It is with deeply mixed emotions that I write the first entry in the 2012 edition of my Journey to Israel blog. For any of you who may want to see the photos and read the thoughts that I shared two years ago, you can find it here: Israel Journey 2010
Why mixed emotions? Rachel, Matt, Ryan, Jake, my parents-in-law, and I are returning to Israel tomorrow to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my son Ryan. This is, in many respects, a Jewish parent’s dream! A little more than a year ago, as we started to plan the festivities related to this right of passage, Ryan declared that he wanted to become bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. We discussed this with him to make sure that he understood that we could not do both! He could not have this wonderful (and costly!) trip to Israel and also have a big blow out bar mitzvah like he is accustomed here in NJ. We asked him to think about it, and he did.
He read there once before. At the age of 10 he read Torah as a part of the ceremony we held in honor of the b’nai mitzvot of his brother, Matt, and cousin, Noah. He did a remarkably beautiful job reciting the small passage that he had taught himself…and apparently it made quite an impact on him and his sense of Judaism.
So off we go. But wait…what about my parents, and my brothers, and Rachel’s siblings? What about Ryan’s 15 first cousins? What about the numerous close friends and other family members with whom we would have found great joy in celebration?
Here’s what I have come to realize. At the heart of it all, this is not about how I feel. It’s not about any of those important people in our lives who will feel disappointment in missing this occasion. It’s not about the money or the party after the service. At the core of it all, it’s about the fact that this young man feels so passionate about becoming bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, that he is willing to sacrifice those celebrations for the opportunity to bond with the deepest roots of his heritage. How could we say no?
I had a feeling this would happen! In 2010, we were in Israel for three weeks. We stayed in a small village in Northern Israel near Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret), called Yav Ne’el. We lived in a very nice rental home and used it as home base for daily excursions around the country.
One day I realized that Ryan had been wearing a Yarmulke (kippa) each of the previous several days, and as I noticed him placing it upon his head as we prepared to leave the house for the day I told him he didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it. “I know, Dad” he told me. “But it just feels right if I do!”
So, as much as I know that those who could not join us will miss this, and as much as I will clearly miss them, how could we deny this opportunity to Ryan? It will admittedly feel odd to be at my son’s bar mitzvah service without my parents, my brothers, Rachel’s siblings and their families, and others who are truly meaningful in my life. However, I am confident that we are giving my son a gift that will remain inside of him for eternity, and do so hoping that he will pass that gift along to my grandchildren some day as well! I hope, if that happens, that I will once again return to Israel to join them.
Stay tuned over the next 9 days, and join me and my family and we continue this journey. We are all extremely excited and have been looking forward to this trip for quite some time! I’m know that there will be many thoughts and photographs to share along the way…they will range from personal, to political, to religious, and more. Upon our return, those thoughts and images will be turned into a book that I will give to Ryan so that he will have a permanent record of his Dad’s perspective on this important journey!
- From generation to generation! (scottkasperphotography.wordpress.com)
Well, tonight was the last night of Chanukah…and I would be remiss if I didn’t add just a few photos and a few comments about this wonderful festival of lights. As the popular kids song goes, “one for each night, they shed a sweet light to remind us a days long ago….”
This next image is fun! It may not be a photographic masterpiece, but I must say that it’s wonderful for a few reasons.
If you haven’t figured it out, it’s a dreidel surrounded by Skittles and Reece’s pieces. So why is that so special. Well, most dreidels in the US have four Hebrew letters (Nun, Gimel, He, Shin) that begin each of the words of the sentence Nes Gadol Haya Sham, or “a great miracle happened there”. “There” refers to the Land of Israel and the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the great miracle of Chanukah took place. When we traveled to Israel this summer we bought a few dreidels and brought them home with us. Since the miracle of lights happened in Israel, it would make sense, therefore, that the letters on a dreidel purchased in Israel would symbolize that the great miracle happened “here”. The letter Peh that appears on the dreidel in the picture above is the first letter in the word “Po” which completes the sentence Nes Gadol Haya Po, or “A great miracle happened here”.
Why the Skittles and Reece’s Pieces? Well, in our house we need to be creative when it comes to certain food related traditions. Dreidel is a game that we typically play to win chocolate coins, or gelt. It’s a bit like poker…everyone antes up by placing candy coins in the middle of the table before each spin. The letter on the dreidel that lands facing up dictates the spin’s outcome:
- Nun – get nothing
- Gimel – wins the whole pot
- He – wins half the pot
- Shin (or Pe) – put one in
Imagine the piles of chocolate that the lucky dreidel spinner can walk away with!! However, when one’s kids are forced to be carbohydrate conscious it becomes easier and more fun when the loot they win in the annual dreidel competition are less than 1 carb each…fun holiday tradition that can be diabetes friendly…it doesn’t get much cooler than that!
Happy Chanukah everyone!!!