But even if you are not Jewish, and are just curious about the daily decisions people make when they observe religious dietary laws, please do read on.
I’m always hungry for blog hits!
Tuesday night, it was time to use up the vegetarian beef crumbles. Wegmans (of course I was going to mention Wegmans in a blog about food, right?) has created this great vegan product called “Don’t Have a Cow” Beef Crumbles.
Disclaimer here: this food product does NOT have a kosher certification. However it is labeled as vegan, so this is good enough in my kitchen.
Like I said, not all would consider the way I keep kosher, kosher. But it works for our family.
Back to the main story…..
I’ve used these fake crumbles many times before with a thumbs up from the kids. It was great in vegetarian chili and Sloppy Joes. I thought it would also be great in a baked pasta dish. What could be bad???
So there I was in the kitchen, using up a two boxes of pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, some mozzarella cheese and good, FULL FAT ricotta cheese from my fridge… my Italian neighbors back in the old neighborhood in Staten Island would be so proud of me. Then, defrosted from the ever-increasingly-empty freezer, I added the fake beef crumbles.
I mixed all the ingredients together and popped them into the oven. The cheese melted so dreamily, a wonderful smell filled my kitchen.
I am going to win the kids over with this creation, I thought. My kids will gobble this down, I mean, it’s pasta covered with CHEESE!
With “meat” in it. It’s like we’re being baaaaad!
Dinner time. Baseball game rained out. No rushing. Perfect. I spooned out plates of baked pasta. I awaited upon their approval.
“Mom, what’s IN this pasta?”
“The texture is WEIRD!!!”
“Even if the meat is fake, it just doesn’t feel RIGHT to eat this!.”
My first reaction was to get really mad. And feel completely unappreciated. But on further examination of their reaction to this meal, I realized that I have raised truly Kosher eating kids.
From their earliest ages, of asking which forks need to be used with which meal, I have raised children who will go even into adulthood that what they eat reminds them of who they are. Even if, every once in a while, they screw up by setting the table with the wrong set of silverware, or ask if pepperoni can be picked off the last piece of pizza in the public school cafeteria, the level of kosher observance we have instilled in them will remain long after they leave our family table for tables of their own.
In our house, the kitchen has become our test lab for being Jewish.
Question for you: If you are Jewish and keep kosher, at any level, what eating choices have your kids made, inside or outside of the house, that make you realize you’ve done a good job in instilling Jewish values in their eating habits?
A very long time ago, in a New Jersey city far far away, a young girl dressed in all black stood pressed against a mob of other darkly clad classmates waiting for the Smithereens to take the stage. In one hand was a pen. In the other a skinny reporter’s notebook. She was covering the concert for the daily student newspaper for Rutgers University. Her very first concert review. She wondered: could writing for Rolling Stone be far off?
She didn’t have to pay because she had a student media pass. She felt so COOL!
Her date, well, he had to pay.
Fast forward, em, several decades later.
She can’t even remember who her date was that evening or who ditched who.
That student reporter jumping up and down in the Rutgers Student Center while covering that great local New Brunswick band? The band she loved so much she played a tape recording (yep, tape recording) of their album Especially for You in her dorm room until it broke?
That would be me.
I’m all grown up. But I still love the Smithereens – the honey smooth baritone voice of lead singer Pat DiNizio. The timeless garage band sound.
So when I learned the Smithereens were playing the Rochester Lilac Festival for free, I thought:
“I’ve GOT to go!”
Then I checked on the date.
Hmmm. Being Jewish, practicing Judaism makes you make some tough choices.
I really wanted to have my eardrums blown away by this band who got their start in my college town. But you see, it was Friday night. And the grown-up me — the wife and mom with three kids — has a rule. Friday night is Shabbat. Friday night is family night.
And for nine years now, my family has spent every other Friday night celebrating Shabbat with a chavurah, pretty much a circle of friends who has served as our extended family in a city where we have no family. And with the move coming, we really only have three more gatherings like this left.
Now, our communal Shabbat celebrations start at 7. And, the host’s home was a hop skip and a jump through the lilacs from the stage where the Smithereens would play. And on such a beautiful Rochester night. And who knows if or when I would ever get a chance like this?
I’m a grownup, right? I can make my own decisions, I could have just walked over to listen to one of my fave bands to take me back to my college days, right?
But I made my decision. To set an example for my kids, who have sacrificed many a social outing to be together to celebrate Shabbat.
And, to see my teen kids leading our prayer services with the other teens in the group….
To hear them sing the prayers for years I had begged, prodded and NUDGED for them to follow along?
As I sat and listened to my kids lead the adults in prayer, I knew I made the right choice.
To Pat and the rest of the Smithereens, I’ll have to catch you another time. And in the meantime, I promise to buy your latest stuff.
This time, I’ll just download it.
Have you ever had to make a choice because of the religion you practice?
My latest student sat before me sullen. Sad even. Completely disengaged. The chid complained of a headache, even a stomachache and could NOT find the strength to sing.
The child had not a chance to review the sentences given to it to study months ago. The child’s iPod had also mysteriously stopped working, so he/she could not listen to the melodies of the chanting either.
I get it.
To many emerging young Jewish adults, studying for one’s B’nei Mitzvah may not be your thing. You’ve got a life, for gosh’s sake! That life is full with homework and friends and sports and has nothing to do with chanting a strange language in a building you hardly go to!
And what does all this Hebrew mean that I can barely read and hardly understand?
And how am I going to find the time to study?
When it comes to hunkering down and preparing for one’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah, many obstacles can get in the way. In a recent post on the Jewish culture blog Kveller, a rabbinical student even honestly put it out there: why put your kid through the motions of having this Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony if it is devoid of meaning, when a small percentage of Jewish adults even volunteer to read from the Torah after they reach that milestone day.
Here is why.
Like it or not, kid, you are the next link in this 5,000 year chain that cannot be broken.
Last night, after my student left and after dinner and dishes, I watched a PBS special: Space Shuttle Columbia: A mission of Hope, about the 10th anniversary of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. What made it all the more tragic was it was the first time an Israeli, Ilan Ramon, son of Holocaust survivors, took a trip to space.
And on this unique mission to space that bonded this unique multicultural team of astronauts was
a tiny Torah.
A Torah that survived the Holocaust.
A Torah that had been used to prepare a boy for his Bar Mitzvah in the hell of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A boy that survived and grew to be an old man living in Israel still in possession of this tiny scroll.
A Torah that, when Ilan Ramon heard of its story, he knew it had to accompany him in space.
For all of the Jewish people.
I’m not going to retell the story here. I won’t do it justice. But if you can, watch with your family Mission of Hope, and you will understand the Big Picture of why joining the Jewish community as a fully participating adult is an incredibly precious honor.
If that’s not inspiration enough, then look at this photo below:
this is a recent picture of men, Holocaust survivors, who never got to be Bar Mitzvah boys. Until today.
Now, stop kvetching, stop whining, and go study.
The year mark of my most recent visit to Israel quickly approaches. It was my fourth journey to the Jewish state. It won’t be my last. In fact, if I could, I’d have no hesitation to go there on the next plane.
A few things made last year’s trip during Chanukkah very special.
The first is family. Unlike my first two trips to Israel, this time I went back as a wife, a mother of three children accompanied by their grandparents, both sets. Seeing Israel’s historical and religious sites through the eyes of three generations was once-in-a-lifetime goosebumps every single minute.
Secondly, we have Israeli friends. Friends from teaching. Friends made in summer camp. These friendships deepened our connection to the land of Israel more strongly than any tourist or archeological site.
Nearly every day of our trip, friends met us for dinner or lunch in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My son reconnected with his friend, son of two rabbis, who met us for lunch after we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Friends came and met us wherever we were on tour.
They hung out with us on the beach near our hotel.
My good friend from Modi’in met up with our group not once but twice.
She’s An artist. A teacher. A true intellect. We have shared our different perspectives and deepened our understandings of what it means to be a Jew in America and what it means to be a Jew in Israel. I’ve connected with few people in my life as I have with her, though we will seldom see one another face to face. On a wintry day by Tel Aviv standards, we chatted on beach chairs with our spouses and watched our daughters play in the waves.
Or they accompanied us to the Israel museum in Jerusalem.
There are the friends we did see and the friends we couldn’t see. I spent one night on a very long phone conversation with a friend from high school now living in Modi’in. At the time, she was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. All the plans we made almost a year in advance to get together, to spend time, to celebrate Shabbat, were reduced to that one phonecall. I was thankful just to be in the same time zone as her as I listened to her talk about the hard choices and treatments that lay ahead.
Now. Now the bombs fall.
When you have friends and family in Israel, focus on anything else has been nearly impossible. Eating? Making meals? Even taking walks? Just a temporary diversion until I can get back on the computer again and check in.
I read an update from my tour guide who heard the bomb sirens and made it on time to the nearest shelter.
I read updates from people who sleep with shoes on and who get tips on how to get to sleep again after they settle into their cot in their safety room.
I read an update from my Modi’in friend, now done with chemo treatments but who must now train her daughters how to run to safety depending on where they are when the siren sounds.
I read an update from my neighbor, now visiting in Israel describing what it was like to see the Kotel plaza evacuated.
Is this any way to live a normal life? What is normal? Why must this be accepted as the status quo?
What to do? Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times, or have never been there, whether you can name dozens of Israeli friends or never met anyone from the Middle East’s only true democracy, there is something we as freedom loving Americans can do.
We can tell the world the truth. We can expose Hamas for their lies and their brainwashing. Social media can expose how Hamas truly operates as nothing more than a brain-washing hate cult that glorifies death enough to seduce its women and children into becoming human shields.
When you have Israeli friends and family, the latest flare up between Israel and her Arab neighbors is not just a news story, it’s a personal attack.
I know I’ve been posting about this nonstop if you follow me on Facebook. But please, don’t ignore Israel’s fight for hearts and minds. Their war on terror is ours. Do what you can do from far away to defend her.
A note came home in my son’s backpack to state that today, this Friday, the school would be celebrating “International Heritage Day.” Third through fifth grade in my town is a time when students study the cultures of many countries. My child this year studied the cultures of Egypt, Japan, Australia. In successive years they will study about China and ancient civilizations from Greece to Rome to the Inca and Mayan Indians in social studies.
As a culmination and celebration of all this international study, third graders in my son’s school were asked to wear a hat that represents the culture of their immigrant ancestry.
Like most self-respecting Ashkenazi Jews, my family has roots in Russia and Poland. And, if you want to find some real exotic roots in my family, I believe my paternal grandmother was from Vienna, Austria.
But the Polish and Russians never looked upon my ancestors as their fellow countrymen. We were just: Jews. Yids. Pretty much second class citizens. That’s why Jews from Poland and Russia came over in droves to the United States – for economic if not religious freedom.
In my house, we don’t have any connection to Russian or Polish culture. How we identify, ethnically, is through Jewish culture.
So, what hat to use? The Moroccans have the Fez. The Mexicans, the Sombrero and the French, the beret, the Italians have the Fedora (acually, my older son has taken up wearing the fedora because he is so very dapper).
So, this brings me back to the question: What country do we identify?
I should have just put a Yankee Doodle style hat on my son’s head. We are Americans. But are we something else as well? Is Judaism a people? A religion? A Culture?
With what other country do we identify?
I could have chosen an Israeli Kibbutznik style hat, but that would be so … 1950′s.
So outdated. And, as much love as we have for our spiritual homeland, we are not Israeli.
So of course, to show off our heritage, we selected this one.
A kippah, in the Bukharan style, that we purchased this winter in Jerusalem as we made our way to the Western Wall.
This is the hat of our heritage.
It’s been a month since the Hebrew school where I teach has let out and I guess you can say I’m going through a bit of teaching/classroom withdrawal. Yes, I love having my Sunday mornings to myself once again and don’t miss the late afternoon juggle of teaching and then rushing home to figure out dinner at 6:15 (I figured teaching at this hour will train me for the day when I actually do return to work full-time. Someday.)
But what I do miss is the discussions, watching and helping my students as they work through some Hebrew reading; watching them make their own discoveries as they decode a Hebrew sentence and have an “ahah!” moment about their emerging Jewish identities and the cool way the Hebrew language itself is constructed.
Sure, I see some of them in this post-Hebrew school twilight between the end of Hebrew school and the end of secular school. I see them at my kids’ track meets, on baseball fields and evening school concerts. We are happy to see each other, but I can’t exactly ask them a question on the week’s Torah portion in these secular settings.
I’ve gotta teach SOME Jewish kids, so I turn to my own. Namely, my youngest.
Each morning, before the school bus and after a bowl of cereal, we have been checking out this great website called Israel365. On it’s Facebook page, it states:
Israel365 promotes the beauty and religious significance of Israel. Featuring the stunning photographs of more than 30 award winning Israeli photographers alongside an inspiring Biblical verse, Israel365 connects you with Israel each day.
The photos are inspiring.And, each day there is a sentence from the Torah in English, Hebrew, and Hebrew transliteration. I scroll down the page with the transliteration part so my 8-year-old son has to read the Hebrew.
“There!” I say to him, after he reads the sentence. “You’ve done a mitzvah of learning just a little bit of Torah today!”
“Yup!” I proudly reply, and I feel like I’ve validated myself as doing my job as a Jewish parent for the day.
Check out the site with your kids and tell me what you’ve learned.
Another site, this time dealing directly with the Hebrew language is My Hebrew Dictionary which can help you with Hebrew verbs, useful vocabulary and word pronunciation. It even breaks words into themes, like Food, Animals, and a Bar/Bat Mitzvah resource center.
Over the past week, I referred this site to my cousin in Seattle, who is preparing to sing some Hebrew songs in an upcoming choral concert. If she takes the quality of her singing as seriously as she takes which syllables are accented and word pronunciation, this is bound to be a concert that is Metzuyan (excellent!)
Last night, I attended a great working gathering with about 80 other 20, 30 and 40something Jews in Rochester who are very concerned about carrying Jewish continuity here into future generations. This grassroots group, in its very infancy, calls itself ROC Echad (one Rochester) and I wish them all the success in the world in infusing energy back into our Jewish community.
At this meeting, we learned the biggest issue that is keeping people up at night: Providing quality Jewish education in our community.
At the end of the meeting, I challenged those who were there to go out and seek for themselves in the next day some Jewish knowledge for themselves.
While there is no substitute for learning and doing Jewish in the company of others, these websites are a good start for some independent Jewish learning.
If you are reading this and decide to do some Jewish learning, tell me what you find out and I will share it on my blog so others can learn. Thanks!
It would be funny if it were not so tellingly sad.
After weeks of rehearsing Passover songs for a school wide Seder and in anticipation of April break, I knew my students would be feeling a bit burned out. But still, there was so much left to teach about Passover, especially the idea of redemption and how for modern Jews, Israel is our redemption. However, as our generations get further away from knowing a time before there was the existence of the modern Jewish State, one can take Israel, and teaching for Israel for granted. In afternoon supplementary Hebrew schools, where hours are shaved for time’s sake, teachers must focus most of their time just teaching Hebrew reading. There is little time to teach Israel.
So, in the final Hebrew school hours before Pesach, I wanted to part with my students with thinking about the Israel-Pesach Connection with a slide show. (if you want a copy of this slide show, please send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll happily send it along.)
I put a picture up from my laptop projector of the following people. Can you name them?
Now, to give them credit, I said I was going to show students slide show presentation from photos that were mostly ones I took in Israel, and told them that most of the photos were mine, but others were those I found on the Internet.
I just didn’t tell them which were which.
So, when I put this picture up and asked if anyone knew who these folks might be, I got some pretty interesting answers:
“Umm…. they must be husband and wife.”
“Are they your parents?”
No. No, I corrected them. These people are two of Israel’s most influential leaders in the formation of a Jewish state. Can you name them now?
Still no answers.
“Children, the man is David Ben Gurion, the first prime Minister of Israel and the woman is Gol-”
“Oh, now I know! Is that Golda Meir, the first woman Israeli prime minister?”
“Yes, that’s right!” Now we were getting somewhere.
The next hand flew up.
“Did you… meet them?”
So, in the final weeks of Hebrew school after Pesach, I realize I have my work cut out for me. I’m pretty sure I knew who David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir were by the end of the sixth grade. And I knew that, like Moses, these pioneers of the modern state of Israel went to European leaders in the 1930′s asking to let their people go to emigrate to the British Palestine Mandate to escape Hitler’s mad plan for the Jews.
When I get back to class, even though there are only weeks to go, I will put up photos up of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir. And Moshe Dayan. And Menachem Begin. And Rabin and Sharon.
Because, just as we tell our children the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and just as we vow to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, so must we tell our children the history of the formation of the modern State of Israel. We must somehow weave that right into our Seder narrative just as we sing Dayenu and Adir Hu.
One great resource that I found online this week is the Israel 365 Hagaddah. It is 60 pages of the traditional hagaddah text combined with beautiful Israel photography plus specially marked “Israel moments” to highlight at your Seder. I hope that just some of this amazing Hagaddah makes it to your family’s Seder celebration.
Pesach Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.
When I return to the United States, I promise to create individual blog posts about the many aspects of our Israel trip, but there is an underlying vibe in Israeli society today that is making news that I cannot go on any longer without mentioning.
Let me preface all this by saying how overall, I have absolute love for my (that’s MY) spiritual homeland. It is ancient. It is wi-fi’d high tech and hydrophonic modern. Every rock and stone tells a history of the Jewish people and the other civilizations that have come and gone here. I am not a tourist here, though I am living in hotels out of my suitcase. I can get by somewhat with my Hebrew. My kids and I have friends here. Though I am here right now I am already longing to come back again, and wonder how long will that be, and when will I ever be able to stay here for more than 10 or 14 days at a time?
I take pride that my children are walking through their history. More than any mid-afternoon Hebrew school class can offer, they have all week been immersed in hearing people speak Hebrew all around them, witnessing the miracle of chanukkah in the land that chanukkah happened, walking through the tunnels the Maccabees forged to reclaim and rededicate the temple.
How can I not be proud when I witness how much Israel has changed since my last visits? In 1967, most of Jerusalem’s old city, reclaimed from Jordan, lay in ruins. Now: synagogues have been rebuilt. Archeologic wonders like the excavations revealing access to all the length of the Western Wall of the Great Temple and then the Davidson Archeological Center giving access to all visitors the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount; the fact that my daughter blew her new Shofar in the very place that the Kohanim priests blew their horns to mark the end of Shabbat at Sundown on Saturday night:
The pride of how Israel has preserved artifacts of not only its own ancient peoples but of the cultures of Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Byzantines, and so many that tried to conquer and occupy Jerusalem. You want to see ancient sites? Greek? Roman? Byzantine? Come to Israel, it’s a historian’s one stop shopping place.
And then the pride of being at the Kotel on Friday night with thousands of Jews celebrating Shabbat and Chanukkah, blessing my children at Judaism’s holiest spot, how could I not feel pride at what Israel and the Jewish people have accomplished?
I was first very disturbed that first night at the Kotel. As Shabbat descended, men and women gathered to pray on their respective sides of the Kotel. And, like most times at the Kotel, I noticed women standing on chairs, looking over the mechitza, or separation wall, to wave to husbands, sons…
Then, a man came over to them. Shouted to them “Modesty, Modesty!” Get down! Get out of here!”
Slapping their hands. Slapping them. Shooing them away like they were children. Is this how a Torah Jew is supposed to treat the mothers and Daughters of Israel?
Then, more news reports.
- Haredi men saying that women may not walk on the same sidewalks as men in certain towns like Ben Shemesh.
- Haredi men spitting on a seven year old girl and calling her a prostitute because she was not dressed modestly enough in their eyes (the girl was orthodox and she was wearing a long sleeved blouse and a knee length skirt.)
We spend the last two nights at Kibbutz Halavi. A beautiful Kibbutz, a beautiful hotel. But many of the guests were ultra Orthodox Jews. Would it be too much for these, our fellow Jewish bretheren, to return a smile when I gave it to them, to even ask where we were from and make some small chat? Have they forgotten the mitzvah of greeting people with a cheerful disposition? Have they fogotten in their zealousness of making sure that every piece of lettuce and every cut of meat is under the correct hekshcer (kosher certification) that every Jew is responsible for one another and the meaning of Kibbutz is to gather together?
Have they forgotten the words, Henei Matov U Ma Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad – How wonderful it is to gather and sit and be together like brothers?
The direction of religious extremism in Israel is the wrong direction.
I am writing to you somewhere within the American diaspora. In a few weeks, my husband and I will be taking our children and our parents on our first family trip to Israel. When we get there, I hope that the Israelis we meet there don’t think that we are devoid of any Judaism or Jewish life back in evil America.
Let me explain. I just viewed some commercials made by the Israeli government warning them of the risk of assimilation, of losing their Jewish identity if they move to and remain in America. The Jewish Federations of America, along with most American Jews, took offense.
A lot of controversy has been stirred by this ad campaign trying to lure Israelis living in America to come back home to Israel if they want their own children to remain Jewish.
To those of you not familiar with it, here is an example of such an ad. Basically, an Israeli grandma and Grandpa in Israel are skyping with their family in America. The grandparents, seated in a living room with a lit Chanukkiah (candles for chanukkah, it’s NOT a menorah) in the background, ask their granddaughter what holiday she is celebrating. She joyfully shouts (to her parents’ dismay) “Christmas!”
(this ad has been removed as I write this post)
Here is what I know, good and bad, about Jewish life in America and Jewish life in Israel.
- Israel, you have no better friends in the world than the Jews of America.
- I am involved with the Partnership2Gether program in my city. Each time we are visited by our Israeli counterparts, friendships are forged and dialogues begin about Jewish identity on both sides of the sea.
- The Israelis making their first visit to America greatly admire how hard American Jews have to work to maintain our Jewish ties. Yes, we are pulled in many directions trying to balance secular commitments with the religious. But yes, we enjoy the freedom we have of making our own choices.
- The Israelis who came here greatly admire the role of women in synagogue life. Some of them for the first time saw women serving as rabbis. Some of them for the first time had the honor of being called to the Torah for an aliyah.
- Israelis who visited America expressed their disgust with extremist religious strains that take an “all or nothing” approach to observing mitzvot to the point that rather than trying to observe Judaism to their own comfort level, they have abandoned any Jewish practice at all.
- Yes, some of my middle-school aged Hebrew school students are from intermarriages. And many of them struggle with their identity, especially in December. But we have to respect that non-Jewish parents who love their children made the hard choice and the sacrifice to raise their child in a religion that is not their own. It is a choice they believe in and many try to learn about Judaism right along with their children.
- My students ask if they are a “bad Jew” if their family doesn’t light Shabbat candles every Friday night. They ask if they are a bad Jew if they help their non-Jewish parent set up Christmas lights. What can I possibly tell them? I can’t. All I can teach them are the tools and the mechanics of Hebrew language and the religion. It is up to the individual parents and families to apply or not apply, these teachings in the privacy of their homes.
- Am I a bad Jew if I find myself this time of year humming a Christmas tune? Not really, as Christmas permeates every facet of American culture between October 31 and December 25. For impressionable Jewish American children, it is all the more impossible to ignore. I teach my students and my own children that it is okay to admire the lights and decorations, but know it is not our holiday.
Bibi, I’ll be in Israel all of Chanukkah. Why don’t fly over to the states and spend your Chanukkah in America and see how hard Jewish Americans work to say “no, Christmas is not our holiday. In spite of being a minority, we choose to worship our God and practice our religion the way we choose.”
Isn’t that after all the message of Chanukkah?
edit: To add some more to this sentiment: My parents this summer visited Germany. My mom was hesitant to go but she went. They took a river cruise on the Rhine and had a wonderful time. And, everywhere they went, there was not a single place visited where their tour guide did NOT make a mention of the atrocities that happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. The tourguide was extremely compassionate as he discussed the plight of the German Jews with my parents. They would certainly recommend a trip to Germany now that they visited.
A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of participating in some intense Jewish study with some very intelligent women in my neighborood. The study session was held in preparation for a nine-day mourning period in Judaism that happens each summer culminating with the fast day of Tish B’Av, or the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av.
During this time, no meat is consumed. Religious women run lots of clothes through the wash before the nine days because no clothing can be laundered in this time period. Swimming is off limits as well.
This time marks some of the saddest occasions in Jewish history, most notable are the destruction of the two Holy Temples - first in 423 B.C.E. and then 70 C.E. – that once stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temples also marked the Jewish Exile from Israel, which ended only with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948.
So, why mourn something that happened millenia ago? The issue of how to make that feeling of mourning relevant today was the topic of our study session.
I started to write this post a day before our study, but what gave me the chills is how our moderator opened the talk with another time of destruction in recent Jewish history: the Holocaust. Even if you didn’t have a direct loss in your family, it was a loss for the Jewish family as a whole, a loss that is still viscerally ingrained in the Jewish psyche today. We should also strive as Jews to make the loss of the Temples just as palpable.
Getting back to the Holocaust:
A few things I deducted from my Hebrew school education about the Holocaust, as taught by our rabbi, son of Holocaust survivors:
- After the destruction of Jewish life and Jewish culture under the Third Reich, Jews should Never Forget. Therefore, Jews should never again set foot in Germany
- Because of Hitler’s infatuation with composer Richard Wagner, because Wagner’s music was the soundtrack of music played as Jews marched to their deaths in concentration camps, Jews shoud Never listen to or play compositions by Wagner.
- Jews don’t buy BMWs or Volkswagons
- Again, Jews don’t visit Germany
I held onto these notions a for a long time, including during the summer of 1989, when I spent a month in Israel volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel’s northern region. To my surprise, many of the other volunteers were not Jewish kids; most were European. To my further surprise, many of them were German.
I never knew any Germans before this encounter. As I got to know them, I found them to be gentle and kind. They also had a thirst for learning all they could about Jewish culture, Hebrew, Jewish holidays – anything Jewish they could get their hands on, they wanted to learn about.
I asked them – why?
Their explanation: Germans of their generation felt an enormous sense of guilt as to what happened in their country, and that guilt was unjustified. They wanted to learn about Judaism, because, at the time, there were very few Jews in Germany. Still, I expressed my reluctance to ever visit their country.
Instead of being angry with me, their reaction was one of sadness.
Over 20 years have passed and I still struggle with my feelings about contemporary Germany. But just in the last week, there was media coverage about Jews and Germany that is making me reconsider.
The other evening, I listened on NPR the unthinkable: that the Israeli symphony was in Germany playing Wagner compositions.
Former Soviet Jews and young Israelis are settling in Berlin. There, they enjoy a thriving cosmopolitan culture with nighclubs, art galleries and community centers – all with an Israeli twist.
Another one of my brilliant neighbors, Athene Goldstein, returned from a visit to Germany, where her son-in-law, a professor, was delivering a talk on Jewish history in Germany. There, she also visited a museum in Berlin dedicated to Jewish culture. From her working knowledge of German, she could tell that none of the museum’s visitors were Jewish, but again, just as I experienced on that kibbutz, there was that intense curioustiy of wanting to know about Judaism.
“The museum was filled with basic Jewish artifacts: Sabbath candles, Torah Scrolls, a menorah for Chanukkah,” said Athene. “It was Judaism 101. But that is where they are. Germans are very up front about what happened in their country under the Nazis. Now, they just want to know about who their country tried to completely destroy.”
Is the fact that the Jewish population is growing in Germany a sign that Jews are forgetting their past? Or is it perhaps, maybe the best way to deal with the memory of the six million lives lost is to replace what was lost by renewing life there once again?