Thursday, 14 June 2018

Those, Like Yisrael and Trump, Who Are Doing It....




“Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.” – Chinese proverb

Giving up on an idea, a venture, or on unraveling a difficult issue can happen when one is tired. It can also happen when one is uninspired or confused.

Who among us has never been in that situation which can be frustrating or daunting? It happens to everyone at some stage in their life. Giving up might in many cases be the only option left for them.

Unfortunately, there are also those who outrightly brush off any efforts to try and tackle an issue before they even examine it. They do it claiming no matter how one addresses it, it simply cannot be done. Whichever the reason, this is one way to solve a problem or rather to perpetuate it.

Fortunately for mankind, there are those who choose to persist, overcome challenges and roadblocks standing in their way to achieve their goal. They do it despite all the voices that try to discourage and dissuade them from acting or doing and prefer to keep the status quo. They have the "Chutzpah," the fearlessness and desire to dare, remain hopeful, have faith and not resort to the easiest way out of doing nothing.

It reminds me of a story I once read. Its lesson, I believe, a very important one. Let me share it with you.

It tells the story of two twins, one was a pessimist and always complained about anything. The other was an optimist and always looked for the good in everything as optimists generally do. On one of their birthdays, their parents decided to give the pessimist the most expensive of presents. These included a T.V., a computer and other gifts that would make any other child joyful. The optimist twin received a pile of horse manure which he found on the floor in the middle of his room.

As expected the pessimist complained about each gift. Nothing was good enough for him. The optimist, on the other hand, ran through the house as if looking for something. He was cheerful, happy and smiling.

“Why are you running through the house?” his parents asked him in surprise, trying to stop him. “What are you looking for?”

“The pony that you bought for me,” answered the happy young boy. “I am looking for the pony.”

And you know what? I believe that one day he will find his “pony,” provided no one succeeds in interrupting him when doing it.

The lesson is clear.

Thirty years ago, in the 1980’s, Former President Ronald Reagan proposed a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It was nicknamed “Star Wars.”  All those who prescribed to the attitude of “it cannot be done” mostly because of political oriented blindness came out yelling “it cannot be done.”  Yet Yisrael, persisted and engaged in “doing it” and eventually managed to do at least part of it and with that the ability to protect a country from missile attacks (Thank you for reminding me of that Roger Froikin).

Fast forward to the present. Merely six months ago, no one believed that the US would move its embassy to Yerushalayim. It happened. Only several weeks ago, the West Coast of the US was under imminent threat of a nuclear attack from N. Korea. Few if any believed it was doable. They mocked, belittled and laughed at President Trump, again either because of political orientation or media influence, for his desire to bring that threat to an end and doubted that it could happen. A few days ago, an agreement between the two countries was signed.

President Trump may not have yet found the pony but only a few traces of it. However, through his determination, diligence and at the rate he is moving and doing it, while focusing on his goal, he will one day. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Politics of Dercency



 I once saw a poster that read: “Decency is a relative thing.” I doubt there is better evidence of that than what one experiences in the Middle East, a complex region where the disparity between the archaic and the modern is mirrored in the attitudes, beliefs, norms and traits of its juxtaposed realities.
Although the structure of certain values which are universal in their nature seem to be shared by some individuals and groups on both sides of the Middle East divide, there is definitely a substantial difference in the relative importance or priorities that is attributed to them.  It is this relativity of importance, goal or motivation that dictates any action carried out in their name. 

Decency, to the Western, enlightened world, denotes positive attributes such as morality, honesty, politeness and civility.  It stands for the display of attitude towards others, and practice of respect for them and for their beliefs.  It also upholds and observes the dignity of difference. It is, by far, one of the principal indicators which separate between primitivism and progress.  It is the thin line that divides between relics of the outmoded and the drive towards the better and improved.  Decency, in the Middle East is, in my view, one facet of interaction that distinguishes between these two.  It is this which sets “them” and “us” apart.
They revel in death, we celebrate Life.  They flaunt intolerance of anything which is foreign to their own way, we welcome and share it.  They suppress minorities, we try to provide them with equal opportunities.  They subdue women, we honor them.  They impose, we adapt.  We willingly share that which they so indecently usurp.  They are busy destroying facts; we engage in unearthing them.  They are engrossed in rewriting history, we in teaching it as it evolved.
What we try and go out of our way to practice, sometimes at a very dear price human and otherwise, is the kind of decency that many of us in the West were raised to follow. On the other hand, there lies the kind of indecency that they practice, and in which they continue to raise their children. We may not be perfect but we exercise the kind of decency that is going to help us get there.  Their indecency will only continue to lead to more havoc and destruction.
Unfortunately, a currently visionless world, brainwashed by a well-oiled propaganda machine, is either too weak, too lazy, too fearful or simply motivated by an overdose of political correctness, refuses to remove its blinders. Instead, it elects to remain intoxicated by a false elixir, while allowing the indecent dictates of its temporarily euphoric yet permanently venomous laws of decency rule its universe.
Hopefully, in a world that, at least until recently, was run by principles which transmitted inherent, permanent and cherished values which were intrinsic to its survival as part of the family of humanity, many will wake up to realize that in the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt, The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.”  

Monday, 28 May 2018

Jews Have a Right To Be Offended








A wise man once noted that before one is respected and treated with respect, he must learn to respect himself.


And that goes for an entire people, an entire nation, as well.

Watching the way some Jews carry themselves, we wonder if the Jewish Nation really respects itself.

We are specifically referring to responses by some Jews to
 trends of repeated efforts by gentiles to define us. Some non Jews, unfortunately, take it even further and usurp our most precious Jewish ONLY symbols and great concepts, those that have kept us through hard chapters in our history.

Moreover, the indifference to such practices and, in some cases, even the condonation, enablement and support of such efforts by many Jews, leave some of us utterly aghast and dismayed. We see Jews attending a “Christian Seder” which distorts what a Seder is about, and smile with acceptance along with a self-deprecating joke about not really liking matzo or gefilte fish. When that Seder is later followed by an article, written by a Jew, lauding the commemoration of such a  “Seder” by Christians for whom the event amounts to no more than the celebration of the last supper of Jesus, we are dumbfounded. 

We see Jews facilitating the arrival of Christian missionaries to the Jewish Homeland and give them land in Eretz Yisrael where they set up tent. We see missionaries in Yisrael describe their mission as “bring the Gospel to the farmers of” Judea and Samaria.  We hear them sing to us about “The New Jerusalem,” and we spot them teach the Gospel at the Knesset.

Observing some of our own bending backwards to appease and pander to those who clearly want to hurt them, demean them and destroy them as a religious community, culture, and people is disheartening, to say the least.  There is no self-respect when what others do to offend Jews gets a sick kind of smile, no objection and in some cases condonation and support of it

How far will they go before someone says, enough, we don’t have to sit and smile and be nice about the theft of our heritage and the demeaning of what is ours?
We are all for cultural exchanges. At the same time, we realize that we cannot stop cultural appropriation and usurpation. It is as old as humanity. All of us are enriched by learning from other cultures, by adopting what is best of them all.  We all like good pizza, Brahms’ music, the latest clothing from New York.

 However, when cultural appropriation becomes cultural hijacking and calling it authentic, when taking the customs of great significance of one people and reinterpreting them for another to completely change them for some conflicting purpose, we are verging on deliberate efforts to erase lines between cultures, efforts that should be eliminated. 

Furthermore, why do Jews allow and accept Christian or Muslim interpretations of Jewish texts? Why do Jews remain silent when such interpretations come with demands to agree with them? Why do Jews just smile to such efforts and fear offending those that make demands on them?

Again, it is nothing more than a demonstration of a lack of self-respect.

Yes, we know, a lot of this is the result of 2000 years of developing defenses to existential threats. The ghetto leader whose daughter was kidnapped by the Lord of the Manor, raped and beaten and then returned to the ghetto, who thanked the rapist with a smile on his face for returning his daughter alive and not dead, was protecting his life and that of his whole community because under the circumstances there were no choices. That bought a few months of peace, not respect, and when it becomes a habit, long after the cause for the behavior is gone, that is just sad and sick and a drain on our survival today.

So, we ask these questions.  Do Jews have the right to be offended?  Do Jews have the guts to object to being offended?

And while we are at it when missionaries approach Jews in a city like Jerusalem, offending Jews by handing out their literature, which on more than one occasion distorts sacred Jewish writings, ask them why they are not doing it in Muslim areas and in Muslim countries. Or are they worried about offending them?

Ben-Gurion spoke of a time when Jews would be a normal nation. Being normal also means the right to be offended, the right to demand respect. Time for Jews to be normal and practice these rights.

This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind


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.