Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Temple Menorah - What Did It Really Look Like?







“And six branches shall extend from its sides, three branches of the menorah out of one side, and three branches out of the other side”  Shemot (Exodus) 25:32

Any reader of chapter 25 in the Book of Shemot (Exodus) which is dedicated to the customs associated with the Tabernacle, will quickly notice that much attention is given to the description and the embossing of the fine details and ornaments of the Menorah. Little or rather nothing is said about the shape of its six branches nor its stand or base.  
Why, some may ask, the sudden interest in it?

Actually, it is not sudden. Many, and for a long time, have tried to discern what the Temple Menorah really looked like.

Of course, we are all familiar with the one depicted on Titus’ Arch in Rome, the one that was among the spoils of the Temple which were taken to Rome by the Jewish slaves following the destruction of the Second Temple. Many would also recognize that the emblem of the State of Yisrael, the Jewish Homeland, is fashioned after it.


There are, so it seems, some inconsistencies between what we have been familiar with and the description of this holy Jewish symbol in traditional sources.

One of them is the description of the Menorah given in the Book of Zechariah. It is different than the one that stood in the First Temple. The one in Zechariah has an added feature, a “bowl at the top,” which served as a vessel to hold the oil. -  a detail that is not mentioned in the instructions given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

That, however, is a minor detail which is not given much attention in Jewish writings. The added “bowl,” can probably be attributed to and be the result of a more developed version of the original Menorah, a kind that might have been more widespread during second Temple period.

What I find fascinating about the Menorah, though, relates more to the shape of the branches and its stand. The branches are generally illustrated as semi-circular in shape, as we can see on Titus’ Arch.
Archaeological evidence, as in many other incidences, helps us shed light on this issue. A Jewish coin, for instance, minted in 40 BCE shows the Menorah as having curved branches thus lending support to the suggestion that the Menorah had indeed semi – rounded branches.

Another archaeological revelation which renewed interest in the shape of the Temple Menorah was the subject of a Press Release by the Yisrael Antiquities Authority in August 2011. It announced the discovery of “an engraving of the Temple Menorah on a stone object” (which I personally saw) in a two millennia old drainage tunnel near the City of David.



The Authority’s release went on to suggest that “a passerby who saw the Temple Menorah with his own eyes….incised his impressions on a stone.” The drawing, albeit a crude one, clearly shows that the branches are more straight than circular (the depiction of the base proves that the passerby could have drawn curved lines had he witnessed the Menorah as having rounded arms or branches).

Some Jewish sources provide other insights into the question of the shape of the Menorah’s branches. Rashi, for instance, suggests in one of his commentaries on the Torah that the branches of the Menorah “extended upward in a diagonal.…” fashion rather than in a curved, rounded one. The Rambam, like Rashi, though he never makes any definitive statement concerning the branches, shares his view on it. In his commentaries on the Mishneh Torah and Mishnah, he adds drawings which leave no room for doubt. In them, he depicts the branches as extending diagonally and in straight lines.  



Rabbeinu Avraham, the son of Maimonides, states: “The six branches... extended upward from the center shaft of the menorah in a straight line, as depicted by my father, and not in a semi-circle as depicted by others.”
A Depiction of the Menorah Based on the Drawings of the RambamAs in the case of the engraving found in the City of David and judging by the fact that the curvature of the base is drawn so precisely, most likely with the aid of a compass, it is apparent that the artist could just have easily drawn curved branches had he so desired.
The base of the original Temple Menorah has also been a subject of controversy for many years. The one carved on Titus’ Arch is very different from the one found in the City of David. It also differs from the drawings attributed to the Rambam. The excavators of the City of David were quoted as saying that the graffito found in there “clarifies [that] the base of the original [ancient] menorah … was apparently tripod shaped.”
The unique, two-tiered, broad, solid and hexagonal Menorah base depicted on Titus’ Arch, has led many to believe that it is nothing like the Menorah would have looked like for two reasons. The first pertains to the fact that the Greeks discovered all polygons much later, during the Pythagorean era. Though, early Egyptians and ancient Chinese developed such geometry, it was mostly used for navigational purposes.

The second, and a more germane reason, relates to Jewish law. Archeologists concluded that some of the panels of the Menorah carved on the Arch (though partially eroded), display creatures such as eagles, sea serpents, dragons and other heathen images which Jews would not have allowed to be present at the Temple.

Experts agree that there is no reason to question the authenticity of the depiction in Titus’ Arch. Its details and its size reflect the sculpture’s close familiarity with the Temple vessels as described in the Tanach and various other Jewish sources.

The question, however, remains, how can the disparity between the two representations of the Menorah base be compromised?

There is no doubt that the Menorah as we see it on the Arch bears a strong Roman influence. The eagles are a well-known symbol of Roman sovereignty. Dragons were a prevalent ornamental motif in Roman art. A similar base albeit with more pagan images, was excavated in Didymus, Turkey where there once stood a Roman temple.

These clues have led scholars to the almost unavoidable conclusion that the disposition towards Roman art coupled with Jewish prohibition of pagan images could be ascribed to one person, Herod, who throughout his appointment as “King of Judea” tried to impose Hellenistic traditional concepts and values upon his oppressed Jewish subjects.

If that was indeed the case, it is safe to assume then that the Menorah plundered from the Temple was not the one that the Maccabees had intended it to be following their rebellion, a symbol of religious freedom. Rather, it was another attempt to suppress it. This might also be the reason why the Menorah was not present on Jewish coins commemorating the Jewish rebellion in 69-70 and 135. Other symbols from the Temple were used in its place.

Regardless of the changes and the origin of some of the details of the Menorah, it has become a symbol of Jewish religious freedom and political sovereignty and Jewish pride for the Eternal Jewish Homeland in Eretz Yisrael.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Magic of Hebrew




The Hebrew language... is the only glue which holds together our scattered bones. It also holds together the rings in the chain of time.... It binds us to those who built pyramids, to those who shed their blood on the ramparts of Jerusalem, and to those who, at the burning stakes, cried Shema Yisrael!”


I love languages. I speak six and teach three.  These factors, I believe, have provided me with a rather fair and objective way to study and evaluate the wisdom of languages. Furthermore, it has given me a tool to better understand and more greatly appreciate my own as the wise words of Johann Wolfgang van Goethe lucidly articulated it: “He who knows no foreign language does not know his own.”

Of course, everyone should love their own language first. I do. I love Hebrew, the few millennia old language of the Jewish People. I love it not merely because it is my language and the language of my People that connects our Jewish past, present and future as Y.L. Peretz suggested in the quote above. I love it because, I found that of all the languages that I know and teach, Hebrew is, by far, one of the most cogent and sensible.

And before anyone accuses me of being “an elitist” or being “biased,” please allow me to explain.

Hebrew, one of the most ancient languages in the history of mankind, is based on the root structure. What this means is that every word consists of basic three letters (sometimes four). These three letters are called Shoresh (root).

Just like the root of a tree that spawns a stem and branches, so does the root of a Hebrew word produce and create words (I understand that Latin is another language, albeit classical, that utilizes root etymology). Similarly, just as a root of a tree forms branches that are linked to it and resemble each other, so does the root of  Hebrew words help form words that, in most cases, share a similar meaning and are hence related.

Let me expound on this unique attribute of Hebrew with a few examples.

Zachor  זכור, which means remember, is a word almost every Jewish person is familiar with. Remember is not only a word, it is a central tenet in our Jewish culture, one that is an integral part of the DNA of the Jewish People, past and present
The three-letter root of  the word זכור is:   ז כ ר

A brief look at the list below will reveal that these three letters appear in all of them. Hence it is their root. Ensuing the logic that I tried to render above will help us see how these words are related.

זכרון,  zikaron: memory
 מזכרת, mazkeret: souvenir
 זכר zachar: remember
 זכר zecher: remnant
זכר  zacahar: male
מזכירה mazkira: secretary

To any non-Hebrew speaker, in this case, English speakers, some of these words would seem unrelated. And this is where the magic of Hebrew comes into play. Ensuing the logic that I tried to render above will help us see how these words are related. The simple fact that they all share the same Shoresh implies that they are related in their meaning, as I suggested above.

We can all agree that the English words: memory, remember, souvenir (which is supposed to remind us of places and people) remnant (which refers to that leftover that is supposed to remind us of something or someone) are related.

However, what do “male” and “secretary” have to do with memory, or remember, you may ask.

Let us start with the easy part. A secretary shares the same root of זכר  because he/she are expected to remember and remind their bosses of their schedule and other important issues.

There are, though, two possible explanations as to why the word “male” shares the same shoresh with “memory.” The first is found in the Reuveni essay which compiles a collection of Midrashim (the sages’ interpretation of Jewish Holy Scriptures). There, we are told that G-d names man “male” so that he can remember His Creator and his Commandments, for that is what man was created for.

The second explanation can be discerned through comparing semitic cultures.
In those cultures, the male was the provider, the one who inherited the family assets, whose name was passed on to posterity. That is how he was going to be remembered
 
No wonder then that Hebrew is also called לשון הקודש” (Leshon Hakodesh, the Holy language). קודש (Kodesh) is derived from the shoresh  ק ד ש which means to dedicate, to sanctify. It is the language of Am Yisrael and the Jewish People, עם קדוש (Am Kadosh, Holy nation) the ones who G-d sanctified and dedicated to Himself.

Am Yisrael Chai



Saturday, 30 June 2018

He Came to Curse and Ended up Blessing





There is a great lesson for Yisrael’s foes in this week’s Parashah (Torah Portion), Balak, a lesson that repeats itself numerous times through history, one they simply refuse to master.

The lesson has to do with the meaning of the name Yisrael, a name given to Yaakov (Jacob), a name the essence of which describes the destiny of Am Yisrael and the Jewish People. It is soaked with historical facts, ones that withstood the trials and tribulations of time. This historical evidence is blotched and sprinkled on the core of every Jewish generation from time immemorial. Our enemies rise to curse us and try to kill us but the Eternal of Yisrael being the loyal guardian of our People always subverts their intentions and turns their efforts to destroy us into making us stronger and more resilient while their curses transform into a blessing.

This week’s Parashah tells about Balak the king of Moav who follows the moves, battles and conquests of Am Yisrael as they make their way to Eretz Yisrael after they left Egypt. As he is not aware of G-d‘s command to Moses not to destroy Moav, naturally, he is concerned about the safety of his land and decides to join hands with Midian, another brutal enemy of Am Yisrael, to fight them.

The two states decide to send emissaries to one, Bilaam, a well-known sorcerer and ask him to curse Am Yisrael and bring defeat and destruction upon them.

G-d then appears to Bilaam at night and orders him to bless, not to curse Am Yisrael. Bilaam, fears G-d and continues to refuse to do as Balak orders him.

Balak, however, does not give up. He sends another delegation to Bilam. Again, Bilam refuses.

That night, G-d appears once more to Bilam and tells him to join Balak but to say only what He, G-d, instructs him to say.

Much to Balak’s dismay, Bilam ends up blessing and glorifying Am Yisrael.

Interestingly enough, some of his blessings are more of a formative account or even a prophecy. They accurately describe the eternal core of Am Yisrael, its determination, resilience and the nature of their relationship with the Nations, a relationship that is unique to Am Yisrael. Above all, it also describes G-d’s unending support for the Eternal Covenant that He entered with Am Yisrael.

Bilaam starts by saying: "How beautiful are your tentsJacob, your dwelling places, Israel” (Bamidbar 24:5) He is, in my view, describing the Yisrael of today. That is what Yisrael, the pearl, the flower of the middle east looks like. It is the Home of a people who after two millennia of wanderings have come back home, turned the desert into fertile land, built homes, schools and a high-tech empire.

Bilaam further states a fact that  is obvious to many :

the nation shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9) 

The term “reckoned” can be interpreted in two ways. One, that Am Yisrael is not counted among the nations of the world. The other, that Am Yisrael will themselves not reckon the opinion of other Nations.

That, too, is a truth we witness daily, especially the former part of the interpretation of that verse. A few years ago, I wrote an article on the subject. I called it: “The Lonely Yardstick.” In it, I shared that the world has three yardsticks to judge nations. One for democracies. One for dictatorships. One for Yisrael only. It is a very lonely yardstick, just like Yisrael which is not always counted among the nations of the world and is often the subject of severe criticism merely for its desire to guard its sovereignty and the security of all its citizens.

Finally, there is one more truth that Bilaam’s blessing states which I wish to bring to the readers’ attention. I am referring to verse 23:21 "No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” The unconditional Love of G-d to Yisrael is eternal. To our transgressions and occasional misbehaviour (we are still humans and I never claimed we were perfect!), G-d sometimes turns a blind eye.  We witness it here daily. Miracles upon miracles. G-d is always within Am Yisrael, ready to fulfill His promises to the descendants of Yaakov who became Yisrael. The Lion of Judah, Bilaam continues his blessing in the form of a prophecy, “Shall rise up and devour its victims.”

A bird’s eye view of the recent history of Yisrael demonstrates and attests to the accuracy of Bilaam’s prophetic words of blessing.

That is the unassailable lesson of this week’s Parasha. Am Yisrael and the Jewish People have been sentenced to life, to continue to thrive and always triumph. It lies at the heart of the name Y I S R A E L : “For you have fought with G-d and men and you shall prevail”

Now, if the enemies of Yisrael inside and out would finally take heed and internalize this very important lesson wouldn’t it be nice?

Shavua tov

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.










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