Category Archives: Religion

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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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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Why we chose to come

Why I Choose to Return is the title of an op-ed piece in the April 6 edition of YNet News. The author, Eran Davidi, has spent a year as a Master of Law student at Columbia University and will soon be returning to Israel. For someone with the prospect of phenomenal earnings and a much more comfortable lifestyle, his decision to return to Israel is all the more compelling. His feelings resonate very much with those of us who have made aliyah. In his own words:

After a year in the United States I can sum up by saying that it’s mostly comfortable here. Life is comfortable when you discuss the TV ratings of the Super Bowl or environmental issues in China over lunch. It’s nice to go through everyday life without hearing depressing news about terror attacks and road accidents. It’s also convenient to study for a whole year without performing military reserve service, use a subway that spares me traffic jams and parking issues and shower for as long as I want, without feeling pangs of conscience over the state of the Sea of Galilee.

Life is truly comfortable for me here. I can also predict with confidence that things will be getting even more comfortable in the future: The average salary of graduates in my field is 12 (!) times what it is in Israel, the professional challenge is much greater, and my circle of friends will continue to expand.

So why will I be returning to Israel? It’s precisely the stay here that made me realize that we have no other place except our country. I now understand that Israel is the only place in the world where I’ll truly feel at home. I understand that despite my reserve service and all the wars, I nonetheless feel the safest in Israel. I realize that Israel is the only place where my identity as a Jew won’t stop me from at least dreaming to reach as far as possible.

I also understand that it’s important for me to take part in these historical moments where the Jewish people returned to its homeland after 2,000 years of exile. Mostly, my stay here made me realize that in the era of human rights the Jewish people has no future without tiny Israel. And this future is dear to me.

People who moved overseas tend to say that they did it because of the quality of life. However, quality of life is not only measured by the size of your house or the view from the window; it is also not measured by the amount of money you make or its color.

Hopeful about Israel’s future

Quality of life is measured first and foremost by the meaning of the life you live and is derived from the sense of belonging to the people around you, the wholeness of your identity, and the knowledge that by living in our state you are part of something bigger; bigger than you, and sometimes bigger than logic.

Indeed, it’s comfortable in America, yet as it turns out, human beings prefer meaning. And a Jew can only find meaning in Israel.

I will lie to myself if I say that there is nothing to improve in our state. There is plenty of room for improvement. The vision of the model society that our founding fathers dreamed of building here is far from being realized. The inequality between the rich and the poor is outrageous. The inequality between Jews and Arabs is blatant.

Meanwhile, whole sectors that enjoy rights but are unwilling to assume duties are expanding. The pursuit of peace, which for years now has been taking one step forward and then two steps back, is frustrating. Finally, our leaders, who are scared to lead yet are able to surprise us anew every time with the cynical exploitation of the mandate they received from us, are frustrating.

Nonetheless, something in my Israeli character doesn’t allow me to despair; I am unwilling to give up when faced with a fateful mission unlike no other. Perhaps it’s the age, or the stage in life, but many members of my generation and myself – all proud descendants of the Zionist movement – are still hopeful about Israel’s future, and mostly feel that everything still depends on us.

In general, I think this is very well said.  I’m not sure that I agree with Eran’s comments about what the “founding fathers” might think if they were to take a look at Israel right now.  Yes, there are many problems here, disturbing all the more so because we are supposed to be a “light unto the nations.” However, this 63-years-young country in many ways rivals that of older and more established countries and its mandate to be a home to the world’s Jews is being fulfilled little by little. Further, technological advances throughout the world rely on Israeli innovation, it exports agricultural know-how, and is in the forefront of countries offering  and providing aid in disaster stricken areas. Not too many other countries can boast of as many accomplishments as little Israel can.  Actually, maybe I do know what the founding fathers would think – that their efforts were not in vain and although their descendants might be suffering growing pains, they are doing pretty well.

I would also suggest that it’s not “something in my Israeli character”  that  doesn’t allow Eran to despair. I think it’s more likely his Jewish soul that believes in and yearns for the ultimate redemption promised.

When the Jewish nation finally finished their trek through the wilderness and approached the land that G-d had promised, the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe wanted to settle on the lands on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses rebuked them: “Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here? Why do you dissuade the heart of the Children of Israel from crossing to the Land that Hashem has given to them?” They answered Moshe: “We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of  the Children of Israel until we have brought them to their place… We shall not return to our homes until the Children of Israel will have inherited – every man his inheritance..” *

Our obligations to each other and to this land have not changed since then.

* See BaMidbar (Numbers) 32:6-7, 17-18. Tanach, Artscroll Series, Stone Edition, page 411.

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