The Gesher Organization in
Israel published a magazine in
the winter of 1988 which
included an article by Asher
Shiloni, a journalist and
kibbutz member who belonged to
the leftist Mapam party. The
article, which originally
appeared in the Israeli
newspaper, Ma’ariv, is a
passionate lament over the high
rate of emigration from Israel,
and he writes:
“I would like to refer to members of kibbutzim who leave Israel, because we had hoped that at least they would be immune to this malady. The fact that they are leaving the State to settle elsewhere should ignite a red light in the Labor movement and in the secular kibbutz movement. These groups must examine where they have erred, and what can be rectified. We must ask ourselves how it has happened that about 2000 kibbutz members of the three secular kibbutz movements uprooted themselves from their physical and social-ideological stock and left Israel, while this disease has been almost unknown in the religious kibbutzim.”
According to Shiloni, one of the factors leading to emigration from the secular kibbutzim is the failure to give their children an adequate Jewish education. He writes:
“I claim that the dose of ‘Jewish consciousness’ given to kibbutz youngsters on the way to maturity does not represent even a bare minimum.”
As an example of this negligence, he describes with a bit of sarcasm a collective Bar Mitzvah ceremony which he observed on one kibbutz:
“I too observed a collective Bar Mitzvah, in one of the southern kibbutzim, whose entire content was a performance prepared by the adolescents for kibbutz members and visitors – a presentation on the lives of the Eskimos. As for religious components of the Bar Mitzvah – no way! That would be sacrilege!”
What are the religious components of this event? When a boy becomes thirteen years old and a girl becomes twelve years old, they become obligated to fulfill the mitzvos – Divine mandates – of the Torah. The mitzvos are now to guide them on their path in life and help them to mature; thus, each mitzvah becomes like a “parent” to the soul. The boy therefore becomes a “bar mitzvah” – son of the mitzvah, and a girl therefore becomes a “bas mitzvah” – daughter of the mitzvah. (The Aramaic word for “son” is bar, and we often use this Aramaic word, since there was a period in our history when most Jews spoke Aramaic.)
Although Shiloni states, “I do not mean that we should return to religion,” he expresses his disappointment that most secular kibbutzim have cut themselves off from the religious roots of our nation. He feels that it is harmful to the future of Israel when secular Israeli Jews cut themselves off from these roots, and he therefore issues the following message:
“With our own hands, we are lopping off the roots of our national being, and where there are no roots, one can awake the next morning to see that we are not a nation; it is possible to move out tomorrow, from this difficult and troubled land, to migrate and gradually assimilate – that is what will happen and what is already happening. If it is true that there is no future without a past, then we must draw the past of this nation closer to ourselves; we must understand it and respect it.”
In response to Asher Shiloni’s lament, I would like to share with you some information about a contemporary sign of hope for spiritual renewal on secular Israeli kibbutzim. This information appears in an article by Yonoson Rosenblum in the summer issue of the Jewish Observer, the magazine of Agudath Israel of America. The article cites examples of successful Torah outreach in Israel, and one of the examples is a Chareidi organization named, Ayelet Hashchar (Morning Star), which has been placing Torah-committed couples on more than 60 kibbutzim and smaller settlements around the country, including some of the most secularist kibbutzim. Among the kibbutzim which have benefited from the warm and dedicated outreach of these couples is Kibbutz Geva, which last year experienced its first Yom Kippur service. A member of the kibbutz wrote a thank you letter to the director of Ayelet HaShachar expressing appreciation “for having created for us a Mikdash Me’at (Miniature Sanctuary) in the midst of our everyday lives and secular existence, and for having made it possible for us to touch the holiness, the elevation, of this unique day – Yom Hakippurim.” The kibbutz member adds:
“The emotions during the prayers broke down all barriers, and enabled us to touch every link in the chain of our common tradition, reaching back to the roots of our common existence.”
In the process of writing this letter, I remembered that Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, laments when the People of Israel abandon their Source and also begin to engage in various forms of idolatry. An example of a Divine lament can be found in the following verse from the Book of Jeremiah:
“For My people has committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the Source of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot even hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13).
I also remembered that Hashem has given us promises that we will experience spiritual renewal after our long and bitter exile. An example of such a Divine promise is found in the following verses from the Book of Ezekiel:
“Behold! – I take the Children of Israel from among the nations to which they went, and I shall gather them from around, and I shall bring them to their soil. …They will no longer pollute themselves with their idols, their abhorrent things, and their rebellious deeds; and I will save them from all their habitations in which they sinned. I shall purify them, and they will be a people unto Me, and I will be God for them…They will go in the way of My social laws, and they will keep My statutes and fulfill them.” (Ezekiel 37: 21,23, 4).
“I shall seal a covenant of shalom with them, an eternal covenant shall it be with them; and I shall emplace them and I shall increase them; and I shall place My Sanctuary among them forever. My Presence will be with them, and I shall be God for them, and they shall be a people unto Me. Then the nations shall know that I am Hashem, Who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary is among them forever” (37: 26-28).
“My Presence will be with them” – I shall place My Shechinah among them (Targum).
Have a Good and Elevating Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Tisha B’Av – the Ninth of Av – begins this year on Saturday night, August 9th. On Tisha B'Av, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Second Temple was destroyed in a later era by the Romans.
I plan to send out on Tisha B’Av special teachings which are appropriate for this day of mourning for the loss of our unifying Temple. I also plan to send out to those individuals on our song list a recording of a moving nigun (melody) which is appropriate for Tisha B’Av. There are no musical instruments or simulation of musical instruments on the recording, and there is just one voice singing the nigun.