AT THIS TIME of the year, are we celebrating the “High Holidays” or the “High Holy Days”? Is there only a religious difference between the two? Is one only for those that are divinely inspired and one for the non-believers? Does “religion” fracture Jewish Peoplehood? Is this an article you’re going to continue to read?
Living in Israel for over twenty years provided me with a look at true Jewish Peoplehood which I had personally not experienced in my near forty years beforehand. For me as a Jewish educator based in southern California before my move to Israel, Judaism was purely synagogue based. There were those that belonged and those that ate bagels and lox on Sundays. It was all very black and white, or I guess I should say, blue and white.
Israel exposed me to a vast array of Jewish choices from as many various cultural backgrounds and beliefs.
I remember going to a nice Israeli hotel with my family and my parents who had come to visit for a few weeks. We were in a beautiful hotel dining room overlooking the Kinneret, Sea of Galilee, in the foothills of the Golan Heights. It was Shabbat eve. We had lit candles and entered the dining room. We sat at the table in our proper Shabbat attire, sang Sholom Aleichem, traditionally blessed the children, made Kiddush over the wine, washed our hands and did the Motzi over the two loaves of challah. Next to us came in a rowdy group of Israelis, dressed in shorts, t-shirts and sandals, three seemingly brothers and their families, kids on their Gameboys, several adults on their mobile phones. At one point, the oldest brother stood and held up his glass filled with wine. Their table became silent. He said, “Shabbat Shalom!” They responded, “Shabbat Shalom!” And I realized at that moment, for the first time, that we, both me and my family and the brothers and theirs, did the exact same thing…just in a different way. We both brought in Shabbat in a way that brought meaning for us and our families.
As the holidays approach, how can we make them “holy”? Holy in sense of elevating the time and space we have with our families and our communities. Holy in the sense that they are not regular days, but special in the most personal and meaningful way. For some, this will be going to synagogue. For others, this will be special family time. And for some, this will be a memory of what they did in their youth, but have no idea how to make it meaningful to themselves at this point in their life today.
There is no one way to be Jewish. There are many paths to connect to Jewish Peoplehood. The trick, in my opinion, is to step right up and own it. Personalize your own Judaism. While I lived in Israel, I worked extensively with JCC’s in Eastern Europe, places like Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Judaism had basically been gutted by the Holocaust, followed by the years of Communism. After the fall in 1989, the Jews there began to rebuild in new meaningful ways. They wanted to find a forum to continue some of the traditions, but most importantly they wanted to find an avenue to transmit values and ethics. Through community gatherings, holiday celebrations and family programming, they have found a way to continue Jewish Peoplehood, dor l’dor, from generation to generation.
What works for me, may not work for you, and vise versa. Luckily we have so many choices here in Orange County to explore our connection to Jewish Peoplehood. I wish you luck and success on our journey. If I can be a resource to you here at the Center for Jewish Life at the Merage JCC please let me know. We keep up-to-date on what is going on in the Jewish community at large.
In a small village there once was a wise teacher and an arrogant student. No matter how hard the student tried, the student could not trip up the teacher. One day the student approached the teacher with a beautiful butterfly cupped and hidden in the student’s hands. The student asked, “Dear teacher, is this butterfly I have in my hands, alive or dead?” If the teacher replied, “Alive”, the student planned on crushing the butterfly before opening the hands. If the teacher replied, “Dead”, the student planned on letting the butterfly fly away free. The teacher looked deep into the student’s eyes and thought for a moment. The teacher then responded. “The answer is your hands…”
High Holidays or High Holy Days…The answer is in your hands.
Mark Lazar is Director of the Center for Jewish Life at the Merage JCC of Orange County. Besides working with the youth at the center, Mark offers numerous adult learning opportunities as well.