I had the great fortune this week, while in Istanbul on business, to discover a pleasant and previously unknown secret of the Turkish Jewish community.
They make the best ‘shawarma’ in the world.
I was embarrassed to admit that Israeli shawarma did not come close to the delicacies I was savoring. My hosts assured me that Turkish restaurants in Israel have even better shawarma than what I was enjoying (any friends that want to join me in discovering these places, please be in touch).
The Talmud states that there is no true celebration without meat and wine (apologies to my vegetarian friends), and both were flowing in high quality at the community dinner I attended.
In Leviticus, Chapter 23, the Torah provides a description of the various Festivals the Jewish people are commanded to celebrate. These Festivals were primarily involved (in Temple times) with sacrifices (a lot of meat), wine libations (though I’m sure participants got their fair share), and a major portion of the Jewish people getting together in Jerusalem (huge social event – great for matchmaking too).
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno inquires as to why God uses the term “My Festivals”, in the first person and repeats that the Festivals are “Holy”.
Sforno explains that while we are ordered to be happy, and are encouraged to enjoy ourselves, we can never forget God or divine service in our partying. As the Talmud states (Tractate Pesachim 68b):
“(celebration of) Festivals (should be) half for you and half for God”
If the festival is exclusively about fun and self-indulgence, then it is actually detested by God:
“For your Festivals my Spirit hated” [Isaiah 1:14]
However, if our Festivals become a community event, where we bond with our fellows, demonstrate kindness and generosity to those less fortunate, give thanks to God for all of His blessings, and dedicate ourselves, our time and our lives to doing His will, then God says, it is “My Festival” that you are celebrating in joy and He indeed blesses us further for this.
May we always have opportunities to celebrate and remember how to do it right.
To the charming young Ms. Levi-Guzcu who sat next to me at the dinner. She explained to me the many challenges of young committed Jews in Turkey. I am sure that together with her boyfriend in Izmir, they will successfully navigate the issues of life, community and Jewish continuity.