The Jewish Calendar – 24

How we measure time reflects how we see the world and our place it. Each individual has markers in time that are important to him – birthdays, anniversaries, yahrzeits, etc. So too different nations and cultures mark time uniquely. Their respective systems reflect their perception of time and space. The Christians count from the death of Christ, the Moslems from the flight of Mohammed. The Gregorian calendar follows the solar year. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar year. In this lesson we will study how Jews mark time and try to understand the significance and results of the system, and its role in linking the land and people of Israel. It turns out that in addition to sanctifying time, the Jewish calendar is deeply connected to the sanctification of place: in living according to it, Jews all over the world affirm, consciously or not, their rootedness in the landscape of Eretz Yisrael.


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High Holidays – 25

Note: This lesson is divided into two unrelated sections, one quite light-hearted and the other very somber – it’s up to the facilitator to decide on the order of the sections.

Symbolic foods: One of the striking things about Israel is the fact that although a majority of the citizens share their Jewish nationality, religion, ethnicity, culture and customs, their traditions are surprisingly different due to their diverse lands of origin. While in the initial years of the state, the declared goal was a melting pot in which all people would assimilate  into one big Jewish-Israeli collective, in recent years the rich variation and diverse backgrounds have come to be appreciated, and efforts are made to celebrate and preserve the different ethnic cultures (or “edot”, as they are called in Hebrew). In this lesson we will examine this issue by looking at the various symbolic foods eaten by the people of different edot on Rosh Hashanah.

The Yom Kippur war: For Israelis, Yom Kippur, in addition to being the Day of Atonement, has taken on a new and somber meaning since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The war was one of the bloodiest Israel has known, and for some it brought the euphoria and messianic fervor which emerged after the 1967 Six Day war to an abrupt halt. For a few days, Israelis felt unsure of their survival, personally and as a state; 3000 soldiers were killed – about 0.1 percent of the population; the government considered using Israel’s atomic weapons to avert the catastrophe; the last-minute aerial shipment of arms and ammunition from the US helped Israel stem the tide. In the lesson we will watch and discuss a (30 min.) video about kibbutz Beit Hashita, which lost 11 of its members during the war. The kibbutz commissioned composer Yair Rosenblum to compose a new melody for the U’Netaneh Tokef prayer of Yom Kippur to commemorate the fallen soldiers. This melody is sung by chazzanim (cantors) in many Israeli synagogues today during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


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Sukkot – 26

Sukkot is a much loved and much studied festival that comes to round up the fall holiday season. It “works” as a harvest festival in Europe and North America, and is associated with messages of eco-harmony and colorful customs. And it ends with Simchat Torah, certainly a non-Israel-based celebration (and likely a Diaspora innovation). Thus, one can happily observe Sukkot without noticing any connection to Israel. And yet, there are a number of aspects of this festival that definitely express our connection to the land of Israel. This unit seeks to highlight these, without necessarily reviewing the whole range of religious meanings, values, and observances connected with the holiday.


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Tu Beshvat – 27

Tu Beshvat is mentioned in the Mishna not as a holiday but as the cut off date in determining tithes and orlah. (See lesson 9 on the mitzvot of the land of Israel). Despite these humble beginnings the day has evolved into a holiday commemorating our connection to the land of Israel and its natural bounty. In this class we will trace the evolution of the day and the different meanings it has acquired throughout the ages. We will try to understand the reasons behind the significance each age chose to emphasize and how the different interpretations reflect a changing connection to the land of Israel.


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Megilat Esther, Exile, and Zionism – 28

Purim is generally viewed as a particularly happy holiday, characterized by a number of customs designed to make us laugh, to make us “push the envelope” of what is permitted and what is acceptable, in the direction of wild celebration. The story behind the holiday, contained in Megilat Esther, is an entertaining drama, with suspense, irony, sexual innuendo, cartoon violence, and a happy ending. So we read the scroll, but parts we drown out with noise; and we sing, and clown, and masquerade, and party – and move on to the more serious joy of Pesach. This picture is true in the Diaspora as well as in Israel, and part of this unit will look at Purim observance in Israel.

However, it is possible to see in the Esther narrative a darker view of the events, which all the merriment, perhaps, comes to cover up. Perhaps the Purim story can be seen as a dark satire on the Diaspora, as a “Zionist” tract, emphasizing the vulnerability of the Jews when they are not in their own land. Thus, it can give us some insight into the meaning of Exile and the necessity of national sovereignty.


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Yom Hashoah – 30

In this unit we will address some of the unique aspects of the relationship between Israel (and Israelis) and the Holocaust. Some say that the state of Israel would never have been born were it not for the Holocaust, but whether or not this is true, the relationship is fundamental, complex and evolving.

The Holocaust is mentioned daily in the media in a variety of contexts, and is an important part of the Israeli consciousness. The Holocaust is commemorated in Israel by law, and in recent years is one of the guiding principles of the educational system. Thousands of Israeli teenagers go each year on pilgrimages to Holocaustrelated sites in Poland, and return infused with the conviction of the vital role of Israel as a haven for worldwide Jewry. By examining Yom Hashoah, a yearly event which affects the lives of every citizen in the state, and the expeditions to Poland, a significant and formative experience for many young Israelis, we will try to understand some of the distinctive features of Israel’s relationship to the Holocaust.


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Yom Ha-atzma’ut – 31

Yom HaAtzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day -has become an accepted almost universally in the Jewish world as a day of celebration and identification with the State of Israel. Jewish communities the world over mark the day with gala dinners, Israel parades, picnics, youth activities etc. This date, more than any of the traditional holidays, expresses Jews’ connection to the State and the land. In this lesson we will examine some of the issues and different perceptions of Yom HaZikaron and HaAtzmaut in various segments of Israeli society. This study will help illustrate issues and ideologies discussed in Israel today and question how these might be relevant to Diaspora Jewry’s perception of the state as well as the day.


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Shabbat in Israel – 33

Shabbat is one of the hallmarks of Judaism, and can be seen as perhaps the central institution of Jewish life and symbol of Jewish identity. From ancient times until today the sanctifying of the Sabbath has set Jews apart from the other nations and afforded them a holy “space” in time. Although different streams of Judaism observe Shabbat differently, all are united in viewing it as a precious and unique day. From the beginning of the Zionist revolt against the Jewish religious tradition, Shabbat has provided the focus of many unresolved questions pertaining to the role of Jewish religion in the State. What makes it a “Jewish” state? How is that Jewishness to be reflected in the public realm? Can a democratic state legislate “Jewishness”? The issue of Shabbat and the ongoing debates, tensions and disputes it has caused in Israel make it a relevant and salient case study for exploring these issues and dilemmas.

Compared to all the other holidays we have considered, Shabbat is the most universal, the least tied directly to Eretz Yisrael and its landscape. The study of Shabbat in Israel focuses not on our historical memories of Israel, but on our struggle to find the place of “Jewish values” in a real-life Jewish state.


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