Can you recite all Ten Commandments? How do they impact on your daily life?
These are some of the questions that OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity posed to Israelis of all ages and backgrounds during the week preceding the Festival of Shavuot and on Shavuot night itself. The activities were part of a nationwide initiative celebrating the Ten Commandments run by Yachad’s 32 Jewish Cultural Facilitators in some 80 community centers across Israel.
Like Yachad’s programming all year-round, these activities too were designed to introduce unaffiliated Israelis to the traditions and customs of their heritage, in an atmosphere of warmth and respect.
“Galit Hamber [the Yachad Program’s facilitator in East Netanya] came to visit my tenth graders,” recalls Matan Statler, a teacher in the secular ‘Eldad’ school. “She explained the historical connection between Shavuot and learning Torah, and we agreed that although we wouldn’t learn Torah in the traditional manner we would explore what the Torah means to us, as secular Jews in our homeland.
“The students were curious and extremely engaged in the debate over the continued relevance of the Ten Commandments to us and to the world at large,” Statler says, adding, “It is so frustrating to see how religion is so often turned into a divisive factor in this country. We were all so grateful and proud to use the Torah as an element for common ground and connection instead.”
From Eilat to the Golan Heights, each Yachad facilitator tailored his or her activities for the audiences at hand. But the central theme remained the Ten Commandments as kindergarteners, schoolchildren, teens, adults and pensioners explored “The TED Commandments” through short talks on each one; “Aseret Hadibrot oh lo lihiyot” (literally, “the Ten Commandments or not to exist,” in a fun wordplay on Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”); “Hadiber shemidaber elai” (meaning ‘The commandment which speaks to me”); opportunities to see and touch a Torah scroll; crafts activities, stories, songs and more.
“Our idea was to return the Torah to its central place in the celebration of Shavuot, and to remind unaffiliated Israelis that it belongs to them and not only to the religious population,” explains Yachad Educational Director Yigal Klein. “When we talk about Shavuot we say ‘Zman matan Torateinu’ – literally, the time of the giving of our Torah. The operative word here is ‘our’ – because it belongs to everyone and has a message for everyone. Through the programming, we saw that the Ten Commandments remain relevant,” he says. “It was truly inspiring to see how entire communities of religious and secular Israelis of all stripes came together and conversed against the backdrop of the Torah – our shared DNA.”