It is Friday late afternoon and the synagogue is packed. Though we still have 10 minutes to the start of the service, we have to make our way to the very back of the women’s section — at least 400 have got here before us. Looking behind the curtain, we see that there are far fewer men.
Tu Bishvat in my Jewish primary school was celebrated as a largely Zionist festival, emphasising the importance of planting trees in the state of Israel. That was not an inappropriate slant; after all, Tu Bishvat was originally concerned with the trees and the produce of the Land of Israel.
I’m about to head to the Limmud conference, where thousands of Jews of every conceivable stripe will spend five days learning, debating, celebrating and socialising together. Coming hot on the heels of that other winter highlight, Chanucah, Limmud sets out a particularly fashionable message about contemporary Jewish existence.
When my son was a young boy, I wanted to read him some stories of Jewish interest besides the favoured pirate adventures. After all, Judaism has generally communicated its ideas and values through stories rather than systematic creed so where better than to start at bedtime?
One of the most intriguing rabbinic characters of modern times was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach; the charismatic outreach pioneer, storyteller, musician and hippy. His colourful career is the subject of a new biography by Natan Ophir.
Chanucah can celebrate insomnia. Last year, I returned home late from Trafalgar Square, to awaken a somniferous wife, who asked sleepily: “Why can’t I light for both of us?” Why can’t she? Gentle reader, let me tell you that story.
The story is told that, after the tough winter of 1622-23, the pilgrim fathers of what became the United States of America, celebrated their survival with a feast of wild fowl. By 1790 the day had been enshrined by Congress as one of “public Thanksgiving and prayer”.