I started thinking about this post almost two weeks ago so although Shavuot is over, it is still on my mind.
It’s Erev Shavuot. On this night it is the custom to study till daylight. Some say it is a cabalistic tradition, maybe that’s the source for the reason we dress in white or it could be,to symbolize purity in preparation of getting the Torah.
I have an image in my head of kids at a kibbutz seated on a wagon singing about the new harvest. In Hebrew it’s called Bikurim which has the same root as the word for morning, “Boker”. I wonder if studying all night till sunrise is also connected to the custom on learning all night.
I am in Tel Aviv. It is Saturday; Shavuot starts tonight. When I grew up there was not much to do during Shabbat. Stores and restaurants were closed, but over the last 35 years things have changed. Movie theaters, restaurants, galleries are now open. But with all these changes there is still a feeling of Shabbat as no one goes to work and the streets are less busy with traffic. The beaches are filled with families and the promenade looks like a track field full of walkers and bikers .You can also spot a chasid going to shul.
I met friends for lunch and we chose to see a movie that came out about the Settler Movement. I was astonished to discover how this movement, which started with a small group of thirty people, grew over the next 40 years to a staggering number of 400,000. The Settler Movement which is a critical and important issue to the well being of the State of Israel began, we learn, with a forced agreement by a small group of religious people who chose to make a point and live in the West Bank right after it was occupied by the Israeli army in 1967.
This Agreement was signed by Shimon Peres of the Labor Movement. When Menahem Begin became prime minister in 1977, he issued, with the help of Arik Sharon, massive building approvals to continue and develop the area. It is an ideological movement but many who live in the West Bank do so for financial reasons. I have not lived in Israel during this period so it was informative to me and answered some questions and filled the gaps on some facts. I am not sure a solution can be found. It will have to be a compromise. There are 400,000 people living over the “Green Line” and I cannot imagine asking them to move to other parts of Israel, whether it be the North or South. I believe that we have to start by building trust between the Jews and Arabs who live side by side and enjoy the same sunrise and sunsets.
http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/features/1.700387 (an interview with the film director)
As the sun went down, we sat to eat the Shavuot meal of blintzes and cheese cake.
The Tel Aviv Municipality sponsored many “tikunim” or studies for the evening of Shavuot. I chose the one at the pluralistic congregation of Beit Daniel. The subject was: “What tomorrow will bring?”. It was 10 pm when I walked into the crowded sanctuary of the synagogue. I heard the author Yair Sachar talk about his book “The Third” about the building and destruction of the Third Temple. An imaginary tale of a contemporary building and destruction of the Temple using the belief in the return of the monarchy as a metaphor for a uprising by an army elitist commander unit. Well, I can not say it was a promising future but everyone is entitled to his opinion. The next lecture was by the author Yochi Brandes who talked about Rabbi Akiva.
She talked about her most recent novel, “Akiva’s Orchard,” Yochi Brandes spins a brilliant chapter out of the incident in Beni Brak, familiar from the Passover Haggadah, when five rabbis study Torah all night until their students announce it’s time for the morning prayers. In Brandes’ take, the night is not about interpretative one-upsmanship, but rather is the very moment the bery format and content of the Peach Seder was determined. Shavuot is 49 days after we read the Haggadah. She raised the question of how Rabbi Akiva could emerge out of the Pardes (orchard) unharmed yet was part of the horrific decision of the Bar Kochba revolt. Yochi who comes from an orthodox upbringing has a gift of retailing biblical stories or creating bibliographies around the figures in Jewish history. It was a fascinating lecture and I am sure to read her books
It is now after midnight. The synagogue is still full; some are singing in the yard, some take a cup of tea or coffee. The night is not over. They are planning to stay until sunrise. I am going home to sleep.
Some say Tel Aviv is unlike any other place. Tonight I could see a glimpse of a future that can bring peace. Looking at the Torah from a cultural and not only religious perspective can unite us all.
I am back home. In today’s times there is an article about the denial of the” Rabanut” (the high rabbinical authority in Israel) to approve an orthodox conversion by an American rabbi. I ask myself is this where we are heading? Let us learn from Rabbi Akiva’s mistake and learn to sit together in harmony.