Rabbi Eshel's Shabbat Message - May 19, 2023

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Rabbi Eshel's Shabbat Message - May 19, 2023

Consider for a moment the fun song sung at countless religious schools and summer camps across America… "Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish. You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew!”

Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish?  Ok… But what is Jewish? You ask 10 different Jews and you’ll get 15 different opinions.

We have reform Jews, conservative Jews, orthodox Jews, conserva-dox Jews, reconstructionist Jews, renewal Jews, humanist Jews, secular Jews, traditional Jews, spiritual Jews, atheist Jews, cultural Jews, observant Jews, Buddhist Jews, not to mention “add country of origin here” Jews… like American, Israeli, Italian, Mexican, Persian, etc., etc., etc. Sixteen million of us throughout the world are famously divided and contentious about our identity, political position, social role, and spiritual goals. 

So who and what are we? Are we a religion?

Religion is not only a system of beliefs, rituals, and actions. It is also an expression of a general truth valid for all people. So, try telling that to secular and atheist, and cultural Jews.

So then it’s a culture… well… when we say we are cultural Jews we often mean Ashkenazi culture, but what is the real cultural connection between a Yemenite Jew and a German Jew?

Ah… then we are a race and a nation… Not so fast… Blood and DNA are very tricky. Over thousands of years, we have had many converts and the mixing of different races all absorbed into the Jewish people. And to be considered a nation, a large group of people living within a certain territory and speaking a common language is not true for half of the world’s Jewish population. 

So what are we? 

We are a family! ...A great big extended family connected by strands and sinews of all these things, religion, culture, nation, language, etc. 

At nearly every Shiva minyan that I lead, I start by saying that we are so lucky to be Jewish. We are lucky to be Jewish because we know how to celebrate… dancing, and eating, and singing, and eating, 45-minute horas, bar mitzvahs, weddings… eating… we know how to throw a party… but more importantly, during the hard times, the dark times, we show up. Jews show up for each other, lift each other up when we fall, help each other heal when we hurt, mend each other when we bleed, when we suffer. This is what Jews do… this is what family does.

Israel is our family. 

We can celebrate Israel. We can celebrate that Jews in Israel are at the cutting edge of science and medicine and innovation. And at the same time, just as it is with our Shiva minyans, we need to show up for our family during the dark times… now is a dark time. 

Two weeks ago I was in Israel meeting our new Israeli counselors coming to camp this summer and Israel was attacked… again. This time, it was thousands of Islamic Jihad rockets fired indiscriminately at southern and central Israeli cities. I was at dinner at a friend’s home and as we began to clear our plates the sirens began to wail… 15 seconds to get to the shelter, quickly but calmly we moved to the safe room, all six of us sitting on the floor, no hysterics, but not remotely dismissive of the moment. It was something else. We were quiet, looking at each other, noticing the children looking at their grown-ups as they held each other tightly. Then… boom. Then another, then another, then another as, thank God, the iron dome did its job. We waited a few more minutes. And then it was time for dessert. As if this completely absurd moment was normal and acceptable. Normal? Acceptable? Really? And we’re OK with our family living like this? 

Right now, I refuse to get caught up in politics and the debates and emails and social media posts. I am not interested in arguing and I have no patience for the “yeah… but,” conversations. I am not naive. I get it. Israel is complex. Israel has its very real challenges. But right now, the compassion and humanity that is at our core demand that we rise above and show up for our family. Yes, thoughts and prayers are essential. But we can do so much more.

First, we can reach out, reach out to real people… we all know someone in some way…check your Facebook pages and your Instagram… you are for sure friends with someone who is friends with someone who lives in Israel… another friend of mine living in Tel Aviv recently wrote… we need a hug, a good word, an email, a phone call – saying – we are family, we care, we are somehow all in this together, can I help in any way?  

We can continue to educate ourselves and our children… we can engage in real dialogue and learning and not be seduced by tweets, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook postings, and sensational headlines. We can go and visit… visit our family… meet, connect, reconnect with people… experience the land and the cities and the culture… real life. We can and must show up for our family. Because, thank God, wherever you go there is always someone Jewish, there is always family, and this is what we do. 

Shabbat Shalom,