Thursday, April 16, 2015

Omer day 13: Bialik's Shabbat Hamalka

After the trauma of Yom Hashoah, we need a break ... some music would be good!

Leading towards Yom Ha'atzmaut, let's get ready for Shabbat in true Zionist fashion with a beautiful zemer for Shabbat by Chaim Nachman Bialik, our national poet. When we were children, we would often sing this on Friday night at the Shabbat table. (You can find the words here).

Bialik studied in Volozhin Yeshiva, but rejected traditional observance. In his perception, the world of the yeshiva was going to disappear, and Judaism needed to evolve into a new Israeli Judaism. Shabbat was very improtant to his vision of a new Hebrew society and he used his influence to convince businesses to close on Shabbat in Tel Aviv! Bialik composed new songs for Shabbat to be sung at his new Oneg Shabbat meetings:
Bialik sought to put these ideas into practice through his Oneg Shabbat programs. In Tel Aviv, with its primarily secular atmosphere, many young people and adults had begun to spend their Saturdays at entertainment centers or on the beach. In an effort to counter this trend and infuse the Sabbath with Jewish content, Bialik invited the public to a weekly Saturday afternoon get-together that combined lectures, Torah study (in the broadest sense of the word), communal singing, cantorial music and refreshments. The lectures were on Bible, Haggadah, Talmud, Jewish law, Jewish philosophy, the history of the Jewish people, and more. These programs drew hundreds of people from all social sectors. In keeping with Bialik's plan, Oneg Shabbat societies soon sprung up in other parts of the country and even in the Diaspora. There were active groups, for example, in Jerusalem, Haifa, the kibbutzim and several European cities. (see the whole article here)

Bialik's attempt to include a different mode of Shabbat in the crucible of a new Zionist culture was an endeavour that I love, alongside with today's secular batei midrash and the like. Now, like then, we have to find ways in which to ensure that all Jews, all Israelis, have a connection with Judaism, viewing it as their own, and not seeing it as the exclusive domain of the religious sector. It may not be the manner in which I perceive Shabbat, but I would prefer a connection with Shabbat than none whatsoever.

Shabbat Shalom!

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