Author Archives: Susan Silverman

Susan Silverman

About Susan Silverman

Rabbi Susan Silverman lives with her family on Kibbutz Ketura. She is the co-author, with her husband, Yosef Abramowitz, of Jewish Family & Life, Traditions, Holidays and Values for Today's Parents and Children. She is currently at work on a memoir and theology of adoption called Blessed Are They Who Dwell in Your House.

Israel and Judaism

Reprinted with permission of the authors from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.

The rebirth of the state of Israel, and its victories over the enemies who sought repeatedly to destroy it, is a modern-day miracle for those who lived through this darkest time in Jewish history. Today, with Israel’s survival all but assured and its place in the world community firmly established, many American Jews feel less need for emotional and spiritual investment in Israel. Yet we should remember that it is still the land where our kings and prophets walked, where Jewish history lives and is being made. It is the place where the majority of Jewish children in the world are being raised. The fact that so many American Jews are moved by their visits to Jerusalem indicates a spiritual attachment that is not in conflict with being an American. There can be a difference between a spiritual homeland and a place of citizenship.

israel and judaismIsrael is the place where Jewish spiritual and social possibilities ire endless. The relevance of Jewish teachings and values can be tested on a national front. Through our relationship with Israel, we are able to dream about what an ideal, Jewishly based society would look like and then explore that vision. The idealism and inherent optimism that Israel can represent to our children, and especially our teenagers –most clearly manifest by a visit–are characteristics that will serve them well in life.

Furthermore, to be a Jew in Israel is to bestow a sense of normalcy and calm in the hearts of the American Jewish visitor, who may not usually be aware of the sense of “otherness” to which they have become accustomed and, therefore, did not even know existed in their American lives. We in America have generally lost the national aspects of being Jewish, of being part of a people; we focus mostly on the religious or cultural dimensions of Jewishness. Israel challenges us to think of ourselves as part of one people, one nation. This national consciousness among our people has worked to create the miracle of the rescue of Jews from oppression in far-flung areas of the world. The challenge is to wrestle and redefine the relationship of the Diaspora with Israel in each era so that it can be mutually beneficial and inspiring.

Celebrating Romantic Love

 Reprinted with permission of the authors from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.

The walls of Jerusalem have historically been a source of inspiration for romance and love. Thousands of years before anyone heard of Saint Valentine or Sadie Hawkins, the Jewish people created a Jerusalem-centered love festival for couples. This custom is quite in keeping with the sensuous poetry of the Song of Songs, canonized in the Hebrew Scriptures.Happy young couple in love for Tu B'av.

In the glow of a full summer moon, young women, robed in white, would dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem. The men would follow in hopes of finding a bride. This ancient Jewish love festival is called Tu B’Av because it was celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av (the Hebrew letters for “Tu” equal the number 15). Coming one week after Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, Tu B’Av is celebrated outside of the walls of the city, away from the Temple Mount, the site of the destruction.

Whereas Tisha B’Av is the day when [tradition says] God declared that the Jews would wander 40 years in the desert (until the generation that knew slavery died out), Tu B’Av is the day when, 40 years later, the remaining 15,000 Israelites of the desert generation were told they would be able to enter the Promised Land. God was able to forgive the Jewish people on this day, even for the sin of having built and worshiped a Golden Calf.

A Tu Bishvat Seder

Reprinted with permission of the authors from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.

Set up your table as for Passover: white or other nice tablecloth, good dishes, flowers, wine, and juice. There is no requirement to light candles, but scented candles add a nice touch and a festive glow. Either one person can lead the seder, reciting each reading and making the blessings, or everyone can take turns. The directions concerning which fruit to locate and the mix of the wines should be read aloud. As each piece of fruit and each cup of wine is being considered and blessed, that object is held by the reader. After each blessing, the participants taste the fruit or sip the wine. 

Hand Washing

Fill a large bowl with flower-scented water and float a small cup in it. Carry the bowl from person to person or set up a washing station in a corner. Feel how nice it is to place your hands over the bowl and have someone pour warm water over your fingers. Have towels ready.

Say this blessing [though some may choose to forego this blessing, since it is traditionally recited upon washing the hands before eating bread, which is not eaten here]:

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al netilat yadayim.

Blessed are You, Source of all life, Who commands us to ritually wash our hands.

Reader: And God said: Let the earth put forth grass, herb-yielding seed, and fruit-tree-bearing fruit after its own kind, wherein is the seed thereof, on the earth. (Genesis 1:11)

Reader: In the 16th century in northern Israel, in the spiritual town of Tzfat (Safed), the Jewish mystics created the Tu Bishvat seder. They recognized the many and varied dimensions of God’s creation and used the fruits of Israel to symbolize their existence. 

The First Cup of Wine

This cup of white wine or grape juice symbolizes winter and the mystical dimension of atzilut, or emanation, at which God’s energy infused the creation process with initial life.

Havdalah: Taking Leave of Shabbat

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.

At the end of the Shabbat day, when three stars appear, it is time for the brief ceremony of Havdalah (literally, separation or distinction), at which time we take leave of Shabbat. Our rabbis teach that on Shabbat, we are given an extra soul. At Havdalah we relinquish that extra soul, but hope that the sweetness and holiness of the day will remain with us during the week. We take a cup of wine, a box of spices, and a beautiful braided Havdalah candle, and we sing or recite the blessings.

These blessings talk about distinctions between the holy and the everyday, between light and darkness, between the people Israel and the other peoples of the earth, and between the seventh day of rest and the six days of work. We then make a blessing over the wine, a symbol of joy, to sanctify the moment, and we sniff the spices to carry the sweet spice of Shabbat into the week and to wake us gently to our earthly responsibilities. Then we use the light of the candle by looking at our fingernails and palms in the light with our hands palms-up, making finger-shadows on our hands that display the distinction between light and darkness.

This light is the first fire of the new week. It is a sign that the time to begin creating again has arrived. No more dreamlike days until next week. It is now time to invest ourselves in our work again. As we make the transition back to our week, we also make the connection between creation and the messianic era (a time of justice and peace) by invoking the prophet Elijah. Tradition teaches that he will herald the coming of the Messiah.

Some add that Miriam the prophetess will lead the Jewish people in joyful song and dance to a time of perfection. We then drink the wine, douse the candle, and wish each other a good week. Shabbat is a taste of that perfection, but our work in the world is needed to bring it about.