| Look at a list of NBA champions and you’ll see that basketball’s history has been dominated by elite, very tall, Centers. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain dominated the ’60s. They were followed by Kareem in the ’70s and ’80s, Hakeem Olajuwon in the ’90s, and Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000s. But that’s no longer the case. What happened? How can a league be dominated by big men for so long, and then have their position become perhaps the most forgotten role on the floor? Look no further than the introduction of the 3-point line. When it was introduced in 1980 it held little significance but by 2008 three pointers officially surpassed free throws as the second most important scoring method in the league. As a result, the way the game played and how it’s coached have drastically changed.What does this have to do with Moses’ parting message to the Jewish people, the nation he had led for decades? Remember bygone days; understand the years of each generation; ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will tell it to you” [Deut. 32:7]. This verse emphasizes the obvious message of appreciating where we come from. I can’t begin to find my identity as a Jew in the 21st century if I don’t know where I come from. Whether you’re working for Apple or the Army, joining Fedex or a fraternity, one of the first parts of your training will be the history of the organization, what necessitated its existence, and how they remain true to it even though worldly conditions have changed. Why should being Jewish be any different? We are instructed to understand our history and ask our elders, those connected to previous generations, to tell us why and how we evolved, and then navigate the future accordingly. After we have been told to remember the past, why do we need the next part of the verse, understand the years of each generation? It appears to be a poetic repetition but R. Menachem Ben-Zion Zachs (1896-1987) suggests that it actually expresses a classic Jewish concept. It is not enough to understand history and apply it to each generation. The word “understand” (Binu) in “Understand the years of each generation” can also mean “different.” Although understanding our history is crucial, we must also understand that each generation is different. What worked in earlier generations might not be applicable now. For example, whereas spying in the past was done by a country sending undercover agents to uncover information, that methodology will not be as effective today as hacking a private server. How does this apply to us? Many talk about the need to change Judaism to adapt to changing times. This is not a new idea—the enlightenment tried it in Eastern and Western Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, but they left no heirs, in the form of people or ideals. Others came to America in the beginning of the 20th century and said that if we didn’t change Judaism, it would die. The only thing that died were the institutions that subscribed to that idea—and if some are still around, every census and statistic says they won’t be here in 50 years. What then are we to do with Judaism in the 21st century—are we to teach and live it exactly as was done in the past? Let us bring back the Basketball analogy. The way the game is played has changed, but the rules haven’t. No one suggested lowering or widening the basket to help those who are having a tough time adapting to the 3-point line. No one suggested making the court smaller or having shorter quarters. The game’s rules remained intact; the only thing that changed is how it is played. So too with Judaism. Sabbath, Kosher, Passover or any other mitzvah hasn’t changed, but we practice them in a unique 21st century way. In the past gefilte fish graced the standard Shabbos kiddush whereas today it might be replaced by sushi. The treats of Passover were potato kugel and Slivovitz (plum brandy that can only be consumed by men over 80), whereas today one can find Swiss chocolate and Belgian waffles. In the past, Torah was studied almost exclusively in the synagogue but today it can be accessed anywhere and at any time thanks to podcasts and YouTube channels. Shabbos hasn’t become obsolete, to the contrary, in the tech-based universe in which we live, taking a digital day off has become a novel 21st century idea. A day of devoted to the things most important is as appropriate and beneficial as ever. Yes, we need to have a message that speaks to millennials and Gen Z, but that doesn’t mean we need to discard the very things that got us here and continue to ensure our existence. The Jewish family and serious Jewish education are two factors that will never change in being the most significant ways to ensure continuity in our communities. A few years ago, NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire converted to Judaism; his message resonates with the idea we’re speaking about. “I’m pretty familiar with the teachings, it’s just a matter of now being able to express that in my actions and the way I live.” That is what Jews have done for centuries, and if we are to survive, we need to do it in the 21st century. It begins with knowing, not changing, the teachings, and then expressing them in the way you live. As we begin the new year, may we all commit to learning more about Judaism and expressing it in the way9 we live.
[This Sunday night Jews around the world will be celebrating the holiday of Sukkot. The following article (found on aish.com) was written by Dr. Yvette Miller about the importance of Sukkot for every Jewish family.]
Five Reasons Every Jewish Family Should Celebrate Sukkot and Simchat TorahSince my kids were tiny, they’ve always declared Sukkot to be their favorite holiday. Yet for some reason this fun, joyful holiday is not as widely observed amongst Jews who are not Orthodox. Here are five reasons why you should celebrate Sukkot and Simchat Torah with your own family this year.
1. Experience Judaism with all five sensesModern educators strive for “experiential learning”: the more ways we engage the senses, the greater the impact. Sukkot is the ultimate exercise in experiential learning.Sitting outside in a sukkah is a visually beautiful experience. As we gaze at the roof made of branches and glimpse the sky above, we connect with the beauty of the world in a way that often eludes us the rest of the year. Sukkot is full of enticing scents: the smell of the etrog, the scent of the plants and greenery all around us. Sukkot engages our sense of touch – feeling the sun’s warmth and the chill of a passing breeze – and our sense of taste and hearing as we eat and sing in the sukkah. It’s a perfect laboratory for appreciating being Jewish anew, using all our senses.
2. Lessons in Jewish UnitySukkot brings together all Jews and remind us of the bond that unites our people. Enjoying meals in a sukkah can bring us into contact with Jewish neighbors and friends. On Sukkot we wave the four species that represent four different types of Jews. An etrog, or citron, is a luscious fruit with a delectable smell and taste. Myrtle branches emit a wonderful smell. Palm branches come from trees that produce sweet-tasting dates, and willow branches contain neither taste nor smell.
In Jewish mystical thought, sweet taste represents Torah knowledge and sweet smell symbolizes good deeds. Each plant is likened to a different type of Jew. We take all four plants together and recite a blessing, making a powerful statement that we each bring our own strengths and qualities together, that though we might have different attributes and lifestyles, we are one united Jewish people.
3. The Time of our HappinessSukkot is called zman simchateinu, a time of joy and happiness. Many of the trappings of the holiday seem uniquely joyful: the fun meals with family, the upbeat songs and experience of sitting outside in a sukkah. On a deeper level, too, Sukkot encourages us to appreciate the many blessings we have.
Moving outside for a week to spend time in a temporary sukkah helps us to appreciate all the blessings in our life and focus on what is truly important. When we realize that every passing cloud and each breeze affects our well-being, it’s easier to understand and recognize just how dependent we are on the Divine, and how lucky we are to be alive and healthy and safe.
4. Appreciating the natural worldPsychologist Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to explain the physical effects of current-day children not spending time outside. Spending too much time indoors is bad for us. Being outside is linked to better health, greater peace of mind, and enhanced mental health. A 2005 University of Pittsburgh study found that surgery patients healed faster and needed less pain medication when they were exposed to the outdoors even a little bit. It seems that spending time out of doors in a sukkah might have similar hidden benefits to our health, energy levels and our moods.
There is something magical about sitting in a sukkah with friends and relatives, enjoying a meal or relaxing under a temporary roof made of branches, with sunlight and the scents and sounds of the outdoors around us. It allows us to live in a different plane for a moment, experiencing the world and each other in a new and beautiful way.If you don’t build your own sukkah, there are still ways to experience spending time in one. Many synagogues build a sukkah and sometimes even host community meals; check out synagogues near you. You might also want to check out purchasing a sukkah kit or designing your own. With a little work building a sukkah can be surprisingly easy and fun.
5. Jewish ContinuityThe holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are full of ways to send the message to our children that we value being Jewish and want our children and grandchildren to value it as well.One of my favorite customs on Sukkot is to invite in ushpizin, or symbolic guests, to our sukkah each night. We invite in our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David. This lovely tradition helps us feel connected with some of the prime figures in our history. Some families have the custom of talking about who else they wish they could invite to their sukkah, further sparking conversations about Jewish history and our connection with past generations.
Sukkot ends with a new holiday; Simchat Torah, a day of rejoicing over the Torah as we complete the year-long cycle of reading the Torah in synagogue and immediately start again at the beginning. This is an intensely joyful holiday with dancing and singing and treats for children and adults alike, as well as beautiful holiday meals. It also sends a powerful message: we are never finished reading the Torah, and that being Jewish is a wonderful and meaningful way of life meant to be celebrated.
“I love the candy!” my youngest son said one year as we walked to synagogue on Simchat Torah, his eyes shining at the thought of the dancing, singing and candy that was soon to come. My heart swelled to see him associate celebrating the Torah with sweetness and glee. The holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are the best way to embrace being Jewish with rejoicing and delight, and to transmit that love for being Jewish to our children. Read More