Magazine Home
Three Holidays, Three Israelis

by Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

There were three Jewish holidays last week,
Shabbat, which comes every Saturday,
and a two-day, once-a-year holiday, Shavuot, on Sunday and Monday.

The rabbi asked me
and, no doubt, many others,
to attend
to help constitute the quorum of ten Jewish males (minyan)
required to perform the major parts of the prayer service.
I told him that he could count on me.

because they are more inherently spiritual,
are exempt from the obligation of congregational daily prayer,
and so are not counted towards a minyan.
In synagogue mid-morning on a sunny Saturday
this may not seem fair,
but it is a privilege
not to have to rise each day,
in winter, before dawn,
and schlep to shul (the house of worship),
and then go back for the afternoon-evening services.

Saturday found me pedaling over to the Chabad House,
locking my bicycle to the railing out front,
banging on the metallic garage door,
which resonates like a drum,
and loudly calling, "Good Shabbos,"
up to the kitchen window,
as on Shabbat and holidays
it is forbidden, or at least bad form,
to complete an electric circuit
by ringing the bell.

The door was soon opened by one of the rabbi's young sons.
Going up, even before entering the courtyard,
I heard, by the prayers being chanted,
that there was already a minyan,
and that, while I was late,
I was just in time for the highlight of the service,
the Reading of the Torah.

The service went quickly
and was followed,
as is customary on Jewish holidays,
by a meal.

All Jewish holidays
can be summed up by the saying:
"They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat."

After the preliminary blessings of the wine and the bread,
before the meal proper got underway,
A bunch of us were standing around, chatting
I asked a new face, an Israeli, where he was visiting from.
"LA," he replied.
"I'm sorry," I shot back, eliciting a laugh from the crowd.
"Yes," he sheepishly replied, "I'm trying to get out."

Inspired, I continued,
"It's like a kid playing a video game.
You tell him to stop, to put down the controller,
but he can't do it.
He can't imagine life without that action, without that screen.
You can't imagine life without that six-figure income,
but down here there is a different kind of richness."

When it comes to irony, wisecracks and comedy,
to forwardness in general,
we Jews lead the way.
And, among the Jews,
the Israelis have the thickest skin and sharpest barbs,
except for maybe the Hungarians.

The next day, Sunday,
I arrived as the tenth man,
just at the point when a minyan was really needed.
Some short while later,
a pair of old men,
numbers 11 and 12, came in and then,
a man in his very early forties along with his six-year-old son.

A short while after that,
this young father and son looked on with keen interest
from some small distance
as the Torah scroll, stretched out on the table,
was rewound to access another section of text.
I smiled and beckoned them closer for a better view.

After the services, this young father, another Israeli,
and I struck up a conversation,
sat next to each other during the meal,
and lingered together a good while afterward,
being the last to leave.

He had been in the Israeli army,
serving as a major
commanding 140 men in the Golani Brigade
in some very difficult situations.

After ten years, he retired from the military
and started a career in high-tech.
Many of his former infantry comrades,
his friends,
had post-traumatic stress
and isolated themselves.
He dealt with his horror,
including the 14 who died under his command,
by burying himself in work.

Then, a year or so ago,
after watching The Bucket List with his wife,
it dawned on them both:
Why wait?
Why wait until the end to see the things you always wanted to see?
Why work 60 hours a week all through your children's childhoods?

He unplugged from his position as a department head
at a firm ominously named Matrix
and took a year off,
took his wife and kids
and set off around the world.
After three months in the States
visiting National Parks out west
three months in Costa Rica and Panama
and now at the end of four months in Mexico,
he sent back word to his employer
that he won't be coming back at the end of the year,
that he won't be coming back at all.
In a week they're off to Brazil for three months,
followed by Argentina.
Then, it's either Southeast Asia or Europe.

The next day, Monday,
I stayed late again at synagogue,
after services, after the meal,
catching up with my good friend Antonio,
who I don't see much lately
as he is completely engaged
with the next movie
he will direct.

Leaving the synagogue,
making my way home,
mid-afternoon under a merciful, light cover of clouds,
I came upon another friend, J.,
another Israeli,
a biologist,
a master of perfumes.

Coming as I was from synagogue,
I explained my religiosity,
and then, he explained his objection to religion.

Talking to a scientist,
I pointed out that science admits
that mind might exist as a cosmic force (pan-psychism),
like gravity or electromagnetism.
I asserted that this cosmic mind stuff
is not random,
as begrudging scientist would have it,
but organized as a Cosmic Mind,
and that religions,
however imperfectly
point to, acknowledge, orient towards, celebrate and worship this
Cosmic Mind, this
(dare I say it?) God.

J. took all this in stride
then offered his objection:
"I am a biologist.
As such, I am interested in the particularity of life.
God is a generality, above and beyond life,
the focus on which leads us to ruin life in its particulars,
thousands of species going extinct."

"Ah," I replied,
"This is the central kabbalistic question:
If God wanted us to be good, then why not leave our souls up in heaven?
Why send us down to this world,
with its obscurity and temptations,
and then tell us to be good?"

"Because," I continued,
"our job is to make a dwelling place for divinity in this world.
When we manifest the general holiness in the particulars of our lives,
then we achieve a level of sanctity
higher than where we started from as souls in heaven:
'Every descent is for the purpose of an ascent.'"

Now it was J.'s turn to ah.
"Thank you," he said,
"I like that.
It avoids the ruinous other-worldliness of religion."

We said goodbye
and I made my way home
in the continued shade of the light overcast,
feeling very much like the Israelites in the desert
who had their own clouds
sheltering them
from their desert sun.


Dr. David presents Lokkal, the social network, the prettiest, most-efficient way to see San Miguel online. Our Wall shows it all. Join and add your point of view.


Visit SMA's Social Network

events @

Subscribe / Suscribete  
If you receive San Miguel Events newsletter,
then you are already on our mailing list.    
Click ads
copyright 2023