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Yair Lapid a popular TV personality
Photo: Rinat Malkes
Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv
Photo: Rinat Malkes
My Jewish experience
Yair Lapid answers questions about his own personal take on Judaism

How do I feel about Judaism?

 

In February 1945, my father, who was then 13 years old, lived with my grandmother in a basement in the Budapest ghetto. They survived by eating horsemeat. The Russians were approaching, and the Germans – together with the Hungarian

Fascists – began forcing the Jews on death marches. Most were led to the Danube River, where they were ordered to dig holes in the ice. And then the Nazis shot them into the water.

 

Early one Monday morning, the Germans surrounded my father’s block and began herding approximately 600 Jews into a death transport. The column was conducted down the streets of Budapest, which were empty because of the Russian bombings, and people looking out their windows knew that these Jews were going to die.

 

At a certain point, a Russian plane swooped down over the column, and people suddenly started running and screaming. The Germans lifted their “Schmeissers” and aimed up at the skies.

 

My father hid behind a small public lavatory, painted green. His mother stood behind him, pushed him into the lavatory, and said to him, “Act like you’re going to the bathroom.” He did as he was told, and the column continued on without them.

 

Six hours later, the entire column was dead – except for my father and my grandmother. They stood in the street, free, without the yellow patch, because my father had removed it from his clothes. And they could go anywhere.

 

There were thousands of uninhabited miles in the American Midwest; the Australian Bush was emptier than the Budapest ghetto; London was free; Paris was about to be liberated; and Mussolini had already been hanged in Italy. But my 13-year-old father had nowhere to go. So he returned to the ghetto and hoped that the Russians would arrive before the next death march set out.

 

Many years later, I went to Budapest with my father. We walked down the street together, and then he stopped and began to cry. He pointed to a small public lavatory, painted green, and started talking.

 

“This is the place where I was saved,” he explained. “This is the place where in essence you were born. This is the place where my Zionism was born. Because it was here that I realized that I need to have a place to go to.”

 

And we stood there, two grown men, stroking the green lavatory wall and crying. The Hungarian passersby sidestepped us gingerly, because they assumed that we had lost our minds.

 

But we weren’t crazy; we were a statistical error. He was supposed to die, and I was never supposed to have been born. Yet, nevertheless, there we were. Against all odds.

 

Which mitzvah (religious commandment) would you abolish?

 

I would abolish the mitzvah that requires every man in Israel to only marry and divorce through the Rabbinate and to become a constant victim of its corrupt bureaucracy, its disgraceful discrimination of women, and its monopoly of the Jewish experience. Fortunately, I don’t have to work too hard. There is no such mitzvah in the sources, and there never was.

 

What is your favorite mitzvah?

 

The Ten Commandments. In fact, if I could, I would take all ten and turn them into one unit which would be the basis of the new Israeli constitution. I would force the secular citizens to memorize the six interpersonal mitzvot, especially “Honor your father and your mother” – for the sake of family values – and “You shall not covet” – as a barrier against the intolerant, aggressive, capitalistic behavior that runs rampant among us.

 

I would force the Orthodox to once again memorize the mitzvot between man and G-d. “You shall not take the Name of Hashem, your God, in vain” is an appropriate reminder to those who transform the God of the Jews into a politician of bypass roads in the West Bank, and “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any picture” is an appropriate rebuke to the whole strange culture of amulets, blessings, and red strings that is now so widespread in our region.

 

What did Moses say to God after receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai?

 

I don’t think that they had a national discussion, rather a completely personal conversation instead. God was the only Father that Moses knew, the only Father that he ever had. Moses was also the closest thing to a son that God had.

 

I think that “Moses’ face had become radiant”, because that’s what happens to us when we receive final approval from our parents that we’ve grown up. This also explains Moses’ great disappointment about the reception that awaited him below.

 

Remember, Moses pitches a tent outside the camp and stays there, because he is incapable of being with them. And then – Father comes. The Pillar of Smoke descends upon the tent, like some sort of embrace, and leaves only the two of them.

 

This is the first and last time in the entire Bible that God reveals Himself, not because He has something to say or because He needs to advance the plot in some way. He only comes in order to encourage His son.

 

What is your Yom Kippur like?

 

I have little patience for people who display their Judaism only on the holidays and the festivals. On Yom Kippur, I try to get to my synagogue – Beit Daniel – at least for the Kol Nidrei prayer. There’s another thing that I particularly like about Yom Kippur, and that’s the mutual respect. The entire Israeli public is meticulous about the day’s sanctity, because there’s no law (enforcing such behavior).

 

How do you feel about Brit Milah (circumcision)?

 

Research over the past few years has shown that Brit Milah is a miraculous “home remedy” against AIDS. Circumcised men are much less likely to contract the disease, because we’re talking about a hygienic procedure. Also, I don’t want my son to get curious looks in the bathroom at school, because children are merciless towards those who are different, especially in the early stages of sexuality.

 

What would you remove from the Jewish calendar?

 

I would omit Purim. The story about an anti-Jewish conspiracy that is foiled due to the fact that someone forces his virgin niece into the bed of a womanizing king and because of this the Jews receive permission to commit genocide against 70,000 people and then they get drunk from happiness – does not bring us much honor. My heart goes out to Vaizata. What did we gain from hanging a six year old boy?

 

At the same time, I would make Holocaust Day be an integral part of the Hebrew calendar. The Holocaust is an event that plays a more intrinsic role in the annals of the Jewish nation than, let’s say, Tu Bishvat.

 

What’s the difference between a Jew and a gentile?

 

I would like to say that there’s no difference, but I’m not that enlightened. There’s something in the annals of the Jewish nation that indicates that we’re different.

 

The thing that stands out the most in Jewish history is that we’re talking about a history of excellence. During the period when idol worship was prevalent, we invented monotheism. During the period when commerce became prevalent, we became the best merchants.

 

In the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution started, we became the most prominent scientists. In the “Golden Age” of the silver screen, we ruled Hollywood. When we needed to defend ourselves, we became the best army in the world. (This was before the Second Lebanon War.)

 

And today, in an era when money and technology are the two fundamentals, the Jews are the world’s best financiers and high-tech workers. I’m a card-carrying ethnocentric. I believe that the Jews can excel in any field they choose.

 

If you were to invent Shabbat, the day of rest, how would it look?

 

This question contains a second one: Is Shabbat a religious or a social commandment? I believe that people deserve a day of rest, because otherwise, life is just work and nothing else. I also like the idea of the Shabbat table, where the family gathers together – not around the television, but around the previous week.

 

On the other hand, it doesn’t bother me if Shabbat is also a family shopping day – on condition, of course, that the employees in the stores receive another day of rest in exchange.

 

A request from God

 

“He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. And say, Amen.”

 

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