Happy 70th!

Israel, it’s hard to believe you’re seventy. 70, after all, is a ripe old reverential age. The Mishna calls it the era of settled old age or seiva. I don’t think of you as old even though the years have not been kind to you — you’ve been battered by wars, torn by the loss of so many of your finest children, pilloried by the UN, maligned by too many nations and become a magnet for some of the oldest and newest anti-Semitism .

But, as we Aussies say, you’re still so young and free. Unlike Ben Zoma, you’re seventy but feel like a seventeen year old. You’re positively bursting with energy, creativity and the sheer joy of living. Your streets pulsate liveliness and innovation. You believe in life. You’re a high tech maestro, an intellectual and artistic powerhouse, a military genius, a peace loving child. You’re a sacred sage, you’re a secular Marvel woman; you tango with the Talmud (as dizzy as a Yeshiva student discovering his or her first insight into a Tosafot commentary). You’re as compelling as an uber-cool Tel Aviv yuppie and you know your Ottolenghi from your felafel, your latte from your linguine, your Amos Oz from your Edgar Keret.

You’re a paradox-as clear as the strong summer sunlight on a perfect Hilton beach day, as opaque as a Sefad mystic. You’re as shallow as the froth in your trendy cafes, you’re as deep as the primeval tunnels snaking under your ancient Jerusalem walls. You’re a contradiction but maybe that’s why we, the children of Abraham, just get up and keep walking across your haunting Judean hills, your wild wadis your brute beautiful wilderness. It’s why we keep coming back to you (we’ve done it for more than three thousand yearning years) and keep swimming in your hip-hot Med, your cool Kinneret your drop Dead gorgeous Sea.

You can be as hard as nails and living with you is sometimes like walking on hot nails. You attract some tough and ugly suitors and agents who speak so sharply in your name; yet you draw some of the most tender, refined souls close to you. You can be gentle as a new mum, loving and tender to your fractious and often opinionated children, mindful of the children of your neighbours. Yes, sometimes I’m worried that you don’t pay enough attention to the neighbours, their pain or the hurting heart of the stranger and asylum-seeker. I know it’s hard, living in your neighbourhood, to always discern the calculating from the broken, to unfailingly do the right thing when they’re hurling rocks or missiles at you. But I believe in you and your aching moral kishkes.

You challenge my senses, shape my soul, awaken my conscience and secure my spirit. You’re like that Mishna’s 80 year old, radiant in your wisdom and heroism (gevura), you’re like a 17-year-old Joseph full of dreams and visions, hopes and aspirations. I love you for your paradoxes and your foibles, your fancy and your failings. I love you because you’re ours. Happy birthday!

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.
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