Tuesday, April 28

Today I Met a Traditional Jew

Today I was in Yerushalaim.  I stood outside Sha'ar HaShalshelet, looking at Har HaBayit, and, in addition to praying, I had a nice chat with a policewoman who is currently studyign at the Police Academy in Beit Shemesh (and dogn shifts in Yerushalaim).
She is not religious, she said.  Just traditional.    

As a traditional Jew, she has been skipping the cheese at suppers in the Academy if it isn't six full hours since she finished the meat portionof her lunch.  (Yes, I told her Rav Ovadia's psak on the subject).

And, as a traditional Jew of Indian background, sh is strict about her family's custom of not swimming inteh ocean during Sefirat HaOmer, despite living pratcically on the beach in Ashqelon.

No, she isn't completely strict about Shabbat.  So, she isn't "religious," she is traditional, she said, and showed me aphotoo of her son in gan, wearing kippa and tallit, saying the beracha while holding the hallot at Kabbalat Shabbat.

Monday, April 27

Wow! Is this book Jewish?

One of my math students made Aliya only a few months ago.

As she was solving a math riddle, the clues spelt out a phrase which I informed her comes from Pirkei Avot.
"Wow!" she exclaimed, "Is this book Jewish?"
We old-timers take it for granted that a"secular" math text book in Israel doesn't only teach math.  It teaches Gematriya, it teaches that 14 and 15 are written with the letter ט, not י, in order to avoid writing Gd's name.  It talks about Jewish holidays and Shiv'at HaMinim, the characters are named "Mishpahat Cohen" and "Mishpahat Levi," and it has quotes from Pirkei Avot as the solutions to riddles.
But, to a new Oleh, the idea that EVERYTHING in Israel is not only in Hebrew, but actually connected to our religion, is truly awesome.

And, if we think about it, it really IS awesome.  

A people that, more than once, has almost been completely wiped out, has made a comeback and rebuilt their ancient homeland.

A language that was not spoken in over 2,000 years is now the mother tongue of an entire country, with 4 of the world's top 300 universities teaching almost exclusively in that language.

And a religion that has, over the millenia, seen reforms, rejections, intermarriages, forced conversions-out, and more rejections, this religion is the centre of every aspect of life in this amazing country, including commonly used phrases in kids' math books.

Wednesday, April 22

Why are the two days together?

Every year, more and more people ask the same question.
Why is Yom HaZikaron set on the day before Yom HaAtzmaut?  How can we be properly happy tonight when we have spent all of today in mourning?

Unfortunately, every year, there are more and more people, new Olim as well as veteran Israelis , who have lost someone dear (whether they knew him personally or not).  Every year, there are more people to whom this question is relevant, more people who truly feel pain on Yom HaZikaron.

The answer is painful.  The answer is all about us and our uniqueness.

Despite the inflatable hammers and "snow" spray, Yom HaAtzmaut is not just a day to party.  Yom Hatzmaut is about gratitude.  "Yemei Hallel V'Hodaya," is how the Chief rabbinate declared Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalaim. 

It is important to note that the official Yom Yerushalaim  ceremony takes place on Giv'at HaTahmoshet, site of the worst battle for the liberation of our holy city.

We aren’t celebrating our independence tonight and tomorrow, we are expressing thanks.  Just as eating the marror is a vital part of the Seder , because we MUST remember how horrible the Egyptian slavery and mass murder was, in order to appreciate freedom from Human bondage, on that very night that we are kings, so too we are obligated tonight to still taste the bitter herbs of anti-Semitism and the still-continuing war the nations around us have declared upon our nation.

When we say Hallel tonight and tomorrow, we are thanking Hashem for all that we have here, knowing full well that, but for His Miracles, we would only have Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.  

By the laws of nature, the Jewish people should not have survived the holocaust; how much more so the Jewish religion should have been eradicated.

By the laws of nature, the local Arab attacks (with assistance from the British Mandatory guards), should have succeeded in quashing any desire for independent rule over this difficult land (just as they have recently caused many Jews to feel that Yehuda and the Shomron are simply not worth the blood and tears).  

By the laws of nature, the organized armies of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan (with supplies from Kuwait, Iran, and more) should have taken no time at all to finish off 600,000 Jews, weakened from sieges and from the Holocaust.

At the time that Israel declared independence, one out of every 20 Jews living here the time was a soldier.  The youngest Jews to die while actively defending their homes were between  9 and 14 years old.   Our only tank at the time of the invasion did not have a gun.  We had no war planes.
We lost fully one percent of Israel's Jews in that war.   And today, as before our independence, there are still local Arabs who do not accept our right to be here, who continue to fight and attempt to chase us away.  There are still those who take the initiative to run over Jewish pedestrians.

On Yom HaAtzmaut we say Thank You; to HaShem who breaks His Own rules of nature in order to ensure our survival, as well as to those whose deaths or injuries, are the Silver Platter upon which HaShem gave us  this Land and our freedom.  Tonight, we do not just celebrate;  we are still crying.  Our happiness is marred by the sacrifices that our brothers and sisters have made and continue to make, so that the Jewish people can continue to rebuild our nation.

My personal prayer is  that we use today's tears to remind us that we must work in order to deserve our brethren's sacrifice.  May we recognize that it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that their losses of limb and life were not in vain; that, from the dry bones of our nation 67 years ago, we must strive to create a living and breathing, honest, decent, loving, kind and considerate society – a model to the nations of what humans can and should be.  
I hope that, by keeping the two days attached, we remember to fulfill this mission in good times as well as we remember it in hard times.

Thursday, July 10

Israel At War

Just a short thought, as we are once again at war:
In teh words of last weeks' Torah reading: "Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaacov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael - how beautiful are your homes and communities, Israel."  In times of need, everyone opens theirs doors and hearts, volunteering, donating, contributing.

A few examples: 
A farmer who had received a shipment ofsaplings to plant was called up with "tzav 8" - a draft notice that says, "come NOW!!"   Within minutes of a facebook posting requesting volutneers to plant his saplings, a new notice was sent out:  "We have enough volunteers, thank you."

Toys, games and treats are being collected in communities all around the country, for children who are spending too much of their summer vacation in bomb sheleters. 

The educational TV station, which usually only broadcasts during daylight hours, is broadcasting 24/7, specifically with content that will help calm raw nerves.

There are websites for people to ask to be hosted, if they need a break from their towns' missile alert sirens, and for others to offer to host, such as:   http://www.israelyachad.co.il .

Tاhe municipaility of Haifa, among others , is using its resources to coordinate and asssist hosting families and running camps and activities for the guests/

and, from my hometown (from Michael Goldman):
Beit Shemesh does not always feature in the fuzzy feel-good stories! Sadly this is rather unfair on the people of Beit Shemesh who do a huge amount of good, both for those who live here and beyond.
One such tale.
We have soldiers from around the country stationed in our city on stand-by for frontline duties. It seems that they will be with us for Shabbat. They cannot be hosted, as they have to stay together.
I was asked to help with chicken for Friday night (for 70 people).
I popped something on FB and I thought it make take a little while for the request to be fulfilled by friends from the neighbourhood.
Within 10 minutes it was taken care of with plenty of over-supply offered.
I love the people of Beit Shemesh!

I am ending with a special prayer that was sent out, written by Rav Dov Berkowitz to be said when lighting candles for this Shabbat, to thank Gd for the many visible miracles thus far, and to ask for onty good news from this Operation:
תפילת הודיה ובקשת רחמים בשעת הדלקת נרות, נוסח ע"י הרב דב ברקוביץ:
"מודה אני לפניך בכל לבי ובכל נפשי על הנסים הגלויים שזכינו להם בימי המערכה ששונאינו כפו עלינו. ככתוב בדברי קדשך, "כי הנה אויבך יהמיון ומשנאך נשאו ראש. אמרו לכו ונכחידם מגוי ולא ייזכר שם ישראל עוד" - ואתה ברחמיך הרבים פורש עלינו סוכת שלומך. מאות כדורי אש, שוגרו לערי עמך, נחתו על ארצך הטובה, ואני משתאה ומתפעלת על נפלאותיך שבכל רגע ורגע עמנו, ועל רוב טובך שאתה שומר עלינו ועל ילדנו מכל פגע.
יהי רצון מלפניך שברחמיך הרבים תגן עלינו מכל דבר רע ושתשמור את תושבי ארצנו ואת חיילנו המקדשים את שמך בעולם.
יהי רצון מלפניך שתשלח מזור לתושבי הדרום ותחזק את לבם באמונתך ובתקוות ישועתך הקרובה לבוא.
יהי רצון מלפניך שנזכה כולנו בשמחת עקירת הרשע מעולמך ברוך החיים. "וּבְכֵן צַדִּיקִים יִרְאוּ וְיִשְֹמָחוּ וִישָׁרִים יַעֲלֹזוּ, וַחֲסִידִים בְּרִנָּה יָגִילוּ וְעוֹלָתָהּ תִּקְפָּץ פִּיהָ וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כֻּלָּהּ בֶּעָשָׁן כְּעָשָׁן תִּכְלֶה כִּי תַעֲבִיר מֶמְשֶׁלֶת זָדוֹן מִן הָאָרֶץ".
מודה אני לפניך בכל לבי ובכל נפשי על הנסים הגלויים שזכינו להם בימי המערכה ששונאינו כפו עלינו. ככתוב בדברי קדשך, "כי הנה אויבך יהמיון ומשנאך נשאו ראש. אמרו לכו ונכחידם מגוי ולא ייזכר שם ישראל עוד" - ואתה ברחמיך הרבים פורש עלינו סוכת שלומך. מאות כדורי אש, שוגרו לערי עמך, נחתו על ארצך הטובה, ואני משתאה ומתפעלת על נפלאותיך שבכל רגע ורגע עמנו, ועל רוב טובך שאתה שומר עלינו ועל ילדנו מכל פגע.
יהי רצון מלפניך שברחמיך הרבים תגן עלינו מכל דבר רע ושתשמור את תושבי ארצנו ואת חיילנו המקדשים את שמך בעולם.
יהי רצון מלפניך שתשלח מזור לתושבי הדרום ותחזק את לבם באמונתך ובתקוות ישועתך הקרובה לבוא.
יהי רצון מלפניך שנזכה כולנו בשמחת עקירת הרשע מעולמך ברוך החיים. "וּבְכֵן צַדִּיקִים יִרְאוּ וְיִשְֹמָחוּ וִישָׁרִים יַעֲלֹזוּ, וַחֲסִידִים בְּרִנָּה יָגִילוּ וְעוֹלָתָהּ תִּקְפָּץ פִּיהָ וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כֻּלָּהּ בֶּעָשָׁן כְּעָשָׁן תִּכְלֶה כִּי תַעֲבִיר מֶמְשֶׁלֶת זָדוֹן מִן הָאָרֶץ"."

Monday, April 14

Erev Pessah News

Nihumim to the families and refuah sheleima to the injured in Kansas City.  We are crying with you. As the woman on the radio (who has been living in KC for over 20 years) said, it can happen in any place. We do not know HaShem's math, but we can hope and pray that this is the last act of antisemitism.  Ever. 

The KC shooting was the first item on today's news.

B'vinyan Yerushalaim tenuhamu - may the last "item" before the news be a comfort to all of Am Yisrael:
Baruch HaShem, Am Yisrael back in our homeland (no longer a poor, undeveloped desert)  has bought  two and a half times as much food this week as in a "regular week," as we prepare to reunite with our history, remembering HaShem's salvation from the darkest times.  A journalist pointed out that the stores will be calmer for a week, until next Tuesday, when all of Am Yisrael restocks our hametz.
This should be a nehama to all of Am Yisrael, for all generations of suffering: Over 90% of Israeli Jews will sit down to a Seder tonight, and go without hametz for the week.  

May we use the mitzvot and customs of this week to remember that HaShem sent us to Egypt, sent us to galut, and then released us and brought us Home, in order that we be a nation that brings the Light of Justice, Fairness And Kindness to the entire world.

Saturday, March 22

Things I Learnt from Eli Cohen

This evening, a large group of RBS residents met with Eli Cohen to discuss our feelings upon losing the the mayoral race, and to hear from Eli what he is planning to do at this juncture.
Eli began his speech by pointing out that the elections were won by the Hareidi voters, including those "zealots" who are so anti-Zionist that they never participate in elections.  Their participation this time is as great an achievement for Am Yisrael as was the court decision to have new elections due to organized cheating.  The most anti-Zionist Jews have recognized that having a Jewish, democratic State enables them to maintain their lifestyle.   This may, sometime down the road, lead to an appreciation for Jewish Sovereignty, even in its imperfect form.
Another important issue that Eli raised is the cooperation between the 9 (out of 19) city councilors who supported Eli in the mayoral race.  These councilors - from the Likud, Eli's joint list with the Bayit Yehudi, Motti Cohen's list (representing the working class of old Beit Shemesh) and Richard Peres as yet another Beit Shemesh native involved in local education and culture - have all recognized the need to prioritize their shared vision for the city as a whole over any one item in the city's budget.  They are each holding out on joining the municipal coalition as individual parties, demanding that the mayor take all of them together in order to prove that he wants to develop this city for ALL residents.  Otherwise, they will ALL sit in opposition, and pool their energies, supporters and connections with Knesset members, in order to block any one-sided changes the coalition might try to make to Beit Shemesh.
Those who followed local politics in the previous term saw Abutbul hand out small budgets to please a few councilors, while on the large scale, ignoring the needs of what was then more than half the city.   This time, there will be no accepting of crumbs, such as  a single school building or a one-time cheque to a  public library.   The mayor will have to earn their support by giving significant responsibilities in long-term and wide-scope projects and goals for the city.   The half of city council that are not in the mayor's pocket will, as a unit, whether  in the coalition or opposition, be able to accomplish far more than a any one city councilor sitting in the coalition.
Splitting the city into two authorities is a subject that had been raised many times , probably starting with  the first time that the residents of RBS B stoned public buses and burnt garbage cans.   The fact that the "bridge neighbourhood" between older and newer neighbourhoods houses so many violent extremists, created a divide in people's minds between all of RBS and all of "Old Beit Shemesh".  In my discussions with people from all parts  of the city, it is apparent that many residents of each half of the city have never been to the other half, much less feel like parts of the same community
However, to Eli's mind, splitting the municipality into two distinct authorities is making the statement that no one can live with Hareidim. Many people feel that way, but Eli feels otherwise -  that even as a minority in a Hareidi town, other Jews SHOULD be able to live comfortably and have their needs met.
Eli pointed out that the ball is in the mayor's court.  If Mayor Abutbul continues to give all authority to hareidi councilors, and refuses to respect other groups' needs (such as continuing to withhold on the civic centre, public libraries and non-hareidi tzedaka organizations), then perhaps that statement is true.  But if the 9 councilors can, as a large unit, ensure that the city of Beit Shemesh meets the needs of all stripes of residents, then we will become an example of coexistence and cooperation that many Israelis never imagines could happen.
 As for respect, Eli pointed out that the most painful issue in the election campaign (of the mayor and certain hareidi parties) was not the slander against himself personally, but rather the complete and total disrespect towards the Torah and Rabbanim of Religious Zionism.,  The rabbanim, schools, yeshivot and entire lifestyle of the Religious-Zionist movement were insulted personally and as a group.  The mantra that was repeated was that the hareidi rabbanim are the only true rabbanim, that the hareidi lifestyle is the only Torah true lifestyle, and that the Religious Zionists are part of a plot to destroy Torah.   (While Eli did not say it, the denigration of traditional Jews is also an insult to Torah, which , until this generation , accepted the variety of degrees of observance among believing Jews.)
The religious and Gd-fearing traditional  Zionists -  who sincerely believe that building our country, working for a living, and developing technology, medicine, agriculture and a military ARE the Torah way - MUST, says Eli, demand apologies from the hareidi askanim, rabbanim and media!! Not for our personal honour, but for the honour of the Torah.  We must expect that state religious affairs be handled by rabbanim who support the State.
I will elaborate:   We must insist upon respect for our rabbanim and our lamdanim.    We cannot continue to allow hareidi askanim and journalists to slander our rabbanim or treat our Torah observance as b'di'avad.   There can be no more tolerance for Hareidi journalists calling Zioni Rabbanim by their surnames without the title Rav.   There can be no more exclusion of Zionisim Rabbanim from Religious Councils, no more discrimination against Zionist balaniot in public mikvaot.  There must be RESPECT for our Torah.
I can already hear people complaining that if Eli is not Shomer Shabbat, who is he to talk about the honour of Torah?  But that is exactly the point. Torah is not an all-or-nothing game.  Regarding the mitzva of Shiluah haKein, Hazal teach us that we "do not know the true value of any mitzva."  Is Shabbat more important than bringing tens of thousands of Jews back to Eretz Yisrael, and in that way saving them from murder or assimilation?  Sure, it would be wonderful if the same person who went on shelihut all those years were also Shomer Shabbat.  But we are human, and each person who does something for Am Yisrael is doing it because he believes in Gd and His Torah, even if they might not express it in a way that seems "perfect" in other people's eyes.
My closing thought:
In the years that there has been Hareidi Violence (even little things like the accepted practice of breaking car flags) in Beit Shemesh, people who live outside Beit Shemesh always asked us , "why do you still live there?"  I think that Eli's campaign and his goals for the next period sum up our answer.  We don't choose a place to live in Eretz Yisrael simply  for our own convenience.  By living in Bet Shemesh, our family has been part of a large community that includes all stripes of Jews.  Our Torah-Zionist goal in living here is to bring Am Yisrael to a new era of respect for others to an era of cooperation between Jews, with Jews stepping out of their comfort zone of only living with "people like us," and recognizing that we are all One Nation with One Future.
As long as we can work on that goal, there is a value to staying here.

Wednesday, February 5

Why is it so hard here?

Disclaimer: I am not judging anyone .  I have BH the easiest life of anyone I know.  My family is healthy, my kids are doing well in school and have friends.  We own our own home and our own car.   So, this is much easier for me to write than for so many other people.  
But I get frustrated too.  It is hard for me to have left behind  my grandmother, my parents, my cousins, my siblings and their families.  
 There are certain elements of the culture here to which I am still adjusting after over 26 years.  The educational system goes against every principle of educational psychology. So much of the news here makes me cry -  whether it is the ridiculous traffic situation from Beit Shemesh to Yerushalaim; the cheating by "religious" politicians here in Beit Shemesh; boycott against us led by Jewish professors; the name-change of the prize given to musician Ariel Zilber, the fact that Jewish teenagers rape their classmates; the corruption or anything else that "shouldn't happen in a Jewish Country".
And the lack of rain, reflected in the imported apples at the store, scares me - especially in a pre-shemitta year.
Yesterday, my daughter had some homework in Humash - crazy homework.  She had to read 3 pesukim and understand something that , in my opinion, requires a level of comprehension way beyond grade 6.  However, it was good for me to have to learn it with her - I needed the reminder.   
Here is the homework:
Read the following pesukim in Humash Devarim, Perek 11, Pesukim 10-12, and write the pros and cons for Eretz Yisrael and Mitzrayim as described in the pesukim:
  י כִּי הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--לֹא כְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִוא, אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִשָּׁם:  אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, וְהִשְׁקִיתָ בְרַגְלְךָ כְּגַן הַיָּרָק.  יא וְהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--אֶרֶץ הָרִים, וּבְקָעֹת; לִמְטַר הַשָּׁמַיִם, תִּשְׁתֶּה-מָּיִם.  יב אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ:  תָּמִיד, עֵינֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ--מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה, וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה. 

What I find interesting in the phrasing of the homework was the acceptance that there is a "disadvantage" to life in Israel, and an "advantage" to life in  Mitzrayim.  Yes, it is harder here, and it will always be harder here, because that will - or at least, SHOULD - keep us turning to Gd.  To pray, to improve our behaviour, to improve our communities according to Torah....
Please remind me of that when I next complain, cuz I will complain.   But that's okay.  If i don't complain, and I pretend that everything here is perfect, then I would be  missing the point.