Israel Center

Tomorrow the Jewish world will dress in festive white in honor of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).

It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant. The Torah, the living book and a way of life points out the importance and emphasis of giving.

The value of giving and sharing is also evident in Shavuot’s other name—The Festival of First Fruits, or Chag Habikurim, when we celebrate bringing an offering of the first harvest to the priests in Jerusalem.

Close to 2000 years have passed since the last priest in Jerusalem was brought with the first fruits, but the City of Gold is still the heart of the Jewish world, the capital of modern Israel and the source of Jewish longing and yearning.

Jerusalem celebrated 49 years this week since it was united, a city of holiness and one rife with political baggage — where every stone whispers its own story, a story carried by mountain winds since the fourth millennium BCE.

Jerusalem’s gold and Shavuot’s white blend, in Tel Aviv’s rainbow as the “World’s Best Gay Travel Destination” hosted the Gay Pride Parade on June 3, where 200,000 people marched together, celebrating life, free will, democracy and acceptance in the First Hebrew City. As throngs celebrated the living proof of these liberal ideals, Israel could leave behind the one-dimensional tension and politics with which the rest of the world dresses it.

Among the revelers, marched a JCC Israel Center LGBTQ Boarding Pass group representing JCCs from across North America. Our JCC group wrapped itself with Jerusalem’s gold, Tel Aviv’s rainbow colors and all the other colors in between, representing Israel’s multifaceted palette.

Israel is used to flipping from festivity to grief. In between these bright festive colors, transparent tears sparkle, reminding us of loss and pain. Of our complex reality.

As Tel Aviv awakes from its joyful celebrations, a horrifying cry rips off this beauty, when late Wednesday night, at one of Tel Aviv’s busiest entertainment centers, two terrorists opened fire, shooting in all directions, claiming four lives and wounding 16. Israel is hurting this week, crying for the waste of human lives, weeping for the endless sorrow, furious with our neighbors that insist on dragging us back again to this vicious bloody cycle and above all, we mourn with four new bereaved families whilst embracing them with love and support.

Last night my family and I joined a special Shavuot eve learning, along with Israelis of all colors, all streams and all backgrounds, celebrating Jewish pluralism and studying in memory of Sgt. Oron Shaul, 22, killed in action in the Gaza Strip on July 20, 2014 and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old soldier in the Givati Brigade commando unit, killed a few short weeks later on August 1st 2014. Both were killed during operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Two other soldiers were killed along with Hadar, but his body was captured by Hamas.

Both Oron’s and Hadar’s bodies were apparently seized by Hamas and have been held in the Gaza Strip ever since, leaving two desperate, hurting families in limbo and everlasting misery.

Hadar’s family held this special gathering in memory of their beloved son and of Oron, now bonded forever, to raise awareness, spread love, unity and values. Attributes so identified with both.

While the streets of Tel Aviv remain adorned with party ornaments and colorful rainbow flags and as the City of Gold gets ready for a white, spiritual Shavuot, the sun sets and Leah Goldin with Zehava Shaul, mothers of Hadar and Oron, light Shabbat candles, praying for their sons’ bodies to be returned. Both boys gave the world so much in their 20-some years. Their families want to give back to them a final, small gift—the human right to be buried with honor and dignity. For now, the Shavuot study in their honor will have to do.

Another remarkable week in Israel came to an end. Shabbat with its glory and majesty wraps the land of the Jews with colors of pluralism, acceptances, love, prayers and hope. Always with hope.

Shabbat shalom and happy Shavuot!

Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office
leah@jcca.org