The View From My Veranda
Sheila's Letter From Jerusalem
25th September 2020
Shabbat Shalom! Shana Tov (A Good Year) and Hatima Tova (May you be inscribed in the good book)
I have an admission to make. This morning I apparently had a touch of Coronamnesia. I thought it was still Thursday! It was only when Rachel made her “good morning” call that she told me that she had already finished preparing the challah dough and it was time for me to get writing!! We live in strange times, which makes the following of our traditions even more important – to keep us on the straight and narrow.
I don’t want to talk about politics this week, although most of our leaders have a great deal of atoning for their egoistic mismanagement of our daily lives, in fact of our ability to live our lives, pay our bills, see our family………….What we all need, wherever we may be in this troubled world, is wise and thoughtful leadership which takes the advice of its medical and economic advisors and use their power for the good of the people they swore to serve not for their own selfish power struggles. I wonder if they will admit, let alone atone for their sins.
Wait a minute, I said I don’t want to talk politics and then I did, but it brings me neatly to a situation most relevant to this period of contemplation. How will we spend Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; the day in which, under normal circumstances, even the least religious Jews go to the synagogue, and we pray as a community. As we stand and recite a long litany of sins, set before us in the prayer book, many say “I never did that” or “Why should I pray to be forgiven for things I never did” but we recite the list because we pray as a people not as an individual. We pray for forgiveness and atonement for our community, our country, our people and our world. The most relevant part is when we repeat “For the sins committed unintentionally and unconsciously”.
Fasting for 25 hours for those who are not used to doing so on all the other fast days (the fast of Gedaliah was on the day after Rosh Hashana) becomes obsessive. They don’t concentrate on prayer, indeed many don’t even go to the synagogue or pray at home, they simply don’t eat, very aware of their rumbling tummies and the need to sleep through this day. It defeats the object of the fast, the purpose of fasting is that one is so deeply involved in prayer that the time passes without thinking of food………… Let me hand the explanation over to Rabbi Jeremy Rosen who, as my mentor, can explain the purpose of fasting in his usual erudite manner http://jeremyrosen.com/2020/09/whats-the-point-of-fasting.html
Personally I have no problem praying alone. Even when in a synagogue, equally for church, chapel, cathedral or mosque, I am alone with my thoughts and invocations. When I recite the sins for which I must atone, I gently chest-beat, as my parents taught me, and try to begin the metamorphosis into a better, kinder, less judgmental person.
This year the imposition of lone prayer after the failure of our government (and the many selfish people who think it is clever to go against the simplest of directives) to control COVID-19 there will be no synagogue services, all hues of Judaism, from Haredi through traditional and secular services, unless held in the street, with masks and honouring distance. Perhaps, just perhaps that is the best thing that could happen. When one is in the synagogue one’s attention goes in all directions, silence is not a prerequisite to attending service because in Judaism the synagogue is a meeting place, a community centre first and foremost; prayer, rabbis and leading the order of service are a way to be together but do not negate the ability to pray alone.
We used to go to the wonderful little synagogue (shule) in Gilo, but since Zvi’s parents passed away that tradition has slowly receded, the 6 kilometre walk to Gilo, through Beit Tsafafa and up the long, long hill way above the panorama of Jerusalem became harder and harder so we had to find alternatives. For a few years we have attended services in the next neighbourhood of Ramat Sharrett, in an even tinier synagogue underneath a supermarket (!!). I especially loved that service because it was “Achid” which meant it contained elements of both Ashkenaz and Sefarad traditions, but this year, none of the above.
Zvi and I will stand on our verandah, our parents prayer books open before us and pray before the view, occasionally lifting our eyes to take in the wonder of modern Jerusalem. Not a mouse moves, the silence is overwhelming as each home, in its own way, offers its prayer for peace……….. if we are kinder to each other, if I am truly sorry for all the wrongs we have wronged, can I bring about a difference? Can my prayers make a difference? If we all, everyone, not only read what is written in the prayer book but really try to change can the metamorphosis be worldwide rather than just ourselves? Can we bring about a change in how children are educated to accept those who are different? Can we fight to bring kindness toward those who don’t think as we do? I know I am a dreamer but what can you expect from someone who holds Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and HaRav Kook as her heroes?
Tonight we light the candles for an important and particularly solemn Shabbat, Shabbat Shuva – Sabbath of Return” שבת שובה refers to the Shabbat during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is named after the first word of the Torah reading (Hosea 14:2-10) and literally means “Return!” Traditionally the Rabbi, or community leader, speaks of the importance of atonement, of choosing the path of righteousness.
Returning to lockdown is not easy. Of course we understand that it is essential to control the spread of this ghastly disease but if only people would abide by the directives in the first place we could be in a different place. The doctors, nurses and ancillary staff have done a superhuman job, the scientists battling for an effective inoculation or cure, the ambulance professionals and volunteers, the laboratory workers checking the covid-19 tests, and the police who now have to man the control points to prevent people leaving “red” areas – Thank you! Our prayers are for you too because all of you will miss being with your families as you serve us.
Something beautiful happened this morning. A young patient of Daniel’s in New York, his name is Joseph, was meant to hold his bar mitzvah on Succot – Tabernacles, here in Israel. Joseph had already decided that he didn’t want gifts he wanted to raise money for Shalva, In his words “As part of my campaign I was going to do some sort of physical challenge over the summer. Unfortunately, I injured my knee and could not complete the challenges I had in mind. Since I couldn’t play many of the sports I love, I spent a lot of time in the pool. I realized how enjoyable and important pool time was for me this summer and therefore my goal is to raise enough money in order to purchase 2 water trampolines and a mobile hoist for the swimming pool at Shalva. I want the children at Shalva to be able to safely enjoy the pool as much as I do.” This wonderful young man, this bar mitzva boy, not only thought of his own campaign but even added a wish for people to donate to “Remembering Daniel” at Shalva to show his and his friends love for my son, their paediatrician. My heart swells every time I think of Joseph and his parents Abby and Josh.
So what music can possibly fit this solemn time?
The first song is for Joseph Kafthaul…… never forget to dream. This is the Shalva Band with A million Dreams. Mazal Tov Joseph
Kol Nidre is the opening prayer of Yom Kippur, although many do not understand the weight of the words. Here Neil Diamond sings and the translation explains the deep meaning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKRRMi1Clk8
Finally the song that I believe should be the representative song of this beautiful nation – of Israel, indeed for all of us. Of the Honey and the Sting. Above all this………………… Al Kol Eleh
If I have in any way shape or form hurt or offended you during the past year please accept my abject apology. I would never every do so knowingly but even the best of intentions can sometimes offend. I truly care for each and every one of you.
The past year taught me, above all, that we must never hold back, not on love, not on friendship and never on being with those we love most. Life can take away the chance to hug and to hold in a flash. To honour my amazing, brave, brilliant, loving and exceptional son, Dr. Daniel Cammerman and his beautiful family, I am determined to be a better person.
A special wish for the health of Kim Taylor, Mike Manasse, Talia Barashi, Frida Albaranes, and everyone who is determined to be well again!
With all our love from Jerusalem, the most beautiful, precious and spiritual city in the world. I wish you a year filled with hope and fruition a year that is infinitely better than the last. May you be written in the book of kindness, the book of good deeds, the book of good health.