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Op-eds

A different singing of Hatikvah

  • Howard Feldman 2018
On Wednesday morning, we woke up to the devastating news that the Beit Midrash Morasha synagogue had burned down and along with it, seven Torah scrolls were destroyed in the blaze.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Dec 06, 2018

The symbolic and religious significance of a burning shul cannot be overstated. Nor can the destruction of Torah scrolls.

In an effort to get a sense of the events and the mood, I spoke to a number of community members and rabbis in the area. I did so on air and off.

One witness, Jeremy, described the moment when people were informed that the Torahs could not be saved. He sobbed as he recounted it, and spoke in detail about the kaddish that was recited and songs and prayers that were sung.

One such song was Hatikvah.

The circularity of the singing of Hatikvah cannot be ignored. Three weeks ago, two Grade 9 boys at Herzlia Middle School achieved notoriety by “taking a knee” during the singing of Israel’s national anthem at a prize giving. The reaction was severe, and has served to be one of the more divisive moments in Cape Town’s history.

The school initially tried to discipline the boys and then – given the tremendous pressure it faced in mainstream media and from some Jewish circles – seemed to retreat. The final result is pretty much unknown.

But all around the Jewish media world, the Herzlia boys who “took a knee” were discussed and debated.

And then, on Tuesday evening, after a fire decimated a shul in Cape Town, Hatikvah was sung. I am pretty sure that no one went down on their haunches. I am even more certain that if the Herzlia boys were present that night, they would have sung as loudly and as strongly as they could have.

I don’t remember the name of a man who addressed us at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem last week. He was not a famous Israeli politician. He was not a well-known journalist. I am not even certain why he spoke to us.

It was a week of sound bites. A week of tweetable quotes, and instagrammable moments. But his comment was profound and stood out as one of the more powerful of the trip. That is something, considering that he was up against the Israeli prime minister, president, members of Knesset, journalists, and authors.

“You can’t feed a healthy Jewish body on a diet of tragedy,” he said.

He is so right.

We need to look at the Morasha fire. We need to consider the loss of seven Torahs during the festival that brings and spreads light. We need to look at young children who “take a knee”. And, we need to look at the singing of Hatikvah. They exist in a continuum. They are interlinked and they can’t be separated.

Each of us needs to identify for ourselves what thread it is that links them.

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