Monday, 30 May 2016

A Tale of Two Museums



Once upon a time, there was an evil man, a very evil man. He had a dream. He wanted to erect a museum to commemorate “the extinct race.”

That man was Hitler. His dream was to annihilate European Jewry and turn the Jewish Museum in the city of Prague into a museum that will hold Jewish artifacts aimed at reminding the world of a race that once was.

The Jewish Museum of Prague was founded in 1906. Initially, it was intended for the purpose of preserving artifacts from neighboring synagogues which were liquidated as part of the reconstruction of the Jewish quarter. When the Nazis took over they closed it down and hired Dr. Karel Stein, a historian and one of the founders of the Museum, to catalogue the many various Jewish artifacts that were gathered by the Germans.

As we all know, Hitler’s plans did not exactly go as he intended them to. The “extinct race” simply refused to disappear, refused to vanish. The Museum, invariably, remained “The Jewish Museum” holding the largest and most comprehensive collection of Judaica items. Nowadays, it contains about 40,000 artistic objects. It also holds about 100,000 pieces of written materials. All are a testimony to a thousand-year-old community from a city that the New York Times refers to as “the Paris of the East, the Jerusalem of the West,” a testimony to the cultural wealth of a People that left a big mark in the annals of the history of mankind.

Fast forward several decades, and let me take you to a different region of the world where another museum was recently erected. Unlike the Jewish Museum of Prague that has been a beacon of a civilization that enriched the history of humanity with its gifts and contributions, we are left here with a blank expression as we watch a multi-million dollars’ ghost and ask, what does it commemorate? Shall I venture to call it the “Museum to the race that has not yet been born?” It is a “museum” that holds nothing but a dream of destruction, empty pages waiting to be filled with imaginative narratives, steeped in the fairytales of “A Thousand Nights and One Night,” aimed at rewriting history. Its empty halls will hold an imaginative history that lives and thrives only in the minds of those who have not been born yet, those that toil so hard to ignore facts and create new ones merely to fool a gullible world.

Yes, you guessed right. I am talking about the new “Palestinian Museum,” the one that exhibits bare walls, empty shelves and lonely display cabinets. But fear not, soon, the emperor’s new clothes will be hanging there and its many visitors will marvel at them, write about them and push a blind humanity deeper and deeper into the dark abyss from which only a miracle can save it

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Our Tree of Life


I wanted to write an article about Jewish survival.

But then I realize that the vast story of survival, growth and progress spanning over a few millennia as experienced by Am Yisrael and the Jewish People cannot be pressed into several hundred words. Like many, though, I am intrigued and I cannot help but marvel at this very unusual experience, the Jewish experience, on the timeline of world history.

I keep asking myself. What was it? What was that nourishing Spring, that powerful source, that elixir that sustained our People through some very difficult chapters over the ages and kept them alive? What was the spark that constantly charged our essence and reignited that pillar of fire which brightened our People’s path through history in our pursuit of Life?

I always come back to that same answer: Torah.

“She is a tree of Life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that holdest her fast.”

יח  עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא, לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ;    וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

 (Proverbs Chapter 3, VS. 18).

Before anyone jumps down my throat, let me add that yes, I am aware that when King Solomon wrote these wise words, he was describing wisdom. To me, and I venture to say, to King Solomon as well, Torah is wisdom. It is a book aimed at teaching us how to conduct our life. It is a manual that spells out what a Jew is expected to do and how a Jew should behave in order to be able to live a fulfilling life. It is one of the oldest such manuals, one that is flexible, adaptable and leaves room for choice. Its ultimate message to us is, choose life
"  יט העידותי בכם היום, את-השמיים ואת-הארץ--החיים והמוות נתתי לפניך, הברכה והקללה; ובחרת, בחיים--למען תחיה, אתה וזרעך. " (I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live) Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 19.

And is there one here who can say that this message is not saturated with wisdom, divine wisdom? It is the essence of the contract that G-d entered with Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai. It is the legacy that our forefathers and foremothers have passed on to us. The Heaven and the Earth  are its eternal witnesses.

Torah study and its decree to hang on to Life through learning and discussing it, however, were not always easy and simple to come by for our People. There were times when Am Yisrael and the Jewish People were forbidden to engage in it. That is where our wisdom, our strong desire to cling to it and to Life came into play. It gave birth to the Haftarah.

The Torah, AKA “The  Five Books of Moses,” is divided into 52 Parashot, portions or segments, one for each week of the year. The Haftarah, on the other hand, is a section taken from the Prophets, one of the three parts of the Tanach. It is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading.

Though the origins of the reading of the Haftarah are shrouded in vagueness, the most common explanation is as follows.

In the year 168 B.C.E., Antiochus Epiphanes, the Hellenistic Greek king of the  Seleucid Empire, issued an edict forbidding Jews to read from the Torah. It was however, limited to the Five Books of Moses. How does one prevent slow death by suffocation that such a severance of once lifeline can bring about? The answer is part of the secret of Jewish survival.

In response, our wise sages instituted the custom that a certain section of the Prophets be read instead, a section where an idea that was related to the Torah reading that was slated for that week. Indirectly, the Torah lesson for each week was taught. Our People continued to subsist and endure by imbibing that which is essential to its survival

This is but one example of what it took to maintain Jewish steadiness and permanency. There are many more examples one could cite in order to highlight it. They are old, new, individual or national epics, painful and joyous sagas. Whatever they are, we are here. We will continue to cling to our Tree of Life. We will maintain our wonderful and wise tradition and hang on to Life. We will continue to do it with the same vigor and vivacity that very little and very few can extinguish, if ever.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The End of Reason is the Beginning of Conflict


“All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.” 

John Steinbeck

War, be it verbal or physical, has only one facilitator, the failure of reason to lead the path to a tolerable and accommodating alternative. Reason, one would hope, is what differentiates between adapting oneself to the world as opposed to adapting the world according to one’s own needs and desires. Reason, one would also hope, is that faculty which separates us humans from other species. It is supposed to be the light, the compass which is expected to guide us in the mazes of Life, in difficult times when we reach the brinks of insanity and lead us away from conflicts and strife onto a most stable road.


 When I witness conflicts, personal, political, national, religious or others, I cannot help but think of them merely as a symptom of what Berthold Brecht ironically refers to in his poem, “General Your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle,” as man’s “one defect, he can think.”

As Brecht points out to us in that poem, war is the choice of the few, those who have too often employed that which was given to us humans as the sacred gift, the ability to think in a reasonable way and, instead, chose to turn it into a mundane, destructive tool. These are the arrogant ones, the ego ridden ones, those who believe they are the sole possessors of Truth, those who are ready to sacrifice the humble, the downtrodden towards achieving their own self set goals. Their defect, as Brecht suggests, is undeniably their ability to think yet are plagued and motivated
 by their choice not to turn that talent into a blessing. Unfortunately, they are driven by their own agenda, their lust for money power and fame. They have their own self twisted image of being the carriers of the beacon of justice, their definition of justice, and the banner of truth, their truth.

And since when do these attributes go hand in hand with reason?

Thursday, 12 May 2016

And Yes, Yerushalayim is the Capital of Yisrael Only


I grew up in Yisrael and never even once had one sliver of doubt that Jerusalem was the capital of Yisrael. Why should I? It was as clear to me as Cairo being the capital of Egypt or Washington D.C. the capital of the U.S.

For some, however, the opposite seems to have been clear and still seems so to many others.
I first encountered such reluctance to accept Jerusalem as Yisrael’s Capital when I was teaching high school in Texas in the late eighties. It happened by accident.

As part of teaching Hebrew, the curriculum required that I also teach Yisraeli culture. Naturally, I introduced the students to many aspects of Yisrael, geographical, economic and culinary. Politics was expected to be kept out of the classroom.

In one of my exams, the students were asked simple questions which included naming the capital of Yisrael and its neighboring countries. Much to my surprise, many students named Tel Aviv to the former question and “Palestine” as one of Yisrael’s neighbors to the East.

Those who know me can picture my countenance and my blood temperature when reading those answers. They were certainly not what was taught in my class. I was perplexed.

“The Arabic teacher told us that Jerusalem cannot be the capital of Yisrael because the world does not recognize it as such,” one of the students told me in response to my query. “And this is a map she gave us,” another volunteered as he produced a map of the Middle East in which there was no mention of Yisrael and both Judea and Samaria and Gaza were referred to as “Palestine.”

There was no point in approaching the Arabic teacher and discussing the issue with her. I needed to address it in my own way. Since Google and other search engines were not available then, I decided to approach one of the social science teachers and get from him an objective definition of what constitutes a Capital City. I received the answer I knew was right, the answer that made most sense.

The following definition which I found with a recent basic Google search is very much the one I received then, in 1986.  A Capital City according to the is “the city or townthat functions as the seat of government and administrative centre of a country or region.”

Some facts just do not change only narratives do! Jerusalem was then and still is the Capital city of Yisrael because by the above definition, it is. Whatever everyone else thinks or whether the world recognizes it as such is irrelevant.

Moreover, according to the above definition, Jerusalem is the Capital of ONLY Yisrael. The only government seated in Jerusalem is the Yisraeli government. Likewise, Jerusalem is the administrative centre of Yisrael only.

So dear Arabic teachers, European NGO’s and agenda pursuers the world over, memorize that definition before you walk into the classrooms or college campuses and twists the minds of young people with your made up narratives and disinformation. Remember, you can try and rewrite history but as long as there are people like me, and there always will be, you will never be able to get rid of the facts.


Artwork by Liora Golda Rotem

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Yisrael, why do I love you?

There are many reasons why I love you Yisrael. I could list at least sixty-eight, one for each year of your life. Let me name a few.
First and foremost, you are my birthplace, the miracle I call my Home. You are the fertile ground that nourishes my soul, the womb that remains connected to me simply because we refused to cut the umbilical cord. You are the dream I carried along with me, the place that was always with me wherever I wandered in a vast foreign land. You are the light that brightened up the path of my life’s journey during some of the darkest moments. You are my personal memories, present, past and future.
You are also the birthplace of Am Yisrael and our Jewish people. You are the fountainhead from which our forefathers drank the elixir of their everlasting Spiritual Life, the bosom that gathered our tears and the legacy that held and kept us alive for untold generations.

The gifts you yield and share with many are another reason myself and others love you. Whoever values civilization, progress and enlightenment holds you in the highest esteem. You are so tiny, yet such a giant when it comes to contributions that have helped shape the modern world and make it a safer, better place. You have given us Intel, Amdocs, Desalination, roof top solar hot water systems, the first Capsule endoscopy solution to record images of the digestive tract, the Iron Dome (which is probably one of the reasons why I am still here) and the world’s smallest DNA computing machine system, the smallest biological computing device ever constructed. And the list goes on and on.

Your name, Yisrael, though is probably one of the most important reasons I fall in love with you over and over again. I love its ring but most of all, I love what it stands for.

The name “Yisrael, first appears in the Torah, in the Book of Bresheet (AKA Genesis in its Hellenistic translation) Chapter 32 verse 29 “
לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱ-לֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל  No longer shall your name be Yaakov, but Yisrael because you fought with G-d and people and you won.

It is the name that mirrors what we, Am Yisrael and you, Eretz Yisrael are all about. It holds our struggles, our pain, our losses and our eventual victory. It connects our ensanguined yet triumphant past to a hopeful, glorious and promising future. Despite all efforts to eradicate us, to reduce us to a spec on the pages of the history of mankind, we remained defiant, just like our forefather Yaakov, rose against all challenges and went from strength to strength. You are the fulfillment of the age old prophecy and blessing bestowed upon Yaakov by the angel of G-d.

You are Hatikvah, our Hope and as long as one Jewish soul continues to throb and one eye stares in the direction of Eretz Tzion V'rushalayim, we shall remain One. And that, in my book, is the definition of ETERNITY. 

Am Yisrael Chai!

Monday, 2 May 2016

Hatikvah – A hope for freedom


“Liheyot Am Chofshi Beartzeinu, Eretz Tzion V’rushalayim.” (To be a free People in our Land, the Land of Tzion and Yerushalayim). Naftali Hertz Imber , Hatikvah

This week, I visited, along with a group of fellow teachers, our Temple Mount in Yerushalayim. I had been looking forward to that visit. Spiritually, I have always been of the conviction that if Am Yisrael and the Jewish People had a soul, that is the place where it dwelt. The famous call “Har Habayit Beyadeinu,” (The Temple mount is in our hands) which was uttered during the Six Day War echoed against the walls of my Jewish essence. Zion, I realized then, was the center of our Jewish universe.

Politically, however, I had never given much thought or much significance to the place. Of course I knew that Yisrael relinquished any rights to the place and handed it over to the Hashemite Kingdom for keeps while allowing the Jewish People, the rightful owners of the place, visitation rights. Frankly, I had no issue with that decision. It was Moshe Dagan, my co-writer, who has opened my eyes for the need to look at the importance of the Temple Mount also from the governmental and administrative angle. It was these two perspectives that set out to tour the place.

That visit occurred one week before Pesach, the Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, from Slavery into Freedom. Ironically enough what I experienced there taught me a great lesson; a twofold lesson. The first, what it means to be a “slave. A humiliated slave.” The other, I learned to appreciate the great precious and priceless gift of Freedom.

“Remove any religious symbols from yourself before we visit Temple Mount, and cause no provocation,” our tour guide kept warning us, starting the day prior to the visit and resuming a few more times before the visit. That meant I had to remove my treasured Star of David necklace which was given to me by my daughter. My Jewish core rebelled. “Why does one have to hide their Jewish identity and in Eretz Yisrael of all places?” it kept asking me. I was not going to remove mine. “Tucking it inside my shirt,“ I decided, “should suffice.”
“You also need to dress modestly, ladies,” our guide continued to instruct us.  That, however, I could understand. Respect is what I would show any religious site because that is what I was raised to do. I had no intention of disobeying that request. Neither had any of my fellow teachers.

On the scheduled day, we rose early for fear that we might be late and therefore miss the visit. During the security check and, probably more importantly, a check for any hidden religious items, the guards found a little Book of Psalms in my purse. It was nothing more than a good luck charm that I carry along with me wherever I go. The book and I were temporarily separated, to be reunited after the visit. I did not challenge the act and moved on.
Along with all other non- Muslim tourists of many nationalities we ascended the Moograbim Gate, making our way to the Heart of our people, the place where Jews have longed to return for over a few millennia. Many of us were a bit nervous for fear of making any move that might be interpreted as provocative or disrespectful

We finally reached planet Temple Mount.

The Waqf representative who awaited us at the entrance to the site was anything but polite. I seriously felt like I was entering a forced labor camp. “Why don’t you cover your boobs?” He shouted at one of my fellow teachers who was, in my view, dressed very modestly. “Don’t you realize that this is a holy place?” he kept reproofing her. At that point I was sincerely searching for the whip that he might be holding in his hand.

No, it was not a pleasant atmosphere for us.

As we were making our way around the site with our very knowledgeable and careful tour guide, we were constantly followed by a representative of the Waqf listening in to what was said. At one point, the guard went aside to make a telephone call. Our tour guide seemed terrified for fear that he must have said something wrong.
More of that gnawing unfriendly and unwelcome feeling.

That day was an especially hot day. The hot sun was hitting us mercilessly. The only shade in whose comforting shelter we could find temporary respite was the one cast by the Golden dome building. Some of us approached it only to be chastised by the guards who told us that we were not allowed to get close to the place.

At that point I was already looking forward to leaving the place. I no longer felt free in my Home, the Home of my People and the dwelling place of its soul. I was crying for my People’s soul. It was trapped underneath a golden dome unable to free itself, its wings broken, its limbs shackled to a different planet, unable to share the joy of Freedom, of reunification and rededication between a Nation and its Historical, Religious and Political essence. There was no Freedom on the Mount. After all, the words of Hatikvah, above, did not say "Eretz Yisrael". They specifically refer to “The Land of Tzion and Yerushalayim?” To me, Temple Mount has been the embodiment of Eretz Tzion V’irushalayim.

This Pesach has, therefore, added yet another meaning, another significance to my Jewish existence. I have had a brief encounter with Jewish history and its sad chapters. This year, more than before, the words of Hatikvah will continue to resonate with me, as I still harbor the Hope that we will one day be reunited in Freedom and Bliss with what was ours and forever will be.

May we all have a Happy and Meaningful Pesach.

This article was written together with Moshe Dagan.