Summer profiles in courage
By Laura Seymour

We will explore tikkun olam, a mitzvah of action, this summer. The Hebrew word tikkun means to “fix” or “heal” something that is broken; olam means “world.”
When we do tikkun olam, we are doing acts that will benefit our society from our school to the entire planet earth. This mitzvah is all about making the world a better place and believing that we can and should make a difference in the world.
Ometz Lev, the mitzvah of courage, literally means “dedication of the heart.” When our heart is set, we have the inner strength to overcome fear and doubt. This is not only the soldier kind of courage, but also the courage we have because we have trust in God. It also means the power to have endurance, persistence and the strength to be a good person.
Mitzvah hero of today’s world: Hannah Senesh
Hannah Senesh was born in 1921 in Budapest, Hungary. As a teenager, Hannah was very active in Zionist activity and in 1939, she moved to a kibbutz in Palestine.
World War II broke out, and Hannah was very worried about friends and family. In 1943, she joined the Palmach, the Jewish army in Palestine. The Palmach planned a raid to help Jews escape from the Nazis. They would drop soldiers behind enemy lines.
Hannah volunteered and was the only woman chosen to go on the raid. Soon after landing, she was captured and tortured to give out plans and codes. Hannah refused to speak and was executed by a firing squad.
Word of Hannah’s bravery and strength spread to all the Jews. She remains in the hearts of all Jews and is remembered through her poetry for her bravery.
“I wounded another not knowing both ends of an arrow mar.
I too was hurt in the battle and shall bear a scar.”
In our ancestor’s footsteps: Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai
The famous Arch of Titus in Rome shows Romans in 70 C.E. triumphantly parading spoils from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which they had just destroyed. It is one end of the story of the time the Romans conquered Israel.
This could have been the end of Judaism, but it wasn’t because of the bravery and wisdom of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. While the Romans laid siege against Jerusalem, ben Zakkai had a plan. His followers pretended he was dead and carried him outside the city gate, but ben Zakkai arose, went to the general who granted ben Zakkai one request: “Give me Yavneh and its sages.”
The small Yavneh academy became the spiritual center of the Jewish people, and a new type of Judaism survived, which allowed Judaism to flourish wherever the Jews would go.
The information for this summer’s weekly themes comes from “Jewish Heroes Jewish Values — Living Mitzvot in Today’s World” by Barry L. Schwartz published by Behrman House, Inc. in 1996.
Family talk time

  • Let each family member talk about a time they did something that took courage. Remember, it doesn’t always have to mean physical courage. Does having courage mean you are never afraid?
  • When we talk about strength, we usually think of physical strength. What does it mean to be strong in other ways?
  • Some people talk about “strong families.” What makes a strong family? How can you make your family stronger? Does being part of the Jewish religion or community help make you stronger? How and why?

Laura Seymour is director of youth and camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.

Leave a Reply