By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
April 15th 2021 – ג’ באייר תשפ”א
Last year at this time I wrote about the word פרגון. It is a very Israeli term that comes from the Yiddish פארגינען (which seems to derive from the German, Vergönnen). Firgun (pronounced FEER-GOON, פרגון) is a Hebrew word that does not have any good translation to English. It means an act of kindness performed solely to make another person feel good. It has become such a popular part of the Israeli lexicon that there is even an International Firgun Day!
On Yom Haatzmaut, I suggested that we offer a bit of “firgun” to Israel. Let us take one day in our calendar without adding a “but,” or a caveat, when expressing our pride and congratulatory spirit for Israel. Just like you might fight the urge to call your Uncle Sid, and say “happy birthday, despite the fact that I don’t agree with you on so many things…”. Sometimes it’s ok just to say, “Happy birthday, glad you exist,” and show a little firgun.
Today, after a year of struggling through a global pandemic, I’d like to emphasize a different term: “Hagshamah” – הַגְשָׁמָה.
Hagshamah is the realization of the ideology, the actualization of a dream, and fulfillment of our aspirations. Many of the early Zionist youth movement experiences were directed towards hagshamah atzmit, or personal fulfillment of one’s ideology, often closely aligned with that of their movement. Typically, for a Diaspora movement, hagshamah involved Aliyah, or immigration to Israel, seen as an ultimate goal of Zionist ideals. Many movements organize groups of participants to take this difficult step together, forming a gar’in of olim (a group or nucleus of immigrants) who are prepared together for the process of Aliyah. During the 1970s and 80s, the Reform Movement had a number of garinei Aliyah groups that rose out of our youth movement and camps and went to found Kibbutzim in Israel (Yahel and Lotan) and fulfilled the ideal of Aliyah.
Today’s hagshamah manifests in many different ways. Today there is a vital need to re-examine our expressions of Zionism and ensure that our ongoing Zionist goals, actions, and ideals are meeting the demands and challenges of the 21st Century.
For us, as Reform Zionists, hagshamah can come in the form of building a community, producing a new Israeli siddur, forming a new kehilah/congregation, or achieving a landmark Supreme Court Ruling recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel. No better example of fulfillment of a dream than the achievement of electing the first Reform Rabbi to the Knesset. Of course, he will face formidable challenges, and it will not be easy, but it is a huge achievement.
In today’s world, hagshamah is dynamic, not static. It is not one single event or achievement and then it’s over – just like Zionism did not end on this day 73 years ago when the pre-State dream of establishing a State was fulfilled. As Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary more than four decades prior to independence:
“I truly believe that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal. For Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment.”
On this day of independence of the modern Jewish State let us engage in firgun and hagshamah. We can step back and be proud of its achievements and of all that it accomplished. We can also continue to yearn for our Israel, to be a center for ethical and spiritual fulfillment. And we can all commit to working towards that aim starting today.
Yom Haatzmaut Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,