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Shabbat in Belgium: Beseeching God’s mercies

אבי מילר בהבדלה
אבי מילר בהבדלה

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Shavua tov from Belgium. A moment I will never forget occurred here on Shabbat evening. It happeaned during an event dubbed “Go Jewish" for which hundreds of Jews had gathered from throughout Europe. After Shabbat dinner, the singer Avi Miller, who had just arrived from Israel after a long stint of reserve duty on the Gaza periphery, began to sing. Immediately, a throng of students surrounded him. Earlier during a talk I had given, I had asked them what was the biggest problem they faced. They indicated that it was difficult to know whether antisemitism or assimilation was more troubling.

But in this moment they were not concerned with such problems but rather with their solution — a celebration of their identity as Jews. They got into circles and then danced and jumped while singing “Am Israel Chai," “Oseh Shalom Bimromav.” and “Anachnu Ma’aminim Bnei Ma’aminim.” And then Avi took one line from “Ka Echsof” (a song that many sing during the Shabbat dinner) and sang it slowly, over and over again. “May your mercies spread over your holy people” (from the Hebrew).

I join a circle of girls from Amsterdam and notice that the one to my right and the one to my left have tears in their eyes. The girl to my left asks, “What is he singing? What are the words?” I translate them into English. The idea is that God’s mercies will be visible to us, His holy people.

And suddenly I understood. These two girls stood in a circle on Shabbat and sang. And then they wept even though they did not comprehend a single word of the song. But their souls understood.

Shavua tov from Belgium. May we be privileged to witness God’s mercies — over and over again.


Experiencing Pesach for the first time at age 30

He did not agree to be photographed, but allowed me to photograph the booklet he held in his hand. It was a booklet that introduced Judaism to children.

He approached me at the end of my lecture and introduced himself: 30 years old, an accountant from Amsterdam who was attending the “Go Jewish” Shabbat gathering that had been organized for young Jewish men and women from throughout Europe.

Since the horrible massacre on Simchat Torah, he decided that he wanted to study Judaism. He had to start somewhere and so, without embarrassment, he was learning from this booklet. He is now reading the chapter on Passover and is learning the meaning of three basic words: pesach, matzah, and maror. He wants to fully understand the Haggadah and all of us would do well to emulate the enthusiasm with which he is preparing for the Seder.

I photographed several pages from his booklet to illustrate its appeal to children and others at a beginners’ level. I told him that he was following in the footsteps of one of our greatest sages, Rabbi Akiva, who began to learn Torah at the age of 40. Like a child, Rabbi Akiva had to start with the letter aleph, followed by the letter beit and so on, until he reached the highest level of Torah scholarship.

And I wondered how many other surprise developments may be occurring in the world today without our noticing them, and how many other individuals may be undergoing a transformation similar to what has happened to this young man. On Simchat Torah, a 30-year-old Dutch accountant knew nothing about his heritage and his people and suddenly now, on the holiday of Passover, he will be privileged, for the first time, to experience leaving slavery for freedom.

ספר לימוד יהדות לילדים בהולנד


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