Category Archives: Holidays

8 Reasons Israelis are So Happy (Yom Ha’atzmaut 2016)

Outside observers could reasonably conclude that Israel is a miserable country. International news reports tend to focus solely on the Middle Eastern conflict and acts of terror, while BDS protesters try to convince the world that Israelis are evil oppressors.

And yet Israel ranked 11th in the UN’s 2016 World Happiness Report (above even the U.S.). This corresponds with my own daily reality, as I observe many cheerful and enthusiastic Israelis during my daily routine. For Israel’s 68th birthday (Yom Ha’atzmaut) it’s worthy asking: why are Israelis so happy?

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Don’t Quit Before the (Hanukkah) Miracle!

When the Maccabees arrived at the holy Temple in Jerusalem to liberate and reconsecrate it, they found a single small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. They thought this would be enough oil to last only one night, but a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.

If the Maccabees had said, “We don’t have enough oil to do this ceremony properly, let’s just give up,” we wouldn’t be collectively celebrating Hanukkah right now.

Many of us today are facing seemingly hopeless situations and the temptation to give up is strong.

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Hanukkah and Exercising for the Right Reasons

I believe the Hanukkah story, which transpired thousands of years ago, has shaped classical Jewish attitudes towards fitness, diet and exercise.

The ancient Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered Jerusalem. Greek society idealized the human body and its citizens spent much time developing their physical attributes and thinking about their looks, and even held sporting events where competitors preened without clothing. The human body was so venerated in ancient Greece that its Olympians practiced and competed nude!

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Jonathan Pollard and the Happiness of Freedom

Imagine how Jonathan Pollard felt this Shabbat, leaving jail after a 30-year prison term! How many times during those three long decades did he dream about being a free man: taking a long walk on a beach, meeting a friend in a coffee shop, embarking on a trip with his wife, taking a luxurious bath, praying in a beit knesset?

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The Secret to Aliyah and Sukkot

I have an American friend who keeps schlepping his family back and forth between Israel and America (specifically, California). When he’s living in California (as he is now), he’s dreaming about Israel: “I miss living in the Jewish state, where Jewish education is free and you get the holidays off from work. We’re coming back to Israel soon!”

And yet he has already left Israel twice to go live in America for long stints, in large part because he loves his higher earning potential in the motherland.

I’m trying hard to be less judgmental and argumentative, but because he keeps claiming he wants to settle down in Israel and remain here, I am dying to tell him the secret to successful Aliyah…

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Sukkot and the Fight Club

Don’t worry, I’m not recommending fist fights in your Sukkah (the temporary hut Jews inhabit during the festival of Sukkot). That would likely wreck the walls of your Kosher Sukkah!

I’m simply noting that one of the main themes of the Fight Club, a thought-provoking movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, is also a dominant theme of Sukkot. This theme has much to teach us about simcha (Jewish joy).

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Yom Kippur – You’re Doing it Wrong

No days were as festive for Israel as Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur –Tractate Ta’anit.

What is the Mishna trying to tell us? We understand why Tu B’Av, a magical day of love, was considered a happy day. But Yom Kippur? Isn’t that supposed to be the day that we punish our bodies by fasting and reflect on the many awful things we did in the previous year? How does that promote simcha (Jewish joy)?

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The “Playful Child” on Rosh HaShana

Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, the rabbi of my shul/beit knesset in Modi’in, recently published an excellent book entitled, His Words, Their Voices: Essays on the Haftarot.

In his essay on the specific Haftarah (a section of the book of Prophets) that is read communally on the second day of Rosh HaShana, Rabbi Weitzman struck a chord with me by writing about the “playful child.”

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Mikveh Before Rosh HaShana

Because many Jews immerse in a mikveh (ritual bath) before Rosh HaShana, I am re-posting a previous blog post about a happiness visualization for the mikveh. Have a sweet and HAPPY New Year! 

— Simcha 

After deciding to start my current search for simcha (Jewish joy) on Hoshana Rabbah, one of the first things I did that morning was immerse myself in one of the local mikvehs. Hoshana Rabbah is the day when the judgment process that has started on Rosh HaShana is sealed, and I wanted to feel spiritually pure.

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