By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
May 2, 2010
A few Shabbat afternoons ago, I was sat with Rabbi Pete Tobias at Vicarage Road. One more Rabbi and we would have been taking status cases, conversions and the like but instead, Rabbi Pete was grumbling about the Hornet’s lack of, well, most things and I was becoming increasingly concerned by the rising goal count against Aston Villa (Chelsea won 7-1!). Supporting the teams we do, it would be all too easy to feel rather down.
In Judaism, there is certainly enough that, if we dwelt on it, would get us down. Our history is full of dark ages and whilst we live in relative prosperity and peace, we are held in a constant state of concern for the State of Israel and on the watch for those who wish our harm. We do not hold a monopoly on worry and doubt, mourning and sorrow, or guilt but we certainly do good lines on them.
We set aside whole days and even periods of time to explore these emotions – right now we are in the middle of the ‘austerity season,’ the Omer. The words tsorus, kvetching and broigus need no translation. On a recent Radio London show, they featured high in the conscience of the cabbies who plied Robert Elms with Yiddish words integrated into British vocabulary (should that be voCABulary?).
Not only are we Jews, we are also British and there are no two ways about it, we Brits love a good kvetch as well! We are constantly muttering about how poor this and that is and even as we celebrate a national sporting achievement, we are predicting the downfall. We love knocking people and in most situations we see the worse. The current flavour of our whinging is how bad our politicians are.
My father, teacher and mentor, Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, taught me that we are in the ‘hope’ business. Religion at its best has always provided its adherents with hope that tomorrow will be a better day and even, yes even for us Jews and British Jews, today may not be that bad either.
We have a weekly reminder of joy with Shabbat and we get regular hits through the festival cycle. This Sunday will be Lag B’Omer. From obscure probably pagan roots based on superstitious beliefs and woodland lore has sprung, like a woodland sprite the minor festival on the 18th of Iyar. Just as Tisha B’Av has become the day when tragic events in the history of our people supposedly occurred, Lag B’Omer has become the “traditional” date for joyous events.
A plague that had killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples suddenly ceased on the 18th Iyar, the date of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s birth and death which he ordained as one of celebration for life, not mourning of death. This, the Rabbi who defied the Romans by studying and teaching Torah, hiding in a cave with his son and being visited by pupils dressed as hunters with bows and arrows. It is also said that manna first fell in the desert on Lag B’Omer – well food had to come into it somewhere!
So my advice to all those who are feeling rather down, is get out you picnic hampers, light a bonfire, (chiminea or bbq will do) , dress-up as hunters, build a cave, have a (safe) bow and arrow competition (preferably with a Watford Aston Villa striker – they need the practice). Alternatively attend a wedding or get your 3 year old’s haircut for the first time: further customs of the day. Oh, and take just one day-off from worrying about the elections!
This coloumn first appeared in the Jewish News, 29th April 2010