Thursday, September 08, 2005

A New Jewish Holiday?

During my daily surfing of all that the Jewish Blogsphere has to offer, I stumbled across the Velveteen Rabbi blog that directed me to The Head Heeb blog, who posted about the new (self-declared) American Jewish Holiday, Arrival Day that commemorates the arrival of the 1st Jews to America (New Amsterdam) on Sept. 7th, 1654.

In The Head Heeb's own words:
Arrival Day is a holiday of the American Jewish people rather than the Jewish religion - a celebration of the Jewish community and its contributions to the United States. As such, non-Jews as well as Jews are welcome to join in the celebration. In the wise words of Ikram Saeed, everyone is Jewish today, just as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

I hope to see all of you next September for Arrival Day 352. Mazel tov, and next year in America.

Ok, let's go through the issues I have with this new holiday.

1) Whether one refers to Jews (and Jewish communities) outside of Israel as being in the Diaspora or in Exile (Check out the definition for Diaspora and Exile), the common denominator is that regardless of one's preferred choice of word, the American Jewish community is not where they are naturally meant to be (from a Jewish perspective), namely the Land of Israel (today, the State of Israel) and as such, their existence is at best a b'dieved (not an optimal) situation, regardless of whatever contributions they may have made to American society, or how welcoming American society has been towards the Jews.

Celebration of Arrival Day is the equivalent of throwing a party for the team that finishes in 2nd place.

No one will doubt the comfort, affluence and success that American Jewry has experienced during its stay in America, and of the many contributions that individual Jews (and not Judaism) have made to American society, however, it must be noted, that, sadly, the greatest (in number) contribution that American Jewry has made to the United States has been to give it hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of it sons and daughters, who have chosen Americaness at the expense of their Jewishness, and that is not something worth celebrating.

2) If all Americans are Jewish on Arrival Day, does that mean that all Jews become good Irish Catholics on St. Patrick's Day?

I hope to see all of you next September for Arrival Day 352. Mazel tov, and next year in America.

I can only respond with some words from our great Jewish sages:

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen, The Ohr Somayach, in Meschech Chochma, p. 191-192 (The year these words were uttered was 1926).
"If a Jew will forget his origin and true identity and consider himself a full-fledged citizen of the country of his exile… If he thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem…then a raging storm will uproot him by his trunk… the tempest will arise and spread it's roaring waves, and swallow, and destroy and spread forth without pity."

Rabbi Yaacov Emden, (The Ya'avetz) in his Siddur Beit Yaacov, p. 13
It seems to me, in our present peaceful existence outside the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem; this to me, is the greatest, deepest and most obvious and direct cause of all the awesome, frightening monstrous, unimaginable destruction that we have experienced in the Diaspora."

The Head Heeb, in response to a comment on this post, writes:
"and next year in America".
Are you saying that the US is the new Promised Land for the Jews?

You asked this question tongue in cheek, but I used that phrase very deliberately. I'm not saying that the United States is the new Promised Land, but I am saying that Diaspora Judaism is something that has intrinsic value and deserves to be celebrated. That isn't the orthodox Zionist position, but my Zionism isn't particularly orthodox.

Whether Arrival Day is about supplanting the Land of Israel as the eternal Homeland of the Jewish People is irrelevant.

While in exile, Jews never stopped mourning for and praying to return to Jerusalem. The word Zionism - the national movement of the Jewish people - comes from the word Zion, one of the Jewish names for the holy city of Jerusalem.

Three times every day, when Jews pray, they face toward Jerusalem, and pray for their return to the Holy City.

After every meal, Jews pray that God will "rebuild Jerusalem speedily in our days."

"Next year in Jerusalem," is recited by every Jew at the end of the Passover Seder and at the end of the Yom Kippur fast.

At Jewish weddings, a glass is broken in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. Blessings recited during the Jewish marriage ceremony pray for the return of Zion's children to Jerusalem and for the sound of joyous nuptials to be heard in Jerusalem's streets.

Arrival Day is the antithesis of 2,000 years of the Jewish tradition, which it (unintentionally?) seeks to undermine. Arrival Day is the celebration of the American Jewish community's having found their home - in America - where they no longer see the need to yearn or hope to return to their other home.

It is ironic, that on this year's Arrival Day, Sept. 7th, another 200 Jews made Aliyah from North America, through the generous assistance and support of Nefesh B'Nefesh (the 6th such flight of this summer, totaling over 1,800 North American Jews) returning to their one and only true home.

Now, that's something worth celebrating.


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