Shabbat in Ramat Beit Shemesh for a bar mitzvah
I owe you an apology. In late January I wrote a column, “What’s in a Name?” … making a campaign pledge to write several upbeat columns on Israel during the Israeli political campaign season, which culminated in Tuesday’s election. I committed to “running a ‘clean’ campaign, focusing on positives in Israel” and promised my column would be a sanctuary “from harsh words and painful images.” It seems, I am emulating the politicians I tend to write about because in the hectic pace of the last 1 1/2 months, I have failed to keep this campaign promise. Instead I have focused on Obama and his overmatched underlings, Iran and its incendiary imperialism, the loony Left of Israeli political parties, and of course, Israel’s incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and what might be the single most anticipated and discussed speech in recent history, his address to a joint session of Congress on the eve of Esther’s Fast.
Though you will read this after Israel’s election results are posted, by your indulgence, I should get an extension of time to fulfill my promised columns because there is NO WAY, save Moshiach coming and straightening out this mess, that Israel will announce a new government before you read this. That is perhaps the ONLY political outcome of the election that I am certain about.
Our home, Alon Shvut, is a Torah-observant community with a famed and honored yeshivah as its anchor. However, it isn’t a yeshivishe community and, on Shabbat, black hats and yeshivishe clothing are rare; shtreimels and bekeshes rarer still — and if someone is wearing the above, you wish them a “Good Shabbos” and introduce yourself because, obviously, they are guests visiting for a simchah. Though thoroughly happy in this community, I do confess to missing a wider breadth of the spectrum of Torah-observant Jews. With that in mind, this past Shabbat our family went away, something we do too rarely, to the primary Aliyah destination of our friends from Passaic, Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS). Our friends’ nickname for this holy city is “The House of the Rising Sun,” and we went to share the simchah of a bar mitzvah — a “Rising Son,” if you will.
Mordechai, the bar mitzvah, is the son of a family we were close to back in the States — our families shared a table in shul, our children attended cheder together. Celebrating his bar mitzvah proved to be a reunion of old friends from the “Old Country” of Passaic, New Jersey, specifically Rabbi Eisenman’s shul, Ahavas Israel. Everyone in the group — every husband; every wife — is a baal teshuvah (BT). The group spans numerous hometowns, backgrounds, and ages, and most fascinatingly, a breadth of “former lives.” In the group is a former bass-guitar player in a rock ’n’ roll band, captains of college athletic teams, Ivy League graduates, doctors and lawyers. Had you known us during our high-school years and projected which would become a BT, I would have been the most likely candidate, having the strongest Jewish background, coming from a Conservative home in Brooklyn. Yet there I stood, a humble writer, the only clean-shaven man in a group including a Rabbi, melamdim, therapists, a prominent tour guide, hi-tech wizards. By the way, the Rabbi was the bass player and has magnificent peyos — as do all his boys — a beautiful shtreimel, and remains among the funniest guys I have ever known. The single most striking and startling thing in each and every member of the group was not how much our lives have changed since we made our “big Decision” but that ALL of our kids (b”H) are actually frum from birth (FFB). (Have you noticed frumkeit uses lots of acronyms?)
The men and women all spent time learning here in Israel. With time, each found their own derech in Torah life. It is said that the Torah has 70 faces — at Mordechai’s bar mitzvah almost all 70 were accounted for: Chassidim and Litvaks; yeshivish and religious-Zionist; those who think Rosh Hashanah must be spent in Uman and those who wouldn’t dream of leaving Kedushat Eretz Yisrael on the Yamim Tovim. None of us has religious parents, so we serve as surrogate family here in Israel, sharing life’s monumental moments.
I promised you an article about the wonders of Israel and it is this: The sanctity of Israel provides an aron kodesh for the Holy Torah. This Torah in Israel is a “perfecting prism,” refracting and purifying the strand of Hashem’s Light that emanates from each of us into a spectacular spectrum of Torah observance. I went to RBS with ambivalence and a bit of trepidation; syllogistically I was to RBS what the Chassid was to Alon Shvut. Instead, I was at home with my “family from the ‘Old Country,’” one of 70 faces of the “rainbow” of Torah, attending the simchah of “the Rising Son.” Mazal tov, Mordechai!
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.