Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Plenty of Parties...

With the end of the school year upon us we have been spending a lot of time at the requisite end-of-the-year programs for the kids. On Sunday, it was Yehuda's Mesibat Siddur (when the kids receive their first Siddur/prayer book) and last night was Matan's end of the year Siyum (literally 'completion', the Jewish ceremony marking the completion of any unit of Torah study). In the case of the 2nd grade of the Orot Etzion school, they had recently completed Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) and have moved on to Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers).

Yehuda's program was typical...the kids sang some songs and performed choreographed dances, the teacher spoke, the parent's presented the teachers with the end of the year gifts and the program came to a close with Yehuda's Rav giving a short Dvar Torah and calling each kid up individually to receive their Siddur followed by cakes, fruits and other refreshments.

Matan's Siyum took place in the Old City of Jerusalem. The kids had to be at school by 4:30 and then we all departed by bus from Efrat to Jerusalem. The program opened with the boys classes performing various songs and plays (the girls had a separate program running parallel to the boys' program) culminating in all 100 boys chanting the last 5 verses from Sefer Vayikra followed immediately by reading the first 5 verses from Sefer Bamidbar. All of the boys and their fathers then went up to the roof of Yeshivat HaKotel to daven Mincha (afternoon prayers) overlooking the Old City and Har Habayit (the Temple Mount). The school had arranged that each class would then go on a short tour of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (each class had its own tour guide). All the tours ended in the Kotel/Western Wall Plaza where the fun really began....

The boys in Matan's class spontaneously began to sing on the way down the steps to the Kotel and then broke into spirited song and dance when they got through the security check. Their spirit and joy quickly spread to the parents who joined in the dancing and singing with the boys. Matan's class was soon joined by boys and fathers from the other classes with tourists, Birthright groups and native Israelis congregating around to see what all the excitement was about. Soon this small group of boys and their fathers was surrounded by a large group of curious passers-by who marvelled at the boys while snapping pictures to show their friends and family in America of the 'little Israeli kids dancing at the Kotel'. The boys continued singing and dancing, oblivious to the people surrounding them, for a solid fifteen minutes before singing their way down to the Kotel where they joined together to daven Ma'ariv (evening prayers) before finally heading off for home at 9:45...much past the typical bed time for 2nd grade kids, but they were still riding high on their celebratory adrenalin.


The boys were truly a site to behold. Their joy and spirit filled the Kotel plaza with a true sense of life and celebration, pulling perfect strangers into their little orbit.
We thought to ourselves that we would likely be back in this same spot, with many of the same kids present, in 10-12 years when they are sworn into the IDF as defenders of Israel and the Jewish people. Our hearts were filled with pride and our eyes were filled with tears of joy as we watched our boys begin to take the next small step in their development.

Am Yisrael Chai (May the People of Israel Live)!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Aliyah b'Regel the Old Fashioned Way (well, almost)

It is Erev Shavuot. Tonight we begin the celebration of Shavuot commemorating the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai). Shavuot is one of the Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage festivals), along with Pesach and Sukkot, when we are commanded to go to Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) in Jerusalem to bring sacrifices to HaShem. When the 2nd Beit HaMikdash was destroyed 2000 years ago the sacrifical service that had been the central part of Jewish worship since Har Sinai came to an end. While the Temples were still standing as many as 2 million Jews would ascend to Jerusalem to celebrate Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot by bringing sacrifices to the Beit HaMikdash.

Today, we no longer have the Beit HaMikdash and the sacrificial service has been replaced by Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv (the three daily prayer services). However, many rabbinic authorities still believe that it is a positive commandment to ascend Har HaBayait. Unfortunately, the Dome of the Rock stands in place of the Beit HaMikdash today, but Har HaBayit is no less holy. Since the 6 Day War 40+ years ago, Jews have once again been allowed to visit Har HaBayit (although access is limited to small windows of time each day). In order to ascend the Temple Mount one must ritually purify himself (or herself) by immersing in a kosher mikve (ritual bath).

This morning a small group of us from Neve Daniel rose very early, went to shul and immersed in the mikve in preparation to ascend Har HaBayit. We had previously had a class to learn the various (ritual) laws of visiting Har HaBayait. While tourists and non-Jews can go up in large numbers, ironically, the Israeli police limit the number of religious Jews who can visit at any one time. We were lucky enough to be granted entry, but not before being briefed by the Israeli police officer that we were not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount and that if any one of our group (we had joined another group from another yishuv) of 51 were caught praying or 'making any trouble' the entire group would be forcibly removed immediately. Prior to entering Har HaBayit through a gate above the women's section of the Western Wall, we paused to recite Tehillim (Psalms) aloud and then proceeded through the gate escorted by one Israeli police officer and one (unarmed) escort in the employ of the Muslim Wakf (the Muslim religious authority which oversees Muslim holy sites); our escorts joined us to ensure that we would not be tempted to actually pray at Jewish people's holiest site. We followed the prescribed route (there are certain areas of the Temple Mount that only the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest) is allowed to enter so we were careful to follow the religiously accepted route). Our trip around the Temple Mount lasted about an hour with occasional stops to explain certain points or to just stop and think (Gd forbid that we would actually dare to PRAY).

Our trip came to a close as we exited through an enormous gate into the Arab shouk (market) where our group immediately broke into celebratory song and danced in circles singing of our wish to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash (much to the chagrin of the passing Arabs). After 6 or 8 minutes of singing, we came together to hear some parting thoughts from Rav Yitzchak Levy who had been leading the group.

The feeling of participating in this mitzvah (commandment) that our great-grandparents could only have dreamed of longingly was truly awe inspiring. May the 3rd Beit HaMikdash be rebuilt speedily and in our time!

For more information on Beit HaMikdash and Har HaBayit you can visit

Chag Sameach!