…He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you.
For most of my 22 years at Shorashim, the dominant event on the simchah calendar has been bar and bat mitzvah observances; for a long time, the population here represented a fairly narrow, young age range, and all of us went through the same life cycle events together. As the community has grown from 30 families to 100, the age distribution has normalized somewhat, and while we still have a kid coming of age every month or two, we have started to celebrate an increasing number of weddings. These are a bit more complicated to produce than bar/bat mitzvah parties, which have traditionally been an informal buffet kiddush-lunch open to everyone. After a couple of early experiments in the central plaza and lawn of the moshav, the norm has become to go the standard route of a catering hall or “wedding garden,” with the attendant standard dilemma of deciding which of the members to invite. One solution to this social dilemma is to keep the wedding guest list modest, but to hold an informal event for the whole moshav on a different date – most likely, a Shabbat Chatan (Ufruf) before the wedding (Ashkenazim) or afterwards (Sefardim). This is a satisfactory solution for all, as it helps break the standard Israeli pattern of inviting hundreds of not-so-closely connected guests to a huge wedding that they (often somewhat reluctantly) finance by depositing checks in the slot in the safe at the entrance to the hall.
Last week we celebrated another Shabbat Chatan, in honor of the son of veteran members. It was a very happy occasion and a simple celebration. There were a few songs and speeches between the service and the kiddush; among them remarks by Osnat, the mother of the groom – the daughter of Polish immigrants to an anti-religious kibbutz, married to the son of traditional Yemenite parents – whose son grew up on Conservative Shorashim and married a girl from an Ashkenazic Orthodox family; the newly married couple had had a joint aliyah to the Torah a few minutes earlier. Osnat expressed her gratitude to the community and families for making this complex mingling of ethnicities and ideologies possible. And in doing so she reminded all of us that what you read in the newspaper (or worse, on the internet) is not always a true representation of the complexity of reality. Behind and beneath the headlines of acrimony and even violence between the different population sectors, there is often a quiet reality of just getting along. What we observed at bar/bat mitzvahs is much more pronounced at weddings: It is rare to find a family that is “pure” in its ethnicity or in its religious ideology. Everybody’s got a brother who is a settler, or a nephew who is a yeshivah bocher, or a secular kibbutznik uncle, everybody’s got in-laws, or in-laws of in-laws, with roots on the other side of the world from one’s own. Polarization dominates the front page. But on the wedding page (which, actually, we don’t have) you can read lots of stories of human relationships that transcend the historical divides that drive our politics.
The ingathering of the exiles was a messianic, and then a Zionist dream. While the implementation has often been imperfect, and tarnished by prejudice and small-mindedness, still, the process has gone forward, and evidence of progress is apparent, daily, at wedding-halls across the country. The progress on the religious-ideological front has been more difficult, and sometimes it seems that the centrifugal forces are stronger than the centripetal ones; however, the signs of hope are all around if you look for them, from “intermarriages” (see above) to the growth of the various liberal movements and secular experimentation with Torah study and tradition, to the rich and pluralistic world of Jewish scholarship, to the vibrant popular culture of theater and art and music that is firmly rooted in Jewish sources.
I am not exactly sure what “Jewish Peoplehood” is, but whatever it is, it is very much part of our experience here.