On the First Night of Hanukkah this year, I had the great joy of being Jerusalem and, more specifically, in the vibrant neighbourhood of Nachlaot.
I joined some friends outdoors, warm beverages in hand, and we sat outdoors enjoying the light of the hanukkiah. Throughout Jerusalem, there is a big emphasis on publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah, as has always been the aim but as has not always been the possibility on the holiday.
After some time, we began a stroll throughout the neighbourhood. Every few doors, we came upon families lighting their hanukkiot, saying the blessings, singing songs and playing instruments, serving soup and latkes to their neighbours, and enjoying being in the Jewish homeland.
Three years ago, on October 27, 2018, a white supremacist committed the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States, killing eleven worshippers at a Shabbat morning service in Pittsburgh.
That weekend, I was attending a Shabbaton [program of Jewish learning over the Sabbath] in Thornhill. Since I was staying with an Orthodox family, I did not use my phone during Shabbat. And so, like many in the Jewish community, I found out about the shooting once Shabbat ended.
My heart sank. I read a few articles before heading upstairs and I wasn’t going to mention the news to my hosts until they had seen it for themselves.
That weekend, I had experienced what it is to be guarded by the oasis of time that Shabbat had been for all of us. I recalled Heschel’s words: “The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not for petitions.” How could we have avoided anxiety and petitions on that day had we not been observing Shabbat?
The other day I was having a call with my aunt and godmother who is a hospice nurse in the U.S.
She had texted me to ask, “Have you talked about dying and food? How our bodies need less and less but families want to keep feeding the dying person? Food = Life = Love. It’s quite a psychological issue.”
I was interested to hear more from her about this, so I gave her a call.
She told me, “I have some patients who, if left on their own, wouldn’t eat. They would just stop eating and it’s not that they would be starving. It’s simply that their body doesn’t need the food anymore because they are approaching death. However, their loved ones worry they’ll starve and so they think that they must feed them.”
Sometimes hospice caregivers will spend an hour trying to feed someone a bowl of oatmeal or three hours trying to feed someone a shake, she told me.
My aunt expressed some frustration over this saying that is makes her wonder: “Why are you doing this? You’re forcing it.”
What a remarkable photo it is taken by Ariel Schalit for the Associated Press. The caption in this Globe and Mail story says, “Mourners gather around the body of Shraga Gestetner, a Canadian singer who died during Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021.”
Shraga Gestetner was among those accidentally trampled and killed in the midst of a big celebration in Israel. Many commentators are reflecting on the heightened fervour and enthusiasm among those who were finally able to gather for the annual event, partly in celebration of the luminousness of Judaism’s mystical teachings.
The Montreal-born victim had been in Israel without any of his family members and he was buried immediately in accordance with Jewish law.