Shalom, my friend: a host of meanings

We Jews cherish the allusions, aspirations and emotions intimately associated with certain Hebrew words. One such word is shalom, which, in everyday usage, can mean either “hello” or “goodbye.”

The traditional greeting among Jews is shalom aleichem, peace unto you; to which the response is aleichem shalom, to you, peace. But today, on the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, we are far more likely to hear one Israeli greeting another with Shalom! Mah shelomcha? The English equivalent is “Hello! How are you?” Literally, the phrase means, “What is [the state of] your peace?”

Shalom has a host of meanings; some denote external circumstances, others internal feelings or state of mind. Packed into shalom are concepts like wholeness, peace, security, tranquility, completeness, contentment, safety and well-being. Merely to stop fighting or to suspend strife is not shalom as Jews understand it. The Psalmist bids us: Bakesh shalom — seek peace (34:15). Dynamic, positive and restorative action is required. Thus, when the State of Israel seeks shalom with all her neighbors, she does not mean a cease-fire, but rather a constructive and meaningful peace for all the peoples in the Middle East.

When Jews say “Shabbat shalom – Sabbath peace” to family and friends after a draining work week, we mean far more than “have a peaceful and restful day.” What we are really saying is: May you be restored to wholeness on the blessed Sabbath!

In 1995, Israel’s beloved Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered during a huge peace rally in Tel Aviv. At the funeral ceremony in Jerusalem, President Bill Clinton concluded an emotional eulogy for his slain partner in peace with the following words: “Shalom, chaver – shalom, my friend.” These words are now taught to young children in every public school in Israel. On the rear of my car is a bumper sticker that reads: I Am Already Against the Next War.

President Eisenhower said it best: “People want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.”

Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbi of Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton. Shabbat services are held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call (941) 755-4900 or visit www.