Monday, 17 June 2019

That Second Most Important Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have never looked back.

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

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

I Love you all and send you a big "Thank you" wherever you are. 
馃嚠馃嚤   馃嚠馃嚤

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Dream Refuses to Die

I really believed it was possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Dance Me to the End of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Peace and Unity among us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Medinat Yisrael 

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Judaism and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Goodbye New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Should We Remember or Never Forget?

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

Zachor is one of the most important tenets in our Jewish tradition, if not the most important. A few years ago, I wrote an article describing its centrality in our culture. (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain myself.

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, 1 March 2019


 In this week’s Parasha, Moshe assembles Am Yisrael and provides them with the final directions and guidelines for the monumental and important undertaking of building the Mishkan, G-d’s dwelling place among His People.

Nevertheless, instead of delving unswervingly into this matter, Moshe precedes it by reminding Am Yisrael of the importance of keeping the Shabbat.

The commandment concerning the Shabbat, as mentioned in Exodus 20 verse 7-10, states:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all they wor but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy G-d, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy so, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in tem is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

The reasoning behind keeping the Shabbat, as the commandment implies, is not just moral but also suggests that by resting and sanctifying it, one acknowledges the immensity of G-d as the creator of heaven and earth and all living things. 

Had Moshe wanted to remind Am Yisrael of the need to abstain from engaging in this colossal mission of building the Mishkan on Shabbat, all he had to do is remind them of the commandment and refresh their memory regarding it. Instead, however, he does not merely remind them of that, he also expands on it and tells them: “
“whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitation upon the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:2-3)

Unlike the referenced commandment given at Mount Sinai which puts G-d as the ultimate creator at its center, here Moshe stresses the onerous nature of keeping the Shabbat and attaches a punishment by death to those who break it.

Why the sudden preoccupation with the Shabbat and the stress on observing it, some may wonder. Moreover, why is it done in a forceful, threatening manner, others may ask. After all, should not the task of building the Mishkan be associated with pleasant positive and rewarding experiences?

To answer that question, one must look at the role that Shabbat serves in the essence of Am Yisrael and the covenant it entered with G-d at Mount Sinai. It was the Covenant that transformed us from a multitude of slaves into a Nation, forged into a cohesive unit where each member shares the same destiny.

There are other covenants that were entered in the Tanach. Each had its own, unique sign. Here are some examples. There was the Noahide Covenant with the rainbow designated as its sign. There was the Abrahamic Covenant. Circumcision is its mark.

Among all the Biblical covenants, the Sinaitic one entered at Mount Sinai was probably the most significant in the history of Am Yisrael. The symbol of that Covenant, also known as the Mosaic Covenant, is the Shabbat. Shabbat occurs fifty-two times in the Hebrew calendar. We have weekly reminders of it.

What use, therefore, would there be for spending time, efforts and other resources in building a dwelling place for G-d, if Am Yisrael does not remember its purpose in the first place?

Prioritizing the significance of the milestones in the journey of Am Yisrael is the lesson G-d wants to teach His People at the onset of the Parasha. Internalizing that, is of prime importance. Without keeping the Covenant, without recognizing the substance and the core of the Covenant, the Mishkan will end up being nothing but a mere grand material monument devoid of any meaning or purpose.

That is why Moshe needs to precede the instructions to build it by reminding Am Yisrael of their vocation and the unique part that they play on the chessboard of history irrelevant of constructing the Mishkan. And it is precisely by remembering this Covenant, signified by the Shabbat, that we can adhere to our fated role without the need for a physical or earthly structure to carry it out.

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 23 February 2019


Patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, it is not one possessed by many.
This week’s Parasha (Torah portion) teaches us the important lesson of the need to acquire that attribute as well as the disastrous outcome of impatience.
I am referring to the sin of the Golden Calf.

While Moshe is with G-d on mount Sinai where he spends forty days and forty nights, Am Yisrael is getting anxious, impatient and worries that Moshe is never coming back. They are afraid that they will have no leader to deliver them to Eretz Yisrael.

Can we blame them?

A wise person once wrote that patience hopefully comes with age and even then, it is not always easy to maintain or practice

Am Yisrael, lest we forget, is, at this stage, still in its infancy nation-wise. These former slaves became a nation merely a short while ago. They are uneducated, unversed in the art of freedom. They are lost, they are confused, and they feel hopeless. They are incapable of thinking independently, or taking their destiny in their own hands, not yet anyway. They want an answer here and now, an immediate gratification to their need, their hunger for security and for faith.

In order to make my point clearer, let me bring an example. Surely some of us remember or have witnessed the tantrum children throw when their parents leave them for even a short while, let alone for a long time. Imagine also that these young souls are under the care of a babysitter who is not very well versed in the skill of child rearing or does not possess the qualities of a leader and would thus do anything, at any cost to pacify or calm them down?

Now, if we transpose Moshe for “parent”, Am Yisrael for “the child” and “the babysitter” for Aaron, we can begin to grasp the difficulties that are unfolding in this Parasha. As it turns out, Aaron is not only an unqualified caretaker, he is a weak person and quickly caves in to the pressure that the forlorn Am Yisrael are applying.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not condoning the erection of the Golden Calf. I am merely trying to put myself in the place of all players in this Parasha. Would you, the reader, act differently to them? What would you do, had you been put in charge of overseeing such a rowdy impatient multitude?

G-d wishes to punish Am Yisrael. Moshe pleads with him to forgive them. G-d does. Am Yisrael, so it seems, learns the important lesson taught here.

Since then, we have come a long way. Patience and perseverance have been the key to our survival and ensuing success. They are the main ingredient that laces our Jewish optimism and unending determination to remain focused on our destined path, the one laid out for us at Mount Sinai. It has brought us to the Promised Land and will continue to guide us towards our ordained pervasiveness, the essence of our name, Yisrael, along the rocky road ahead of us.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, 8 February 2019

The Importance of Terumah

Terumah, in Hebrew, means “contribution.” It is the name of this week’s Parashah (Torah portion).

Too often the word is translated to mean “donation.” That is NOT what the Torah meant and that is not what our sages intended it to be perceived as when they named this week’s Parashah after it.

Furthermore, according to Zohar, Vol. II, p. 147a, the term means “lifting up.”

What is the significance of these different definitions to one small word, the reader might ask.

The answer lies in the subject of this week’s Parashah. It provides the details surrounding the construction of Beit Hamikdash (the Tabernacle), G-d’s dwelling place among His People. “Then Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8).
Just as He created and defined the universe through a set of very strict laws, so does G-d provide a very well-crafted and carefully demarcated set of principles and patterns that include materials and exact measurements for the blueprint that will eventually materialize into His House. His instructions are very clear and for a reason.

This House will be built with the wisdom of the heart. That combined balance between mental and emotional intelligence is what will be the corner stone of Beit Hamikdash. Its construction and eventual structure will reflect the true nature of G-d. Though G-d can create a universe and a dwelling House among His People, both with set boundaries, He himself is limitless.

In other words, as we, Jews, know, G-d’s presence cannot be either confined to or openly manifest itself in our physical world. The intention, the nature and the purpose of the House G-d wishes the Yisraelits to build for Him can be found in Deuteronomy 12:22: “Then there shall be a place which the Lord, your G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.” The name will be the essence of that House, we are told.

Some may stop and ask, why does G-d put forth so much detail when He describes what some may consider a very elaborate and complicated plan? The Yisraelites would surely have other issues to address when they come to Eretz Yisrael. They will have to run an orderly society. They will have to establish a proper judicial system, they will have to have a strong army, fight enemies (as their name Yisrael suggests) and many other matters. Surely, G-d could have built that House merely by speaking. After all, did He not create a whole universe purely by His exclamations?

And that is where the Terumah, contribution, comes into the picture.

G-d does not merely wish to have a House among the Yisraelites, a House that will bear His name. G-d wishes each and everyone of them to be part of this grand master plan. He asks every single member of their People to contribute, each in their own way, towards it. That way they will not be merely spectators, they will become part of it. They will help create it. Creators cannot separate themselves from their creation. This way, G-d wishes to ensure that He will not only dwell in His House but also in them, in their hearts and in their essence

That is why, I believe, the Zohar, as mentioned above, defines, Terumah also as “lifting up.” When G-d dwells in each and everyone of us, our soul is enriched by invisible wings which lift us and enables us to soar to blessed and blissful spheres which, in many cases, our daily burden bars us from reaching. It brings us closer and closer to what G-d has destined us to become “a Goy Kadosh,” “A Holy Nation.”

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Na'aseh V'Nishma

This week’s Parasha is Mishpatim. Am Yisrael is at the foot of Mount Sinai and is receiving G-d’s Laws.

I have been to Mount Sinai. I stood on top of it where Moshe received the Torah and where G-d revealed Himself to Am Yisrael. G-d did not appear to them in any shape or form, merely in a spectacular scene in the configuration of sounds, lights, torches and the reverberation of the Shofar. "讜ְ讻ָ诇 讛ָ注ָ诐 专ֹ讗ִ讬诐 讗ֶ转 讛ַ拽ּ讜ֹ诇ֹ转 讜ְ讗ֶ转 讛ַ诇ַּ驻ִּ讬讚ִ诐 讜ְ讗ֵ转 拽讜ֹ诇 讛ַ砖ֹּׁ驻ָ专 讜ְ讗ֶ转 讛ָ讛ָ专 注ָ砖ֵׁ谉 讜ַ讬ַּ专ְ讗 讛ָ注ָ诐 讜ַ讬ָּ谞ֻ注讜ּ 讜ַ讬ַּ注ַ诪ְ讚讜ּ 诪ֵ专ָ讞ֹ拽" (Exodus, 20; 14).  This dazzling audio visual spectacle must have had a profound effect on those witnessing it for according to the Hebrew quote above, they “saw” the sounds. The root Re’eh, Reish Alef, Hey  专,讗,讛  also appears in the Tanach in the context  of “understand.” They internalized the divine message and acknowledged it by pledging, “Na’aseh Ve’nishma.” We shall do and we shall hear.

What a sight, what an emotional upheaval it must have been for those present. When I stood on top of that mountain and looked down at the valley underneath where all of Am Yisrael was gathered, I closed my eyes for a brief moment. I was one of them. I could feel the surge of their emotions, the quivering of the foundations of their being, their joy, their ecstasy and the reflection of awe in their eyes. I could feel the words and the sounds that they witnessed as they were being etched on the walls of their essence, an imprint that has been passed on to us, their descendants.
Standing there, I felt proud, very proud, for yet another reason.

The exact number of those that came out of Egypt is not clear. We do know, however, that there were at least 600,000 men among them. So one can safely surmise that there were at least 600,000 witnesses to what I described above, witnesses to their covenant with the G-d of Avraham, Yaakov and Yitzchak.

 Now, what other religion, especially among the monotheistic ones, can claim such a widespread testament to validate that experience? And we all know that there is credibility and authority in numbers. 

With all due respect to other religions where Divine revelation rendered itself to one individual, I am very glad that to our covenant there were so many witnesses! It certainly sends a strong message out.

And, as a Jew I am honoured to be one of its carriers.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

As a Jew, I define myself in Hebrew only (Part Two)

About two years ago, I published the following article. Needless to add, I still stand behind every word I wrote in it.

Recently, as result of my studies towards earning a PhD in Hebrew/Yiddish Literature starting at the end of 19th century through post WWII, I realized, yet again, the need to stress and share with my fellow Jews why I believe it is important that as Jews, we should define ourselves in Hebrew only.

As many know, the period I mentioned above also includes one of the darkest, if not the darkest chapter in our history, the Shoah (AKA Holocaust). I have resolved that from now on, I will use the Hebrew word Shoah when I refer to that chapter.

Here are some of my reasons.

The etymology of the word “Holocaust” stems from the ancient Greek holocaustun “a thing wholly burnt” and Latin holocaustum origins which later morphed into its Old (12th century) French holocauste “sacrifice by fire, burnt offering,” and the English “holocaust” forms. ( According to Morris and Morris, Dictionary and Phrase Origins (1962), in its original form, a holocaust was a sacrificial burnt offering to pagan gods in pre-Christian times.”

Sacrificial burnt offerings, as a means to overcome guilt for failing to live according to one or another moral code, is a practice that many cultures adopted, especially in ancient times. Yes, Torah also requires the sinner to bring sacrifice. The only difference, though, between it and other sources, is that in Hebrew, the language of Torah, we do not call it “burnt offering.” The Hebrew term for that practice is referred to as “Offering Korban” (from the word karov – to come close). In the Hebrew/Jewish tradition, the offering of Korban, or sacrifice, according to Rabbi Steven Heil, “is governed by strict regulations, “so that “we tangibly relate to G-d in a true proper way.” The detailed rituals of sacrifices as outlined in the Torah played an essential role in our ultimate way to serve G-d.  

Is that how the world and some Jews wish to refer to the untimely death of my young cousins and millions of other innocent Jews, young and old, who were killed by the Nazi war machine? Were they a “burnt offering” of some sort, as the term “holocaust” suggests? Were they even a “korban” for any sins committed?

Shoah, which in Hebrew means “catastrophe,” on the other hand, defines that atrocious episode in Jewish history more accurately. That event was aimed at eradicating our People from off the face of this earth altogether. There was no sacrifice involved here, merely some evil force that played god and decided who should live and who should die. Whichever way one looks at it, it is a “catastrophe.”

Are we, Jews, going to let a term that originated in ancient pagan cultures and has nothing to do with our sad experience, define us?

If other nations, or groups wish to use the term “holocaust” to define efforts to annihilate or slaughter them, let them use it. They are already doing it anyway.

For me, as a Jew, however, there is only one word to describe what happened to my parents and their generation. I call it Shoah.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019


I dedicate this article to Dr. Drori of Bar-Ilan University whose excellent course, “States of Prayer” has provided the inspiration for writing it.

Prayer is one of the most important tenets in Judaism. It is an act, I believe, that many, regardless of faith or creed, have performed, at least once, at some stage in their lives.

Prayer can reveal itself in various ways and different forms. For some, it is a means, a conduit of communication, be it with G-d as the recipient, another addressee or simply with one’s own self. It is an act that can be conducted publicly, privately and almost anywhere and at any time.

For me, prayer mostly belongs to the realm of privacy. It is a time to step back from my busy daily schedule and reflect. I use that very precious and time confined deed to reconnect with G-d, the universe that surrounds me and above all, with my own inner self.

As such, on many occasions, I compose my own plea, depending on the circumstances and its recipients. I may not always utter the words vociferously. Many a times, it is only my lips that are moving. Other times, the words are forming in my head. They take on their own shape, colours and rhythms. It is then that, like the flicker of a candle flame which dances ecstatically as it seems to aspire to free itself from the wick, so does my soul wiggle and shake as if it desires to rise above my corporal body and wander upwards towards some unseen source of strength that can help fulfill my heart’s wishes and desires.

 One of the main ingredients, however, if not the most important one that prayer needs to possess, if it is to be effective, is what we Jews call Kavanah (intent).

Any prayer that lacks Kavanah, the engine that powers it, the steam that fuels and energizes it, is akin to an empty vessel that is used for decoration purposes only. Kavanah brings meaning to the prayer. It is essential for the cleansing of one’s soul. It is extremely vital to what the author of Deuteronomy 10:16 so eloquently describes as the circumcision of the heart.

For me, prayer is the process which provides the catalyst for the ongoing course of the distillation of my essence. It weaves a cloak of purity that wraps and cradles the walls of my being. It is the spring that renews my Jewish fountains of strength as it fills the void created by a world that confines my ancient soul to a state of existence which reduces it to stressing, valuing and almost idolizing the “here” and “now.”

 For I know that there is more to and above our corporal presence on this earth. I have had a glimpse at it. And it is prayer, sincere prayer, that provides me with the compass which leads me along the path to the staircase that will one day get me to that wonderful state where so many aspire to reach yet very few do.