Friday, April 27, 2007

The Full Quote

Thanks to Andrea F. for helping me find the exact Gordis quote:

"For after all, if there's a place in this world that can make you cry, isn't that where you ought to be?"

The quote appears on page 44 in If A Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State by Daniel Gordis.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Heroes

In his most recent dispatch, Daniel Gordis writes about the lack of flags in his Jerusalem neighborhood, relative to previous year’s celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). He lives there and I don’t, so I can’t be too hard on the guy, but his most recent dispatch was depressing. In fact, his last few have been on the gloomy side. In the end, he rallys a bit and argues against the world-weariness that seems to have engulfed his neighbors. But the overall impression of the article left me feeling deflated.

Contrast that with the Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration my family went to at Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore. Among the highlights were the daglanut (flag dancing ceremony) where dozens of middle-school students marched and formed joyous patterns with dozens of Israeli flags.

The other highlight was a very special community celebration of families who are making aliyah this year. Each family is brought up to the stage amid wild applause and standing ovations where they light a Candle of Inspiration. These families are our heroes.

They are our heroes because they make aliyah when the current government is misguided… or even corrupt. They make aliyah despite the fact that the outcome of our last war was a major disappointment. They make aliyah even knowing that we have enemies who kidnap our sons and hold them hostage for outrageous demands. They make aliyah knowing that enemies who want to destroy us surround Israel. They make aliyah anyway, because they know there are four inseparable parts of being a complete Jew.

Gd

The Torah

The Jewish Nation

and the Land of Israel.

True, all is not fine and dandy in the Holy Land. But to his eternal credit, Daniel Gordis also taught us that if a place can make you cry... you should live there.

Dear Reader: Please help me find his exact quote.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Calendar Conspires Against Us

Pesach in America in 5767: Two sederim, two days of Yom Tov, one regular day of Chol haMoed, erev Shabbos, Shabbos, erev Yom Tov and two more days of Yom Tov.

It’s hard to sustain holiness for so many days. And I’m not even talking about the endless rounds of shopping, cooking and eating. I feel this twice a year – Pesach and the Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot sequence. I know the whole calendar history reason and how, even though we have a fixed calendar, we don’t abandon the customs of our ancestors.

I still feel like the calendar punishes us for not being in Israel.

In his Haggadah, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin mentions how, in exile, even a Jew’s calendar can be taken away. He cites the example of Jews in Russia before they were permitted to emigrate. Their most fervent request from their foreign visitors was for a Jewish calendar, to which they did not have access in Russia, so they would know on which days to celebrate the Yamin Tovim.

But there is another way we Jews in America feel the consequences of living in the calendar of our hosts. We have adapted to life in exile in subtle ways we don’t even notice. For example, today is Sunday. Easter Sunday. So even though it is one of the days I could have done some household shopping, I couldn’t because the vast majority of the country is celebrating their holiday and most stores are closed.

I once had a Catholic secretary. Through working with her, I realized that she got all of her holidays off automatically, while I had to take leave to be off for mine. Admittedly, the fact that it was possible for me to keep the Jewish holidays while working in that job made me a lot better off than many others whose jobs just will not allow for taking time off according to a totally different calendar. Still, I rarely took a real vacation in all those years because I had to use my leave time to fit my Jewish life into a non-Jewish calendar.

Two successive days of yom tov just four days apart. Easter Sunday. Taking precious leave time to enable you to live as a Jew. No mail on Sunday because of the Christian Sabbath. Counting our years according to the major religious event of another religion. Using names of days that have their origins in Norse and Greek and Roman gods. Being constantly reminded that your calendar is not the calendar of the host country.

In how many ways does the calendar of the non-Jew work against us?



Friday, April 06, 2007

Reading The Haggadah With Aliyah Glasses

Many years ago, disheartened at the overwhelmingly masculine face of the Haggadah, I went on a search for commentaries that would reveal something, anything! feminine about this essential story of the Jewish people. And I found lots of material hidden, as much of the feminine aspects of Torah are, just below the surface. For years after that, at least once during the pre-Pesach season, I would give a talk called Feminine Aspects of The Passover Story.

This year, in preparation for Pesach, I looked at Haggadah commentaries with a different appetite. The seminal story of the Jewish people is found in the Haggadah! Gd took us out of slavery in Egypt to be His people. For what purpose? To live our lives in Monsey, Lakewood or Baltimore? I don’t think so. The whole purpose of the drama in Egypt was to bring us to the Land of Israel.

The Haggadah is a virtual pre-aliyah seminar!

One point that came to me quite clearly, when learning The Haggadah of the Jewish Idea (Or Ha’Raayon) by R. Binyamin Zvi Kahane, son of R. Meir Kahane, was that American Jews are asleep at the switch.

“But in every single generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, rescues us from their hands."

Is it true that in every generation, the non-Jews want to destroy us? Haman and Hitler wanted to annihilate us physically. In other times and places, we are seduced into assimilation and thus destroyed spiritually.

R. Shimon Apisdorf complied a list of 30 attempts to get rid of the Jewish people by the nations of the world. Slavery, crusades, expulsions, pogroms, war. There is no end to the ways other nations have wanted to extinguish the Jewish people.

But that could never happen in America, right?

“America is an advanced, civilized country.”
“We have never had such good friends as we have in the White House.”
“A strong Jewish community in America assures a strong Israel.”
“America is different.”

I pray, when the time comes, that the Jewish exodus from America be as gentle and pain free as possible. But that is not the same as assuming that the time we will be leaving America in large numbers will never come. When we leave, may it be volitionally, by Gd's Will, and not by the will of the rest of the American people, Gd-forbid.

In the words of George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

My advice to American Jews?

Get a passport.