I had planned on writing about my Shabbat here in New York, but on Motza’ei Shabbat I heard about something that happened in America that deserves more attention.
A group of Israeli teenagers were competing in an international competition in robotics in Houston, Texas. Their team consisted of students from the Amit High School in Modi’in. They had succeeded in reaching the final stage of the competition which was held on Shabbat.
They wrote a letter in which they explained that they observed Shabbat and were not willing to compromise their values for the sake of the competition. In their otherwise empty booth, they had left Shabbat candles, challah, a Kiddush cup, and an Israeli flag, together with a short explanation of what Shabbat is all about.
The announcer at the competition read their letter in front of all the other competitors and then something surprising happened. Students from all over the world stood up and applauded. The announcer then spoke these words: “Thank you for the reminder that there are other things outside the world of robotics that are also important.”
Two Customs Of This Special Day
Last week in Israel was Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. A grieving brother who wishes to remain anonymous wrote me as follows:
“When we leave the cemetery, we observe two customs. It’s one moment before we get into a hot car that was standing in the sun, one moment before looking at our cell phones, one moment before getting back to the world.
The first custom is to place a stone on the grave. A stone symbolizes building. It symbolizes our taking the legacy and the spirit of the one who passed away and building the world in his light. A flower fades but a stone endures.
But there is one more custom: *On leaving the cemetery, we wash our hands*. We take a vessel and fill it with “living” water that symbolizes blossoming and growth. We pour the water over our hands that represent creative work.
I once went on a group tour of Mount Herzl and happened to meet Miriam Peretz there. She lost two sons to war and, turning to our group, spoke as follows: ‘Stones and living water are not just meant as customs. They incorporate a perspective that we must take with us as we venture forth from this holy day.’
In the memory of my brother, in the memory of them all.”
When Will We Understand?
A day before Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, I was giving a lecture at a Jewish school in New York. I showed a picture of a street rally in Tiberias where someone was holding up a sign that read: “When will we understand that all of us here are brothers?” I explained that these words were written by Ma’ayan Asor, who had lived in Tiberias and was killed together with his sister Sahar in a flash flood in the Negev.
Ma’ayan wrote these words after the murders of three sets of siblings: the Paley brothers, the Yaniv brothers, and the Dee sisters. He wrote them in a post before he and his sister themselves were killed.
And then a teacher at the school said that in this week’s Torah portion it is written: “And you shall love your fellow as yourself.” One of the students said that American and Israeli Jews are brothers, but this is never talked about. And then another student said that, in her opinion, G-d is also asking us: “When will you understand that you are brothers?”
I once thought that “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” was just a cliche. But now these words sound transformative, even revolutionary. May we appreciate their meaning here and now.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin