Diaspora Israel Day
Celebrating Jewish Peoplehood - 7th of Chesvan
If I had asked a Jewish person, some thousand years ago, what is the meaning of the holiday of Tu B'shvat (15th of Shvat), I imagine he would scratched his head in confusion. In the times of the Mishna, the 15th of Shvat was the date in which the taxation year for agricultural products ended, and it wasn't marked or celebrated in any special way. However, from the Middle Ages on, and through a process of many generations, the 15th of Shvat accumulated additional meanings, all related to the original meanings of nature and agriculture, which are celebrated festively till present day.
If I would ask a Jewish person today, what is the meaning of the date 7th of Cheshvan, I imagine he would react with the same kind of confusion. The 7th of Cheshvan is a rather insignificant date in the Jewish calendar, in which the blessing of the years of T'filat Amidah is changed, and a plea for rain is added. Yet, the reason for changing the blessing, specifically in this date, gives this day a special and festive meaning.
Don't let the rain catch you on your way
“On the third day of the month of Mar-Cheshvan, prayers for the rain are to be said. According to Rabban Gamliel: The prayers begin on the seventh day of the month; namely, fifteen days after the Festival of Sukkot, so that the last Israelites may have reached the river Euphrates.” (Mishna, Ta’anit 1:3)
In the Mishna above, the sages discuss the appropriate date for adding the plea for rain to the T'fila. Following the advice of Rabban Gamliel, this date is postponed to the 7th of Cheshvan – two weeks after Sukkot – in order to ensure that Jewish pilgrims from Babylon who had been visiting the Land of Israel would be able to return home without having rain catch them during their journey.
It is important to remember that the pleas for rain were critical in the eyes of farmers in the ancient land of Israel. In those days in Israel, agriculture was based solely on rainwater, and the God-fearing farmer saw each autumn day without rain as an ominous one.
Therefore, this discussion about the dates for adding the plea for rain is an ancient example of the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. This meaningful and close bond was sensitive to the needs of both communities. While Diaspora Jews would pray for rain in the Land of Israel, even though they do not live there, Jews in the parched Land of Israel delayed their plea for rain so that Jewish pilgrims could return home safely.
Celebrating the bonds between us
The Hebrew calendar is filled, as we all know, with many holidays and festivals. A large range of themes and values are reflected in these holidays – renewal and forgiveness, light and darkness, joy and freedom, mourning and destruction. Yet, there is one very meaningful Jewish value which is not manifested, or celebrated in any holiday – the value of Klal Israel.
The special bonds between Jews around the world is vastly studied and discussed, but it has never been celebrated. We believe that these special bonds between Jewish communities across the globe, which have been persevered against all odds and despite all differences, is a true cause for celebration. On this coming 7th of Cheshvan – October 27th 2017 – we invite you to celebrate with us Diaspora Israel Day.
How can you join the celebration? Log on to our Diaspora Israel Day website, and download the festive tractate that was created especially for the new holiday. This collection suggests a variety texts, songs and activities related to Jewish Peoplehood. You can then decide how to incorporate Diaspora Israel Day in your community: either by adding one of the texts to your Shabbat service, by initiating a video conference with a partner congregation and studying the texts together, or by having a full event based on the Diaspora Israel Day tractate.
We wish all of you a Happy Diaspora Israel Day!
Smadar Bilik is the interim-director of project
DOMIM-aLike in the Israeli Reform Movement,
which aims to strengthen the connections between
Israeli and world reform congregations.