Thursday, March 20, 2008

...and Why Judaism Gives Me Hope

Note: This was originally supposed to be the second in a pair of posts, the first negative, the second positive. I haven't written the first one yet, but in light of Purim, I'm just going to post the second one for now. Enjoy!

(...sometimes.)

This requires a short story.

When I was 10 years old, my family went to Israel for three weeks. I'd never been there before; my brother was studying in Chofetz Chaim in the Sanhedriya Murchevet section of Jerusalem for the year; and my sister had just gone the previous summer. I don't think my parents had been there since the 1970's, when they went on a pilot trip in contemplation of making aliyah. We arrived on a sunny afternoon in February, and it was to turn into quite the interesting trip. We arrived the day before Ta'anis Esther, two days before Purim in most of the country, and four days before Shushan Purim - like this year, Purim was on a Friday, Shushan Purim was celebrated on Sunday.

On Friday, February 25th, 1994, just two days after we arrived, Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Arabs by the Me'aras Ha'Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs). This obviously sent the whole country into an added sense of craziness, wondering what would happen, particularly over Purim. It wasn't but a few years earlier where Saddam Hussein was dropping Scuds on Israel on Purim, and the fear and worry on the faces of the adults present was palpable, even to a 10-year old like myself.

And yet, Purim was amazing that year. We spent Friday and Motzei Shabbos with my Charedi cousins in Sanhedriya, before heading over to cousins in HarNof for an incredible seudah. One of the moments from that weekend which was highly amusing and has stuck with me for all this time was when we went to visit my aunt in Sanhedriya, confined from so many medical issues over the years to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, and yet who had the most incredibly memory and liveliness to her [and whom we had in mind somewhat when giving Elianna her middle name Rachel]. While we were there, a few of my cousin's [at the time eight] children came in, and they started singing a song that their father had taught them. And this is how it went:

For those who cannot see the video, the song is "Pick a Bale of Cotton." The tune is familiar to most Orthodox Jews as "Mishenichnas Adar".... and the words they were singing were of the original, that their father had taught them. While this was happening, their father and grandmother were just a few feet away, laughing and enjoying the show as much as we were.

When it comes down to it, Judaism is whatever we make it out to be, and perhaps more importantly, whatever we instill in the people around us (and vice versa) - particularly family, but friends, neighbors, and acquaintances as well. What gives me hope, in the face of all the external pressures of trying to conform, in the face of kannoim ['zealots'] hijacking the religion, is that ultimately, those people are not the ones who will determine the fate of Judaism. It is up to each of us, not them, to determine how we let ourselves and our actions be defined and how we will live our lives. It is how we raise our children, how we show them how we deal with these issues, that will have a much stronger and lasting effect on how they will in turn live their lives.

Have a wonderful, freilichen Purim, everybody!

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