Schooling Seculars in Honey and Halakhah

Believe it or not, Israelis need Jewish education.

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Excerpted from Haaretz Daily with permission.

When Benjy Maor first moved to Tel Aviv, in the typical fashion of a strongly Zionist American immigrant, he was warmed to see the local municipality's billboard greeting wishing its citizens a happy new year. But his pleasure was soon replaced by dismay, when he saw that the symbols accompanying the message on the billboard included not only the traditional apples, honey and shofar, but also a "shipud" or barbecue skewer. 

Jewish Holidays=Barbeque?

A skewer for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)? Hardly fitting, he told a group of new immigrants and tourists in a lecture during the Hak'hel Festival of Jewish Identity in Ramat Efal.

secular israelisMany in the group looked at Maor blankly--most of them have not spent long in Israel and are unaware that Jewish festivals are often viewed as a good opportunity for a barbecue and a trip to the beach by much of secular Israel.

It was the billboard symbols incident, and his experiences working with an Israeli youth movement, that led Californian-born Maor (formerly Munitz) to pursue a career furthering the Jewish education of secular Israelis.

An active member of the American Reform movement prior to moving to Israel in 1983, Maor says it took him some time to accept the fact that, while back in Los Angeles he had regarded himself as "religious," in Israel the term was reserved exclusively for practicing Orthodox Jews.

As a teenager in the States, Maor recalls deliberating between a Friday night in Temple and a high school football game. He had assumed that in Israel, he would not have to deal with such dilemmas. But he reports that it is common for one of his three young children to be invited to a birthday party early Friday evening, jeopardizing the chances of a family Shabbat celebration together in their Hod Hasharon home. And the kindergarten Lag B'Omer celebrations his children participate in remind him more of "Cowboys and Indians" than anything he learned at his synagogue in Los Angeles.

"That's part of the paradox in Israel," he says. "You think it's a totally Jewish community, then you get there and realize it's a totally Israeli community."

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Charlotte Halle

Charlotte Halle is editor of the English edition of Haaretz.