Of Hospital Gowns and Hebrew
In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, the very reason Joseph needed to be in Egypt in the first place becomes clear. Pharaoh has dreams that no one is able to interpret. Joseph is brought from the prison. He is not only able to interpret Pharoah’s dreams but, based upon those dreams, he puts a plan in place and turns that plan into reality. During the seven years of abundance he stores up as much food as possible so that, when the seven lean years arrive, he and the rest of the society are ready.
Vision and tenacity- those are the qualities Joseph relied upon. They are the same qualities that explain why Am Yisrael Chai- the People of Israel Live!
As the final Shabbat of 2016 approaches I am writing to you from the warmth and comfort of my home here in South Orange. Raina and I were supposed to be in Jerusalem for this Shabbat. We were supposed to be in this picture from #TSTIinISRAEL2016.
And this one…
Of course… we are not. As the old Yiddish saying goes, “People plan… God laughs.”
Last Saturday night, as our group’s first Shabbat was coming to an end, our temple group came to the hospital where I was for a few days prior to coming home. There, in the lobby of the hotel, we made Havdalah to end Shabbat and we lit the Hanukkiah for the first of the eight days of the Hanukkah Festival. It was a most unexpected experience but one that serves as a reminder to me that one of the many reasons Judaism has survived all these millennia is that you can be Jewish anywhere so long as you have a community. It is the people, not the location, that makes all the difference.
As Raina and I were saying good bye to the group one of our teens commented that he was really taken by the fact that my hospital gown had Hebrew written on it. When I got back to my room that comment lingered. I had three roommates. All were Russian immigrants. All were speaking Hebrew. My nurse’s aid came in to see if I needed anything. She was wearing a hijab… and speaking Hebrew. A phlebotomist came in to draw blood. He had been born in Ethiopia and airlifted to Israel. He was speaking Hebrew.
Our TSTI teen was on to something. It is easy to take for granted the fact that the hospital gown had Hebrew on it. It is, after all, an Israeli hospital. But 120 years ago that would not have been possible. According to one account, in 1890 only two people in the world- Eliezer ben Yehuda and his son- spoke Hebrew. It was used for prayer and study but was otherwise an extinct language. Less than one hundred and thirty years later Hebrew is a vibrant language used by doctors, cab drivers, teachers and judges. In less than 130 years Hebrew went from being a dead language to one used for everything from doctors explaining medical conditions to Israeli rappers expressing outrage with the system. And all of that happened because a few people had the vision and tenacity we see embodied by Joseph in this week’s portion.
May we all possess such qualities in the year ahead!
I have received some emails asking what I think about the recent UN vote and the Secretary of State’s speech. I had not said anything initially because I did not want to discuss such important matters when I wasn’t thinking clearly. I’m feeling much better and look forward to beginning those conversations next week.
In the meantime…
On a personal note- thank you to everyone who has reached out with concern. Knowing there is a community thinking about you makes a huge difference.
On a communal note- thank you for continuing to be part of the TSTI community. Your support for our community helps advance our vision of an open, including, welcoming and warm congregation and insures the future of Judaism and the Jewish people.
Shabbat Shalom and… Happy New Year.
Rabbi Daniel M Cohen