Thursday, 14 May 2020

Shmita and the Sanctity of the Land

I have always claimed that Jews and Am Yisrael have an indispensable bond with our ancestral Homeland Land, with Eretz Yisrael. We are first introduced to it in G-d’s promise to Avraham “To your offspring, I will give that Land” in Bresheet (Genesis 12:7). This special linkage was later validated on Mount Sinai when we were given the Torah.

One of the first commandments aimed at upholding and anchoring that connection is mentioned in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:23, where G-d instructs us to “plant any kind of fruit tree” as soon as we “enter the Land.”

Admittedly, since the dawn of history, planting trees has been an important practice in various ancient cultures towards sustaining their connection to their soil. None, however, had, I believe, the same allegiance between the two as our People and Eretz Yisrael have had.

We have all read and learned about the ecological and nourishing benefits of trees. To many, it boils down to a choice. Not so with Am Yisrael, though. For us, unlike others, it is a commandment to plant trees and for a reason. In the case of our People, it is the essence of the infinite ties with our Land which gave birth to such a directive. For Am Yisrael, the union between the two is the nexus of our covenant with G-d.

The obligation to plant trees, for Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, symbolizes the replanting of our People in its native territory. It is the renewal of that ancient covenant through performing the Mitzvah of inheriting the Land, settling it and never forsaking it (Ramban, Book of Mitzvot, D).

It is not only settling in the Land that the Torah commands us. It also charges us with the duty of taking care of it, treat it kindly and protect it. And this is one of the themes of this week’s Parasha, Behar.

I am specifically referring to Shmita. This is the Mitzvah which requires us to halt any cultivation of the land every seventh year, abandon everything that grows on it and treating its leftovers or any new sprouts with great sanctity and reverence.

Though Shmita is relevant to other important issues such as the treatment of slaves, (which I elaborated upon in an article entitled, “Judaism and Slavery” which I wrote a few years ago), I chose to address only its bearing vis-à-vis the subject of the Land.

Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Yisrael, together with G-d and Am Yisrael, constitute the backbone that defines our Jewish essence. It is the “Three Stranded Thread,” which has kept our People unified and alive over a few millennia, despite ongoing efforts to destroy it. These three are the fabric of our Jewish existence. They are interlocked, interconnected, and cemented in an unbreakable knot, which as the wise writer of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) affirms “cannot be easily severed.”

Just as our omnipotent G-d rested on the Seventh Day after completing the act of Creation and just as Am Yisrael are commanded to cease all work on the Shabbat, so that we can refresh and replenish our body and soul after the sometimes very energy depleting chores of weekdays, so does the Land need a pause. Shmita, like Shabbat or other holidays in which we are required to take a break from the mundane and busy world, rest, heal and recover has a balancing and liberating intent. It, also, serves as a constant reminder that just as we belong to G-d so does the Land that He has given us. We need to treat it with reverence just as we would G-d and our fellow Jews.

 Let us face it,  whenever a culture, a tradition respects its Land and sanctifies it, in the end, it is more likely to also venerate its own People and safeguard the dignity of Man.

That my heritage, this is our Jewish legacy. How much more blessed can one be?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, 8 May 2020

Lag Ba'Omer

The following article was written by Tal Gilad two years ago and translated into English by Bat-Zion Susskind - Sacks

In recent years, an acceptable social custom has been spreading, to discredit Bar Kochba (in Hebrew it means the “son of stars”). It kind of looks wise and realistic, we will all become an Ilana Dayan of the Jewish history, especially if we add that Chazal, likewise, treated him skeptically and called him “Bar Koziba (false messiah).”

Ben Kusba was his official name on his driver’s license., so the most one could do with it is play with one letter. So, perhaps, his name was written differently because of pronunciation. However, Chazal’s main doubt stemmed from the fact that some of them were hoping that he was the Mashiach and it turned out that he was not. It is not even certain that Bar Kochba regarded himself as such. It is merely hinted in one folklore tale which is not based on a true event. In all references, he addresses himself as Shimon Bar Kusba, the president of Israel, not a mashiach and not even Bar Kochva.

Alas, a nation’s history is not composed merely of victories and successes.
As a matter of fact, most rebellions in the world failed, naturally. An uprising is generally attempted by the weak against those who are stronger, but all those failed rebellions turned to be a symbol of national pride which awards them with adrenaline to keep on going.

The Slovaks proudly point out and built museums and monuments to commemorate their uprising against the Nazis in 1944 which ended in an excruciating defeat. Bridges, streets and squares are named after it. The Poles share the same sentiments regarding their revolt in that same year which ended in a destruction of Warsaw with 250,000 dead. A quarter of a million(!) and no one is yelling “Why did we even bother.” The why is clear, they were fighting a conqueror.

The Hungarian revolt against the Austrians in 1848 ended up in their rout and the execution of its commanders. Yet, that does not prevent from the Hungarians to mark their Independence Day on the 15th of March, the date of the outbreak of the revolt, each year. In Madagascar, the uprising against the French, in which at least 30,000 locals were killed, is proudly celebrated each year. There are plenty of other examples.

Even the American National anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner,” which Americans sing fervently with a hand on their heart was written during the war of 1812, which, itself, was not a glorious success, to say the least. The anthem originated in the battle at Fort McHenry in which the Americans were not even able to respond as the British bombarded them incessantly with long range canons and the writer simply got excited at the sight of the banner that continued to fly despite the shelling.

From the little that is known about Bar Kochba’s rebellion, it shows that it was well planned, realistic, devoid of religious hysteria, attributes that differentiated it from the previous revolt. The rebels prepared for it secretly and even dug a tunnel system in the style of the Vietcong Cauchi Tunnels. The command was central and organized, unlike in the previous one, and the number of fighters was much greater.

The Romans had difficulties crushing the uprising. One legion was destroyed entirely. Others absorbed great losses. At one stage, the Romans were able to concentrate, in Judea, one third of the army of the great empire. Finally, Julius Severos, a Roman Senator, stationed in Britain was sent to Judea. He is the one who was finally able to overcome the Jews through isolation and a siege while slowly approaching Beitar. In the eyes of the Romans, it was regarded as a great victory against a bitter enemy.

The outcome of the revolt was indeed devastating. And I deliberately use the term “the outcome of the revolt’ and not the “revolt caused,” because the revolt did not cause, the Romans did. The resistance of the raped did not cause the beating of the rapist.  She cannot be guilty for trying to resist. The revolt resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead, the dwindling down of the Jewish settlement, exile and gradual emigration following edicts that were issued. And worst of all -the horrible name Palestine – the curse of Adrian. Despite all of that, there has always been continuous Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisraelsrael and the Bar Kochba revolt was not the last one. How many of us heard of the revolt of Gallus in 351? Yes, another Jewish uprising against Rome, headed by a man whose name is not so pleasant to the ear, Patricious, who was also considered a messiah until he, too, failed. Another revolt took place in the seventh century against Byzantine. It lasted four years and ended with a settlement which was revoked through Christian incitement and led, as usual, to the slaughter of Jews.

These revolts are hardly mentioned in our history perhaps because they were small and perhaps because it was in violation of the three oaths which gained much more validity after the Bar Kochba revolt – no to rebelling against the gentiles, no to climbing the wall and lastly, the need to wait patiently, when the wise Jewish elders said: Leave national honour aside, it is more important to secure the people at any cost. Don’t resist, first remain alive, the rest will be taken care of later.

“He should have known.” The same words would have been said about Judah the Maccabee, if the Revolt he had led had failed, about Ben Gurion, if, G-d forbid, we would have lost in 1948. One can say that about almost any revolt in the history of mankind. Revolt is a combination of a moral right and a calculated risk. Generally, the rebels know that their odds are few, but they know that they have to fight for their freedom, to send a clear message: We shall not surrender, a message that is addressed to the conqueror and future generations.

So, without any doubt – he was a hero, he called for freedom, albeit for a short time, but let us give him the honour that the man, who carried out one of the most difficult revolts against the Roman Empire, deserves.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Day After.......

These three words, if you ask me, are loaded and are relevant to so many situations and circumstances. For some, these words denote that something epic or terrible which presaged them is going to bring upon us one or another doomsday prophecy and the end of the world.

For others, myself included, on the other hand, they reveal a sliver of hope, hold the promise of renewal, rebirth and better days ahead.

The seam which separates between the two is not always a thin one and not always easy to cross, let alone smoothly. The process can be bewildering, taunting and depressing to some.
And it is precisely on that very unpredictable joint between the Days of the Chinese Communist Party virus  (AKA Corona) and what the we refer to as “The Day After,” where the world stands. The uncertainties, distrust, the need to change behavioural patterns and learning to face and deal with the unknown, take their toll. The nameless and uncharted future results of the current crisis are certainly bigger and more ominous than that which is presently known, a harsh reality that we are forced to face.

That, however, does not scare or deter the optimist in me. I know that we shall overcome these difficult days and come out of them stronger. It may not happen soon, but it will happen. Moving forward is our only option. A cure and hopefully a vaccine will put an end to the calamity that has befallen humankind.

So where and how do we begin to address this?

Firstly, any reasonable person would tell you that in order to effectively deal with a problem, one must spot its cause, its source.

Despite all the confusion and havoc, one dictum, nevertheless, remains undeniably clear and factual. The origin of the virus is in a lab in China. Though we are still shrouded in darkness as to how it first appeared, at least we know its starting point, its source.

Having said that, let me explain that when I mention China, I am not referring to the average person on the streets of Zhongguo, the Mandarin name for all the territories of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese are very friendly and harmless people whose sole desire is to live in peace and tranquility. I have been there a few times, did business deals with them, was a guest at their home and spent time in their company. My arrows regarding this sordid “Corona” affair are directed ONLY at China’s brutal communist regime. There are many examples of how that government subjugates its people, how it endeavours to control every aspect of our lives, buying chunks of our world, stealing intellectual properties and others. I, however, am specifically referring to the painful issue of child or underage labour.

Unfortunately, there is almost no available economic study of child labour in China. We do know, however, that “as the largest developing country in the world, China was classified as posing an “extreme risk” of child labor as indicated by Maplecroft’s 2014 Child Labor Index” (Maplecroft, 2014).

That, for me, as  a human being, as a mother, as a teacher is a very disturbing piece of information. It is that distressing detail that I want you, dear readers, to see in front of your eyes when we finally reach the Day After. I ask you to remember it as you search the internet for “finds,” and keep your post offices buckling under the piles of deliveries containing cheaper items that probably originate in China. Did you ever stop to think why Chinese products are so cheap (in addition to their bad quality)?

The answer is child labour.

Why not pay more and buy products made in our own back yard? Why not support our own industries and home economy that have suffered so much because of the way the Chinese Communist Party handled the spread of the virus? Why not make the Day After a better day for our own home, for us, for our future generations?

Hopefully, along the path to recovery from the pain' loss and suffering of the day before, the Day After will also help build a better world for all.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

One Should not be afraid to speak of the Palestinian Naqba

Yom Ha’atzmaoot and what surrounds it has turned into a teasing holy day in recent years. A high-profile memorial service for the terrorist (sorry, for “all victims”) and soon Naqba Day slowly approaching to be commemorated on the same Gregorian calendar date as Yisrael’s Independence Day.
I have no issue with the Palestinian point of view. All they want is to live calmly, cultivate their land and slaughter the Jews like any normative nation that is contented with its lot. One can understand their anguish at the fact that they have been deprived of that right. Likewise, one can understand the crocodile’s disappointment when the antelope fled and now it is left without breakfast. It is also easy to understand how difficult it was for the Nazis to witness their dream to destroy the Jews shattering in front of their very eyes when the Russians and Americans liberated the camps. It must have really hurt. It is alright. This is how they see it when the stress is on the word “see.” The problem begins when the victim starts sliding from understanding to empathy and from there justifying those who come to slaughter him and his family. How unfortunate is the crocodile, perhaps I should give him half of my derriere? I will manage. I will sit on my side.
There is no doubt that the Palestinians have experienced a tragedy. So did the Nazis. Mistaken is the person who does not think that the next stage is a joint and flattering Yom Hashoah for “all victims.” It will happen. The deranged ones among us will ensure it does.
The Yisraeli empathy towards the Palestinian failure is a twisted version of the American and European guilt feelings regarding colonialism. We copied it, albeit as a response to the wrong question. The Yisraeli sees himself as a cavalier who is destoying a Native American village and stealing its land or hauling Africans to a slave ship. Except, in this case, it is just the opposite, Watson. Here we are the Native Americans, the one in a thousand cases in which the intended victim was able to overcome the murderous attacker and push him back.
Hungary and Slovakia refuse, and tenaciously, to accept Muslim immigrants. Anyone who is incensed at them for not partaking in the festival of European guilt feelings towards anyone whose skin is slightly darker than theirs, does not know that there, the story is different: Hungary was conquered and enslaved, in the past, by the Turkish Muslims who pushed them northward and only after many generations were liberated by the Austrians. The Hungarians and the Slovaks never conquered one centimeter of Africa or Asia and did not burn Native American villages. Neither did we. They do, however, remember what happened to them five hundred years ago. We, on the other hand, have forgotten what happened to us merely seventy years ago. The fact that we are successful at constantly our neighbours’ plan to destroy us, does not make us conquering colonialists in the microscopic tiny piece of land resting at the heart of 13 million square kilometres which are inhabited by 300 million Arabs.

What characterizes the Arab – Yisraeli wars is its totality. One side comes out with a declared goal to destroy the other side entirely. Not winning, not subduing, not imposing demands of conditions or to conquer land. Annihilate everyone to the last one. They lost? They deserve it. Suffering, let them do some reflections, learn from their mistakes and rebuild their lives. Damn, a thousand organizations and states funnel aid and assistance, incessantly, solely for that purpose. The Palestinians, though, have for four generations have been making a living off misery and at the same time refuse to give up the dream of extermination They refuse to disembark this monstrous idea. They are already lying on the ground with broken limbs, without teeth and, still, what preoccupies them is not getting to the emergency room but instead obstinately insists “now, I will really kill them.” Just like the dark knight of Monty Python.
On Yisrael’s Independence Day, one should not be intimidated to talk about the Palestinian Naqba. On the contrary, it should be taught quite openly. Here once stood an Arab village. Its residents fled because of a war that Arabs started. Here was another one and now stands in its place a flourishing Jewish town, founded by the ones destined to an impeded slaughter. Ah, and there, too, was some small village. Alas, what can one do? This is the fate of the villain that muddles with Yisrael.

Sorry, dear world, the show is over. Sorry, dear neighbours but the slaughter of the Hevron Jews, the slaughter of Zefati Jews, khybar, khybar Ya Yahud and the eradication of an entire Jewish entity, raping and forcefully Islamizing its women and children – all this will only remain in your harsh nostalgic rhymes. And from year to year, as Yisrael gets stronger and mightier, this is getting less and less attainable. Sad, but c’est la vie.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

The Perpetual Desert Generation?

Two weeks ago, Jews the world over celebrated Pesach, the Holy Day marking our People’s Exodus from Egypt and embarking on our journey from slavery into freedom. For me, at least, it bears a very meaningful period in our Jewish timeline.

Unfortunately, this Pesach was quite a different one, one that we are not going to forget anytime soon. This year, it was celebrated in the shadow of Corona, serving as a reminder of the fragility of the fabric of our existence.

It is not just Corona, however, that served as a wakeup call for many. For some, myself included, this Pesach, unfortunately, presented, yet another proof that though we may have physically come out of bondage, mentally and emotionally, we are still drenched and perceptually bear the yoke of serfdom. We are still in the Sinai desert trying to make our way to the Promised Land.

Remember how our forefathers complained to Moshe on a regular basis during that time? Here are some examples.
Exodus 16:3 : “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
In Exodus 17:3, we hear a similar gripe when they accuse Moshe of trying to kill them. This time, though, they add, “children and livestock,” thus making the accusations against him even more severe by including these two feeble and vulnerable groups. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Later, in Exodus 32, when Moshe is away on Mount Sinai, receiving the Torah, the Yisraelites lose patience and continue with their complaints. Aharon, who is not well versed in the art of leadership, caves in and erects the golden calf.

This was going on for forty years when all that Moshe wanted was to deliver our People to their own Land and secure their future.
Fast forward a few thousand years. That brings us to the modern-day Jewish state of Yisrael.
Looking around me nowadays, I see members of a Nation and a country that I love so dearly. Although we have moved forward and are experiencing the opulence of the Age of Technology with its many conveniences, something that did not exist during the Exodus, attitude wise, not much seems to have changed. Our mindsets and reactions to serious issues has unfortunately remained pretty much the same. It pangs me to see that we are still doing what our forefathers did thousands of years ago during what should have been considered a landmark in our history.
We are still complaining precisely as did the Biblical desert generation.

When we could celebrate Pesach freely among family and friends, many Yisraelis preferred to do it on some remote exotic island. It is probably and most likely because they did not want to be in the company of salivating auntie Frida and blabbering uncle Maurice.
Now, we have an epidemic, rather a pandemic which forces us into a new reality. “Now” they told us, “you are relieved of the company of auntie Frida and uncle Maurice. In fact, we forbid you to spend any time with them.”
And what do some do in response? Yes, they complain, as did the desert generation. .

The Yisraeli Health Ministry issued some extremely strict guidelines in order to stamp out a virus that has claimed many lives. These directives have one goal and one goal only. It is to secure the health well-being of Yisraelis (a tactic which, by the way, proved itself as remarkably effective).

And how do we react? You guessed right again. Just like them.
We keep complaining while some still refuse to cooperate and to adhere to the instructions.

I could come up with some more examples to prove my point. But you do get my gist, don’t you?
For a nation, a People that has been through so much in history, witnessed so many miracles, saw devastation and renewal, death, and rebirth we, Jews have much to be grateful for.
But hey, if we follow the logic of Cohen’s quote above, I guess the question that is begging to be asked is, if we drop our complaints, would we still be Jewish?

Happy Independence Day, Medinat Yisrael and Am Yisrael.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The Eighty First Blow

I first heard about the story that I am about to unfold to you here, dear readers, when I was a young child in Yisrael. The year was 1961.

In April of that year, Adolph Eichmann, the notorious Nazi criminal who was one of the initiators and implementors of the “Final Solution” for our Jewish People, stood trial in Yisrael, the National Home of the Jewish People after he had been kidnapped and brought to Yisrael.

The trial was broadcasted live over the radio. As a young child, I would never forget those long nights of pain, heartache and endless tears that poured like rivers from my parents’ eyes as the atrocious stories were being told, stories that no sane mind can digest. Those were the nights Yisrael stood still as witness after witness took the stand to point at this evil man and repeat two words that have become part of our Jewish DNA, “J’accuse!”

This is also where the story you are about to read was first told. This is where, my parents, two Shoah survivors, and I heard it for the first time.

It starts in the Przemysl ghetto. One of its inmates, a thin young man, age 16-17, along with a group of others were appointed as the “Transport Commando” where they were employed as carriers. Their duties consisted of emptying Jewish homes and transferring the content to storage.

One day, in the summer of 1943, close to the liquidation of the ghetto, the Nazis executed the train station manager. His crime, he was a Jew (though he had converted to Christianity earlier in his life). His wife who was not Jewish was shot as well.

Along with his team, this young man was assigned to empty is home. The place, as it turned out, housed many books,  a large portion, of which studied the subject of trains. The occupants of the ghetto had already heard about the trains and their destinations.

While removing the content of the train station manager’s residence, our young man decided to take some of the books and upon their arrival back in the ghetto hide them. Being aware that such a move was akin to signing one’s death warrant, did not deter the young man from pursuing his plan. He was adamant that those books should never fall into German hands.

A few days later, he was called into the yard. There, he saw the Jewish camp commander standing next to Yosef Schwammberger, the SS commander in charge of the camp. The latter was holding a leather strap which was tied to a dog’s collar. The strap was thick. On one side, it had a buckle.

The young boy had already witnessed the way the Nazi commander had employed the dog and on more than one occasion before. “Man, go get the dog,” was one of his favourite methods of punishment.

It was clear that something horrible was about to happen. One does not get to see commander Schwammberger for any minor issue.
“Where did you hide the books ?” roared the SS man after removing the strap from the collar.

Initially, the young man was unaware of his “crime.” When he realized what it was, he explained that when he got back to the ghetto, it was “lunch time” and by the time it was over, the books had disappeared so he had assumed that people had already taken them to read.

Wrong answer!

Yosef Schwammberger, raised the strap and hit the boy over his neck. He then ordered someone to bring in “the bench.” It was a special bench. On it, they would   lay the “culprits” or the victims and deal them twenty-five (25!) blows with no less than the buckle. After fifty (50!) blows, Yosef would produce his gun and shoot the victim. It was common knowledge.

The uncertainty of his fate was just as devastating as punishment by death.
When the strokes commenced, our young man started counting them. Surely, he felt, he could count to 25. After the 13th and 14th blows, he fainted. When he came to himself, he was hit again. He fainted several times. The other residents of the ghetto were asked to come out and watch it.

Suddenly, he felt nothing.

There were eighty (80!) blows, so the witnesses counted.
This young man was a miracle, the embodiment of one! Let me tell you why.
According to the Talmud, punishment by lashes, which was common in ancient times, should not surpass 39 for fear that the 40th strike might be detrimental to them. The guilty person may be weak, can get sick or die as a result of them. The number of the lashes the accused was dealt was always measured against his health status for fear that such a practice might endanger him. But there were never more than thirty-nine. Thirty-Nine, NOT Eighty! To survive 80, it must be, it can only be a miracle
When he finally came to himself, our young man heard Schwammberger yelling : ”In three minutes, I want the books back in the library.”
Where he got the energy and the strength to get up and run to the piles of books, is an enigma to this young man who is now B’H 95 years old. He stood there with his back bleeding, waiting for Schwammberger’s orders. The latter pulled a Psalms book and asked him whether it was one of them. After, he confirmed it, the young man was ordered to go but not before he was dealt one more blow on his neck. For a few days afterwards, our young heroic man spent several days in the corridor.

This young man survived that horrific experience but lost his whole family. He survived Auschwitz. He clung to life, been to hell and came out of it ready to avenge the demons with staunch determination, a determination understood by very few.

During the Death March, when the Nazis were hastily moving the inmates westward, in the freezing winter, he was able to escape with a couple of friends. They were hiding until the arrival of the Russians at which time, our hero joined Red Army, learned to drive a tank and fought against the Nazi army, on the Czech front.
After the war he made it to Eretz Yisrael on a refugee boat. The boat was captured by the British sent to a detention camp in Cyprus and eventually married, set up a family, joined the police force, became a police officer and was appointed to be one of Eichmann’s, the now miserable, dismal creature that the former Nazi had become, interrogators.
Amazingly enough, our hero told his story only once. It was the first and the last time he had shared it, until Eichmann’s trial.

One of the witnesses in the Eichmann trial was Dr. Bushminsky, one of the ghetto residents who had seen what had happened in that yard, in the Przemysl ghetto, on that dreary day in the summer of 1943. When they first met and our young man introduced himself. The doctor, who evidently did not recognize him, said “I knew someone by that name in our ghetto. He was dealt 80 blows by Schwammberger. “Last I heard, he added, “he was dead.”

"He is not dead, he is standing right in front of you,” answered our friend.
Dr. Bushminsky must have shared that with Gideon Hausner, the Chief Prosecutor at the Eichmann trial. When Dr. Bushminsky took the witness stand he also shared the story about the young man who was beaten 80 times. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Hausner turned to Dr. Bushminsky and asked: “Can you point that young man to us?” “Yes, your honour,” answered Dr. Bushminsky, “he is sitting right next to you and is wearing a police officer’s uniform.”

Later, when asked by  Gideon Hausenr, the chief prosecutor in the Eichmann trial why he never shared his story more than once, the proud man unveiled a very sad reality that many of the other survivors faced upon sharing their story.
As it turns out, our friend, did try to share history once with a couple who he had met. When  he finished his recount, he saw the man turn to his wife and say to her in Hebrew: “Shoah survivors had been through so much, sometimes they tend to mix truth with imagination.”

“That’s it,” he
resolved right there and then and later disclosed to Hausner and others during one meeting, “I am not telling anymore fantasies.” The silence that cloaked the room was deafening.

“And that, for me,“ he added to their blank faces, “was……”
“Your Eighty First Blow,” uttered one of those present.

This hero is B”H still with us today. His name is Michael Goldman Gilad. He is the father of our dear friend here, Tal Gilad.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Pidyon HaBen

{Note:  Pidyon HaBen (redemption of the firstborn son) is a Jewish ceremony wherein the father of a firstborn male redeems his son by giving a Cohen (a descendant of Aharon, the High Priest) five silver coins, thirty days after the baby’s birth}. 

The following article was written by Tal Gilad in Hebrew and translated into English by Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks.

From here to there, I find myself, one day in a Pidyon HaBen ceremony, at some friends’ home. The last time that I attended such an event was at my son’s Pidyon HaBen which too place twenty years ago.

I must admit that I do not get excited by events in which the subject of the event is not asked whether he wishes to be there or not. The same is, more or less,  true for weddings but there, at least one still has the theoretical option to jump out the window and escape to Ben Gurion airport, a privilege which one does not have at the age of one month. Make no mistake, I am all for it, I just pity the baby and his parents surrounded by salivating aunts and uncles who possess a sense of humour older than wine.

Still, a pleasant surprise awaited me as soon as I arrived, when I realized that the ceremony will be conducted by my dear friend, Yechiel Safra (yes, that same one from the programme “It is Language Time”), one of the most amazing people that I was fortunate to meet.

 It was clear that this occasion, was not going to be boring. However, one glance at the audience, raises doubts in me: the scenery is entirely secular, most of whom look younger than the spectacled-bald-enlightened breed that is travelling to attend critiquing an exhibition in Berlin.

The parents themselves look like children, a bit stressed, trying to smile. The father is still not certain about handling the child, gets advice and light reproof from female relatives. Oy, how well I remember this.

The ritual commences and I realize how convenient it is to be a guest and not a frightened parent. You can listen and even understand when the mother is reading certain explanations from her notes. And then she invites Safra. The well experienced fox stands up and while walking starts chanting with his thundering voice, the proper Biblical trope, “And G-d spoke unto Moshe…..” I am always envious of people who do not need a microphone and who were blessed with the voice that I only have when I have a cold. The sudden attack finds the spectacled-bold unprepared and in need of that split second to grasp the cynicism. They tense up and you realize that it suddenly interests them. No, it is more than mere interest. It is something that is reminiscent of methods used to locate spies: someone behind them utters something in their native tongue and checks to see who instinctively turns, before they contemplate their move. No use trying, Judaism is there, in all of them, underneath a crust that is much thinner than we believe.

Safra does not hold the baby and does not raise him upward, as they did to my son twenty years ago, a moment where my blood froze and a decision to become a Buddhist ripened. It turns out that it is not an essential or inseparable part of the ceremony. For a second, I retroactively get upset but in no time return to the present. Here, the parents continue to hold the baby. And those who remember what being a fresh parent knows how comforting it is to all involved.

“Firstborn son, you shall redeem after thirty days,” I did not know the explanation it formed the Hebrew acronym of “Bresheet,” (in the beginning). The origin of the text is, of course, associated with the tenth plague that preceded the Exodus from Egypt, which spared the firstborn sons of Bnei Yisrael. “And each of firstborn sons you shall redeem.” Jews enjoy doubting themselves. There is a cosmopolitan halo about it. The Exodus from Egypt? No proof! We are enlightened, scientific, and hopelessly sober.

Many of the researchers who are, with all due respect, no less scientific and sober than the bald-spectacled above, are fairly certain that the Exodus from Egypt did take place. A blend of shreds evidence, the Egyptian Ipouwer Papyurs which even the enlightened of the enlightened will have to chuckle while reading the text and at least say: “ This, of course, proves nothing, yet it is interesting” and, mainly, the use of that very rare commodity, common sense.

There is no reason for the presence of such a popular story if it has no basis in reality. Nations do not invent story that describe themselves as originating from slaves who had escaped. It is a story that outlines  an ongoing, not always complimentary, story which involves many people and generally sounds credible.

The ceremony continues, a mixture of light and heavy, the course of redeeming the baby is performed according to all rules and regulations. What would you prefer the baby or the shekels? Surprisingly enough, the father elects to have the baby and we reach the stage of Birkat Cohanim.

And then comes the genuine great surprise.

Some of the participants (not only the uncle with the kippah from Nes - Tziona which everyone seems to have) mumble lines from the blessings along with Safra. I know because I learned it from my son. But where in the world does a Tel Aviver who produces a feature and has a cat, know it? And here – unbelievable, or, in fact, why not – there appears a little tear. Not one facial muscle moves, the young man sits with folded hands, no one would have noticed if not for the wipe, as if by happenstance, of the eye and quickly reverts to folding his arms. Someone once told me that there is not one person in Yisrael who is secular.

Safra concludes, explains a few points and leaves us all with a smile. The mother ends with a few Torah words and everyone’s attention is shifted to the plates. All of this in less than a quarter of an hour, a feel-good timeout and unveils in you what you truly are. Secular or observant, Leftist or Right wing, a believer or very lucid. A Jew.

Shabbat Shalom.