The Purple Sheet
Shabbat Parshat Kedoshim – May 13th/14th 2016 – ו’ אייר תשע’ו
Dedicated to Meir Shnitzer – A man who truly loves Eretz Yisrael.
Israel @ 68
This week we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day for her 68th birthday. The first time I went to Israel was when I completed high school back in the summer of ’79. I wanted to learn more about what it meant to be a Jew and heard of Aish as a Yeshiva for people who did not grow up Orthodox. I went for the summer, thinking in the back of my mind that if I liked it I would stay longer. I did… for nine years.
I can’t say that I had the fully-immersed Israeli experience during that time owing to the fact that I lived in Jerusalem which is pretty American/Western and that Aish is located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City which is like Jewish Disney World. Just like Disney, it’s not quite real, there are tons of tourists most of the time, and the place is always magical and clean.
I am forever grateful that I was able to spend as much time as I did in Israel and that I was fortunate enough to discover what being a Jew was all about at the place that is the heart and soul of our religion, history and culture. Because of my personal experience, I am always encouraging people to visit Israel whenever they can and it pains me when I hear of a Jewish person who has never been there. In my presentation to such folks, I give a couple of sports analogies to try to get across why visiting Israel is so crucial to one’s Jewish identity.
Imagine a guy who loves hockey. He watches all the time, follows the statistics, knows all the players, used to collect hockey cards and has all kinds of paraphernalia associated with the game. He is a real fan in every sense of the word but there is just one problem – he has never actually been to a live game. Yeah, he has never stepped inside a hockey arena and felt the cold air rising from the ice surface decorated with the team logo at center ice. Nor has he witnessed the speed of the players, or felt their crashing into the boards, or seen how fast and hard a puck is travelling at the goalie. He hasn’t felt what it is like when 20,000 likeminded fans scream when the home team scores.
This is what it is like for a Jew who is proud to be Jewish, who identifies as a Jew, who feels for the struggles of Israel and may even advocate for her on social media or at work – but has never visited there. There is something missing and absent in that Jew’s experience of being Jewish. I am not saying that in any judgmental way, but merely stating it as a fact – that there is a hole in that Jewish heart and soul.
With the hockey fan, no matter how big and High Def his TV might be, no matter how much time he spends following the game – you just cannot duplicate the smell, the sound and that energy that emanates from that 200 by 85 foot rink. And no matter how much Judaism or Israel you do in the USA or Canada or Britain or wherever you live, you cannot duplicate the sound, the feel and the energy that emanates from the stones, the sand, the water, the people and that Wall in Jerusalem. Just like you will not fully get hockey until you have been to a game, you will not fully get being a Jew until you have been to Israel.
The other sports analogy I use to illustrate the meaning of Israel is when I explain the second day Yomtov observance we have here outside of Israel that they do not do over there. Sometimes people complain that it no longer applies and why should we still keep it in our day and age? Without getting into all the historical details, the 2-day holiday arose over an uncertainty of which exact day the holiday would fall on, but that no longer applies thanks to our set calendar. I always tell people that we need the extra day to get the feeling of the holiday in our bones here in America because being a Jew outside of Israel is like an away-game in sports whereas being a Jew in Israel is like a home-game.
When your team scores at an away-game, the only people who are celebrating along with the goal scorer are the other teammates and maybe a few fans. But when the home team scores, the whole place is rocking and screaming support and joy. This is what it is like to be a Jew in America, Canada etc. – you have a small circle of your fellow Jews celebrating along with you such as your family, your neigbours and the like. But it is a small circle of just your teammates and those few travelling fans. But in Israel, you are in sync with the whole place, and the whole country is rocking with the feel and joy of the holiday. Everyone is doing Pesach or Sukkot on some level, even the non-religious. And so we who live outside of Israel are playing an away-game, hence we need the extra 24 hours to really feel the holiday because it is not part and parcel of our surroundings the way it is with our Israeli brethren. We are in a foreign arena, figuratively and literally.
We live in very fortunate times. If you are physically able, there really is no reason not to visit Israel in our day and age. It is a 5-15 hour plane ride for most depending on where you live. There are amazing programs for all ages from March of the Living toBirthright to JWRP (who have 400 women there right now and more hundreds soon including Karen’s trip in July and mine in June) that make it easy to go.
Want to take your Jewish identity to the next level? There is no greater way to do it in our blessed times than a visit to your home, Israel. Your team and your fans await.
Big ships out in the night
And we’re floating across the waves
Sailing for some other shore
Where we can be what we wanna be
Oh this must be what paradise is like
This must be what paradise is like
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida www.aishfl.com