2nd October 2016
Rosh Hashana 5777
Yes 5,777 years of Jewish tradition
Shana Tova! We wish you a year of peace, love and fulfillment. We wish the world a year of tolerance and forgiveness and most of all the recognition that we have harmed others, even without ill intent, and need to be forgiven.
This was a vital week in Israel’s history. A man who made Aliya from Belarus in 1932, joined by his parents in 1934, lived on Kibbutz Geva, studied agriculture, founded Kibbutz Alumot, fought for the nascent State, stood beside Ben Gurion and recognized the importance of defending this incredible State of Israel while searching for peace as the first line of defence for her people who he loved so much. He understood that Israel had to build Dimona and when the political, financial and defence powers of Israel said no, he ensured the building anyway; he gave the go-ahead for the heroic rescue in Entebbe, he was the history of Israel. Shimon Peres, President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister, brilliant mind.
Zvi and I went with several friends to pay homage, to walk past his coffin, lying in State in the Knesset forecourt. As we sat on the shuttle bus at the train station, waiting for the incoming train, we heard that people had come from as far afield as Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Beersheva with absolutely no idea how to get back home, just as long as they came to pay tribute to Shimon Peres.
At 93 he was so alert and alive it is still difficult to imagine he has gone, but his life was well lived. As a politician he was always at the forefront but never a winner. Indeed one wonders how he continued fighting defeat after defeat – but as President he shone.
The funeral was televised throughout Israel and the world, although the only news outlet that I found televising it in toto was the BBC. The speeches were heartfelt and more than a tear or two were shed. The eulogies were beautiful, revealing a side to Shimon Peres that we didn’t know http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4861812,00.html Perhaps, indeed I am sure, the most moving eulogy was that of Prof. Tzvia Valdan, Shimon Peres daughter, who began with the words “Today I eulogise two men, one called President and one I called Abba. She told of a man who would rush home to prepare his childrens food, carefully cutting it into interesting shapes so that they would eat; she spoke of the deep and abiding love that he felt for her Mother who called him Busjik; she spoke about the man who loved his family above all else. She and her brothers saw a different man.
The Israeli Arab parliamentarians of the “Joint List”, led by Ayman Odeh decided that it was Israels funeral not theirs, and did not attend. Aymans Facebook page was flooded with angry posts by the Israeli Arabs they are meant to represent who said it marginalized them in a way no political decision could.
Shimon Peres was the grandson of Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, Rabbi of the Wiszniev community. He left his parents’ home and lived with his grandfather who taught him Talmud. When Shimon left Wiszniev, headed for Palestine, the last words his grandfather said to him were “Remember to be a Jew”. Tzvia told us that on Friday night, at supper with the family, he was the first to don his Kippa and loudly sing Kiddush in his deep guttural voice. Thus, when asked what music he would choose at his funeral, Shimon Perski Peres did not choose a secular Israeli song but rather Avinu Malkeinu, a song of Yom Kippur begging G-d’s forgiveness and protection. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoClZF6YaRk
Sadly, Rabbi Melzer and his entire congregation were burned to death when their synagogue was set alight.
Perhaps the greatest tribute came from an unlikely source. Mahmoud Abbas went against his people, his enemies, his parliament and came to the funeral to honour a friend. Mahmoud Abbas, came and although not mentioned in Netanyahus speech, they stood together and shook hands – perhaps Shimon Peres dream came a little closer?
And so to Rosh Hashana.
The pomegranates are ripe, the sun is lower, the air redolent with the aromas of millions of meals, the grind of chairs being pulled into place around extended tables to accommodate the family and friends, the tables set with white cloths and fine crockery.
In our rather Ashkenazi house we have the traditional tsimmes, which reminds me of my late cousin Freda, her one cooking expedition of the year. Freda who my Daddy returned to Poland, crossing the border from Austria dressed as a field worker, to rescue his little niece from the streets of Brzezini. The red cabbage is sweetly cooked like Mummy always did, the Boeuf bourguignon is hardly appropriate but the chicken soup and kneidlach bring me back to my roots! I don’t make Gefilte Fish per se. In fact I depart from my roots entirely, I make Chraimeh – which is kind of the Moroccan equivalent – minced fish in a spicy, tomato-y, peppery sauce. Chicken and klops (like a large meat ball) bring me back but the salads are totally Middle Eastern!!! Remember what I said – Israeli salads rarely have any connection to lettuce!!!! Moroccan mushrooms; aubergines and pepper; courgette and onion; red slaw; mejadara; with roast veggies. I forgot what else because I can’t see the back of the fridge!!!!
One day, my children will sit at our Rosh Hashana table and sing the traditional songs with us, but I derive great joy from Zvi’s children and grandchildren who will be here. The day will come when we can have all 5 children their spouses and 13 grandchildren around one table to celebrate this beautiful festival. As we sit I know that our parents and grandparents – indeed all our ancestors sit with us around the table, proud to know that we are continuing their traditions.
I got up especially early so that I could write to you and still see my beautiful daughter Rachel and her amazing family. I could not possibly go into Rosh Hashanah without my hugs and kisses.
Each year I ask your forgiveness. It is done with a full heart and the intention to atone, repent try to be better. I always tell the story of the time I was a Sunday School (Cheder) teacher and two of the girls in the class were really not very nice to the others. I explained a very important precept of atonement to them. “If one sins, then over the next 10 days (actually and those preceding) you can ask forgiveness from the Almighty; however, there is one instance that one must ask forgiveness from ones fellow man because the Almighty considers it a sin above all others.” They would look at me, very curious as to what this deep sin could be “If you harm another, shame them publicly or tell lies about them, you must ask for forgiveness directly from them. If they do not accept you must ask again, and again, if after the third time they do not grant you their forgiveness then the sin transfers to them” Judaism is such a logical religion. Like anything, if taken to extremes then it loses its potency and becomes about the minutae not the love of G-d, but every rule, law and tradition has its purpose.
The last frantic shopping is coming to an end as if there is not alrady far too much food for any refrigerator to possibly cope with. The shops, restaurants and malls will close, Israel will become quieter, more contemplative, and families will gather to celebrate the Head of the Year – Rosh Hashanah.
So to music
First is this great song by young Aish haTorah students
And back to tradition and prayer. A Chassidic video of Rosh Hashana Prayers
I wish us all a year of fulfillment, kindness, tolerance, tolerance and more tolerance. I end with the words of my dear, dear friend Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, who, while Headmaster of Carmel College, each morning at assembly, he would remind the predominantly Jewish students ” You are equal to but not better than anyone else” . My children heard you Jeremy.
Shana Tova dear friend, a Gutte Yor, Bonne Anee, Buen Ano, blwyddyn dda, and for my beautiful great-niece Carly an easy birth so that yet another Bloom girl will be born today!
With love from Jerusalem, yes Mr President, Jerusalem ISRAEL