Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beit Yonatan Demolition Threatened

I was just shocked to read that the government is planning to demotion, Beit Yonatan, the building in the Yemenite Village named in honor of Jonathan Pollard. How terrible.
I recently made a trip to Beit Yonatan and here's some information, plus video clips there:

Beit Yonatan
At the top of the Silwan valley, we left our bus for smaller vans. Large tourist buses would not be able to maneuver through the narrow steep streets of the Yemenite Village, site of Beit Yonatan (pictured above and above right). All around us was illegal Arab construction, Daniel said, “But inspectors refuse to enter this area.”
A tall Israeli flag hangs seven floors from the top of Beit Yonatan, a building named for imprisoned Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard. On the way to the roof, everyone peeked into the Bet Midrash, where young men continued learning. In addition to the kollel, the building is home to seven families.
Six years ago, thanks to the Jewish Reclamation Project, Beit Yonatan and the House of Honey rekindled the Jewish presence in the once-thriving Kfar HaTeimanim (Yemenite Village). Unfortunately there is currently a major struggle over the future of the Jews living in those buildings. JRP is working on “koshering” the buildings so that the court will allow them to remain.
Yemenite families first arrived there in 1882. At its peak, 900 Yemenite Jews lived here, praying in four synagogues and creating a full communal life until the pogroms of 1920s and 1930s.
Daniel Luria commented, “Jews have the right to go back to any old Jewish property, and especially one in which there was a thriving old Jewish community not so long ago. We are fulfilling the dreams and hopes of the Jewish people over the past thousands of years.”

You're invited to explore this entire Eastern Jerusalem issue in our Voices TV video clips:

Divine Retribution - Part 3 - Another View

In the past few weeks, I have written two blogs about G-d's Divine Sense of Humor or perhaps His Divine Retribution. Just in case you missed them, you can catch them here:
Since then, everytime I hear that a plane has been cancelled or delayed because of the Iceland volcano in the long-named-location, I keep wondering, "What is G-d trying to say?" The Iceland volcano photos, shown here, sent to me by my dear friend Gemma reinforced in my mind, G-d's Divine Intervention in our world, but what's going on?
Here's one interpretation. It is by insightful and witty Middle East analyst and commentator Emanuel A. Winston.
A SMOKE SIGNAL by Emanuel A. Winston
Observant Jews are of the opinion that G-d has been sending signals to the nations that, if mankind doesn’t change its ways, more catastrophic plagues are on the way.
Iceland, though small is well known to Jews as having citizens known to be exceptionally anti-Semitic.(1) One store has even posted a sign:"Jews not welcome" Some mentions of Hamas have also appeared. (2)
It’s poignant to see one section of the notorious thousands of miles long "Ring of Fire" under Iceland’s glaciers erupting and sending heavy ash clouds across Europe, to include England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands. All of these European countries have a history of virulent anti-Semitism from the Crusades, to the English expulsion, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms - culminating in the German Nazi Genocide. The Muslim Arab countries evicted 850,000 of their Jews who had lived there for centuries after expropriating all their property. The millstones of G-d’s justice and retribution grind slowly but, ever so fine, in time.
Many believe they had seen the Hand of G-d when Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast August 29, 2005, two weeks after 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were driven from their homes, farms, schools, synagogues, factories, innovative businesses (even their cemetery) in Gush Katif/Gaza. This was a hostile "take-over" instigated by President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Arabist State Department.
Retribution and Justice can take many forms.
Now the volcanoes in Iceland have started up again, we might see the Hand of G-d in Retribution and Justice.
…It’s instructive to see a volcano ash cloud close down Europe’s transportation, play havoc with business and commerce - and it’s not over yet. The volcanic dust cloud began around the same day as Yom HaShoah, the day most Jews commemorate the Holocaust. Now the dust is settling over Europe where the Jewish ashes from the Krupp Ovens rest.
Vital meetings have been canceled as the airlines determine that their engines can be destroyed in flight, possibly bringing their aircraft crashing to the ground, splattering their human cargo to Kingdom Come, G-d forbid. Cargo has been delayed or destroyed by the delays, costing more billions.
Meanwhile, Iceland’s first volcano continues to spew ash and other toxic chemicals into the air. A second volcano nearby which, if awakened, could spew much more. This first volcano (E5 for short) is ‘connected’ to others along the "Ring of Fire", especially Kalia a particularly vicious volcano, 15 miles away - which last time blew 2 weeks after this currently spewing E5 started erupting.
Some may recall the history of the Krakatoa volcanic eruption which blew enough material into the sky to lower the global temperature for years, causing severe crop damage (the sun’s rays were blocked), and famine for years. Strangely, after Krakatoa erupted, the weather-watchers, carefully noted when certain skies in certain cities were inflamed and colored by the passing high-altitude volcanic dust clouds. They produced a map showing just how these wind currents moved around the world. The first name they used for this phenomenon was the "equatorial smoke stream". Today this is the jet stream - a discovery that remains perhaps the most important legacy of Krakatoa.
The earth’s mantle is now moving, as we see from the earthquakes in Haiti, Baja California, Indonesia (Jakarta), Afghanistan, Turkey, China.... These are not merely scribbled lines on a seismograph but, high numbers on the Richter Scale.
I am searching for a prophetic statement where it speaks of the nations and their people seeking out Jews, to take them by the elbow, requesting assistance from the Jews in catastrophic times. That will be difficult, given that there are only approximately 15 million Jews left in the world after the nations decimated their Jewish populations over centuries.
In the Tanach (Bible) it speaks of "fire going out across the nations" as punishment for what they have done to G-d’s servants. Perhaps it’s coincidental that Iceland sits on what geologists call the "Ring of Fire", a 10,000 mile long crevice in the Earth’s mantle. Should it open, it would produce a very long line of fire. But, why worry, Pharaoh died thousands of years ago after the 10 Plagues that punished Egypt before he finally let them go.
1. Iceland, the Jews, and Anti-Semitism, 1625-2004 by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-vilhjalmur-f04.htm
2. Iceland - Anti-Semitism, Hamas Support Growing in Iceland www.vosizneiias.com/iceland-anti-semitism-hamas-support-growing-iceland/
Get ready for decades of Icelandic fireworks by Kate Ravilous April 16, 2010
We're not quite back to the pre-plane era, but air travel over and around the north Atlantic might get a lot more disrupted in the coming years.Volcanologists say the fireworks exploding from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on Iceland, which is responsible for the ash cloud that is grounding all commercial flights across northern Europe, may become a familiar sight. Increased rumblings under Iceland over the past decade suggest the potential for some very large bangs.

WINSTON MID EAST ANALYSIS & COMMENTARY April 20, 2010 Email: winston@winstonglobal.org Please disseminate & re-post. If you publish, send us a copy. Many of our articles appear in freeman.org; JewishIndy.com; gamla.org.il/english.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Legalizing Derech HaAvot

The government has announced that it might legalize the Gush Etzion community of Netiv HaAvot. Finally some welcome news. The Arabs of El Khader and Peace Now had claimed that the homes on the hill were on private Arab land, but IY"H the courts will find that it just "ain't so."
I remember the first time I was invited to Netiv HaAvot, the hamlet between Neve Daniel and Elazar. It was just about this time of year. They were having a Lag B'Omer Bonfire, Iyar 2002. (The photos in this blog are from that visit in 2002.) These brave young families had been living in caravans and even stone homes for more than a year (the community was established in February 2001) on a hilltop between Gush Etzion's Elazar and Neve Daniel.
The original neighborhood was called El/Dan (Elazar/Neve Daniel), but the young families and their children had taken upon themselves the responsibility in those precarious times to protect the Path of our Patriarchs. The hillside overlooked Derech HaAvot, part of the watershed line between Chevron and Yerushalayim, Beersheva and et El, where Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and David had traveled their Biblical journeys.
So Netiv Avot seemed a very appropriate name for the community.
The beautifully preserved mikveh a(ritual bath) long the path with its separate entrance and exit arches for "impure" and "purified" olei regel (pilgrims) to Jerusalem, testified to its role as Jewish thoroughfare during the time of the Second Temple. And then 2000 years later, Jewish children played nearby calling Derech HaAvot their home.
The sun was just setting on the hills of Gush Etzion, and the auburn, green, grey patchwork of fields, stone terraces and olive trees were still visible as the yellow evening lights of Neve Daniel, Betar, Tzur Hadassah, Rosh Tzurim and Alon Shvut shimmered around us.
The residents were roughing it, but not that much (this is Gush Etzion, after all).
They shared communal water and electrity hookups. There were no telephones there back then. The cellphone companies got a great boost from the new hamlet. And when rainstorms were very great (there was rain back then), the caravan dwellers feared that their rooftops would fly off (two actually did).
My friend Linda Friedburg moved from her comfortable home in Neve Daniel to help establish Netiv Avot in the very beginning. She really took the pioneering in her stride. No buses came up there yet (although they did have a decorative bus stop for the day when things would change, and B"H, they have). She drove her kids along their bumpy stone road to Elazar every morning at 7:30 AM to catch the schoolbus. She cooked on one gas burner. She washed dishes for her bli ayin hara growing family in a sink that held only a few at a time. And her TV screen jumped every time someone opened the refrigerator.
But she said she would never forget those days. The children could hop over to the Bet Knesset caravan (just a few steps from their home). They hosted chayalim (soldiers) frequently at their Shabbat table. They danced outside with the Torah on Simchat Torah, lit their Chanukah candles outside and the smoke from the little flames swirled along with the memories of our forefathers who walked through the same area.
When Netiv Avot was well-established, more than a year later, Linda and her family returned to Neve Daniel. Meanwhile the community has grown and flourished so beautifully over the years. The children have grown strong and filled with emunah (faith) among the rich soil and the stones of Eretz Yisrael.
"For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor her dust." (Psalms 102:15)
"For the Al-Mighty will redeem Zion and will build the cities of Judea, and they will settle there and have it as a possession. And the seed of his servants will inherit it, and those who love His Name will dwell therein." (Psalms 69:36-37)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Aged 20+ Singles - LAG B'OMER Bonfire Get-together

You knew it first, friends. It's happening.
EFRAT is hosting a giant LAG B'OMER bonfire for young people 20+ (21-29) - a get-together around the medura (bonfire).
It will be held on the Zayit, in the park across from 28 Pitom HaKetoret. We even put a RESERVED sign on the rocks there.

Let's get those young people together. Come on, we can do it.
Encourage everyone 20+ that you know to participate. Together, we can create a fantastic opportunity for young people to meet one another.
We hope to have a giant crowd of young people, who together with their friends, will meet new people, make new connections and enlarge their social circle. AND YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN SOCIAL CIRCLES ARE ENLARGED. :)
The medura is being organized by a fabulous group of volunteers - AND YOU'RE INVITED TO JOIN IN. If you'd like to volunteer, email me - izzy@actcom.co.il .

The goal is to give the dati-leumi 20+ singles crowd (Israelis and olim) a place to meet without pressure and with lots of fun.
There'll be food, music, and a great atmosphere.
If you're 20+ please come and bring your friends. If you're the parent of someone 20+, please tell him/her that they're expected at the medura.
Everyone is asked to bring some food or drink.
Anyone who plays the guitar is asked to please bring it along.
More info to come: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/event.php?eid=113532312010839&ref=mf

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today's Parents are Afraid of Their Kids

Okay, this might be a wierd blog, but it's a wierd problem.
A few days ago, my friend Leah and I discussed organizing a Lag B'Omer fire for young adult singles. Leah and I would organize it, but we wouldn't be there at all (so no one will be embarrassed by our presence). We were hoping that these 20-somethings would meet one another and either find a match around the fire, or think of one for a friend.
So, I called up a bunch of my friends and asked them to ask their kids if they'd come to this bonfire. Well, would you believe it? My friends said, "I think it's a terrific idea, but I can't ask my daughter/son. If I ask, s/he won't participate."
So, I've made ten phone calls to parents with great 20-something kids, and they're hemming and hawing and even asking me to call their kid instead of them.
Parents afraid of their kids??
It's 9:45 PM. I'm going to keep trying for one more day.
We've really got to light a fire under our 20-somethings. I thought this might be it.

The Rain Doesn't Know Either

Last night I posted my calendar-confusion. Well, it seems that the weather is a bit confused too. There was one thing I learned when I moved to Israel. It always rains between Sukkot and Pesach. It never rains between Pesach and Sukkot. That is the law!!
Sort of like the regulations in Camelot. "A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot. And there's a legal limit to the snow here in Camelot. The winter is forbidden till December and exits March the second on the dot. By order, summer lingers through September in Camelot."
BUT IT'S RAINING TODAY and Pesach has long since gone.
I checked the forecast with www.weather-it-is-israel.com. It reads: "Partly Cloudy."
Something is goofy here.
Let's keep each other posted about this weather curiosity.
Meanwhile, where did I put my rain boots.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Didn't Know What Day It Was

There's this great old song, "I didn't know what day it was, you held my hand..." It was a Doris Day song, and poor Doris didn't know what day it was, what year it was, what time it was, but that was just a song.
I woke up this morning having had an incredible few days of commemorating and celebrating, and I thought it was Tuesday.
I love Tuesdays. My daughter goes to school late. That means, I sleep late. :) And I have tap on Tuesday nights. That also meant that I had four days to finish this issue of Voices Magazine - www.voices-magazine.com .
But guess what????
After I got up and leisurely went about my business, I discovered to my shock THAT IT WAS WEDNESDAY. Somewhere I had lost a day. It was Wednesday. My daughter and I get up at 6:30 AM on Wednesday. And I only have three days to finish this issue. Aghhhhhhhh.
I don't know what happened.
I heard that all the children were late to gan (preschool). Okay. But they don't have calendars. They just know they've been up too late, ate too much, and had too much fun. Well, what was my excuse?? The same, I guess.
So, I've been rushing my kishkes out all day, and I worked real hard and it's 9:16 PM and I still have another three or four hours to put in at the computer.
But I'm writing to all of you to let you know that if you thought it was Tuesday, YOU'RE NOT ALONE.
At least there's one good thing....one day closer to Shabbat.
Happy Wednesday. Back to real life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Perfect Beginning & A Perfect End

Today we celebrated Israel's Independence Day. We began our day in a perfect way -volunteering in the Pina Chama (a hospitality hut) for soldiers. For the past 62 years, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces have been deputies to G-d, working 24/7 to keep our people safe and protect us from the dangers that surround us on every front.
To show our thanks and to give a little attention to those soldiers who were on duty and couldn't be with their families for their own barbecue, we made a "family" barbecue for hundreds of servicemen.
Pina Chama men began barbecuing at 10 AM, and by the end of the day, they had flipped 250 kilos of chicken, meat and kabobs. Parents and children worked together making salads and packages for the soldiers to take back to their look-outs and remote positions.
The good feelings filled the air and soldiers and volunteers alike shared the joy of Israel's Independence Day - appreciating one another.
The flag flew high at the Pina Chama as 800 soldiers enjoyed a home-cooked BBQ, made with lots of love and enthusiasm. The day was general-ed by Efratian Nava Eizik and couldn't have been more organized and well-done, bli ayin hara.

You'll be able to see Voices TV's clip of the Pina Chama Independence Day at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=133. Visit http://www.voices-magazine.com/ for other great clips.

A Perfect Ending

We ended Israel's Independence Day in a perfect way as well. We began the morning with a patriot flag waving activity. And we ended the day with a Jewish-ly patriot Torah dancing activity. Our friends Menachem and Eudice Spitz dedicated a Sefer Torah in memory of their parents and siblings, o'h.
Eudice said that often on Israel's Independence Day, when you have a simcha, people don't really want to miss their BBQ to join you, but when it came to this Sefer Torah Dedication everyone said, "Yes!"
It goes back to the earliest times of the Jewish People leaving Egypt. In the Passover Seder favorite - Dayeinu - we sing, "If only G-d had taken us out of Egypt, it would have been enough...If only He brought us to Mount Sinai, it would have been enough. If only He had given us the Torah, it would have been enough...If only He had brought us into the Land of Israel, it would have been enough."
But we learn from Dayeinu, that it really wouldn't have been enough. G-d knew what He was doing. We need both the Torah and the Land of Israel to be complete Jews. Having the Torah without the Land would have been a half empty glass, just like having the Land without the Torah would have been half empty as well.
Ending today's beautiful day with a meaningful joyous Sefer Torah dedication affirmed that B"H we have both together - a life of Torah in the Land of Israel.
So, I'd like to thanks Eudice and Menachem for making our holiday complete.
PS - If we're talking about Dayeinu, let's not forget that the song ends with G-d's building us the Bet Hamikdash (the Holy Temple). Just as that was the goal then, it is still the ultimate goal of the Jewish nation - the rebuilding of the Holy Temple (may it happen speedily in our day).

Addendum: Remember yesterday on Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day), I told you about a soldier who had been killed in Gaza while searching for smuggling tunnels. His name was Haggai Lev, and I mentioned that his family always tried to participate in events that brought happiness. http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/04/from-depths-of-sadness-contributing-to.html
Well, tonight as the Sefer Torah was being danced through the streets of Efrat, it was Chaggai's tallit (prayer shawl) that was used as a chuppah (wedding canopy) for the new scroll.
Chag sameach.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hometown Independence Day

Israel's 62nd Independence Day began in my hometown, and towns all over Israel, with Independence Night!
Hundreds of families from all over Efrat's seven hills gathered on the slope of Park Asor (that's our tenth anniversary park) to participate in our community ceremony. There were blankets covering the hill like the most colorful patchwork quilt and families sat together sharing cotton candy and pop corn.
Efrat's little kids sang and danced. Our teens marched with flags. Our adults sang classic Israeli songs. And we honored neighborhood folks who made our town a better place.
My brother-in-law, who is visiting from America with my sister, noted that 40,000 people would be celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut in Rabin Square, but five minutes after he and my sister sat down on their blanket and began chatting with Efrat's friendly folks, he and my sister were glad they had chosen to participate with us.
My friend Debbie pointed to the thousands of adults and kids in the park and told my sister, "These are our people." My sister agreed and loved the ceremony and the community pride that was displayed throughout the evening.
After the hour-long ceremony, and the singing of Ani Maamin and Hatikvah, the skies lit up with the most amazing fireworks. Everyone screamed with exhilaration at every golden and red blast. Local Jewish teen bands rocked into the night and everyone cheered.
A perfect night. Thank you Hashem for blessing our country, our people and our town.
Chag ha'atzmaut sameach.
You can get a glimpse of Efrat's Independence Day celebration here. Our terrific teens called out to the world, AM YISRAEL CHAI. http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=132

Even Children Remember

This morning in schools throughout Israel, the flag flew at half-mast as Jewish children everywhere remembered the soldiers who fell in the Israel Defense Forces as well as victims of Arab terror. Of course, there are professional nationwide ceremonies in the evening that are meaningful and grand, but I find the children's ceremonies to be the most moving.
Each year, the schools memorialize different soldiers from the 62 years we have been officially fighting for our survival. Dressed in white shirts and blue pants/skirts, the children do their best not to fidget, and to stay quiet and respectful - even in the blazing sun. The older classes put on little skits to remember the soldiers and they speak about the contributions the individuals made to our country.
The choirs sing and the children recite poems about other children before them that tried to understand war and loss.
Then when the Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day) portion of the ceremony is over, the trumpets blare and the Israeli flag is raised on the flagpole. Everyone begins clapping, because they know what to expect - the daglanim (flag procession). The children march center stage and literally wave the flag. They create all kinds of formations and complete their march with the anniversary year of Israel. This year, they made a 62. Well done, kids!

Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)
In our community, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, tries to jump between ceremonies. Today, I believe he made it to two.
He told the following story:
During the Second Intifada in 2001, Rabbi Riskin was teaching a lesson in Yeshivat Siach on Efrat's northern hill Dagan. In walked a black soldier who sat down and took copious notes, and then left immediately Rabbi Riskin chased him to find out who he was.
The soldier, originally from Nigeria, came to Israel to join a conversion program and join the Army. The rabbi asked him why, and he said that when he was a child, a few Israeli soldiers came to his village in Nigeria to teach the locals more about farming and medicine, etc. He asked the soldiers why they had come all the way to Nigeria, and they replied, "Tikkun Olam" (repairing the world). He said that those soldiers had made such an unforgettable impression upon him that he also wanted to repair the world, and he came to Israel to become part of the Jewish nation and do his part.
The Rabbi invited the soldier, named Dan (after the tribe from which the Ethiopian Jews descend), to his home for Shabbat, and they made a date for a future Shabbat. Rabbi Riskin wanted to invite his entire family to hear this soldier's story.
Sadly, their Shabbat date was never kept. Dan was killed in battle only a few days after his meeting with Rabbi Riskin.
A few months later, the Rabbi was called by his wife to speak with some very interesting guests. They were Dan's parents. They had come from Nigeria to see what their son was seeking in leaving his homeland and his people for another. After talking with Rabbi Riskin, they decided to go to Netanya and enroll in a Hebrew-speaking Ulpan, so they could find out more about Dan's life.
After a year, they decided to convert and make their home in Netanya. Rabbi Riskin was invited to their home to hang their first mezuzah. They told Rabbi Riskin that their friends and family in Nigeria constantly called them to ask why they would leave Nigeria and make their lives in Israel. They answered simply in their son's own words, "Tikkun olam."
May all our people and indeed the people's of the world spend their energies on the positive actions that help repair the world. May Tikkun Olam reign amongst all man, and may we soon know the Redemption and the Rebuilding of the Holy Temple, which Isaiah called "a house of prayer for all nations."

Memories of Torah, Memorials of Torah

As Yom HaZikaron (Rembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers) is upon us, our hearts go out to the families who have lost their loved ones in the service of our nation. The loss of any soldier is a heartbreak for all Am Yisrael.
This past year, my community of Efrat lost another one of its precious sons, Uriel Liwerant, o'h.
My family was on a summer trip to the Golan Heights last summer when we were awakened to booms and blasts. We shook with fright until we were quickly assured that the booms were only from tank maneuvers nearby.
Suddenly, tragic news spread through our vacation spot. A tank commander had been killed in the exercise. Only later did we discover that the commander was a young man from our own town of Efrat.
Tank commander, Staff Sgt. Uriel Liwerant was a beloved leader, a quiet and inspiring young man. His friends and his soldiers looked up to him and admired his pleasant demeanor and dedication to Torah.
How appropriate that both Uriel's parents Aharon and Joni, his family and his community continually remember him through shiurim (Torah classes) which were so dear to him.
Har Etzion Hesder talmid Uriel Peretz Liwerant z"l was a brilliant student who was acclaimed by all as a Talmid Chacham. His dedication to Torah did not rest, even while he was on active duty, and he did his best to learn daf yomi (the daily cycle of Gemora) every day, no matter the lateness of the hour.
Yeshiva Har Etzion made a Siyum of Shas Mishnayot on his shloshim (thirty day memorial), and the learning in his memory continues.
Over the past many months, the community of Efrat has memorialized Uriel's life with days of learning for young and old. Uriel continues to inspire his friends to learn Torah.
When we recall someone who has passed away, we often say, "May his memory be for a blessing." It is evident that Uriel's memory has blessed all those who were fortunate enough to have known him.

From the Depths of Sadness - Contributing to the Greatest Joy

A few months ago, I attended an experiential Torah evening at the Aseh Chayil School in my community of Efrat. Among the stations that the children were to explore was a mock Jewish wedding - a chuppah - in which the little grooms were supposed to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple and crush a "glass" to clinch the remembrance.
At a Jewish wedding, the bridegroom says, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." (Psalm 137, 5-7).
Dressed in white shirts and dark pants, the little chattanim (bridegrooms) read these words. They stood under a beautiful wedding canopy.
The canopy was made from the tallit (prayer shawl) of Capt. Hagai (Haim) Lev. Hagai, who was raised in Efrat, was killed eight years ago at the age of 24 while in Gaza searching for tunnels used by Arabs to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. He was hit by sniper fire from one of the houses in the area, and although he was evacuated by helicopter to Beersheva's Soroka Hospital, he died shortly after arrival.
A graduate of the Atzmona pre-Army preparatory yeshiva, Hagai was praised as a dedicated soldier, and a thorough officer "who was involved in numerous missions to thwart terrorism."
When Hagai, HY"D, was killed, his mother Noa wrote a book about Hagai's life and his route from regular and rowdy Israeli child to serious, talented an respected Israeli Army officer. The book, "The Smile of Courage - My Son, My Soldier", gives us a real understanding of how an Israeli boy can become transformed into a heroic figure that serves his G-d and his country with true devotion.
Thinking of Others
And while Noa and her husband Shimon still suffer the loss of their son, they keep in mind other children whose lives ended before their time. Last year, the Levs donated one of the buttons from Hagai's IDF uniform to the Aseh Chayil button project, wherein the school's children collected 1.5 million buttons in memory of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust.
They remember the needy. In fact, the refrigerator that stores food for the needy in the Hazan Et HaKol (chesed food donation room) is dedicated in Hagai's memory.
The Smile
Hagai's smile was a characteristic that perfectly described him. And so it is very fitting that among the many things that memorialize Hagai Lev are those that bring a smile and joy to others. The chuppah used by the Aseh Chayil project is a real chuppah that Hagai's mother Noa made to be used at weddings - when the joy of bride and groom fill the hearts of all those around them. The chuppah was made from Hagai's tallit (prayer shawl) and decorated by his mother.
The Tzur Hagai Simcha Hall was dedicated in Hagai's memory near the Central Dekel Synagogue in Efrat, and is used on a regular basis for local joyous occasions (Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, britot, sheva brachot).
Hagai Lev's memory continues to bring joy to all who knew him, and his tallit/chuppah and the simcha hall in his name further spread that joy even farther.
To find out more about "The Smile of Courage", contact Noa Lev, noalev6@gmail.com.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Brave Mother - Brave Son

My friend Cheryl is everyone's favorite person. She friendly and likeable. She's quirky and funny. Her laugh is contageous and generous. And she's from Toronto, which makes her speech kinda odd, especially when she puts the non-word "eh" at the end of just about every sentence. Being with Cheryl makes you feel good.
We've been friends since 2001 when we performed together in JOSEPH & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. JOSEPH was the first production of a women's theater company that I founded that year. Raise Your Spirits was just what it sounded like, a project to raise the spirits of the women/girls who took the stage and of the audience members who came from all over Israel and beyond to see our productions.
Cheryl was RYS' comic relief. In JOSEPH, she played a Hairy Ishmaelite. In our next show ESTHER & The Secrets in the King's Court, she played a eunuch. In NOAH! Ride the Wave!, she was the raven who refused to leave the ark. In RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem, she was Elimelech's slave and an African dancer. Most recently, in In Search of COURAGE, she played her first serious role, that of a social worker.
Over the past three years since I founded the DAMES of the DANCE extravaganzas, Cheryl has been the leader of a group of Saturday Night Dancers who performed to 60s music.
Yes, she's been charming audiences in Gush Etzion for almost ten years now.
But it is another role that puts her on stage on Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers). It's Cheryl's own role as a mother of a fallen soldier. No, it's not funny. It's heartbreaking, but it's true.
Fallen Mother
On Erev Pesach 2003, only a few hours before bedikat chametz (when Jews are frantically working to rid their homes of leaven bread), Cheryl Mandel was standing next to the grave of her son Daniel, HY"D, who had been killed only a few hours before - during a military operation.
Her friends surrounded Cheryl and her husband and children, but no one was laughing. They were all too stunned.
On 13 Nissan, April 15, in the wee hours of the morning, in the city of Shechem while tracking down wanted Arab terrorists, Lt. Daniel Mandel was shot. The bullet hit its mark right above his bulletproof vest, and Daniel Mandel was killed. Incredibly, the mission was a success. Daniel's men, an elite unit of Nachal, nick-named the Mendel Team, continued the battled and captured the terrorists - members of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade and Hamas. But their commander was gone.
Twenty-four year old Daniel Mandel had a great future ahead of him. He had the brilliance, dedication and love of Torah that would have made him a talented rosh yeshiva. And he had the military prowess, love of country, dedication to service and commitment to the Army that would have made him a gifted general. But none of this was to be.
Instead, on the eve of Passover, Daniel Mandel was buried in the Gush Etzion cemetery.
Cheryl could have succumbed to depression. She could have withdrawn from public life. Instead, she held her head high and became an example of true faith and inspiration. From that day onward, Cheryl and her husband David dedicated their free moments to meaningful projects to perpetuate Daniel's name.
They donated to a Bet Midrash (study hall) in a local school, brought Daniel's friends to volunteer in many chesed (good deed) projects, donated a parochet (holy ark cover) of a neighborhood synagogue and more. Their next project is their most ambitious - DANIEL'S PARK. They want to build a beautiful musical park for the Alon Shvut neighborhood where Daniel was raised. It's going to enhance community life and provide joy to adults and children alike.
Work on the park will begin soon, IY"H. You can still participate in the building of Daniel's Park. If you'd like to, contact Cheryl.
Cheryl in Toronto
Cheryl is in her hometown of Toronto right now, preparing to speak to the Toronto Jewish community about her son Daniel. I'm sure the audience will shed a few tears as it learns more about Daniel and comes to understand the unique one man that was lost to Am Yisrael. But I'm sure they'll laugh too, because Cheryl is still Cheryl.

Cheryl will be speaking about Daniel and all fallen soldiers at the central Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut ceremony on Monday April 19th at 7:30 PM at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue on Glencairn Rd.
Then she will be speaking again on Wednesday April 21st at 8:00 PM at Shaarei Shomayim. She will also show a 30 minute movie – Dancing Through Life – which basically tells her life story. The Jewish community of Toronto is invited to both evenings.

Whether you can join Cheryl in Toronto or not, you can find out more about Daniel Mandel, HY"D, by visiting http://www.daniel-mandel.co.il/ .
Many Daniels
In the past seven years since Daniel Mandel's death, many of his friends have married and had children. Bli ayin hara, dozens of little Daniels are running around today. Cheryl and David Mandel have attended just about every one of their britot. These babies are all tributes to the memory of a unique and talented scholar-warrior Daniel Mandel.

Divine Retribution or G-d's Sense of Humor - Part 2

A few weeks ago, after touring the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood and hearing that Jewish families will one day soon, IY"H, live in the former home of the Jew-hating Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini, I thought a lot about both G-d's fabulous Sense of Humor and His acts of Divine Retribution. You can read more about it here: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/03/divine-retribution-of-g-ds-sense-of.html
Knowing that I am always looking for examples of the above, on Thursday, my husband sent me an email from Louis G and Ben L that said, "A British govt agency banned images of the Western Wall in Israeli tourism adverts and doesn't want tourists coming to Israel to see the Western Wall (which it claims is 'Occupied Territory'). Then a volcano erupted in Iceland, Heathrow was closed and no tourists could get in or out of Britain. Is this the Hand of G-d or just the finger??"
Cool...pretty interesting, but I guess I was busy preparing for Shabbat - http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/04/holiness-of-friday.html , because I didn't dwell too much on it, until my nextdoor neighbor came over and said that he didn't know if his mother would be able to fly home to America, because all flights across Europe were still grounded. Wow!!
Then my machatenesta (son's mother-in-law, is there a word for that in English) Zeena called to tell me that her friend said that Rabbi Lazer Brody said that Great Britain's advertising ministry refuses to allow advertisements showing Har HaBayit (The Temple Mount) or sites in the Old City, because they are "occupied territory." Read Rabbi Brody here: http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2010/04/the-long-arm-of-hashems-justice.html#tp

By refusing to allow photos of the Old City and the Temple Mount, Britain is in essence trying to shut down Israeli tourism from Great Britain, because what is the center of Israeli tourism...in fact, what is the center of Israel and the center of the entire world, but the Temple Mount, site of our Holy Temple (may it soon be rebuitl).

So, what did Hashem do??

He shut down tourism to Great Britain because of a volcano in Iceland, 1,809 kilometres (1,124.06 miles) away!!!!
One of Rabbi Brody's comment-ors gave kudos to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat who was quoted in IsraelNationalNews - http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/137015
"The Kotel is the heart of the Jewish people and the State of Israel and it will forever remain the center of a united Jerusalem,” Mayor Nir Barkat said in a response to a British decision to ban a tourism advertisement that features the Kotel (Western Wall) and Temple Mount..
The British move “shames the people who made it,” Barkat said, “and betrays an ignorance of history. In the future, the Jerusalem Municipality and the State of Israel will continue to publicize Jerusalem's important sites in both eastern and western Jerusalem – with the Kotel at their center.”

What about the Israeli Government's Response??

This is the upsetting part of the story. It is so clear that Hashem intervened here, and while Nir Barkat will be blessed because he stood up for the Holy City of Jerusalem, the government's response was pathetic.
A Ministry of Tourism official is quoted in the British newspaper The Independent as saying, "Israel's stated that the advert provided "basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveller who wanted to know what to expect in Israel".
"Had the ad omitted a reference to a visit to the city of Jerusalem, it would have been incorrect and potentially misleading."
Is that feeble or what?
Now, do we wonder once again why we're in such a pitiable state?? If the representatives of the government of Israel don't stand up as the Mayor of Jerusalem did and say, "Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. Jerusalem - all of Jerusalem - belongs to the Jewish people. The Temple Mount is the center of Israel and the center of the world," then why should anyone believe we have any right here?

May G-d bless the Jewish people and continue to watch over the Land of Israel. And may He continue to keep His pledge, "Those who bless the Jewish people will be blessed, and those who curse it will be cursed."
As Dina said in the Raise Your Spirits production, "In Search of Courage," "Don't mess with the children of Israel!"

Fallen Soldiers - Rising Soldiers

When my friends Ann and Mordechai Goodman lost their son Yosef, o'h, five years ago in a training accident for the elite Maglan unit of the Israel Defense Forces, our community was absolutely shaken. Yosef was a smiley popular boy - liked by both adults and kids. He was a star athlete and an all-round good guy.
His excellence in the Army brought pride to the entire neighborhood.
When Yosef was killed in a dramatic and tragic training accident - his feet got entangled in the parachute of his commander, and he cut himself loose to save his commander's life - everyone was shocked.
No one would have questioned the Goodmans' choice if they had denied their younger sons permission to enter the Army. Everyone would have surely understood.
But Ann and Mordechai have a different philosophy, and so do their children. Their values are based around serving their country and helping build it in every way possible.
Not only have Yosef's younger brothers entered the Army, but they have and are serving in the IDF's most elite units. They are among today's rising soldiers and rising stars in the IDF. They are soldiers with values, belief and faith. We are proud of them and this new generation of brethren in arms.
The Jerusalem Post just wrote an excellent article about the Goodman family. You can find it here: http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=173394 .
May Hashem watch over the Goodman soldiers as well as all our sons. And may He bless all those their skills, faith, bodies and souls to help Him keep our nation safe.
On Yom HaZikaron, we embrace those families who have lost loved ones. On Yom HaAtzmaut, we thank Hashem for our blessed land and our brethren within it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Know Your Arab Neighbor

A few weeks ago, in an article about bringing more Jewish traffic to Eastern Gush Etzion, I also started to write about some of the Arab towns that are located there: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/03/rooted-to-land.html .
This week, as we came back from Eastern Gush Etzion, I noticed a lot of new signage on the roads there. The signage was in Arabic - not Arabic and Hebrew, or more commonly Arabic and English, just Arabic. So, I can't tell you what they said or who put them up, but they did the job. They made the road in SouthEastern Gush Etzion seem... well, more Arabic. Bad news for our Jewish brethren who call beautiful SouthEastern Gush Etzion home.
New Neighbors
There are some other changes in SouthEastern Gush Etzion. Bedouins have moved onto the hills parallel to Meitzad and Pnei Kedem. The Bedouins have set up two large tents very close to Pnei Kedem.
Once thought to be quaint National Geographic poster-boy types, the Bedouin have proven to be problematic in the Negev, where they are involved in thievery, smuggling and security threats to the Negev communities.
Driving from Beersheva to the Negev or Maaleh Adumim to the Dead Sea, we can see the spread of the Bedouin along the hilltops, creating their own Bedouinistan.
Marah Rabah Cutting Down Gush Etzion
Among the new signs on the Eastern Gush Etzion, there actually was one in English - Marah Rabah. Marah Rabah is a small industry town.
Located 12 kilometers south of Bethlehem, and only a few moments passed the T Junction on the southwestern side, Marah Raba is home to almost 1500 people, and a two-year old soccer team. More importantly, it is home to a three-year-old stone company - Jerusalem Stone Co. for Marble, which its website described as "one of the leading companies in the field of stone & marble industry in Palestine."
Producing marble stone of all kinds, sizes and required thickness, Marab Rabah's quarry is digging 100 meters into the Gush Etzion hillsides, removing stone blocks for sale to Germany, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, and Petah Tikvah.
Recently, Women in Green co-founder Nadia Matar participated in a tour of GE quarries and discovered that the "tremendous quarries that have been built by the Arabs in a patently illegal manner, on state lands and on the lands of Gush Etzion. These quarries irreversibly harm the landscape of our land." I do not know the legality of Marah Rabah's quarry, but I assume the regional council knows.
Nadia added, "A national and ecological crime is being committed, quietly, behind the main roads. No 'green' is alarmed by the sight of the unbridled behavior of the Arabs as they dig stones from our hills, unrestrained, with no control or supervision.
In addition, Nadia explained, "The debris from the stones that is ground up with water, is used to build ramps that presumably 'prove' ownership of the land. And so a double and redoubled crime is being committed."
The issue of illegal stone quarries must be addressed immediately before the Arabs create even more environmental disasters.
I have just written to Gush Etzion Mayor Shaul Goldstein about these issue, and I'll keep you posted.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Holiness of .... Friday

Seriously, I was just in the kitchen making chicken and I felt I had to run down and write to you all (whoever you all are - hm, one day, you must tell me...) and share this thought.
When we first moved to Israel, the government was talking about making a five day work week. Yes - great. That's what I miss - I want Sunday. I needed a Sunday morning to walk around in my fluffy slippers and robe and leisurely drink my coffee. I needed a Sunday to throw the kids in the car and drive for two hours to see the cousins. I needed a Sunday, but I didn't really get it.
I got Chol HaMoed, where no one expects you to work (although sometimes I had to), and the only real Sunday if you live outside of Jerusalem - it's called Shushan Purim.
But I never got my Sunday.
I still feel that I miss my outside-Gush Etzion family. I still miss the little Sunday afternoon tiyulim (family outing). I still miss the fluffy slippers and hot coffee with the big Sunday paper.

And yet, I have gotten used to Friday.

When Fridays were first suggested for the national day off, I balked. What good does that do? You are still stuck in the house, because you have to cook. You're still unable to take a real tiyul, because it's too close to Shabbat.
And in my case, I still worked half a day and then rushed my kishkes out to cook Shabbat meals. In fact, I worked so hard, that often I worked until the moment of Shabbat and got even grumpier every week about the Friday day off.
Whenever someone asked me what I'd like to change in my life, I always said, "I'd like Fridays to change into Erev Shabbat." They never did. I tried one or two or three weeks to make Fridays special, but I failed.
Recently, I can't say exactly when, because I don't remember, I started dedicating Fridays to preparing for Shabbat. I stopped working Fridays on Voices Magazine (except when there's a real emergency deadline) and I work on preparing for Shabbat instead. I clean my chickens while listening to Avraham Fried, Shwecky and Chevra. I call my friends and they call me. I smell the chicken soup and I peel the zucchinis. And I make sure the table is set more than an hour before Shabbat.
And over time, I have noticed something wonderful - Friday isn't that uchy unappreciated day anymore. I don't regret the tiyul (actually, I hanging up now, so I can go visit my son and his family in Eastern Gush Etzion for an hour).
I still miss my farther-away family, but I make sure to visit them at other times and ask them to visit me too.
I have come to appreciate and sense the holiness of Erev Shabbat. It actually makes me appreciate Shabbat all the more, and it's a very wonderful harmonious feeling. I walk a little slower, I smile a little more, I drink my coffee leisurely, I walk onto my porch for a look around the neighborhood once or twice, I open my oven, I take a whiff of the scents of Shabbat, and I hum when I sweep my kitchen floor.
Shabbat is coming, and now in my house, it begins on Friday. Hooray.
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Monument of Shame??

Note: I always tell my readers to investigate. Don't believe everything you read. Don't take things on face value. Don't jump to conclusions.
So many times, we have learned, the media write what they want, because they want to set the agenda on an issue. They want to sell you on their point of view.
A classic example was Mohammed Al Dura, the little Arab boy that became the poster child for "the inhumane child-murdering Israelis". A lying videographer pieced together some video footage to show that the IDF shot this child. The entire world jumped on the "IDF-murderer" bandwagon until honest journalist Philippe Karsenty proved it to be a hoax.
This holds true for world news, your country, your town, your block, your family.
Don't believe everything you read - investigate!!
That said...I really don't know what happened at the Holyland building project. I don't know if Jerusalem City Councilmembers, former Mayor Ehud Olmert, local and national officials and even Mayor Uri Lupolianski took payoffs. I hope this is a case of yellow journalism, and not "one of the worst corruption scandals in Israel's history!".
But this morning, as I was taking my daughter to school in Jerusalem, we were driving down the hill at Gilo and suddenly there on the horizon was the Holyland project. I had a chilling feeling.
Standing high above Malha, its white and beige buildings dominate the skyline of Bayit Vegan.
I told my daughter, "We don't know the truth about the Holyland yet, but if it turns out that the buildings were created on pay-offs and dishonesty, then, there before you stands a monument to bribery and corruption!!"
I'm sure we're all going to follow this story with great interest. I pray that it doesn't "stink" as much as the media reported already. With all the corruption already dominating the news here, an UnHolyland is something that is absolutely not needed is Israel today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Old City - Young Feet

I walked my feet off this morning in the Old City of Jerusalem. I joined about another 150 people on a tour, organized by Women In Green, and led both in English and Hebrew. The English guide was the incredible Daniel Luria, director of Ateret Cohanim. And if there's anyone who knows the Old City, it is Daniel.

We trekked through the narrow twisty cobble-stone streets of the Old Jewish Quarter (today's Arab Quarter) and visited the properties that were redeemed by the Ateret Cohanim/Jerusalem Reclamation Foundation. This trip was actually part two of a tour I had taken a few weeks again of Jewish Eastern Jerusalem with Daniel Luria. I wrote about it a few weeks ago: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/03/jewish-eastern-jerusalem.html

You can see the videos of that trip here:

Life in the Old City, especially the Old Jewish Quarter is unlike anywhere else in the world. To get to any apartment (or maybe just the ones that we saw - our luck :) ), you've got to walk through the windingest alleyways, climb rows and rows of narrow broken stairs, sometimes even go through other buildings on the way to yours. Arab graffiti is plentiful and the streets vary from packed with pushing people to empty.
It was very evident that the Old City is a place for young feet. Although everyone on our tour DID IT!!, and some of the folks were in their 70s, it's surely not an easy life.
Okay, let's put aside the Zionistic aspect of reclaiming Jewish property in the Old City, which is an immense and worthy undertaking - perhaps the worthiest, since this adds Jewish life to the area closest to Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount - let's just talk about regular life.
How do the women of the Old Jewish Quarter push their baby strollers through those uneven and bumpy narrow streets? How do they carry their strollers up 150 steps at a time? How do they bring in their groceries? Hm, how did they get their furniture up to their apartments when they moved in??
Besides the getting around difficulty, most of the Jewish homes we visited were tiny. And most of the families are large. The children play on rooftop playgrounds, which, I hope, provide enough room for fun for them. But how do they fit B"H bli ayin hara such giant families into their apartments?? And why would they stay for so many years in such difficult circumstances?
Daniel Luria said proudly, "There's still a thing called idealism today."
There's so much more to say....So, more to come!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm Still Here!!

L ike the rest of you, I spent quite a lot of time in the past few days attending Holocaust memorial events for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). I heard the old and the very old tell their stories. I saw the young explain the Holocaust to other children.
The programs were very different, but the messages were very similar:
** G-d made miracles for me.
** I was determined to remain alive.
** I was very lucky.
** Our Jewish children are our victory.
** Live the way you know you should, because the world can change in an instant.

Memories of the Camps
Life was absolutely regular in pre-World War II Europe for both Siggy Weiser and Mendel Flaster until one day it wasn't. Then suddenly 16-year-old Siggy found himself in a cattle car on his way to certain death and Mendel (in his twenties) was herded into a ghetto.
They were young men, not heroes, but a heroic life was thrust upon them. They survived when those around them gave up. They simply refused to give in to death.
Eighty-year old Siggy Weiser (pictured at left with former US GI David Hollander) figured out at his young age how to keep warm - stuffing cement bags in his paper-thin uniform - and how to find food - eating discarded spoiled cabbage that tasted to him like sauerkraut. Yumm.
They tried - even while wading through garbage heaps or organizing the clothing of dead Jews - to keep some semblance of human dignity.
They acknowledged G-d's miracles for them and they did what they could to help their brethren, even in their darkest moments.
In fact, 90 year old Mendel Flaster (pictured at left, speaking with Efratian Max DeVriend) says that as a young man he was driven by a combination of his stubborness and his decision to constantly act for the benefit of his fellow inmates.
Siggy Weiser and Mendel Flaster actually passed through some of the same concentration camps, but they never met until they both ended up in my town of Efrat (Siggy is a resident and Mendel a guest).
Both, alumni of the Gleiwitz, a subcamp of Auschwitz, as well as many others, they began completely new lives after the war. Seeing the political prisoners in their concentration camp being embraced by their countries of origin, Siggy and his fellow survivors realized that no nation in the world would wish to claim the remnants of the Jewish people, except their own - Palestine. Siggy found a blue shmatta (rag) and a white one, and hoisted them on a pole with enthusiasm and determination. His make-shift "Israeli flag" inspired everyone around him with hope that these Holocaust survivors had a country to which they too belonged.
Seeking justice as best he could, Mendel donned a US Army uniform, and went to work for the Criminal Investigation Commission and the Criminal Investigation Division, dedicating many years after the war to hunting down Nazi war criminals.
Siggy and Mendel are telling their stories now so that we can all be witnesses to the atrocities of the past, our enemies' attempts to totally destroy our people, and the ultimate victory and eternity of the Jewish people.
It is horrific, but it is real and cannot be denied. Their stories must live on. And all of us who have been privileged to hear the testimonies of survivors can say,"Once I heard a great-grandfather talking about his experiences in the camps. This is what happened to our people...."

First Graders Explain the Holocaust
Holocaust survivors are in their 70s, 80s and 90s today. May they live and be well until 120. They are not the only ones telling the stories of our people's tortures during the Holocaust. Our children are carrying forward their message of faith and struggle and survival.
I attended the First Grade Orot Etzion Girls' Holocaust Memorial Production. The girls told the audience the hardships of the Shoah. They hung stars representing the different towns from which Jews were deported. They lit six candles in memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
How much does a first grader know about the Holocaust? Surprisingly, a lot. In their show, they even portrayed a little boy who risked his life to crawl through the ghetto fence to buy bread for his family. One little girl in the play remarked that she couldn't remember ever having tasted fresh bread.
The children explained, once Jewish children went to school and played and laughed with glee, and then suddenly all the simple childhood pleasures were taken from them. Yes, children can understand the Holocaust on their levels.
Before he finished speaking Siggy Weiser called out, "I'm still here!!" B"H, the Jewish people continue on. Siggy said that his victory of the Nazis is his family - his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Bli ayin hara.
Yes, in every generation our enemies rise up against us, and thanks to G-d's mercy and love for the Jewish people, we continue on.
To watch Voices TV clips about the Holocaust, click on www.voices-magazine.com . Siggy Weiser can be heard at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=129. View the Memorial by Efrat's Children: http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=130 . More to come.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tales of Fairies and Tales of Horror

The world is a very complex place. In fact, my world of Israel is probably the most complex. Besides the security complexities, there are a myriad of other difficulties that arise from a giant Jewish melting pot that doesn't really melt.
They say the State of Israel is like a chulent with all kinds of different ingredients mixed together. But you know what...if you look at the chulent on Shabbat afternoon, you can still see the beans and the barley and the meat separately. They haven't mushed together. They're yummy as a mixture, but they're still individually identifiable.
Just as there are varied types of Israelis - as varied as the countries of their origin - there are a variety is a great diversity in the national life of our people. We've got Jewish holidays and national holidays. We celebrate happy times and memorialize tragedies.
The Jewish month of Nissan is probably the best example of the dichotomies in our lives.
In Nissan, on Passover we celebrate our rescue and escape from the Egyptian concentration camps, our miraculous crossing of the Dead Sea, and the start of our journey to the Chosen Land. We end the month with Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) by memorializing those who were not lucky enough to be rescue or escape from their concentration camps or lives of terror during the Nazi Holocaust.
The vast majority of Nissan is joyous with holiday preparations and tiyulim (family trips) all over the country (like our trips to Bet El and to the zoo), little outings to the zoo or other points of interest. Then the frivolity of the month ends as we remember those loved ones who were murdered by the Nazis and their allies, as well as those Jews and humans who fought against the atrocities of the time.


Last week, we "chopped" in a few more family trips before the joy of Nissan waned. We traveled to the port city of Ashdod (more coming in an upcoming blog) and then toured closer to home, as we visited the Jerusalem Municipality (more on that too at a later time) and the exhibition of stories and fairy tales at the Mamilla Mall.
The world's most popular children's tales were on display in Mamilla in the form or statues and paintings, as well as etchings. Pinocchio, the Wizard of Oz, the Ugly Duckling, Hansel and Gretel - each was whimsically displayed for thousands of passers-by to enjoy. Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Peter Pan and even the store of Rabbi Akiva and the Rooster were told in various art forms.
Mamilla shoppers and strollers enjoyed the exhibition, which is set to remain through October. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth the trip. Plus, you can always have lunch out at one of the Mamilla eateries, and you've got a great half-day exursion.
Voices made a movie of the Mamilla happenings. You can view it at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=127 .
But as we said, there are memories of other kinds in Nissan.


As we memorialize those loved ones lost in the Holocaust, we also thank Hashem for those who survived. One of the survivors was my own mother-in-law. Born in Austria, she spent the war years running from country to country to try to escape the Nazis, who seemed always to be one step behind her. Partnered with my father-in-law, o'h, and her own beloved mother, o'h, my mother-in-law lived a courageous and constantly-death-defying life until she thankfully was able to settle in Eretz Yisrael. Actually, my in-laws were Palestinians, coming into the land during the time of the British Mandate.
Two years ago, I videoed my mother-in-law briefly describing some of her memories from the Holocaust. You can view her story at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=128 . It is a tale of suspense, sadness and ultimate victory.
That's actually the tale of the Jewish people - suspense, sadness and ultimate victory, IY"H.
An eternal nation with a eternal tale.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

More Zoo News

Over the Shabbat table today, I told our guests some of the fascinating things I learned at the zoo yesterday. Now, I have to preface this by saying that all the explanations were in Hebrew, but I got most of it, or at least I think I did.
After I told my guests about the zoo, my kids said, "Ema, that was really fascinating. Really. You should blog about that."
Well, some of it really was fascinating, so I'll try to share with you a little bit more of what I remember about the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
The zookeepers were very eager to answer everyone's questions and here are some of the topics they discussed:
** There are so many endangered species in the world, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo does its part in raising and caring for many of these species and then hopefully ultimately reintroducing them into nature. Deer from the zoo have been reintroduced into nature preserves and forests. The zoo tracks them after they return to nature to see how they do. One of the zookeepers told us that another zoo's panda bears were returned to the wild and died because they did not know how to fend for themselves. He said that many animals that are not specifically trained on how to survive in the big wild world, unfortunately die of starvation. That was pretty sad. Hopefully the Jerusalem Zoo's deer are learning how to eat in nature.
** The Jerusalem Zoo does not exhibit any animals that have difficulty in Israel's climate. They had snow leopards once and they could not exist in the Jerusalem summer heat. In fact, there are zoo boards that reject requests from different zoos to exhibit certain animals, because of the conditions for that animal at the zoo and the climate.
** The flamingoes drink water mixed with paprika and other things in order to maintain their pink color. In the wild, they eat pink shrimp.
** Did you know that if a zoo wants to have a panda bear, they must pay the Chinese Government one million dollars a year for the privilege and the responsibility of having the panda? This money goes into a fund for the preservation and breeding of pandas.
** It takes the zoo's chef more than a half day to prepare food for all the animals.
** The elephants are exercised every day. The tricks they do are actually for their benefit, so that they will be able to show the veterinarian different parts of their body for check ups. They are put to "work" in their cage - like moving big logs, etc. - as a form of a physical workout. BTW, the elephants are the only animals that get a daily tiyul around the zoo.
Voices TV hopes to have a video up about the Jerusalem Zoo in the next few days. Check www.voices-magazine.com for Voices TV.