It's no secret that modern Western culutre has made a mess of the family unit. On one side are the relentless pressures from outside - work, friends, Internet, MSN, television and the iPod all compete to distract a person from those around him, especially his family. On the other side is the downgrading of the importance of the family unit - these days it seems any group of people can set up a "family" regardless of gender or relation to one another. Single parent families, homosexual couples, blended families; the nuclear family doesn't carry the same cachet that it used to.
How refreshing then to see a response to that from a secular source. Tal Brody and Yaakov Ne'eman, through their Shishi Mishpachti (Family Friday) organization are trying to reclaim the concept of family time for a culture which has devaled it for a long time.
Being with one's family can be a challenge. It is always easier to speak to friend of one's own gender and age with similar interests then to a family member of a different age, outlook with interests that might seem quite strange. Unfortunately, too many of us avoid that challenge nowadays. Once upon a time, family dinners each night were sacrosanct for many. Nowadays it's odd to hear that people still do that sort of thing.
Interestingly enough, this concept is mentioned in the Torah this week. When Moshe Rabeinu is given instructions for the first Pesach offering and seder, God tells him to organize the people first around their family units and then into larger groups. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary on Bo goes on at length of the significance of this. Jewish life is organized around the family and it is that unit that gives us our enternal strength. With close family ties, one knows what one's past is and this helps plan for the future as well. With such a group, no one feels alone. There is always somewhere he can belong, people that can be counted on for support. "V'hi sheamdah": And it is that family unit which has sustained us in the face of so many tragedies over the millenia.
I hope this initiative succeeds. Jewish society in Israel is quite fragmented and ego-obsessed. Perhaps some of the old values can be reclaimed if people choose to forsake their constant dash towards personal satisfaction and instead make their families and reconnecting with them the priorities.