Kapara Aleinu!!

Kapara Aleichem!
-Netta Barzilai – upon winning the Eurovision Song Contest

Kapara Aleich!
-Binyamin Netanyahu to Netta Barzilai

According to Jewish law, Judaism is a matriarchal religion/nationality/ethnicity/whatevertheheckitis. If the mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish; if the mother is not Jewish, her children are not Jewish. Observance, belief, and emotion play no part in passing down being Jewish.

That said, the customs of Judaism are passed down through the father. It doesn’t matter how much better the mother’s customs are, the kids do what their father and his father before him have done.

Let me explain.

Judaism and Jews have been around for a long time. Jews have lived, and Judaism has been practiced, in just about every country and a great many cities around the world. Jews have moved from place to place also; when they were thrown out of one place, they went to another.

Over the centuries and millennia, while Jewish Law (aka Halacha) has remained the same, many interpretations and customs surrounding those laws have evolved in different ways in different places at different times.
In some areas, customs have taken on the seriousness of actual law, and followers are required to keep the custom in the same manner as keeping the Law itself. How one keeps these serious customs is patriarchal-it goes by how the father and his father and his father kept the customs. (Examples are eating kitniyot on Pesach, and the wording of prayers.)

But in other areas, the customs are rather happy-go-lucky, and one can pick and choose whatever one wants to do!!

I have been aware of many of the differences in customs stemming from different  Old Counties. While Eastern Europeans Jews eat more boiled vegetables and lots of potatoes, North African Jews eat foods fried in honey.

The Ashkenazi Torah scroll is covered in cloth, and read by lying it on a table, while the Sephardic Torah Scroll is housed in a large box-like container made of wood or metal, and read by standing it up on a table. The words, however, are identical.

Even our speech is different. Non-European Jews never say ‘shmata‘ or ‘gevalt‘ (though I have heard them say ‘oy’), and I, personally, have never used the expression “kapara” (made famous by our Israeli Eurovision winner this week).

There were some customs that I knew were customs – and not laws – but had assumed that they were across the board customs, not limited to a particular ancestry. For example, I thought everyone used salt water at the Passover Seder, but, no. Apparently, some communities use lemon juice or vinegar.

All this came to light when a close family member married someone whose family was originally from a very very different Old Country than my own family. (Spoiler – it was my son.)

The first time I was taken aback was when my then daughter-in-law-to-be came for Shabbat for the first time. “Why do you light so many candles?” she asked, looking at my seven lit candles. Now, I’m not stupid or naive, and I knew that lighting a candle for each child was a relatively newly made-up custom, but I thought people did it because it was cute and cool, not because we came from a certain place.  But apparently, I was wrong.

I was completely unable to hide my surprise when I was asked “I suppose you’re going to want the bride to walk around the groom seven times,” by the bride’s mother. I’m sorry, what? Doesn’t everybody do this? But again, no, not everybody. (For the record, I answered that the couple could decide to do whatever they want, it wasn’t up to me. [and they decided she would circle seven times.])

And I was utterly dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and flummoxed when my new daughter-in-law’s mother actually lit the Sabbath candles completely differently than I did. I first light the candles, then say the blessing with my eyes covered. She first said the blessing with her eyes opened, then lit the candles. I had to bite my lips to prevent myself from exclaiming “BUT THAT’S WRONG!

It wasn’t wrong. It was just different.

So many of us are separated by differences in opinions, in language, in food, in sense of humour, in appearance, in education, in ambitions, in age, in beliefs, in customs, in driving skills. It’s so easy to separate, so hard to unite, most especially when they take up two parking spots in a crowded lot.

The Holy State of Israel is made up of a great many different kinds of people.

We recently attended a wedding of a member of our new extended family (my son’s in-laws). We sat at a table with the other in-laws, i.e., the parents-in-law of the bride’s married sisters.

Did you know that Hebrew is the only language that has a word for the relationship between the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom? Mechutanim (or machatunim in Yiddish – same word, different accent) comes from the same root as chatuna (wedding), chatan (groom) and le’hitchaten (to wed), and are the parents of the spouse(s) of your child(ren). It’s a very serious relationship – a lifetime commitment. Because there is no such thing as too much family.

Jews, at the end of the day, no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak, and no matter what foods they eat on Rosh HaShana or Passover, or whether or not they eat chicken soup on Friday night (did you know there are Jews who do not!! Imagine!) are one family, with a shared history and a shared destiny.

We sat at this table with people we had only met a few short weeks before, at our son’s wedding. We had no common background, no common friends, our food preferences were very very different. What we did have in common – as we hugged and kissed in true Israeli fashion, one kiss on each cheek, and then a third for good luck – was that we were all mechutanim.

And all our future grandchildren are going to be first cousins.

Kapara Aleihem.

About the Author
Reesa Cohen Stone is a Canadian-born Israeli, who has been living in Be'er Sheva for a lot of years, with a husband, a bunch of kids and grandkids. We all try and see the fun side of life.