I was reminded this morning that 25 years have passed since our son was Bar Mitzvah — a quarter of a century! The Torah portion of Kedoshim has so much to teach us and as a Bar Mitzvah so much for a young person to relate to and make his/her own.
Thinking back to 1996 there are so many memories of that specific spring. Family and friends were going to be coming to Israel to celebrate this Bar Mitzvah with us and we all looked forward to being surrounded by their love and friendship. However, in the months leading up to their arrival, there was a rash of uprisings and outpouring of hate in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. Suicide bombers were detonating themselves on our busses and people just didn’t feel safe.
Today, 25 years later, the headlines are again of violence in Jerusalem. Again there is unrest among the Arab population and friction with the Jews. Again the younger generation feels oppressed and not understood. Have we learned nothing in the ensuing years? Have we made no progress? Have we still not found a way to grant the Arab population living among us rights and consideration they yearn for?
The day of the Bar Mitzvah arrived and everyone was congregating for a reception before the service began. Suddenly I remembered that an important item had been left at home. My dad brought with him from America the tallit of my late grandfather and intended on wearing it at the Bar Mitzvah, bringing another generation to our family celebration. Not wanting to disappoint my father I raced home hoping I could make the round trip before anyone noticed I was missing.
After opening the door to our apartment I became aware of the sound of running water. Dressed in my festive outfit for the day I suddenly had to deal with a broken water pipe and water running between the two floors of our apartment. I managed to turn off the water main, space buckets and towels in as many places as I could and moved items that could have gotten damaged from the unexpected flow of water. That accomplished, I put my finery back on, grabbed the tallit and managed to make my way back to the synagogue before the end of the reception.
The ceremony of passing the Torah from one generation down to the next, with my father proudly wearing the tallit of my grandfather was very meaningful. The entire service and experience were as special as each of the participants.
As is customary, following the reading of the Torah portion the Bar Mitzvah delivered a sermon, his interpretation and reflection on some of the important points in the Torah reading. Following many conversations with those guiding him through this preparation process key points were developed. There was mention of “Love your neighbor as yourself…” which then led to a discussion of Hillel’s “What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man…” and to Ben-Azzai’s universalistic message “This is the book of the generations of mankind…”.
His summation — “History teaches us that the world could be a better place if mankind followed the concepts that Hillel, Rabbi Akiva and Ben-Azzai based themselves on. These values can, even today, contribute to the building of a more just society in Israel and around the world and to the promotion of peace with our neighbors and enemies.”
Our daily lives today continue at our “new normal” despite the disturbances, just as we did 25 years ago. We didn’t let the events of the time prevent us from sending out our almost teenager on a bus alone from Jerusalem to Vered Hagalil for a special week there at an equestrian camp. Others chose to pull their children out of the program and not take chances. The terror events tapered off but the underlying cause for the sparks never died out.
We have failed in these 25 years to find the keys to unlock the combination giving us a better and more just society. We must now make the effort to calm the unrest and begin making real change. The more racist elements within the Jewish community should find other ways of communication and cooperation. The message of Kedoshim would be a good direction to follow.