Saturday, October 18, 2008


For a Jewish person of my generation coming to spend time in Israel, the number one destination to come and see is Masada, the famous Dead Sea fort where an band of Jewish rebels made a heroic and desperate stand against the Romans not long after the Romans destroyed the great Temple in Jerusalem in 70CE.

But somehow -- even after spending a year of rabbinical school in Jerusalem -- I never found my way there. That finally ended last Friday when I made my first trip to Masada and walked up the steep "snake path" up to the fort.

It was a moving trip and I was glad I went, but it brought me to reflect on how it is that I had never made it there before. I think the main reason is that I was never in Israel on the kind of whirlwind group or youth tour in which most people find their way to Masada; my first trip to Israel was not until I was in my mid-30s when I came here to study for a year.

But I think it's also because of what it is that interests me most about Israel -- I am interested in the living Israel. The Israel of today. Masada is a great testament to the will and spirit of the Jewish people, but an even greater testament is the outdoor Mahaneh Yehuda food market, where -- especially as Shabbat approaches on a Friday afternoon -- you can witness the intensity of today's Israeli life continuning to go on despite the desperate attempts of terrorists to end it through murderous attacks. Similarly, it is the sight of school children laughing and speaking in the tounge of their ancestors -- a tounge that was long dead before Zionists strove to begin its revival in the 19th century -- that speaks to the Zionist within me. Even among the things that speak deeply to my heart are the commercial monuments that are the office towers full of booming high-tech companies that surround Tel Aviv. These are the things -- the living things -- that I love to go to see in my free time while I am priviledged to be here.

But few of these living things is more inspiring than the sight of the living practice of the biblical command to the Jewish people to "dwell in sukkot for seven days". All around Jerusalem you can see evidence of the commitment of the Jewish people to live up to this command -- in every neighborhood there are sukkot to be seen. Some high in the air, built on people's rooftops and apartment balconies. Some built on the ground in whatever open space people could find for the holiday. Nearly every restaurant -- even the most humble felafel stand -- has set one up, often right on the sidewalk, for people to eat in. Many of them are richly decorated (the picture on the left is of the inside of a sukkah where Minna is meeting some friends to sing with tonight). From many of them can be heard the sound of song as people meet to share meals together.

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy one that you will find shelter -- and peace and comfort and joy -- wherever you go.

Hag sameach.

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