Posted on March 4, 2014
By Andrew Goldwasser
Shabbat Shalom Hagalil!
Change. No, not the metal coins that clink in our pockets as we walk by during the week, rather, the variations and deviations which occur in our daily lives. Every morning I wake up, shower, use the facilities, brush my teeth, get dressed, eat a bowl of apple cinnamon cheerios, and start the new day. Here in Starlight, Pennsylvania we have new routine, Berry Cap’n Crunch, and many people. Personally, I am not too keen on change and I’m sure you can relate, but it’s not always as bad as we think. In fact, change can be a good thing. Hagalil, fasten your seatbelts because we are going on a long journey to the eastern hemisphere.
This past summer, I, along with 44 other USYers, flew across the Atlantic on Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage Group 6!! It was legen- I hope you’re not fleishig because the next word is- DARY! We toured through a well-known country by the name of Poland. Now Poland is not the most happy and cheery of places in the world after an event which occurred 70 years ago. After a few days of touring, “cold” and “depressing” were two words that formed in everyone’s mind. Looking to the bright side, I had 44 loving pairs of open arms, waiting for me if I needed. USYers are the most caring people you will ever meet. We don’t care about how someone acts, looks, or feels; we will always be there for those people who need us.
Together, we learned about the horrors of the Holocaust by walking through the ghettos and camps, once filled with people. The dual concentration and death camp Majdanek left a huge impression on me. Not only was this day draining emotionally, but also physically because it was extremely hot outside. Upon arrival, one of the first rooms we went into was the gas chamber. As I peered inside what once meant death and destruction, I was not coupled with the emotions I thought I would feel. When we walked out of the barrack, I strapped on an Israeli flag to my back to show my pride and to help me get through my experience.
While I fiddled with the straps on my flag, we entered another barrack. When I looked up, I was surrounded by rows and rows of old shoes. I felt chills race down my spine and I started to tear up. After looking at these shoes for quite some time, we moved on to the rest of our tour.
This was not only a saddening experience, rather, a powerful one. As Jews living in the 21st century, we are the ones to carry on the legacy and remembrance of what happened. No teacher, no textbook, and certainly no Wikipedia page can transmit the feelings and knowledge that visiting these places can. Growing up through Solomon Schechter for 10 years, I had learned much about the Holocaust. I never truly understood how the actions and events I read about in Anne Frank’s Diary and in the countless other Holocaust novels were actually carried out. The processes and sights are now forever engraved in my mind.
As depressing as it sounds to tour such dreadful areas, you also gain a sense of pride afterwards. I am proud to pass down the stories and memories to the future generations, and should you take a similar journey like I have, you will be able to understand my point of view. After a week of seeing, reliving, and understanding, Group 6 and I traveled to the land of Israel.
When we touched down in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion International Airport, I instantly knew that we would have a different outlook on the trip. It was a huge CHANGE in mindset, a revelation if you will! Here, we would ride on camels, there we rode on a bus for 7 hours at a time. Here, we would walk down the streets of Jerusalem, there we walked through museums. Here, we would be happy and joyous, there we were not so happy and joyous. I didn’t like this change, I loved it! And just like one plane ride can change one’s outlook on life, so too can parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech.
This week’s portion discusses a variety of topics about Moses and people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. Hashem recaps the 40 years spent by the Israelites in the desert with new warnings for the future. He also discusses how Moses’ time as leader has come to an end and a change in management is set in order. The gavel is handed down to Joshua during this huge transformation. During all of this action in the parsha, Hashem describes how the laws and commandments should be kept. As I read through the holy Hebrew scripture, one phrase struck me more than the others. לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ which means “for us and for our children.” The entire verse talks about concealed and open acts that a person performs. Some acts are good, while others bad, but that is not what is interesting about the verse.
Above each letter in the phrase I just mentioned is a black diamond which in the world of Torah trope is labeled Revia. I opened my trusty pocket sized edition of the world-renowned Etz Hayim to look for further insight. The reason for the extra markings over this phrase can be attributed to the importance of practicing and explaining Hashem’s teachings and mitzvot to our children. The text reads that role models are necessary in order for us to learn. So it says right there in the Torah to pass down information to our children and future generations. Not only will we pass down the laws and mitzvot, but also the stories of those who perished in the Holocaust. We will actually be reading this exact phrase in today’s portion, so keep your ears wide open!
As I said before, I am not apt for change, but the world around us is constantly changing. We join here together in the celebration of Shabbat, a time of peace and rest, a time unlike any other during the week. Very soon, Shabbat will end here in Starlight and we must shift gears to a mood which is foreign to us at this moment. In fact, I think it’s time for a change in mood. So, whether flying in an airplane to a distant country, eating something new for breakfast, or even accepting a new Facebook layout, you can’t get rid of change. So, the next time a new idea or different perspective stands in your path, I want you to face it head on and say “Challenge accepted” because eventually, it will become the standard. Shabbat Shalom.