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    Let’s not lose our heads

    The Mishnah says that whoever has not seen the festive water drawing in ancient Israel has never experienced real joy (Sukkah 5:1).

    Unfortunately our generation, like all our forebears since the destruction of the Temple, have been deprived of that privilege. But one thing we do have – the wonderment on the face of a Jewish child who enters the sukkah for the first time and is transfixed by the beauty and the aroma of the moment.

    We never forget our first childhood impression of Sukkot, as we never forget our first Friday night, our first Seder, our first Chanukah, the moment we first heard the shofar, the time we were at our first Kol Nidrei. The poetry, the magic of Judaism are unbelievable.

    But as the name sukkah implies – deriving from s’chach, covering – what makes a sukkah is not what is in it but what is on it. What makes a sukkah is its head. Like a human being, a sukkah without a head has neither life nor being.

    Jewish experience as a whole is both emotional – the heart – and intellectual – the head. Sometimes there is too much emphasis on the heart, and the result is a headache.

    Let us consider two pictures:
    1. This is the best educated Jewish generation in history. Jews always had a feeling for education, a determination that their children had to be properly educated and preferably become doctors, lawyers or some other variety of professional. So wherever Jews live, a disproportionately high percentage are university graduates, and there are more Jewish Nobel Prize winners than our small numbers would suggest.

    2. This is the most Jewishly uncultured generation in history. SJ Goldsmith said that Anglo-Jewry was “an anti-cultural community without the saving grace of Jewish learning” – and he may have had other communities in mind too.

    Which picture is correct? They both are. The problem is that so many people are highly educated in everything else but primitive in their Jewish equipment.

    Their heart is certainly in the right place, and usually it is a good Jewish heart that responds properly when Jewish loyalty is required. But they left their Jewish education behind when they were Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah, at precisely the moment when Judaism as a sophisticated, challenging adventure of the mind could have opened up before them.

    The amazing thing is that those who begin searching for an adult Judaism find the experience incredibly stimulating.

    So do some growing this year. Certainly, let your heart grow in pride in and deep feeling for being Jewish. But don’t lose your head.

    Fortunately, the electronic age is a tremendous boon. The electronic media offer so much Jewish intellectual excitement that it is worth acquiring a computer simply in order to be a better read Jew!

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