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December 11, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 11, 2009 By Ben Harris ANTWERP, Belgium (JTA)--It's a cliche, OK, so sue me. It was also the first thing for sale when I emerged from the bowels of the Brus- sels train station, having not eaten since a pathetic hotel breakfast in Copenhagen some hours before. And the waffles were delicious. It didn't hurt that the sky was blue, the temperature mild, and I had spent nearly two weeks under the unrelentingly gray skies of Denmark and Poland. For a moment, all was right in the world. I was in Belgium for two reasons. The European Center for Jewish Students was hosting its annual Brussels weekend, Party Like a Jew, which at- tracts young Jews from across Europe for a restful Shabbat followed by a huge Saturday night "ball" at a nearby club. Shabbat attracts 400 people, Wandering Jew: Belgian waffles and the number doubles on Saturday night, as partygoers come by car and train from as far as Paris and London just to party like Jews in the Belgian capital. After that, it was an hour- long train ride to Antwerp, where I'm going to see how the city's unique Jewish com- munity is faring in the wake of far-reaching changes to the global diamond trade. 'Party Like a Jew' Something felt distinct about PLAJ--and it wasn't only the intense concentra- tion of impossibly high heels and rectangular eyeglasses in shades that would make Tom Daschle blush. For one, the event was transnational, drawing par- ticipants from dozens of countries (though the U.K. and France seemed to have the strongest contingent. Rep- resent). Several participants said they came mostly to see friends; a number dwarfed only by those who said they were looking for their signifi- cant other. In New York, one gets the feeling that everyone has been there before. In Brussels, everyone--or most everyone--seemed genu- inely happy, if not relieved, to be in a comfortable Jewish space. In the States, the opposite is often the case: Being in a Jewish space is a necessary evil, to be endured only in the quest-- antiquated, ill understood and yet enduringly strong--to find a Jewish mate. But here people were unabashed about their desire to socialize, and more, with other Jews. On the way to the Saturday night ball, held in the cav- ernous and terribly named Event Lounge, the boys on the bus, many already well on their way to hammered, broke into spontaneous cho- ruses of "Am Yisrael Chai" and Chasidic melodies. That would neeeeeeevvver happen back home, Some of this is probably due to cultural differences between American and Eu- ropean Jews that I'm vaguely beginning to understand. And some is probably due to persis- tent European anti-Semitism, which to my horror I'm fast discovering may be the best predictor of the intensity of Jewish identification in a given country. Again I heard stories about the fear of openly wearing Jewish symbols in supposedly liberal, democratic Europe, and the security over the weekend was modest but palpable. I swear, the only physical human contact I ex- perienced amid the lip-locked couples on the dance floor Saturday was the near strip search performed on me and my video equipment by the security guys at the door. Form and function The Brussels Central Sta- tion is so unremarkable you could miss it. Even inside I wasn't Sure I had found the right place. Two hours later I was in Antwerp, and the difference couldn't be starker. Four levels of subterranean platforms emerge into a soaring atrium covering a station built in the typical European style. Above an ornate facade, "Antwerpen" is engraved in gold letters, evoking nothing so much as a cathedral of transportation. I thought, Brussels is function, Antwerp is form. Whole sections of Brussels, the capital of the European Union, are dominated by the soulless, totemic architecture of the nascent European supra-state. Antwerp is the home of something far more passion-inducing: the dia- mond trade. One is the capital of bureaucracy, the other of romance. But the metaphor falls away fast. The narrow tributar- ies around the station drain into the Jewish quarter, a World of Our Sages: Wings of a dove PAGE 15A drab hodgepodge of buildings creeping up on tiny sidewalks. Bearded Chasidim scurry about on bicycles, apparently oblivious to the opposition their comrades in Brook- lyn mounted to a bike lane through their neighborhood. Many of Antwerp's Jews still derive their income from dia- monds, but in defiance of the magnificence of the station, their dwellings betray little of the bling they are responsible for polishing and shipping off to adorn the bodies of the wealthy. The Jewish presence here is palpable. After spending a weekend with young, mostly secular Jews, seeing so many Jews walking the streets with- out a second thought is an important.corrective. Is there anti-Semitism in Europe? Of course. ButAntwerp suggests there's more to it. This article was adapted from Ben Harris' blog: blogs. jta.org/wanderingjew. By Rabbi Levi Cooper Forgetfulness is a com- mon human frailty and the halachic system provides guidance for times when we forget to fulfill an obliga- tion. Thus our sages discuss the appropriate course when one forgets to recite Grace After Meals and remembers only when he has reached a different location (M. Brachot 8:7). According to the School of Shammai, the forgetful diner must return to where he ate and recite the Grace. The School of Hillel felt that it wa not necessary to return to the original site: "Let him recite the benediction wherever he recalled [that he had eaten and forgotten to recite Grace]." The Talmud qualifies the disagreement between the two schools (B. Brachot 53b): The two schools only disagree when one inad- vertently forgot; if a diner intentionally neglected the obligation to say Grace where he ate, all agree that he must return to his original location to recite the benediction. While the Mishna records the final positions of the two schools, the Talmud re- counts an interchange be- tween them. The School of Hillel turned to the School of Shammai: "According to your opinion that a diner who unintentionally did not say Grace must return to where he ate--if he ate at the top of a grand tower and failed to remember to recite the benediction, would you require him to return all the way to the top of the tower?" The School of Shammai was unmoved: "According to your logic, someone who forgot a wallet of money at the top of a grand tower would not go to the trouble of climbing back up to retrieve his money!" The conclusion of Shammai's School was understood: "If a person is willing to make the arduous ascent for his own personal benefit, shouldn't he do so for the sake of HeavenI" In most cases of disagree- ment between the schools of Shammai and Hillel, normative law follows the School of Hillel. In this case the Talmud seems to indicate that acting in ac- cordance with the School of Shammai is praiseworthy. Consequently, normative law on this point is far from clear (Shulhan Aruch OH 184:1). The Talmud follows up with a story about a sage who forgot to recite the Grace.After Meals and des- perately sought to return to where he ate, as per the position of the School of Shammai: Rabba bar bar Hana was raveling in a caravan. At one point the convoy stopped and Rabba bar bar Hana ate but forgot to say Grace. Realizing later in the journey once the group had moved on, he wondered to himself: "What should I do? If I tell people that I forgot to recite the prescribed benediction, they will say to me--'Recite the Grace After Meals here, for wher- ever you say Grace, you are blessing the merciful one.'" Rabba bar bar Hana's trav- eling companions would argue that God's presence fills the entire world, and returning to a specific location to acknowledge the Almighty's hand in providing saJstenance is an unnecessary burdefi on the traveling party. Rabba bar bar Hana therefore concluded: "I would be better off saying that I forgot a golden dove, for then they will agree to stop and allow me to return and retrieve it." He promptly put his plan into action, and sure enough his fellow travelers sympathizedwith his plight and agreed to wait for him. The Talmud tells us that be- sides reciting Grace, Rabba bar bar Hana miraculously found a golden dover It is rather surprising to find Rabba bar bar Hana con- cocting a story; the opin- ion of the School of Hillel provided legal grounds not to inconvenience the entire convoy. While following the opinion of the Shool of Shammai may be laudable in this case, is it encour- aged even at'the cost of a lie? How are we to under- stand Rabba bar bar Hana's choice, and perhaps more importantly how are we to fathom the divine approval or even encouragement of this behavior? " Perhaps we can sug- gest that Rabba bar bar Hana was merely speak- ing metaphorically. In the continuation of the talmudic passage, Israel is compared to a dove: Just as a dove protects itself with its wings, Israel protects itself with the commandments it performs (see Psalms 68:14), Furthermore, in the Bible Torah is compared to gold (see Psalms 19i11). Rabba bar bar Hana was bemoaning his loss: "I lost a golden dove," meaning "I lost part of my essence, the opportunity to fulfill the Torah requirement of reciting Grace where I ate." His traveling compan- ions of course did not understand the metaphor. Blinded by the thought of a glittering gold dove lying abandoned in the desert, they agreed to facilitate his detour. The divine reward was not for the tale invented by Rabba bar bar Hana, but for his heartfelt loss at the golden opportunity to recite Grace on location. This explanation departs from the initial reading of the talmudic text and thus leaves the perplexing ques tion largely unanswered. Nevertheless, the approach suggests a significant mes- sage: Forgetting to recite Grace After Meals involves more than the halachic question of what should be done. Indeed the practical question of whether the for- getful diner needs to return to where he ate needs to b'e answered. Beyond that legal ques- tion, however, is the issue of whether the forgetfulness truly bothers the diner: How upset do we get if we forget to thank the Al- mighty for the sustenance with which we have been blessed? Dowe feel as Rabba bar bar Hana did that we have lost a valuable posses- sion? Wouldwe be willing to inconvenience others--or even just ourselves--to return to where we ate" so that we could properly recite the Grace? Rabba bar bar Hana's desperation suggests the importance of location. Indeed the second blessing of the Grace is all about location, the location of our people in the Land of Israel. The tale of Rabba bar bar Hana conveys the spirit of the requirement to recite Grace After Meals where we partook of the food and together with the second blessing encourages us to take note of location, the location where we eat and the location where our people gets its sustenance. Rabbi Levi Cooper is director of Advanced Pro- grams at the Pardes In- stitute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. His column appears weekly in The Jerusalem Post Magazine. This reprint is presented courtesy of the Pardes In- stitute, www.pardes.org.il, a coeducational, non-denomi- national center for in-depth Jewish learning from begin- ning io advanced levels. ." Temple lsraet A Progressive Cddaservative Congregation 50 Sbuih Moss Road Winter Springs, 32708 407-647-3055 / www.TiFlorida..org Ternplel sraeliflorida.org