Saturday, April 21, 2007

Passion! Passion?

Before I made aliyah I believed that a Jew could live a full, rich Jewish life anywhere there was a healthy Jewish community. Indeed, I felt that I was living a rich Jewish life in my wonderful community and working in the various day schools with which I was associated. The one thing that was missing from that life was passion. Rich, yes. Passionate, no.

One of the things I love about living in Israel is that it is a passionate place. Hagim are hagim, mourning is mourning. You feel it in the air. The cycle of the Jewish year sweeps you along in Technicolor. People daven with intensity; people dedicate themselves to causes with a fervor. Young people believe in things, whatever they may be, and commit themselves to causes.

One of the things that frustrates me about living in Israel is that people live with passion, with intensity, with unbridled dedication, and without a sense of moderation. Arguments are passionate and heated, neighbors yell and scream, fights break out in shul. The volume level of life is high.

Can day schools in the Diaspora inject that kind of passion that drives Jews commit themselves to a life of rich Jewish living? Maybe, maybe not. Do the parents really want them to? We like to believe that we want our kids to take their Judaism seriously, but not too seriously. You know, I wouldn't want my kid to "flip out" or, God forbid, make aliyah or decide to become a Jewish teacher.

Can we teach kids to become passionate without becoming extremists, or is extremism one of the necessary byproducts/risks of teaching kids to leave a passionate life?

Tonight in Israel is Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers. It affects every home, everyone. In the US it is barely known. Tomorrow night begins Yon Haatzmaut. Regardless of one's political leanings, it is a day of deep, passionate expression. In the US, unless your kids are in day school you are likely to miss the date.

Hag Sameah


  1. I am not certain that this is a Diaspora problem, as much as it is a problem with Judaism within the modern (American) context. Certainly centuries of European Jews remained passionate, as do members of the Chareidi world who teach their children a "Torah only" philosophy. You might live in a modern community in Israel that has retained that passion. Is that true of your non-religious neighbors in Tel Aviv?

  2. I do believe that it is not only a religious phenomenon, but one that is Israeli through and through. Not only is everyone who lives in Israel sacrificing something by living there, but Israel is small enough and new enough for its citizens to feel like they can make a difference. Hence intense, heated discussions about everything from politics to the school system to urban planning. The same is true about Judaism - adamantly secular or adamantly religious people argue about it. Whether you're in Haifa or the Arava, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, passion is an integral part of life.