Traditions in the Desert

This article is from the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of the Vine

Traditions in the Desert

by Joshua Berman, Temple Micah President

In mid-November, I found myself in an incredibly remote part of southern Arizona, several miles north of the Mexico border. Several friends and I were riding horses, along with two local guides and their 10-year-old son. As we rode, the young boy (who, let’s be honest, was providing needed riding guidance for my limited “city slicker” abilities) described for me how, given the very rural environment in which he lived, his mother was homeschooling him. He told me about some of the online academic exercises he was doing, and how his mom was responsible for teaching him other subjects.

And then, out of the blue, he blurted something that sounded like: “and on Sundays and Mondays I study Hebrew.” I was relatively certain I had not heard that correctly. I gently asked, “what is it you study?” And his mom answered “Hebrew. You see, I was raised in a conservative Jewish family in Tucson before I moved out here in the hills. I’m raising my son Jewish. We’ve even been doing some virtual Shabbats.”

After picking my jaw up from the saddle, the youngster and I engaged in a lively chat about many things Jewish. But the heart and soul of our conversation was really about Hanukkah. He shared with me thoughts about gelt and how great it was that he continued to enjoy chocolate well after Halloween. We discussed how many candles adorned his Menorah and “the miracle” we celebrated.

But most importantly, he made sure I was up to speed on his “house rules” of dreidel — and rest assured, whether it be remote Arizona or Wisconsin Avenue in D.C., it turns out the rules are the same: the Gimel takes it all; the Nun stands for “none;” “halfsies” for the Hey; and for Shin, drop in another gelt (or, as he put it, “that seems unfair!”).

As I fell asleep that night, I was reminded that Jewish traditions can be found in all corners of the globe. Friday night candle lighting. Spring seders. Coming of age b’nai mitzvah. Tzedakah boxes by the front door. And, of course, spinning the dreidel at Hanukkah.

Traditions are what bind us together as Jews in so many ways…But some of our warmest traditions stem from our community.

And for so many of us, that’s our Micah community.

Traditions are what bind us together as Jews in so many ways. Indeed, Sheldon Harnick captured “Tradition!” so perfectly through his indelible lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof’s opening number. Some of our Jewish traditions are so very personal—how we greet each day, how we mourn our loved ones, or how we look deep into our own soul as the sun sets on Yom Kippur. Others may be traditions we share with family and friends—how we break our Yom Kippur fast, how we reward the finder of the afikomen on Passover, or how we slice the apples and dip them in honey as we toast the new year.

But some of our warmest traditions stem from our community. And for so many of us, that’s our Micah community. We can close our eyes and feel the warmth of dozens of dozens of menorot burning brightly in the center of the sanctuary with lights off and voices carrying as the center of our Hanukkah tradition. We smile as we picture our Purim tradition of our rabbis campily belting out a song at the intermission of our very Micah Purim spiel, celebrating the story of Esther. We dance (even in front of the zoom screen) and joyously sing “Sweet as Honey” as we unroll the scrolls as part of our Torah tradition.

As we continue to gradually emerge from Covid, I know I am eager to jump back in safely to so many of our Micah traditions. I look forward to sharing them with this wonderful community. I don’t think that it was a “great miracle” that I stumbled across an engaged, spirited, equine-talented (fortunately) 10-year old in the Arizona desert — although we have many traditions of miracles in the desert. But I do know it was a beautiful reminder of the ties that link us, wherever we are.

Chag Sameach.