As one with a great deal of respect, admiration, and gratitude toward veterans, I cannot help but feel that there are other veterans in society, specifically Jewish society, who are far too often taken for granted and unfortunately underappreciated and overlooked. Unlike the veterans we hopefully bring to heart and mind every November 11th, these underappreciated and overlooked veterans were not those who were prepared to put their lives on the line for their country. Instead, they were prepared and remain prepared to give of themselves to a cause that transcends geography and (ideally) politics.
One of the definitions of furlough provided by the dictionary is a period of time when a soldier is allowed to leave the place where he or she is stationed. Others may refer to it as a “pass”, as in a three-day or weekend pass. One of the laments of many a Jewish leader is that over the last few centuries, all too many of our peoples have issued themselves passes when it came to observing and upholding Jewish laws and practices. And yet, Chanukah has remained a shining example where no such passes exist. Come Chanukah, more Jewish homes in this country and elsewhere have candles burning brightly in their windows than one could imagine. Provide all the explanations you wish to explain this phenomenon. Offer all the reasons you dare to analyze this widely held practice. And while you are providing explanations and offering reasons, Jews throughout the entire spectrum, from the most observant to those who define themselves as nominal Jews at best, will continue to hold the match to the age-old Chanukah flame, come the 25th of Kislev. Call them what you will, but in my book, I lovingly refer to them as Chanukah Veterans.
Recently, my wife was speaking to a long-time friend who is a devout Episcopalian. In catching up, she shared with my wife that one of her sons, despite being raised with weekly attendance at worship services each Sunday, has now become a “C and E” Episcopalian. She was referring of course to Christmas and Easter. As one acquainted with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Jews, my wife immediately understood her friend’s lament. Yet, rather than regard such paucity of attendance as a “Shanda” or shame, I have long viewed such Jews entirely differently. I see those who make a concerted effort to be present at synagogue services during Rosh Hashana and/or Yom Kippur as High Holy Day Veterans. For whatever reason, or perhaps for no reason at all, these fellow Jews feel it necessary to attend synagogue services at some point during the Days of Awe. And I admire them for that, in that given their lifestyle, synagogue attendance during the year does not seem to be high on their priority list. Therefore, come the High Holy Days, I welcome these High Holy Day Veterans with open arms.
Defocus Aberration is a term to describe an object that is out of focus to the viewer. In Judaism, Defocus Aberration takes on an entirely different meaning. In Judaism, Defocus Aberration occurs when we focus on the wrong thing thereby causing an aberration in the way we view a Jewish custom or practice. In Judaism, Defocus Aberration is a yearly occurrence. Come Passover, the majority of Jews focus on matzah and proceed to get themselves worked up over an unleavened form of bread. All puns intended, focusing on matzah is a crummy way to view Pesach. Rather than focus on matzah, the number of Jews throughout the world and especially in this country who sit down to a seder – however halachically wanting – must not be overlooked. Former neighbors of ours here in Dallas would make it a point to host a large Passover seder (at an inappropriate hour) invite any number of guests including non-Jews and ask invitees to bring their own dessert. Others, in the spirit of Dayyenu (it will have to be enough), settle for a festival meal preceded by the Four Questions.
Regardless of the content, irrespective of the Passover kosher status, such Jews dare not be left behind simply because they are enslaved by assimilation. Instead, they are to be regarded as Seder Veterans, Jews who for whatever reason attempt to create some semblance of a seder.
Come November 11th, let us pay tribute to our Veterans. Let us visit cemeteries. Let us appear at parades. Let us show gratitude for their commitment. At the same time, let us as Jews, pause to think about Chanukah Veterans, High Holy Day Veterans, and Passover Veterans who are in their own way, in some way, shape, and form doing their part in the war of assimilation.
-Rabbi Shawn Zell