In days of yore, Israeli leaders were very careful to adhere to halacha, to Jewish law, in public, in their roles as representatives of the State of Israel. Mostly, this involved eating kosher food and publicly adhering to the laws of Shabbat. A friend of mine from Atlanta, Leon Covitz (who directs the local camp of the Seattle Sephardic community) directed my attention to an article in Haaretz today about Israeli President Shimon Peres; according to the piece, Peres has decided not to attend the opening ceremony of the London Olympics – because it extends into Friday (Shabbat) night and the Olympic committee is not willing to allow Peres to sleep in the Olympic village. (It’s reserved for athletes).
Now, Shimon Peres is not one of my personal role models. Though he contributed much to the building of the State of Israel, he also initiated the Oslo Process, which many of us correctly anticipated would be bad for the State of Israel. That said, there is a concept called יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת – a person can acquire his portion in the World to Come in one moment. So whatever you say about Shimon Peres in general, I think that with his public display of showing reverence for Shabbat, Peres has made a powerful statement about the character of the Jewish state.
I noticed a similar concern for public adherence to halacha when I attended the AIPAC conference this past spring in Washington DC. All of the food sold and catered at AIPAC was strictly kosher. Certainly, the increased attendance of observant Jews has led to these higher standards; still, the decision by the organizing committee to have no non-kosher options at a convention of 13,000 people conveys a powerful message to delegates and observers alike. Here in Seattle, local federation functions also strictly adhere to these guidelines.
On a number of occasions, I have spoken of this model as an argument for every Jew to identify with, and belong to, an Orthodox synagogue irrespective of the individual’s level of personal observance. The Orthodox Kehilla represents the classical Torah tradition, the Mesora, a commitment to the fundamentals of our faith. Instead of dulling the aspirations of Jews by presenting them with watered-down templates – like spiritual leaders who themselves fail to observe the basics of Shabbat and Kashrut – Jewish communities should be setting their sights high, exposing Jews to the beauty of Torah, and allowing a Jew of any background to navigate his or her own personal path to G-d.