My Jewish Family

My sisters from Itamar

 

 

As I was on my way to Yeshuv Itamar in the hills of Samaria, my bus stopped to let on a family.  Since leaving from the central  station in Jerusalem, the bus had already been full with mothers, children, and fathers excited to come home for Shabbat.  The woman coming on to the bus had 7 children. The bus had only 1 seat left.

 I had sat in the front so I could feel the force of the hills as I entered the Shomron, but had not expected the surprise I would receive from my position.  Onto my lap came a 2 year old girl, hair in pigtails, smiling at her other siblings who were similarly occupying the laps of 6 other strangers that had accepted the responsibility of “seating” for the remainder of the trip.  

As an au pair in Israel, babysitting became a team effort.  Mothers I came across in the park would instruct me on keeping the baby warm, feeding her enough. I was never at a loss for advice.  At first, I took it as an insult. Eventually, I took their advice with appreciation and knew they only had my charge’s best interests at heart.

Here in Boston, I spend many of my Shabbats with an Israeli family at their house. I am welcomed in as a family member, invited over during the week, and I have an open invitation for a bed if I ever get sick in Boston and don’t want to be alone.  I call them my “adopted family” and I don’t think they realize how much of a blessing it is to have found them here in a city far from my home. 

Whether it be in Yesha or  it be in a different city in the United States, I never feel uncomfortable going to a fellow Jewish families house for Shabbat. Always, I know I feel at home. How is it that I can feel so comfortable in a complete stranger’s house? That I know I will be taken in with open arms and treated like a family member?

The Jewish people is more than a nation. The Jewish people is a family, and if Israel is the physical embodiment of the Jewish soul, then it makes sense that I feel comfortable with a stranger’s baby on my lap, or walking in to a stranger’s home, because, in reality, these people are no strangers. They are my family.

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Shabbat at נופי נחמיה

The windows of the Synogogue at  נופי נחמיה look out onto the mountains of Samaria. From where I stand in the בית כנסת,  I can see the Jewish and Arab communities speckled across the landscape as I turn the pages of my Siddur and listen to the men on the other side in their tallit and woven Kippahs welcome in the Shabbat at נופי נחמיה, a ישוב (settlement) in the West Bank.

Friday night dinner is outside.  A table is set in the middle of the street in front of the caravan and together, along with Jewish people in the settlement, in Israel, and around the world, we welcome in Shabbat.  The greenish white lights of the Arab communities and the yellow lights from the Jewish households dot the outlines of the mountains surrounding the area.  Meir makes Kiddush and Ligal lays out a Shabbat meal made more sweet by the sounds of children singing the prayers they learned from watching their parents.

Shabbat dinner is followed by sleep and tefillah in the morning.  On my walk home from the synogogue, a man sitting at a table outside makes kiddush on wine and we all stop to listen. He finishes, we say Amen, and then continue toward the park in the middle of the ישוב.  Young girls with long dresses and their hair in pigtails and little boys with woven colorful kippahs sit in a circle and sing tefillin.  Afterwards, they all play together in the center of the ישוב while the parents sit in a circle and  chat.  This is real community.

As the sun sets on the ישוב, it also sets on Shabbat. I sit with Meir, Ligal, and their two children, Yoav and Omer, as we enjoy the last meal of Shabbat.  Meir makes Kiddish and Ligal lights the Havdalah candle as we all bid farewell to a weekend centered around community, family, and G-d.

The other day I visited the ים המלח (Dead Sea). I met a Jewish women from Belize who was planning on making Aliyah.  As we spoke, she told me that an easy life is not a good life, a life must be difficult to have meaning.  Here on נופי נחמיה, where every Shabbat is a demonstration of the hard work and connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel,  our  day of rest is one of special significance. Every Kiddush made, every Tefillah said in the בית כנסת, every Zemirot sung and every little boy running around with his Tallit and Kippah is an expression of hope for the continuation of the Jewish nation.  Life may be more difficult on נופי נחמיה, but it surely is not worse.  If anything at all, life may be difficult, but it also just might be much better.

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A Summer Camp Shabbat

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I’ll never forget Friday nights at Camp Barney Medintz.

Regardless of how many times I would shower during the week, I always felt cleanest on those Shabbat evenings.  Maybe it was the white shirts from my first year that turned into sundresses in my last years, or the extra time I would take getting ready simply because I knew that somehow that night was special, or the half a day on the cabin calendar that was allocated to Shabbat preparations, but something at CBM changed on those evenings.

I can attribute my impressive knowledge of folk rock to the programs given out as I walked into the Chapel.  The song lyrics contained in those papers defined my American Jewish Summer Camp experience. Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band, and Harry Chapin provided a soundtrack to searching for my cabin in the giant chapel and looking forward to the chicken, the brisket and the opportunity to sit with our brothers and sisters that would always follow during dinner.

I can’t deny the closeness I would feel to my camp friends as we swayed together, our arms on each other’s shoulders, singing Debbie Friedman covers and CBM classics.  For once, all of Barney was under one roof, all of our voices joining in song, celebrating another week that had passed at our Summer place.  Miriam’s Song rang loud and clear and we danced with our own imaginary timbrels as the song leaders played their guitars next to the lucky unit that got to guide the service that evening.  The setting sun was the only reminder of the passing of time as we forgot that each Shabbat brought us closer to the end of our perfect summer.

Now that I have ceased to be a camper and finished my term on staff, I often am reminded of those special Shabbat evenings nestled in the North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I have campers of my own, I plan on sending them to CBM, my special place, if not for anything else but simply so they too can enjoy the beauty of those Friday evenings.  I hope that on CBM Friday night dinners, they sit with each other just as I did with my own brother. I hope they’re not afraid to join in when the song leaders sing Hallelujah, and most of all, I hope that they invite me to a parent’s weekend because no matter what stage of life I am in, I’ll always want to return to those Friday nights at Camp Barney Medintz.

אהבת אחות Sisterly Love

“The Mitzvah to love G-d is really a conduit to loving your fellow Jew (for God is within your fellow Jew.)” -The Rebbe

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”- Hillel

“Love every single Jew, without exception, with the full depth of your heart and with the fire of your soul, no matter who he is or how he behaves.”- Rabbi Eliazer

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I can still remember the words of my mother in the car as she tried to keep the peace on our way to school.

 

“There is never an excuse for hitting your brother.”

 But he said this, and he did that, and he won’t stop this.

 Doesn’t matter.  There is never an excuse for hitting your brother.

 We learned early on that the solution was never hate. It was never violence.  For my family to work, we had to get along.

The Jewish people necessitates a similar attitude. We are a family.  Do we really need someone to tell us that there is never an excuse for hitting our brothers?

Lately, the Women of the Wall have been making headlines as they push for reform in Israel.  The Haredi community has also been making headlines for hateful acts toward the activists.

Whether you are for the Women of the Wall or against the Women of the Wall, there is never an excuse for hitting another Jew.  As they fight for freedom of worship, they should not have to deal with objects being thrown at them.  We were all slaves in Egypt, we were all in the Holocaust, and now we are all throwing chairs and water bottles at each other? How does that make someone a “good jew”?Something doesn’t quite fit.

 Rabbi Hillel said that the meaning of the Torah was “love your fellow Jew, and the rest is commentary.” If this is the case, then shouldn’t respect toward another Yehudi override any ideas of tradition? The laws of Judaism exist to teach the value of loving your fellow.   Regardless of what they are doing, whether it be wearing tallit,  donning kippahs, or being annoying on the way to school, there is never an excuse for hitting your brother.

How Shabbat Brings Us Back to Earth

“Shabbos is practice for the world-to-come.  Weekly practice in living in a world that doesn’t need fixing.”

“On Shabbos you don’t have to believe in holiness because you can see it.”

“More than the Jewish people have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jewish people”

 

 

“No one is going to be there tonight…” I told Yitzi as we trudged through snow and wind to reach our final destination.  The Boston streets were deserted. Commonwealth Avenue was a virtual ghost town.  It was Friday night, and despite pleas from parents and friends that we stay inside, Yitzi and I were heading to Chabad for Shabbat dinner in the midst of what Bostonians often call a “nor’easter (a massive snowstorm enveloping the city).

When we finally reached Chabad’s corner of Comm Ave, we were sure that when we walked through the door we would find no other guests. We were wrong. Contrary to our prediction, the house was more full than we had ever seen it.  The tables could not handle the amount of people.  There was talk of wine and challah shortages. Students were on the floors, in the foyer…everyone had come to Chabad.

So why, on the day when it is the most challenging to reach Shabbat services and dinner, do more people come than when walking to Chabad takes little effort? Is it that significant events such as snowstorms remind us that there is something bigger than ourselves out there? Do we crave the one thing that seems immortal in our minds,a Jewish tradition that has lasted for generations? Or do blizzards and city wide tragedies help us to realize that our everyday challenges are nothing compared to the importance of connecting with other human beings?

All of Friday, April 19,2013, the city of Boston was on lockdown.  Residents were urged to remain indoors as a massive manhunt was underway for a terrorist that had set off bombs at Marathon Monday and hijacked a car after killing a policeman.  With the terrorist still at large, the ban was lifted.  My assumption was that upon my arrival at Chabad, I would be the only guest.  There was a dangerous man on the loose. Who in their right mind would leave the safety of their own home for Shabbat?

I was wrong. When I arrived at Chabad, I encountered the same scene I had witnessed during the snowstorm. Tables were overflowing with people, students were on the floors, in the foyer….everyone had come to Chabad.  Candles were lit, wine was served, pieces of Challah were broken, and I realized that without this night, the snow storms and the lockdowns and the shootings and the craziness would dwell in our minds without end and without purpose. Shabbat is there to remind us that there are focuses in life more important than who’s running from police and who’s stuck inside. It reminds us that in the end, the people around you are the things that matter and that Challah, kugel, and a little wine can fix just about anything.