My Jewish self used to be more coherent than it is today.
Since moving to Israel, I find that there is a shift taking place, one I don’t fully understand.
From Then Till Now
Thanks to my parents, I was raised with a positive Jewish identity. I was proud to be a Jew and had an affinity for Israel. We went to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, attended a Passover Seder, and lit a menorah on Chanukah. Beyond that, I had no clue that Shabbat or any other holidays even existed.
Then, about 36 years ago, I began to “keep” Shabbat and all the Jewish holidays. As the years went by, I realized that my life wasn’t just filled with many, many more Jewish days, but that those days became the lenses through which I perceived and lived virtually every day of my life.
Four years ago, we made Aliyah.
Since then, I have discovered new “days” that, as each year goes by, are having a new, and an increasingly deeper impact not just on part of me, but on all of me; on the way I live, think, feel, conceive, perceive, parent, pray and relate. Those days are Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerusholayim.
It’s not that I never knew these days existed, not that I didn’t have some connection to them, but now, here, it’s totally different.
Thirty years ago, when it came to Shabbat and the holidays, I was still a beginner. I was till learning how to swim, still learning how to open myself to all the richness those days have to offer. Today, in Israel, that is sort of how it is with regards to Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerusholayim. I’m a beginner, still getting comfortable in the shallow end of the pool.
Those Days and These Days
Speaking broadly, there is a great deal that fundamentally distinguishes these four days from the biblical and rabbinic days that have so completely defined and shaped Jewish life and history over the millennia. Some would say that they are not, in fact, water of the same pool. Even that most pivotal question — what truly are these four days? — is part of what perplexes me, part of what is unfolding in front of me and within me.
One of the affects of my new reality is the creation of wrinkles of spiritual dissonance within our family. You see, in my pre-Aliyah life, as the know-it-all father, I was able, together with my wife, to create a very special family dynamic that was intensely, and, quite positively, Shabbat and holiday centered. As the father, and then grandfather, I was confident that I knew what I was doing Jewishly, and I strove to transmit what I could to our children, and others.
Today, that is no longer as true as it once was. Today, I’m not just trying to learn more and deeper about Jewish life, but on a basic level I’m once again trying to figure out what Jewish life actually consists of. For me, and by extension for our family, that creates a certain disturbance in the force, if you know what I mean.
Yom HaShoah …
And so, as of now, that’s where I’m at. And in a matter of hours begins Yom HaShoah.
Restaurants and movies and clubs and stores will all close for the night. The news and television all shift their focus to the Holocaust.
Personally, as I walk the streets, I look at every face and think: You would have been murdered, and you, and you, and you, and you. All of you. Of us.
And tomorrow morning a siren will sound, and the whole country will stand in silence. Here in the land of Aliyah; the land of endless inspiration, contemplation and wonder; the land of endless perplexion, and questions …
Right now, as I sit here in Jerusalem, the world — could it be the universe — seems to be slowing down, to be getting a little quieter. The quiet invites thoughts, and feelings. Some new, some not. But none of them quite make sense. They are all part of something far bigger. A picture that is bigger than today, bigger than any day or collection of days. A picture that is bigger than even the most enormous of events; be they from decades, centuries, or millennia ago.
And this is what is on my mind, this —
Yom HaShoah …
- Yom HaShoah … Our 17-year-old son recently returned from an eight-day trip to Poland with many of his high school friends. Ditzah, our second oldest daughter said to me, “Abba, you have now given another one of your children the incredible experience of going to Poland, that’s a huge gift you have given us …” Though honestly, I myself, having never been to Eastern Europe, don’t really understand what she means by that. Perhaps some say I will go. Perhaps not. It scares me.
- Yom HaShoah … The NBA playoffs. Really, hear me out. I’m a Cleveland Cavaliers fan and, on average, 20,500 people fill the seats for every Cleveland home game. Now imagine this. Imagine if every game this season all of the fans were children. Now imagine if after every game, all of those kids were brutally murdered. After some games, every one of them would have their skulls smashed open and their brains splattered on the floor where a game had just been played, and on the faces and clothing of the skull smashers. After other games, the arena would fill with gas and slowly choke the life out of all those panic-stricken children. After other games, ushers with machine guns would mow them down. Consider this: If at every game this season every seat was occupied by a child, and if after every game, including the playoffs, all of those children were slaughtered, it would still take another half a season to murder as many children! as were brutally, viciously murdered in the Shoah. And their mothers and elderly grandparents, well, that would take more seasons than are left in this decade.
- Yom HaShoah … As someone raised in America, I grew up in a society that just assumes that freedom is good; that all human beings are created equal and are deserving of equal rights and equal protection under the law, that democracy and the power of the ballot box are far preferable to dictatorships and monarchies. Those are the unquestioned axioms and cognitive air that Americans breathe. I can’t help but wonder, what were the axioms, assumptions and basic ingrained beliefs that lead so smoothly, so naturally, to so many people willingly participating in the brutal, barbaric, and yet meticulously calculated, planned and executed enslavement and murder of over a million children, along with their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
- Yom HaShoah … and Yerusholayim. and Next Year in Jerusalem. and the survivors that will soon no longer be with us. and the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. and Yom Hazikaron. and Yom Ha’atzmaut. and Yom Yerusholayim. and Shabbat. and Passover. and Shavuot. and how does it all fit together? if at all.
- Yom HaShoah … Many beliefs, many superstitions, and many myths have come and gone in history. For a time they held millions of people, societies and empires, in their grip, and now they have vanished. But what of the belief that the Jews are the cause of all evil in the world. What of the myth that Jews drink the blood of children. What of the certainty that it is the Jews that pull the levers of history, to the detriment of mankind, and to serve the dark, nefarious ends of the dirty, smelly Jews. Could “it,” in some form or another—perhaps the form of a mushroom cloud, or an undetectable pathogen—happen again? Where you and your family are? Where mine is. Israel. Jerusalem.
- Yom HaShoah … The State of Israel. Together. Remember. Tonight. Six elderly survivors, each with a breathtaking story, and a remarkable life, will light six torches at the ceremony that marks the beginning of Yom HaShoah in Israel. What does all this mean? What am I to make of it? What is it to make of me?
- Yom HaShoah …