If I had asked a Jewish person some thousand years ago, what is the meaning of the holiday of Tu B’shvat (15th of Shvat), I imagine they would have scratched their head in confusion. In the times of the Mishna, the 15th of Shvat was the date on which the taxation year for agricultural products ended, and it wasn’t marked or celebrated in any special way. However, from the Middle Ages onward and over many generations, the 15th of Shvat gained additional meanings, all related to the original meaning of nature and agriculture and celebrated festively through today.
If I were to ask a Jewish person today, what is the meaning of the date 7th of Cheshvan, I imagine they would react with the same kind of confusion. The 7th of Cheshvan is a rather insignificant date in the Jewish calendar, in which the blessing of the years of T’filat Amidah is changed, and a plea for rain is added. Yet, the reason for changing the blessing specifically on this date gives the day a special and festive meaning.
Don’t Let the Rain Catch You on Your Way
On the third day of the month of Mar-Cheshvan, prayers for rain are to be said. According to Rabban Gamliel: The prayers begin on the seventh day of the month; namely, fifteen days after the Festival of Sukkot, so that the last Israelites may have reached the river Euphrates. (Mishna, Ta’anit 1:3)
In the Mishna above, the sages discuss the appropriate date for adding the plea for rain to T’fila. Following the advice of Rabban Gamliel, this date is postponed to the 7th of Cheshvan – two weeks after Sukkot – in order to ensure that Jewish pilgrims from Babylon who had been visiting the Land of Israel would be able to return home without being caught in the rain along the way.
It is important to remember that the pleas for rain were critical in the eyes of farmers in the ancient land of Israel. In those days, agriculture was based solely on rainwater, and the God-fearing farmer saw each autumn day without rain as an ominous one.
Therefore, this discussion about the dates for adding the plea for rain is an ancient example of the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. This meaningful and close bond was sensitive to the needs of both communities. While Diaspora Jews would pray for rain in the Land of Israel, even though they did not live there, Jews in the parched Land of Israel delayed their plea for rain so that Jewish pilgrims could return home safely.
Celebrating the Bonds Between Us
The Hebrew calendar, as we know, is filled with many holidays and festivals. A wide range of themes and values are reflected in these holidays – renewal and forgiveness, light and darkness, joy and freedom, mourning and destruction. Yet, there is one very meaningful Jewish value which is not celebrated on any holiday – the value of Klal Yisrael. The special bond between Jews around the world is thoroughly studied and discussed, but it has never been celebrated.
We believe that this bond between Jewish communities across the globe, which has persevered against all odds and despite all differences, is a true cause for celebration. On this coming 7th of Cheshvan – October 27th 2017 – we invite you to celebrate Diaspora Israel Day with us.
How can you join the celebration? Log on to our Diaspora Israel Day website and download the festive tractate that was created especially for this new holiday. This collection suggests a variety of texts, songs, and activities related to Jewish Peoplehood. You can then decide how to incorporate Diaspora Israel Day in your community: either by adding one of the texts to your Shabbat service, by hosting a video conference with a partner congregation to study the texts together, or by holding a full event based on the Diaspora Israel Day tractate.
We wish you all a Happy Diaspora Israel Day!
Smadar Bilik is the interim-director of the DOMIM-aLike project at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, which aims to strengthen the connections between Reform congregations in Israel and around the world.