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).
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.
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.
This weekend sees the start of the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. The whole month is set aside for readying ourselves to enter into the upcoming Days of Awe, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Our younger IJC members start back at school, college, university around this time. The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to work.
[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.
While we might agree that ‘everything is politics’, at least at some level, it can be hard at times to believe that ‘politics is not everything’, especially coming up to an election. Europe is readying itself for community-wide elections, and here in Belgium the politicians are trying to persuade us to put a virtual ‘x’ next to their name, to make them the most popular, to elect them into government.