As Jews, history is our everyday companion. The past is not just prelude. It is present.It is today. It is now. The very idea of forgetting our history is anathema to an engaged and aware Jew seeking to live a meaningful and spiritual Jewish life.
To be such a Jew is to ask Who am I? and to know that the question – and its answer – must be weighed against the awesome backdrop of our history.
I feel the power of this burden and gift – both temporal and spiritual – when I daven in Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue on the Yamim Noraim and Sukkot. There, the tefillot, led by world renowned Chazzan Chaim Adler and accompanied by the incomparable choir and maestro Eli Jaffe, lift my spirit to soaring heights.
Is there any other time in one’s life when one can feel any closer to God’s heavenly chorus? There are those who compare the experience to what it must have been like to hear the Levi’im in the Beit HaMikdash.
The aura, the dignity, the ruach of Chazzan Adler and Eli Jaffe’s musical genius cannot help but lift one heavenward.
There are, of course, other magnificent synagogues. Los Angeles. Vienna. Budapest. Rome. New York. These and other cities around the globe boast wonderful houses of worship, filled too with the voices of angels. But the Great Synagogue is in Jerusalem. How can it help but fill one with inspiration? When Chazzan Adler chants the Ribbono shel Olam before the open Ark on the Yomim Noraim, I can feel the personal conversation he is having with God.
“Fulfill my requests for good, grant my request, be mindful of us for deliverance and compassion…remember us for a good, long life…give us bread to eat, clothes to wear…”
Every human need is articulated in this bakashah.
Such a powerful prayer. But powerful as well are the prayers affirming the miracle of the rebirth of Israel in 1948, as well as the prayers affirming the ultimate sacrifice of those who gave their lives so that we could have a rebuilt Eretz Yisrael.
“…[S]hield it under the wings of Your loving kindness and spread over it the Tabernacle of peace…. Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land…crown them with the crown of victory…”
How can one not be moved to tears as he reflects on the miracle of every stone and each blade of grass in this blessed land that God has ordained to return to His children after so many centuries of galut?
I was born just weeks after the state’s own miraculous birth, as the War of Independence raged. My parents arrived in Palestine on the very last boat to sail from Romania. They were broken and degraded but they were determined to find renewal in the Holy Land. For my family, galut and geulah are not chapters in a history book. They are real life experiences.
How could I not, then, stand in the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem and shed tears – tears of joy and tears of pain, tears that bear witness to the wholeness of our history, our suffering and our deliverance? Yet even as I cry – even as I listen to the sacred words of thanksgiving, joy, hope, and trepidation – I cannot help but think of Brooklyn – where hardly a synagogue even contemplates reciting these sacred words.
How, given the reality of our history, can such a thing be?
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For my family, for me, Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut have never been mere dates on the calendar but, rather, days filled with heart-piercing memories that demand reflection, remembrance, and, ultimately, by the grace of God, celebration. So it was for all other Jews I grew up with.