Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exploring Israel - Motza

When vacation is here, my family and I love to explore Israel. There are so many fascinating cities and towns, each founded at a different point is Israel's history, each with a different character and a different look.
There are so many places within Israel that are only a car-ride away.

Mo Mot Motz Motza
We drove about 15 minutes to Motza, an ancient and renewed town. Our first stop was the site of a mikveh from the First Temple period. We parked our car on the road and walked down to the place of the mikveh. We had a good chuckle when we saw a NaNachNachman car and trailer there with three Breslover Chassidim selling sefarim (books) there.
We actually bought a book of prayers for special occasions from them.
I asked them to whom they were selling books in the middle of nowhere? They said that this actually a very popular and trafficked place. They said that pilgrim passers-by on the way to the Temple Mount would stop at the Motza mikveh. One of the Breslovers said that once there was so much water that two more mikvaot were built along side the first. "Now," he said, "The water has trickled down to only enough for the first mikveh."
Next to the mikveh, the Breslovers put up a curtain so that people could tovel (purify themselves) in the mikveh in privacy.

Super Old and Old Motza
We walked along the road toward Jerusalem for about two minutes when we came to a small building that once was a Khan (way station) and now served as a synagogue. The Khan itself was built on an ancient Roman village and a Crusader fortress. There are relics of Jews living in Motza all the way up to the First Temple period. The name Motza was found there on a ceramic clay jug from 800 BCE.
Motza is actually at the center of a very wide field with remnants of an old farming town thousands of years old. The town is mentioned in the Books of Joshua (18:26), Chronicles and in the Mishna.
The Talmud says that arava (willow) from Motza was brought to the altar on the Temple Mount for Sukkot, and the people of Motza were exempt by the king from paying taxes.
According to Josephus, Titus lived in Motza along with a population of 800 then. Motza became the place from which the Romans ruled.
During the Ottoman Empire, Motza was a resting station on the way to Jerusalem.
In 1850 Shaul Yehuda ben Shlomo, Yechezkel Yehuda (an immigrant from Bavel) and David Yellin (from Poland) bought land and water rights in Colonia (Motza).
They wanted to live in Motza and be self-sufficient. In this new era, Motza became the first place that Jews bought land. And Yellin was the first Jew who worked the land with his own hands. (The Ottomans forbade any sale of land to someone not Ottoman, so Jews who wanted to buy land, had to use tricks, pay graft and favors from James Fine of the British Consulate.
In 1861, they officially owned the land. They built a structure to house camels and donkeys of travels from Yaffo to Jerusalem.
In 1863, the Sheikh of the ara Mustafa Abu Ghosh destroyed all the buildings and disrupted all the commerce there until he was paid off.
Yehuda Ben Shalom, Yechezkel Yehuda and David Yellin paid production money to him. Shaul Yehuda gave up. He didn't see any blessing from his work, and he left the business. (Unfortunately he died of pneumonia at age 24.)
In 1866, the British finalized the purchase of the land, and David Yellin's son and Shaul Yehuda's brother inherited the land. In that same year, Yellin's workers were plowing the field when they hit a metal ring. Pulling it up, they saw it was attached to the cover of a chimney from an old building. They uncovered the building and found a Byzantine Roman structure completely intact.
They also found an ancient deep well with a tremendous amount of water.
The Turks paved a road from Yaffo to Jerusalem in 1869. Yellin built a second floor and large open porch. The lower floor was used as a stable. Before they paved the road, the trip from Jerusalem to Motza took about two hours. Riders rested their horses there before driving on to Jerusalem.
In addition, during those days the Walls around Jerusalem closed at dark, and Motza became a resting place for those who didn't think they could make it to Jerusalem before dark.
Between 1880 and 1881, Yellin tried to use the resources they had and create a factory there making roof tiles. This was the first factory outside the walls of Jerusalem, but the rooftiles cracked adn the business failed, closing after two years, and losing a fortune.
In 1890 Yellin sold the building to Bnei Brit and he built himself a little house for living quarters. It stands behind the synagogue.
This has recently come a museum, but unfortunately, it wasn't open when we were in Motza. You have to call before you come in order to see the house. (Next time.)
Families came and went in Motza, and we found out that one family that lived in the Khan itself, was the family of Israel Katz.
Khan to Synagogue
The Khan was turned into a synagogue more than a hundred years ago. The renovation was financed by 150 tourists from Hungary and Eastern Europe in 1905. They gave 3000 gold francs for the shul and school in the moshava.
The first farming families of Motza were very religious. Despite the fact that there was a famine and hunger, they did not work the land during Shemitta (sabbatical for the land).
Services are still held in Motza's synagogue daily.
We visited between the hours of prayer, and we walked around the synagogue. The walls are filled with clips about Motza's synagogue as well as notes of thank to those who donated to the shul.
It was renovated in 1961 and again in 1983.

Treasure in Motza
Inside the shul, we came upon a treasure - a book by Mazal Marseline Albucha. It was a giant volume dedicated tot he synagogue in 2009. Born in 1920 in Gruzia, Istanbul, Mazal's life story is told from Istanbul to Motza.
Over 60 years of writings are included in the book - invitations, notes from children, stories about members of the community. The book is a personal history of Motza in 1068 pages. Glancing through the book, we truly felt like we were being a personal tour of Motza and its community.
When we left the shul, we drove around the present day Motza. It is very rich in flowers and trees with all kinds of houses. As we drove around, the looks on people's faces seemed to say, "Look at that, outsiders!" It didn't seem that very many visitors ever venture their way. And perhaps that's as it should be, because the quiet unspoiled characteristic just seemed right for Motza.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Just as the Jewish people faced a cruel and brilliant enemy more than two thousand years ago in Shushan, we face his descendants today, scattered throughout the Middle East.In my previous blog, I mentioned that lectures at the Jerusalem Conference made me realize on how many different fronts Israel was forced to fight. The Arabs are no longer attacking Israel with only guerilla warfare or kassams. Today they are fighting in varied physical and psychological ways, challenging Israel in every way possible.Front Seven - Longer and Longest Range MissilesAs the Arabs' hardware for war becomes more sophisticated, more of the country shakes in fear as every major city - Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheva are in missile range from enemy terrain.
Front Eight - The Territorial Conflict
The Arab nations claim the Land of Israel for their own. Syria wants the Golan Heights down to and including the Kinneret. The only way they say they'll negotiate with us is if we walk to the table agreeing in advance that we will go down from the Golan Heights and give up the Kinneret as well. The Lebanese want border towns in the North. The Palestinian Authority is pushing for Judea and Samaria (they already got Gaza and turned it into a giant terrorist base) and Eastern Jerusalem.Israel keeps saying no to dividing Jerusalem, but meanwhile the Arabs have already built the skeleton of a giant capital building in Eastern Jerusalem. We keep saying, "no", and they keep continuing toward their goal.PA President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not negotiate with Israel unless building in Judea and Samaria is totally frozen (not just for ten months) and frozen in Eastern Jerusalem as well.
Front Nine - The Religious Conflict
Palestinian Media Watch's director Itamar Marcus said that the conflict with the Arabs goes beyond territory. "Is the conflict a territorial or religious conflict? If it's territorial, there can be a compromise. But if it's from Allah, there's no compromise."So, which is it? Itamar said, "In a new 'Palestinian' school book for 2006-2007, it says, we have a religious war until the revival of the dead."en speaking about Moslem tensions in the world, often the term "clash of civilizations" is brought up. Some speakers at the Jerusalem Conference explained that the Moslems are really at war with the west in a clash of ideology. Meanwhile, Israel is taking the brunt of Moslem jihad, and muftis in mosques throughout Israel preach the destruction of the Jewish people.Itamar noted, "'Palestinian' media said that Jews are the enemy of humanity, and so they must be killed."
Front Ten - The Local Arab Front
Not only does Israel have to worry about the Arabs in its neighboring countries, Gaza and Judea and Samaria, but it also has to be more vigilant in regard to its Israeli Arabs. Over the past years, more Israeli Arabs than ever are involved in terrorist attacks directly or indirectly. Bedouins are also becoming larger threats to the State of Israel. Not only are they stealing everything they can, and smuggling goods and prostitutes into the country. They are also smuggling in weapons.
Front Eleven - Bedouins & Druze
For many years, Bedouins and Druze have been looked on as quaint National Geographic type groups. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Bedouins are implicated in more than theft. They are becoming more involved in Arab attacks and plots against Israel and the Jewish people.

More to come. Stay tuned.


Israel is always examing the strategic threat against its borders and its people. It seems the threat is growing all the time from every direction. From near and far – Hamas, Fatah, Bedouin, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, etc.. Our security forces do their best to face all these threats, and we must do our part in calling out to Hashem to protect and defend us.
Anyone with clarity of vision can see that the dangers around us are so complex and layered that no Army, political strategy, or creative concessions can really protect us.
[It’s like the atomic bomb drills that American children in the 60s endured. The Public Address system announced, “Atomic bomb drill. Children get under your desks and cover your heads.” We all did it very seriously and quietly. The government pronounced the drills a major success. The country was satisfied that we were safe from atomic bombs. Well, Honey (please say that with Uptown Attitude – hun-ay!!), ain’t no desk gonna save little kids from an atomic bomb.] And ain’t no great plan gonna save Israel from an entire world of wolves descending upon it, except The Great Plan.
Strategic Thinking
Every year, I am privileged to attend the Jerusalem Conference. National leaders, politicians, generals, experts in every national field and brilliant thinkers (I mean that seriously) attend. In hours of sessions about the state of Israel and Jerusalem today, the global economic crisis, the Israel-Arab problem, the Arab-Arab problem, war in the 21st century, war on the college campuses, many ideas and positions were put forward.
Of course, most speakers emphasized the threat from the Arabs within our borders and without. A workshop this past year on the missile threat upon Israel was particularly compelling.
Something said by Dr. Uzi Rubin started my mind racing. Dr. Rubin, former head of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization said, “Our opponent has never given up [on its mission to destroy Israel]. It has just changed its strategy, wearing us down with guerillas and wearing us down with rocket fire.”This statement was totally true. Dr. Rubin surely realized that the enemy was even cleverer than any of us had given him credit for. But the source of their genius is even more than missiles and suicide belts. The Arab enemy has a brilliant simultaneous multi-multi-level pronged attack on the Jewish people and the Jewish nation that is calculated and far-reaching.During Israel’s past wars, we have had to fight on many fronts simultaneously. The next confrontation, chas v’shalom, will make that seem like a children’s exercise.
Front One – Arab Psychological Attacks Against Israel’s Weakest Links
Just as Amalek attacked the weakest Israelites in the rear of the camp, so the Arabs today attack the conscience of our weakest people – those with neither faith nor heritage nor roots from which to gain strength. The enemy hammers away at them hourly with their deceitful message: if only Jews weren’t occupying Arab land, if only Jews wouldn’t build here or there, if only Jerusalem were divided, if only Israel would agree to share sovereignty over the Land… Yes, they creatively attack from every direction, even our brightest but disconnected Jews fall into their trap. For example, Channel 2 TV senior commentator on Arab Affairs Ehud Ya’ari actually told the Jerusalem Conference that Israel should explore alternative ideas proposed by the Arabs.
For example, “The ‘Palestinians’ are talking about parallel statehood on the same territory with each nation responsible for its own citizens.” Can you imagine that? It’s difficult enough for two women to share the same kitchen, but somehow two kings can share the same kingdom.
But the Arab attack on Jewish conscience/intellect is working, and unfortunately we hear Jewish calls to freeze settlement construction, abandon parts of our G-d given land and even our capital, and as Ehud Ya’ari suggested, we should “force the ‘Palestinians’ into sovereignty.”
Front Two - Traditional Arab Terror
The Arabs’ traditional methods of terror – bombings, stabbings, shootings, mutilations – have succeeded in frightening some of our population into just wanting to give the Arabs anything they want. Anything, just stop hitting us. But this has grown a bit tiresome. It used to be that a terror attack received front page attention. Now, it has moved to Page Six.
Front Three - Arab Psychological Preparation of its Own People
Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch,, explained to the Jerusalem Conference that the Palestinian Authority is not preparing its people to live side by side with Israel. On the contrary, through every facet of public information – newspapers, schools, text books, sports events, television – they are teaching their public that there is no Israel, and if there is an Israel, it is an illegitimate one.
For example, their weekly show, “Going Back” is dedicated to refugees and their mission to return to their former cities. Their TV shows reinforce the idea of “Palestine” with anever present logo of the Temple Mount.
Front Four – Arab Preparation of Their Next Generation
Israeli schools are constantly teaching our children the message of peace. It is the preeminent goal for which we strive. Our counterpart Arab schools are doing opposite, Itamar Marcus explained. Even one of their newest textbook for 2010 says, “The war of ‘Palestine’ ended with Zionist groups robbing ‘Palestine’.” Itamar stated, “The problem is ’48, not ’67.” He showed a clip from PA children’s TV. On a quiz show, the children are asked, “Where is Palestine’s most important port? Haifa, Jaffo….?” The message is constant, there is no Israel, only ‘Palestine’.
He added, two months ago on the fifth anniversary of Arafat’s death, PA TV interviewed Arab children. One after the other little children declared that the Jewish people killed Arafat. They poisoned him, etc. One little boy said, “I don’t know what he died of, but I know the Jews caused it.” Itamar said, “He got the message. Something bad must be connected and caused by the Jews.”
Front Five – Kassams and Short Range Terror
In addition to closest range shootings, bombings, stabbings, the Arabs of Gaza began years ago with short range kassams. Once kassams were cheap home-made missiles that were fired upon Gush Katif communities and their neighboring cities of the Sderot region. Thousands upon thousands of Arab-fired kassams have killed Jews in Southern Israel and caused hundreds of thousands of traumatized Jews to sleep in shelters and doorways and anywhere they felt “safe”. Now even kassams are getting more sophisticated. They are imported from different countries, including manufacturing giant China.
Dr. Uzi Rubin explained, “Hamas began with home-made rockets and moved to factories. The range [of kassams] has improved to 40-60 kilometers. Half of the population of Israel is under rocket range.”In addition, he said, “Now they are firing missiles simultaneously in batches. They have a larger potential for mass-destruction.”
Front Six – Grads, Katyushas and Long Range Terror
Dr. Rubin noted, “Arabs are increasing the abilities of their hi-tech and low tech.” Hi-tech are the more advanced grads, katyushas from Lebanon, scud missiles from Syria. “The enemy looked for new ways of warfare. Some missile ranges grow longer, and some rocket ranges grow shorter.” Longer range missiles mean that larger population centers are in missile range. Shorter range rockets mean there is less (if any) warning time.
Yes, he noted that there are Arrow, Patriot, Magic Wand and Iron Dome defense systems. But…More to Discuss
There are seven more fronts to discuss: the Territorial Front, the Religious Front, The Local Arab Front, the International Friends Front, the Underdog Front, the Threat Front.
They will all be discussed more fully on my blog: and in Voices on-line publication, IY”H, at .
With thirteen fronts threatening the Jewish people, it is very clear that just as our ancestors throughout our generations, the Jewish People today are living in very perilous times. And yet, we can look at the actions of Esther, Mordechai and our ancestors throughout history, we must understand that our greatest Defender, our most powerful Friend, and the One upon Whom we have always depended is not sitting in the White House or anywhere else on this earth. But He is very near and ready to help if we will understand and call upon Him.
Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion explained that miracles were built in to Israel’s plans for our nation. We should remember that.
Read on.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Kosher on the Continent

Since my return last week from Europe, I have wanted to write to you about Hermolis.Com. (Nooooo, I don't get a percentage, or even a company pen. I just am so grateful to them for making out stay in England so simple.) Hermolis provided all our meals in London - breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even sent over a delicious Hermolis birthday cake for my sister's birthday.
Every morning we arose to a delicious breakfast with everything we needed - yogurt, eggs, fruit salad, orange juice, etc. For lunch they sent us sandwiches for our tiyulim (tours). And at night, our dinners were just delicious - veal, roast beef, chicken.
You see, if you're not familiar with which brands are permissible, England is not the simplest place to obtain kosher food. There are few kashruth certifications on food. It's not like the US, which has certifications on every kosher product - and there are zillions.
In London, you can get tons of certified CHALAL food (that's kosher for Muslims), but Jewish kashruth certificates were not that readily visible.
My friend forwarded me to a book about keeping kosher in England. I kept it with me at all times, but using the book wasn't as easy as you'd think. Many items/stores are just not even mentioned.
The Hermolis Giant
Then, there was Hermolis.
Hermolis began as a restaurant operator almost 50 years ago. Today Hermolis and Company Ltd is Europe's largest manufacturer of Kosher foods.
Its food is under the kashruth supervision of "Kedassia" which is the most stringent religious organisation in this country and accepted worldwide.
They deliver their delicious food all over Europe. For a kosher traveler, that's a real bracha (blessing).
If you're going traveling in the upcoming year, stop worrying where your next meal will come from. Just contact and let them do the rest. Just remember your camera.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

History and Me - Lachish Destroyed, Lachish Rebuilt - Part 1

I think we all know that all of life and history is interconnected. So how do I fit in with Lachish, the Assyrians and Gush Katif? Have a long listen!
As I left the British Museum two weeks ago, after a day of historical window-hopping, I saw ME hanging on the wall. Well, I thought it was me. About eight years ago, in the second Raise Your Spirits theater production, ESTHER and the Secrets of the King's Court,, I played the semi-wicked, semi-bright King Achashverosh – Xerxes, to the outside world.
There on the wall of the British Museum, I thought I was looking right at my stage alter-ego. Suddenly I got my second wind, and asked my family to sit down and relax while I explored a bit further.
Reading the plaque under the wall-sculpture, I sighed in disappointment. It wasn't Achashverosh (above left, who ruled Iran when it was Persia – 486 BCE) after all, but an earlier Iranian ruler, Tiglath-pileser III (immediately left, king of Assyria in 745 BCE). Well, you can't blame me; they kind of look alike, except for the hat.
Since I was already in the Assyrian section of the museum, I thought I'd take a quick look. After Tiglath-pileser III became king of Assyria, among his many military feats, he conquered Ashkelon, one of the five Philistine cities (along with Gaza, Gath, Ekron and Ashdod). Even after our beloved scholar-warrior king David defeated the Philistines in many of their strongholds, he could not remove them from Ashkelon. It took the Assyrian conqueror Tiglath-Pileser III to do so in 734 B.C.E. And so, after about 600 years in, and neighboring the Land of Israel, the Philistines finally disappeared forever, B"H. Thanks for that, T-P.
Unfortunately, this Tiglath-Pileser III started the cataclysmic destruction of the Northern Kingdom, Samaria and the Exile of the Twelve Tribes. Because of T-P and the Assyrian Kings after him, our brethren have been scattered throughout the world for thousands of years. Our nation is incomplete, and we are always searching for our lost kinsmen.
Who were these Assyrian conquerors? As I walked further through the Assyrian section, I drifted into a room that stunned me. I had read about it in the spell-binding book Purim and the Persian Empire by Yehuda Landy, but seeing it in real life was so much more powerful. Yehuda Landy wrote, "In Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh, a central room was dedicated to his siege and conquest of the Judean city of Lachish [in the northern Negev near Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat]. It was one of Sennacherib's major campaigns, taking place during the sixth year of his reign, in which he marched his entire army from Nineveh to Judea."

Continue to Lachish Part 2 -

History and Me - Lachish 2

Lachish? Why on earth would the mighty warrior and king Sennacherib dedicate an entire room in his palace in Khorsabad to the Judean town of Lachish? The Assyrian kings had conquered an empire stretching from Egypt to Iran. Sennacherib had conquered Elam in Southwestern Iran and Babylonia. But hanging over him always was the fact that his fathers before him had destroyed the majority of the Land of Israel. He must have felt that it was his destiny to finish the job.
Lachish was a city made great by King Solomon's son Rechavam. It controlled the passageway from the coast to the capital. So, not to leave anything to chance, Sennacherib marched his entire Army to Judea. He laid a mega-siege to Lachish, and when he conquered it, ahhhhhhh, he probably believed, this was the beginning of the complete subjugation of all of Judea, and ultimately Jerusalem. So intoxicated was he with his own power and domination after the capture of Lachish, he actually dedicated an entire room in his palace at Khorsabad (next to ancient Nineveh) to this battle of 701 BC.
There around the British Museum were these sculpted reliefs of the Assyrian conquest of Lachish. They were so lifelike. I saw the faces of my brothers, anguished and weary. I saw the haughty Assyrian soldiers and their mighty war machine. I stroked the shoulders of the Jewish slaves and tried to console them through the millenia.
I slowly inched from panel to panel, engrossed in each scene, helpless to change the outcome of Sennacherib's assault.
The Capture of Lachish, according to the British Museum:
"In 701 BC, Hezekiah, king of Judah, was implicated in a rebellion against Assyrian rule in Palestine [my emphasis, because there was no Palestine then, not at all. There was Israel and Judea. So why did they write that? Does the BM have a political agenda? If so, well...changing history is not appropriate for such a respected institution.]."
"Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked and defeated the rebels and their Egyptians allies. He did not capture Hezekiah's capital, Jerusalem, he may not even have planned to [my emphasis], but instead he devastated the very strong and important city of Lachish." (Liar, I screamed at the sign. I was wild with anger. Liar. Folks in the museum turned around. Liar, I told them Sennacherib marched against Jerusalem with 185,000 soldiers and G-d made a miracle and killed them all. Sennacherib was panting to destroy Jerusalem. That sign in the British Museum did not tell the real story. Was that an intentional political move, like calling Eretz Yisrael "Palestine" when there was no "Palestine", or was it a mistake from lack of research? I didn't know, but I was outraged. The parents took their children by the hand and sidled away from me.)
Not only did Sennacherib want to destroy Jerusalem, he was obsessed with defeating the Judean king Chezkiyahu (Hezekiah). A full two chapters of Kings II – 18 and 19 – are packed with Sennacherib's fixation on Jerusalem. First he captured Lachish and the cities of Judea. Then he sent his generals from Lachish to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. They called to the Jews of Jerusalem to surrender, telling them not to delude themselves into thinking Hashem would save them. They said, no gods of any nation that the Assyrians attacked ever saved their people. Just as the Assyrians had destroyed all the lands before them, they would destroy Jerusalem. They told residents to give up, and allow the Assyrians to bring them "to a land like your land," i.e. exile them from their homeland to a faraway place.
But Hezekiah and the people prayed and repented, and the generals continued to deride Hashem (which was a b-i-g mistake). "Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the L-rd deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (Kings II 18: 35)
Ha, a double dare, eh! So Hashem declared that the King of Assyria would not enter Jerusalem, or even shoot an arrow there or put up his ramp against it. "I shall protect this city, to save it, for My sake and for the sake of My servant David." (Kings II 19:34)
Yes, the Assyrians intended and did their best to conquer Jerusalem with a force of 185,000 warriors. And on that very night, an angel of Hashem went out and struck down the entire camp. "The rest rose in the morning and behold – they were all dead corpses!"…So after his war against Hashem, Sennacherib returned a defeated man to Nineveh, where he was killed by his own sons.
(Jerusalem and Judea were safe until Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE destroyed the Holy Temple, Jerusalem and the cities of Judea.)

Continue to Lachish Part 3:

History and Me - Lachish 3

At the beginning of the new State of Israel, Lachish was desolate and Arabs infiltrated from Gaza through the region. It was partially awakened in 1955 by the founding of 15 moshavim and one village. Jewish immigrants of North Africa and Arab countries were settled there to plow and plant large luxurious fields of colorful flowers and delicious grapes.
Although 15 moshavim dot Lachish's 500,000 dunams (about 193 sq. miles, 500 sq. kilometers, or 125,000 acres), it is sparsely populated with only 7,500 residents (less than my home town of Efrat alone).
But Lachish is bursting forth with life once again. Jews were expelled from Lachish 2700 years ago, and now expelled Jews are returning there. Tractors and plows are preparing the land, and workers are scrambling across its hills building homes and public structures for the expelled Jews from Gush Katif.
Five years ago to the day of this writing, 1850 families, approximately 10,000 Jews were taken by force from their homes in Jewish Gaza and brought to hotel rooms, caravans, rejected apartment buildings, and caravilla refugee sites. For five years they have suffered degradation, unemployment, underemployment, bureaucracy, illness, divorce, heartbreak, drugs, evils of society that they had never known in their paradise-like existence on the sands of Gaza.
Now finally some of the communities are in the first stages of being reborn – infrastructure has been completed in six towns, construction of the first houses has begun in nine locations. In five locations nothing has yet commenced.
Lachish is one of the regions where infrastructure has begun at one site, and nothing has moved at another.
Ultimately, according to Friends of Gush Katif, the new communities of Bnei Dekalim, Neta, Amatzia and Shomriya will bring 1,000 families to the Lachish area, IY"H, many of them from former Gush Katif communities.
Last year, my family and I attended the ground breaking of the new Bnei Dekalim town. Thousands of people attended, all eager to wish our GK friends a speedy uneventful building process. Lachish will be a tapestry of GK towns. Families of Tel Katifa and Neve Dekalim are making the Lachish town of Shekef their home. Mirsham/Neta will be the home of expelled families from Kfar Darom and Tel Katifa. Neve Dekalim refugees are full-speed ahead building Bnei Dekalim. Plans call for 500 families there. A new community Kerem Ami will a mixed secular religious town with 220 families one day, IY"H.
Bnei Dekalim, the most advanced, will live in concert with nature, and add green values on to its orange ones.
Lachish will live again in vibrancy and passion. Jews will bring enthusiasm and dedication to their national mission. And the Assyrians, where are they? Dust and a sign at a museum.

Monday, July 19, 2010

History and Me - The Sisera Discovery

A few weeks ago, a 13 year old mystery was solved. Archaeologists had uncovered a 3,200-year-old round bronze tablet with a carved face of a woman at an excavation site that they believe was Harosheth Haggoyim, the local base of Sisera, captain of the Canaanite Army of King Yavin.
Archaeologists from the University of Haifa realized that the tablet, found at the El-ahwat excavation site near Katzir, is part of a linchpin that held the wheel of a battle chariot in place.
Oren Cohen of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa was quoted as saying that the round, bronze tablet, about 2 cm. in diameter and 5 mm. thick, features a carved face of a woman wearing a cap and earrings shaped as chariot wheels.
While studying ancient Egyptian reliefs depicting chariot battles, Professor Cohen noticed unique decorations! -The bronze linchpins fastening the chariot wheels of royalty and distinguished individuals were decorated with people’s faces. Cohen explained that these faces were those of captives, foreigners and enemies of Egypt.
I disagree.
If you were Sisera, the supreme leader of the Canaanite Army, would you put the faces of enemies on your gorgeous bronze engraved chariot? I think not.
If you were Sisera, you would take into battle with you something that reminded you of the one you loved the best. That is what warriors have done throughout the generations. Knights took the scarves of their ladies fair. Fighter pilots in World War II wrote the names of the loves they left behind on the nose of their plane.
Today macho fighters write their girls' names in tattoos on their arms.
Sisera must have done something similar. On the linchpin of his chariot, he put the face that meant the most to him in the world.
History and Me
And this is where I enter history. This year the Raise Your Spirits theater company is taking the stage with its latest production "Judge, the Story of Devorah." The show's director, Toby Klein Greenwald (and a co-writer with Yael Valier), sent out notice about the find to our cast: .
Well, in this year's play, I portray Sisera's mother. Nowhere can we find a closer relationship between a mother and son than Sisera and his Mom. The Jewish People even learn how to blow the shofar on our holiest days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, by the 101 heart wrenching cries of Sisera's mother, when she discovers he has been killed.
The image of Sisera's super-beloved mother waiting by the window has inspired artists throughout the generation to paint that woman who loved her son more than all else. She is the ultimate mother, "Through the window she gazed; Sisera's mother peered through the window, 'Why is his chariot delayed in coming? Why are the hoof beats of the carriages so late?'" (Judges 5:28)
Okay, she was calmed by possibilities of her son's brutality, but it takes a lot to comfort such an attached mother, right? "The wisest of her ladies answered her, and she too, offers herself responses. 'Are they not finding and dividing loot? A comely [captive], for every man; booty of colored garments for Sisera, booty of colored embroidery, colored, doubly embroidered garments for the necks of the looters." (Judges, 5:29-30 - Artscroll Tanach translation)
Really...a soldier goes into battle. His goal is to destroy the enemy and then bring back his gold and silver, weapons and priceless goods. What is Sisera going to bring back? Besides the slave girls (and what mother doesn't want a few more slaves to do the laundry and the cleaning), he's bringing back colored garments and embroidery – clothing and beautiful goods that his mother would love.
If in the heat of battle, he's spending time shopping for his mother, then whose face is going to be on his chariot??….Ba ba boing – his mother's, of course!
And why am I so sure?
Because in preparing for my role as Sisera's mother, I've carefully studied the Story of Devorah, and I know my character and that of my son's very well.
Our relationship is as close as mother and son could ever be. And so, despite what the hoity toity archaeologists and scientists say about the face on the linchpin of Sisera's chariot, I know in my very soul that when my son the general goes into battle, he takes not only my image in his heart, he takes my face on his wheels.
Hey... it even looks like me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

MADA Education

Last week, the Efrat Emergency Medical Center opened its doors to the general public for an afternoon of workshops on CPR. The CPR demonstration was conceived, organized and run by Efrat Magen David Adom personnel.
Sessions ran both in Hebrew and English, as Efratians were taught the rudimentary skills of helping a child or adult who suddenly collapses or chokes.
A large number of MADA (Magen David Adom) Emergency medical personnel were on hand to demonstrate the correct CPR procedures and walk residents through the steps. The workshops were designed theoretically to make ordinary individuals feel that they can make a difference in saving someone's life.
The workshops had rubber dummies in both adult and children sizes so that residents could practice on both. There were First Aid packs available for sale, provided MADA, Jerusalem.
The evening-long initiative was a comprehensive program equipped and funded by the MADA Efrat Team and Efrat's Security Department.
A film ran in the auditorium, showing how a teenage MADA volunteer saved the life of a teacher in the local high school, thanks to the student's CPR training.
I was in awe of everyone who succeeded in understanding how to perform CPR correctly. The session made me understand the importance of CPR, and also realize that I know almost nothing about the CPR procedure. I hope I am never put to the test, but in order to save a life, if it is necessary, I need to really know CPR, and therefore, it caused me and hopefully lots of other people to register for further courses.
I signed up for a 4 hour course, but there are more comprehensive 30 hour courses and even 60 hour courses.
Thanks to all those who planned and participated in this program. Here's to a safer healthier town.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Positively Fabulous - Redeeming the Land

On Friday morning at Shdema (an abandoned Israeli Army Base - now used as a Jewish cultural center), 50 young people received certificates for their participation in planting almost 20 dunams of Jewish land between Alon Shvut and Elazar. This is area is called Netzer.
Agricultural Zionism!! That is one of the positive directions of the future of Am Yisrael in its Land. Especially now, when we build a house, and it is torn down because of the building freeze, planting Jewish trees and Jewish vines in Eretz Yisrael is a powerfully terrific way to lay claim to our land and help develop it.
Agricultural Zionism is also an idea that plants an even greater love of the Land/the earth of Israel in the hearts of our next generation. It's a way to renew the age-old love that our people have for our land.
Well, it's not a new idea. Jews have been engaging in Agricultural Zionism in modern history since the members of the first waves of Aliyah planted the orchards of our earliest towns, like Rishon LeZion, Netanya, Mazkeret Batya, etc.
The planting this week was part of an Agricultural Camp, set up by Women in Green and the Yibaneh Fund to begin redeeming the last 60 dunams of Jewish land between Alon Shvut and Elazar. The Arabs, along with their European Union and leftwing supporters, have been aggressively planting on this land, wanting to break the continuity between our communities.
No one has stopped the Arabs' illegal and chutzpadik (brazen) planting on Gush Etzion land, and there has been no response until 50 kids rolled up their sleeves to plant Jewish trees in the area. About 15 girls and 35 boys (in separate camps) signed up to work the land. Almost immediately there was a waiting list of 200 teenagers. (If there were more funds for more planting, more teenagers could have been accepted.) This entire week, these young people could be found on our hillsides with the homes of their friends and family in the background.
The teenagers worked very hard. The boys were all decked out in work clothes, looking like farming pros, and the girls were on the job in their flip flops and skirts! They all had blisters on the hands and sunburns on their necks. But they didn't stop. The boys worked a very large area near Elazar. The girls worked two smaller areas, both by Alon Shvut and Elazar. They dug holes in the stubbornly hard earth, laid water pipes, put down plastic coverings (so the plants could be raised organically without pesticides), and planted 36 trees and 220 vines on every dunam of land.
I visited the Netzer camps twice and watched the kids reconnecting to Eretz Yisrael. Their pride in their accomplishment was evident on their faces. Their excitement with each sapling that was planted was contageous. They knew exactly why they were planting and what the goal was - redeeming Jewish land and creating Jewish continuity between Alon Shvut and Elazar. They were well-spoken and enthusiastic. Many live in the area and said that they hoped to come during the year to see their trees. Young boy said that one day he hopes to return with his grandchildren and tell them, "Sabba planted this tree."
Congratulations to all the teenagers who participated in Yibaneh' Agricultural Camp. Congratulations to their madrichim (farming supervisors) from the Galil and Jezreel Valley who were as enthusiastic and dedicated to this project as the children. And congratulations to Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover who initiated this idea, being proactive in a creative way to build up the land of Israel.

For more background, see previous post:
To donate to the Yibaneh Fund and help redeem more land, you may send checks to Women for Israel's Tomorrow- Yibaneh Fund, POB 7352, Jerusalem 91072 or POB 1269, Efrat 90435.
Click here to view the video clip of the Netzer planting:

While You Were Cooking....Demo on Zayit

While you were cooking, I went over to the Zayit to see the weekly demonstration by anarchists, leftwing Israelis, vacationing Americans and Arabs. This demonstration is near the fence of the Zayit. After watching an eye-opening video of anarchists/Israelis/Arabs so easily cut through the metal fence in 2007 at Carmei Tzur,, I was surprised that the demonstrators were allowed to come so close to the fence.
Right near the Heftziba apartment houses on the Zayit, Arabs were screaming, "1234 Please leave Palestine. 1234 Please leave Palestine." They were taunting Israeli soldiers. And when they saw they were being photographed, they screamed, "Camera, camera." (What was that supposed to do?)
Today's demonstration was haughty, more than violent. (I guess many demonstrators were at the beach.) Zayit residents have said that it is sometimes violent.
The weekly demonstrations vary in size, but in general, the movement for these demonstrations is becoming more popular and getting more support. The demonstrators have a brilliant system that saves manpower and exerts the most damage possible.
They rent a bus and bring demonstrators from place to place. They demonstrate an hour here, then an hour there, and back on the bus. Locals or demonstrators particular for that location join them. They don't really have a message - sometimes they're against the wall, sometimes settlement, but mostly they're against the existence of the State of Israel.
While the majority of demonstrators are not local Arabs, unfortunately they fire up the local Arab community to continue their work, trying to intimidate the soldiers and the Jewish town they are accosting.
While the demonstrations started with only a few isolated areas, they are now up to ten locations. In the Efrat/Gush Etzion region, the demonstrations against Carmei Tzur are getting increasing violent. Here is a glimpse of past anarchist activity (2007) in Carmei Tzur:
In addition, Efrat now has two Arab towns participating in demonstrations against both the community and the Wall – Al Ma'asara and Wadi Rachal. I wrote about Al Ma'asara's weekly demonstrations in a previous blog:
Anarchists against the Wall has a great summary of the latest demonstrations – with text and videos. You can read them/see them here:
Furthermore, Ilan Shalif, a freedom anarchist communist, recently wrote a summary of the demonstrations held now all around in Israel (not all behind the green line) that are meant, not truly as a fight against the wall or the "occupation", but to bring down the entire State of Israel.
Ilan wrote, "It seems that the increased number (already 10) of locations of persistent joint struggles reported in the Israeli media, and especially the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah, resurrect the Israeli radical left. The Friday joint demonstration of about 500 participants in Silwan against home demolitions was the largest one seen so far. It was a respectful addition to the more confrontational regular weekend joint demonstrations in the west bank: Beit Jala, Beit Ommar, Bil'in, Hebron, Ma'asara, Nebi Saleh, Ni'ilin, Wadi Rahal, and Wallaje."
Ilan says that anarchists are "modern prophets". He explains that they are not pacifists and apply counter violence in order to protect themselves or "achieve success in class war". He added, "We damage barriers that obstruct our way in a demo. We may cause other property damages when appropriate…" He has even written a "cookbook" for the take over of anarchy and communism.
It is time for the State of Israel, the Army, the police and local governments to take these anarchists seriously and determine an effective policy to deal with the damage they cause.
One interesting note, organizers of each of the demonstrations ask foreign women to please wear modest clothing, so as not to upset the Arabs. (One day the Jewish people will have the pride to write and sincerely mean, "Please wear modest clothing so as not to offend the Jewish nation and the G-d of Israel.")
Here is a small glimpse of the Anarchist/Leftwing/Arab demonstration today at the gate by the Zayit Hill of Efrat:

International Encounters

It was a week of international encounters. No, I didn't jet back to Paris. International figures came to me.
At the very start of the week, some of my fellow Efratians and I sat down to lunch in the Bat Ayin eatery Gavna with a group of visiting professors from around the world. They were part of a Tel Aviv University touring summer program for Professors of Middle Eastern Studies.
Professors generally are regarded as totally leftwing, Middle Eastern Studies professors are generally regarded as leftwing Arab lovers who are passionately anti-Israeli. Well, I guess if you're going to spend a lot of money to spend your summer in Israel, you can't be as decidedly anti-Israel as that.
I wouldn't say that these professors taught their students to sing "Hatikvah", but they seemed to be fair people who were honestly interested in our lives in Israel and the way we see the situation around us.
My fellow Efratians were a distinguished group:
Lenny Ben David – public affairs consultant for think tanks, governments and public institutions. He spent 25 years in AIPAC, and served as a former diplomat in Washington, DC. You'd have to look pretty hard to find someone more knowledgeable than Lenny on Israeli national security, Middle East affairs, or terrorism. He's even got a blog where he shares his insights and inside information:
Jonathan Feldstein is Israel's representative to American Friends of MagenDavid Adom. While in the US, he served in the Israeli Foreign Ministry as Information Officer for the southeastern US.
Today Paul Shindman works in a high-tech out-sourcing company. Previously he served as Jerusalem bureau chief for United Press International wire service.
Ardie Geldman has been a philanthropic consultant and fundraiser for the past 30 years. He was also the executive director of AMIT Women in Israel.
Each of us sat at a table with a group of professors, answering all the questions they had. Some tables talked about the wall – the professors didn't know that not all Israelis are in favor of the wall.
Some talked about co-existence – they thought of co-existence only as a future utopian result of Israel giving up Judea and Samaria. They thought Israel was an apartheid state. They didn't know Arabs are allowed to drive on Jewish roads (although Jews aren't allowed to drive on Arab roads). They didn't realize that Arabs learn side-by-side in Israeli universities (although Jews cannot learn in Arab universities). They didn't realize that Arabs are roommates with Jews in Israeli hospitals, and receive the same medical care of Jewish patients (although Jews are no treated in Arab hospitals). They also didn't know that before any agreements or accords, we had a form of social co-existence when we drove through Bethlehem and shopped in the stores there, and traded grapes for clothing with our Arab construction workers. Although the laws and rules and Arab terror attacks have forced an end to most interaction, today Arabs and Jews still shop together in Israel's malls, and stores like Bazaar Strauss, the Hangar and Rami Levi.
Gavna sits in a fabulous location, overlooking both the forest and the sprawling town of Beitar. Pointing out the gorgeous site of many hundreds of vanilla stone buildings with red roofs in the distance, we told the professors that the city of Beitar is part of Judea. They were amazed. They hadn't equated Judea and Samaria with large cities.
Yes, they knew about history, or their version of Middle Eastern history, but as my colleagues noted, the professors didn't know much about Jewish life in Israel today – not about our school system or our religious practices or what regular Israelis are like.
We felt the luncheon went pretty well. I sat with professors from Korea (there are no Jews there at all – the professor was actually shocked to discover that there are Jews in China) - Turkey, Germany, France and Michigan. I sensed no hostility, but a genuine desire to find out about Israel from an Israeli. I think my colleagues felt the same.
After our luncheon, Jonathan and Paul thought that would it be helpful to put together a resource for professors (or whoever wanted to learn) about things foreigners don't know about Israel – not the politics, but the life. It may happen yet, I'll keep you posted.
At the end of the week, I was interviewed by a South American journalist who is traveling throughout Israel. Willian Vieira is a Brazilian journalist who has become "amazed with this country." He has researched the Jewish communities of the "West Bank," but never met any real people. We met for a cup of ice coffee in The Bagel Place in Efrat. He was fascinated with why we live here, how we view our community, our country, our lifestyle. He didn't talk politics or walls or "Palestine." He just wanted to know people-y things. He said that he wanted to write real life stories.
I visited his websites and find that he's a journalist who is interested in life. That's what he writes about:,
I love life in Israel, and I'm always happy to share what RIGHT about living in Israel. I'm happy I had the opportunity this week, and every day when I can blog with you.

Comic Encounters

Over the past school year, I had the terrifically fun opportunity to learning to draw comics from the talented comics artist Shlomi Charka. My class included ten 12 year old boys and me. Before the semester ended a teenage girl joined us. We were an interesting mix, but we did very well together. You can read about in here:
All year, Shlomi Charka taught us the elements that went into make a great comic - story line, character, perspective, shadows, color, etc. Then it was up to us to draw away.

Often, I found myself laughing at loud in class at the comments of my fellow artists. There was one boy who was constantly drawing political figures - Obama, Bibi, Peres, Lieberman. I said, "You're 12. Why are you drawing Obama. Draw a soccer game." He smiled, "I'm older than my years."
Other boys teamed up with comics on space creatures and shlemazel friends. They laughed and fought and worked and came out with pretty clever comic strips.
Our year of comics has ended. I can't wait to do it again!!!
Meanwhile, our comics have been hung in the exhibit area of the Efrat Library. Almost everyone from our class is represented. I'm sorry not everyone handed in their work. We're proud of each other's comics, and I think we really enjoyed drawing together.
You are invited to the Efrat Library Exhibit Hall to view the COMICS of Shlomi Charka's Comic Club. Bring your kids. You never know, it might awake a budding cartoonist in your child or yourself.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

15th Anniversary of Givat HaDagan

This month, the community of Efrat and supporters worldwide celebrate the 15th anniversary of the struggle for the Dagan Hill, Givat HaDagan. Today, the Dagan is the home to a popular yeshiva, Yeshivat Siach. Back in 1995, it was Efrat's farthest hill, and one of only rocks and distant hopes.
The Dagan overlooks a Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet Forest and Solomon's Pools, both of which, unfortunately, have been given over to the authority of the Palestinian Authority. (BTW, Solomon's Pools – which is no longer in Jewish hands - is a vital part of the water system that brought water from the Hebron area to the Temple Mount during the times of the Holy Temple. The aqueduct runs parallel to Efrat, all along its western side. Many families and teens hike in this aqueduct. It is a fabulous tourist attraction that links the present with our Jewish past 2000 years ago.)
The Oslo Agreement had unfortunately been signed. It seemed very clear that any area with Jewish houses would remain in Jewish hands, and any area bereft of Jewish life would be given to the Palestinian Authority.
Efrat's municipal border reached as far north as the Dagan and the Tamar, however it had never been settled fully past its fourth Hill - Dekel. It was beginning to put caravans on its newest hill (at the time) Givat HaZayit.
Unfortunately, the families were not on the hill for more than a few days when Arabs began shooting at the caravans.
Nadia Matar, Eve Harow, Marilyn Adler and I wondered how we could help secure our friends on the Zayit. Our decision was to try to settle the Dagan. If we brought Jewish life there, then the Army would have to secure Efrat's northernmost point, and Arabs would not be able to come close to the Zayit.
We called our friends, told them to gather their sleeping bags, food, flashlights and whatever they'd need for an overnight stay, and come along with us on a Zionist tiyul (trip). We didn't tell them where they were headed, but they all agreed.
We traveled very far - allllllllll the way to Givat HaDagan. Today it is a two minute drive from the Zayit, but at that time, it was a mystery.
We spent the day planting and setting up tables and tents. The Army quickly showed up and asked us what we were doing. We said, "We are holding on to our land." They said, "You're makinga picnic. Make sure you are gone before dark."
But dark quickly came, and we looked at one another. "Oh my gosh, it's getting dark!!" We called our husbands, and they came right away to keep guard. We slept in tents on the earth, and tried not to show our fear to one another.
In the morning, we were still on the Dagan!! A victory!!
We were not determined to stay on the Dagan until we were sure that it was firmly in Efrat's hands.
The entire summer, friends and supporters came from all over Israel and even outside of Israel. We had dozens of tents set up all over the hill, and became a kind of Zionist Hotel for anyone wishing to join us.
We had a synagogue with a Torah (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin - Chief Rabbi of Efrat - came up to be with us, as Efrat's Rav Shimon Golan, Alon Shvut's Rav Meidan and others). We had a kitchen run by Avraham ben Arye. We had a first aid/medical center built by Yehudit Sidikman.
Land of Israel activists and Knesset Members came to visit us. Every night, we sat around a campfire and tried to plan the next day. They asked us, "What do you want?" You know, what deal do you want to cut? We didn't want to cut any deal, we wanted to keep hold of the hill.
It was the beginning of the cellphone era, and I remember my mother (ad 120) was so worried about me, she bought me my first cell phone.
Hundreds of supporters, especially devoted Efratians, stayed on the hill or visited every day. We had shiurim (Torah lessons) and children's activities. We had deep discussions and quiet moments looking at our beautiful land.
We were filled with dust and dirt. Sleeping in a tent all summer left something to be desired (I guess the kids loved it). We didn't have real bathrooms. (At first we had a moving container, that we cut a hole into. Not your ideal bathrooms.)
But we had such a fervor and a love of the land that it was contagious. Everyone who came up to the Dagan was enthused by it, and infused with it.
We had smachot (happy occasions) there - Bar Mitzvot, parties, excitement.
And we had unhappy times - when the Army tried to dry us out, and evacuated us again and again. But we kept returning. Nothing would deter us.
The radio stations started the day with a dedication, "TO THE WOMEN ON THE DAGAN, this song is for you."
You, reading this blog, may well have been one of the women or one of the folks who came up to the Dagan. You're invited to write your thoughts on the comments of this blog.
We were evacuated. The police and some soldiers were brutal. Some cried. Some refused to evacuate us. We saw them standing on the sidelines. The horses charged the hill. It was like a scene out of a terrible movie. We went to jail for a day. We went back up. We were arrested again. Rabbi Riskin and Nadia Matar were thrown into serious jail. We demonstrated outside the jailhouse.
But look. Today, we have a yeshiva on the Dagan, and soon there will be a beautiful neighborhood there. We cannot wait for the day.
If you were never on the Dagan, or you can't remember it very well, here are some links that you can read.
If you were on the Dagan, and you remember it terrifically, then you're invited to write in what you remember.

The struggle for the Dagan was the beginning of the fight for the hills of Eretz Yisrael. The Dagan will one day be filled with Jewish children, and we pray the other hills of Israel will as well.

By the legendary Ruth Matar:
By the indefatigable Nadia Matar:
By the heroic David Wilder:
By the unstoppable Yehudit Katzover:
By AFSI's Helen Freedman:
A fascinating look at Jewish history by the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency). Can you believe we have "merited" that they even mention the Dagan in the 1995 postings:,,,CHRON,ISR,,469f38a8c,0.html
The Moscow Times (if you're a member, please forward the article to me):
There are even books that talk about us:
Women in zones of conflict: power and resistance in Israƫl by Tami Amanda Jacoby
Chronology - 1 September 1995 — 30 November 1995
LA Times:

Another funny thing. While I was looking up the Dagan, I found this quote from me in December 2000 to Arutz 7:

Gilo Fortification

The Jerusalem municipality and the IDF's Home Front Command are preparing for a massive Gilo fortification program. Some 1,000 apartments will be fitted with bullet-proof windows, at a cost of some 44 million shekels (almost $11 million). Sharon Katz, editor of Gush Etzion's English-language Voices, protests the very conception: "What about bulletproofing the caravans on the Dagan [in Efrat]? And bulletproofing every home, school and car in N'vei Dekalim? ... and bulletproofing the homes on the perimeter of Pesagot? ... and bulletproofing the homes in Hevron? ... Wouldn't it be smarter instead of bulletproofing the entire country, to stop the Arabs who are shooting into every neighborhood? Don't shoot empty buildings - shoot murderers... Instead of bulletproofing the country and letting them continue shooting at us, stop the shooting!" ( Dec 13. 2000)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rav Yehuda Amital, of blessed memory

I have just returned from a family trip. You can read about it in the 18 previous blogs. Unfortunately upon returning, I just found out that Rav Amital of Yeshivat Har Etzion has passed away. Baruch dayan ha'emet. My next door neighbor Alan Yaniger was a student of Rav Amital, ztz'l, and so, I asked him to write a few words about his Rosh Yeshiva. May Hashem comfort Rav Amital's family and students among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Rav Yehuda Amital was the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut. He survived the Holocaust, escaped to Israel, and after continuing his yeshiva studies at the Hebron yeshiva, eventually became a Rosh Yeshiva himself. Besides being a talmid chacham, he fought in the War of Independence, and participated in the battle of Latrun. After the Six Say War, he became the first Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, later joined by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.
I was privileged to study at Har Etzion for four years, and Rav Amital left an indelible imprint on my personality and direction in life. He was a great talmid chacham, but I had met other great talmidei chachimim before. What struck me about Rav Amital was not just his erudition, but his personality.
Rav Amital had a passionate love for every Jew. He would frequently warn his Yeshiva students not to be arrogant, and to appreciate what a treasure we have in “baalei batim,” regular simple Jews. He would give of his time to have private conversations with me, discussing basic issues of faith and my personal goals. I always left those conversations feeling important and wiser . Part of his connection with all of Am Yisrael is reflected in the high rank he achieved in the IDF. He impressed on us the extraordinary sacrifices so many in the IDF were making. Talk about rebuilding the temple with “undeserved love” always irritated him – there are plenty of good reasons that Jews of all stripes deserve love, not just those who look like “anshei shlomenu”. He would never put on airs, and could not tolerate any kind of posturing in what was supposed to be the service of Hashem.
He never ceased to be amazed at the rise of the State of Israel, a massive act of “Kiddush Hashem”, after the Chilul Hashem of the Holocaust. He instilled in us the sense that we were in a pivotal moment in history, and that we have to live up to the challenge and participate in the revival of the Jewish nation. The power of his message would send shivers down my spine, particularly during his talks on Yom Haatzmaut. He himself was a symbol of what that revival could be, having gone through the Nazi camps, and building a life, a family, a yeshiva, and a community of disciples who bring his message of Torah and community action to the Jewish people worldwide.
Until I experienced the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers at Har Etzion, with Rav Amital as the Shaliach Tzibur, I did not know what those holidays could be. The passion that he put in to the prayers, combined with utter honesty and humility before G-d, and presence with the community – this all resurfaces in my mind every year during Yamim Noraim, and provides me with the model of what davening really should be.
He often related a story of the Baal Hatanya, in which the Baal Tanya said, that if someone is so involved in learning that he doesn't hear a baby crying in the next room, his learning is “off” (“pagum” in Hebrew). He told his students that their learning must be of uncompromising quality – yet at the same time, they have to hear the baby crying. They have to relate to the Jewish people, and provide them with what is needed.
Those who knew Rav Amital will never forget his scholarship and action, his passion and his common sense, his love of the whole people and his love of every person. May his memory continue to inspire us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Paris Time (#18)

There's a very strange phenomenon that occurs here in Paris - perhaps other spots as well, but I haven't visited them.
It's call the Paris Time phenomenon. Time has a different meaning in Paris than in other places. In fact, it is set back two hours behind any other place.
It's almost midnight, and yet the streets of Paris are teeming with people. The cafes are spilling out on to the boulevard. Tonight, especially, when Spain has just won the World Cup, hordes of teenagers are roaming through the streets with Yellow and Orange flags on their backs, screaming out in delirious triumph.
Even if there had been no Cup, the streets would have been packed. Nightlife begins in Paris after 8:30 or 9 PM. Dinner reservations are rarely made before 8:30, and couples meet for a stroll well after 9.
The day begins later too. Stores do not open until 10 or 11 AM, and then they close from 2:00-4:00 PM because the French must eat their "pain" (bread) and cheese.
Every night in Paris for us has ended at midnight or 1 AM, but it felt like 11. And it's not because we're tourists.
We just returned from the Arch de Triomphe and walked past Victor Hugo Plaza. Haagen Daaz is packed with ice cream lovers, some of whom I met on my explorations here. So I know they're just regular folks.
It's a Paris phenomenon that might confuse folks when they get here, but perhaps if everyone changes his watch, putting in back two hours in time, they'll feel more comfortable.
Hmm, it's about midnight in Paris. It feels like 10. That's just about right.
Bon soir.

What's Left of Louis (#17)

We took the Metro and then the RER railroad to the country, a few minutes out of Paris to discover the splendor and sadness of Versailles. Everyone keeps talking about the grandeur of the place, but no one except my sister explained what a sad commentary it is about the French Revolution, actually French society in the late 1700s.
The Loueees - Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI - were very into majesty and magnifique-ness. The outside of breath-taking
Versailles, the palace built by Louis XIV to get away from the rabble of Paris, has the motto, "All for the glory of the nation." Well, was it for the glory of the nation, or for the glory of Louis?
There was a story lehavdil from the gemora that quotes a debate of the rabbis on the question of the advances brought by
Rome. One sage said that everything the Romans did was for their own selfish motives. Another said that everything the Romans did benefited the Jewish people (whether the Romans had planned so or not).
The Loueees spent kazillions of francs making their homes and their hometown
Paris, the most magnificent places possible. They built incomparable palaces, but they also dug new streets, built new houses, restored old ones, built schools and parks. Parisian parks are among the most incredible in the world - a feast for the eyes and a vacation for the soul. Louis XIV, who built Versailles, did everything to make sure that his reputation as the Sun King was unrivalled by any monarch anywhere. Yes, he built the leviathan Versailles, and he spent more money on luxury than any other king, but he also sanitized entire sections of the city and set up manufacturing plants.
The people had no food, and they lived in filth, but the king improved things for his own glory, and that helped the people eventually too (even if not in their lifetime). The
Versailles was lavish to the nth degree, and today it really is for the glory of France, because France is honored thanks to its beauty. People from all over the world come to see Versailles. Does that not bring glory to the nation?

And his love of the good life, encouraged the development of the culture that everyone loves so much about Paris - its theater, its cafes, its broad elegant streets. The city buzzed at night under Louis XIV and it still buzzes today. Of course, all this good life totally ignored the needs of the poor, and that brought "the deluge."
They say about the Arch de Triomphe that it is a tribute to the meglomania of Napoleon. So is the Louvre (Napoleon's palace) and so especially is
Versailles (Louis XIV’s invention).
We took the train ten minutes out of
Paris to the town of Versailles. A mass of people headed toward the palace, and we followed along. Pity the poor people who didn't have advanced tickets the way we did (my sister pre-ordered on line). Those non-ticketed folks surely had hours of waiting.
Nothing could have prepared me for the first sight of
Versailles. The golden gates and golden accents on the buildings were a true tribute to the Sun King, whose palace reflected the rays of the sun and radiated a golden brilliance to the entire surrounded area.
Think of a movie fairy tale. Imagine the palace. It cannot even compare with the real
palace of Versailles. The gate is gold with the king’s crown on top. Sculptures of royalty, soldiers and statesmen line the rooftops. Gold outlines the roof and the windows. Versailles drips in gold.

Have you ever been in a furniture store that sold Italian provincial furniture? As gaudy as that was, this is a billion times more, and this is the real thing.

The inside of Versailles is as enormous as you’d expect, but there’s a major surprise inside.

When the French mobs stormed the palace to murder all the aristocracy, they also took everything they possibly could from the castle. And being short-sighted crazed rioters, they burned and destroyed whatever they could. Many of the walls in Versailles are not real marble. Instead they are wood painted to look like marble. The period wallpaper is a copy. There is almost no furniture at all. Everything that could have been destroyed was.

The short sighted people could have tried the king and queen, and claimed Versailles for the Republic, but they were so full of hate for the terrible life the aristocracy had given them, they wanted to wipe out all memory of the royals.

In Israel’s recent history, we had a similar situation unfortunately. Israel foolishly expelled the Jews from Gush Katif and gave the Arabs there the greenhouses that had made Israel’s agricultural business billions of shekels. Worldwide philanthropists decided the Arabs must have the greenhouses to start new lives, and what did they do? Instead of beginning new farming businesses, the Arab mobs ransacked the hothouses and ruined everything they could, until there was nothing left.

I guess crazed mobs are always the same – even if hundreds of years and thousands of miles separate them.

What’s Left of Louis?

So, what’s left of Louis? Portraits of Louis and his family were collected and brought to Versailles. The curators of Versailles did a great job giving us an idea of what it was like then. They have tried to recreate the splendour of the State apartments.

Louis XIV’s bedroom and Marie Antoinette’s bedroom are on view. Did you know that anyone, including peasants, could follow the king around, just like they could follow Tiger Wood on the golf course? When Louis XIV said, “All for the glory of the Nation,” he meant it. And he let anyone come in and watch his doings.

So, folks could come into his bedroom, watch him get up and watch him go to sleep at night. Unfortunately the same went for Marie Antoinette, and she had an entire audience present around her bed every time she gave birth. Yuch.

There are portraits and statues of Louis XIV in almost every room, in almost every pose, in almost every costume, at almost every age. Louis at eight, Louis at ten, Louis as a Roman, Louis as a warrior, Louis as a statesman, Louis as the king, and Louis crowned by victory. Then, of course, portraits of the other Loueees and their families.

At first I thought that there could be no greater egomaniac than Louis XIV. Then I rethought the situation. Firstly, there was no CNN or Fox News. These paintings had to tell the story of his reign. Next, there were no Polaroids or cameras to capture their lives on film, so the court painter had to do the job. Next, perhaps Louis was like me, and he just loved pictures. I make my children pose in every which way and they’re used to it already.

So, Versailles is filled with mammoth paintings, some are 56 meters in diameter. But they say, “The bigger the painting, the more powerful the ruler.” Judging from the walls of Versailles, you’d think Louis was a pretty powerful guy. Judging from the all the destruction wrought on his palace, maybe he wasn’t.

Last note: The castles of London shower power and dignity. The palaces of Paris show self-indulgence and ultra-showiness. Quelle domage!