I experienced an especially joyful Succos holiday this year, and it was the secular people of Israel who made it so. While a gang of Torah-haters who are wielding power in the government (for the time being) have caused much pain and anxiety recently with their relentless persecution of chareidi Jewry, HaKadosh Baruch Hu arranged that I come into contact with the real people who they purport to represent. These aren’t people who live by Torah and mitzvos; they are in fact the ones commonly known as chilonim. Yet encountering these people during the Ten Days of Teshuvah and Succos lifted my spirits and showed me there is reason for hope.
At two a.m.on motzaei Tzom Gedaliah, I was at the Kosel. It was an amazing sight — the Kosel plaza was packed with people as if it were midday. So many had come to recite Selichos, you could hardly move. And the lion’s share of them weren’t even frum, according to our accepted definitions of the term — which brings the accepted definitions into question.
The great mashgiach Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l related that one of the pre-Holocaust mussar giants was asked to define “religious” and “irreligious.” He replied, “Not everyone who looks religious is really religious, and not everyone who looks irreligious is really irreligious.”
Many Israelis like to say they wear an invisible kippah. And apparently these invisible-kippah-wearers came out in droves that night to spend time at the Kosel — in many cases, just to hang around. But nevertheless, they chose to hang out at the Kosel rather than any other venue. Why the Kosel, and why at such a late hour? What drew them here?
Some of them were taking part in a new trend called “Selichos touring.” “Selichos touring” means dropping in at various shuls in the area, or at the Kosel itself, to watch the religious people reciting Selichos, perhaps joining in occasionally at familiar parts like the Thirteen Attributes or the Sephardic chanting of Chatanu Lefanecha. Is this the only pastime chilonim can find during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah?
I was to learn that this was no one-time occurrence, either. The scene repeated itself all that week until Yom Kippur. According to municipal estimates, a million Jews visited the Kosel that week, and the vast majority of them were not frum. Many went on “Selichos tours” in the Old City synagogues, occasionally participating in the tefillos, far removed from debates about sharing the burden, drafting yeshivah students, or Women of the Wall’s attempt to turn the Kosel into a Reform temple. These Jews were connecting with their innermost Jewish reflexes, with their neshamos expressing a deep-seated longing -- hitherto concealed under layers of worldliness -- to taste a bit of Yiddishkeit, to reconnect with the holy sparks flickering within them. It’s unlikely that they would admit to feeling any such mysterious longing, but you could see it in their eyes, in their body language. They longed for what they’d been robbed of, to come and be held like children in their Father’s embrace.
The words of a kibbutznik’s poem, published some forty years ago in a kibbutz newsletter, floated into my mind, every word pulsating with hunger and unrest:
In sleepless night/ Between despair and hope/ I thought of you, my grandfather.
Our generation totters, its succah is caving/ and so I seek to grab hold of the chain/ a link from before my father’s time.
But that wasn’t the only experience that gave me a sense of change for the better in Eretz Yisrael. Later, I paid a shivah call to a house where one of the aveilim, who had taken his father’s place as rav in a group of moshav settlements in the Sharon region, was talking about the differences he saw between the moshav residents of today and those of fifty years ago. Back then, when his father was the rav, it was hard to get a minyan even on Yom Kippur. The moshav people would come to shul for Yizkor by horse and wagon. They would tie the horse’s reins to tree, come in and recite the prayer for their dear departed, and go back out to their horse and wagon. This year, he said excitedly, there were 300 mispallelim in shul on Rosh HaShanah on one of those moshavim.
That inner quest for the nearly-lost link to our grandparents’ world is in evidence all over Israel. And so, despite the vigorous efforts of Lapid, Peron, and their cronies to sabotage our nation’s path to geulah, we can look forward to great days ahead for our people.
Another surprising and refreshing tidbit:
A few years ago, my friend Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum suggested that, in addition to the traditional spiritual ushpizin guests, chareidi Jews invite chiloni families to their succahs. One man who implemented the suggestion was Reb Eli Linker of Jerusalem. Working alone on the sidelines, out of the limelight of the big kiruv organizations and without their resources, he brought many non-observant families into the succahs of Jerusalem, and not just for “succah-hopping.” They came for more than just a quick, superficial peek at the quaint, rustic structures and the designer touch of their decorations. They came to share a meal with a chareidi family, to get to know their hosts and hear their explanations of the meaning of the chag. The noise and marketeering of Yesh Atid were left behind, and instead of buying into Lapid’s divisiveness, they took time out for an hour or two of quiet conversation. Whatever they may have thought before they came, these guests were undoubtedly changed by their experiences in the succah. Surely their hearts and minds were opened, and their biases were shifted.
During the rest of the year, Eli Linker specializes in arranging for students in pre-military academies to spend an entire Shabbos with families in frum neighborhoods such as Har Nof and Bayit Vegan. Hosted by bnei Torah, these future IDf officers are afforded a full experience of an authentic Shabbos, including tefillah in shul and tasty Shabbos meals replete with singing and pleasant divrei Torah. The sparkle in their eyes on motzaei Shabbos testifies that they, too, have touched a link from before their father’s time.
Yes, there are those who are trying to break our spirits. There are those who are spreading a veil of gloom over the horizon. But those people are only temporarily in power, and we, who represent the eternal Jewish nation, can see through their veil of darkness. Slowly, dawn is breaking, and the illusory darkness will soon fade as the early morning sun rises over the horizon.
I’m so glad they didn’t keep me from having a joyous Succos.
Food for Thought
One must uproot grief and sadness
And take solace in joy and happiness
(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)