By Doron Krakow
Silence’s Mighty Roar
The High Holidays this year find me, once more, in Israel—celebrating with family and continuing to marvel at the wonders of newfound grandparenthood. On Sunday we managed to get to synagogue together—all of us—my son and daughter-in-law determined that David, not quite four weeks old, would be there to hear the shofar for the very first time. They sat all the way in the back, removed from the crowd and close to the door to avoid unnecessary exposure to too many people, but notwithstanding a natural trepidation, it was important to them that he—that they—be there to hear it. They were by no means alone.
This year, the first day of Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat, the precepts and observance of which supersede even that of one of the holiest days of the year, and so on that day, the shofar was not sounded.
The Jewish calendar contains a number of anomalies—distinctions between the ways in which holidays are marked in the Jewish Diaspora and the Holy Land. In most instances that distinction is found in the observance of a second day for Jews outside Israel, while in Israel only a single day is observed. Two Passover seders. Two days of Shavuot. Two holy days at the start of Sukkot. One interpretation for this disparity is that as with proximity to a flame, a source of light and heat, those who are closer benefit with greater ease than those at a distance, the latter requiring more time to achieve comparable effect. So it is with Jewish tradition. Judaism’s warmth and light emanate from Zion—from Jerusalem.
But Rosh Hashanah is different—celebrated for two days in Israel as well. At the Tel Aviv International Synagogue, where we attend services, this was the subject of Rabbi Ariel Konstantyn’s d’var Torah. He noted that among Jews all over the world, including those for whom Jewish tradition plays little part in their day-to-day lives, two practices stand out and continue to be widely observed: One is the Pesach seder, when we gather with family and friends to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and our liberation from slavery at the hands of the Pharaohs. The other is the sounding of the shofar, on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when many who rarely make an appearance at shul seem irresistibly drawn—akin to coming home.
The shofar’s blast is jarring. It ruptures the often-quiet cadence of the service, the gentle harmonies of the congregation, and the cantor’s soaring melodies. We wait, in eager anticipation, for that moment when the rabbi’s quiet call begins… “Tekiyah…” And then we hear it: The ancient sound of the ram’s horn, renewing our connection to a tradition that dates back thousands of years and to Jews across the world, all sharing in this extraordinary moment. It transports us across generations as the memories wash over us. Standing beside our parents and grandparents as children when we first heard that sound, knowing they too remembered the first time they heard it at the sides of their parents and grandparents, link after link, back through time along the chain of Jewish history to the days of the Temple.
So, why two days in Israel on Rosh Hashanah? The answer, according to Rabbi Konstantyn, has to do with Shabbat, the one day on which the shofar is not sounded, owing to our traditional prohibition on carrying objects on the day of rest. Our commitment to Jewish peoplehood is rooted in our common history and the expectation that Jews, irrespective of where we live, are joined with one another in shared practices and traditions. Traditions like the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The second day here in Israel ensures that Jews in the Holy Land, the largest population of Jews in the world today, remain bound together with Jews the world over.
Amidst the quiet of our day of rest, we affirm our determination to continue the celebration of Rosh Hashanah the next day. It is in the silence on Shabbat that we can hear the roar of Jewish history, Jewish peoplehood, and our shared Jewish destiny. Tekiyah Gedolah! Am Yisrael Chai.
Shabbat Shalom | שבת שלום
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
On this date in 1948, the last independent fighting unit of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL)—the underground militia established by Zeev Jabotinsky in response to Arab rioting and the murder of more than 130 Jews in a single horrific week in the summer of 1929—disbanded. With the status of Jerusalem still in doubt months after Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, IZL units continued to fight in defense of Jewish Jerusalem—with the acquiescence of the government.
Early in September, the government ordered that the independent struggle be terminated and IZL fighters absorbed into the regular army. Despite significant ideological differences and in keeping with the directives of Menachem Begin, the longtime head of the IZL and by then the leader of the political opposition, that Jews refrain from fighting one another, the IZL commanders presented themselves, their unit, arms, and supplies to Colonel Moshe Dayan, swearing allegiance to the Israel Defense Force.
And that’s the way it was…