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Rabbi David Jaffe

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Kotel (Western Wall) crowded with throngs of visitors

And Israel encamped [at Sinai] as one person with one mind. -- Rashi on Exodus 19:3

Remarkable unity characterized the Jewish people in the days before receiving Torah at Sinai, an event we commemorate on Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. As a student in Jerusalem one year, I experienced that unity powerfully on Shavuot. At the end of the traditional all-night learning session, I joined thousands of others streaming toward the Old City. We poured into the Western Wall plaza and I nestled myself in with one prayer group among the hundreds. Tens of thousands of people packed the plaza,...

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Cellophane-wrapped, bow-tied gift basket

I never really “got” Purim as a young adult. The endless noisemaking during the M’gillah reading felt tiresome and the need to feel happy at the parties reminded me of the same pretense as New Year’s Eve. It was only during my rabbinic studies in Jerusalem that I fell in love with this holiday – through the mitzvah of mishloach manot.

Mishloach manot literally means “sending portions,” and refers to the practice of giving gifts of at least two kinds of prepared food to friends on Purim. It is one of the four main mitzvot (commandments) of Purim, along with hearing the Book of...

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Hanukkah menorah with all the candles lit, and other lights in the background

One Hanukkah, when I was a child, an Israeli relative showed up at our home in the New York City suburbs with a type of menorah we had never seen before. It was a glass rectangular box with candle holders inside. Since we always lit candles inside, around the kitchen table, we all thought, “Why would anyone ever want a menorah like this?!”

Indeed, he was spectacularly unsuccessful in marketing these “Israeli menorahs” to the Jewish community in the tri-state area. It was only many years later, during my first Hanukkah in Jerusalem, where many people light their menorahs outside by...

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