A Story of Return
This week, which is the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we say extra prayers, called Selichot, or Prayers of Forgiveness, to prepare us for the High Holidays. The picture below is from a very special synagogue in our community called Ahavat Zion, or Love of Zion
(shout out to Atara whose uncle is the Rabbi). It is a very fitting name for the synagogue, and you will soon see why. A few nights ago, on the second night of selichot, they had a musical service for selichot, which was led by a young man with a guitar and an angelic voice. It was truly a unique experience on many levels. The mixture of music and prayer was a modern actualization of King David’s words, “Praise G-d with harp and lyre (think guitar and piano), from Psalm 150, the final psalm. Hearing his rendition got me thinking about how it must have been in the times of the Temple in Jerusalem when the Levites played music and sang the services. That is the way it was supposed to be. The combination of music and prayer has a magical effect of opening the heart and bringing inspiration.
The second reason it was remarkable because of something that does not look out of the ordinary at first glance. If you look at the picture below you will see a group of young adolescents, probably 15 or 16 years old in T-shirts. The first extraordinary thing is that they were even there, on a Sunday night at 10:30 pm to say special prayers for the high holidays. At that age kids are usually focused on other things, and it is not usually Elul oriented (the month before Rosh Hashanah when we up our spiritual game). But what was really touching is realizing that in two or three years these teenagers who still looked very much like boys will be entering the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, and will be demonstrating their dedication to defending the State of Israel and the Jewish people. They will give three years of their lives, knowing that they might be putting their very lives on the line. This is at an age when American Jewish adolescents are going off to college to study, be enriched and let’s be honest –have fun. The majority of the synagogue, the name of which is appropriately called Ahavat Zion, Love of Zion, are families who came from Anglo countries, the US, England, South Africa and Australia. So these fathers and mothers who moved to Israel, and have raised their children here will be making the ultimate commitment to the Jewish people by sending their young boys into the army. It is hard to know whose test is greater, that of the young men going off to the army, or that of the parents who moved here knowing that eventually this would be their reality. (Yes the girls do go into the army, but the great majority of the women who serve in the IDF are not in combat units and are not putting their lives in direct danger.)
The third striking thing about the picture is the beautiful ark which stands in the front center of the synagogue. The ark was brought to Israel from Dublin, Ireland. It is a beautiful classic wooden ark, accompanied by a podium for the Rabbi, and they were both brought to Israel from a synagogue in Dublin that had died out and closed up. For me this is a powerful symbol of the ingathering of the exiles, and of the rejuvenation of the Jewish people. Even the synagogues are fulfilling the promise we find in this week’s Torah reading: ‘Even if your scattered ones are the far edges of the earth, from there the Almighty your G-d will gather you, and from there He will take you.” The verse then continues “And the Almighty your G-d will bring you back to the land your forefathers possessed, and you will possess it, and He will bring you goodness, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.” (Deuteronomy 30:4-5). Indeed, the Jewish people, and our synagogues are being gathered in from the far edges of the world, from Ethiopia, and Russia, South Africa and South America, and even from the US and United Kingdom as well. We have merited to live in an age when the words of the Torah have come to life before our very eyes, in the return to Zion and the establishment of the State of Israel. In the preceding verse the Torah says that this will happen as a result of the Jewish people returning to Hashem, or doing teshuva. These two movements are connected because both are part of our journey of coming closer to the Almighty. Let’s use the opportunity of the High Holidays to form a deeper connection to G-d, and thereby bring the Jewish people closer to its ultimate purpose of being a light unto the nations and bringing light and righteousness into the world. L’Shana Tova, a Good New Year to all, and it should be a year of blessings, happiness, good health and spiritual growth for us all and for the Jewish people.