In the lead-up to last week, I’ve heard numerous conversations in the community, in supermarkets, and after minyan in shul, about what people are planning to do for intersession, which for some schools just ended, and for others has just begun.
A friend asked me last week if I was still in Florida, and I told him I was back in New York. He said that his thoughts did not include me because all my children are adults and on their own and we are at a time, baruch Hashem, when we can come and go as we please without consulting a yeshiva schedule.
Full disclosure: I must admit that I did miss two Siddur events and one Chumash ceremony this winter. Usually, we always made it our business to attend these nachas-generating events and hopefully, once spring arrives, we’ll be able to participate in as many graduation ceremonies as possible.
However, the friend wrote in a text that he is greatly bothered by the pictures people are posting on Instagram or in WhatsApp groups that show them on cruises or in Tahiti or at a poolside BBQ dining on choice steaks while soldiers are dying by the dozen in Gaza in this intractable war and 136 people are still being held hostage by the Hamas monsters.
He added that while he is not casting aspersions on anyone, he believes it’s a matter of appearances, and he believes that due to the volatile global situation, especially the one in Israel, yeshiva break should have been curtailed this year if not outright cancelled.
He may have a point. It’s not as though the idea of intersession is carved in stone, so to speak. We have already lived through a period where things that were considered sacred and untouchable were routinely suspended. I am referring here to the Covid restrictions, when schools and yeshivas were forced to close during the years 2020-2021. During that time, summer camps were also forced to close, fans were not allowed to attend baseball games, airline travel was restricted, and many more institutions were shuttered. For many of us, cherished practices were suddenly and shockingly gone.
The question is: Does the current war in Israel merit the same level of restrictions we gave Covid, and should it be treated the same way?
I doubt anyone believed that the IDF’s efforts to eradicate the terrorists in Gaza would extract such a huge toll in human life. It’s been almost four months, and while the missiles directed at Israel have slowed considerably, hardly a day goes by when an Iron Dome missile is not deployed in some part of the country to counter a Hamas missile directed at civilian populations. It is an existential crisis unlike any other we have witnessed in our lifetimes.
The goal of the current campaign is to destroy Hamas. In the past, the Israeli strategy was simply to set Hamas back a few years, during which time they would have the ability to rebuild their infrastructure, whether new tunnels or smuggling weapons into Gaza or both. Now Israel is at a point of no return. They have no choice but to eradicate any vestige of Hamas or suffer more attacks.
It is surprising how deeply Hamas dug into Gaza and how, despite the beating they are taking, still live to see another day.
We’ve said and written before that this is not just a war against Israel, but one that is meant to victimize Jews everywhere on some level. A derivative of the war with Hamas is seen and felt on many college campuses, near our shuls, and in pro-Hamas marches in Jewish neighborhoods all over the country.
So, the question remains about how to deal with thousands of yeshiva students and Kollel Yungerleit who are heading to luxury vacations in Orlando, the ski slopes of Aspen, and fun times in California or Arizona while their counterparts in Israel are being buried on Har Herzl after falling in battle in Gaza?
If you argue that taking a break from learning refreshes both students and staff so they return more invigorated and with clearer minds, then we might have something to discuss with one caveat.
But if you take the position that there is nothing inherently wrong with taking a break from yeshiva, then let’s deal with the optics of the photos the vacationers have posted on WhatsApp or Instagram, and how they sadly contrast with the heartbreaking reality of the ongoing funerals in Israel, and how some of the country’s best and bravest have been so tragically cut short.
Yes, there is an ongoing war and war is an ugly thing, but this is not just about what our individual reactions should be. This is a battle that targets all of us, no matter where we are in the world. As Israel’s young warriors are being buried and their families are sitting shivah, where is our communal sympathy and seichel if we are posting pictures of ourselves gorging on sumptuous meals in tony restaurants in Miami or Panama City?
If you decide that a five-to-ten-day break from school is imperative, then how about making it our communal business to show support for our brothers and sisters in Israel by going there and spending time with them, helping them in some way?
If you were previously committed to going on this vacation from before the war in Gaza started, and you chose not to cancel it, then how about keeping it private and under the radar so as not to draw undue attention?
To their credit, most of the people I’ve been in touch with this week were either in Israel or on their way there for intersession, hoping to visit their children studying in yeshiva or in seminary. If you were planning to go to Florida or the Turks and Caicos, but switched your plans to go to Israel instead, then you are one of the heroes.
A few weeks ago, when we were in Israel, it was Chanukah and we were visiting with Rabbi Benny Kalmanson the Rav of Otniel. One of the things his daughter said to my wife was that if she lived in the U.S., she did not think she would come to Israel at this point in time. Rabbi Kalmanson and his wife lost their son, Elchanan, in Gaza a few weeks prior to our visit, and another son was injured and thankfully recovering.
Perhaps, if you are in Vale or Orlando this week, new insights can be drawn on this week’s parshah, Yisro, and why the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Commandments, are mentioned in the Torah portion named for the greatest idol worshipper in Biblical history—Yisro.
One of the commentators suggested that it is to teach us that if we are observing the Ten Commandments for any reason other than they are the words of Hashem, there is a tinge of idol worship in our observance.
That is not to suggest that if you are in Arizona or Anaheim while the young people of Israel are risking their lives in Gaza or on the Lebanese border, that you are engaging in idol worship. It’s just something to think about. n
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.