Posted by Lara Berman
Yom Kippur draws near, and the word buzzing around Jerusalem is “Tshuva.”
Tshuva, tshuva, tshuva - frequently translated as ‘Repentence.’
Don’t stop reading. I know, if you’re anything like me, the word triggers a massive case of the icks.
Repentence is a drek-filled word if there ever was one, full of punitive and shameful connotations; its link to Yom Kippur evoking memories of insanely, long days standing in uncomfortable shoes at synagogue, where we obligatorily beat on our chests, commiserate about how awful we’ve been and silently debate how much longer we must suffer this self flagellation before returning home to starve till sundown. Isn’t that how everyone ‘celebrates’ their holidays?
So, I for one was thrilled to learn that dreary understanding of Yom Kippur is completely wrong. Being a sin-full people is not a Jewish concept. Judaism doesn’t tell us we’re bad. It’s tells us we’re good. It tells us we’re beautiful, that we’re blessed, that we have enormous gifts to contribute.
Turns out, we as a people have drifted away from our beloved Judaism due to….mistranslation. “Tshuva” in Hebrew, the language in which it was forever intended to be understood, means ‘Return.’
Return to what?
Return to you.
And who are you?
No less than a divinely inspired ray of Light, an individualized part of Hashem Himself. This concept knocked my socks off it was so resonant. Hashem is so wild about us that He set up a yearly date with us; indeed created the world in such a way that every year we must do ‘Tshuva,’ or ‘Return’ to Him and in so doing, to our highest selves.
What a love story it is between Hashem and the Jewish people! And nowhere can it be felt more than in Israel, for you have to be utterly deaf, dumb and blind not to notice Hashem’s hand in this place every day. So, imagine what it was like to be here during Rosh Hashana. Forgive me, words will surely fail. There are some experiences that simply cannot be contained by language.
Dressed in a long skirt, as though a princess in a fairy tale, I walked the holy streets of Yerushalayim shel Zahav (Jerusalem of gold) like so many before me. No cars. Closed shops. Gentle breezes. A warm wish from each passerby, “Shana Tova.” (Good Year.) It’s was a new year, but still a solemn day; the future was being written, and we all know the world is precarious now. But red pomegranates dangled from branches, blue and tangerine flowers bloomed, shofar horns sounded far and near from the numerous synagogues I passed. The Knesset gleamed in the distance. I was home, living the dream of so many generations past.
And then I arrived at shul, an unpretentious place, a converted classroom. People crowded to get in. We shared our seats, taking turns sitting.
“No, you sit!”
“No, you sit!”
And the sound! Never before had I been in a place where each person knew the meaning and gravity of their words. “Yeruuuuushalayim!” the people sang. My eyes welled with tears. Do you know the song? The song with only one word: Yerushalayim. Swaying back and forth like flickering candles, our eyes closed in concentration with foreheads furrowed, the harmonies exploded. Surely, our voices reached the heavens! This is what praying was always supposed to be: joyful and fervent, passionate and connected, real and grateful, present and full. “Yerushalayim! Yerushalyim! Yerushalyim! Yerushalayiiiiiiiiiim!” Then the clapping and dancing began! How to explain what it is to sing of your home, of your people, in your home, with your people?
While leaving, I met a little boy with shirt tails out and a lop-sided kippah standing on the opposite side of the gate. He looked at me and with his 5-year-old, little voice said, “Ee efshar la’avor!” (It’s impossible to pass.) And he crossed his arms over his chest like a security guard.
“Aval, yesh li tochnit l’aruchat tzohoraim,” (But I have lunch plans!) I told him.
“Hmmm,” he thought. “Beseder!” (ok) he said, hopping onto the gate and letting it swing open.
Walking down the stairs, I smiled and turned back to wish him, “Shana tova!” (Good year!)
Still hanging onto the gate he replied, “Uuuuuu’metukaaaaa!!!” (And a sweet one!)
And then, from my bedroom, just before dusk set in, I heard another shofar blast. Where was it coming from? I rushed to the meerpeset (balcony). There, on the street in front of my own home, two men walked, blowing the shofar in every direction, ensuring every one, even from home, had the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana. “Where am I?” I wondered. “How did I ever merit these magical experiences?” And then the wind rustled the leaves, and the sky began turning shades of purple and orange; and don’t ask me why, I knew the moment was wink from Hashem.
The chag ended. Still reveling from the holiday, I logged onto Facebook to see the outcry over TIME Magazine’s defamatory cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Published September 13th, that’s one way to say happy new year. Here we have journalism at its most irresponsible. Most will never read the merit-less story within, rather they will take the accusatory and damaging headline as fact and use it to demonize Israel.
Truly this is brilliant. Now, Israelis are criticized for leading their lives! For pushing forward! For looking up! What would the world have them do? Let the terrorists win, spend their days in bomb shelters and behave as a paralyzed, frighten people? This bogus story got over 2,000 thumbs-up on Facebook.
So, here’s an opinion of my own: TIME, since you’re clearly hurting for readership (as you’ve foregone the basic journalistic ideals of verifiable truth and impartiality in deference to sweeping generalizations, sensationalism and shock tactics), how about you just stick to pretty pictures?
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a fellow democracy, why are Israel and Israelis flagrantly criticized when they simply attempt to realize these basic pursuits we all agree are just?
But here’s the twist: it doesn’t matter what they say. Judaism teaches there is blessing in the covered. We don’t announce right away when a woman is pregnant. We wait till the ink is dry before celebrating a new job or business deal. We get married under a chuppah. Right now, the world is covering our goodness, our resilience, our commitment to creating a good life for ourselves and for the world, and in doing so, we are blessed.
On Rosh Hashana it was written, on Yom Kippur it will be signed and in between, we have the opportunity to plant seeds for our entire year. We will not drink the media’s hateful tonic, and on Yom Kippur we will Return to ourselves and to our greater Self.
The Moshav Band has a lyric, “Return to who you are. Return to what you are. Return to where you are born and reborn again…” As I bring my fist over my heart this Yom Kippur, I will not beat myself for living. We apologize for doing wrong because those lapses take us away from the lights we were born to be. There is a person only I can become. There is a person only you can become. Hashem dreamt of us together and apart with a twinkle in His eye. We are here to realize those visions. May we all return and rise to who we are and never make the mistake of forgetting that whatever the cloak of darkness, we are blessed.
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September 3, 2010 | 2:10 am
Posted by Lara Berman
I was supposed to go grape picking this morning. A couple from my ulpan invited me to go with them. They frequently visit during the summer months to help farmers harvest their crops. The grapes at the vineyard in Psagot were ready, and so was I.
Then, last night, I logged onto The Jerusalem Post newspaper. I was looking for an article I’d written, but before I could get there, the day’s lead headline blazed: “Four killed as terrorists open fire near Kiryat Arba.” Less than an hour from Jerusalem, on the same road I’d be travelling in the morning, two men and two women were killed, one of them pregnant. Z”L. The terrorists first laid fire from afar, then approached the car and shot the travelers at point-blank range.
The attack was a response to the peace-talks between Netanyahu, Abbas and Obama in Washington happening today.
The Israeli Defense Force expected more attacks in the coming days and put the country on high alert. Clearly, I shouldn’t go. The vineyard lies off Route 60, the same highway where the Israelis were murdered yesterday.
Psagot is a small, religious community in Samaria, outside Ramallah. Ramallah is one of those towns so dangerous people shudder at the mere mention…like they do Hevron, outside of which is Kiryat Arba. Why tempt fate? The country was on high alert. Go next week. I would support the families living there another time, I told myself. “You don’t have to prove anything,” my mom added. But I hated stopping my life due to fear.
I rarely write about these heavier topics. There is so much good to talk about! Israel is so full of life, beauty, resilience, wisdom and perseverance that the world, for whatever reason, ignores; they’d rather stonewall our home and her people as perpetrators, oppressors and bullies – an upside-down appraisal that makes me feel I am Alice through the Looking Glass, where what should be up is down, and what should be down is up.
So, until now I didn’t write about the shop in the Old City’s Arab shuk where hateful t-shirts lined the walls. My friend took me to the store because she’d previously found beautiful and cheap Shabbat skirts there. But upon entering, I was assaulted by horrifying messages. One t-shirt depicted a masked man holding a machine gun in front of the Palestinian flag, underlined by the black, capital letters “Free Palestine.” Another t-shirt showed a choking head, eyes popping out, and tape over the mouth that said “Free Palestine.” Wristbands bearing the flags of America and Israel donned the strangling hands. Another shirt showed the Palestinian flag covering a map of the state of Israel while the Israeli flag sunk in the ocean.
I left immediately, unable to spend a shekel or even another moment in that place that espoused and profited from hatred and destruction. Based on my friend’s facial expression, she disapproved of my response.
My friend, though a fellow Jew, has been raised on a strict diet of liberal media. It was her first trip to Israel. Two weeks since landing, she hadn’t yet been to the Holocaust museum but she had been to Hevron and Bethlehem to witness the Palestinian ‘plight.’ I asked her if she planned to visit Sderot and the surrounding towns. No surprise. She hadn’t. I emphatically requested that she do her “due diligence” on both sides of the complicated issue, before thoughtlessly accepting the stories of our neighboring propaganda artists. Though, deep down, I had little confidence in her ability to be open minded.
Heading back through the Arab shuk, I noticed the vendors’ friendly faces all too eager to accept my American dollars to finance G-d knows what. I decided: I’ll spend an extra 30 shekels, thank you very much, support the family and know my thrifty purchase of a skirt or menorah didn’t finance a fellow Jew’s death.
I also never wrote about the time my roommate sat in our living room crying, recounting the incidents in Bat Ayin, a hippie community where her brother lives. A toddler had been taken and killed by Arabs, chopped to pieces with an ax. Another man had gone into the forrest for hitbodedut (speaking to G-d in your own words) and never came back. They were murdered, stam. (Just like that.) I didn’t know what to say, as she sat there attempting to somehow reconcile her belief that surely all people deep down want peace with the reality that there are (and I don’t find it an exaggeration to say) evil people mired in hatred who target and murder innocent civilians. Four or five year-old babies, no less.
I left out the time I ran into a group of backpackers on my way out of the Old City at midnight after a party. The backpackers were speaking to a very suspicious-looking character. The shared glances between my friends and I spoke our shared conclusion that this was not a good situation. My friend gestured for the students to come over to us. One did.
“What’s up?” my friend asked.
“We need a place to stay tonight. We’re looking for a hostel, but this guy wants us to go with him. He says he’ll take us to a cheap place. Could be okay, but he’s being really pushy about it,” the backpacker said.
“There’s a hostel in the Jewish quarter that’s still open now. It’s really close,” my friend said. We began directing the young guy, providing the hostel and street names.
“What are you doing?!” the dubious man suddenly shouted at us, clearly annoyed.
“We’re just talking to the guy. What’s the problem?” I replied, trying to make it sound like no big deal.
Then he suddenly and intensely screamed at us, “Jew! Go home!”
The backpackers looked shocked, as did we.
I was dumbfounded, but my friend yelled back, “We ARE home!”
The backpackers headed toward the Jewish Quarter, and we continued on our way, everyone slightly rattled.
Those examples of hatred Israelis cope with on-goingly and personally. But there are also the experiences we cope with together, like, in the case of Gilad Shalit. A constant inner battle wages within me and others because we all want him home. There is no mistaking that. In Israel, we are one family. That’s why someone might offer you unsolicited advice while walking down the street, or escort you to your destination if you’re lost; you’re not a stranger. We care and we value each person’s life. L’Chaim (to life), we say at weddings, bar-mitzvahs, and before taking a sip of our wine or beer. People wear “Chai” necklaces around their necks. Chai means ‘life.’ Life, life, life. Our focus is on this life – making this life holy, making this moment…and this moment…and this moment count. Life. It is the foundation of our moral code.
And so the entire country is acutely aware of Gilad Shalit’s life passing in captivity. He “celebrated” his 5th birthday in Hamas imprisonment last week. But, as we writhe imagining the misery of his daily existence, we are also acutely aware that the price of his freedom runs high. Releasing the 400+ terrorists Hamas demands in exchange for Shalit, sets a dangerous precedent that kidnapping works. (And that assumes they actually honor the exchange, at the end of the day.) Not to mention, hello? It sets hundreds of terrorists back on the streets. They return to a hero’s welcome and a high percentage, according to statistics, return to kill again.
From the outside, Israel seems so fragile: the world’s seemingly permanent misunderstanding and the fury of blood-thirsty hatred from her neighbors. Not to mention, the hotbed of loathing from within one need only scratch the surface to discover, as demonstrated by my experience in the shuk, for example.
Yet while here, I feel safe. Is it a false sense of security? I walk around fearlessly. I travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I splash in the Kinneret. I ride buses. I pass sites of previous terror attacks and they don’t cross my mind. Today aside, I don’t make choices out of fear. That’s the Israeli mentality. We don’t let them win; we don’t let them get to us. We live.
And that’s why you see parties here brimming with utter joy! People dance in the streets on a regular basis. There is an appreciation for life; a call to live.
How the media twist such a people into the ‘bad guys’ baffles me.
Iran plots against Israel and the Jews first, the West next. Ignoring these declarations and deeds, we’ll one day regret.
People and leaders naively trust those who glorify death and believe such people will drop old vendettas over “coffee talks.” Such wishful thinking seems the simplistic dream of a disconnected people removed from reality. The talk seems enlightened or evolved, but irresponsibly gambles with our lives, with our hard-won home, not theirs.
“ It would be nice if something made sense for a change,” Alice said. Somehow, in this upside down, modern world, people love the underdog, even if the perceived underdogs are murderous terrorists. Perhaps the Mad Hatter can explain.
I pray people wake up. That they awake from suffocating political correctness. That they are shaken from complacency to act upon dangerous threats…while there’s still time. That they choose life.
And in the meanwhile, each time I see a soldier – each of whom allows me to visit here and live here and enjoy a reality wherein there is a Jewish state –I implore Hashem to bless them. May they and all of Israel and her leaders be safe and protected, guided and blessed, healthy and strong, wise and successful. May she win the battle on the ground and the battle of public opinion. And may all life-loving people awaken to the truth and support her in all ways, in word and action. This Rosh Hashana, may Israel and all of us be inscribed in the book of LIFE. Amen. Ken yehee ratzon. Amen. And so it should be.