My Shnekel: High Holidays – High Emotions

Last year, Rotem and I moved here, to Fairfax, for this Shlichut chapter. Today, exactly a year later, we are spending the same Rosh Hashanah back in Israel, surrounded by family and friends. And for some reason, even though we are home, we are still missing home. Even though it’s only been a year, we settled in and got used to it. In the passing year, we missed our family and friends back in Israel, and now that we’re here, a little part of us misses the home there, across the pond. Strange feeling, attachment, and what you eventually find yourself attached to. But it does tell you a lot about the place, how welcoming everyone was, and how lovely the community is, that after only one year we’re already missing it.

But let’s not focus on that. I want to share with you a little bit about the High holidays in Israel, and how they compare to the US. Think about a place where being Jewish makes you the majority. The resting day of the week is Shabbat, and everyone gets a day off during High holidays. School is off, shops are closed, so there’s very few options for those who don’t celebrate the holidays. On Yom Kippur itself, roads, even highways, are empty. Israel TV isn’t transmitting on that day, no radio either. Kids drive around on bikes, rolling down highways. That is definitely something a person must experience at least once.

How does that make sense, in a country where the majority of its population is secular? According to the central bureau of statistics, 2022, 75% of Israel’s citizens identify as Jewish. Out of that, 45% of them identify as secular, the largest group. 25% identify as traditional, 16% as very religious and 14% as Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox). Maybe the tides have shifted, but that has been the case for quite a while now. How does it make sense, that a religious country (a Jewish state for the Jewish people) that has a favorable religion, with a majority of the secular population, still have that level of participation in religious ceremonies? It’s probably odd to someone not from Israel to imagine. Or, if you’d never visited Israel as well.

To me, the missing link here, is the growing notion that Jewish isn’t just a religious belief. In Israel, and to an extent in the US as well, Judaism is also an ethnicity, a culture. And the one in Israel has evolved to a national narrative. You don’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah just because you believe it’s the beginning of the Jewish year. You do so also because that’s an Israeli thing to do. It’s because you’re expected to participate as a member of the society.  And with the current political climate that pushes toward polarization and divides the democratic and the Jewish, it’s also rupturing the social fabric that has been constructed, since it’s relying on both.

Or maybe, it is that crucial debate we kept postponing for so long. Maybe we’ve finally hit the point where we must make a resolution that will eventually dictate the guidelines to balance those two conflicting natures. I keep saying that the Jewish Agency is paying me to remain Optimistic. But in this case, after spending a few weeks here in Israel, I’m more optimistic than ever.

Torah and Jewish Values: Threads in the ECLC

The High Holidays are much anticipated and loved – and, crazy and chaotic all at the same time. No matter if they are ‘early’ or ‘late’, weekends or weekdays, they are always a change of pace – and a little disruptive right at the start of the school year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur carry big themes and ideas, including a deep look at ourselves and how we can do better where we missed the mark in the past year. Sukkot follows right behind. Finally, Simchat Torah rounds out the four weeks.   

I love that Simchat Torah is last because Torah is not a one-day theme: Torah is with us all year long. Sure, the celebration may be contained to reading the end and then the beginning of the Torah all at once, but as we march through our lives, words of Torah can be with us day in and day out. 

Even if we don’t think consciously of it, the ‘rules’ we live by can be traced back to words of Torah. Torah tells us we are created “B’tzelem Eloheem,” (in Gd’s image). The Torah tells us how to live that way. Being kind, helping others, supporting those less fortunate are just a start to the list. Other actions fill the categories that are headed by Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Tzedakah (righteous giving) and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of kindness). We can look to Torah to offer suggestions on almost any challenge we face. 

In our Alexandria Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC), our rooms are ‘Jewish flavored,’ reminding us of our heritage and, in the words of the V’ahavta, we try to “teach them (Jewish values)  to our children.” We talk with our kids about Derech Eretz (good manners) and help our young friends think about the words they use with each other. Tikkun Olam is a thread through our year as we think about how our actions effect our classrooms, our community, and the world at large. We want to send our kids out into the world (or at least to Kindergarten) knowing how to think and ask questions—and how to treat each other with kindness and respect. It’s a tall challenge. It’s a good thing we have the Torah to guide us. And, because the Torah is so important—its nice that every once in a while, we celebrate its importance in our lives.

Chag Sameach!

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Meet Sawyer

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is here and we’re reaching out to ask for your help to support children like Sawyer.

Sawyer was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in February of 2020 when he was just 4 years old, and a month before COVID shut everything down.

Treatment, both inpatient and outpatient, was very isolating to ensure Sawyer’s safety. His family also often had to be isolated from friends and family to protect Sawyer.

Despite the painful journey cancer creates, Horizon Day Camp, in-hospital program Horizon on Wheels, and year-round reunion days provide a place where children with cancer can just be children.

While the days of undergoing treatment were challenging for a social kid like Sawyer, he and his brother Hudson found joyful experiences through our in-hospital Horizon on Wheels program and Horizon Day Camp.

Sawyer’s radiant smile is a testament to the hope and love found at Horizon.

“Horizon has been such an amazing experience for our family. It has given both Sawyer and Hudson the opportunity to make new friends, strengthen their bond with each other and the ability to try new activities and stretch themselves while building confidence.” – Jenna, mom to Sawyer and Hudson

After two years, Sawyer completed his treatment in June of 2022.

What Sawyer has enjoyed most about Horizon has been the activities – especially the sports, dancing, and arts and crafts. He also loves Color War and working hard for his team to bring them to victory. He loves the ability to swim on a regular basis and show off his skills!

Thank you for being part of our Horizon-Metro DC family and helping to bring the joys of childhood to the many children and families we serve.

Every day at Horizon is a new beginning. With your support, we ensure that children like Sawyer – and their families – wake up to brighter days filled with the magic of childhood.

On behalf of your Horizon-Metro DC team, and particularly brave campers like Sawyer, thank you for your kind and generous consideration.

My Shnekel (My POV): Our Home Across the Pond

Who would have thought that it’s already been a year, and that September is already around the corner?! With Chagim, end of summer, and visiting home, September is going to be a very, very interesting time. 

September is a busy month as it is. My wife, Rotem, and I are already struggling with deciding where to go when we return to Israel, what to do, and who to visit… yet, there is still something magical about it. And then, there’s the preparations for Rosh Hashanah, family gathering from all over, and the new year celebrations. Now, add doing this as part of a short visit to Israel! Oy vey! Don’t you worry though, because we got married and moved to another country in two months… we’ve got this and we’re excited! Excited to visit home, to see all the family and friends who’ve been waiting for us, and of course, the food! Vegetables with flavor! Finally!

It’s also odd, the feeling of going back to where you grew up, only now as a visitor. That you’re there for a few weeks, trying to do everything, to accomplish as much as possible, and then, to again leave it behind for a while. Like taking a deep breath before diving back in. Too big of a breath and your lungs collapse, too little is not enough.

But at the same time, it’s so chaotic. It’s hard not to wonder how the passing year will shadow a year renowned as one of the most chaotic and divisive ones. Will there be protests? Has something changed drastically? How different will it look? In addition, September is filled with crucial political events, all of them happening while we’re there. I’ve been keeping up very closely with the happening, reporting, and covering as much as I could, but I wasn’t there, not in the flesh.

I’ve talked a lot about the polarity we’ve been experiencing here and there. About the ever-growing gap that divides us, making it harder to see each other. And I worry. I worry that my family will not act the same. That there will be no discussions around the Shabbat table. That whenever it will come to our shared future, it would be better to avoid that conversation. I worry that our rage and discontent will make it impossible. I cannot ignore that concern, but it’s not the only thing I am thinking of. 

A lot of different thoughts roam my mind in preparation for next month and our visit home. Excitement, concern, worry, homesickness, all of them mixed. Last year, we spent the high holidays here, in Virginia, as new arrivals. A year went by, we’ve settled in, and have gotten used to it. Now, it feels like it might be similar there, as tourists in our own hometown. And it’s not just about politics. A year gone by, people changed, events happened, and we weren’t there. But we’re still excited and grateful. We’re grateful for the opportunity to go back, even for a short visit. We’ve missed our families dearly. Even more so, we’ve missed our home dearly, our home across the pond.

Shanna Tova and Happy High Holidays!