Friday, October 19, 2012

Letter from Netanya

(another beautiful taste of Israel from TBE's Jan Gaines)

Dear Friends,

This morning was not an ordinary Friday morning. It was a Kabbalat HaTorah for second graders all over the country, a morning when they are introduced to the Torah to begin their Tanach or Torah study.

I expected a serious ceremony with alot of speeches.  Not on your life. I forgot this was Israel, where all ceremonies and simchas are greeted with singing and dancing and excited anticipation from the kids who have been rehearsing for this for days.

We  were parents, grandparents and siblings all taking off work or other committments to come to cheer their kids on.  We started off in the gymnasium where the 60 second graders were lined up waiting for us to be seated. The boys had Tallit draped over their small shoulders, some swimming in them.  And of course kipot. The girls all had a white flower in their hair, and all the kids had on white T shirts from the school.

First, we were treated to a choreographed exhibition of Israel songs and dances;  circle dances, mayim dances, etc. There was the usual accordion, a centerpiece of all Israeli simchas;   and recorded music, and lots of clapping as the kids went through their paces. It reminded me of a halftime show at a football game, but close up so families could kvell over their kids.

Then we formed a procession, led by a Klezmer quartet.  All of us danced along the streets clapping and singing with the kids, in a motley, traffic stopping crowd. But the drivers all honked and waved;  they were part of this too. We were headed to a nearby synagogue where we filed in and the kids took their places in the center( no separation of sexes; this was not a regular service.)  The very young (32yrs old) principal spoke to the kids about the importance of the synagogue as a place they should always consider their "home". He reminded them that they should never feel strange in any "Beit Knesset".

One of the Klezmer quartet members  led a few simple prayers. When he came to the Shma he told the kids about a rabbi who went to Europe after the war to find Jewish children.  How could he tell which children were Jewish in all the refugee camps he went to?  Because he asked who could recite the Shma !!!!!This above all he told the kids, is the foundation of Torah.

There was still lots of singing, mostly Carlebach songs which have completely permeated Israeli society. The kids knew them all.  Then four men put up a giant tallit and held it over each group of kids, while the leader blessed them with the four-fold blessing and they all shouted "Amen" (not Ken Yihe Ratzon).  This was followed by a video from Rabbi Lau who is Netanya's chief rabbi (brother of the famous Lau) saying that Am Israel, the Jewish people, will live as long as Torah lives.

Finally, the video screen showed each child holding a children's Torah and as each face flashed on the screen the other kids shouted out the name. It amazed me that all 60 kids seemed to know each other.

But of course no celebration is complete without food and sweets.  Each child was given a kiddish cup filled with candy and as we filed out there were tables full of burekas and soft drinks.

I was near tears a couple of times in the synagogue during the ceremony, seeing how even the non-religious schools introduce Torah to the kids as part of their lives from now on.And make it as joyful as possible.  I looked around at the parents, wondering how many of them are truly "secular" which to me means not even Friday night family dinners. The friends I was with told me they feel there is less and less of even minimum observance as time goes on. But one never knows how these kids will turn out.  At the very least, they know they are not just Israeli but also Jewish, that you can't separate the two, and that they must respect the Torah as a part of their lives from now on.

Shabbat Shalom,  Jan

No comments: