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October 27, 2016 / 25 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘JOY’

The Deep Power Of Joy

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

On 14 October 1663 the famous diarist Samuel Pepys paid a visit to the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Creechurch Lane in the city of London. Jews had been exiled from England in 1290 but in 1656, following an intercession by Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel of Amsterdam, Oliver Cromwell concluded that there was in fact no legal barrier to Jews living there. So for the first time since the thirteenth century Jews were able to worship openly.

The first synagogue, the one Pepys visited, was simply a private house belonging to a successful Portuguese Jewish merchant, Antonio Fernandez Carvajal, that had been extended to house the congregation. Pepys had been in the synagogue once before, at the memorial service for Carvajal who died in 1659. That occasion had been somber and decorous. What he saw on his second visit was something else altogether, a scene of celebration that left him scandalized. This is what he wrote in his diary:

… after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles (i.e. tallitot), and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press (i.e. the Aron) to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing … But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this.

Poor Pepys. No one told him that the day he chose to come to the synagogue was Simchat Torah, nor had he ever seen in a house of worship anything like the exuberant joy of the day when we dance with the Torah scroll as if the world was a wedding and the book a bride, with the same abandon as King David when he brought the holy ark into Jerusalem.

Joy is not the first word that naturally comes to mind when we think of the severity of Judaism as a moral code or the tear-stained pages of Jewish history. As Jews we have degrees in misery, postgraduate qualifications in guilt, and gold-medal performances in wailing and lamentation. Someone once summed up the Jewish festivals in three sentences: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Yet in truth what shines through so many of the psalms is pure, radiant joy. And joy is one of the keywords of the book of Devarim. The root s-m-ch appears once each in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, but 12 times in Devarim, seven of them in our parsha.

What Moses says again and again is that joy is what we should feel in the land of Israel, the land given to us by God, the place to which the whole of Jewish life since the days of Abraham and Sarah has been a journey. The vast universe with its myriad galaxies and stars is God’s work of art, but within it planet earth, and within that the land of Israel, and the sacred city of Jerusalem, is where He is closest, where His presence lingers in the air, where the sky is the blue of heaven and the stones are a golden throne. There, said Moses, in “the place the Lord your God will choose … to place His Name there for His dwelling” (Deut. 12:5), you will celebrate the love between a small and otherwise insignificant people and the God who, taking them as His own, lifted them to greatness.

It will be there, said Moses, that the entire tangled narrative of Jewish history would become lucid, where a whole people – “you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no hereditary portion with you” – will sing together, worship together and celebrate the festivals together, knowing that history is not about empire or conquest, nor society about hierarchy and power, that commoner and king, Israelite and priest are all equal in the sight of God, all voices in his holy choir, all dancers in the circle at whose centre is the radiance of the Divine. This is what the covenant is about: the transformation of the human condition through what Wordsworth called “the deep power of joy.”

Happiness (in Greek eudaemonia), Aristotle said, is the ultimate purpose of human existence. We desire many things, but usually as a means to something else. Only one thing is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else, namely happiness.

There is such a sentiment in Judaism. The biblical word for happiness, Ashrei, is the first word of the book of Psalms and a key word of our daily prayers. But far more often, Tanach speaks about simcha, joy – and they are different things. Happiness is something you can feel alone, but joy, in Tanach, is something you share with others. For the first year of marriage, rules Devarim (24:5) a husband must “stay at home and bring joy to the wife he has married.” Bringing first-fruits to the Temple, “You and the Levite and the stranger living among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” (26:11). In one of the most extraordinary lines in the Torah, Moses says that curses will befall the nation not because they served idols or abandoned God but “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness out of the abundance of all things” (28:47). A failure to rejoice is the first sign of decadence and decay.

There are other differences. Happiness is about a lifetime but joy lives in the moment. Happiness tends to be a cool emotion, but joy makes you want to dance and sing. It’s hard to feel happy in the midst of uncertainty. But you can still feel joy. King David in the Psalms spoke of danger, fear, dejection, sometimes even despair, but his songs usually end in the major key:


For His anger lasts only a moment,
but His favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning …

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (Psalm 30:6-13)


In Judaism joy is the supreme religious emotion. Here we are, in a world filled with beauty. Every breath we breathe is the spirit of God within us. Around us is the love that moves the sun and all the stars. We are here because someone wanted us to be. The soul that celebrates, sings.

And yes, life is full of grief and disappointments, problems and pains, but beneath it all is the wonder that we are here, in a universe filled with beauty, among people each of whom carries within them a trace of the face of God. Robert Louis Stevenson rightly said: “Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.”

In Judaism, faith is not a rival to science, an attempt to explain the universe. It’s a sense of wonder, born in a feeling of gratitude. Judaism is about taking life in both hands and making a blessing over it. It is as if God had said to us: I made all this for you. This is my gift. Enjoy it and help others to enjoy it also. Wherever you can, heal some of the pain that people inflict on one another, or the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Because pain, sadness, fear, anger, envy, resentment, these are things that cloud your vision and separate you from others and from Me.

Kierkegaard once wrote: “It takes moral courage to grieve. It takes religious courage to rejoice.” I believe that with all my heart. So I am moved by the way Jews, who know what it is to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, still see joy as the supreme religious emotion. Every day we begin our morning prayers with a litany of thanks, that we are here, with a world to live in, family and friends to love and be loved by, about to start a day full of possibilities, in which, by acts of loving kindness, we allow God’s presence to flow through us into the lives of others. Joy helps heal some of the wounds of our injured, troubled world.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Faith is the Joy of Religious Doubt and Uncertainty-Part II

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Faith means striving for faith. It is never an arrival. It can only burst forth at singular moments. It does not arise out of logical deduction, but out of uncertainty, which is its natural breeding ground.

To have faith is to live with unresolved doubts, prepared to rise above ourselves and our wisdom. Looking into the Jewish tradition with its many debates, one clearly understands that those who deny themselves the comfort of certainty are much more authentic than those who are sure.

Faith means that we worship and praise God before we affirm His existence; we respond before we question. Man can die for something even as he is unsure of its true existence, because his inner faith tells him it is right to do so. This honest admission of doubt is not only the very reason why it is possible to be religious in modern times; it is the actual stimulus to do so.

We need to understand that faith is “the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises” (1), and “we can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand” (2).

To believe is not to prove, not to explain, but to yield to a vision.

Of course belief cannot be credo quia absurdum est. It has to make sense and have a lot to say for itself in terms of knowledge and wisdom. Still, just as no building stands on rock-bottom, but on unsure pillars deeply driven into the ground so as to resist an earthquake, so must belief have enough strength to prove its worth without ever reaching absolute certainty.

Faith is like music. It is true because of its beauty not because of its intellectual certainty. Is it not created from impossible paradoxes, as well as a great deal of imagination that surpasses rationality and scientific or historical facts?

The truly great need no synthesis. They absorb whatever experience offers them. Their intensely creative personalities act like a fiery furnace, melting away contradictions. What emerges is either a harmonious whole or a creative parallelism with parts that mutually fructify and supplement each other. The truly great do not need to trim edges, as it were, to make genuine experiences fit with each other. They preserve them intact. And if their experiences appear contradictory, they build an emotional bridge spanning them allowing both the landscape and the water to be seen. Lesser mortals resort to logical means of harmonization (3).

The aim of halacha is to teach us the art of living with uncertainty. Halacha was not meant for those who are sure, because nobody can act out of certainty.

The most challenging question in all of life is what do you do and what do you believe when you are not sure. It is that notion that moves the scientist, the philosopher, and most of all the religious personality. We must destroy the security of all conventional knowledge and undo the normalcy of all that is ordinary. To be religious is to realize that no final conclusions have ever been reached or can ever be reached.

Halacha is the upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of living while remaining in theological suspense. In that way, Judaism doesn’t turn into a religion that either becomes paralyzed in awe of a rigid tradition, or evaporates into a utopian reverie. This dynamic can only come about when Jewish beliefs consist of fluid matter, which halacha then turns into a solid substance. The purpose of halacha is to chill the heated steel of exalted beliefs and turn them into pragmatic deeds without allowing the inner heat to be cooled off entirely. Jewish beliefs are like arrows, which dart hither and thither, wavering as though shot into the air from a slackened bowstring, while halacha must be straight and unswerving but still adaptable.

Indeed, we should be careful not to make faith into an intellectual issue. It is much more than that. The moment we look down on those who continue to have unshakable faith, considering them primitive in face of the many challenges, we have overlooked an important dimension of real faith. Besides the fact that such an attitude reflects arrogance, it also misses an important point: Faith is always more than just thinking about faith. Yes, those people who have lost their faith yet still hold on to it, honestly attempting by way of discussion and study to give their lost faith a new shape, should be deeply respected. At the same time, we should not forget that they are searching for something that the “simple” believer already has.

When we place the reflection on faith higher than the direct experience of faith, we are involved in a purely intellectual endeavor. The search for faith can only be genuine when it is personal, deep, and emotional, and the intellect only plays a small part. The accompanying qualities must be humility, the notion of inadequacy, and a strong urge to find authentic faith.  Genuine belief is a way of living, not an academic undertaking. It is an experience in which the whole of the human being is engaged.

Doubt only appeals to the intellect. The intellectual approach to faith is always a barer form of existence than faith itself. The reason is obvious. Besides our critical assessment, the other human faculties remain idle. Trust, hope, love and the notion that one is part of something bigger no longer play a role. Instead, life becomes nothing more than only itself. When doubt and skepticism are no longer the most important faculties through which one seeks religious faith, only then is it possible to actually find it. Skepticism, though it has its place, should not be at the center of one’s search. In today’s climate there is a certain gratification in going to the extremes of genius and brilliance until one nearly loses that which one would like to discover.  Intellectual thought and scientific discovery can never cover the sum total of the inner life of man. When one prays, one is involved in something that the intellect can never reach. When one studies Torah and hears its divine voice, it becomes something different than what academic study can ever achieve. It is in a separate category, which is closed to the solely scientific mind.

It is crucial that we see these facts for what they are. Only when we realize that intellectual certainty is not the primary path toward finding religious truth, will we be able to deal with our new awareness that the transitional phase we now experience has great purpose and has to be part of our religious struggle and identity. It won’t be easy. Novelty, as always, carries with it a sense of violation, a kind of sacrilege. Most people are more at home with that which is common than with that which is different. But go it must.

1. Samuel Butler and Francis Hackett, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (Nabu Press, 2010)

   p. 27.

2. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010) p. 81.

3. Rabbi Professor David Weiss Halivni, “Professor Saul Lieberman z.l.,” Conservative

   Judaism, vol. 38, (Spring 1986) pp. 6-7.


Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

49 Years Of A United Jerusalem: Joy, Amazement – And Concern

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

As we mark with joy and thanksgiving the 49th birthday of united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty this Sunday, let us put aside our concerns for Jerusalem’s future for a moment and simply celebrate.

It was during these very days in 1967 that the IDF, with great heroism and Divine providence, liberated the Jewish people’s holy capital – and brought about its official unification under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in nearly 19 centuries.

Like Israel’s Independence Day, Jerusalem Day provides a choice opportunity to reflect on arguably one of history’s most amazing pairs of complementary phenomena: On the one hand, the consolidation of the Jewish people, dispersed around the globe for nearly 2,000 years while they underwent persecution, longing, and anticipation that their prophets’ predictions of their return would be fulfilled – and on the other hand, the unwavering “loyalty” shown this exiled nation by its homeland, which refused to accept the mastery of any other people throughout its centuries of desolation.

And finally, in our lifetimes, these two extraordinary marvels converged – and the Jewish people were again an independent nation in their own homeland. “How fortunate is the eye that these they beheld!”

Visitors to Yerushalayim on Jerusalem Reunification Day – the 28th of Iyar, the third day of the Six-Day War (the 5th of June this year) – will be treated to a display of the deep-seated joy felt by the residents, and especially by the 100,000 young people from all around the country who descend on the capital to celebrate. The now-traditional Rikudgalim will be the centerpiece of the event: two separate musical parades for males and females waving Israeli flags and dancing and singing through the streets.

The city will abound on this day with other holiday events, including a midnight march from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav Kook to the Western Wall; the “Naaleh L’Yerushalayim” event for youth from around the country; singing and dancing at Yeshivat Beit Orot on Mt. Scopus; memorial events for fallen soldiers and Ethiopian Jewry; and events in Katamon, Kiryat Menachem, Ramot, downtown, and elsewhere.

The day will also be one of recognition and appreciation: The Moskowitz Prize for Zionism will be awarded to individuals “who put Zionism into action” in the City of David, and the “Yakir Yerushalayim” Award Ceremony, in which twelve Jerusalem residents will be bestowed with the decoration for having “influenced and contributed to the lives of all residents of the city.”

The central official event will be held at Ammunition Hill, between Ramat Eshkol and Police Headquarters, with the participation of President Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mayor Barkat, and others. It was there that a miraculous and decisive battle was heroically fought and won 49 years ago; though IDF troops had neither aerial nor artillery support, and despite the killing and wounding of many of the officers, they succeeded in capturing the well-protected and very strategic Jordanian fortress outpost.

To mark the anniversary, Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin and Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon have agreed on a five-year development for the city – an 850-million shekel budget that represents nearly a 250 percent increase over the just-ended five-year plan. The money will be earmarked for economic and hi-tech development; upgrading the city as a worldwide tourist capital; academia and culture; aid for small and medium businesses; and more.

On the other hand: Our concern for Jerusalem’s future has not waned, and reasons for our perpetual vigilance continue to present themselves. Here is just a short sampling of worrisome headlines from the past week:

City councilman Aryeh King said that the ongoing and massive illegal construction by Arabs in Jerusalem is “undoubtedly the most significant platform for the de-facto creation of a divided Jerusalem.” Although illegal construction of any type must be negated, he said, “it cannot be that when a Jew builds an extra room, inspectors immediately arrive on the scene and put a stop to it, while Arabs build structures of 8, 12 and 14 stories, and barely anything is ever done to stop it. It gives the message that there is no justice and no judge, and that they can do whatever they like, not only in building illegally but also in terms of drugs, robberies, stealing water and electricity… This is what happens when we cede our sovereignty …”

Dozens of activists protested Sunday against the relocation of government offices and the public broadcasting authority outside the capital. The protestors said we are facing a “disengagement from Jerusalem” and chanted “A capital without government – a disgrace to the state…”

PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas declared yet again that he sees eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the “future state of Palestine.” He insisted that he is not even willing to consider Jerusalem as a joint capital of two states, or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

But worst of all is the new life that the Ramon Plan keeps receiving – the one promulgated by former Kadima Party and Histadrut leader Chaim Ramon, calling for a unilateral withdrawal from parts of Yerushalayim. The most recent expression of support came from, of all people, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who explained this week why we should simply transfer several Arab-populated areas from the Jerusalem municipality to Palestinian Authority control.

This, despite the tremendous international pressures that would result to “keep on going” and divide the city totally, as well as the expected security and other dangers to which it would lead.

In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the following at the Jerusalem Day commemoration at Ammunition Hill:

“For us, there is only one Jerusalem, and no other. It will be ours forever, and will never again be in the hands of foreigners…. We will fearlessly face the entire world and will ensure the future of united Jerusalem. For Jerusalem is the anchor, root of life, and faith of the Jewish people and we will never again part with it.

“Whoever wishes to know this should open the Bible, read and understand. Historic Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish people for over 3,000 years, will always be one, united, the capital of the state of Israel forever and ever.”

Many similarly beautiful and dramatic words have been expressed about Jerusalem and its eternal unity – yet we are well aware that words alone are far from sufficient. Given the current climate, how vigilant and proactive must we be to safeguard Jerusalem’s future.


To support KeepJerusalem’s efforts to ensure that Jerusalem remains united under Israeli sovereignty, and to take part in learning tours of critical areas of the city, send an email to tours@keepjerusalem.com and visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.

Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org

From Sorrow To Joy

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Beit Levinstein is a rehabilitation hospital in Ra’anana which sees its share of heartbreaking cases. As a friend recently commented, it’s a good place to get perspective. And then he told me the following story:Saltsman-051316-Group

Two women who didn’t know each other previously were both patients at Beit Levinstein. They got to know each other and discovered that they each knew a famous religious Israeli singer. They each called their respective stars, Yisrael Parness and Achia Rubin, and together organized an evening of entertainment that raised the roof (or at least the morale) at the hospital. That uplifting concert, and the subsequent healing it provided, would never have taken place had these women not been hospitalized together.

The expression “miyagon l’simcha” usually signifies an averted tragedy, a respite or salvation coming in the blink of an eye. But it has another meaning as well: when joy comes as a result of sorrow – when sorrow was the required prerequisite for a certain joy to occur. Like in the above story.

When my friend Etana died last year at the age of 55, hundreds of people were devastated. She left behind 6 children, 5 children-in-law, a father, grandchildren, friends, colleagues, neighbors, students and a devoted husband who all mourned deeply.

Saltsman-051316-EtanaBut this Adar, her first yahrzeit was commemorated with the unveiling of a beautiful mikveh in Eliav, a mixed community in the South of Israel. Named Neharot Etana, it is one of the most beautiful mikvaos I have ever seen and the dedication was followed by a moving and uplifting evening. The mikveh was built through hundreds of donations from friends and family who rallied around the cause and worked hard to have it built on time for the yahrzeit. If you know how building schedules go in Israel, this is nothing short of a miracle. “And,” quipped Dr. Alan Friedman, Etana’s husband, “how many people have ever been to Eliav before?” This is a remote community in the Chevel Lachish part of the country; very few of us had ever been there. This afforded us the additional mitzvah of saying “baruch maytziv gvul almanah” – which can be said when seeing built-up Jewish homes like at the time of the second Temple.Saltsman-051316-Mikvah

Though the mikveh is the biggest link in the chain of mitzvahs adorning Etana’s legacy, it is not the only one. Alan told the following story: He had found in Etana’s purse a letter of thanks to one of their kids’ teachers which she had not had had a chance to mail. While trying to find the teacher’s address, Alan called a neighbor who apologized for not paying a shiva call as her husband had passed away at the same time. Alan then organized some financial help for the neighbors who were now without a breadwinner.

Space in this article does not allow for the not yet exhausted list of mitzvos and stories of inspiration that Etana’s too early parting has produced, but they do illustrate how a person can continue to positively contribute to this world even after he or she has moved on to the next one. What it also demonstrates is how joy, so often perceived as the opposite of sorrow, is more often the outcome of it.

Saltsman-051316-EntranceIt is the hallmark of the Jewish people to take tragedy and turn it into cause for celebration. Did modern-day Israel, so dear to Etana that she moved her entire extended family there, not rise from the ashes of the Holocaust?

Rosally Saltsman

Shiloh Musings: From Mourning to Joy!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

From Mourning to Joy!

Yes, that’s the Israeli way.

After a very long depressing day of mourning our dead, those murdered by Arab terrorists and killed in the wars we fight to defend ourselves, keep our precious country alive and well, we quickly change modes and celebrate our country’s continued independence.

I know that there are many people who find it totally incomprehensible that we have this custom here in Israel, to burst into joy after so sincerely mourning our dead, but I davka, consider it such an important and sensible way to celebrate our independence.

Growing up in America, I never really understood what “Memorial Day” was all about. Actually, it wouldn’t a “day;” it was a weekend to enjoy. And the story behind Independence Day was more like ancient history, even in my time. And also, the American wars had nothing really to do with the survival of the united States as a country.

In Israel things are very different.

Here in Israel we are all connected somehow. Memorial Day is a school day , and every school has ceremonies to commemorate the dead and to teach the children that our state/country id not come into existence on a silver platter. Nor can it continue to exist unless there are soldiers to defend it, which is why there’s a draft. And our enemies don’t restrict their attacks to soldiers. We suffer from guerrilla warfare attacks on civilians in neighborhoods, buses and even private homes.

To be honest, we don’t exactly go from mourning to joy without a bit of ceremony in between. That is the Eve of Independence Day Prayers, which are very participatory and thrilling.

Chag Atzma’ut Sameach!
Have a Joyful Independence Day!

Batya Medad

Daniel Mandel: The Joy, the Lone Oak, and a Special Torah Scroll

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

{Reprinted with permission from the Israellycool website}

Thirteen years ago, on April 15,2003, Lt. Daniel Mandel, of the Nahal Brigade, was murdered by a terrorist. Only three weeks later, Daniel’s sister gave birth to a son. Daniel’s mother Cheryl told the young parents, “Don’t call this baby ‘Daniel.’”

Cheryl’s son in-law said, “No one is going to tell me what to call my son.”

The boy was named Gilad, a name which, when sliced in two (Gil and Ad) means “eternal joy.”

His name was like a show of faith, a symbol. This was a family that would grow and continue in spite of an enemy’s hate. There would be joy in spite of the harsh blow dealt them. There would be this son. And there would absolutely be joy.

Thirteen years have passed since that sad and terrible Passover Eve, thirteen years since Daniel’s young life was stolen away forever. Now it is time for Gilad, the boy who came to life in the wake of an uncle’s tragic death, to celebrate his bar mitzvah. This is a boy with the weight of a family legacy on his young shoulders. A boy who must (and does) bring joy.

Just as Gilad’s birth and name are symbols of hope and continuation, joy and eternity, so is the famous Lone Oak Tree that stands as the very symbol of Gush Etzion where the Mandel family and Gilad live. This famous tree is hundreds of years old and remains at the center of a story of bravery and longing. The story begins only a few short weeks before David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel.

Back then, Gush Etzion consisted of four kibbutzim. The families who lived there were under constant siege by the Jordanian Legion and by Arab guerrilla fighters. As the British Mandate was winding down to its inglorious end, the attacks became a near-constant fixture of life in the Gush. It was decided to send the women and children of the Gush to Jerusalem to wait out the war. It simply wasn’t safe for them at home any longer. Around 130 men and a small number of women stayed behind to defend their homes and all that they had built, hardscrabble, with their own two hands.

Just three days before Ben Gurion’s declaration of statehood, the Gush Etzion defenders were overpowered by the Jordanian Legion.  The Jordanians gathered the fighters together, claiming they wanted to take a photograph of the rout for posterity. Instead of photographing the group of defenders, the Jordanians murdered them in cold blood: shot them dead.

Gush Etzion had come under Jordanian control.  But once a year, the families of the Jewish fighters who had been so cruelly slaughtered, would gather on a high hilltop in Jerusalem where they could see the Lone Oak Tree in the distance, that 700-year-old-tree. That tree meant everything to them. Reaching that tree, returning and rebuilding the Gush, all of it was tied up in the symbolism that was embodied by that one lonely tree.


Finally, in 1967, during the Six Day War, Gush Etzion returned to its rightful owners, the Jewish people. Today, instead of four kibbutzim, there are 22 communities and a total population of over 70,000 people: men, women, and children. The Lone Oak Tree watched it all unfold, remaining steadfast, and most of all, there, where we yearned to be, until we too, were there.

It makes sense then, that the Lone Tree and Daniel Mandel and Gilad have had their fates intertwined. Gilad has begun to lay tefillin, Daniel’s tefillin (phyllacteries). And in order to commemorate the 13th year since Daniel’s murder, his parents are dedicating a Torah scroll in Daniel’s name, to the Sephardi synagogue they attend.

It is from this Sefer Torah that Gilad will read his Bar Mitzvah portion, continuing a link in the chain of the Mandel family in Gush Etzion, and bringing joy to his people, never forgetting the great sacrifice of his Uncle Daniel, HY”D, may God avenge his blood. The new Torah scroll, and Gilad’s bar mitzvah bring everything full circle for the Mandel family and in many ways, for the people of Gush Etzion.

Lone Oak Torah Cover by Batsheva Arad of Bat Ayin.

Lone Oak Torah Cover by Batsheva Arad of Bat Ayin.

Already, the last letter was inscribed in the scroll, since one doesn’t write letters on Pesach. And on Wednesday of this week, on Chol HaMoed Pesach, at 4 PM, the Mandel family will hold a dedication ceremony for the new Torah scroll. That is when everyone will see the beautiful Torah cover created by Batsheva Arad who lives in Bat Ayin, a community in Gush Etzion. The Torah cover depicts the Lone Oak.

Then too, the crowd might notice the wooden rollers of the Torah, each known as an “Etz Chaim” or “Living Tree.” These rollers are also filled with symbolism, made as they were of wood trimmed from the Lone Oak Tree, and lovingly crafted by Gidi Kelman of Neve Daniel,  also a community in Gush Etzion.

Cheryl, Daniel’s mother and Gilad’s grandmother, is expecting a crowd. She had 200 labels made up, depicting that Torah cover with its stately Lone Oak. The labels are for the 200 water bottles purchased for celebrants at the dedication ceremony (she hopes you’ll be among them).

18 Boys Named Daniel!

Cheryl didn’t want Gilad’s life to be forged in mourning in the shadow of his uncle’s death. And so she wasn’t prepared for him to be named after her murdered son so soon after his death. But here too, there is parity and meaning. Thirteen years on, there are exactly 18 babies who have been named Daniel, after Daniel Mandel. Eighteen as you probably know or might have guessed, is the numerical value of Chai, the Hebrew word for “Life.”

Because the Lone Oak still stands and life goes on in Gush Etzion. There may be times of sadness and mourning, but joy will always win out in the end.


Varda Meyers Epstein

Not Enough Joy and Meaning

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The recent NY Times article on the newly released PEW findings on Jewish continuity paints a bleak future for American Jewry. The study, among other findings, reported that nearly six in ten Jewish respondents (58%) who have gotten married since 2000, have married a non-Jewish spouse. The study also showed that only 20 percent of those who have intermarried are raising their children Jewish by religion.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this worsening situation including a serious lack of Jewish education for most American Jews, a more than ever distracting world in which living any kind of religious life becomes more challenging, and many other contributing factors. However I believe there is another cause, which I have seen in my 20 years of outreach to the young and less affiliated: the sheer lack of joy or meaning that so many young Jews associate with Judaism.

More often than not, the perception young people have of Judaism is of a faith filled with rules and restrictions which offers little or no joy or meaning in return.

But why should young Jews be left with any other impression? When Yom Kippur continues to be the most celebrated Jewish experience in synagogue what else should we expect? How many American Jews are present for the somber Yom Kippur service, complete with fasting and chest-pounding/forgiveness asking but are no-where to be found the next week when joyous singing and dancing in honor of Simchat Torah takes place? That balance of reverence and joy is vital to keep our interest and it is so authentically Jewish. In the Temple of old, the Beit Hamikdash, the feeling on Yom Kippur was one of awe and even trepidation as the High Priest performed the service to secure atonement for all of Israel, but the next week that same Temple was filled with a sense of joy and exuberance during the Simchat Beit Hoshava (water drawing ceremony) on which which the Talmud tells us: “Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”

Like most synagogues, MJE has always drawn larger numbers for its Yom Kippur services than for Simchat Torah. This year however, for the very first time, we had approximately the same number of participants for both holidays. It took us 15 years but we did it. The same number of previously less affiliated 20’s/30’s who were willing to fast and pray with us on Yom Kippur returned to sing and dance with us on Simchat Torah.

Young Jews desperately need to experience both the serious and lighter sides of Judaism. We can no longer allow our beloved faith to be marketed as a religion of guilt and restriction without even trying to present it for what it truly is: a path which can ultimately bring joy and meaning to contemporary life. And we must learn to properly articulate how the limitations Judaism does place on our lives are important in helping to create that more joyous and meaningful existence.

The goal of our synagogues and Jewish institutions today must be to demonstrate this balance of reverence and joy; fealty to tradition with personnel meaning and relevance. Jewish educators need to be better trained to invest more explanation and inspiration into our prayer services and provide greater depth and insight as to how living a life of Torah can actually improve our lives and make us happier and more fulfilled people.

Otherwise, for most American Jews, why bother?

Rabbi Mark Wildes

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/not-enough-joy-and-meaning/2013/10/07/

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