Life & Culture

Party on — right now we need uplifting simchahs

In these terrible times, Jewish celebrations show our defiance. Do not cancel them


The calendar on my kitchen wall is ringed with dates of forthcoming simchahs. Frankly, I can’t wait.

After all, who doesn’t love a good wedding or cheery bar mitzvah — not least because such milestones reflect faith in the future.

Be it the journey of a young couple as they embark on a new life together, or the trajectory of a teenager as he powers through adolescence on his way to Jewish manhood.

All of which is compounded by the opportunity to shimmy into a spangly frock, throw a few shapes (dodgy back permitting) and get a little merry, courtesy of my host’s drinks bill.
Yet as our daily lives continue to be framed by the harrowing events in Israel, can we really enjoy such celebrations?

Is it right to Macarena away to the sound of the glittery house band when we know so many families in Israel are grieving for their slain loved ones?

Surely it’s impossible to reconcile clinking glasses and schmoozing over a booze-flushed supper when social media is flooded with blood-spattered images of butchery and the faces and names of innocent lives loved and lost?

So what should we do instead? Is it better if the band plays only insipid background muzak? Or that the best man drops the jokes?

Do we skip the skipping rope and hold back on the confetti? Meanwhile, should avoidable events such as birthday or anniversary parties be postponed altogether until Israel can obliterate Hamas?

The answer must surely be that we carry on as normal. We must cheerlead for grandmothers so they can guiltlessly experience unfettered pleasure when their adored grandson, pin smart in a new suit, climbs onto the bimah.

And we cheer for the parents under the chupah, doubtlessly feeling waves of blessed relief that their son or daughter has found a soulmate.

We must compound their happiness, come together in a chorus of merriment and chase away furrowed brows and long faces. Why? Because such life-affirming events reflect the continuity of our communities. They remind us of our humanity, and the joy, privilege and fragility of human existence.

Indeed, my late mother drilled into her children the importance of never “feshtering” a simchah.

That is, to never do anything to spoil the joy of someone’s celebration. That could mean maintaining a buttoned lip when your host thoughtlessly places you next to the chap who gave you the sack two months ago.

Or, in these leaden days, plastering on your brightest grin when it feels strange to be having a good time.

Anyway, it’s pointless to diminish celebrations because of a misplaced feeling of guilt. If we deny ourselves the pleasure of revelling in Jewish continuity — expressed through the traditions of our religion — then we hand even greater victory to those who dedicate their purpose to our destruction.

Admittedly it’s not easy. Having been caught in Israel myself when the attack happened — running for shelter as rockets were fired from Gaza — I’ve experienced a tiny bit of what friends and family who live there are going through on a daily basis. The misery and worry of Israel’s struggle compounded by a prevailing sense of life on hold.

Indeed I felt deeply conflicted — guilty — about leaving Israel once the violence escalated. That was until a close friend who lives there offered me an unapologetic reason to leave. “Go home,” she told me,” you can’t do any good here. You’re just someone else to worry about. We know you care. Now go back to your life.”

Which is why we must open our hearts to every beautiful opportunity to embrace a simchah. These celebrations are a validation of our liberty as free Jews. A two-fingered gesture of defiance to those who would have us quake in fear or bow our heads in subjugation.

Even if our heart breaks, we must fight like warriors to revel in the goodness and brightness Jewish life offers. Our smile may feel like the lid on a scream. But smile we must and continue to do so until our beloved Jewish homeland reigns victorious over those who would destroy Israel.

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