A personal letter from Amir to the families of Ein Bustan, in preparation for Eid El Adha
Twice a year we celebrate together as a community in Ein Bustan - children and parents, teachers, administrative staff and volunteers, Arabic speaker and Hebrew speakers. This year we chose two holidays: the Muslim holiday of Eid El Adha and the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
I’d like to share with you some of what I know about the holiday, and may the Muslims among you forgive me if I am incorrect about any facts - I will be gladly accept comments or corrections what I write here, for the knowledge and pleasure of us all. It’s important for me to emphasize that this my own personal view.
Eid El Adha is the most important holiday in the Muslim calendar, (in contrast to Eid El Fitr). We celebrate the pilgrimage to Mecca, to the holy rock of the Kaaba. The pilgrimage, or Haj, is one of the five pillars in the religious life of the Muslim. This holiday is identified with the occasion on which the sacrifice of Ismail (Ishmael) almost happened.
As we may remember, the Koran tells us that Ibrahim (Abraham) had a dream in which Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son. When he wakes up, he tells his son of the dream, and the son begs his father to fulfill God’s command. When Ibrahim goes to Mt. Arafat in order to sacrifice Ismail, an angel appears to Ibrahim and tells him that he must substitute a nearby lamb, instead of the human sacrifice. Therefore, the lamb may be found among the symbols of the holiday. It is a common practice to distribute meat from the lamb to the needy. The crescent moon and the star are also among the holiday symbols, since the Moslem holiday is declared when the moon makes its appearance.
As an active Jew in Ein Bustan, I permit myself, find a need, and moreover, feel it is my role - to interpret the traditions and founding stories of my culture. Through our activities we are creating a new reality and paving a path so that others might follow us.The Moslem story of the sacrifice is indeed very close to the Jewish story of the sacrifice of Isaac. According to the Jewish story, Abraham and his son Isaac ascend Mt. Moriah, in order to sacrifice Isaac, and an angel of God pushes Abraham’s hand away from Isaac, and replaces the sacrifice with a ram, who is nearby. Thus, a human sacrifice is prevented, and instead, the ram is sacrificed.
Since there is a great similarity between the stories (aside from the names and a few minor details) it is easy for me to connect to the story of the holiday, since it is so very much like the tradition that I grew up with. But as a humanist and an educator, the question may be asked: what is the value of this story and its importance for me, as a person living in the present day? I will share with you the way in which I see the story, which in Hebrew is sometimes called “Sippur Haakeda” (“The Sacrifice Story”): the boy was NOT sacrificed! Indeed, the meaning of the word “akeda” actually means “binding the arms and legs”.
And this is the central point, in my opinion: Abraham acted in defiance of what was a commonplace practice during that period, going against the customs of his society. That is what made him great, and for this - I am proud to be among his descendants, both physically and spiritually. For there is no doubt that Abraham did not invent human sacrifice, but it is fairly sure that he, as opposed to those that preceded him, and for sure those that came after him, stopped this practice!
We can discuss the question of the angel’s appearance- there may be those among you that will say that they do not believe in angels. It might be easier for them to understand the appearance of the angel as an inner enlightenment: suddenly he understood something that he had not previously perceived at all! Perhaps this is the revelation? And perhaps this explains the appearance of the angel? But perhaps I will leave discussion of this question for another time. This time I will make do with this significant event: the clear opposition to human sacrifice!
During this current period, on the one hand hostages are being released* and on the other hand victims continue to be hurt on both sides of the border, people are finding common ground in social protests, listening to the pain of the homeless and those living in poverty, while hopes for a better joint future are mixed with apprehensions that this hope will dissolve because of the renewed hostilities on the Israel-Gaza border.
Can there be a better time than now for us to unite, both Arabs and Jews, in order to celebrate a holiday that tells a story about stopping human sacrifice, about the generous distribution of charity for the needy, and about pilgrimage to a **holy place in order to become purified and closer to God?
Eid Said (Happy Holiday),
*Amir refers here to the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by the Hamas in Gaza and held captive for over 5 years with no visits from the red Cross, who was released in October 2011 in exchange for 1027 prisoners, most of which were confirmed terrorists, which were held in Israeli jails.
**Eid El Adha is a time when Muslims from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the holy site of the “Kaaba” stone in Mecca. The pilgrimage is reenacted by the children in Ein Bustan, who dress up as pilgrims, in white robes, during Ein Bustan’s Eid El Adha celebration.
Translation from Hebrew , footnotes and photos by Rachel Gottlieb
Maayan Babustan(Ein Bustan) POB 206, Kiryat Tivon 36011
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