Posts Tagged 'Yom HaAtzmaut'

Yosef and Yom HaAtzamut: On Chesed and Interdepence

This is a very busy time of year. A two months ago we celebrated Purim, a month later Pesach, last week we had Yom HaShoah, today we commemorated Yom HaZikaron, tonight we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, and then in few weeks we will celebrate Shavuot. Between the slavery and genocide of our ancestors Yom HaShoah, Purim, and Pesach represent the nadir of our history. And the reception of the Torah centuries ago and founding of the modern state of Israel are the zenith of our existence. I wanted to pause for a moment in preparation for Yom HaAtzmaut to reflect on this modern experience during our current crisis.

Before I get to that I need to confess some sadness that I have been carrying for that last few weeks while in COVID-19 social isolation. Over the last 20 years when I can I volunteer in the local chevra kadisha. Preparing a body for burial is a Chesed Shel Emet –  “Charity of True Loving Kindness”. This is an activity in which the recipient of the Chesed by design cannot repay the debt. The dead person is completely dependent on the Chesed of others. We have had to suspend our activity during this plague due to the risk to the volunteers.

When I think about the obligation to take care of a  corpse I think about Yosef at the end of his life. There we read:

So Yosef made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up atzmotai- my bones from here.” (Genesis 50:25)

Yosef was not asking for a random act of chesed. Despite having been sold by his brothers into slavery, when they showed up in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, Yosef helped them without stipulation or retribution. Yosef is the model of Chesed to his brothers. And in the end he was not asking for anything in return, but to return his bones back to his ancestral home.

In this context Yosef’s bones unlock a profound understanding of Yom HaAtzmaut. Atzmaut – independence shares the same root with atzem-bone. On Yom HaZikaron we commemorate the sacrifices, like those of Yosef, made for our nation. This day we celebrate our brother’s long awaited return home. This day we celebrate repaying one Chesed with another. Yosef’s long aspiration to have his atzmot bones returned home are echoed in the Hatikvah. There we read:

Our hope is not yet lost,
The two-thousand-year-old hope,
To be a free nation in our land.

As much as Yom HaAtzaut is the acme of being Jewish in our expression of independence from nations who have put us in slavery or wanted to kill us, it is also an expression of our interdependence between brethren over thousands of years of hope.

As for now I stand in awe of our doctors and nurses who are doing real Chesed by working on the front line of COVID-19. Here is a picture from the Boston Globe of my brother who is doctor at BMC who is also a proud member of his chevrah Kadisha in Boston.

Boston Medical Center patient Candace Samayoa waved goodbye to nurses as she was being released from the hospital. Samayoa had been admitted to BMC two weeks earlier after testing positive for COVID-19.

I am sad that in social isolation I cannot do a Chesed shel Emet. I feel independent and cut off. More then in years past I yearn to be interdependent and connected with my family, local community, and nation. Have a great great Yom HaAtzmaut. Stay safe and connected.

-Inspired by Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah speech

Love Your Brother: Interdependence on Independence Day

This is a very busy time of year. Last week we had Yom HaShoah and today we commemorated Yom HaZikaron and tonight we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. To end off this cycle of anguish and exhilaration, this Shabbat we read Kedoshim. There we read:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your brother. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)

While the Golden Rule is supposed to be a guideline for all of society, amidst this week we cannot help but understand it in the unique national context of brethren. This week I saw a tear-jerking video on the tension between brothers that you should watch:

This gets to the foundation of our being brethren, but did we need to learn it from Adolf Hitler? And what will our understanding of who we are as a nation be when there are no more survivors in our midst to remind us?

If we did not learn this lesson from our Torah portion, we could also have learned it from any number of other places  in our tradition. I just found an interesting take on this Golden Rules by the Kav HaYashar,  Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover  a 18th Century teacher of Mussar. He wrote:

It is written, “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The Sages have remarked that this verse is a fundamental principle of the Torah (Toras Kohanim, Parashas Kedoshim 4). And there is no greater display of love than the mandatory rebuking of one’s Jewish brother if he sees in him some unseemly matter, that is, a sin or transgression. For the souls of all Israel are intimately connected to one another. (Kav HaYashar 5:1)

How can we be in a deep relationship with people who act differently without being so “judge-itive”? The nature of caring about people is caring about how they act. In a profound way our actions reflect on each other. This intimate connection should also be measured by how much we respect each other’s choices. This is the challenge for every family, nation, and our world today. This starts with how we model the bounds of respect with our siblings and children. We should be blessed to not need Hitler for this.

Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel’s Independence Day and a day for us  to celebrate our interdependence as a Jewish People. Chag Sameakh

Sharing the Cookies: Joy of a Nation

I feel tremendous gratitude to part of the Schusterman Fellowship. I am honored to be a part of such a remarkable cohort. In preparation for the first session of the program each of us was asked to describe our Jewish story in 3-5 vignettes from our lives. In preparing to share my Jewish narrative with my peers I recalled what must be one of my earliest memories.

I must have been in Kindergarten. I remember going in the required blue pants and white shirt. I also have a vague memory of some construction paper thing on my head. My local Jewish Day school went to a nearby Jewish old age home on Yom HaAtzmaut to sing for them.  After we finished singing two older women with thick German accents  singled me out of the crowd and pulled me aside. They told me how they were friends with my Oma, herself a German immigrant. And just like that they handed me two big bags of home-made cookies. While so many details have washed away over the years I can recall it as just yesterday the joy of sharing those cookies with my classmates on the bus.

These two women were strangers in a strange land, but they made me feel special and at home by connecting with me. Since that day I feel a responsibility to share the experience of belonging with my fellow Jews. As part of the Schusterman Fellowship I also have the good fortune of having regular meetings with a personal coach. In conversation with him I got to realized that in retrospect that experience really defines the work that I have been striving to do in the Jewish communities in Belarus, Washington University in St. Louis, and camps across North America for over 25 years.

Recently I went to suburban Philadelphia to visit my mother for Mother’s day.  When I came, having no idea I had been thinking about this story, my mother shared that she recently found picture that I might life.

I was blown away. There I am on the right with my blue pants, white shirt,  and construction paper thing on my head celebrating Israel at 30. All of these years later I recognize the significance of having a State of Israel. With a rebirth of our national homeland we would never really be alone again. Instead of a life of paranoia fearing what might be coming for us living as strangers in a strange lands, Israel would always be there to have our backs. In many ways my life’s work is helping people experience pronoia, the sense that people are conspiring to help them, by joyfully sharing the cookies.

The Sorrow to Joy Story

In the Mishna we learn:

In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’” Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, honor, bless, extol, and adore God Who performed all these miracles for our ancestors and us; He brought us forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into redemption. Therefore let us say before God, Hallelujah! (Pesachim 10:5)

This paradigm of “from sorrow into joy” frames many different stories of Passover.  In Egypt we were in bondage and suffering in servitude and then we were redeemed. That speaks of our physical bondage, but we also talk about our spiritual slavery being idolaters, the son of Terach.  Throughout history we have retold and reformed the motif of “from sorrow into joy” to see ourselves anew as though we had gone into and out of Egypt. Depending on which story of “from sorrow into joy” we want to tell, we start and end our story in different spots.

As move from Passover toward Shavuot, we have some noted moments along the way. Next week we will have Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. This is clearly a close connection between this story of “from sorrow into joy.” We go from Memorial Day to Independence day. But where does the commemoration of Yom HaShoah from this past week fit in to the “from sorrow into joy” plot line?

There is really nothing redeeming about the Holocaust, it is just bad, pure sorrow. Where is the joy? It is true that the State of Israel chose to commemorate the Holocaust on a day connected to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, while changes the story from being lamb to slaughter into people who nobly fought back. Still you could not categorize that as joy.  The Holocaust is a baseline of complete moral depravity. Broadly speaking you can break Jews into two groups. While they both say “Never Again”, one group says this cannot happen again to the Jewish people and the other group say this kind of horror cannot happen to anyone. While both are noble and true, it seems that we are all to often forced to pick particularism to the exclusion of universalism or visa versa.

For the people who are in the particularism camp the sorrow of being powerless in the Holocaust is met with the joy we celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut. There is no doubt the story of the Modern State of Israel is amazing, but we are left dealing with the peril of having power. For the people who are in the universalism camp the sorrow of the Holocaust is every bit as true, but how does this story end? Sadly, as of late, some people in this group do not tell the story of Yom HaAtzmaut as one of joy. I have no idea how the universal story which has so much sorrow will ever end with joy. We cannot afford to wait for a distant messianic era. We need to keep working for freedom, joy,  festivity, great light, and redemption for all. If we learned nothing else from the Mishna in Pesachim, our story “from sorrow into joy” can hold many different voice if we just take the time to listen and tell these stories to each other with a whole heart.

My Grandfather’s Poem: A thought for Israel Independence Day

I was named for my father’s father Abram Orlow. This week I came across a poem that he published when he was 18. It is very meaningful to me in that I know very little about him. My grandfather died when my father was just thirteen. It seemed fitting to share this today for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Enjoy.

 

Awake, Arise, Thy Goluth Is No More by Abram Orlow

O Palestine! thou land of Maccabees of old,

Where once the streams with milk and honey flowed,

Canst thou see how a new and wondrous light

That drives away your tears and brings delight?

 

Seest thou thine legions as of old,

Bedecked with fighting splendor, brave and bold,

Fighting again for thine own freedom’s sake?

So of thee once again a home for a nation’s make.

 

Seest thou the hand of Powers great?

Seest thou the hand of Victory’s fate?

Once more beknighting thee and raise thee from the dust,

And crown thee ” Jewish Homeland.” as soon the nations must

 

Seest thou thy people answer Zion’s call

And flock unto thy standard, one and all?

Awake! Arise! Thy Goluth is no more!

Aye, soon thou  thou’lt be the Palestine of yore

– The Jewish World January 11, 1918

You and I, We Will Change the World

Tomorrow on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, I’ll be thinking about Arik Einstein z”l.  Einstein, who passed away at the end of 2013, was from Israel’s “Greatest Generation” that built the country. His 1971 classic song Ani Ve’ata became the anthem of optimism for a young nation.  I do not recall ever learning the song for the first time, but I am sure it was at camp. It is strange how knowing something by heart means that you hardly ever give it any thought. Inspired by his passing, I decided to take a closer look at this song.

What did Einstein mean when he wrote “You and I, we will change the world”? Why does he need someone else to help him make change in the world? It is popularly understood that we need large groups of people to make change in the world.  About this conception the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” In terms of bringing about change, quality is more important than quantity, but we always benefit from partnership and support. In the wake of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and in celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut we take pause to think about the founders of the state. That small group of people jumped in where others had just talked about it and made the modern miracle of the rebirth of a State of Israel a reality. The sacrifices were serious, but it is noteworthy that none of them did it by themselves.

It was at summer camp where I first formed my connection to the Israel. It was also there that I forged a relationship with a small group of people that thought “You and I, we will change the world.” Maybe a meaningful thing to do on Yom Ha’atzmaut would be to reconnect with your bunk age group. It might be time for a check in to see where we can support each other in making the world a better place.

For a longer study of the song Ani Ve’Ata see here.

Reposted from Canteen.

 

Run and Pray

In response to a recent post on some wisdom from my Opa my sister reminded me of some wisdom from my father. My sister Arielle wrote:

Dad would tell this “joke” every so often: Mary Kate and Mary Kathryn are late to school.  Mary Kate said let’s stop and pray and Mary Kathryn said, “No, let’s run and pray.”

We had been praying for thousands of years, but today celebrating the 64th Birthday of the State of Israel. The Zionist agenda is profound in the it was a new exercise in running. We could no longer assume that redemption would come from outside. It could not hurt us to maintain our humility. We cannot do it all by ourselves. We need to find that special balance. We need to run and to pray.

 


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