"We have to go outside now," Leah Gilboa told me when I stopped by her house on Thursday September 17, shortly before I headed down to Jerusalem to spend the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, with my parents. "We need to pick some fresh dates so you can give them to your mother for Rosh Hashana."
My mind racing, I stared in shock at the mother of Yotam, my friend who fell in the Second Lebanon War (see here).
"Leah," I finally mumbled, "prophecy has returned to the people of Israel, right here in the secular kibbutz of Maoz Hayim. How else could you have possibly known that I have spent all week searching in vain for fresh dates to bring to my mother for the holiday?"
Leah just smiled. And then she grabbed me by the hand and hustled me outside to assist her and her son with the very rewarding work of collecting two cartons worth of unbelievably luscious dates.
As sweet as the dates are (wow, wow, wow wow...land of milk and HONEY indeed), they cannot compare to the genuine warmth of Leah, her husband Yosi and their two surviving sons. Not only did they insist I see their family as my own, but they made me feel so at home during my visit that all I could think of as my bus drove south to Jerusalem was how quickly I could get a bike that would allow me make the twenty minute trip between our kibbutzim a regular occurrence.
Yossi Gilboa laughed away my suggestion that perhaps there is a touch of destiny in my living so close to the childhood home of a friend whose life set an example that helps explains why I am here. And his wife only smiled when she unknowingly provided me with the very dates that my mother desired.
Normally I would not insist on reading hidden meaning into everyday life. But in a few hours, Jews around the world will gather to ring in the new year with special prayers and ritual foods reserved for the holiday of Rosh Hashana. All the prayers and foods, all the shofar blasts and readings from the Torah, are designed to remind us that there is a creator and a purpose to our lives. Nothing happens purely by accident. Not dates. Not aliyah. And certainly not the enduring influence our friends and family leave on our lives.
There is a beautiful line from the prayers of Rosh Hashana that reads, "And when the great shofar is blown, a silent voice is heard." Dema'mah, the silent voice, also means quiet. And so our Sages understand the great shofar to be the day of Shabbat, the beautiful silence of Jewish life that accompanies us throughout the year. This year the first day of Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat and so we will not blow one hundred blasts on the shofar. Instead we will wield the great shofar, and if we are fortunate, be reminded of the gift of Shabbat.
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