Monday, October 20, 2008

Of Park Britania and Batei Galicia!

So Chol Hamoed is drawing to a close. Of course, being good Israelis, we have spent our Chol Hamoed time on Tiyulim and travelling the country.

I had an interesting thought as we were driving into Park Brittania the other day on our way to a great hike. Park Brittania is a huge nature area, a National Park near Beit Shemesh. It is called by the name of Brittania a.k.a. Britain as its upkeep and development were funded by British JNF. Similarly there is the Canada Park and American Park etc. Each of these National Parks are funded by a different community abroad.

and I was suddenly struck as to how ironic this was.

In the era before modern Zionism, the community in Eretz Yisrael, certainly the Ashkenazic community, subsisted primarily from the Chalukka. This meant that Jewish communities in Europe each donated money to support Talmidei Chacchamim studying in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Money was collected for the kollel/community/Beit Midrash and it was named after that European community. The community in Jerusalem fulfilled their responsibility by learning Torah, not working, and thereby gave special zechut to their funders around the world. The people frequently lived in abject poverty only receiivng a meagre stipend from the funds that were raised in Europe. Hence in Jerusalem, we may find Batei Galicia, Batei Ungarin (Hungary,) and so forth.

The "Zionists" looked at this practice with great disdain as they viewed the Jewish existence in which one experienced poverty, reliance on funds of others , without any productive national enterprise other than Limmud Torah as a pathetic, sick, parasitic mode of living.

And yet, in a hugely ironic twist, we have a similar Challuka going on. Only now, the funders do not fund Torah study! They fund planting forests and building recreation areas and the creation of National Parks as they "redeem" the landscape of Israel. Now instead of Batei Ungarin, we have Park Brittania!

This is simply a secularisation of the entire Challukah concept! Is it more worthy, more honorable? Do diaspora Jews have such a desire to give that this is a good thing connecting people to Israel? Should Israel be more self-reliant? Is this a national indignity or a wonderful tool to keep Jews around the world connected to Eretz Yisrael?

But it is interesting how the Zionist movement simply poached the idea!

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