fine sifted flour. (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin, 69a)

The majority of Jews at the time did not heed the call of King Cyrus and chose to remain in Babylon. Most of the 42,300 people who did join the movement were the outcasts of Jewish society; those who had little to lose by leaving and everything to gain.

It is evident from these examples that the four arguments presented earlier do not hold true of the known and acknowledged processes of exile and redemption. Therefore they should not limit our interpretation of the events of our times.

 

III

What difference does it make whether or not the exile has ended? Is there any religious significance to this question? Shabbat is still Shabbat, Kashrut is still Kashrut, etc… in what way does religious life change based on the answer to this question? I would like to point to three areas or aspects of religious life which I believe are profoundly impacted by the outcome of this question.

Truth and Historical PerspectiveFirst and foremost, the question of truth itself. The understanding that something fundamental has changed in our communal religious identity changes ones entire perspective on our times, yielding a recognition of God’s involvement in the historical developments of our time. It is God’s providence that has brought  the fulfillment of the words of the prophets regarding the ingathering of the exiles, the return of sovereignty, military success and economic growth. One of the practical implications of this point is the attitude towards Israel Independence Day; is it a civil celebration alone or a religious holiday to be observed with Hallel and expression of gratitude toHashem?

Broad and Proactive Halachic Decision Making. Throughout exile, Halacha was primarily reactive; dealing with the many internal and external challenges faced by Jewish communities with the primary goal being maintenance of the status quo.  A Jewish state raises questions that necessitate a proactive Halachic approach. For example, how can the State maintain a modern economy while still observing the Laws of Shmita?. For the first  time in 1800 years non-Jews are a minority and Jews a majority. What should be the status of and attitude towards non-Jews in Israel? Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens are notJews according to Halacha, what should be the conversion policies of the State of Israel and the Jewish community?

Attitude Towards the MundaneThe understanding that there is once again a Jewish nation-state should translate into a positive attitude towards academic studies, a modern thriving economy, a strong army and a vibrant civic culture. These become not only a necessity for the physical maintenance and success of the state, but part and parcel of a renewed comprehensive Jewish identity. In turn this should impact such questions as the religious value of army service, the relationship between Torah study on the one hand vs. work and academic studies, and the question of relations, cooperation and partnership with non observant Jews in both the private and public realms.

 

IV

In conclusion, the opposing conflicting opinions in the religious community regarding the State of Israel, that which views the state as no more than a mere random historical occurrence and that advocated here, which views the State as a fundamental change in the course of Jewish history, can be compared to the difference between a person’s attitude towards purchasing a new appliance and becoming a parent.  A refrigerator is an appliance which certainly possesses pragmatic and instrumental value, the fact of refrigerators and the historical occurrence of their invention may even spark Halachic discussion; can one open the refrigerator door on Shabbat? But by no means does our possession of refrigerators penetrate to our inner religious experience or impact our beliefs. There is no difference between a Judaism with a refrigerator and a Judaism without a refrigerator. On the other hand, we may view the coming into being of the State of Israel and its significance as similar to that of having a child; not merely a technical addition to our religious lives, but the development of a new facet of our identity that impacts us on the deepest and most profound levels. With the birth of a child, a parent defines himself differently, as belonging to someone and something that fundamentally changes the way he evaluates himself and his surroundings. So too should we relate to the State of Israel as redefining our religious identity and experience. We are home. We are together. Our fate as a people is in our own hands once again, and we are better able to discover our capabilities and realize our full potential. In this sense The State of Israel is the child of the Jewish people.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize, that those voices in the Jewish and Halachic community that relate to the State of Israel as no more than a mere instrument have value as well; they serve as a constant reminder that though we have come a significant way in the redemptive process, there is still much to amend, to perfect and to strive for

[1] See wordnetweb.princeton.edu

[2] Judah Loew ben Bezalel, Netzach Yisrael ch. 1

[3] Also see  Jeremiah 7:25-26: “Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt until this day I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, from early in the morning: Yet they did not listen to me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck; they did worse than their fathers”

[4] See as well: Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 8a regarding the original evaluation of King David by people

[5] Rashi on Ezra 1:1

[6] Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Kriat Megila 1:1

[7] Another example can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Megila 12a “The students asked Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai: why did the Jewish people of that generation deserve extermination? … because they derived pleasure from the feast of that wicked one Achashverosh… because they prostrated themselves to the golden image in the days of Nebuchadnezzar”

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It’s time to rethink Slichot!

I’ve always found Slichot (Penitential Prayers) difficult for a variety of reasons: the poetic (and archaic) language of the Piyutim, the speed in which they are usually said, the rote recitation of something intended to be contemplative and even the challenging hours of when they are traditionally said. I’ve always felt there was a bit of a charade going on during Slichot, with a false sense of piety replacing the individual self reflection which the Slichot are meant to express and evoke.

This year, my uneasiness with the Slichot – as it is commonly practiced – has become even greater after deciding to take a closer look at the Piyutim. Though the most important component of Slichot is the recitation of “the 13 attributes of mercy” the Piyutim have come to play an important role as well. Written primarily between the 11th and 14th century, the Piyutim focus on sin and confession, remorse and punishment as well as hope for forgiveness and redemption. Many of them combine ‘scenes’ from Tanach, Misdrah as well as references to historical events. Seemingly, these are perfect features to be focusing on as interludes between the 13 attributes, as they confront us with a picture of ourselves – as individuals and a community – and what is lacking. Even if the language and rhyming are difficult to understand, one can still hopefully get the general idea. And even if one doesn’t, I believe there is (or can be) value in the ceremony for the sake of the ceremony – continuing a long standing tradition, and the feeling of additional spiritual effort as individuals and a community.

Until I started reading the Piyutim and not just saying them in a mantra-like fashion. Just a few, of many, examples (the translations are my own): On the first night we say: “מאז ועד עתה אנו נידחים נהרגים נשחטים ונטבחים. שורדנו מתי מעט בין קוצים כסוחים, עיננו כלות בלי מצוא רווחים”-“And from then until now we are dispersed, murdered, slaughtered, and butchered. In small numbers we have survived among dead thorns (the nations) our eyes yearn without finding any relief”.

On the second night we say: זעם כרגע ועתה להיפוך זרי קודש עתה לשיפוך חביבת רע כקרן הפוך חשובה עזובה כקורעת בפוך – “A moments anger is now reversed (to longstanding anger) holly crowns are now spilled (the crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship are now desecrated). A beloved friend (Am Yisrael) like a ‘vessel of beauty’, now considered as one who is deserted and ‘rips their clothes’ (as a prostitute)”.

On the third night: “כל היום עליך הרוגים לכפרה אין אנו משיגים” – “the entire day we are killed on you(r name because) we have not achieved atonement”. The following Piyut states: “פחודים הם מכל צרות ממחרפיהם ומלוחציהם” – “they are afraid of all calamities, of those who curse and oppress them”.1919 June Brit Jews march vs Polish pogroms

On the fourth night: “איה כל נפלאותיך הגדולות והנוראות אשר ספרו לנו אבותנו ה’ צבאות”  – “where are all your great and terrible wonders(!) which our forefathers told us about Hashem of Hosts”. A few stanzas later: “מעת לעת צרתי מרובה” – “from day to day our plight increases”.

On the fifth night: “איויתיך קיויתיך מארץ מרחקים” – “I yearn and hope for you from a distant land”. In the following Piyut: “והם שחים ומושפלים עד מאד מהר יקדמונו רחמיך כי דלונו מאד” – “and they are exceedingly lowly and disgraced, may your mercy come hastily because we are dwindled (and cannot bare the hardship of exile)”.

On the sixth night: “ארכו הימים ודבר חזון ארמון נוטש וחדל פרזון” – “Lengthened are the days (of exile) and (lack of fulfillment of) words of redemption. The palace-deserted (Beit Hamikdash) and open cities (of Israel) – have ceased”.

On the seventh day: “מתי תחיינו ומתהומות תעלנו” – “When will you revive us and bring us up (to the land) from the depths (of exile”.

On Erev Rosh Hashana: “העיר הקודש והמחוזות היו לחרפה ולביזות וכל מחמדיה טבועות וגנוזות ואין שיור רק התורה הזאת” – “The holy city and its suburbs have been disgraced, all its treasures sunk and hidden and there is nothing left but this Torah”.

The common thread to all these quotes (and there are many more) is this: how can they possibly be uttered in today’s day and age? how are they not the gravest of insults and show of ungratefulness towards Hashem, who has – in this generation -brought us back to the Land of Israel, to sovereignty, to military and economic self sufficiency, to the flourishing of agriculture, Torah scholarship and technological advances? in short – to redemption? These statements are not being said in past tense. They are being said in the same fashion in which they were written – as a reflection of the current state of the Jewish People. As if nothing has changed. Is there a greater חוצפה כלפי שמיא than that? How can the denial of Hashem’s Chessed be expected to serve as a tool of self reflection and repentance? How can one hope to get close to Hashem through ingratitude?

סמל מדינת ישראל=ויקיפדיה---

Of course it is important to always remember the hardships we experiences and their causes. Of course not everything has been rectified but – on Pesach, would we consider for even a second saying עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים (we were slaves in Egypt) without adding ויוציאנו ה’ אלוהנו משם ביד חזקה (and Hashem our God took us out of there with a strong arm)? Would we fathom to only discuss the terrible slavery without the redemption that followed? We are not talking about formal Tfilot and prayers which have strict rules and warnings about change (although I most definitely do not recite the traditional version of נחם on Tisha B’av but that is a topic for a separate post), rather on Piyutim, which are not the central part of Slichot which in itself does not have nearly the status of formal Tfila (even if it is fashioned after its model).

The are 2 possibilities I can think of for how people can continue saying these Piyutim, or at least sentences of these sort in the Piyutim:

Option 1 – People don’t pay attention, or mean, what they say in Tfila, let alone in Slichot.

Option 2 – People choose (knowingly or not) to stay in a state of perpetual trauma. A psychosis, in which ghosts of the past are conjured into their perception reality. (Why would people do this? is it an escape mechanism for not having to deal with the truth and the obligations that would bring with it? is it an emotional inability to process the truth with its challenge of the familiar? maybe a topic for a different post).

Either way – neither of these possibilities bode well for us as we enter The Days of Awe, days which require sincerity towards ourselves and sincerity towards Hashem, days, during which we spend hours in Tfila, speaking to Hashem and to ourselves about what is true and what is false about our past, present and future.

 

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Ideas for a creative Sedder

Not cSedderontent with the simple rote recitation of The Hagadah? Want to make it an actual multi-generational Jewish learning/growth experience? Want to have a Sedder which will stimulate and excite your children?

There are a lot of ideas out there but here are some of my favorites which I’ve actually tried:

1. Start again. After everyone is finally situated in their designated seat, Head of Sedder (HOS) goes to the front door, opens it and urgently calls everyone to quickly come outside to see something. When they  arrive HOS says : “Imagine that right now we would get up and just leave our houses. Leave to go to Israel/Jerusalem/Har HaBayit. Just grab our suitcases and go. Everywhere in the world, right now, all Jews are sitting down to remember when The Jewish People left Egypt. Let’s do the same. Everyone head back in; We’re now ready to start our Sedder”.

 

2. Move Maggid away from the dining room to the living room. Children sit on the carpet or mattresses in center while adults sit on the sofas/armchairs. You will be amazed how this can transform the Maggid from a ritual to an actual family discussion/activity (Make sure to bring your cup of wine with you).

 

3. Encourage questioning. Throughout the Sedder every question (or answer) said by a child – awards them a chocolate chip to be placed in small baggie. Kids may eat them throughout Maggid, but whoever has the most chips by the end- gets a prize. (Other options are tiny marshmallows or, small notes that say “Good Job”).

 

4. Q-cards. Under each plate place a card which has on it information to be used at variant times during the Sedder. Examples:

1) An individual “special” word – whenever this word is recited in the reading, the person needs to yell out: “Pesach, Matzah and Maror!”

2) A character from the Pesach story – when there is a lul in the story, pick random participant, who needs to either act out his character, or answer 21 questions until the other participants guess his identity (don’t forget all the animal characters from חד גדיא!)

 

5. Experience slavery. Immediately after מה נשתנה, bring out blocks and tell the kids to each build a building to a certain height. As they build, Head of the Seder (HOS) makes suggestions of improvements. Upon completion, HOS instructs to ruin and re-do better. When they start re-building, HOS takes a more aggressive attitude, bossing them around about how to build the building. After the kids get upset (or even cry) HOS stops and explains that this is similar to what happened in מצרים, it started off mild and gradually changed into slavery. Continue with עבדים היינו.

 

6. Four sons.

1)     Ask each participant to identify which son they are and why (can be both a serious as well as a bit of a silly conversation). Adults can share which kind of “son” they were when they were kids…

2)     The 4 sons through the ages. Download and print out enough versions of The Four Sons collectioFour sonsn, based on which you can have many fascinating discussion with participants, of all ages. Sample questions:

i. Identify who is each son in the various depictions of the four sons. How do you know?

ii.  What are some of the differences between the various depictions of the various sons? (for adults – what do these differences mean?)

iii. Which depiction is you favorite? Why?

iv. Which depiction best describes our family?

v. (For adults:

– What is common to all the depictions on the 3rd page?  A: they carry strong ideological statements – Zionist, anti-enlightenment and anti-socialist

– What is common to all the depictions on the last page?            A: they depict whole families, not only sons

7. The Plagues

1) Each child acts out 2 pre-assigned plagues and the other kids have to guess what it is.

2) Blood – Ask for “Jewish” and “Egyptian” volunteers to demonstrate the plague of Blood. Prepare 2 non see-through cups, one of which should have at the bottom red food coloring. Make a spectacle of pouring clear water from same jar into the “Jewish cup” and then the “Egyptian cup”, hand to them and ask them to describe what they see. HOS explains that the same water stayed water for us but when was used by the Egyptians- became blood.

3) Darkness. Split kids into “Jews” and “Egyptians”. Blindfold “Egyptians”, who need to protect their chocolate chips from the “Jews”, who want to “borrow” them. HOS explains that this is what happened in מצרים- the Egyptians couldn’t see anything and the Jews could. The Jews went into the Egyptians homes to take treasures as compensation for their hard work.

 

8. Elijah’s cup. Have someone sneak out of the room a couple of minutes before Elijahs cup. This person leaves house and stands outside the door with his head covered with a Tallit. When children open the door – Elijah walks in, walks silently (remaining hooded) to the table, bends down enough to fool that he is drinking (while making sure to spill some of it) and then leaves.

 

Word to the wise:

1. Different activities are appropriate for different ages

2. Change the activity to fit your “clientele”

3. If you find one that the kids love – do it again. It’s worth the time

4. Choose wisely how many “special” activities to do. You don’t want overkill. I recommend choosing the 3 or four you think will work best.

5. These ideas are not meant to replace the traditional Sedder, rather to enhance it; to evoke more interest and engagement in the readings and observances.

 

Chag Same’ach VeKasher!

(Feel free to add in things you’ve actually done and seen succeed)

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Why we named our daughter Aliyah Channa (plus a Chanukah story)

This past Tuesday, the 6th day of Chanukah and the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tevet, our daughter was born. We named her עלייה חנה (Aliyah Channa).
Channa, is for both Nitza’s and my maternal grandmothers who shared that name.
Regarding the name Aliyah, it is almost self explanatory: The Hebrew word ‘Aliyah’ means ‘to ascend’ and has come to refer to the act of immigrating to Israel (though it first appears in that context already in the Mishna in Ktubot). The idea behind this term is that when one immigrates to Israel they are not merely relocating geographically, rather are ascending from a lower state of being to a higher one.
As we have done with our other children, we attempt to capture within our children’s names the state of being we are in during the period of pregnancy and birth. With Matanel – gratitude to Hashem for having a child, with Edden – the return to Jerusalem and a Shabbat birth and with Ma’oz – the grounding of having our own home in Israel.
Anyone who knows Nitza and me, knows the degree to which we are dedicated to the promotion of Aliyah as a foundational aspect of being Jewish. This has been our raison d’etre of sorts for coming to Toronto and has underscored our work here. Be it by familiarizing people with Israel with anecdotes over a Shabbat meal, encouraging trips, answering questions, Israel Guidance and actively assisting people through their Aliyah process.
That is why we called our daughter Aliyah; to express our belief in the centrality of Aliyah to being Jewish as well as to solidify our own commitment of once again ascending back home to Israel.

I’d like to share with you the words (more or less) I shared with my High school Yeshiva students immediately following the naming.
“One of my strongest childhood memories is the Chanukah I spent in the hospital when I was 9. Due to frequent tonsillitis, I was scheduled to have my tonsils removed. Unfortunately, the procedure was to to take place during Chanukah at Bikur Cholim Hospital.
I say unfortunately as doing the surgery on Chanukah would mean missing out on several Chanukah activities (and foods) but more significantly, due to the hospital itself. Bikur Cholim Hospital, located smack in downtown Jerusalem, was an small, old and outdated hospital. At the time, the hospital had only 2 wards – infants and adults.
After the surgery I was sent to the adults ward for recovery. When I woke from the anesthesia I discovered that the ‘adult ward’ was a large hall filled with 25 beds, surrounding the perimeter the room. After a few more moments of looking around the room more carefully I realized two additional facts. The first was that I was the only child in the room. The second was that I was the only Jewish patient in the room. More specifically, the only non-Arab patient in the room.
Approximately a week earlier, the first Intifada had broken out. Though I doubt I fully understood what that meant at the time, I was non the less nervous and a bit scared of the situation I found myself in; being the only child in a room filled with 20 adult, Arab, patients. Luckily, my mother was right there beside me the whole time which definitely helped.
That evening, the rest of my family came to visit and, being Chanukah, brought a Chanukiya with them. We lit the candles, sang HaNerot HaLalu and Ma’oz Tzur just like any other Chanukah night. We weren’t trying to make a spectacle of it but weren’t trying to hide what we were doing, either. Everyone in the room was looking at us, or at least it felt that way. I remember that even at the time, at the age of 9, I thought it was ‘cool’ that we were lighting Chanukah candles under those circumstances. I remember looking around the room, wondering what the Arab patients were thinking while we sang about how, throughout history we’ve defeated the enemies of the Jewish People. I remember feeling proud and defiant as though to say – ‘we’re lighting Chanukah candles and there’s nothing you can do about it!’.
In retrospect, I realize that memory encapsulates and expresses so well the unique role living in Israel plays in the life of a Jew. What is special about that night was that there was nothing special about it. It took me years to even realize it is a story worth telling. My parents are the farthest thing from the type who makes public displays of principal in order to make a point.
What was amazing about that night is that it was obvious we were going to light candles. It was obvious to us, it was obvious to the hospital staff and it was obvious to the Arab patients. Torah and Judaism are the default in Israel. You don’t have to go out of your way to feel Jewish, look Jewish, act Jewish. Judaism in Israel isn’t something that you do, separating and distinguishing you from the world that exists around you, rather, Judaism is the context within which everyone and everything already exists. It is not only the difference between being a majority and being a minority (though that is part of it as well). It is more about the difference between having all the communal mechanisms – national, municipal, cultural, etc… being framed by Jewish existence, followed by Jewish tradition and observance (even if partial).
That’s what it means to live in the land and State of Israel in this day and age. It’s the difference between being in a never ending struggle for Jewish survival and being part of the revival, rejuvenation, and flourishing of Am Yisrael and Torat Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.
May our daughter, Aliyah, be a constant reminder to us all about what is expected of us as Jews – as well as what we we stand to gain by – ascending to Israel!”

“I’M ALIYAH. HOW ABOUT YOU?”

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Filed under Chagim/Holidays, Israel, Politics, Zionism

The Fool on the Hill – is it me or everyone else?

An old Israeli joke tells of a certain Israeli politician (who for politically correctness purposes shall remain nameless) who, while driving on the highway, receives a call from his wife. Frantically, she informs him she just heard on the news that some lunatic is driving in the wrong direction on the highway. Even more frantically, he responds “one lunatic? there ALL driving in the wrong direction”!

That kind of sums up my underlying feeling during Sukkot in Toronto so far. So much of it seemed “off”, purely ritualistic, even fake. A few examples are these:
1. During the days leading up to the Chag, everyone was busy building Sukkot and buying Arba’at Haminim. I couldn’t help but feel they are missing the point – these are celebrations of the land of Israel and by choosing to celebrate it in Chutz La’aretz it seems an imitation, even a mockery.
2. The Birkat Kohanim during Chagim in Chutz La’aretz has a special atmosphere due to its rarity; announcements are made and special tunes are used, etc… But for some reason all I could think of during Birkat Kohanim is that the rest of the year we DON’T say Birkat Kohanim in Chutz La’aretz because there is no Simcha (joy) in Chutz La’aretz except on Chagim and Simcha is a prerequisite for blessing the people. Was I the only one thinking to myself “this reminds me – why do I choose to live in a place which is Halachically defined as joyless and without happiness?” or, “what is wrong with the way I lead my life that I don’t even notice that my life is defined as Halachically joyless?”
3. The first two days of Sukkot had wonderful weather. For the first time in years, supposedly, all meals of the first two days could be eaten, comfortably, in the Succah. I was speaking with an acquaintance after Shul on the second day when she said “this Sukkot weather is so great. It’s like being in Israel!”.
Am I the only crazy one who couldn’t just enjoy the Chag, with its myriad beautiful Mitzvot, or is everyone else crazy for not realizing that once you choose to stay in Galut all that’s left is empty, insincere rituals? especially with a holiday like Sukkot?

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Filed under Chagim/Holidays, Israel and Galut