Wednesday, 27 January 2016

For me, it is Yom Ha'Shoah


This week, the world marks the International Holocaust Memorial Day. I am grateful to the wide recognition and acknowledgement of the suffering of many, Jews and non-Jews who died in that sad chapter of human history. I pray that mankind learns the proper lessons from its past mistakes and prevents them from repeating them. On this day, I hear and read “Never Again,” the motto of Jew and Gentile alike and I continue to hope.

Here in Israel, we commemorate that appalling and not so distant past on the 27th day of the month of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar. We call it Yom Ha’shoah.  

Personally, it is that day, not the International one, that bears a deep meaning for me. It is the day that sends quivers through my spine. It is the day that strums the inner chords of my essence and pulsates at the point that only one like myself, a Jew, a daughter of two Shoah survivors can understand.

And before anyone rushes to accuse me of holding myself at a higher level than the rest, let me explain.

The memories of my childhood in the young nascent state of Israel, growing up under the shadow of the Shoah, under the loving care of two broken souls who had barely escaped the inferno, is what has given me that insight and a greater greater awareness of the magnitude of that episode in our history. Being raised on stories about Moishele, and Avreimaleh, Reuveleh and Shulamiskeh, innocent souls whose life was taken at a young tender age is what has bestowed upon me the gift to grasp and appreciate the extent of the atrocious nature of the Shoah.  I share so much with these individuals. Like me, they spoke Yiddish, a language soaked with humour, with mentchlichkyite ( humanness) and Yidishkayit (Jewishness). Like me, they heard Yiddish lullabies and bedtime stories about Biblical and Jewish heroes, the threads that connected their fate with mine.

They were all my family, the family I never got to meet, yet heard so much about. Their fresh memory is tattooed not on my arm but on my heart. They appear in my dreams at night and shine their eternal blessing on our people during the day. Their blood which runs in the rivers of Jewish history cleanses our Jewish Spirit and gives us the strength and the tenacity to go on living.

For many of us, Jews and Israelis, Yom Ha'Shoah is not merely about “Never Again” but rather about Remembering and Reminding. For how can one vow “Never Again,” if one fails to remember what one should never forget and never repeat? 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

"And G-d created Woman...."


This post appears in the WIZO Lapid magazine “Women taking the lead”. The magazine is not available online.

The story of creation recounted in the Torah is miraculous. Eve, the woman, “Mother of all living thing” is the final handiwork of that miracle and probably the greatest of them all. To be the giver of the gift of Life is the greatest blessing, the ultimate bliss.

The Tanach speaks highly of the strength and the virtues of women. Throughout it are strewn many stories and tales of their wisdom, their deep intuition, sensitivity and divine inspiration.

One of the most unsung heroines of the Torah is Miriam. How many of us remember her as the one who saved her brother, Moses, the greatest leader the Jewish people have ever had? Was it not for Miriam’s unwavering and never faltering perseverance, endurance and hope which ensured that he who would bring redemption to her people lived to fulfill his destiny? 

Was it not the courageous and brave Miriam who, after Moses and the children of Israel sang their song, acted as a cheerleader to infuse valor, liveliness and deeper faith in G-d among the children of Israel? The Torah tells us that "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. And Miriam called to them: 'Sing to G-d, for He is most exalted; horse and rider He cast in the sea...'” A true muse!

Deborah, the first judge who “held court under the palm,” was another Biblical heroine who has inspired many Jewish women over the ages. Deborah was also a prophetess and a warrior. During her time, the Israelites were oppressed by the people of Canaan. She declared a revolt against them and as she correctly predicted, the Israelites won.

The victory over the Canaanites would not have been won if not for the courage of another brave woman by the name of Yael, a shrewd warrior who used not only her female charms, but also her wisdom and strategic skills to bring a final smashing victory to the army of the Israelites. As the Canaanite soldiers fell by the sword, Sisera, their commander fled into Yael’s tent. She welcomed him, and resumed to play the perfect hostess until he fell asleep. She then drove a tent peg through his temple and he died.

It is Esther’s, another celebrated heroine of the Jewish people, astute and brave diplomacy coupled with her wisdom of the heart that we acclaim each year during Purim. With the help of her uncle Mordechai, Esther won King Achashverosh’s heart. It is reasonable to assume that it was probably more the result of a calculated strategic move aimed at ensuring the safety of her Jewish people than it was her love for a King that was not known for his wisdom. 

Her intuition guided Esther in what was a very perilous and unfamiliar political terrain. Even though she knew that approaching the king without being summoned carried the penalty of death, she did eventually approach him. Through an ingenious plan, after piqueing the king’s curiosity and soothing Haman’s ego and gaining the trust of both, she was able to call out Haman’s conspiracy and get the king to side with her.

The Biblical female role models have been an inspiration to many modern day Jewish leaders, both men and women and to the tradition that has produced many front runners in many fields. The miracle of Jewish survival owes much to these women and their legacy.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Forward into the past


It is not every day that one gets a glimpse, let alone an encounter with a chapter in the history of humanity which for many is merely another lesson in our development passed on to us through the eyes of others. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be part of such an experience and it was an eye opener. It happened during my trip to Tanzania where I visited the Hadzabeh people (AKA Hadza).The experience filled me up with awe and wonderment, intrigued my thrill seeking curiosity, kept me pondering long after our encounter and prompted me to want to learn more about this fascinating group of people.

When our tour guide, Omar, led us through the winding path deep into the Eyasi bush past some breath taking scenery of overwhelming cliffs spectacularly shaped as if carved by some unseen celestial hand, I did not expect anything like what was about to unfold itself to me. Nothing could have ever prepared me for it

There, next to a beautiful tall Baobab tree, sat a group of people, unlike any I had ever seen before. Their bodies were covered with Baboon furs. Some were holding spears while others were adjusting their bows and arrows. Others yet, were busy attending to their recent hunt as they were cooking their next meal over the open fire. This was all going on while the background sound of click like sounds were heard as the men were communicating in their ancient language. I froze in my place dazzled by what I saw. It was all too much to absorb at once

Time stood still in that remote place. And “yes,” I thought to myself, as I was standing there glued to the ground and slowly regaining my senses, the “Gods must be crazy,” indeed. 

                                       Photo by Ophir Horesh                            

                                      Photo by Peter Shaposhnik

                                      Photo by Peter Shaposhnik

                                      Photo by Peter Shaposhnik

“The Hadza number about 1250 people,” Omar explained to us. “They are the smallest tribe in Tanzania. They are a nomadic tribe that originated from the Kalahari Desert in the southern part of Africa. They live as hunters and gatherers as their ancestors had thousands of years ago.” As throughout early human history, the men are the hunters. They are highly skilled and adjust their meat diet to the prevailing, mainly seasonal, conditions. During the dry season, game hunting increases. That is the time where the men spend long hours, mainly at night, waiting near waterholes in hope of shooting animals in search of a drink. The weapons they use for hunting are bows and arrows that are treated with poison extracted from the Adenium Cutaneum shrub. The women are the gatherers and usually bring home berries, honey (which they get from trees and which tastes delicious), baobab fruit (a seed with sour flavor which appealed to my pallet) and tubers such as potatoes and other underground growth. 

                                      Photo by Peter Shaposhnik

Mostly short people whose height averages 4ft (with the tallest ever recorded being 4.8ft), the Hadzabeh are genetically closely related to the Pygmies. They are still in the first stage of human development, or what Omar referred to as ‘Primitive Communalism.” The term, as I later found out was first coined by Friedrich Engels in his book “in Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.” Though it is not the intention of this article to debate Engels’ book, the theory of which some anthropologists vehemently oppose, its main premise is that in the early stages of human development,  society was largely organized around affinity rather than economic relationships. And that is what Omar wished to convey to us.

“They live in small huts,” Omar continued as he guided us towards their sleeping quarters. Raising his hand in the direction of the nearby mountains, he added, “During heavy rains, they go up to the mountains and live in caves. They practice monogamy. One of their more interesting customs,“ he added, ‘is that of choosing a spouse. The popularity and esteem of a man increases considerably when he shoots a baboon, preferably the leader of the baboon community. That proves to his family and group that he is strong enough to feed them. A matured girl will then hand a necklace on his neck as a sign of being selected by her to be her husband.”

                                                 Photo by Peter Shaposhnik

“So how do they pass their day once they have eaten, finished making weapons, or processing the skin that they had just stripped off their prey?” I asked Omar.

“They just lay there, smoke Marijuana which they get from local tribes and continue to rest until they are hungry next,” he replied.

The kind of life some may choose, I thought to myself, as we made our way on the rocky path back to the Jeep. Not mine, I decided. But they know nothing else and they are happy, they hurt no one and live peacefully in their community, I debated with myself. At the end of the day, that is what matters.