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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


April 10, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Rabbinically Speaking

The legacy of our past...challenge of our future
By RABBI MICHAEL TOROP Temple Beth-El, St Petersburg

Following the joyous celebration of Pesach, with all of its powerful symbols of our transformation from slavery to freedom, from degradation to glory, Jews everywhere traverse the wilderness journey over the next 49 days journeying toward Sinai.

Traditionally we count each of these 49 days in a practice that provides many opportunities for spiritual reflection and growth. During Sefirat HaOmer (The Counting of the Omer), we connect the historical experience of the Exodus to the agricultural seasons of Eretz Yisrael to the pinnacle of our spiritual fulfillment of our encounter with the Holy One at Shavuot.

All Jewish festivals have three levels of meaning, combining each of these three elements (historical experience, agriculture of the Land of Israel, and the theological message embedded in the covenant). The period of the Omer provides a rich framework for our spiritual exploration, beginning with our physical escape from slavery, continuing with the wandering path toward freedom, and culminating in the mystical experience of encountering God at Sinai.

There are two significant signposts in the middle of this spiritual journey from Pesach to Shavuot, two days of holiness that play a powerful role in the past, present and future of our people. Rabbi Donniel Hartman, of The Hartman Institute, suggests that Yom Hashoah and Yom HaAtzma’ut challenge us to honor and preserve the “legacy of our past and the challenge of our future.” (From Yom Hashoah to Yom Ha’atzmaut - the New ‘High Holidays’ of Israel, April 4, 2009)

Each year as we gather in our community to commemorate Yom Hashoah and honor the memory of the 6 million who perished and the courage of those who survived, we find it increasingly difficult to engage those generations who no longer feel a personal connection to events that are rapidly becoming “just” a distant memory or a moment of history. We struggle to find a message powerful enough to make this day of memory relevant to those who feel such emotional distance. As fewer and fewer survivors remain amongst us who are able to give their powerful first-person accounts, we find ourselves increasingly lamenting the diminishing number of youth who hear these stories told.

Then, just a week later, we come upon the celebration of Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, and our hearts turn toward the East to rejoice in the miracle of the modern State of Israel, the ancient Jewish homeland. And again, we struggle to provide a way for our community to engage in meaningful ways that demonstrate our love of Israel and our commitment to her future. Even though Israel is constantly in the news and through our youth movements and the blessing of Birthright, teenagers and college students travel to Israel in greater numbers than ever before, creating a sustainable celebration for our entire community remains elusive.

If we are to breathe new life into the commemoration of Yom Hashoah and the celebration of Yom HaAtzma’ut, perhaps we need a new paradigm to appreciate the significance of these days. What may have been persuasive for much of the last many decades may no longer be the message nor the modality to sustain these holy days in the decades ahead.

Let us consider the insight

Rabbi Hartman shared in the article cited above. He writes, “The deepest lesson of Yom Hashoah is in the responsibility it places on all of our shoulders. As Jews, we are all survivors. As a people who survived, we did not choose the path of bitterness and despair. We chose the path of recommitment to life, its challenges, opportunities and responsibilities.”

This is a powerful message. Our past is our legacy, but one that compels us forward to embrace the new challenges of Jewish life that lay before us.

The journey toward Sinai, a spiritual and religious journey that passes through the sacred act of remembering the past, takes us through the celebration of the modern miracle we call Israel. No matter where Jews live, we know we have a sacred responsibility to live life to the fullest, to reach for greatness as individuals and as a collective. As Israel strives to fulfill that hope, so do Jews everywhere. We are truly one in that endeavor.

Thus, Yom HaAtzma’ut can become not just a celebration of what Israel has already achieved, but also a rallying call for the challenges that lay ahead – fulfilling our mission as Jews and expressing the age-old hope of our people – l’takein olam b’malchut shadai, (“to repair our world as a reflection of the kingdom of heaven”).

Such is our task, as Hartman teaches. It is “the legacy of our past and the challenge of our future.”

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board.

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