Monday, 17 June 2019

That Second Most Important Day






This article is dedicated to my students, past, present and future

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Attributed to Mark Twain

The gift of Life is a miracle though there are those who may not always perceive it as such.  As Life unfolds itself, many are in search for its meaning, the question of “Why was I born and what is my purpose in this Life?” preoccupies many. Philosophers, writers, poets and great minds as well as ordinary people have often pondered over it through the years. Some have offered answers, others gave up. Though the answer may not have always been the one many yearned for, finding out the “Why” has certainly changed their life forever.

For me, the day I discovered the “Why,” was when my life turned into a bliss.

It happened one cool morning, in October 1973. Earlier that year, I was accepted at Tel-Aviv University to commence my studies towards an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Greek Studies (not my first choice, English was. Why I was not accepted to the English Department is a topic on its own and for another article. I was devastated for rwo reasons. The first, English Literature is a great love of mine. The second, I needed to work for a living. From experience, it also occurred to me that I had never come across an ad in the “wanted Section” of any paper, an ad which read “A Philosopher needed”).

As many of you may recall, October 1973 is when the Yom Kippur War was raging. The academic year at the university was postponed until further notice. It was a difficult and uncertain time both nationally and personally.

Since I could not picture myself sitting helplessly with folded hands during the long days of war, I decided to enlist some of my skills and contribute, in my own small way, to the war effort. I elected to volunteer at a local school and teach our young ones in place of those teachers who had to join the army in defense of our Homeland.

That was when I experienced the second “most important day” of my life for the first time. As I was watching those beautiful innocent faces, living under the shadow of war 
and at no fault of their own, in the only place that Jews could call “Home,”  I suddenly realized “Why” I was born. I was born to be a teacher. 

The following day, I called Tel-Aviv University, informed them that I would not attend their institution and applied to a nearby Teachers’ College where I was accepted and where I eventually earned my Teachers’ Certificate.

I have never looked back.

Since then, I have had many fulfilling such “most important days,” each reaffirming what I discovered on that dreary, sad day in October 1973. And for that, I can only thank those who have made that day more and more significant, meaningful and soaked with great learning curves with each passing year: my wonderful students.

You, dear, precious souls, have enriched my life immensely!

I Love you all and send you a big "Thank you" wherever you are. 
🇮🇱   🇮🇱


Monday, 3 June 2019

The Dream Refuses to Die







I really believed it was possible.

I believed that in times of calm and absence of war, Jews could live in Peace with each other. I wanted to believe that a shared Past, Present and Future could forge us here in Eretz Yisrael into one cohesive unit.

I wished for one moment, one brief moment that we all shell our differences and appreciate each other irrespective of their views. I envisioned a day where foul language and name calling will be part of a fading past and replaced with "agreeing to disagree."

To say that I was never guilty of any attempts to discredit others, sometimes in a language that was always devoid of criticism or cynicism, would be a lie.

I can, however, say that I never stooped down to some of the levels that I witness others do. Engaging in that would be against anything I was raised to value.

Recent events here have shattered that dream. Jews accusing each other for failing to fulfill that which is expected of us by our esteemed and noble tradition. Finger pointing has become an almost daily practice and the accusations are getting uglier with each passing day.

I cannot but hear the deafening cries of The Image of G-d, that spark of goodness within each of us imploring to be rekindled. The principles of an ancient and sometimes invisible and often forgotten covenant are pleading and begging to emerge and shine.

Will we ever be able to collect the millions of pieces and build a better, more exalting Jewish world?

The fighter in me refuses to give up and extinguish that wish, that hope. The optimist in me deeply believes, in some of the unexplored creases of my Jewish essence that it will come true.

My only question is, what will it take and how long.


Saturday, 11 May 2019

Dance Me to the End of Love




I trust most of us are familiar with the song by Leonard Cohen which bears the titular name.
Several years ago, I was made aware of the following quote by Cohen when he was asked about the meaning of that song:
“I don’t think anyone needs to know what gave me the image of the “burning violin” but there were these little orchestras the Germans put together in the concentration camps. They played while people were being incinerated or gassed. If you want to read the song from that point of view, it becomes something quite different.”
That is the point of view I chose to read it from when I decided to teach it to my students before Yom HaShoah. And what an experience it was for all of us.

When I handed the song to them, I asked them to read it silently and share their impressions of it. To most of them, it amounted to no more than a love story between a man and a woman who have lived a full life sprinkled with episodes of joy, crisis, love and pain. None of them even remotely related it to the Shoah.
In order to make my choice of interpretation of this song clearer to them, I decided to focus on a few lines which, at least for me, reinforced the notion that I was trying to convey to them. I pointed to the first line.
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin…”

Though all my students were familiar with the history of the Shoah, many, unfortunately, were not aware of the quartets or “little orchestras” that the Nazis put together to welcome the new inmates of the concentration camps. They were composed mostly of violins.
Naturally, when considered from my point of view, the burning violin, mentioned in the first line, is a reference to the fate of many of the residents who were burned in the ovens of those camps.
“Dance me to the panic till I’m gathered safely in…” is the next line I drew their attention to. Of course, they have all been introduced to the conditions in which those doomed to death were brought to the camps. They have seen movies and photos; they have heard testimonies about the freight trains they were pushed and crammed into. They know about the poor sanitary conditions on cattle cars, the stench, the hunger, death and despair. Who would not be experiencing “panic” under such conditions?

What most of them did not know, though, is that the Nazis had lied to the Jews and promised them that the trains they were about to embark were for the purpose of relocating them to a “nice, safer place,” a “new home.” Many Jews believed these lies and were fooled by them. What reasons did they have to think otherwise? Hence, in my view, the shred of faith echoed in the words “till I’m safely gathered in.”

“Oh, let me see the beauty when the witnesses are gone…” is where many of my students realized why I chose to teach that song the way I did. They, like many other fellow Jews, are aware that those who witnessed the Shoah, those who lived to tell and share the horrors they had been through, abate in numbers. Soon, there will be none left. It will, then, be my task, as a daughter of two Shoah survivors, to ensure that “Never Forget” is alive. After me, it is them who will have to bear the torch of that vow and ensure that it is never extinguished. They are ready for that.

Finally, we reached the line referring to the children, our most precious asset. “Dance me to the children who are asking to be born…” a line that melts a frozen river in me, breaks a dam, frees the gushes of tears that surge in my eyes and blurs my vision each time I hear it.

The first time I read that line, I recalled Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s book Kappa, a science fiction describing Japan in the early 20th century. One of the ideas discussed in this book is that, after they are presented with an overview of what life has in store for them, the soon to be born babies of Kappa can choose or refuse to be born. Most of them choose to be aborted.

Unlike the children of Kappa, Cohen’s babies are asking for practicing their right, and our duty to allow them “to be born.” After all, it is in accordance with that which the Torah commands us, “And you should choose Life!”

As I was about to finish the lesson, I looked around the classroom. The silence that prevailed, the bittersweet scent of the air we were breathing as the rays of the shining sun were alighting the room and their beautiful faces, I knew that from then on, this song will not be just another song they hear and enjoy. In Cohen’s own words, it has “become something quite different,” a more meaningful piece of poetry, one that connects them to our People’s past and their role in its future.

Shabbat Shalom 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Peace and Unity among us






My dear friend, Dr. Mordechai Kedar once told me, while co-authoring an article with him, "we cannot fight that which is Right by using and employing that which is Wrong."

These words have resonated with me always, more so in recent days.

Last week, we Yisraelis, commemorated Yom Hashoah and paying tribute to our six million brothers and sisters who perished in the Shoah. Today, we honour the fallen heroes who gave their lives during Yisrael's unending wars of existence. We also remember the victims of Terrorism. 

Each year, on both occasions, our nation stops whatever it is doing and stood united while the sirens are wailing, reminding us how the shared pain and suffering inflicted upon our People has joined us together and forged us into one cohesive group.

It is these brief moments that I longed for and would have given anything to experience and relive during all the long years that I resided in the Galut. It was not the pain, neither the mourning nor the grief that I longed for. Rather, it was the unity that they sowed and produced even for a brief moment.

Last week, just like yesterday and today, as I was standing still, along with the millions of my Yisraeli brothers and sisters, sharing the sense of togetherness and devotedness, I asked myself, "why can't it be like that always? Why do we need bereavement to remind us of the need to remain united? Why not let our shared history, glorious present and promising future be the criss - cross threads in the fabric of our nationhood?"

It is at moments like these, that I recall Dr. Kedar's wise words.

It is then that the troubling gnawing questions keep surfacing. How can we be united when many of us continue to use language which contributes to nothing but merely to deepening the divide? How can we expect unity and Peace among us when in order to achieve these desirable RIGHT and wishful results we use, instead, the WRONG means and the WRONG compass to negotiate the challenging terrain that could get us there?

Rather than dignifying differences, we shun and humiliate that which is foreign to us. At every opportunity, we wage war on anyone and anything that disagrees with us.
How can we live with each other when instead of exchanging, some resort to insults and name calling? How can we allow Peace to settle among us when each time we run out of good and logical arguments, many  start throwing curse words and using foul language at each other?

But most importantly, how can we remain a family when we put the needs of others before those of our own, needs which are in dire need of attention? If one of the founding principles of our heritage is "Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh lazeh" (All of Yisrael are guarantors for one another), why can we not think of our own FIRST, adhere to it and put our People’s needs before those of others?


After all, isn’t that what those who we commemorate today had in their essence when they rushed to defend us in war? Did they not choose that which is RIGHT to beat that which is WRONG when they entered the battlefield? Did they not put themselves, as Arevim for us, before all?

May Am Yisrael finally learn the lesson of the old adage “United we stand, Divided we fall.”

Happy Birthday Medinat Yisrael 

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Judaism and Health




“The well-being of the soul can be obtained only after that of the body has been secured.” Moses Maimonides.

The maintenance of good health has been of prime importance in Judaism. Cleanliness, in Judaism, is a duty that is prescribed by G-d and the Torah has dedicated several portions to dealing with the matter. It is essential to Holiness, we are told, one of the attributes of the relationship between G-d and Am Yisrael, Am Kadosh (“For you are a People Holy to the Lord your G-d” Deuteronomy 14:2). This week’s Parashah, Tazria, is, likewise, dedicated to this fundamental duty.

The Talmud also stresses the importance of cleanliness. It decreed various ordinances relating to the gravity of hygiene, personal and public. One of them, for instance, compels Jews to wash their hands many times during the day in what is known as the ritual of of Netilat Yadayim, the washing of the hands. A Jew could not eat without performing that ritual first. Jews were required to wash their hands, after leaving the bathroom and following any intimate engagement.

I can almost see some eyebrows being raised at reading this directive. Though, in today’s world, for many of us the need to wash one’s hands is obvious and has become part of our behavioural patterns, in past times it was far from being the usual sanitary standard.  In this respect, Judaism was unique. It was a custom that, on more than one occasion, helped preserve our People.

One example that comes to mind is the Black Plague that swept through Europe during the 14th century. At the time, many claimed that the Jews died at only half the rate of the general population. That, provided it is true, can be attributed to sanitary customs prescribed by Jewish law. These also include the emphasis on strict burial practices which among others also helped stop the spread of the bubonic plague and typhus among other epidemics.

Another example to the Jewish emphasis on health and which is more closely related to this week’s Parashah is the value of family purity.

I remember years ago, as part of my studies towards a graduate degree in Public Health Administration (M.P.H.) at UC Berkeley in the late 70’s, I attended an Epidemiology course. During one of the lessons, our lecturer mentioned that doctors and scientists found correlation between the lower incidence of cervical cancer and the observance of the laws pertaining to family purity by Jewish women than among their counterpart in the general population.

This was later further confirmed in an article entitled “ Mitzvah and Medicine: Gender, Assimilation and the Scientific Defense of ‘Family Purity’,” written by Beth S. Wenger and published by the Indiana University Press (Vol.5,1/2, Autumn, 1988-Winter, 1999). The abstract of the article states:
“Between 1920 and 1940, the medical community joined religious commentators in advocating abstention from intercourse during a woman’s menstrual flow, as dictated by Jewish Law. Physicians and scientists observed that Jewish women suffered from cervical cancer less frequently than their non-Jewish counterparts. Attributing these statistics to Jewish ritual observance, medical experts found rational grounds for supporting the maintenance of religious custom.”

In addition to earning my aforementioned M.P.H. degree, I also completed my diploma as a Personal Trainer in Health and Fitness (http://www.bat-zion.name/html/the_art_of_living_well.html). As part of that, I regularly research the subject and am always in awe to learn more on how our Jewish tradition and some of our great Jewish scholars like Maimonides and others were leaders in this area long before the other parts of humanity.

Shabbat Shalom



Saturday, 23 March 2019

Goodbye New Zealand





“To live in New Zealand” is the name of a song praising and glorifying life in New Zealand, written and performed by a Yisraeli group called “Ethnix.” It is a dream of many, I am told. I guess I am one of the lucky ones who lived to fulfill that dream. It lasted ten years. It had good moments and not so good ones.

What we see New Zealand transforming into these days is, I guess, what I would categorize as the “not so good ones.” Already then (mid 1990’s to mid-2000), I could see the buds of what New Zealand has turned into nowadays. In a way, I am glad I no longer live there.

The red light for me was turned on following the terror attacks on 9/11. In their aftermath, many members of the Muslim faith were attacked, unjustly, I might add, simply because the attacks were carried out by Muslims.

We, members of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation, immediately enlisted ourselves to a campaign to support New Zealand Muslims. We issued a statement of support and embraced the Christchurch Muslim Community. So did other groups. Among them, were lecturers of the Canterbury University in Christchurch where I was teaching at the time.

Towards that goal, we set up a group on campus, which was entitled, “The Coalition for Justice and Understanding,” a euphemism for an effort to bash America and Yisrael, if you ask me. Some even dared to admit to me, knowing full well that I am a proud American citizen, that America “deserved” 9/11.

Let me interject here that Canterbury University, as I mentioned before, had already been infected with anti Yisrael sentiments spread by some lecturers (https://wingnsonawildflight.blogspot.com/2017/12/time-to-drain-university-swamps.html). I remember the time when Dr. Josef Olmert, a Yisraeli lecturer, visited the campus and partook in a panel where he brilliantly responded to each of their attacks. Following the panel, he asked me, “How can you work with such a hostile faculty staff?”  The fertile ground was already there for the fruition of what we witness today.

During one of our meetings, the aforementioned Coalition decreed to petition to America not to enter Afghanistan for various reasons which I will spare the readers. I objected. I thought that it would have been wiser to turn first to Afghanistan and ask its leaders to extradite Osama bin Laden rather than let the architect and perpetrator of such a crime against innocent people go on free to carry out more. My suggestion was mocked and brushed off as futile and a waste of time. I accused those present of appeasement. “Yes,” I recall retorting at them, “blame the victim and let the criminal get away with murder.”

What upset me most about some of the expressions then, though, was that one lecturer, a Pakistani woman, a very intelligent one, responded to my mention of Auschwitz as one of the lessons that helped shape my life with the following, “The ovens of Auschwitz are cold.” Imagine saying that to a daughter of two Shoah survivors???? Some “justice and understanding,” Eh?

The greatest shock, however, came several months or about a year later when the Christchurch Mosque opened a new wing. The Chairman of its Board, Ibrahim, with whom I had good relations, invited two members of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation for its house warming. I was one of them.

After we were greeted by the Imam, whom I also knew and with whom I jointly partook in “Interfaith” events, the two of us walked around the mosque. The amount of anti-semitic publications laid out on the tables was shocking. We left with much disgust and a vow to never set foot there again or communicate with any of its Board members.

I could burden you, dear readers, with more examples, all pointing towards one direction. New Zealand was slowly but surely paving its way to its own destruction, to an oblivion that threatens to drown it, its beauty and anyone’s dream to go live “on a green island in a faraway ocean,” as the lyrics of the song by Ethnix submit.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Should We Remember or Never Forget?






This week Jews are preparing to celebrate the festivity of Purim. Unlike every other week, in addition to this week’s Parasha, Torah portion, Vayikra, this Shabbat which precedes it, we read a second one. It is Parashat "Zachor" (remember), from the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). I wonder how many stop to question why we are reading TWO Parashot and on this Shabbat before Purim.


Zachor is one of the most important tenets in our Jewish tradition, if not the most important. A few years ago, I wrote an article describing its centrality in our culture. (https://wingnsonawildflight.blogspot.com/2015/09/yizkor.html)

The question that is begging to be asked is, why do we need to Remember right before Purim? More importantly WHAT is it that we need to remember?

Parashat "Zachor" starts with the following words: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt.” (Devarim 25).

Naturally, the Torah is here to teach us a very important lesson in our Jewish history.

Someone recently told me that though history is always there to teach us a lesson, we can choose which lesson we want to learn. I agree.

Parashat "Zachor," however, is read this week precisely because the Torah wishes to teach us a lesson that we, Jews, cannot CHOOSE to learn. It is a lesson we MUST learn. The word, “Zachor,” is delivered to us in the form of commandment in the Hebrew Grammar, the language of the Tanach. And that lesson is one that is closely connected to Purim.

We have all heard of the wicked Haman, one of the main actors in the story of Purim, the one who wished to bring an end to the Jewish nation. Haman is a descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek, the same enemy mentioned in Parashat "Zachor," that relentlessly tried to destroy us at our weakest point. The connection between Haman and Amalek can be seen in the following article which I wrote a couple of years ago :
https://wingnsonawildflight.blogspot.com/2017/03/have-jews-learned-anything-from-story.html

As I am sitting here pondering the choice of the word “Zachor” (remember), I wonder if instead of it, the Torah should have commanded us to “Never Forget.”

Let me explain myself.

When we order someone to do something, we are trying to get them to do something that needs to be awakened in them and needs to be performed, something that is not normally or regularly there and is not an integral part of their behavioural pattern. Otherwise why command them? Why remind them that they need to do it? Why remind Am Yisrael that they need to “remember?” Likewise, once they perform that directive, does it stay with them much longer after it was accomplished?

On the other hand, Never Forget, at least for me, means a charge, a responsibility which is permanently engraved or etched in a person’s essence, one he/she cannot shake off or rid themselves off for even one split second. It becomes part of who and what they are, part of their genetic blue print, I would venture to say. A lesson that one never forgets is always there.

Whether we choose to Remember or choose to Never forget, may we all have a joyous Purim, full of laughter and only the best of every blessing.

Shabbat Shalom