Friday, 18 May 2018

Shavuot - A Covenant of Friendship






In a couple days, Jews the world over will be celebrating the Holy Day of Shavuot.

On this Holy Day, according to tradition, the Torah was given to Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai. It comes seven weeks or forty-nine days of counting after the Seder during which time Jews prepare themselves to this very special celebration.

Shavuot also observes the grain harvest of the early summer. During the times of the First and Second Temples, this Holy Day was the occasion of one of the three pilgrimage festivals when Yisraelites were commanded to appear before G-d in Yerushalayim and bring offerings of the first fruits of their harvest.

For me, Shavuot also manifests and connotes the concept of a Covenant of Friendship

How come? Some of you might ask.

As many are aware, it is traditional to read the scroll of Ruth on Shavuot. The book is about Ruth, a Moabite princess who, following the death of her Yisraelite husband, joins her mother in law, Naomi, as she goes back to Eretz Yisrael. Her most famous words when she chooses to join Naomi are: “Whither you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, your people will be my people and your G-d will be my G-d.”

One of the reasons for reading the scroll of Ruth on Shavuot is that her coming to Eretz Yisrael took place on this Holy Day. Many consider her acceptance into the Jewish faith analogous to the acceptance of Am Yisrael of G-d’s Torah. One could even go one step further and add that the conversion of the Hebrews from Benei Yisrael to Am Yisrael and the conversion of Ruth took place on Shavuot. Both came to know the true and ONE G-d of Yisrael on that day.

Though the name Ruth has no meaning in Hebrew, some scholars believe that it is derived from the word Reut which means deep friendship, companionship and even brotherhood during battle. 

The unwritten covenant that was woven between Ruth and Naomi is laced with true friendship, loyalty, sheer devotion, strength of dedication and even sacrifice. Ruth chose to leave the comforts of her homeland of Moab and accompany Naomi, despite the latter’s protests, to Eretz Yisrael. Ruth elected to abandon not only her People and her faith, she chose to move to a foreign county, abide by its laws, observances and immerse herself in its traditions and culture. She did not do it for money or any other earthly reward. Ruth unselfishly accompanied Naomi, willingly gave up her privileges of royalty to settle in a life of poverty among the people she loved. She engaged in what Rabbis consider Gemilut Chasadim, acts of loving kindness, in genuine Reut.

Interestingly enough, I recall, as a child, reading in Deuteronomy (2:9), G-d telling Moses: “You shall not distress Moab, and you shall not provoke war with them.” I found that odd as that was not G-d’s commandment with regards to other enemies of Yisrael. Years later, when our class reached the lesson of the Book of Ruth, I realized the reason. Ruth had to be born, Ruth had a purpose. According to Aish Hatorah, The need for her {Ruth} was so great that the entire Moabite nation was sustained for several hundred years in her merit while the world waited for Ruth to be born.

Ruth had to come into this world to teach us the lesson of the Covenant of sincere friendship, Reut. Her reward was to be chosen to become the great grandmother of King David, the founder of Zion from whose lineage Maschiach will one day come.

May we all surround ourselves with at least one Ruth in our lifetime and be blessed with experiencing the Covenant of Friendship.

Shabbat Shalom V’Chag Sameach



Tuesday, 1 May 2018

They Are All My Children





Grieving over a departed loved one, be it a parent, a spouse, a partner and worst of all, a child is one of the most excruciating experiences anyone could ever go through.

Grieving and mourning has become an inseparable part of our daily life here in Yisrael. Unfortunately, this experience has touched almost every family here. We all know someone who has been inflicted and tormented by this pain. The words “he was, she was, they were” send shivers through my spine. The younger the departed ones are, the greater the pain.

Generally, we talk about breaved parents, a bereaved family, friends or acquaintances. Last week I encountered another category, the grieving teacher. I am one.

Several years ago, I taught English at a local high school. I remember the bright day that I walked into my twelve-grade class. As I was looking around the room, I was suddenly overcome with a concern, a fear for my beloved students. With welling eyes, I examined their faces as if trying to commit their features to memory.

“What happened Bat-Zion?” one of them asked me as they noticed the waves of grief that overcame me and simply refused to subside.

I gathered my strength, regained my composure and said, “Next year, you are all going to be members of the IDF. You are all my children. I love, care and worry about each and everyone of you like a loving parent. All I ask of G-d is that He watches over you and brings you back home safely.”

What made me walk into that class that day, say what I did and act the way I did? Was it premonition? Was it my love and concern for the well being of my students? Or perhaps it was my motherly instinct that gave rise to the surge of emotions?

Several weeks later, Operation Protective Edge started. Its first victim was one of my former students. I became a bereaved teacher. True, my pain would never be that of a biological parent, but it was still a deep pain. It still is.

He was one of my sons. They are all my sons. They are all my daughters too. They are all my children. May G-d watch over all of them, keep them safe and bring them back home unharmed.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

March of the Living and why I support it (Part Two)






Last week, I wrote an article in support of continuing the “March of the Living,” where young Yisraelis visit Poland and the death camps, an experience which many of those who partake in it describe as a deeply meaningful one. It is one that is mingled with sadness, agony on the one hand and joy and victory on the other.

Soon after I published my article, a dear friend who opposes this endeavor, sent me an article written several years ago by a Holocaust survivor, Ruth Bondy. It is entitled, “After we, the Holocaust Survivors, are gone.”

Very few can argue with Holocaust survivors about their trials which, naturally, helped shape their views. No one ever could and probably never would be able to grasp the abominable ordeals that they have been through. No one could speak in their name. We can only listen to their stories and admire them for their inner strength, endurance and the sacrifices they had to make.
We can, however, disagree with some of their views. And on this subject, I beg to differ with Ms. Bondy.

Reading her words, I sense a somber timbre, a trace of disappointment and doubt in the ability of many to carry on the survivors’ torch and share with the world their torments and tribulations. “Many will be relieved,” she writes, as she goes on to name some of those organizations, politicians and government agencies that might be relieved when the Holocaust survivors are no more.
In that, I fully agree with her. The miracle of their survival may be a burden to some.

However, I was somewhat surprised to read her suggestion, almost a directive, an order to cease with the practice of “March of The Living.”


“And put an end to the outrageous “marches of the livings,” to the school trips to places where Jews died, instead of to places where they lived—Toledo, Segovia, Rembrandt and Spinoza’s Holland, Odessa, and perhaps one day to Baghdad,” she writes.

She calls Poland, a place “where Jews died.” Instead, she suggests, visiting places like Holland, Spain where Jews “lived.”

With all due respect, will someone please point out to me a place where Jews ONLY lived and never died in, sometimes, strange deaths? Can anyone deny that in many of the places that she names, Jews both lived and died? Have Jews only “lived” in Spinoza’s Holland? How about Toledo? Have Jews not suffered there or died there sometimes under horrible conditions?

Poland is not only one big Jewish graveyard as history proves. It was, and few know it, also a place where Jews DID live and a very rewarding life, for many years. Poland was not only a haven for Jews for many years, it produced some of the greatest Jewish minds, Jewish thinkers, great Jewish Zionists who added immensely to a flourishing Jewish culture and later to the Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. I invite you to visit the Jewish museum in Warsaw. I was just there. What an eye-opening experience it was to learn that Poland, where vast parts of it are soaked with Jewish blood, was not only a big burial place for our People, it also provided a fertile cradle to our creativity and our Jewish ingenuity.

That is a fact!  And it is facts that we should teach our young ones. The many memorials and, the camps, the maps of the Ghetto, the crematoria, the gas chambers, they are ALL facts just as are the big synagogues, the gravestone are all testimonials to a formerly very thriving Jewish world, unfortunately a vanished world.

It is this vanished Jewish world that we need to educate our young ones about. It is the world that serves as a link, an important link in the chain of our Jewish existence.

When I educate my students about the Shoah, I stress that facet of our Jewish Polish heritage, a facet that I am afraid the cessation of the “March o the Living” might help erase. When my students go to Poland, they learn about the great Yeshivas and the amazing scholarship that they produced. The devastation that they face there serves as a constant reminder of a once great Jewish world, one that may evaporate into thin air should we fail to remind ourselves should we fail to see its remnants. To do that, in my view, would send a very strong message to the victims, a message they would have hoped never to receive. After all, isn’t it the very reason we continue to visit the graves of the Maccabees and the final stronghold of the heroes of Metzada? Is not our arrival at their final resting place aimed at telling them that we will never forget the sacrifices they made? Or is the memory of some heroic Jews more equal than that of other Jews?

It is this experience, I believe, that will help infuse and reignite the defiant Jewish Spirit and remind us that “Never Again,” is eternal, just as eternal as our People.

Happy Yom Ha’atzmaoot to our dear beloved Yisrael. I salute ALL those members of our Jewish People who through their death, commanded us Life!



Saturday, 14 April 2018

March of The Living and Why I support It













I recently read an article by Varda Epstein and one of the threads by Roger Froikin. They both address the issue of “March of the Living” and the visit to Poland, where the ground is one big graveyard to many of our People.

Needless to add, I disagree, and STRONGLY, with both.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their views. So here is mine.

I have never participated in such a “march.” I have, however, visited some camps, former Ghettos and mass grave sites where millions of our brothers and sisters were slaughtered. Though some of those were first cousins of mine, many others, nameless victims were all my family. I was raised to believe that family is the most basic and important unit of every society. It is that link that connects us to our past and paves our path to our future life’s journey.

As someone who grew up in the shadow of the Shoah, I heard many stories. I relived it through my parents and their many friends and acquaintances who frequented our home. I thought I had heard it all.

WRONG!

“A Picture is worth a thousand words,” a wise person once said. I did not realize how wise that statement was until I stood on the ground of Auschwitz, walked in the footsteps of my four young cousins who were marching to their grave among the ravines of Ponar and Babi Yar. I heard their voices calling me from the ground, begging “Never Forget.”

My response to those voices was “I never will.”

I have been visiting these sites whenever the opportunity presented itself. I whisper their names, their many names, as I light the Yahrtzeit candle and silently recite the Kaddish. I am not an observant Jew in the traditional sense of the word. However, “Remember”  is one of the commandments that I adhere to performing. Visiting the graves of those that perished and through their death commanded us to Life is one of my ways of practicing and experiencing my Judaism.

A fellow lecturer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch New Zealand, Dr. Ghazallah once told me, “Stop dwelling on Auschwitz, its ovens are already cold.” To her, Auschwitz has been reduced to merely a museum and a “cold” place.

Well, unfortunately, these are the sentiments that I get from the article and the thread I mentioned above.

Let it be known, THE OVENS OF AUSCHWITZ WILL NEVER BE COLD FOR ME! With each visit Jews make there, we reignite them and the memories they bring. There is no stronger reminder than a physical encounter with the gates of Death, a reminder of our past, our Miracle of Life and the path to our glorious future.

I, for one, will continue to be there at every opportunity. Through my visits, I will continue to remind the victims that they are never forgotten. Because as a teacher I can tell you that if we stop this practice, in a matter of a generation of two, the memory of the Shoah and the high price we Jews had to pay for the mere fact that we were born may fade into oblivion!

Any educator will tell us that experiencing or getting as close as possible to experiencing any lesson is getting as close as possible to living it no matter how brief or how much they think how futile the encounter is.

An answer by one of my former students reinforces my sentiments on the subject. His words upon returning from the "March of the Living" were:
"Now I understand why I should join the IDF. It is the only way to ensure that what I witnessed through the 'March of the Living' never happens again!"

I will conclude with the wise words of my friend, Judy Berlin, because they echo my view on the subject:

Seeing is believing and that may be the only way for many young people to make the emotional connection to the past. Their parents don’t infuse Holocaust history in the home, nor do the Jewish schools or synagogues teach it. This may be the only way that our young people can feel and see the painful conditions that the Jews of Europe were forced to endure. They need to see the victims as their families.










Friday, 13 April 2018

Reflections






The sound of children’s laughter woke me up from my brief afternoon slumber. It welcomed me as I walked onto my veranda blinded by the fiery red ball of sun slowly setting into the horizon. They were playing outside my window. Their melodious voices, some shouting, others running, chasing a ball, enjoying the basic slices of life here in Eretz Yisrael were the answer to our Jewish People’s prayers: “Lihayot Am Chofshi Be’eartzeinu, Eretz Tzion V’Yrushalayim.”

How was yesterday different than any other day, here in our beautiful Homeland, you might ask?

Yesterday was Yom Ha’Shoah, that solemn day when Yisrael commemorates the innocent souls that perished in the Shoah. It was merely seventy some years ago when young tender lives bearing the names Yoseleh, Moisheleh, Avremaleh and many other belonging to children like the ones playing outside my home were deprived of similar rights, not to mention some privileges.

Yom Ha’Shoah has always been a hard day for our Jewish People.

As I grow older, though, the images, the stories, the miracles of survival and above all, the pain that they carry fail to diminish. If anything, they grow harder and more difficult to bear. That is the day when old scars that are begging to be healed open and bleed our invisible and tormented Jewish spirits. It is the day when images of dear ones briefly flash before our eyes, images of relatives and of strangers, some bearing the Yellow Star, others in the arms of their mothers as they cling to them in one last hope, nightmares of our starved brothers and sisters facing the unknown. There is only so much that the human mind and heart can hold.

We must continue to carry their memory.  To remember is the eternal destiny of our people. “And You Should Tell Your Son,” we are commanded. Remember and tell. Tell and remember.

“What about forgiving?” asked one of my students.
“Forgive whom and for what?” I answered. Forgiveness is a great concept, I teach my students. But it is up only to those who were the subject of injustice, of inflicted suffering, to grant it. Neither one of us, members of “second Generation,” or even “third Generation” of the victims have been given a mandate to forgive in their name. They have, however, demanded and rightfully so, that we “Never Forget.”

Some memories beg to be erased. Our tormented souls plead to free themselves of the pain and let the scars heal. But just like the tattooed numbers on many arms which bear witness of “What Man hath made of Man,” and which refuse to fade, so do those images of horror, engraved on our Jewish DNA, refuse to disappear.

They are all eternal reminders, I keep telling myself, in an effort to help ease the pain, of our One and Only Covenant with G-d, a Covenant of Hatikvah, Hope, Endurance and the Eternal verdict that we are here to stay. They are the unending Promise that “The Eternal of Yisrael Shall Never Lie.”

As we are about to enter this Shabbat, I pray that I will always be awakened by the sounds of laughter of Jewish children in Eretz Yisrael.


Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Anatomy of a Proselytizing Faith







I have recently come back from an exciting experience of visiting Ireland. The Emerald Isle, as some refer to it, is beautiful. Its history is fascinating, full of intrigues, wars, conquests and above all Irish Christian history.

Strangely enough, I was fascinated by the sometimes very intricate and artistically designed Celtic Cross, a recognized ancient pagan solar symbol, which can be spotted around the country’s Christian sites. I was also intrigued, riddled and staggered by its copious use in these sites. Not for long, though.

As someone who has been following the activities of Christian missionaries, I quickly found the answer to my conundrum in the modus operandum of the propylitization milieu.
The goal of any missionary faith, creed or philosophy is to spread its message to as many people and as widely as possible. This is not always an easy task, especially as most humans are creatures of habit who are not readily willing to tread into an unknown realm.

As a teacher, I have learned that a precondition to making the foreign familiar and comfortable is to, first and foremost, create a climate of safety and trust for students. It is the basic stage of human motivation, as correctly prescribed by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Missionary undertakings must be familiar with that concept. 

Their choice of tactics confirms the assumption. One only has to look around at the way missionaries operate here in Yisrael. One only needs to observe their organizations and how they raise money for their designated cause. Their ongoing calls for support and donations are almost always about feeding poor Jews, new immigrants and the elderly. Noble and just causes indeed. But that is where theirs stops - on what Maslow termed as the “Physiological” plain, one that stresses the importance of fulfilling the basic needs for food, water, and warmth.

A principle tenet of their agenda, it would appear, is to make their beneficiaries dependent on them. At least that is what I have observed here in Yisrael. Once the physiological needs of poor souls are satisfied, the missionaries are ready to move to the next level of their holy mission.

That next step in the process of successful learning, knowledge acquisition and adoption of new concepts and beliefs, as any teacher would know, is give them tools that will guide them into new realms. These are aimed at helping them overcome the fear of the unknown and the uncertain and face the alien. It is therefore of utmost importance for teachers to engage students by presenting new ideas in frames of reference that are familiar and comfortable to them as we lead them to the new and unfamiliar path.

Missionaries throughout history must have known that as well.

Imagine the first missionaries roaming the pagan fields of strange lands. How would they be able to introduce the concept of a one invisible god when the ones they worship have human traits?

The answer is very simple. To facilitate that process, all one must do is bring some of their mundane and recognizable pagan symbols into the new faith. To help facilitate the transition all one has to do is embrace their familiar and deeply rooted frames of reference into it. This would bound to make them feel more comfortable and more at home in the newly introduced belief system.

The adoption and incorporation of the Celtic Cross is but one example of such a measure.
Another example is the adoption of the name “Easter,” an important Christian holiday that is an ancient pagan celebration named after the pagan goddess Ishtar, the Sumerian goddess of fertility (hence the custom of Easter eggs and rabbits on this holy day) that was hung on a stake and ascended from the netherworld.

There are many more similar examples. Adoption of foreign symbols and customs is very common. It is also a natural growth process of any culture, a process that no one can or should try to stop.

However, and that is where I have an issue with Christian missionaries here in Yisrael. They do not only adopt Jewish customs and symbols, rather they take Jewish sources that are ours only and redefine them to fit their Christian theology, in order to mislead ignorant Jews into accepting their faith. They become salesmen selling a product by choosing misleading words and phrases and making fraudulent promises. 

This is NOT what teaching is about. This is NOT what good teaching should do.

To that, many of us, refuse to be accomplices.


Special thanks to my dear friend Roger Froikin.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

"And You Should Tell Your Son....




Last night Jews around the world celebrated the Pesach meal, called Seder.

“Seder” is the Hebrew word for “order.” Anyone who has ever attended one, would understand why it is called “Seder.” There is a certain order in this ceremony, a logical sequence to each part of this observance. It is lined out for us in the Haggadah, the booklet we use to guide us through it.

It is also apparent to anyone who has ever partaken in a Seder that, during this special meal, unlike any other night, the table is laid out and set with unusual food items and symbols. They are all intended to raise our curiosity and intrigue our inquisitive minds.
Likewise, a bird’s eye view of the Haggadah will reveal that its text is written in a manner that is aimed at prompting us to ask questions. We have the Four Questions which answer the basic query of why this night is different than any other night. We have the segment listing Four Sons, each with their own questions as well as other ones.  

Questions are an important tool along the journey of growth and development of any human being. Questions are also important along the ontogenetic path of a nation. It is curiosity that has triggered human growth and progress throughout the ages.

Our Jewish sages must have known that. And that is where the directive “And you should tell your son” comes into play.
“Those who forget their past,” a wise person once said, “have no future.” This important principle was also known to our wise sages. Teaching and educating about one’s national, cultural and spiritual past is a very important tenet in our Jewish tradition.

There are different ways of teaching, as many would know. The Haggadah, as we saw, uses a common didactic method to achieve that goal, “Questions and Answers.” There is great value in asking questions, as any teacher would tell us. More importantly is the manner in which the questions are formulated. Our sages who wrote the Hagadah were great pedagogues. They framed the questions in a way that helps the readers master core concepts about our Jewish/Zionist past. The method in which the questions in the Haggadah are articulated, the way the facts and ideas are communicated help the listeners and readers develop their critical thinking skills.

Moreover, as one might notice, the Haggadah never asks more than one question at a time. It lets them sink in, one by one. Asking questions throughout the reading of the Haggadah, as during any lesson, not only makes the experience of learning more interesting, it also makes it more interactive.

Questions by themselves, though, are not enough. They need answers in order to complete the cycle of learning, growing, advancing and progressing. Above all, the answers need to provide the links that connect our past learning to our present and future lessons.


The Haggadah writers knew that well. And when the answers come, it is often in the form of a song or a symbolic act. Everyone partakes in them. They engage every participant in this beautiful and heartwarming celebration of Freedom and Jewish Nationhood culminating with the song “L’Shana Ha’Ba’ah Birushalayim,” Next Year in Jerusalem which seals the meal. 

This morning, I am still singing this song as I continue to bask in the greatest lesson of them all, the greatest lesson of our Jewish history - to be a Free Nation in Our Homeland, the Land of Tziyon and Yerushalayim. May we all enjoy this Pesach season of Freedom and live to experience it designed and intended lessons.

Chag Sameach