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The Jewish Spark in the Aftermath of the Fire, Part III: The Torah Arrives

Imi’s husband, Ran Ronan, is the kibbutz manager at Beit Oren, a professional originally hired to run the operation as it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. We’d call him a “turnaround specialist.” The management structure and format pioneered by Ran has been universally controversial, criticized, and widely followed. Typical Israeli, three people — six opinions.


The basic difference observable to a visitor is that the kibbutz allow members to work outside, while others are given jobs within the kibbutz. The radical aspect is that this is entirely a matter of choice by the individual. As a result, income is as widely divergent as the jobs performed, both inside and outside Beit Oren. This creates a system of economic inequality among the membership, and as we would later learn, a source of continuing friction.


It is hot in Israel in July and it seems like the whole country heads either to the beach or the Golan for Shabbat. We take the Ayalon out of Tel Aviv. It is clear we will not be on time for Kabbalat Shabbat services in Haifa. Tardiness is an Israeli trait and we seem to have acquired it too easily.


The service at Or Hadash is entirely in Hebrew; a few Shabbat songs are sung in a melody we recognize, so it feels more like Friday night. Ran clearly does not spend much time here and looks it as he fidgets in his seat. Not yet adjusted to the time change, I begin to feel myself tire and my eyes close. Wandering in that semi-state between sleep and awake, I hear my name called. It is Rabbi Nof, Edgar, the spiritual leader of Or Hadash and the person responsible for connecting us to Imi and Ran the day after the fire. He wants our group to come up to bimah. Apparently, he’s been telling the congregation, in Hebrew, the story of our Torah donation to Beit Oren. From the few shreds of English he sprinkles in for our benefit, we learn that the weekly parasha (Torah portion), Matot, speaks about keeping a promise once it is made.


Edgar seizes on this using our visit as the example of a promise made and kept and the blessings which flow from that. Most of his congregants nod with approval. Kaddish and the weekly Yarzheit list is followed by a mishaberach (prayer for the sick) — an odd sequence. Before services conclude, there are three others present who receive recognition from the rabbi. A 14-year-old boy leaving for a soccer tournament in Denmark with the Israeli Junior National Soccer Team; a young girl beginning her army service; and a slightly older girl, done with army, and now becoming a bride.


Mazal tovs abound, people hug, faces are kissed, and another community comes together for Shabbat, sharing their simchas and their sorrows. Then we do what all Jews do at this time, we eat.


Walking up the steps into Ran and Imi’s house has a surreal quality about it. While I have only been here once before, it seems so familiar. Perhaps the memory is so strong because of its tragic nature? The contrast of their new exterior and entrance way, juxtaposed to the burned out shell across the street unchanged from seven months ago, makes me appreciate the time, effort, and money necessary for rebuilding.


Ran is happy and proud of his newly renovated home and eager to point out both the replaced and upgraded amenities. The first thing I notice when I walk through the door is the smell. It doesn’t smell like campfire anymore. Instead, it is the smell of the Moroccan feast they have prepared. In Israel all the best cooks are Moroccan; spiced chicken with couscous and stuffed peppers are the Sephardic equivalent to Ashkenazi brisket with kasha varnishka.


Before the food, we first welcome Shabbat, again. There are guitars, ukuleles, and even drums. A nigun (melody) to get in the mood, then another, and then Shabbat song after song. We sing, make blessings, eat great food, drink wine, and sing some more — all underneath the star-filled sky of the Carmel on their beautifully restored deck. There is much to be thankful for this night in their house, a house rebuilt after the fire.


Next week, The Jewish Spark in the Aftermath of the Fire, Part IV


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