Until a few years ago, the only times Ishay Ribo performed, he played for a few friends in a room at his yeshiva. Two nights ago, he appeared before 14,000 people at the Madison Square Garden arena in New York City – the first Israeli singer to reach such heights.
Yet this achievement is not just an Israeli success story, but a Jewish one. Rabbi Mark Wildes of Manhattan wrote about this historic experience as follows:
“Fourteen thousand kids and adults, religious and secular, Americans and Israelis, were singing together – actually, praying together. For them, this was a night of inspiration, of pride, of celebrating their Judaism. Many base their Jewish identity on the Holocaust, on death, but we base ours on life, on the Torah, on song, on joy.
This night proved that Judaism does not belong only to grandma, but also to her grandchildren. Judaism is not just in black and white, but in color. 14,000 people sang with Ishay, with Akiva Turgeman, with Amir Dadon, and with Avraham Fried as, together, they cried out: “Ashrei ha’am she’kacha lo” (Praiseworthy is the people that has this). I thought to myself that I should, perhaps, bless “Shehechiyanu“.
The date advertised for this appearance was September 3rd, but the corresponding Hebrew date was the 18th of Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement. He is most famous for saying that the Messiah will come when, quoting Proverbs 5:16, ‘the wellsprings (of Torah) will spread outward’ – that is, to the most outward place there is, even to Madison Square Garden.”
Dreaming Big With Jews In The Persian Gulf
Last Friday afternoon I was at home in Jerusalem for a Zoom encounter. I had been invited to speak at a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony of the Association of Gulf Jewish communities. I was amazed to discover an organization that brings together the Jewish communities of Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Wow.
Someone led the singing of Lecha Dodi and Yedid Nefesh and everyone joined in. The weekly Torah portion was read and translated. I was requested to speak on the subject of Rosh Hashanah and I stated that this meeting was proof that we need to dream big as we approach the new year.
Who would have imagined just a few years ago that with a single click on a computer keyboard we could make such an instant, quality video connection between any two places on earth? Indeed, technology keeps leaping ahead at an accelerated pace, way beyond our wildest dreams.
And who would have thought that Houda Nonoo would become the first Jewish ambassador of any Arab country, and Bahrain’s first female ambassador to the United States, as well as a diplomatic representative to Canada, Mexico, and Brazil? She spoke of belonging to a fascinating, if tiny, ancient Jewish community. Others spoke of identifying proudly as Jews in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Just as we saw big dreams come true in the areas of technology and diplomacy, I remarked, so too can big dreams materialize in our personal lives. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to update our list of dreams and strengthen our resolve to act on them. We are accustomed to hearing bleak predictions, to lowering our expectations, to inviting dark, self-fulfilling prophecies. Yet this Zoom exchange with Jews in Arab countries offered proof that dreams we never could have dreamed do come true in the best possible way.
Believe In Your Survival — And More
Sometimes we frighten ourselves. In the Torah portion that we just read in the synagogue on Shabbat, there was a list of blessings, as well as curses such as war, famine, and disease. But one curse in particular – that addresses our frame of mind when exiled from our land – is especially frightening:
“You will be in fear night and day, and you will not believe in your survival.”
Our commentators explain that this mindset does not reflect objective reality. In truth, there is nothing to fear, but we reach a state where we are paralyzed by anxiety, day and night, to the point where we no longer believe in our survival. As Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin wrote: “There is nothing to fear – and yet you will be afraid.” We forget that although we face onerous challenges, the world in general is good, that no problem lasts forever, that our situation can always improve.
And what about us today, more than a century after we have returned to the Land of Israel? This curse was addressed to a nation living in exile; if it was a curse that had no reality then, it has even less reality today. In fact, this curse can easily be flipped and transformed into a blessing, where we believe not only in our ability to survive, but to continuously thrive now that we have come home.
May we merit to deserve and to appreciate this blessing.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.