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Carmel Giora | Shabbat Shalom 24 Tevet 5784

By Doron Krakow

Carmel Giora | כרמל גיורא

They named him Carmel Giora. Carmel is a mountain range in northern Israel. Close to the city of Haifa, it stretches along the Mediterranean coast to its west, and to the east, it borders Emek Yisrael—the Jezreel Valley, about which biblical stories are legion. The word “carmel” comes from the Hebrew kerem | כרם or vineyard, attesting to the remarkable fertility of the area through time immemorial. Today, it is also a favorite of hikers and naturalists, and it was that aspect that served as the inspiration for the young parents.

The name Giora, too, is drawn from Jewish history. Shimon Bar Giora was a leader of the Jewish revolt against Rome in the seventh decade of the Common Era. A hero known for his bravery and daring and renowned for his kindness to the poor and as a liberator of slaves, he was ultimately captured and executed on the order of Emperor Vespasian. But it was not the biblical Giora after whom this baby is named but rather a beloved uncle who died before his time and who in turn had been named with a nod to our proud history and tradition.

In the crowded living room of a warm and beautiful home in Modi’in, they had gathered. The loving grandparents, my treasured friends, were the hosts, and four generations of this remarkable family took part. The new mother is the youngest of my friends’ five daughters, and Carmel Giora is their 12th grandchild. (A 13th is expected around Purim.) My heart seemed to grow inside my chest as I watched this beautiful family celebrate the oldest of Jewish traditions, the entry of this boy into the covenant of Abraham and God. Each element of the ritual of brit milah unfolded with special care and thoughtful attention to every detail. Each word that was spoken. Each prayer that was uttered. Each song that was sung.

But it was the family itself that touched my heart. The five girls—five proud and impressive young women —seemed almost interchangeable. Five of them. And 12 children, though it was difficult for me to know which of the little ones belonged to whom, so great was the degree of love and tenderness in evidence between and among them. My friend and her older daughters were draped around one another and around the youngest of all, who watched with rapt attention as her newborn son entered the covenant of her people. The baby was held close in the hands of his saba | סבא | grandfather, who served as sandek, while the newest dad stood at his side, reciting the prayers that have been central to our tradition of fathers and sons since the days of Abraham and Isaac.

I will long remember this gathering, as much for the joyousness of the celebration as for the love of this beautiful family, the embodiment of so much of what I wish for my own children—and theirs. But I will also remember it for other reasons. Though four of my friends’ sons-in-law were there, one, the one whose wife is expecting their second child, remains in Gaza, where until only a short time ago three of the others also had served. Having been released for the time being, each remains on standby to be recalled to further duty in Gaza or on a possible northern front. I can’t say for sure how many others who took part in this celebration were also in anguish over the continuing presence of those dear to them on the front lines of the war, but it may well have been all of them. All of us.

Perhaps that’s another reason I will long remember this occasion. Because even amid war. Even in the face of national tragedy and untold suffering. Even as new and heartbreaking ripples continue to form in the wake of the horrific attacks of October 7. Even in a time of national trauma, there was a celebration of a new life, a new generation in the long and storied history of our people. And it certainly wasn’t the only one.

My son also came home this week for a 36-hour break from the fighting in Gaza to spend time with his wife and newborn son. The announcement that he would be coming was accompanied by notice from his unit that the rotation was timed to allow two of his fellow soldiers to stand beneath the chuppah (wedding canopy) on successive days. In a period of far too many funerals and shivas, hospital visits and arduous rehabilitation. In a period of unrivaled stress and strain for a country and a people in turmoil, these moments of celebration are all the more important, all the more meaningful.

Back home in communities across North America, I imagine it is, in some ways, not very different. Rising antisemitism has cast a shadow on our sense of comfort and safety. Our days and nights have become somewhat unsettled, and it is impossible for most of us to blithely go about our business without a sense of unease and concern for those who find themselves in harm’s way—in Israel or elsewhere in the Jewish world, at home or abroad. And yet moments of celebration continue to remind us that we are part of the chain that links us to generations past across 4,000 years—and counting. Weddings and babies are reminders that pride in our connectedness to one another and to all that came before is exceeded only by our wonder at all that is yet to come.

Welcome to the world, Carmel Giora. Am Yisrael Chai | עם ישראל חי

Shabbat shalom | שבת שלום

Doron Krakow
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America

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