Shalom. Although I will be back in Ottawa by the time you read this edition of the Bulletin, I am writing from the holy city of Jerusalem where I am accompanying 25 members of Ottawa’s Jewish community on an 11-day journey that began the week before Chanukah.
There are many ways to traverse this land. Some trips focus on the miracle known as the Start-up Nation, the vibrant technological industry for which Israel has become well known.
There are trips that focus on the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conﬂict and there are, of course, many missions sponsored by institutions and organizations. All of them are wonderful and provide great opportunities to explore the new and old Israel.
Yet, when I am here, it is not the country that I hope will be explored. I am interested in the personal Jewish journey each person makes.
This is a land that prods and pricks one’s Jewish self. Shabbat here is unlike Shabbat anywhere else, but what of a Jerusalem Shabbat can we bring home?
If travelling here is to be more than a visit to the Jewish Disneyland, each of us should ﬁnd how to internalize and synthesize the experience in a way that makes us a different Jew from the one who got on the plane.
As I write, it is a few days before we will light the chanukiyah. Here, in Israel, we may light the candles six hours earlier than those at home in Ottawa, but that will not be the most signiﬁcant difference in our experiences. Nor will the sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) we eat versus the latkes you fry be the variable in our experiences.
No, what will mark our celebrations is the recognition that, in this land, the battle between the forces of assimilation and an exclusive Jewish identity were resolved 2,200 years ago.
The Maccabees’ victory was one in which the forces of a singular unassimilated Jewish identity defeated the proponents of a shared Greek Jewish identity.
That battle is no longer fought in this land. In Ottawa, however, we ﬁght and struggle to define our Jewishness. We wrestle with deﬁnitions such as religious, cultural, ethnic and genetic. We actively and passively search for meaning in our Chanukah celebrations. Dreidels, latkes, childhood songs and fairy tale stories do not make for mature understandings and deep committed identities.
When we light the candles on the ﬁrst night of Chanukah on a kibbutz near the Lebanese border, we will hear ibbutzniks sing of a victory in the name of Jewish externality. But, when we sing the blessings and songs of the Maccabees, will we be as sure of why we are singing?
Due to deadlines and production schedules, I’m writing this column just before Chanukah and you’ll be reading it just afterward. In any case, let me wish you a belated “Happy Chanukah!” from the land of Judah, Judith, Abraham, Sarah and a thousand other Jewish role models.