For me, like for most Israelis, the two weeks between the end of Passover and Yom Haatzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, are a time of year in which big concepts materialize in one’s daily life - our emergence as a people in the Exodus, the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, the remembrance, on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day), of the Fallen, through the celebration of the founding of the State of Israel.
Ever since Hebrew schools were formed, there have not been formalized, nationally-instituted feedback mechanisms by which students of yeshivot, day schools or supplemental schools could express themselves. As a result, students have not had any way to comment — positively or negatively — on their classroom experience.
Alvin Schiff, a leader in supplemental Jewish education, has stated, “If Jewish education loses its vitality, the very survival of the American Jewish community will be endangered.”
The State of Israel is nothing short of a true miracle: in her 64 years, Israel has achieved more than any other nation on earth, a miracle that was created by a mosaic of different groups.
A wise man once said that Israel is the only country in the world that was founded on a dream: each group had its own — one was hoping to recreate an Eastern European shtetl, another was dreaming of an egalitarian kibbutz; one aspired for an urban Western style of bourgeoisie, and the other was eying the Orient. At times, our various dreams and aspirations collided.
Ninety years ago this spring, on 86th Street in Manhattan, the first girl became a bat mitzvah. Judith Kaplan Eisenstein was invited to read from a chumash (a printed book of the Torah) — not a Torah scroll — on a Saturday morning — not a Friday night — by her father, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. She read and a revolution began.
While flying home from Israel recently I struck up a conversation with the bright young haredi man sitting beside me. Before our talk, he had been busily studying a wonderful rabbinic text, “Mishnah Zevachim,” which details the laws concerning Temple sacrifices in ancient times. But God, it seemed, continued to be found in the text and not in me, so when I sensed that he was more interested in resuming his studies, I found a way to end the conversation so we could return to our respective pastimes.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Zionist movement was its ability to tolerate and even encourage differing and often mutually challenging perspectives and ideologies. It is ironic, bordering on tragic, that the fulfillment of the Zionist dream has resulted in an increasingly narrow sphere of discourse and acceptable ideation.
We are becoming more insular, accepting only a small range of views and calling others by exclusionary and outright insulting names.
Every Passover in my youth I had something new to wear. My mother shopped exclusively at S. Klein on the Square on 14th Street in Manhattan and Ohrbachs on 34th Street, both noted for discount clothing. Money was often in short supply, but that didn’t stop her from buying me (rarely herself) a new dress or shoes for holidays and other occasions. I adored the clothes, and still have mental images of my favorites. I remember the light blue woolen dress with scalloped button holes that I wore one Passover even though we had freaky hot weather and I suffered in my woolen clothes.
Even upon landing in Paris, en route to Toulouse, it was clear that a grave thing has happened. I could see an armed soldier every few meters. When I got off the El Al plane from Israel a heavy feeling connected me immediately to the reality not only of what happened — the murder of a teacher and three children at the Ozar Hatorah School by a terrorist — but also to our being vulnerable.
I recently participated on a panel about reframing the “Jewish narrative” at the inaugural Bay Area Limmud. The panel was premised on the notion that the dominant Jewish narrative in the last century was one of survival. The panelists were asked to suggest a new Jewish narrative, one that focused more on the value that Judaism can add to people’s lives, and less on Jewish endurance in the face of hostility.
During Bill Clinton’s successful campaign for the presidency, he famously donned a black kipa during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and shed a tear in a prayerful (and highly photogenic) moment. And in that moment, the organized Jewish community — then awkwardly watching the tensions between Prime Minister Shamir and President Bush — fawned over the philo-Semitism and lined up for Clinton’s subsequent election.