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.


“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


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

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Guilt of Some

I just got back from a seminar on Yiddish literature in Lithuania and Poland.

Needless to say, it was a very difficult trip. The monuments, the memorial sites, the death camps, every place was soaked with painful memories from our Jewish people’s recent sanguine history.

The visit to Poland, naturally, was overshadowed by the recent Polish law which calls for criminalizing some Holocaust speech accusing the Polish state or people of involvement or responsibility for the Nazi occupation during World War II. Punishment for breaking it can range from a fine or up to three years in prison. It went into effect on March 1, 2018.

Those who know me, know that as a daughter of two Shoah survivors, the subject is close to my heart. Some simply did not understand why I even bothered to visit Poland after this law had been enacted. For them such a law is a slap in the face of the victims and chose to ban Poland.

This was not my first visit to Poland. It may not be the last either. Let me make one point clear. I do not go there for cheap shopping or a vacation. I go there to tell the victims that they are not, nor will they ever be forgotten.

The last visit, however, brought about some insights which shed a light on a new reality. That reality, I believe, is not a pleasing one to the eyes, minds and collective subconsciousness of the Polish people.

Based on testimonies of friends and relatives who had visited Poland in the past, mainly before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Poland did not have nearly as many monuments commemorating the Shoah and its Jewish victims as it does now. Most tributes were dedicated to the Polish victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupation. And there is no denial that they were many.

Nowadays, more than ever, though, there are additional and new markers. They were erected to honour the Jewish ones. These are yet another permanent reminder of the extent of the Jewish graveyard that Poland was turned into by the Nazis and their Polish collaborators.

A note of caution is called for. In times of anger and grief, our human nature tends to generalize. One cannot and should never make sweeping statements. There were some Poles who helped Jews. My father was saved by one. I, for one, will never forget that.

Let us also not forget that many Poles were themselves victims of the Nazis. However, anyone who denies the collaboration between Poles and the Nazis verges on Shoah denial. That includes some of my Jewish friends who have suddenly become bleeding hearts for Poles.

Many Poles did assist the Nazi killing machine as it ploughed through their country in an effort to make Europe “Judenrein.” My parents lived through that. They, other members of my family and their close friends were my most reliable and trusted witnesses for what happened during those times.

No one, be it an individual or a nation, likes to be constantly reminded of or hammered about their past transgressions.

That is precisely what the many monuments with Hebrew and Yiddish epitaphs inscribed on them, which have sprung since the end of the Cold War and which are strewn all over Poland, do. They put a permanent mirror to the face of a nation that was turned into a killing field pushing many of its members to becoming willing and in some cases unwilling collaborators.

And that, in my view, that constant reminder of past transgressions prompted the Polish Law which I mentioned above. It is, I believe, part of the Polish nation’s way to help its members overcome a hard, and unfortunately for them, a dark and uncomfortable chapter in their nation’s history. It is their defense mechanism, one means to cleanse and wash off their guilt especially when it is sprinkled with small doses of projection as reflected in the words of its Prime Minister who claimed that the Shoah had not only Polish, German or Ukrainian perpetrators, but Jewish ones as well.

It may help the Poles. As far as I am concerned, though, “Never Again” is as vibrant in me as ever before. Am Yisrael Chai!

May we all have a meaningful Pesach.

Saturday, 17 March 2018


As Jews around the world prepare for the Pesach Holy Day, perhaps it is time to rethink the message and lessons of this very significant and meaningful celebration in our history.

The Hebrew word Pesach means “Pass over.” It is derived from the Book of Shemot (Exodus), 12:7 where the Torah recounts the story of the ten plagues brought upon the Egyptians following Pharaoh’s refusal to “let my people go.”

When G-d was about to inflict the Egyptians with the tenth plague, smiting their first born sons, He told Moses to instruct the Congregation of Yisrael to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood so that G-d could “pass over” their homes and spare them.

Subsequent to G-d’s wonderous work,  the Congregation of Yisrael was finally freed from slavery, at least the physical kind. Freedom and liberation, however,  as we all know, is not confined merely to unshackling the corporeal chains of bondage. It also involves ridding oneself of the obsequious and submissive mindset so emblematic to those who have been oppressed for a long period of time.

In order to better understand this point, allow me to go back to that verse in Shemot where Moses pleads with Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

That Hebrew verse, to be precise, does not use the term “let” or “free.” Rather, it says “send my people.” (Another unfortunate result of the disastrous mistranslation of our Tanach!) For me, the verb “send” implies a deliberate act with a specific destination, a much more powerful and calculated design by G-d. It was the first step towards becoming a free people, physically, spiritually, culturally and nationally. Not an easy mission for a nation that had been suppressed, abused, isolated and on the verge of eradication, considering Pharoah’s own version of a “final solution” to the Hebrews.

Any slave, be it an individual, a group or a People would have welcomed with open arms such a ploy, it would seem. For who enjoys the status of slavery?

I can almost feel the excitement of Benei Yisrael as they rush to bake their Matzah, pack their belongings, and prepare themselves for their destiny. I can see them gathering their flocks, children and preparing for the great occasion, their deliverance.
Unfortunately, the excitement seemed to have worn off rather fast. Once they realized the hardships ahead of them, they began to miss the slavery routine in Egypt.

Suddenly, the “house of Bondage” did not seem that bad. Moreover, it had swiftly turned into a house of luxury and plentiful, the idyllic place. “If only we had died by G-d’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and fish and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Shemot 16: 2-4)

The Yisraelites may have been freed from physical bondage. They were still, however, inflicted with an emotional and spiritual one, one that had been imposed upon them and their forefathers for a few hundred years.

G-d had, naturally, expected it. He knew that one cannot become free merely by removing physical shackles.  It is, therefore, I believe, that He instructed Moses to wander in the desert for forty years, when a brief overview of the map of the region shows that the route to the Promised Land could have been cut shorter.  Forty years is the approximate life span of a generation.

The slavery generation had to die off, it had to remain in the desert before Am Yisrael could live a free and fulfilling life in its ancestral Homeland. The younger generation had to be coached and prepared to run and oversee its own life without the daily pressure of persecutors.

Fast forward to our times. Has much changed?

It is only seventy years ago, with the establishment of the state of Yisrael, when the Jewish people were liberated from the House of Bondage called Galut (Diaspora). The Galut and its reality indoctrinated Jews to a submissive mentality, the kind that forced us to seek the approval and love of others. Jews were mental slaves.

Unfortunately, some of our people have not yet shed that mindset. They continue to seek endorsement of the nations. They are desperately needy of Love and acceptance and consider the support of strangers the “pots of meat and fish and ate all the food.” Have we forgotten the suffering we endured because of that very long chapter in our history?

My concerns and my questions are, if it took Moses forty years to rid the Yisraelites of a few hundred years old slavish Galut mentality, how long will it take the Jewish state and nation to rid some of its members of a two millennia old one?

How long will it take all of us to Pass Over the threshold from the slave disposition to that of a Free Nation, the kind G-d had intended us to be?

May we all have a meaningful Pesach, full of the celebration of Life and Freedom.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Can a “Good” Gentile Replace a “Not so Good” Jew?

Time and again and more so lately, we have noticed some trying to convince us that a “Christian Zionist” is better than a “non-Zionist Jew.”

We will not tire you, again, with definitions though we believe that such an approach stems from lack of understanding of Jewish terminology. At times, when discussing issues such as “Zionism” and “religion,” it seems as if many are speaking completely different languages and not communicating at all.  We are dealing with Jewish concepts here, concepts that, due to inadequate education and after centuries of being defined by others, are not clear to some Jews, not to mention non-Jews. 

Frankly, we care about Jews knowing Jewish ideas and concept first albeit that we see Gentiles, some utterly disconnected to the Jewish reality, engaging in efforts to define us and invariably falling short.

We also realize that many non-Jews are sincere and genuine about their desire to educate themselves on Jewish subjects, some from sincere interest, others looking for the roots of their own beliefs. Nothing wrong with it. Too often, unfortunately, such interests are in support of an agenda that is not always consistent with Jewish concerns and realities.

Why is it that so many non-Jews, Christians, Muslims and others get offended when we tell them that only Jews can be Zionists and can really understand what Zionism means to Jews since only Jews have practiced Zionism through their hopes and prayers over several millennia?

That is not to say that help and sympathy from Gentiles is unwelcome.  On the contrary, in a smaller and smaller world where we are all more and more interconnected, in a world where there are so many hostilities, interest by non-Jews in the justice of Zionism and the welfare of the Jewish People is most welcome, and those that speak out about the truth for us are most appreciated.

 There is, however, a line that must be drawn.  While support, help, advice of a real friend is always welcome, there is a line not to cross, and that is where non-Jews take it upon themselves to tell Jews what Jews should believe about Jewish issues and concepts.

Why?  Because it is akin to having a Chinese man who has read Shakespeare in Chinese only, thinking about it in terms of Chinese tradition and culture, going to Oxford University and lecturing English Shakespeare experts on what Shakespeare really meant, with the British experts afraid of offending the Chinese enthusiast.  Sounds silly?  Of course, it is. 

 When it comes to Zionism and Judaism, though, we too often see Christians crossing that line, telling Jews what Judaism and Zionism should mean to them, in some cases representing Jewish organizations as paid speakers and lecturers, other times as Missionaries aiming to convert Jews to their faith systems.   In some cases, we have seen Gentile activists from persecuted minority groups themselves, spending their energies telling Jews what to believe, while ignoring the plight of their own peoples.  A shame indeed when their own people need their help and energies.

Try to understand something.  Most Jews would love to see Kurdistan, for instance, as a free, independent and prosperous state.  After all, Kurds are one people among a small number of nations, that were always hospitable to Jews.  But while we support, argue for, and want to help Kurds achieve their freedom, that does not mean that we will ever fully understand what it is like being a Kurd, as we do not have their history, we do not speak their language, and we can’t see the world exactly as they might.  So, while we can be pro-Kurdish nationalism, we cannot be Kurdish nationalists.  We do not find that insulting or offensive if a Kurd says that to us. It is realistic and factual. 
In the same way, Gentiles can support Zionism, can help, and that help is welcome, but they cannot be expected to see and feel Zionism’s ancient historic role, it’s effects and consequences, as Jews experience it and see it.

The same goes when it comes to Judaism.  No one can see Judaism better than through Jewish eyes. No one can replace a Jew no matter how “bad” anyone believes that Jew is and no matter how saintly any non-Jew who wishes to replace them is.   That is why conversion to Judaism is not just a change in theology, but more akin to naturalization into an entire culture.

One more point that we hope will be understood as meant.
Some Jews who see Gentile support for Israel as great flattery and who are afraid of saying something that might offend even missionaries that are trying hard to convert us, how about those gentiles who threaten to stop supporting us if we call them and their agenda out?

Consider this: Friends love you for what you are and who you are.  If they do not, if they are so easily offended, they are not friends and never were.

Let us say it again, this time louder and clearer. If anyone attaches their support for us to being able to appropriate that is which is ours and threaten to cease that support at the drop of a hat if we resist and object to it, then they have never been genuine friends in the first place.

And with friends such as these, who needs enemies?

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

Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, 26 February 2018

It is great to have you back Home, Ms. X

Life can be one amazing rollercoaster for some. Mine has been. It is not only what happens to us that makes it that way, it is also those we attract and invite into it and those we inadvertently meet on our life’s path.

 Ms. X, the person whose story I am about to share with you, has been my friend on FB for sometimes now. Today, for some unknown reason, she shared it with me for the first time. Several hours later, I am still deeply touched by that revelation.

I decided to tell her story for two reasons. The first has to do with my desire to expose missionaries and their antics, an undertaking I have chosen as our people are very dear to me and I will fight to defend them against any efforts to steal our souls. The second, Ms. X’s story is an inspiring and in my view, a heroic account of a young woman who, despite repeated efforts to drown her spiritually and emotionally was able to unshackle herself from the chains that held her captive for a long time, educate herself about our great Jewish tradition, came back Home and is doing her share to educate young Jewish children so that they do not fall pray to missionaries and their devious antics.

Ms. X was born in the U.S. to two Jewish parents. Her biological father passed away when she was about 6 years of age. He mother remarried a Yisraeli man and they ended up living here for about two years before moving back to the U.S.

When Ms. X attended school in California, she met her first husband, a non- Jew. They settled in the Bible Belt area.

In a way, Ms. X represents a growing segment of the Jewish population in the U.S., the assimilated kind. Though born and raised in conservative Judaism, she felt that something was missing in her Jewish upbringing. It was her need to establish a personal relationship with G-d.

She was fertile ground for missionaries who rushed to fill in the void.

It happened one bright day when she was driving with her step daughter past a building which looked like a synagogue. It had Yisraeli and American flags flying side by side in front of it. The following Friday night, she to attend services there.

As she soon learned, it was a “messianic synagogue.” Upon arrival, she was greeted by a Jewish woman who befriended her and “took her under her wings” instantaneously. That woman and the “rabbi” explained to her how she could “have the best of both world” by becoming a member. They spoke to her about their close relationship with god, something they evidently learned was missing in her life and capitulated on it. They also offered solace for her terminally ill daughter and sensed that she was lonely with no family and no friends as her then husband was trying to isolate her from them. Naturally, he approved of her new affiliation. In short, she was the ultimate and perfect target for the missionaries’ mission.

At one point, her “benefactors” discovered that one of her close friends was dying of cancer. That is when they started to apply pressure on her to try and convince her dying friend to become a follower of their messiah. They laid on her that if her friend died without having accepted him, he was doomed to damnation and go to hell which, of course would be her fault.

When she tried to leave that group after over 5 years, she faced threats, pressure and intimidation. “As I was leaving the Messianics, I found you,” she told me. “I found your articles beyond helpful. I learned so much from you,” she added much to my surprise.  It was that dying friend, Ms. X told me, who had directed her to my articles. In fact, it was this mutual friend of ours that helped her during those days and bring her c back to Judaism.

Fortunately for her, Ms. X also turned to Chabbad and they, as always, were extremely supportive. It was the Chabbad Rabbi who told her, “The colour of your soul has always and always will be Jewish even if you were lost for a while.”

Ms. X is now happily married to a Jewish man. She teaches at a local Jewish school and volunteers at Chabbad Torah time. She is active in exposing missionaries, especially those targeting Jews. “My heart goes out to all those lost Jews. I want them to know that hope is not lost and that they can always come back Home.”

“I will help you in any way I can to expose their antics,” she later wrote to me in a private message. “Missionaries need to be stopped. They go after Jews and lie to them. They go after the vulnerable and the weak and exploit their need to be loved and supported.”

I will be going to sleep with a smile on my face tonight. Unbeknown to me, I have helped save a Jewish soul. According to our sages, that is akin to saving a whole world. Life is beautiful!

Happy Purim and may our Jewish People continue to go from strength to strength

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Guardians of Shabbat

It is Shabbat morning here in Eretz Yisrael.

As I sit here, on this sunny and peaceful morning, sipping my morning coffee, I marvel at the wisdom of G-d, for dedicating one day a week to resting and turning the Shabbat into an Oneg , a pleasure.

Shabbat is the most important holiday in the Jewish/Hebrew calendar. It has got to be. Not only does it occur 52 times a year, it is first and foremost the sign of the Covenant between G-d and Am Yisrael, entered at Mount Sinai.

According to Shemot Rabba 25:12; Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1 "the scion of David (Mashiach) will come if they [Am Yisrael] keep just one Shabbat, because the Shabbat is equivalent to all the mitzvot.”

Now, I am not an observant Jew in the traditional sense of the word. I do not have the self-discipline that is needed to be one. I do, however, respect this Mitzvah and remember it each Friday evening when I light Shabbat candles.

For me, Shabbat is a day of reckoning, a day or reflection and a day of expressing gratitude.

Shabbat, according to Ahad Ha'am, a Jewish writer and thinker, has also preserved and shielded Am Yisrael more than our people have kept it.

But is it not only remembering the Shabbat that we, Jews, are required. We are also commanded to observe it.

Let us be honest to ourselves, my fellow Jews. Have we ALL kept and observed this Mitzvah?

The answer, my friends, is known.

We, or at least most of us, do, however, remember Shabbat. In fact, here in Eretz Yisrael, it is impossible not to remember it. We feel it in the air each Friday. The stores are hustling and bustling with last minute shopping. Jews, observant, secular, atheists, as one, wish each other "Shabbat Shalom," as they rush home to prepare, each in their own way, for this very special day.

This few millennia old tradition has been passed on to us from generation to generation.

Time to pause and ask ourselves, who were the true guardians of Shabbat over the centuries?

The answer always leads me to one group, Hareidi and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Probably not the answer that many would like to hear. In my view, though, it is that very group which many of us disagree with, oppose, mock, despise and resent, which has contributed much to preserving the Shabbat legacy. And yes, there are many aspects of that segment in our Jewish society that I will never approve of.

Nonetheless, let us face it. It is them and their practices that have brought us thus far. If not for their staunch adherence and dedication, often at a dear and high price for their safety and well-being, the Mitzvah and tradition of keeping Shabbat would have not been observed and preserved, at least not the way and manner that G-d has intended for us.

I believe it is them, the few
 who our great national poet, Bialik described in his immortal poem “ אם יש את נפשך לדעת “ (“If your soul wishes to know” which I highly recommend to any Hebrew literate person to read) as “a few ears of grain, a shadow of what has remained, sorrowful Jews, with dried faces, Jews of the Galut (Diaspora), the ones carrying its burden, those who drown their sorrow in a fading page of Gemara, trying to consign to oblivion their poverty through the ancient debate of the Midrash, trying to forget their worries by reciting Psalms.” A poor sight indeed, but one that has ensured our role in history and has helped us remain the People of Eternity. They are, according to Bialik, “the treasure of our soul,” the “guardians of our great Jewish Spirit.” They are but “a spark,” a sliver of Hope, "the remnant that was miraculously rescued from the great fire which our forefathers had kept burning on their altars, always.”

Hareidi Jews, whether we like to admit it or not, also, are the guardians of our people and our tradition. I will never forget that. I cannot forget that and forever will be grateful to them and all the other Guardians of the wonderful gift of Shabbat throughout our turmoiled and eventful Jewish history.

Shavua tov.