Why does Israel Continue to Observe Tisha b’Av – the fast day commemorating the destruction of the ancient temples?

Tisha b’Av is a Jewish fast day which has been commemorated annually on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. by Jews wherever they lived, for over two thousand years.

It commemorates the destruction of the two Jewish temples built in Jerusalem: the destruction of the first temple, Solomon’s Temple, destroyed in 423 BC by the Babylonians, and the destruction of the rebuilt second temple by the Romans in 70 Ad. Both events symbolized the end of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel in those times, and both entailed exile of the Jewish people from their native land.

Today happens to be Tisha B’Av, and while normally I commemorate this day outside of the modern State of Israel, this year I am fortunate to be spending it in Jerusalem.

In fact, I can tell you that this is no minor fast. In addition to a full day of fasting and prayer, many institutions sponsor talks and film screenings relevant to the theme of the destruction of the temple and the exile of the Jewish people.

Why do we continue to observe this National Day of Mourning?

One answer from the religious community – the community which regulates these religious rituals – is that although we now have political sovereignty, we have not yet achieved spiritual sovereignty in which all peoples respect each other and work together for the common good.

In Jerusalem, on Tish b’Av, I participated in a film festival called “The Earth Trembles”: Contemporary Israeli films on contemporary social and political subjects were screened in the presence of the producers and actors.

The strength of the Jewish people is in its capacity to remember, not to forget, and to learn from the past. Education for all, starting at birth, is a very large part of the Jewish endeavor.

I believe that this is why we continue to observe the fast of T’isha b’Av – because we have so much to learn from both the heroes and villains of the past.

Observations re Passover in Israel

I grew up from the age of five in Canada, and lived in Israel as a student at the Hebrew University, many years ago and then in the US. More recently over the last year, I have been living in Israel while studying at a Women’s Jewish studies program called Shviti in Jerusalem.

The Jewish calendar is an education in itself – And living in Israel one gets to experience it as a living thing. So our school is on recess for the month of Nissan, the month of Passover to allow both students and teachers to fulfill the obligations of Passover towards, self, family and community. And this goes on in the whole country. As preparation for Pesach, some people seek to examine their personal state of servitude, their personal slavery, and explore how to be released from it. But as much as Pesach can be a personal stocktaking, it is also very much a communal  endeavor.

From the beginning of the month of Nissan, the month of the Passover/Pesach, every Jewish person and Jewish community begins preparations for the holiday, by:

  1. cleaning and getting rid of leavened bread and leavened bread products from every personal habitation – home workplace community center
  2. by studying the story of the exodus from Egypt and preparing for the seder night by studying the Torah portions pertaining to the exodus story and also reviewing the mitzvot/obigations. i.e. What to do and what not to do during this period in order to be able to have a fulfilling and “kosher” Passover/Pesach with family and friends. During this month we greet each other with the Hebrew words, “hag kasher vesameach” – May you have a kosher and joyous hag.

My own family history is intimately connected to the Exodus story – a going out from slavery to freedom. In 1949, when I was three years old and my dear sister Anita, was only one year old, my mother and her brother Tibi, set out on the last night of Passover, after having set the holiday table – so that no suspicions would be aroused – at the family home in Tokay, Hungary.

They left the house to cross the border by foot during the night from Hungary into Czechoslovakia, and from there secretly to Vienna, Austria – gateway to the free world of the West at the time. They succeeded and that is why I am here today to tell the tale. This is my story, but it is also the story of all of the Jewish people as it says in the Haggada – the prescribed book which details all of the story and traditions practiced at  the seder table on the Eve of Peasach.

Everyone in the community, in Israel and anywhere in the world, needs to be provided for, both for the seder and for the holiday, with matzoh and all Passover foods. Leket is an organization in Israel dedicated to collecting food and distributing it to the needy, all year round, and especially on Passover. Leket relies year around on volunteers and donations. “Leket” is a Hebrew word from the Torah. It refers to a practice prescribed by our Torah of leaving the corners of the agricultural fields to be harvested by whoever wants to or needs to – so that there be no one who goes hungry in the land of Israel.

In addition to major organizations like Leket in Israel, every Rabbi and Jewish congregation anywhere in the world, will have its own private collections for providing for those in need in their particular community. Passover is expensive and it tests our relationship with material things.

After the recitation of the story in the Haggada on Seder night and after the festive meal comes the reciting of the traditional prayers of gratitude to the Creator and Sustainer, the Hallel service and then the traditional songs – Dayeinu, Ehad mi Yodaya and Had Gadya.

Wishing you all a hag kasher vesameach.

Yom Hashoah Vehagvura : Day of Remembrance

Today is Yom Hashoah ve Hagvura. The day in israel set aside to remember those who fell during the Shoah/Holocaust –  a day Jews both mourn and celebrate. They mourn the destruction of more than six million innocent men, women, and children. They celebrate the courage of all those who fought to survive. This day always comes shortly after celebration of the Passover holiday.

Last night, I attended the annual Shoa (Holocaust in Hebrew) commemoration project of the Montreal community. Every year, six families who survived the Holocaust are chosen to light a candle and to share their story via video. No matter how often one attends these programs, one is consistently awed by these stories of survival and redemption.

Here is a post which I discovered today illustrating the “gvura” heroism (source: With Eternity in their Hearts, Daniel Seaman)

The story of young women at the outset of their lives who, when challenged by history, responded with remarkable courage. The Jewish “Couriers” who were real life “Wonder Women”.

The three couriers (from the left) – Tema Sznajderman, Bella Chazan, Lonka Korzybrodska (Photo – Ghetto Fighters House Archives)

During the Holocaust, Jewish resistance groups employed women as messengers to communicate with the world outside the ghettos. Daniel Seaman tells the story of three daring young women — Tema Schneiderman, Lonka Kozybrodska, and Bella Chazan— who risked their lives to help their people.

In December 1941, Tema, Lonka, and Bella were…invited to the Christmas party at Gestapo headquarters in the then-Polish city of Grodno, disguised as Polish Catholics…

[Before the war, all three had been] members of their local chapters of the [Zionist-socialist] He-ḥaluts Dror Jewish youth movement. . . . Once the war broke out, the youth movements, with their elaborate network of connections, proved to be an unexpected asset for the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe that were deliberately isolated [from one another] by the Germans.

Tema, Lonka, and Bella, like several other female members of the youth movement, were the natural choice to serve as the link between the communities, known as the “couriers” (k’shariyot in Hebrew). Disguised as non-Jews, they risked their lives to move from ghetto to ghetto, traveling through treacherous territory, transporting documents, papers, money, ammunition, and weapons across borders and into ghettos…

Not long after that evening, the dangers of the tragic era would inevitably catch up with them and their luck would run out. First Lonka, who in June 1942 was caught at the border crossing at Malkinia. She was interrogated as a member of the Polish Underground, [her captors not realizing that she was a Jew], and held in the [notorious] Pawiak prison in Warsaw. When she failed to arrive at her expected destination, Bella set out to look for her. She too was captured at the same border crossing and also sent to Pawiak. Bella and Lonka never revealed their identities, never broke, never exposed secrets though tortured severely. They never broke character either, [maintaining the ruse that they were Polish Gentiles].

Of Tema’s fate, it is known that she was transferred to the Treblinka extermination camp after being captured in the Warsaw Ghetto on January 18, 1943, during one of her many daring excursions to the place. She most likely perished there.

While Lonka died in Auschwitz, Bella survived and lived to the age of eighty-two in Israel.

 

Jewish Learning is Not Just for Children

Every one knows that Jewish civilization rests on the bedrock of the education of children. However study of Jewish texts and values is not limited to children. It happens to be one of the fundamental behaviors that Jewish men and women of all ages are enjoined to practice throughout their lives: study is a lifelong aspiration and a primary goal for all Jews. Here in Montreal, we are fortunate that classes are held all week and every week at various venues, synagogues and community centers. We are blessed with exceptional teachers and can be busy with Jewish learning every day of the week. In addition Rabbi Steinmetz and Rabbi Jacobsen have been offering a full day of learning to the community every year for the last several years. I videotaped these talks and share them with you here.

1) Hachnasat Orchim – Hospitality towards strangers in the Jewish tradition: What is its Source and Why is it Important?  (Rabbi Steinmetz)

2) Why are the Jewish people called G-d`s witness. What does this mean and what are we being called upon to  witness or to testify to? (Rabbi Jacobson)

 

3) The Racist Murders in Charleston: Is Forgiveness possible? This talk was a response to the families of the murdered victims in the Charleston Church shooting offering the murderer forgiveness at the funeral of the victims. Rabbi Steinmetz argues that offering forgiveness without asking for any reflection from the perpetrator deprives the perpetrator of the opportunity for  acknowledging his transgression and working through any personal responsibility or regret that is involved in “asking for forgiveness? (Rabbi  Chaim Steinmetz)

5) Quebec’s Bill 52 and the “right to die”: A Jewish perspective on this issue. 1,the obligation to avoid suffering and 2. the need to appreciate every life to its very end.

(Rabbi Jacobson)

Cantor Moshe Kraus Speaks in Winnipeg

Pastor Rudy Fidel and his wife Gina were so impressed with Cantor Kraus’ memoir of his life experiences “Moshele: Der Zinger: How My Singing Saved My Life”, that they organized a week of events for Cantor Moshe Kraus and his wife to speak in Winnipeg.

I accompanied them on this trip as part of my work to create a documentary featuring Cantor Kraus’ life story which has many twists and turns. On Wednesday, September 12, 2017, Cantor Moshe Kraus, age 95, spoke to a gym full of students at Shaftesbury Public High School. The event was followed and broadcast on the CBC evening news that same evening.

On Sunday morning Cantor Kraus was welcomed at Faith Temple by Pastor Rudy, Indian Chief Baird and Chief of Chiefs, Jerry Daniels, and a klezmer band. At 10:35 min into the event seen below, Cantor Kraus shares another one of his many stories – this one about a Hungarian Bishop who came to visit him during the German occupation of Hungary during WWll.