This last week brought some lighter moments. Our daughter Julie had her 12th birthday. It was special enough, I suppose, because it was her first 'lockdown' birthday (and let's hope her last), but we tried to make it special in another way. Peter contacted Flemish TV and we made sure the kids were watching 'Blijf in uw kot' on the morning of her birthday. Suddenly the TV was talking to Julie, inviting her downstairs to the front door, where her best girlfriends and our wonderful neighbours had gathered in large but socially distanced numbers to sing her happy birthday (see photo). She was gobsmacked - and is still on a cloud several days later. Lockdown gave her, and us, a special moment we will remember forever.
Now that most of us are 'living' at least part of our lives online, the social media have become a source of humour - keeping us all sane - and ideas for practical spirituality. We see new opportunities to heal our world by reaching out and connecting, with new IJC initiatives being fine-tuned as I write.
But last week also brought some heavier moments. The probable extension of the lockdown in Belgium, news broadcasts trying to seek a balance between desperate reality and thin hope and not always succeeding; and then news that some of our own members and former members and their families have been directly affected by Covid-19. So far, the consequences have not been serious - milder symptoms leading to full recovery - but there can be little doubt that there's a dark cloud hovering over us, a sadness and anxiety all of us must acknowledge.
As Jews we seek solace in our tradition and its words. Here are some words from the Babylonian Talmud: "Rabbi Hiyya ben Abba fell ill and Rabbi Johanan went in to visit him. He said to him: 'Are your sufferings welcome to you?' He replied: 'Neither they nor their reward." He said to him: 'Give me your hand.' He gave him his hand and he raised him" (Brachot 5b).
We can't 'go in' to visit the sick, but we can keep extending our virtual hands and raising one another.
April 5, 2020
IJC Rabbinical Intern
Our secular year didn’t get off to a good start. The fires in Australia, where many of us have relatives and friends, have dominated the news for the last couple of months, but a few days ago this changed. A US military drone eliminated top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the ensuing upheaval sucked the world’s attention and our own back to the Middle East. Fear of war and fear of both local and international reprisals set in, together with an escalation of hatred in a world that already has more than enough of it. And what about Israel, so close to the point of escalation, strong perhaps, but vulnerable too?
The Hebrew month of Kislev started on November 28/29 with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh Kislev. In our part of the world, it is normally a dark and cold winter month, warmed and illuminated nonetheless, by the promise of the lights of Chanukah, the only major Jewish festival in the month of Kislev which starts on December 22 (25 Kislev). In our home, and I guess in the homes of many, Chanukah can be a bit complicated, although I have to admit we’re not exactly the model family.
Being dedicated to lifelong learning, and grateful for the many times I’ve been reminded of Aristotle’s famous words “The More You Know, the More You Know You Don’t Know,” I’m heading into this calendar year with quite a lot on my learning plate. In addition to a one-month intensive ulpan in Haifa in July, writing several short papers and essays, and attending some seminars in Berlin, I also have to write a rabbinical thesis (my third MA :) ). My thesis proposal was accepted last week by my supervisor Admiel Kosman – an Israeli scholar and poet – and it’s about one of the plagues, the plague of darkness, found in Parashat Bo at the end of the second aliyah (Ex 10,12-23).
[Ha]Tikvah means ‘hope’, and ‘hope’ is another word for ‘trust’, and ‘trust’ is another word for ‘faith’. If you don’t know what to believe, a sense of hope is a very good start. These were my thoughts as I drove into Brussels one quiet, uneventful morning in late October on the invitation of IJC member Simone Robin to share with an amazing group of women known as Hatikvah about my journey to the rabbinate.
With the news dominated these last few weeks by the spread of the coronavirus, other important news has tended to slip under the radar. One item barely reported here in Belgium – just a few seconds of screen time – relates to changes in Turkish policy towards refugees within its own borders. The doors from Turkey to Europe are open! This change has led to the mass displacement thousands of children, women and men, and to some harrowing images of violence and hostility towards these vulnerable people at the sea and land borders between Turkey and Greece and elsewhere.
I remember when I first started coming to services at IJC how confused I was by the way we greet each other on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and some of you might feel the same.
On Rosh Hashanah some say Shanah Tovah – a simple greeting – ‘have a good year’. Or the longer Shanah Tovah u’Metukah – ‘A Good and Sweet Year’. The focus here is on the New Year aspect of Rosh Hashanah. New Year? That name is already a bit confusing because it’s late September, early October.