Category Archives: Judaism

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.

This is MY TERRITORY

When one talks about being American, Canadian, Israeli, British, Ethiopian, Russian, etc., it’s very often a cultural identification, rather than a geographic one. The longer one has lived in their country of origin, the more ingrained the cultural references, habits, ways of thinking and relating to people and the world become.  So, when one finds oneself smack dab in the middle of Israel, by their own volition, is one obliged to become Israeli? Is one automatically required to shed their frames of reference and take on Israeli outlooks and mannerisms for everything from what’s considered polite and acceptable behavior to the Israeli way of washing floors? Or does being Israeli (as that’s how the government recognizes olim) simply mean having an allegiance to the country, adapting and slowly adopting as much as possible and necessary while retaining your core essence? In a very humorous website, How to be Israeli , blogger Maya, who made aliyah from the U.S.  in early 2008, gives her take on the idiosyncrasies of Israeli life and culture as viewed by an American on everything from the Israeli version of a mop to the correct pronunciation of the name of a major Israeli supermarket chain to the difference between what is considered rude and polite in Israel vs. the States.

How hard or easy one’s acculturation process is probably depends upon one’s like/dislike for their country of origin as well as their personal attitude towards change. I would also venture that the more one is “moving to Israel,” rather than away from their home country, also plays a great part in their willingness and ease of adaptation.  A very interesting article entitled “A local girl in the IDF”  includes a letter from former Fresno, California resident Darrow Pierce, whose (progressive) opinions of Israel changed as a result of making aliyah and joining the IDF. She concludes:

I once heard that moving to Israel is like a marriage — you give, take, fight, love, disagree, compromise, and work on your relationship with the country and the people. For some it doesn’t work out, and others are happy for the rest of their lives. I don’t know what’ll happen after I discharge from the army, but for now, my marriage is going great.

If I was to compare making aliyah to marriage, I would say that a great determining factor as to whether or not you succeed is your level of commitment. Going  into a marriage – do you expect it to work and to work it – do you believe that you are marrying your bashert (destined) or do you tell yourself that if things don’t work out there’s  always the option of divorce? Or in terms of aliyah, did you come to Israel because this is the place you want to be, where Hashem (G-d) has prepared a place for you, or do you expect that if things don’t work out, you can always return to your home country? The better you are prepared emotionally, the more realistic your expectations, and the more willing you are to weather  and work through the tough times, the greater chance of success  you give your marriage/aliyah.  If the option of divorce/return is on the table before you’ve entered the relationship/made aliyah, IMHO, this mode of thinking makes one less likely to stick with it and overcome the challenges; you’ve most likely undermined the success of the venture before you’ve even started out.

Maya, in her post “Aliyah after the honeymoon,” uses the marriage analogy as well:

The aliyah-as-marriage analogy works in many other ways, too: you must get to know each other first, you must be committed, you must discuss money and how to raise the kids and where to live. (I bet that the percentage of people who “divorce” aliyah over financial concerns is at least as high as the percentage of marriages that dissolve over money.) I once heard someone say that the best indication of how happy you will be in a marriage is how happy you are out of it. In other words, if you are miserable, don’t expect marriage (or aliyah) to transform you. We are responsible for our own happiness. As I waited for aliyah, I reminded myself to practice enjoying life then so that I would be able to enjoy life in Israel.

Reflecting on my previous relocation from New York to New Jersey, I realized that after having lived in New York for many years, I didn’t feel like a New Jersey-ite all of a sudden.  My body may have crossed state lines, but I considered myself a New Yorker for quite a while afterward. I was more interested to learn what Mayor Bloomberg was doing to/for New York City than about anything that was going on in New Jersey. Truthfully, I had no frame of reference or understanding about local and state politics at that point and I wasn’t sure I cared. Over time, however, that slowly changed. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped thinking of myself as a New Yorker.  I could no longer vote in New York State and my interest and connection dwindled; New Jersey became my home.

I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised not long ago, to realize the degree of ownership I feel here already. When listening to Binyamin Netanyahu (I’ve not gotten to the familiar “Bibi” stage yet) address Congress recently, I took umbrage when he magnanimously offered major land concessions in return for “piece” – the little piece we would keep.  What right does he have to offer so much of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria), I said to myself – it’s my land and I don’t approve!

Most wonderful, however, was hearing my daughter, Tova, express similar sentiments to her friend who was visiting from the States. Trying to arrange a meeting place in Yerushalayim  over the phone, her friend was anxious about traveling in the area – it wasn’t her territory. Tova, trying to give directions, responded – “well, it’s my territory.” And, the other day, a friend, still stateside, asked Tova if she was bored. “Bored!” she exclaimed. “It’s a different culture!” I’m so glad she’s embracing and enjoying the differences.

As much as making aliyah involves learning a different language and different way of life, it is also just the opposite – it’s living in a country where everybody speaks the same language and runs on the same calendar as you do. It’s the most comfortable place to be Jewish.  For the first time we truly feel that we’re in the place where we belong.  With time the rest will come, but we’ve already got the most important part.

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The blessing of completeness

Dear Family & Friends,

I would like to give you a little more insight into our lives here, so this post is a bit different than my previous ones.

First, I want to say that, B”H (Thank G-d), we are deep down happy here. Despite the seeming difficulties involved in transitioning to a different culture and language and getting ourselves settled, we are comfortable here in a way that we had not been before. Maybe it has to do with something I read in the OU Israel Center’s Torah Tidbits (issue 957, page 19) by Rabbi Yosef Wolicki of Beit Shemesh entitled: CHIZUK-and-IDUD-for-Olim-not-yet-Olim-respectively, on why Birkat Kohanim, the blessing of the Kohanim, is not said outside of Israel on a daily basis, as it is in Israel.

The third blessing adds the element Shalom, which includes Sh’Leimut [completion]; that we should achieve the feeling of completeness that comes with a fully integrated personality.

In Israel, these blessing[s] are part of our daily lives… We don’t have to accommodate to someone else’s calendar. Judaism is our public face as well as our private one. There is no dichotomy. We left our split personalities behind us. Here we are whole.  Here we are complete. Here we receive G-d’s blessings every day of the year.

Perhaps this is why, despite the regional politics and security concerns here, Israelis are happy.  A recent YNet News article, Israel ranks 7th in ‘happiness index’,  reported on the results of  a survey of 124 nations :

 A survey conducted by Gallup institute ranked Israel seventh out of 124 states, based on the happiness level of residents.

According to the global wellbeing survey, published over the weekend, 63% of respondents in Israel said they were happy with their lives.

We definitely feel more whole here. We are living by Jewish time – and not the kind that means we’re always running late! And, it still amazes us that we no longer have to seek out stores that cater to a Jewish clientele or Jewish sensibilities, be they Judaica shops, or stores selling skirts, hats, kippot, menorahs, Kiddush cups, and the like, because they are ubiquitous here, part and parcel of the landscape and of life. We also feel that we are finally living where we belong, in the place that Hashem has prepared for the Jewish nation and, on a personal level, that He handpicked our location in Rehovot.

It is a good thing that I did not see our apartment before we rented it, but had new-found friends, also recent olim, living in Rehovot (they had responded to a posting of mine on the Rehovot Yahoo list and kept in contact with us to help us along) check it out for us. As they had already been living here for almost two months, they had seen other apartments in the neighborhood and had a basis for comparison. Rehovot is a small city, so it was also fortunate that the apartment was close to theirs; it was very helpful having friends nearby to greet us and help us acclimate. We are not in a beautiful location, the apartment is small (compared to what we’re used to) and our two bathrooms are really one full bathroom and a toilet, no sink. On the other hand, we have a large picture window with glass and shutters that completely slide into the wall, and no buildings nearby, so that we have an unobstructed view. A nice breeze (we are on the fifth floor) comes through most of the day so that we haven’t had to put the air conditioner on yet, despite the heat that can be felt once we go out. Ceiling fans do the trick. Right outside the window, like a tremendous window box, is a porch for plants – we essentially have a garden in our living room. And, because the climate here is so mild, most of the year we can keep the window wide open. Other good things about our apartment are the (very) small porch, a kitchen full of cabinets, a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, a crawl space for storage, and a storage space downstairs. Cabinets and closets are generally not built in to apartments or houses here, as they are in “the States” so, especially in respect to the kitchen, we are quite fortunate.

Our apartment is in walking distance of most shopping, and we have several small grocery and fruit and vegetable stores,  a hardware store, and pharmacy either right across the street or within a few blocks of our home, so that we don’t have to go far for essentials or in case of an emergency. Supermarkets are farther away. We either take a taxi (monit) back home,  have the food delivered, or, occasionally, go shopping with a friend who has a car. We are also centrally located in relationship to the shuls (synagogues) where we find ourselves comfortable and where we have found a social circle.

It’s not that all this was/is easy to get used to. However, recognizing the gift that we’ve received of being able to live here and knowing that kol hatchalot kashot – all beginnings are hard – especially making aliyah, we have persevered and continue still. More and more, we are making/finding a place for ourselves here. We’ve certainly had plenty of ups and downs, and I’m sure there are more in store. It takes a lot of faith in G-d to make a move like this. That said, I think that there is no better or safer place than where He has guided us. There is a feeling of contentment living here that has nothing to do with physical circumstances.

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Ex-Pyre-d

We watched with much amusement Thursday afternoon as a truck was unloaded in the lot adjacent to our building, primarily used by the Chassidic school next door. What fun the students were having removing the wood scraps and boards that was its cargo. Imagine, a whole truck dedicated to delivering wood scraps for Lag Ba’Omer bonfires!

Lag Ba'Omer pyre

Lag Ba'Omer Pyre Under Construction. Photo courtesy of my daughter, Tova Lipson

On Friday we watched intermittently as they  hauled the wood  to another spot and proceeded to build a pyre. This, it turned out,  was serious business. As the first level was built probably a yard or more in height (don’t know what that is in meters), the scrap wood was encircled by what looked like a row of old window frames with a layer of wood on top, neatly covering the contents inside; the second  level built on the foundation that was the first level, was smaller in diameter, but just as high and solid. On top of that, the third level was even smaller in diameter, encircled in wood like the other two and covered on top as well. I could not fathom putting a match to that. Wasn’t that just a little bit too big to set ablaze next to the trees? (In the States they would never allow this. )

Motzoei Shabbat (Saturday night after the Sabbath was over) was the start of Lag Ba’Omer. We watched as kids lit small fires in various parts of the lot and barbeques were burning. Several families brought tables and chairs into the lot as well and proceeded to picnic.

The pyre was finally lit and as the blaze grew I could feel its heat, five flights up. The flames danced and bent in the wind, thank G-d not in the direction of the nearby tree. And the music played; there was singing and clapping and dancing. I watched the fire as it diminished but I understand that it was not totally out till the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, all that was left was a pile of ash. Even today, a week later, remnants of that Lag Ba’Omer pyre are still evident, as are remnants of the smaller ones. Although the pyre is physically gone, I can still envision it. And I think to myself “how different the fabric of life is here”. And it fills my heart with warmth.

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Birkat Kohanim – The Priestly Blessing – at the Western Wall

During the times of the First and Second Temples on the Shalosh Regalim – three festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot – Jews from all over came to celebrate and worship at the Temple. It must have been a wonderfully festive and spiritually uplifting time. Now, again, many Jews come to Jerusalem for these holy days. Not quite the same without the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), but a privilege nonetheless. A special treat during one the intermediate days of Sukkot and Pesach is the Birkat Kohanim ceremony when Kohanim from all over Israel  (where we now live!!) come together at the Kotel (Western Wall) for a mass blessing.

We wanted to be there and as we are blessed to have friends with homes in the Old City, adjacent to the Kotel, we were able to arrive the night before so as to be there early for this wonderful occasion. We were also blessed with mild weather this Pesach; I was told that it is generally unbearably hot.  So many different types of people were there… from all walks of religious and not so religious life… Sephardim and Ashkenazim… young and old…  white-skinned, olive-skinned, black-skinned Ethiopian women who stood out with their traditional garb and distinctive method of prayer… Caryn and Andy… a veritable in-gathering of the exiles.

One estimate I saw suggested that there were about 200,000 people at the Kotel Plaza. I still can’t believe we were privileged to be among them. Can you see us in the video? Andy’s toward the front, on the left side, somewhere near the Kotel in the middle of the patch of white – amongst the Kohanim who have their talaisim (prayer shawls) over their heads, and  I am somewhere towards the front on the right hand side.

As is the custom, the chazan (cantor) first calls to the Kohanim who respond with a blessing thanking G-d for the opportunity to bless His nation, with love.  The chazan next sings each word of the three beautiful blessings included in Birkat Kohanim and the Kohanim repeat them after him; the assembled answer “Amen” at the conclusion of each of the blessings.

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