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Switch to Forum Live View The Heart of Jewish Life - Israel
6 years ago  ::  Apr 15, 2012 - 5:32AM #191
Posts: 1,868

Pesah was indeed wonderful - the only problem is that the whole country is on vacation at once and the roads (and parks, zoos, museums, etc.) are full.

Shabbat was Isru-Hag - the day after Pesah for us. While hametz wasn't available, we did enjoy eating hummous, popcorn, rice and other kitniot foods that we don't eat on Pesah. This morning, pitot are already available in the shops.

I want to share a story that I heard in Poland from the Holocaust period.

We read from a miniature Torah Scroll that the tour leader brought with him, and he related this story.

A Jewish trader was once overpaid by a Pole, and returned the overpayment. The Pole was so thankful that he told the Jew that if he ever needed a favor, he should ask. Time passed, and the jew needed a very big favor - to hide his 8 year old son from the Germans.

This entailed tremendous risk - a Pole caught hiding a Jew would be killed - along with his entire family. Janek (the Pole) agreed to hid Asher - in a closet bunker.

One day Janek approached the young boy and told him of a small Torah Scroll that was available in the market (the parchment was worth something...), and that his father had entrusted a sum of money with him to be used if necessary. The sum was enough to purchase the Sefer Torah - but then there would be no money for emergency contingencies. What should he do?

Asher replied that he should buy the Sefer Torah - and so he did. It was hidden together with Asher in the closet. The boy and the Torah Scroll both miraculously survived the war.
The Torah is beautiful - clear and kosher, every letter perfectly formed and preserved. I was told that it has been taken on not a few secret missions by the IDF into hostile countries where it was read by Israeli soldiers undercover.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 17, 2012 - 6:06AM #192
Posts: 1,868

We visited a deserted forest in Northern Poland - Wygoda forest. It was quiet, eerily so. The trees were just beginning to show signs of spring; it was quite cold in the early morning hours.

Here is an account of what one Pole saw in

 We read this in silence. At one point, I couldn't go on reading....

The evil and pain in this place made me feel as though I was sinking into the ground, as if it was swallowing me up, draining me comletely.

We sang a few quiet songs, among the the words of the Psalmist: "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me." The boys had prepared a short ceremony: a few words about the site, prayers, "Ani Ma'amin" and "HaTikva". This is what happened at all the sites we visited.

Some good Polish people had made a small memorial on the site, including a cross and the Star of David. No doubt that a number of Poles had been killed here in addition to the Jews - the great majority of the murdered. We tried to hang an Israeli flag on the flagpole there, but we were unable to secure it. Later, we left some money and a flag with a local Pole who said that he would take care of it.

The Polish gov't has limited funds to take care of these sites, but does preserve them and prevents their development for other purposes. Good Polish people take care of them voluntarily.


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6 years ago  ::  Apr 17, 2012 - 8:36AM #193
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Later on, we visited the Chelmno extermination camp. This was a small camp, a former manor house and its grounds, turned into a death camp.

For a history of the site and what happened there, click here:

Today little remains. The local church (used by the Nazis as a "waiting room" for the victims, is still standing, recently rennovated. The manor house was destroyed by the Nazis themselves towards the end of the war in an effort to hide the traces of their murder. The ruins of the foundations remain. There is a large shed that has also recently been rennovated that serves as a museum.

We heard a shocking story there:

Rav Benny Kalmanson, our guide, had visited the site a number of years before and found a brick cooking oven in the foundations, apparently once used for baking bread when the building served as a manor house. Upon opening the oven, he found the remains of a small infant dressed in swaddling clothes - with a knife placed between its legs. Evidently the baby was circumcised before being hidden in the unused oven - and perished there when his parents did not return.

Only 2 or 3 individuals survived Chelmno - over 140,000 were murdered there.

Tonight and tomorrow we mark memorial day for the Shoah and heroism here in Israel. The date is somewhat arbitrary, but it corresponds somehow with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (which occurred on the night of the Seder) and precedes Israel Independence Day by one week. This is meant to underscore the need for a state for the Jewish people.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 18, 2012 - 3:02AM #194
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Actually, Holocaust Memorial Day will be marked this evening (Wed.) and tomorrow, 28 Nissan.

This is a story I heard in Izbica, Poland from our guide, Rav Benny Kalmanson of the Otniel Yeshiva. We were visiting the grave of the “Isbitzer” – Rabbi Mordechai Leiner, a Hasidic rabbi of the nineteenth century, known for his radical ideas regarding human responsibility and Divine providence.

Isbica (Jews called it Isbitze) was a predominately (over 90%) Jewish village for over 200 years – it never had a Catholic church until after the Holocaust, although the synagogue was quite prominent. 

Rabbi Kalmanson told us about his visit to the cemetery a few years back with a yeshiva high school group (Neve Shmuel) from Efrat. While visiting the cemetery, they saw two Poles carrying shovels. When asked, they told him that they were digging a grave. They sent him to the church when he asked for further details.

When he approached the secretary of the church, the latter told them that it was for their priest – who was still living. When they asked to speak to him, they were given a phone number - in Israel.

The G. family of Zamosc was interned in the ghetto in Izbica (the Jews of the town had already been deported or murdered). Haim, 14, had joined the retreating Russian soldiers and moved east, to Moscow. He fought with the Red Army against the Japanese and made his way to Israel where he participated in the War of Independence..Yaakov Tzvi (Hirsch), aged 8, fled the Germans and was taken in by Poles. He adopted Catholicism after the war at age 14 and was subsequently ordained as a priest. In the middle sixties, the brothers learned that the other had survived and made contact.

Yaakov Zvi (Father Gregor ) came to Israel in 1970. He erected a monument to the murdered Jews of Izbitze in the Jewish cemetery – and instructed the local church to set up a monument to himself – with only the date of death missing. I saw these monuments.

Father Gregor lives in Jaffa. The memorial to his parents and the Jews of Isbitze was co-sponsored by his late brother Haim G. This is the inscription:

For I know that my redeemer lives
And that at the last he will stand upon the earth
(Job 19:25)

To the eternal memory of our dear parents
Mendel son of Zeev and Miriam daughter of Isaac Griner of blessed memory
And our sisters Shindel and Sarah of blessed memory
And also of all the Jews murdered and buried in this cemetery
In the month of Kislev 5703
By the Nazi murderers and profaners of God’s commandments

With gratitude to God for being saved
We establish this monument
Father Gregor Pawlowski
Jacob Zvi Griner – Poland
Hayim Griner - Israel

A further note: Rabbi Kalmanson visited the site a few years later, with another group of students from Kiryat Arba. While they were standing in the cemetery (largely ruined and overgrown, its gravestones were broken and looted, and then used to cover the enclosure of the recently reconstructed grave of the Isbitzer rabbi), a student began to move the vegetation around with his foot – and discovered a human skull. After poking around a bit in the underbrush, they discovered five more skulls, a femur with Tefillin straps still wound around it, and the remains of a couple (the woman’s high heels were still relatively intact) and a bottle that proved, upon later analysis, to have held strychnine. The couple must have committed suicide, rather than allowing themselves to be butchered by the Germans or their Ukrainian helpers. Apparently these were among the last of the Jews to have been murdered in Isbitze, and their remains were either left unburied for 60 years – or the shallow grave into which they had been thrown was washed away by the abundant rains and snow.  The yeshiva students buried the bones that they found and marked the mass grave with bricks. We recited psalms and prayers there.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 23, 2012 - 3:46AM #195
Posts: 1,868

I think that this is my last post regarding the Poland trip - Holocaust Memorial day has passed and we are on the brink of Israel Inependence day and Memorial Day that preceeds it - and yesterday I went on a wonderful trip to Hebron Shechem (Nablus) and other sites that I would like to share. But first:

There are few living Jews left in Poland.  There is some organized Jewish life, and every year there are a few more Jews who discover that they are indeed Jews, often due to parents' deathbed confessions. I have a friend who, along with his wife, has been instrumental is reviving Jewish life in Warsaw - but the numbers are small and the vitality of the community is tenuous at best.

But there are many dead Jews that fill the Jewish cemeteries. In Warsaw and Lodz there are huge necropolises that contain the remains of two hundred years of once-vibrant Jewish communities. With the right guide, they can tell the story of past generations. Cracow has only a small Jewish cemetery today, but that one has a myriad of stories. In addition, there are graves of scholars and saints scattered all over the country, several of which we visited.


This is an amazing cemetery - vast and overgrown, with trees sprouting everywhere and limited funds for maintainance. I wonder if it will be intact in a century.

We saw the graves of a number luminaries. Among them were Zamenfoff, the inventor of Esperanto and the impressive mausoleum of Y. L. Peretz the renowned and popular Yiddish writer. We saw the much more modest tombs of great rabbis of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the gravestones were tre works of art, featuring Biblical scenes, Jewish symbols (books, hands raised in the priestly blessing, menorahs, etc), drapery, flora, and poetic inscriptions. Some were absolute kitsch as well. We saw a bunker hidden between the graves where a young boy hid out from the Nazis. We noticed that the graves of members of the Bund, an anti-Zionist workers movement that stressed Diaspora Jewish nationalism were inscribed in Yiddish rather than in Hebrew.

In Lodz the cemetery is comparitively well-tended. It contains the mausoleum of Posnanski - an extremely wealthy Jew who lived in the early part of the 20th century. Sseveral stories tall, shaped like the crown of the Polish kingdom, with artistic mosaics in gold leaf, it was magnificent. Ostentatious and vulgar would also be apt descriptions (we visited his "palace" on Shabbat - it was similarly extravagant) - a true "goldene matzeiva" as the Yiddish expression goes - a golden tombstone - a useless and showy waste of money. We visited the common grave of 6 B'nei Akiva (religious Zionist youth movement) leaders in thier 20's - who were murdered after the war as they tried to gather the remaining young Jewish people of Poland to encourage them to make aliyah. In addition there are several empty pits - dug as mass graves in the cemetery. A group of Jews who remained alive towards the end of the war made a deal with the Nazis - they would surrender if the Nzis would agree to bury them in the cemetery. They dug their own graves and prepared to be shot - when an air-raid interrupted the Nazi's evil work, and the Jews fled. They "graves' were preserved as a sign of the triumph of life over death - and one of those who lived to tell the tale is still active in the Lodz Jewish community.

In Cracow we visited the grave of Rabbi Moshe Isserles - the author of the "mapah" - a gloss on the Shulhan Arukh, the code of Jewish Law written by Rabbi Yoseph Karo in Safed in the 16th century. Rabbi Moshe Isserles began work on his own formulation of a code of Jewish Law of his own - but when R. Karo's code reached Poland, he saw that it was excellent. There was one problem - it was codified to include only the customs of the Sepharadim. Rabbi Isserles added notes to record the Ashkenzic customs, making the work authorotative for Poland and other European countries. (Shulhan Arukh means "set table" - and mappah - "tablecloth").

We heard the story of the "Holy Miser" - a Jew who refused to give tzedakah and was buried in an ignominious place in the cemetery because of his unwillingness to participate in the community's concerns. Later it was revealed that he was a great philanthropist, but shunned honors, and channeled his charitable contributions through others.

We heard a bizarre tale of a grave with no name written on th stone - only "His neighbor will attest to him". Cracow Jews told a story of a nameless young man who insisted on paying a huge sum to be buried next to a renowned rabbi and mystic, known for his work "Megaleh Amukot" - Revealer of the Depths (Rabbi Natan Nata Shapira, d. 1633). The head of the burial society accepted the large sum - the man was young, perhaps someday he would become a great rabbi, he would live many years. But he dropped dead suddenly - and was buried in a regular grave, far from the place which he had paid for. One  can imagine the rest - the head of the burial society dreamt of the young man coming to demand that he be buried in his rightful grave, and a "trial" that ensued with a disembodied voice presenting his claims to the grave next to the "Megaleh Amukot". The anonymous body was reburied in the proper grave.

Actually the real story is stranger. There was a learned Jewish physician in 17th century Cracow - Matityahu Kalahora (or de Callhora), originally from Italy, of Spanish origin. He was brilliant and outspoken, and treated the Polish king. Once he became involved in a religious debate with a priest - who had him charged with blaspheming Jesus and the Virgin Mary. This charge was based on a letter the priest found in his chambers, written in German. A trial was held and Kalahora was sentenced to death - even though he claimed not to know German. His sentence was appealed - and he was condemned once more. The Jewish historian Dubnow describes the tortures to which he was subjected before his execution - so I won't. Quite gruesome. After being burnt at the stake, his ashes were to be shot into the air by a canon, denying him any sort of a burial place.

Evidently his ashes were somehow ransomed and interred in the grave next to the "Megaleh Amukot". The monument bears the inscription "His neighbor will attest to him" - because those that buried him wished to hide his identity to avoid punishment for burying his remains. The odd legend of the disembodied voice was a cover for the true story of this martyr.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 24, 2012 - 6:10AM #196
Posts: 1,868

One last story that connects a grave in Poland with Israel and its survival - a link between the past and Israel Independence Day to be observed this week.

The tomb of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhansk, an early Hasidic leader of the 18th century, is a place of pilgrimage.  People go there to pray for what they are lacking.

It is believed that the Zaddik, in death as well as in life, has the power to elevate prayers - just as he has the capability of spiritually elevating his followers. Rabbi Elimelech was instrumental in developing the idea of the Zaddik in Hasidic thought, and was the first to put his ideas into a book - Noam Elimelech.

One of his most famous prayers was: On the contrary, give us the ability to see the qualities of our fellow man and not his faults. Let each one speak with his friend in the way that is proper and good before You, and let there not be any hatred between us. Strengthen us in our love towards You, as is revealed and known before You, and let everything be pleasing to You.

To read more about Rabbi Elimelech:

We visited one cold night - it must have been close to midnight. The site is in a small Polish village, fairly remote. Before entering the  building that houses the tomb, our guide, Rabbi Kalmanson, told us the following story.

A few months before the 6 Day War in 1967, the Israeli cultural attachee' in Poland had little to do. There were no diplomatic relations or cultural exchange at the time, so she kept herself busy by visiting Jewish cemeteries and synagogues left in Poland, trying to make sure that they were not destroyed. She became aware of a visitor to Rabbi Elimelech's tomb - a Russian military figure. This seemed quite odd - a high-ranking officer in the Communist regime, officially atheist, visiting the grave of a Zaddik!

To condense the story, the Israelis made contact with the "Russian Colonel" and the latter passed them the plans of all the Russian-built airfields in the Arab world. When the Six-Day War broke out, the airforces of all the Arab countries were eliminated in the course of 3 hours - thanks to the intelligence Israel had gained. Rabbi Elimelech had saved the Jewish state from beyond the grave!

The Russian Colonel eventually made Aliyah and is buried on the Mount of Olives. His children and grandchildren live in Israel.

Visiting the tomb of Rabbi Elimelech was a high point of my trip to Poland. We sang his prayer there, as well as a tune that he composed, and danced a little. I'm not a tremendous fan of praying at the graves of the righteous, but I'm not against it either. As I prayed for my family and the entire Jewish people there I felt that a window was opening to a higher world, a tremendous spiritual energy.

Tonight and tomorrow we mark Memorial day in Israel, and remember the fallen soldiers that protected our homes and country. It's a very solomn time and prepares us to appreciate our independence and state.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 27, 2012 - 1:57AM #197
Posts: 1,868

Prayer for the State of Israel

Our Father who is in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it Your canopy of peace; send Your light and Your truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Your good counsel.

Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them, our God, salvation and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants. Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily bring them to Zion, Your city, to Jerusalem Your dwelling-place, as it is written in the Torah of Your servant Moses:

“Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall possess it; and God will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.”

Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name, and to observe all the precepts of Your Torah. Speedily send us Your righteous Messiah of the House of David, to redeem those waiting for Your salvation. Shine forth in Your glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Your world. Let everything that breathes proclaim: “The Lord God of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all.” Amen. Selah.

תפילה לשלום המדינה

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.

הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׁ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ, וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ, וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ. חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ.

 וְאֶת אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל פְּקָד-נָא בְּכָל אַרְצוֹת פְּזוּרֵיהֶם, וְתוֹלִיכֵם מְהֵרָה קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְצִיּוֹן עִירֶךָ וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם מִשְׁכַּן שְׁמֶךָ, כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת משֶׁה עַבְדֶּךְ: "אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ. וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ" (דבריםל,ד-ה). וּשְׁלַח לָנוּ מְהֵרָה בֶּן דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ, לִפְדּות מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ. הוֹפַע בַּהֲדַר גְּאוֹן עֻזֶּךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁ בֵיתֵּ בֵל אַרְצֶךָ, וְיֹאמַר כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ: "ה' אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֶלֶךְ, וּמַלְכוּתו בַּכּל מָשָׁלָה".

אָמֵן סֶלָה.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 27, 2012 - 3:36PM #198
Posts: 5,932


Amen v'amen,  And when the Temple is rebuilt, may it be speedily and in our time I will play the Selah for this brocho in its established place in Jerusalem.

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6 years ago  ::  May 01, 2012 - 10:51AM #199
Posts: 1,868

Thanks for your comment, Buns.

A few days before Yom HaAzmaut (Israel Independence Day) I took a day off and went on an organized tour that took us to Hebron, Mount Grerizim and ohter sites in the Shomron (Samaria).

My wife takes a Bible class one morning a week, and a field trip "in the Path of the Patriarchs" was organized - with husbands and whoever else wanted to come along invited. We visited the Machpela Cave where Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya'akov, Sarah, Rivka and Leah are buried - and a brief visit to the Avraham Avinu synagogue in Hebron. From there we went north. We visited a spot in the Shomron where you can see the Mediterranean, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the Dead Sea at the same time. We saw the purported site of Ya'kov's dream near Beit El and visited Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim is opposite Mount Eival, where Joshua built an altar. The tribes split into two goups on the respective mountains, and the Cohanim alternately blessed and cursed those who obey and defy God's Law from the valley in beteween.

 We were able to see Yosef's tomb in Shechem (Nablus) - it's not easy to visit there these days.

On Mount Gerizim, we saw the homes of the Samaritans with thier unique mezuzot - signs written above the door in their version of ancient Hebrew script. They were preparing for their observance of bringing the Pesah sacrifice - this year it comes out one month after our holiday. According to Halacha the Samaritians are not Jews - but we have some genes and basic beliefs in common. They claim that the"place that God will choose" is not Jerusalem, but Mount Gerizim, and they accept only the Five Books and Joshua. I would like to go for a longer visit and learn more about them.

We also visited Itamar, the community where the Fogel family lived and was murdered. We really only drove through on our way to the Giv'ot Olam farm. This is an organic farm that produces goat cheese and yogurt, most of Israel's organic eggs and some other agricultural products. It is very successful and just exquisite. We visited the beautiful stone shul there, the lovely gardens and paths.

The area is stunning. Take a look at some amazing pictures (Judyinjerusalem used to post here sometimes -thanks for the pics!):

I really don't want to talk politics, but the area is beautiful and virtually empty - there is room for thousands of Jews without disturbing one Arab! The Arab villages are in the valleys and the hills around are nearly vacant. There is room for us all here.

This is one of the "hilltop outposts" that is so often written about in the news. To me, it's a flourishing farm and Jewish community in the heart of the Land of Israel, with great strategic and historical importance.

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6 years ago  ::  May 10, 2012 - 2:54AM #200
Posts: 1,868

Today is Lag B"Omer = the 33rd (lamed-gimel) day of the Omer counting, a day when the mourning customs of the Omer period are suspended, and by some customs, concluded.

Briefly, the mourning customs are related to the death of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students who died in this period. Some say that they only died on 33 of the 49 days of the Omer, and others say that the plague ended on the 33rd day. The talmud gives the reason for thier deaths: despite their great torah scholarship, they treated each other disrespectfully. Some tie their deaths with the Bar Kokhba revolt 0f 132 CE.

(Actually the mourning customs became more pronounced and gained greater emphasis in the time of the Crusades, when Jewry in Western Europe was decimated by massacres. The Av haRahamim prayer, recited on Shabbat after Torah reading, was composed in memory of these communities and their martyrs. This may be why the Ashkenazi custom is to continue mourning customs after Lag B'Omer.)

In addition, according to tradition, this is the day of the death of Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohai, a Torah luminary and mystic, who hid in a cave from the Romans for 12 years and studied Torah there. When he died, the Zohar tells us, the entire house was filled with light from the secret Torah interpretations that he revealed. Over a hundred thousand(!) people went up to Mount Meron  in the Galilee yesterday to join in the celebrations by his tomb. There are even special tunes and songs that are traditional there. And the entire country is lit up by bonfires. Young people often spend the whole night around the fire, singing and roasting potatoes and onions in the embers.

We all know that the Bar Kokhba revolt was a disaster that left Judea ruined. But it served as an inspiration for Jewish independence in the Land of Israel nearly 2000 years later. Our IDF soldiers are the spiritual heirs of Bar Kokhba's troops. Rabbi Akiva was wrong in thinking that Bar Kokhba was the messiah - but he kept the idea of Jewish heroism alive for nearly 2000 years until the time came for the "first flowering of the redemption" - the State of Israel.

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