Sunday, February 18, 2007

Year of the Pig-- even in Jerusalem

Rarely do Jerusalemites go whole hog for Chinese New Year, especially when the Year of the Pig rolls around every dozen years, as it did today. But, in a country where pig farmers must use raised platforms and take extraordinary care not to allow the feet of their livestock to defile the Holy Land, it is a challenge to celebrate this year’s Chinese festivities at all. Izzy overheard a few foreign aidworkers wish each other “Gung Hay Fat Choy”...but no bursts of firecrackers.

Here’s a true tale fit for the Year of the Pig, which was told to me by Yehuda Levy-Aldema, director of the Hechal Shlomo Center for Jewish Heritage. Bizarrely, it involves calendars and swine. At his museum of Judaica, next to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, three crude knapsacks are put on display: big, medium-sized, and tiny. These were used by Rabbi Zev Gustman during his escape from Nazi persecution in Vilna.
Because the rabbi was fleeing with his wife and small daughter, groups of Lithuanian Partisans (Jewish resistance fighters) whom he encountered in the woods were unwilling to put their clandestine units at risk by giving females shelter. The rabbi, a devoted family man, kept fleeing. Ultimately, after being turned down everywhere else, the family hunkered down at a Good Samaritan’s pig farm-- a place where oppressors were unlikely to hunt for Jews on the run. Because the family had smuggled out a small calendar, penciled into a notebook, they were able to observe the Sabbath and the high holidays in hiding. Regardless of being surrounded by pigs, they could keep their Judaic identity intact. So, even in Israel there is reason to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which their zodiac says now moves to the sign of the Fire Boar.

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