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December 25, 2014 / 3 Tevet, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Yom’

Looking For God In Our Skyscrapers

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Over the last decade, Tisha B’Av, the day that we traditionally mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, has been admitted to the pantheon of Jewish holy days that are not for the observant only: holy days that speak to everyone.

Yom Kippur has always been there. It is the private holy day, special to us all. A solid majority of the Jews in Israel fast on that day. Even those who do not fast feel something special: they respect the day and search for its meaning. Yom Kippur does not just pass us by like the holiday of Shavuot, for example.

Pesach is another holy day that has always been a holiday for all the Jews. It is the family holiday. The Seder night – kosher-for-Passover or not – is celebrated by Jewish families everywhere. It is a holiday that has not been separated from the nation by the walls of religion.

What we still lack is the national dimension, the dimension that retains a void not filled by banging on plastic hammers on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Yom Ha’atzmaut always leaves us with a vague sense of emptiness.

The collective subconscious that pulls the young people of Tel Aviv’s trendy Shenkin Street to alternative lamentations on the city rooftops discovers something in Tisha B’Av. It longs for the spiritual national dimension. It searches for meaning and warmth.

Real Israeli culture, the authentic national creation that we are all looking for, the point that affords meaning and validity to our national existence, is there – in our Father’s house, from which we were exiled and to where we will return.

Return to religion enriches the returnee. But usually it is at the expense of the real achievement of the return to Zion, Israel’s rising and return from the dimension of community to the dimension of nation – at the expense of the return to reality and history.

Generally speaking (and yes, there are certainly exceptions), the returnee to religion is no longer interested in the news, politics or the state. He has found his personal happiness and leaves the rest to the Messiah. His God is not so relevant outside his home, study hall or synagogue.

The new generation, however, wants God to be relevant in all dimensions. It doesn’t want to escape into religion. It wants a grand message, rectification of the world; neither to go backward into pre-Zionism nor to be stuck in the place bereft of identity and meaning in which Zionism – which shed all regard for religion – finds itself today.

The new generation wants it all. It wants to go forward into religion, to a Torah that is also a relevant culture and to a God who is with us here, in our modernity. It wants to proceed in our multilevel interchanges, in our skyscrapers, and in our hi-tech. It is looking for a God who is with us in our most private moments, in our most national triumphs, and in our most universal aspirations. The new generation wants warmth, a sense of belonging and meaning. It wants to herald a great message. It wants a home: it’s Father’s home, the home to which we all belong.

It wants the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

About Those Supposedly Offensive Israeli Ads…

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Dear American Jews,

 

I wish to apologize in the name of the State of Israel. We have heard our ad campaign encouraging ex-pat Israelis to come home has offended many of you. That was certainly not the intent, and if it did offend, we are sorry.

 

Israel created this ad campaign in order to address a major issue. We have almost a million Israelis living abroad, mostly in North America, and our tiny country, the one both you and we love so much, is in desperate need of manpower to feed the economy, serve in the army, and buttress our demographic advantage, not to mention that the ingathering of the Jewish people from the four corners of the world is a central tenet of Zionism.

 

Alas, America’s magnetic pull has attracted many to leave the shores of the Holy Land in search of success and fortune and they have settled there. Yet we want to call many of these Israelis back to Israel.

 

So how do we reach out to our fellow Israelis living in the U.S.? What messaging resonates with this target demographic? Well, we can take the economic tack. Israel’s economy is booming, but the perception persists that it’s hard to make money here. Maybe we should pursue the safe haven tack? That holds water for those few Israelis living in openly dangerous places, but it is hard to convince an Israeli living in Los Angeles or Boston that it is safer in Israel.

 

Then there is the family and culture tack. Israeli ex-pats may have left the homeland, but they remain deeply Israeli. They love and miss Ima‘s Moroccan cooking, going on Miluim (IDF reserves) and, most of all, they miss the holidays, which include national holidays like Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom HaZikaron. They care about their culture and they fear losing their connection to it.

 

And so the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption conceived of and executed a series of ads targeting the sensibilities of Israelis – to touch their hearts, make them miss home, remind them of the risk of cultural assimilation and, maybe, help convince them to come back.

 

Let us examine the three videos that were produced.

 

The first features a boy trying to get his napping father’s attention. The child says aloud “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” But the father continues sleeping. Finally the boy whispers “Abba” and the father awakens and smiles.

 

The message is that the father responds to “Abba” because he is culturally Israeli, that is, in this case, someone who identifies more with Hebrew than English. The ad ends by saying that ex-pats will always remain culturally Israeli; however, their Diaspora born-children will not be. The presumption is that this will cause pain because of the cultural rift, so instead, Israelis should come home.

 

While this ad is provocative, it certainly cannot be seen as offensive to American Jewry. It directly targets Israelis and asks them a tough question: Do you want your child to say Daddy or Abba? Fair enough.

 

If, however, American Jewry was offended at the idea that Hebrew may be more culturally Jewish than English, that is something certainly worth debating. Clearly, Israelis living in Israel and abroad feel more comfortable with Hebrew and therefore the video is spot on.

 

The second video features a Skype conversation between two Israeli grandparents living in Israel and their older children who live in the U.S., now parents themselves. In between the young U.S. couple sits the beloved granddaughter. The grandparents have Chanukah paraphernalia in the background and ask their granddaughter, “Nu, so do you know what holiday it is?” to which the little girl proudly responds “Christmas!” The couples exchange uncomfortable glances.

 

Here, the Christmas/Chanukah conflict is more sensitive than the Abba/Daddy dichotomy. This video touches on the problems of the decaying Jewish identity and the forces of cultural assimilation affecting American Jews and Israelis in America. Can there be any doubt that the powerful pop culture of America wreaks havoc on authentic Jewish or Israeli culture? Can anyone seriously claim that this video created boogie men where none existed? Why else would there be constant talk of funding Jewish education, Hillel houses, Birthright trips etc.? There is a real challenge to keep Jews Jewish today  – and who understands that better than American Jews?  This video unflinchingly addresses a phenomenon that afflicts all Jews living in America.

 

The video that has the most potential to offend is the one that led Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic to post the loud headline: “Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews.”

 

Let’s go to the videotape: in the ad, a couple is seen entering a big city apartment. The room is dark, except for a single lit candle. The man tells the woman, “Now I understand why you didn’t want to go to the party” intimating that a romantic evening was planned by her. She, on the other hand, looks sad as she silently goes to her computer, where we see she is viewing a Yom HaZikaron (Israeli memorial day) website. As she quietly mourns the soldiers who have died to defend Israel, the young man asks “Dafna, what is this?” The narrator says: “They will always stay Israeli, but their partner won’t – help them come home.”

Where Did You Travel On Rosh Hashanah?

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

On the first day of this past Rosh Hashanah, I visited Milwaukee while my wife, Layala, traveled back to the shul of her youth in Brooklyn. When we met up later in the day for Yom Tov lunch at our Harrisburg, Pennsylvania home, we had a number of experiences to share with each other.

At this point I probably should explain those last two sentences, so that members of our shul do not get the wrong idea about how we spent Rosh Hashanah.

While any of our senses can help us tap into our repositories of memory, we know the singular power music and song have in helping us return to earlier times and places. The closer a tune is to our hearts and emotions, the more likely it can send us down the proverbial memory lane.

As observant Jews, there are probably no melodies closer to our hearts than those that stir our emotions each year during our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers.

No two shuls use the same tunes for each of the many parts of the Yom Tov davening. As such, when one spends Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur in a new venue, one is bound to hear different melodies used in the course of the davening.

Since we have come to associate certain parts of the davening with the tunes that are familiar to us, hearing a chazzan or congregation sing a different melody can cause us to stop and think of the tune we normally associate with that point in the service. Recalling the familiar melody often transports us to a memorable Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur davening of another time and place.

My trip down memory lane this past Rosh Hashanah was triggered the first time we sang “HaYom HaRas Olam” (Today is the World’s Birthday) during Mussaf. While Kesher Israel’s talented chazzan led the shul in a lovely tune for that prayer, it just was not the one I associate with that part of davening. As I softly sang the prayer to my familiar tune, I closed my eyes and felt myself transported to a Rosh Hashanah more than twenty years ago.

I am a ninth grade student at the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study (WITS) – Milwaukee’s yeshiva high school. Though I left my hometown of Cleveland just a few weeks ago, I can already feel a whole new world opening before me. In that short period of time I have begun the process of bonding with new friends from all over the country, learning and developing meaningful relationships with the yeshiva’s rebbeim and experiencing camaraderie the likes of which I have never known before.

With the entire yeshiva gathered in the WITS beis medrash, the Rosh Hashanah davening is incredible. Mussaf has begun. After reciting the “Hineni” prayer in his melodious voice, Rabbi Ephraim Becker leads us in the most beautiful and haunting and inspiring Kaddish I have ever heard, and each of us recites our Shemoneh Esrei.

During Chazaras HaShatz, Rabbi Raphael Wachsman flawlessly sounds the shofar three times. Immediately after each round of shofar blowing, Rabbi Becker leads the entire yeshiva as we loudly sing the most moving rendition of HaYom HaRas Olam I can imagine.

I happily spent all four years of yeshiva high school at WITS, and that memory of us all singing HaYom HaRas Olam together will always be seared in my mind. As soon as we reached that prayer at Kesher Israel this year on Rosh Hashanah, singing the tune I associate with it allowed me to revisit one of the most special and transformative periods in my life.

A Taste Of Eternity

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish year and it is also the strangest – because it seems to negate all that makes us human.

For this one day we step out of ourselves and become something else, something otherworldly. We are no longer part of this world as we know it. Denying our bodies food, drink, sex and any other possible physical pleasure, we act as if the normal impulses that make us human no longer exist. It is almost as if we have slipped out of physical life into immortality.

Perhaps that is what the Sages were trying to tell us when they said that Yom Kippur is the only time we say aloud the line, “Blessed is the name of His honorable majesty forever and ever (baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam vaed) in the recitation of the Shema.

Where did “baruch shem k’vod malchuto” originate? When Moses went up to heaven to receive the Tablets of the Covenant, he overheard the angels praising God with these words. When he returned to earth, he instructed the Jews concerning all the commandments he had received and he also taught them this sentence of praise.

But he said to them, “All the Torah and mitzvot I have given you I received openly from God, but this verse is something that I overheard the angels say when they praise the Holy One. I stole it from them, therefore say it in a whisper.”

It can be likened to someone who stole a jewel and gave it to his daughter, telling her, “All that I have given you, you may wear in public. But this jewel is stolen. Wear it only indoors!”

The Midrash continues, “Why, then, is it said aloud on Yom Kippur? Because then we are like angels, wearing white, not eating or drinking; nor do we have any sins or transgressions, for the Holy One Blessed Be He has forgiven all our transgressions” (Deuteronomy, Midrash Rabbah).

Usually, of course, we are not angels. Far from it. We have human needs and desires. We have impulses that can lead us into sin and transgression (but we also have the ability to channel them in a positive manner and live a good life).

We sin, all of us, in word, thought and deed. We are indeed human. The beauty of Judaism is that it recognizes our physical needs and our impulses. It does not seek to deny them but rather to regulate and control them.

Judaism is not about self-denial. The denial of the body is not praised or required. The pleasure of eating and drinking is acknowledged and is part of religious celebrations through seudat mitzvah, Shabbat and Yom Tov feasts. The act of eating is, however, controlled and regulated by the halachot of kashrut. Sexual desires are considered normal and positive (procreation is even the first of the 613 commandments) but they are controlled by the halachot of marriage and family relations.

So too the desire for wealth. We are not commanded to live lives of poverty, but we are told to share what we have with others through acts of tzedakah and to acquire our wealth honestly.

We know we are not without sin, which is why we are given the mitzvah and opportunity of confession and teshuvah, repentance. On Yom Kippur, however, we are given a taste of eternity, an experience of something otherworldly. We are like the angels, or as close to angels as human beings can get. When all physical needs are denied and canceled, we have a day during which we can concentrate on other matters – when we pray, think, contemplate and lift ourselves to a higher level of holiness and consciousness than normal.

Yom Kippur is the day of the soul. It is the one unique day in the year when we proclaim: “I’m a soul man.”

We begin with listening to the words of Kol Nidre, which conclude with the message “I have forgiven as you have asked” – the assurance that if we have properly repented during the last week, our sins have been blotted out. The burden of guilt has been lifted.

Yes, all during the day we continue to confess our sins, but that serves to make us aware of what we should avoid from now on and to help us plan a purer and holier life. We hear the words of Isaiah in the magnificent haftara of Yom Kippur that teaches us that all these actions, even fasting, are worthless if they do not lead to a life of help and caring for others.

And at the close of Yom Kippur, we experience an incredible inner joy when we move beyond consciousness of hunger into a feeling of renewed strength as we proclaim our most sacred beliefs.

We say the Shema, and the assertion that “The Lord is God” followed by the magnificent blast of the shofar – the shofar that proclaims liberty from sin and transgression, liberty from all that shackles the mind and the body.

At that moment we may not become angels, but we become something no less exalted – real menschen.

Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-taste-of-eternity/2011/10/05/

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