From the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai to this day – Kol Israel Arevim Ze La’ze
The holiday time of Sukkot is a strange time in Israeli society. Across the country, normally modern people suddenly go out to their balconies and courtyards, and participate in a sort of children’s game, building those big boxes made of wood or cloth covered with branches or mats. I remember myself as a kid joining in this effort, usually in decorating the temporary structure. All of this is for the purpose of breaking the everyday routine and replacing the comfort of the house for seven days with the Sukkah, despite the weather getting colder and rainier. Sukkot reminds us that our existence is transient and yet that we can enjoy the forces of creation (see the stars through the thatched roof) and get pleasure from the use of our senses (smell, sight, taste and touch) embodied in the four plant species.
Immediately after Sukkot, during the holiday of Shemini Atzeret (“Eighth Day of Assembly”), we are transferring from the physical level to the metaphysical level. It is then that we celebrate the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle. Speaking from a non-religious point of view, I always kept a place of honor for the Torah. The thought that from generation to generation Jews all over the world have recited exactly the same portion every Shabbat is, in my eyes, remarkable proof of the strength of the Jewish people and I believe that is definitely something to celebrate!
At the same time, the spirit of Jewish peoplehood is not revealed only in terms of ritual and tradition. You can feel it outside the synagogue as much as inside it, just as I have felt it in the past few days as the news was breaking that captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would finally be released. As it did for most people, the news that the Israeli government and Hamas reached a deal took me by surprise. Some of the people I spoke with told me they were trembling with excitement, others cried, and some just couldn’t believe it. The tweets, Facebook status updates and shared links I saw online also revealed the level of excitement — “Finally!”, “The boy is getting back!”, and “Welcome home Gilad” were just a few examples. The more amazing thing is that those came from my friends, Israelis and Americans alike, showing me how emotionally connected the Jewish world is to this issue. Over the 5 years and 4 months since Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid, he had become a household name in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora; a symbol for Jewish solidarity.
Now, with the deal finalized, Israel is left with some tough questions: Why did it take five long and painful years to reach a deal? Will releasing 1,027 prisoners – some of whom murdered Israeli soldiers and helped suicide bombers that killed dozens of civilians – increase the risk to Israeli security? Is the deal fair to the families of terror victims who will see the terrorists who killed their loved ones go free? Will it spur Hamas on and weaken the more pragmatic Palestinian Authority in their rivalry over Palestinian public opinion? Isn’t it creating an incentive to abduct more soldiers, by showing Israel’s enemies that terror pays off?
Regardless of how these questions are going to be answered, I am convinced that the real winner in the end is the Jewish world and Israeli society, which comes through this momentous occasion shining its values of solidarity, human life, and willingness to stand up to a high moral standard. It is the hallmark of why we have been and will continue to be here long after our enemies are gone. We are here not just because we have maintained our traditions for all these years, but also because we have supported each other. Despite the risks and the problematic aspects of the deal, it shows our mutual responsibility for each other and there is no better time to assert this than during this time of high holidays.
Rega Shel Ivrit
Achare Hachgim – אחרי החגים (after the Holidays)
In attempt to plan, schedule, or program something during the holiday period in Israel, this expression is likely to be heard as an answer. The multiple days off in the short period of one month puts many things on hold and tends to postpone productive work until after the holidays. Sometimes it’s annoying, but it’s also easier to take long vacations from work and just enjoy the holiday.
Chag Simchat Torah Sameach!
About the Author
Roey Shiff is the NFTY Shaliach. Roey grew up in Ein Vered, Israel and has experience working with teens and leadership development. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Management from Ben Gurion University. In September 2010, Roey moved to NYC to act as the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach as part of the URJ Youth Division.