Category Archives: In-Sights

How to be proud of Israel

Flag of Israel with the Mediterranean...Within the course of several days I read three interesting articles regarding Israel that I thought merited sharing. One of them bothered me very much;  I thought it deserved comment because it was rather unfortunate that an orthodox Jewish college student is taking up the mantra of left-wing anti-Semites; the other two, because they show Israel for what it is – a state built upon Jewish ethics and caring, and a land which has been waiting for Israel, it’s rightful owners, to return.

The “unfortunate” article appeared this past Sunday in the Jerusalem Post. It was an opinion piece by Atara Siegel  explaining “Why Israel is losing support from Jewish students on US college campuses“. (I still can’t figure out the Jerusalem Post’s weird choice of accompanying picture of a female student at Barnard College’s graduation ceremony who looks like an animal  about to pounce.) I expected this to either be enlightening or an article coming from a left-leaning anti-Israel student in one of the many liberal/secular colleges across the country.  Atara Siegel is, surprisingly, a student at Yeshiva University who felt the need  to explain to the world that although she loves Israel, studied here for a year, plans on working here in the summer, and making sure her education would be transferable to Israel she refuses to lobby Congress on behalf of Israel. Why? Because no matter how much good Israel does in the world it’s not enough since Israel is not a “perfect country” and the Israeli people are not perfect people. She writes:

… I wish I could ignore painful articles about price tag attacks and settlers shooting Palestinians, and simply write to American politicians and newspapers about Israel’s commitment to the security of its citizens, its medical and technological advances and aid to third world countries. But I can’t.

… Of course no country is perfect…

… But even one racist slur is a problem, even one unprovoked price tag attack damages Israel’s claim to have the moral high ground in its relations with Palestinians.

And when it is not just one racist slur, but many, not just marginal extremists involved in the melee, but Knesset ministers, it becomes harder, even for someone with a deep love for Israel, to advocate for Israel as the most democratic country and most stable American ally in the Middle East.

As someone who loves Israel deeply, this trend is extremely saddening. In addition to coming to visit, working in and studying in Israel, I want to be proud of Israel, too.

The next article  in Mishpacha Magazine’s January 9, 2013  issue, titled “Open Hearts in the War Zone” presents the perfect juxtaposition to Atara Siegel’s piece. It shows the true nature of the Jewish State and the Jewish people – and makes me really proud of Israel and her wonderful people!

Taking cover as Iron Dome swings into action.

The author, Rachel Ginsberg, relates the experiences of a team of American Hatzaloh volunteers who were called to Israel to assist during the recent Operation Amud Anan – Pillar of Defense. They had  previously trained in Israel so that they could come here and pitch-in during emergency situations. These fine people who came to help out their brothers, rather than castigate them,  exclaim about how amazing Israel really is:

[Mordechai] Soroka [of Brooklyn] says one of the most surprising things he witnessed was the similar care administered to Arab patients, in spite of the hostilities on the ground. …’We provided ventilation and medication and high-level care for over an hour,’ [Eliyahu] Feldman [of Miami] reported. ‘It’s impossible to convey our mixed feelings, except to say what the well-spoken IDF commander answered when asked why we render care to Palestinians: ‘Because we’re not them.’

And the next day…

it happened again.

The third article, Israel’s miraculous climate changepresents a rather interesting (and seldom heard) long view of history  by Joseph Farah, a pro-Israel Arab-American. It’s a great read and I hope you enjoy and appreciate it as much as I did:

JERUSALEM – Here I am in Israel, and what am I
thinking about?

Climate change.

Why climate change?

For 1,800 years it seemed unlikely that Israel would ever be reborn.

No nation in history had ever been regathered after such a lengthy period. Even the Hebrew language was lost in that time.

Meanwhile, the Promised Land became a barren wasteland – a desert no man could master.

Have you ever wondered why the Holy Land became a wasteland during the 1,800-year dispersion of the Jews that lasted until they returned in significant numbers beginning in the early 20th century?

1750 Homann Heirs Map of Israel - Palestine - ...

1750 Homann Heirs Map of Israel – Palestine – Holy Land (12 Tribes) – Geographicus – Palestina-homannheirs-1750 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered why Mark Twain was so disappointed at what he found in his travels through the area in the 19th century?

Have you ever wondered why, during that period of nearly two millennia, no other people successfully and permanently settled this land that is so much in dispute today?

It was all a fulfillment of prophecy. Little did Mark Twain know when he wrote about his trip to the Holy Land that he was fulfilling prophecy, but he was.

1 Kings 9:6-8 explains it all:

“But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people: And at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and to this house?”

It wasn’t just the children of Israel who suffered as a result of their disobedience and apostasy. So did the land itself.

In his book, “Prophecies for the Era of Muslim Terror,” Rabbi Menachem Kohen points out the land suffered an unprecedented, severe and inexplicable (by anything other than supernatural explanations) drought that lasted from the first century until the 20th – a period of 1,800 years coinciding with the forced dispersion of the Jews.

Kohen sees this as a miraculous fulfillment of prophecy found in the book of Deuteronomy – especially chapter 28:23-24:

“And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.

“The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.”

The climate in Israel dramatically changed during this 1,800-period – way before Al Gore discovered “global warming.”

Before the Jews entered Canaan, it was described in the Bible as a land flowing with milk and honey. If you read what Israel’s climate and natural landscape was like from the time Joshua crossed the Jordan right up until the time of Jesus, it sounds like a heavily forested land. There were amazing crops raised by the people who inhabited the land when the Jews arrived.

Once I wondered what happened to Israel to turn it into the dusty, arid land it was when the Jews came back in the 20th century. Until I read that prophecy in Deuteronomy, brought to my attention by Rabbi Kohen, I had no clue.

For 1,800 years, it hardly ever rained in Israel. This was the barren land discovered by Mark Twain. So-called “Palestine” was a wasteland – nobody lived there. There was no indigenous Arab population to speak of. It only came after the Jews came back.

Beginning in A.D. 70 and lasting until the early 1900s – about 660,000 days – no rain.

I decided to check this out as best I could and examined the rainfall data for 150 years in Israel beginning in the early 1800s and leading up to the 1960s. What I found was astonishing – increasing rainfall almost every single year – with the heaviest rainfall coming in and around 1948 and 1967. Is this just a coincidence?

I’ll be quite honest with you: I don’t think so.

Nor do I think Israel can continue today to make bad stewardship decisions regarding the land bequeathed to the Jews by God without consequences – serious consequences.

And that’s exactly what Israel is doing today – yielding to global pressure to trade “land for peace.” It won’t work. In fact, the prophet Daniel (Daniel 11:39) warns that this will eventually happen in the last days – and bring about the final conflagration known as “Armageddon.”

That’s why I believe in climate change. But it’s not the imaginary kind caused by carbon dioxide. It’s caused by the Creator of carbon dioxide – and everything else.

He’s still got a plan for this land of Israel. And He is absolutely intolerant of anyone or anything that interferes with it.

And considering the tremendous amount of rainfall we had here in Israel just this past week, I would say that G-d is still on our side (even if Atara isn’t).

I would just like to remind Atara of two things: (1) even our patriarchs, matriarchs, and greatest leaders like Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) and Dovid Hamelech (King David)  were not perfect and (2) of the sin of the spies’ (Numbers ch. 13-14) derogatory report about the land of Israel and the aftermath.

As for me,  I’m a proud Jew, proud of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, and honored to be living in our land.

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To Bee in Israel

Allison Epstein in the forest with her bees

Beekeeping in the Rosh HaAyin forest

To Bee in Israel:
Alison Epstein’s Adventure in Beekeeping

The Torah describes the land of Israel as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” There is a lot of discussion among the commentaries about the exact kind of honey the Torah is referring to and very often it is assumed to mean date honey. Generally, however, when we refer to honey, we are referring to bee honey. And in fact, texts and wall paintings depict beekeeping in the ancient Near East; it wasn’t until last year though, that historical evidence of beekeeping was actually discovered in Israel. LiveScience.com  discusses the find:

Archaeologists identified the remains of honeybees — including workers, drones, pupae, and larvae — inside about 30 clay cylinders thought to have been used as beehives at the site of Tel Rehov in the Jordan valley in northern Israel. This is the first such discovery from ancient times.

Fortunately, we do not have to go back in time to find out about beekeeping in Israel; modern Israel boasts hundreds of beekeepers, including Alison Epstein of Rehovot. Alison made Aliyah about five years ago, with her husband, Stephen, and their young daughters, Zoe and Maayan. Agriculture/nature has always been a large part of Jewish life in Israel and, as nature lovers themselves, the Epsteins, began looking for something that would connect them to the land.  After much research, they settled on beekeeping; Stephen had previously visited Israel and while  living on the newly formed Kibbutz Keshet  assisted with the assembly of hive parts, so this “hobby” had been on their radar. One can tell that this was the right move for Alison, as her enthusiasm for and enjoyment of beekeeping is immediately evident when she talks about it.

Allison Epstein holding frame with bees

Allison with her bees

To start, Alison found a local beekeeper who helped her begin her boutique apiary. She initially purchased a nuc (5 frames – half a hive – inserted into a full size box with extra frames to help the bees get started).  Alison’s original two hives have now grown to more than 50. With sites in Rosh Ha’Ayin and Kidron, Alison is kept busy tending to her bees. Very much like our lives which revolve around the Jewish calendar, she points out that beekeeping in Israel revolves around the Jewish calendar as well. Queen bees increase their laying of eggs in early spring – around Tu b’Shvat  – and the spring honey is extracted around Yom Ha’Atzma’ut.  A second, smaller, extraction occurs about six weeks later.  She explains that there is a difference between the honeys from each extraction. Natural unheated honey from the early harvest is thicker than honey from the later harvest, which is less heavy and more free-flowing. The honey from Rosh Ha’Ayin (where most of her hives are located) is made from Eucalyptus and wildflowers; honey from Kidron is from a mixture of fruit trees including avocado, apricot, citrus, and pear.

Alison’s Rosh Ha’Ayin hives are located in the forest, a setting which she particularly enjoys. It’s quite peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and allows her an inside view into nature’s diverse fauna. She has seen quail, foxes, deer and porcupine quills (evidence of the porcupine’s presence) while tending to her hives. Foxes, she explains, are shy and will not come near you. It’s the snakes she is afraid of. Her hives are elevated off the ground on cinderblocks or pallets under which snakes may be lurking, so she wears knee high boots to make sure that she doesn’t get bitten by an unseen reptile.

One thing she will not do before she visits the bees is eat a banana. Bees, she relates, send out pheromones when agitated as a sign to attack, and the pheromones smell like bananas. Some bees have calmer personalities than others and she marks the hives so that she will remember which ones they are. Bees can be bred for different characteristics and Alison plans to start breeding for gentleness.

Although Alison is primarily involved with the apiaries, this is a bit of a family affair.  Stephen has a hand in the beekeeping and production, mainly assisting with the heavier work. Zoe and Maayan both have beekeeping suits and will occasionally join her on her weekly visits to Rosh Ha’Ayin and Kidron to check on and take care of the hives. Depending on the season, this can be a short visit during late fall and winter just to make sure that the bees are well and fed with a sugary syrup (after Alison has taken most of their honey) or a longer trip during the period when activity starts up again at the hives. Zoe, more interested in the bees than her sister, brought a glass demonstration hive to her class and explained to her classmates about the biology of the bees and the process of beekeeping.

The Epstein family - all suited up!

Alison has been keeping bees for two full years already; this coming Pesach will make it three.  She has the permits to grow to 65 hives, which she hopes to do one day. Alison sells her honey in Israel under the label Black Bear Honey ™, by word of mouth and maintains a waiting list for people who want to buy honey as soon as it is ready/ Exporting her honey, she learned, is too difficult an endeavor, so she has chosen to sell her honey overseas in the form of milk and honey soap. Made from her very own honey and milk from the Land of Israel, Kidron Soaps™ are easily exported and allow her to share the blessings of this land with locals and others worldwide.

As it turns out, by keeping bees, Alison is not just continuing an ancient Jewish tradition, but that of her immediate family as well. When Alison initially discussed beekeeping with her mother, she learned that her maternal grandfather had kept bees on his farm in Oklahoma and her mother assisted him. Serendipitously, Alison’s girls represent a fourth generation of beekeepers!

To find out more about Black Bear Honey ™ and Kidron Soap™ visit the Epsteins’ website at: www.blackbear.co.il and www.kidronsoap.com.

Originally published in the Rosh Hashana 2011 issue of the Rehovot Reporter as “Spotlight: Allison Epstein is Rehovot’s own beekeeper”.

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If they could do that…

If they could do that…
On Living in Israel

I think that as much as we can try to prepare for aliyah, there will always be things we haven’t expected, and knowing/being prepared intellectually is also not the same as actually experiencing it. Moving to a new community anywhere will require getting used to new services and finding our way around the  supermarket – and yes, it is more difficult when you can’t read/understand the labels. (Veterans should not go shopping with new olim if they want to get out of the supermarket in a reasonable amount of time.) Even moving from one Anglo country to another is a major transition; at least here we have the support of many others who have done/are doing the same thing. That helps. Also, always looking for the positive aspects of life here and reminding ourselves why we  came can help to get us through the rough spots. I’ve learned that it can be really good in some ways and really difficult in others at the same time. To be able to acknowledge the mixed bag is important in being able to move on.

And, living in Rehovot where there are many Anglos who made aliyah 30 +/- years ago who are still here is very uplifting – especially when you find out that they didn’t have phone service here (landlines) for about 7 -10 years after they came. And, they carted home – literally – newly purchased furniture. If they could do that…

I’ve excerpted from Sarah Azulay’s post entitled So you want to move to Israel on Aish.com but it really pays to read the whole post to understand why they came and how things have finally come together for them. She seems to me to sum up the aliyah experience in a realistic yet positive way:

It is now just over two years later and I must admit that it has been one of the most difficult transitions I have experienced. I never fathomed the magnitude of the transition — the family, friends and community we would miss; the barrier of the language and the simple ability to understand and express myself whether overjoyed or overwhelmed; the variant careers paths; and giving up all that is familiar — knowing where everything is on the grocery aisle, the educational system, the friendly bank teller, our pediatrician, over-the-counter medicines that worked best when our children had fevers, and an endless list of what comprises the daily routines that constitutes the comfort of the familiar.

Yet there is no description for the sense of holiness that pervades Israel — despite the traffic, the long lines, the belligerence, affectionately known as  “chutzpah.” The Talmud says that “to acquire Israel, you have to suffer.” Isn’t this true of all that is  worthwhile, of every milestone which a person  accomplishes on his life’s journey? There is a pride that comes from knowing that despite the cultural obstacles, the ongoing terrorist attacks which threaten us, the bureaucratic headaches, you have somehow done it. You made the move; you are privileged to live every day in a land that our recent ancestors could only dream about.

IMHO, the best thing we can do for those of us who are already here and for those who are planning their aliyah is to offer strength and encouragement (I, for one, still need it), which does not mean being unrealistic.

My posting to the Nefesh B’Nefesh Yahoo forum, July 1, 2011, in  a conversation about the trials and tribulations of making aliyah.