Israel diary: The secular is sacred

I just returned from Israel a week ago. The main purpose of this trip, as most of my previous trips, was to visit family. Like all prior visits, I returned a different person. On this journey I witnessed the sacred and the secular joining together in complete harmony.

My plane arrived on Friday evening and my pre-arranged cabbie was awaiting me. It was already Shabbat, and he proceeded to drive me directly to my hotel, the Post Hostel, in Jerusalem. The driver was obviously a “chiluni,” a secular Jew since he drove on the Sabbath. On the way to Jerusalem I asked him if he could make a detour, so I can go to the cemetery in Beit Shemesh. We mutually agreed on the extra price and off we went.

On the way to Beit Shemesh, he asked me the reason for the visit. “To visit my father’s grave.” He firmly responded, “I will not take you. Asur l’hafriah et ha’neshama b’Shabbat (it is forbidden to bother your father’s soul on Shabbat.)” I was impressed with this chiluni, and we did not go to Bet Shemesh.

A Union of the Sacred and Secular.

I love the Post Hostel. Young and old from all over the world come to this Avant Garde setting. In the intense bubble of Jerusalem, I consider this hotel as my oasis from the city.

I was catching up on my emails in the central meeting room at the hotel. At the neighboring table were two families, clearly chiluni, about to partake in dinner. The father put a napkin on his head, his children followed suit and placed hotel brochures on their heads. The father then proceeded to pour wine in his cup, stood up, and recited the Kiddush. From my table, I respectfully stood up with him.

After Kiddush, in the tradition of Abraham, the family turned around and invited me to join them for Shabbat dinner. I refused and stated sheepishly that I ate already. They invited me twice during the meal, but I politely refused.

Then, when I was involved with work on my laptop, they slipped a plate in front of me and said that I should at least enjoy their Shabbat meal.

Another example of the meshing of the sacred and the secular.

That evening, I walked the streets of Jerusalem and heard a loud ruckus. As I walked to the noise, 200 Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) were screaming at the top of their lungs “SHABBOS” in front of a store that was open on the Shabbat. I felt like going over and beseeching them to go back to their families and sing Zmirot for Shabbat.

Not becoming of a sacred people.

Finally, I have a dati (religious) cousin who is suffering from cancer. He was the reason of my going to Israel. We are very close. His son-in-law told me a moving story. During a doctor visit two months ago, the doctor, who is chiluni, witnessed that my cousin gave up on continuing. The doctor asked everyone to leave the room:

After everyone left, this secular doctor ke-nocked him and yelled, “What are you doing?!?!? The tests are negative, and you are giving up?!?!? Your family has not given up and I have not given up! Most of all, Hashem (God) has not given up!! B’Tach Ba’Hashem!! God has not given up, you must have confidence in Him. Who are you to question God at this stage? You must go home and resume davening three times a day and laying T’fillin every morning. You must have B’Tachon Ba’Hashem!”

And so my cousin did.

Only in Israel.

About the Author
For over twenty-five years, Saul’s passionately devoted and immersed himself studying Jewish life in interwar Europe. Overnight, not only did this 1000-year-old community vanish, but so did its complex communal infrastructure. What piqued Saul Chapnick’s interest and curiosity was finding out exactly what it is that disappeared. In talking to politicians, survivors, scholars, Jewish communal leaders from Eastern Europe, and making trips there, Saul Chapnick was able to uncover the richness and the tragedy of interwar Jewish life in Europe. At the same time, Mr. Chapnick has discovered a rebirth of Jewish life in his parents’ and ancestors’ native land, Poland. Saul Chapnick has talked in various venues such as Limmud whether Yiddish still has relevance today, and has also spoke about the contemporary themes of the 19th and 20th century Yiddish writers and musicians. He also prepares the adult participants of The March for the Living about modern day Jewish Poland
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