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Switch to Forum Live View The Heart of Jewish Life - Israel
5 years ago  ::  Jul 19, 2009 - 10:59AM #1
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

A while ago I shared some random experiences and other good news from Israel. No politics, no arguments - just good stuff. Please feel free to join in and share experiences or things you've read.


This past Shabbat, our shul was host to a group of developmentally disabled young people. They attend a program that gives respite to parents. Each had a high school student that accompanied them and took care of them. They stayed with people in the neighborhood. A few years back my daughter did a year of National Service (an alternative to the army for religious girls) at this program - she came home exhausted.


We danced with them a bit after Kabbalat Shabbat (they were very exuberent!0 and several young men were given the honor of opening the Aron Kodesh and taking out the Torah. They were very proud of themselves and proceded to go around th ewhole shul and shake hands with tens of people.


It was very moving to see their joy.


 

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5 years ago  ::  Jul 20, 2009 - 8:44AM #2
Bunsinspace
Posts: 5,900

BS"D


Yashar koakh!!

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5 years ago  ::  Jul 23, 2009 - 9:51AM #3
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

I thought tht I responded to this post, but apparently, my remarks were lost in cyberspace.


Buns - I assume that the Yashar Koach was for the post. The real YK goes to the participants and the teenagers who helped them out.


Yesterday(Wed.)  and Monday I spent the day at a Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) seminar at Herzog College, affiliated with the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Gush Etzion. I would guess that there were nearly 2000 participants that came to hear lectures by noted rabbis and professors. It is a four day program - people register per day.


The lectures were amazing and the organization was impressive. It was also nice to visit Gush Etzion. This area, about 20 minutes south of Jerualem (but in the mountains) was the home of several Jewish settlements before 1948 and in 1967 some of the original residents returned to rebuild them. Jimmy Carter visited there recently and the ex-president said that he did not envision Israel ever relinquishing them.  In any case, it's cooler there than in Jerusalem (and even cooler till than my home in the Judean desert) and the campus was lovely.


I heard lectures on Ruth's visit to Boaz's thresing floor,  Joseph and his brothers, archeology and geography in the study of Bible, parallells between the Temple and the garden of Eden, Sh'chem and Hebron, the role of the prophet Ezekiel, the sentence of Jonathan, the interplay of human choice and divine revelation in the Biblical narrative - and a lot more that I can't recall this second. The level was fairly high and demanded some textual skills - or at least the ability to find things in a hurry and follow the lecture. Nearly all the lecturers prepared source sheets, and they were amazingly well prepared themselves.


The program began a number of years ago as a teacher's in-service program (Israeli teachers are expected to participate in a number of seminars a year and it adds a little to their salary) - but it proved so popular that it was opened to the general public. It's a Religious Zionist crowd of all ages. I would say that about 60% were women (and  a number of lecturers were women as well). I even saw a few teenagers with their grandparents. For each time slot (5 per day) there were at least 5 options, and registration was in advance. This year, English lectures were offered as well one day, and drew a large crowd of immigrants and tourists.


The enthusiasm for studying Tanakh was impressive and it was a good way to spend a few days intellectually and spiritually recharging.


Next week the City of David is offering two days of Jerusalem studies - archeology, Tanakh, history, literature, etc. Maybe I'll go for a day if I can take off work....


 

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5 years ago  ::  Jul 28, 2009 - 3:53AM #4
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

I was able to go and it was very worthwhile.


The seminar was given by the City of David ( www.cityofdavid.org.il/index.html ) and held in Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, in the southern part of Jerusalem. I heard a lecture on King David in modern Hebrew literature, David as seen through the Midrash and Talmud, Did David sin with Batsheva, Jerusalem and international law (with Dore Gold) and a lecture and multimedia presentation about the destruction of the Temple and Great Revolt of 70 CE.


The ability of the Bible and history to fascinate Israelis is second to none. It seems that these topics are really our story and vividly demonstrate our connection to the land.


This seminar was open to the general public - but attracted mostly a middle-aged religious crowd. That is too bad - although the visitors in David's City itself are a much broader cross-section of Israelis and tourists.


Tish'a b'Av is coming up .......

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5 years ago  ::  Jul 31, 2009 - 3:56AM #5
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

Tish'a B'Av....


My boys spent Tish'a B'Av last year in the States , in the course of packing up my inlaw's house to help with their aliyah. They attended services at a large, pro-Zionist modern Orthodox synagogue. The boys were disappointed - they felt many people were just going through the motions of religious observance rather than feeling a real sense of mourning. I wonder if a community (in contrast with an individual) in the land of Disneyland and Disneyworld can really feel the pain of exile....or the closeness of redemption.


On Wed. morning I went with my youngest son (14) to the Temple Mount. After immersion in a mikveh we parked near the kotel and got on line.... and waited for 2 hours. The police insist on providing a police guard to every group of religious visitors to the Temple Mount - lest they begin to pray and create a riot. An entire yeshiva came with their students and the police only allowed 15 people at once. So we hung out with the yeshiva boys (who waited patiently and sang appropriate songs) until we were finally allowed up- as hundreds of tourists were allowed up tothe Mount with no delay. I was happy to guide them (even though I was only planning a visit with my son). A young woman accompanied us (she also guides groups there) and she recited several chapers of Tehilim (psalms) from memory that greatly enriched our visit. The police either didn't know or didn't care that she was breaking the rules regarding the prohibition of Jewish prayer on the Mount.


Wed. evening we went to shul and heard Eicha. In the morning, we went to shul for Shaharit and the recitiation of kinnot (elegies about the destruction, written from the 5th cent. until the present). Some places they just read them through at a chant and a brisk place. Over the years we have developed a custom of chosing 25 of them and interspersing explanations and commentary - which is good since many are abstruse - but they contain wonderful stories and ideas. We hung out muchof the day reading depressing stuff and resting. In the late afternoon we went to the Kotel for Mincha. Unfortunately for driving and parking, about 10,000 other people decided to do the same. We located a minyan in the crowd and joined in. We finished Mincha with a few minutes to spare before Arvit - and I decided that I was not eager to battle the throngs to get back to my car near Jaffa Gate. So we left the Kotel and walked to the Jewish Quarter, arriving at the Ramban Synagogue just in time for Arvit. When the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman)arrived in Jerusalem in the 1200's he couldn't find a shul or a minyan. He found a ruin with fine columns and made a synagogue there, bringing Jews from surrounding villages to re-establish a community after the Crusaders had decimated Jerusalem's Jews. The shul was crowded, we barely had room to stand. After Kiddush Levana (blessing of the new moon) and a snack; escaping the worst of the crowds, we continued on home for dinner.


And now it's Erev Shabbat Nahamu. My son in the army is guarding the Egyptian border and I worry about him in the heat and what sort of Shabbat he'll have there. At least he received the package we sent him. But that's what parentss in Israel do.....worry and send packages.

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5 years ago  ::  Aug 07, 2009 - 2:46AM #6
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

Wednesday was Tu B'Av - the 15th of Av, a very minor holiday that has gained popularity in Israel. The Mishna tells us that "Israel had no better days than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards...." In ancient times, this day was an opportunity for young men to choose a wife from among the dancing maidens. Some entrepreneurs have attempted to make it inot a Jewish Valentine's day and call it"Yom Ahavah" - the day of love. I think that's pretty tacky. It's more a day of marriage than  of romance. The Mishna says that the girls would speak to the young men -  depending what they had to offer. The beautiful ones would say: look to beauty. Those of fine lineage would remind the fellows that family is what counts. But what would the homely ones say? "Make your choice for the sake of heaven! But only if you will grace us with gold jewelry." The Mishna goes on to say that all Jewish girls are lovely, only poverty  makes them ugly.


I had the pleasant good fortune to attend a wedding, most appropriately. The bride: a neighbor, whom I have known since she was born (we've been friends with her parents even before she was born) and the groom a yopung man from a Yemenite family. The bride's parent's were originally British and we came to Israel around the same time, at which time we met while living in an absorbtion center (Western olim no longer go to absorbtion centers, but this was 25 years ago when aliyah was slower). The Mishna records that on Tu B'Av the tribes were permitted to intermarry.


The groom had asked me to escort him, along with two friends, for a visit to the Temple Mount, on the morning before his wedding - traditionally a time of prayer and reflection for the young couple. Visiting the Mount for brides and grooms before their wedding has become very popular in some religious circles and is a very meaningful way to prepare spiritually for their wedding. Traditionally, the bride and groom do not see each other the week preceding their wedding, so they do not go together. I escorted a groom, his father, brother and friends  there a few months ago and his mother-in-law to-be described it as "the purist bachelor party ever." We all immersed ourselves in a mikvah before, so it was pure in every sense ofthe word.


For good measure, we visited the Western Wall Tunnels afterwards and saw the entire subterranean length of the Kotel. Heck, the groom had the whole day to kill....


I didn't really mean for this to be a blog and I'd be happy if other people would contribute.


 


 

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5 years ago  ::  Aug 13, 2009 - 2:40AM #7
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

I just returned from a brief vacation in the Galilee - Israel's north.


This is a particularly desireable vacation destination since it is slightly cooler than the rest of the country, there is more water (lakes, waterfalls,  the Kinneret, natural springs and the Jordan River) and a plethora of attractions and activities.


Agriculture, at least on a small scale, is less profitable, so a lot of farmers have started building vacation cabins on their property. We stayed in a Moshav (cooperative farming village) between Rosh Pina and Kiryat Shmona that was very nice. The owners were warm and friendly and treated us like their own guests. The other families staying there were quite pleasant. The Moshav had other guest cabins - I met my neighbors from home in shul.


We went for a Ranger ride along the Jordan, visited a boutique winery and tasted at least 30 flavors of jam at a home cannery, as well as visiting an artist's village in the Golan, attended a Klezmer/Jewish music festival in Safed, and my boys had an amazing time at a shooting range. That's what teenage boys seem to like, and teenage boys have to be kept happy on family vacations. We had lunch at a restaraunt that had the Dan River flowing through it and watched the trout, similar to the ones we were eating, swimming by.


Last week we read in the Torah portion "I am bringing you to a land of land of streams and springs .....a land of wheat and barley, grapevines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive-oil and (date) honey." That's exactly what we saw!


The last time we went to the north for vacation was three years ago - right after the 2006 war in Lebanon. That time the ravages of war were everywhere - burnt trees, buildings that had been struck by missiles and a general sense of loss as well as relief that the war had concluded. This time, the area seems to have recovered and all the tourist attractions were open. There were lots more things that we wanted to do - but there simple wasn't time..... next trip!

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5 years ago  ::  Sep 01, 2009 - 10:08AM #8
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

Recently I took advantage of a day off to visit some local museums and sites with my daughter. If anyone is planning a trip to Israel, I would include a couple of these on my list.


We started at the Museum of the Good Samaritan - about 25 minutes east of Jerusalem, past Ma'ale Adumim and on the way to the Jordan Valley/Dead Sea (depending on which way you turn). There are marvelous mosaics from churches and synagogues from the Land of Israel. I am no special fan of church art, but these mosaics were mostly geometric designs or local animals or birds - not very different from some of the synagogue floors. Those had, in addition, depictions of Jewish symbols - the menorah, for example. The museum is new and a worthwhile stop if you are in the area. The website: www.tourism.gov.il/Tourism_Eng/Articles/...


Then we visited the Makoya Center's garden in the Givat HaMivtar neighborhood of Jerusalem. The Makoya are a Christian group from Japan that sees its role as loving Israel and the Jewish people (how refreshing!) and building ties between Japan and Israel. They are not missionaries. The Japanese graden was quite charming - but nothing really amazing. The people were wonderful. I spoke to one fellow who had completed courses in nearby Hebrew University in desert agriculture and would soon return to Japan. He spoke very good Hebrew and went by the Hebrew name Shlomo.


From there we proceeded to the Islamic Museum, located near the president's house in Jerusalem. This is a museum of Islamic art and includes exhibits about Islam and its history as well.  We were amazed at the amazing art, jewelry, crafts and calligraphy that testify to the greatness of Islamic civilization - and asked ourselves how this great culture has devolved so tragically in the past centuries. I would hate to think that the future of this civilization depends on its political leaders!


In addition, the museum has an amazing collection of historic clocks, some of them pieces of exceptional artwork. About 25 years ago, many were stolen, and when the thief died recently, the clocks were re-discovered in good condition.


www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerus...


This just gives a glimpse of the mosaic texture of life in Jerusalem and Israel. While Israel is the only place in the world where Jews are the majority and our culture is the predominant one, Israel is greatly enriched (and complicated) by the human and cultural diversity here.

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5 years ago  ::  Sep 07, 2009 - 7:47AM #9
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

One of the special things about living in Israel is experiencing the holidays. I don't mean experiencing them in shul or around the table at home - I mean experiencing them in the street.


The outdoor market in Jerusalem, Mahane Yehudah, is already selling pomegranetes by the kilo. Even more than the apple with honey, this is a symbol of Rosh HaShanah - the fruit is said to have 613 kernals, symbolizing the 613 commandments (of course, I never counted!). I have no doubt that when I do my shopping later in the week that the merchants will be hawking their fruits by shouting out "Sheheyanu"- urging the shoppers to buy this particular new fruit to recite the blessing thanking G-d for keeping us alive and sustaining us to this season. They'll also be selling the traditional "simanim" - the fruits and vegetables that hint at the various blessings we ask for on the new year (and some curses for our enemies as well!): dates, black eyed peas, beets, leeks, etc. The names of these various foods (in Hebrew and sometimes Judeo-Arabic or Yiddish) make a play on words - dates (t'marim) hint at the word 'y'tamu (come to an end) - what we wish on our enemies. Black-eyed peas (rubbia in Judeo-Arabic) is similar to the Hebrew word "yirbu" - increase. We have the custom of eating carrots on RH - the Yiddish for carrots is "mehren' - also meaning to increase. My family usually objects to placing a fish head on the holiday table, symbolizing the wish that we "be a head and not a tail". Sometimes I compromise and make a molded fish head from tuna fish with olives for eyes. My father-in-law tells me that they used to have a goat's head. I can only imagine the reaction.


Passing through any religious neighborhood in the weeks preceding RH you are nearly guaranteed to hear the Shofar, either following morning prayers or just for practice. In the last few years Selihot (penitential prayers) tours have become popular. A guide leads his group from one synagogue to another in the middle of the night (when Selihot are traditionally recited), telling them stories about the neighborhood and the various ethnic communities or noted individuals that live/d there. The sephardic selihot are especially lovely - they sing them together or sing out the responses to the Hazan. The whole art of liturgical music has become very popular in the last few years - many performers, not all of them traditionally observant , have included interpretations of this wonderful genre in their repretoires.


Some people still have the endearing custom of sending RH cards - and they are still sold on the street in some neighborhoods. Maybe I'll buy a few for nostalgia's sake.


For Yom Kippur, ther will doubtless be stands selling live chickens for kapparot. I finished with live chickens when I was a kid and my mother of blessed memory would pick one out at the Shohet's shop and we would come back as the old lady who worked there would be sititng on a crate and plucking it. I am not about to hold a chicken over my head, custom or not. The chickens are not always so well treated before they are slaughtered either, so I'm not a fan of this particular custom. We use money at home and recite that this money should go to tzedakah, and we should go on to live a good life. Much nicer than swinging a live chicken around your head and dispatching it to the slaughter. Nicer for the chicken too.


Nothing can match Sukkot - whole streets are turned into fairs for the four species: lulav (palm branch), etrog, myrtles and willow twigs, and various supplies for the Sukkah - from decorations to entire Sukkah kits. And it's still a thrill to see a sukkah in nearly every balcony and courtyard.


 

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5 years ago  ::  Sep 13, 2009 - 3:00AM #10
NahumS
Posts: 1,758

Last week I visited Hebron. The workers committee of my municipality decided to take a day off and visit the City of the Patriarchs. Workers committees are a socialist throw-back, but they lobby the employer for all sorts of things and collect dues that allow them to buy us discounted gifts (nowadays usually coupons for use at major stores) for the holidays. So off to Hebron we went, in two bullet-proof buses.


I'm not sure the buses are really bullet-proof, but they have reinforced windows. As it was, there were no bullets, stones or any other projectiles, and the trip passed without event.


We visited the Machpela Cave (Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs), Hadassah House, the Museum of the Jewish Community of Hebron and one of the Jewish cemeteries.


The Machpela Cave is awe-inspiring. It is the only intact Herodian structure in the entire country. Herod, Roman -appointed king of Judea reigned around 35 BCE and was a monumental builder. The Western Wall is a small remnant of his rebuilt Temple and Temple Mount. The Herodion Fortress, Massada and Caesaria port were his work as well. The Tomb of the Patriarchs is a huge rectangular structure that encompasses the area over the original cave where Abraham buried Sarah. In the early Moslem period minarets and a partial roof were added and it became a mosque. Jews were barred from the shrine until 1967. Now there is a working relationship that allows both Moslems and Jews to worship there at different times and different hours. It is a popular place of pilgrimage, especially during the Jewish holidays. We had a guided tour and heard the story of how a young girl was lowered into the actual cave in the late 60's and what she saw there. We also had time for our own prayers as well. According to tradition, the graves of holy people, especially our patriarchs and matriarchs, are excellent "conductors" for personal prayer and requests - but all devotions are aimed at G-d, not at the dead.


The museum wa a fairly depressing place. It documented the horrendous 1929 massacre of the Jews of Hebron that effectively decimated the Jewish community of Hebron that had lasted for centuries. besides the gruesome pictures of maimed survivors, we saw an exhibit of the Slobodka Yeshiva of Hebron (it was a branch of the famed Slobodka Yeshivva of Lithuania) that moved to jerusalem after the riots. One of the principles of the yeshiva was that students of Torah should dress elegantly and fashionably, as behooves those young men occupied with the greatest profession in the world: Torah study. We saw pictures of well-dresed youngmen in linen suits, bow-ties and straw boaters - very different from today's yeshiva students.


Hadassah House was built as a dispensary for medical care in the late nineteenth century, and it provided free medical care to Jews and Arabs alike. That did not prevent the murder of the Jewish pharmacist and other residents in 1929. It was taken over by a group of"settlers" - Jewish women with babies and children in tow, in the late 70's. The Israeli gov't begged them to leave (the conditions in the ruin were awful) but they held out until their "settlement" was eventually authorized. Now it is a block of apartments with a beautiful 19th century facade and a modern upper story.


But the City of Hebron is a sad place. There is extreme enmity between the Jews and Arabs (although this is not universal and our guide, the spokesman for the Jewish community had recently had a cordial meeting with the Arab mayor, Shekh Jabari), and the Jews are confined to a veritable ghetto of three small neighborhoods. Over 95% of the city is empty of Jews and Jews cannot visit there. There are many structures that once were Jewish homes, but the gov't does not allow Jews to take them over - even when they are abandoned. Arab Hebron seems to be growing - I saw a number of modern buildings. But most seems to be poor and miserable.


Many Israelis (and I among them) see an historic justice in having a renewed Jewish community in Hebron. It is a statement to the entire world that this is where our ancestors are buried, where David was first king, and where Torah scholars and holy men once lived - until the Arab massacre in 1929 and the subsequent forced evacuation by the British Mandatory power. And that we mean to stay. But the town has drawn Jewish extremists as well and that has made relations with the local Arabs that much more fraught.


If only we could put hatred aside and treat eaach other like true sons of Abraham....... That was one of the things that I prayed for in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

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