Monday, April 30, 2007
Where I'm REALLY learning Hebrew is on the street, and what I'm REALLY learning is the most profound political, psychological and philosophical insights from Israeli taxi drivers, all of whom are pre-screened for depth of character, tolerance for stress and political acumen. Also they have to be prophets.
Tonight the taxi driver who picked me up was a 73 year-old native Israeli with 14 children, 53 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren (you do the math, I can't!) who didn't speak a single word of English but still managed to give me an in-depth analysis of the Winograd Report and his prediction that Ehud Olmert would be OUT of office by July and that the next Israeli Prime Minister would be our man Bibi Netanyahu. Remember when it happens: You heard it here first!
Friday, April 27, 2007
Drunk #1: "I love you!"
Drunk #2: "No you don't."
Drunk #1: "Yes, yes, I do. I love you with all my heart."
Drunk #2: "No you don't. If you love me, why don't you know what hurts me?"
- Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchov
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Of course in the 3 suitcases I was allowed to bring with me as a New Immigrant, I did NOT pack anything useful such as a hammer, nails, tape, thumbtacks, or any such tool or implement to facilitate the proper hanging of afore-mentioned flags.
So I did the best I could with what I have (which is nothing much but a lot of imagination) and pictured here is the outside of my apartment with my little flags flying today, on Israeli Independence Day.
Happy 59th Birthday, "Modern" State of Israel!
Monday we commemorated Yom HaZicharon - the day we remember all the Israeli soldiers who have fought and died in every war from 1948 through the present day, as well as all the victims of terror attacks who have lost their lives. Tuesday - right on the heels of this very solemn day - is ISRAELI INDEPENDENCE DAY. This video is a tribute to the men and women of the IDF - Israeli Defense Force - who gave their lives so that WE can have an independent home in this world.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 75-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 32 dead and over two dozen wounded.
Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter, who had attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.
Several of Librescu's other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said the son, Joe.
"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."
Dear Readers - I'm sure as reports continue to come in (and at the time of the writing of this blog the identity of the murderer is as yet unknown) there will be many tales of heroism reported. Of course there will be heroes who will be Americans, non-Jews, etc. - but the strange irony of this gentleman's sacrifice to save his students on the very day the world remembered the Holocaust which he survived seems very, very poignant.
May all the people who lost their lives yesterday rest in peace, and may Almighty G_d Himself comfort the families and friends who lost loved ones yesterday until we are all reunited in the World to Come...amen & amen.
Monday, April 16, 2007
At 10 minutes to 10:00 a.m. this morning, Yehudit, our Hebrew teacher, stopped the class and asked if any of the students would like to join her in the courtyard below to listen to the sirens and observe a moment of silence in honor of the 6 million Jews who were killed by the Nazis and their European collaborators during WWII.
I joined Yehudit as well as Raphael, a Jewish pensioner from Paris who appears to be in his mid-60's and has just made Aliyah.
Accompanying us as well were Enzo, a Christian Italian man who has moved to Israel, and Malik, Jack and Hassan, three young Arab men from East Jerusalem who are also in our class. Malik and Hassan are Moslem Arabs, and Jack is a Christian Arab from a Greek Orthodox family.
Enzo, trying to be helpful and informative, attempted to explain to the Arab students that "The Germans" killed the Jews during the war, conveniently overlooking the role that Fascist Italy played in the Axis power grid that held the entire world in its deadly sway from 1939-1945.
Raphael, a trim and quiet gentleman who speaks ONLY French and absolutely NO English and knows only "Prayerbook Hebrew", wears a yarmulke over his white hair. We stood together in the courtyard while every single siren in the entire country - and just imagine how many that might be, for a country constantly under attack - wailed like a hundred thousand shofars being blown together for a full, long minute.
The sound of the sirens drifted on the wind like smoke, and dissolved into silence like the whisper of the last cigarette being stubbed out in a bed of ashes.
The Arab students bowed their heads in respect during the sirens and the moment of silence, and as soon as it was over, slipped off to get coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk to girls, taking Enzo with them.
When it was over Raphael and I looked at each other in shocked silence, as if to say: that's it? That's all we can do for them...the millions who died just because of being what WE are - Jews?
Rapahel and I have no common language. All I could say to him was: "Kaddish?"
"Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'may rabah," he began, and with tears streaming down his face he stood in the school courtyard, surrounded by indifferent youngsters, reciting Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, with only me to say "amen."
It was the most beautiful, terrible, moving, important moment. Because it summarizes everything I can't explain to other people about being a Jew.
I don't speak French and he doesn't speak English but we both knew Kaddish needed to be said - and he said it, and I said "amen" in all the right places, and when it was over he walked away, wiping tears from his cheeks and I walked away, wiping my own eyes and thanking Almighty G_d for FRANCE.
Yes, Viva La France for being a country so full of anti-Semitic assholes that it drove this perfectly nice, polite, cultured man to leave Paris after the end of his career and retire in Jerusalem just so we could have this one moment of holy solemnity together, and by reciting the words of the Kaddish prayer, honor and remember the 6 million Jews who died, just for being Jews.
And let us also remember that, politically speaking, the modern State of Israel came into being because of those 6 million dead Jews whose ashes, skeletal remains and suffocating crematoria so shocked and horrified the world that for ONE SINGLE MINUTE humanity felt guilty enough to vote in the United Nations General Assembly to grant the Jews a small, ugly, hot, fetid patch of desert in the most dangerous backwater part of the planet so that the next time a Hitler came along and wanted to kill us, WE WOULD HAVE A COUNTRY OF OUR OWN.
And we do. It's called Eretz Israel - the Land of Israel...thank G_d.
Viva La France, the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, for still hating us so much that Jews like Raphael are coming HOME to Eretz Israel, at last.
FROM THE JERUSALEM POST: MORE ABOUT FRANCE: Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's far-right National Front leader and presidential hopeful, said Sunday that outgoing President Jacques Chirac's 1995 recognition of France's responsibility for the deportation of Jews during World War II was regrettable... Chirac was the first French president to acknowledge the state's responsibility.... According to Le Pen, Chirac's remarks are scandalous because they taint the country's image...Le Pen is the one who said the gas chambers were nothing but a detail to minimize the importance of the Holocaust...a statement that cost him a €183,200 fine from the French Justice Department.
AND EVEN MORE GOOD STUFF ABOUT EUROPEAN ANTI-SEMITISM AND ESPECIALLY FRANCE, ALSO FROM THE JERUSALEM POST:
Global anti-Semitism is spiraling upward, driven by xenophobia and cultural clashes in Europe and by increasingly virulent anti-Zionism in the Arab world, according to a comprehensive study of anti-Semitic incidents released by a Tel Aviv University research institute on Sunday.
"Once, when we were talking about anti-Semitism we were talking about [desecrated] gravestones... Now the main targets are religious Jews, since "they are identifiable" to attackers..."
There was a dramatic rise "in physical, verbal and visual manifestations" of anti-Semitism in 2006, according to the Roth Institute, which prepared the report...In all, 590 incidents of violence or vandalism were recorded in 2006, a 15 percent increase from 2004 and a seven-fold increase from 1989.
The 2006 figures also represents a 31% increase from 2005, when anti-Semitic incidents declined after several years of increases.
"In two countries - France and Norway - chief rabbis are calling on Jews not to step outside with Jewish symbols on their person," said Prof. Dina Porat...The breakdown of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide is heavily tilted toward Western Europe, which witnessed 54% of them, followed by North America - whose Jewish population is over five times the size of Western Europe's - with just 17% and the former Soviet Union with 13%.
Britain, with 136 "major violent incidents," saw a 20-year high in 2006. France, with 97 such incidents, witnessed a 45% increase and the French-speaking regions of Canada saw a doubling of violent attacks over a year earlier.
...the attacks...increased over the years in each country...and now tended to target people rather than Jewish buildings or graves.
According to the report, desecration of graves accounted for 53% of the incidents in 1999 (60 recorded attacks). Even though such attacks rose by 50% by 2006, their share of total attacks shrank to 16% of the total in 2006, while attacks on people - usually in the street - grew to 47% of the total."
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Saturday, April 14, 2007
A small excerpt from the poem "Garden of the Dead" by a woman I am honored to call my friend - Dr. Thea Iberall
Garden of The Dead
Dedicated to the 15,000 children of Terezín, most of whom were born in Prague and died at Auschwitz-Birkenau
I. The Jewish Ghetto, Prague
I sit on Maiselova Street, time ticking backwards.
A woman clicks by on high brisk heels. A dog barks.
A weight hushes the Synagogue, dark bricks lick into place.
There is a legend that these building stones were exiled
from the Temple in Jerusalem and that someday, they will rise
borne aloft by the letters of the divine.
A song about children learning the alphabet seeps through the old cemetery,
bodies buried twelve deep.
Un der rebe lernt kleyne kinderlekh dem alef-beyz.
A headstone stutters, the letters etch unto bones:
י Yod wisdom,
ה He comprehension of all life and the unity of God,
ו Vau answers to all questions posed.
Here’s one: When Nazi jackboots echoed through the synagogue
and words replicated in the congregation’s blood,
were the letters scrambled by the tongue of pride, the stones strifed by dread,
the teachings profaned and sealed forever?
We are torches of days, trains from our countries
lost in our remembering,
we have no simple way to bridge between earth and dream.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
"The cup of God's wrath is full! The cup is full to overflowing! The cup of His anger is full and it's going to overflow all over this street!"
Unfortunately, the spot he chose to deliver his diatribe was directly in front of the "Women Only" store (click on the picture to read the sign:) "C-Cup and Up."
The Israelis who stood by and politely tried to listen to what he was saying murmured between themselves in Hebrew - "Mah Kos?" ("What cup?") "Kos gadol?" ("Big cup?") The general impression among the Hebrew-speaking crowd was that this preacher felt that God was irate about big breasts ("C-Cup and Up!") and that the wrath of the Almighty was upon women who require...special support, as it were.
Now, everybody knows that the Almighty loves C-Cup and Up women so much that the Name He revealed Himself to Abraham as was "El Shaddai," which can be interpreted as "The Breasted One." Analogies to the Nation of Israel being fed from ample breasts are so common throughout Biblical texts as to be common-place. Additionally, several male members of the Israeli government itself (including President Moshe Katsav) are currently under indictment for being far too enthusiastic about women's breasts. So there is clearly no theological, exegetical or sociological reason for this guy to imply that C-Cup and Up breasts are objects of God's wrath!
"Ulpan" means "Hebrew School." This is where we go to learn the Hebrew language on the "5/5/5" Program - 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 5 months.
I arrived at my Ulpan class this morning at 8am and was officially enrolled (hence the reference to the Government Voucher, which allows New Immigrants like myself to study for free.)
I walked into my new class expecting it to be full of . . . people like me?
Wrong - so wrong!
The class was made up of an entirely unexpected international and domestic mix of students. Loch, a bearded and studious young man from Texas, was the only other American. I discovered after class that he is a Gentile (non-Jew) born and raised in Beaumont, Texas (Bible Belt!) in a family of Pentecostals and Methodists.
"It's all that Bible readin', " he said with a real Texas drawl. "I'm from the Bible Belt and I just had to find the buckle of the belt, y'know what I mean? And that there buckle, it's Israel and the Jewish people." Loch (whose original name I suspect may have been "Luke") is not only studying the Hebrew language but is studying for formal conversion to Judaism via the only State of Israel-recognized conversion process: strict Orthodoxy.
I didn't ask (of course), but I pray he already has had his Brit Milah (circumcision) in the hospital in Beaumont, Texas when he was born. If not, he's a really brave young man - not only for going through the 5/5/5 class and the formal Orthodox conversion process, but because if he isn't circumcised...he will be soon!
Also in the class were Makonan and Abedee, two New Immigrants from Ethiopia, and Danielle, a New Immigrant from Mexico. I believe that Makonan and Abedee (who are both as beautifully black as the desert night) and Danielle (who is a gorgeous young Mexican woman) and I are the only Jews in the class.
Our other International and non-Jewish classmates consist of Enzo from Italy, Keddie from Thailand, and Kamar from Nepal. Enzo and Keddie are tourists who love Israel and want to learn Hebrew, and Kamar is employed here in some as-yet undisclosed capacity and needs to learn Hebrew for her job.
Most surprisingly to me, our "domestic" enrollees are Hassan, Malik, Heni, Yazar and Omar - all young men from East Jerusalem, who only speak Arabic and some smatterings of other languages such as "tourist English" or "tourist French," but who went to Arabic-only schools growing up and now want to learn to speak Hebrew so they can get better jobs, go on to University studies, etc.
So - Ulpan summary: Jews (4) - two African, one Hispanic, and me, an Ashkenazi (descended from Eastern European Jewish immigrants) "white girl" from the San Fernando Valley by way of Long Beach, California.
Potential Jewish Converts: (1) - a self-described "Redneck" from Texas.
International non-Jewish Tourists - (3) - Italy, Thailand and Nepal.
Israeli Arabs - (5) - all who grew up in the Old City and East Jerusalem and speak practically not one single word of Hebrew.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals," said the former Pharisee and star pupil of Rabbi Gamalil the Elder, a.k.a. Saul of Tarsus (better known as the Apostle Paul). If I speak the Hebrew language perfectly but have not "charity" (in Greek: "Agape," unconditional love) for my fellow students, I am become like a noisy, off-key cacophony of meaningless sound. Lord help me to learn Hebrew, AND to drop my pre-conceived notions about everyone else long enough to get to know...real people!
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
During the Seder service we drink 4 cups of wine (that's just the ceremonial drinking, not counting the rest of the drinking that goes on during the meal!). When we make Kiddush over each of the 4 cups we fill it to overflowing, and the excess is caught on a dish beneath the cup.
During the part of the Seder when we relate the plagues we pour a few drops from the cup onto the dish with each mention of the plagues. This differs from the custom I am familiar with in the Galut, where we merely shake a drop from the tip of our finger onto the plate or dish.
Rabbi Yosef (the "ba'al HaSeder" - leader of the Seder) - poured a total of 16 times from his wine cup - "upon mentioning the three signs in the wilderness, the ten plagues in Egypt and the three parts of Rabbi Yehuda's abbreviation" (that being the mnemonic "Detzach, 'Adash, Be'ahav" for Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Beasts, Pestilence, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness & Slaying of the First-Born).
Mystically, this poured-out wine then becomes the wine "of wrath." Rabbi Yosef's son Moshe then related a story about the power of this "wrathful" wine to create destructiveness, it literally becomes the "grapes of wrath." He told of a neighbor of his who was such a bad, negative, hateful person that another neighbor poured the "wrathful" wine on his car which from that point on never started again.
I suggested at that point that we should take the "wrath wine" across to the Temple Mount and throw it on the Dome of the Rock to see if it would destroy it. My suggestion was met with total shocked silence and ignored, but then shortly thereafter I was chosen to go downstairs, open the door (which faces the Kotel and the Temple Mount) for Eliyahu HaNavi, and read by the light of a candle (which was held by Moshe, who is super-super Frum even by Chabad standards and whom I think secretly really liked my idea) the following part of the Seder service:
"Pour out your Wrath upon the nations that know You not, and upon the kingdoms that call not upon Your name: for they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place! (Ps. 79:6-7) Pour out your indignation upon them and let Your burning wrath overtake them! (Ps. 69:25), Pursue them with anger and destroy them from beneath the Lord's heavens!" (Lam. 3:66)
So - I got to open the door for Eliyahu NaNavi, and while my gracious hosts did NOT encourage me to start WWIII and after carefully collecting all the "wrathful wine," quietly poured it down the sink, they DID let me shout into the dark night towards the Temple Mount the battle cry for Moshiach!
Which brings me to the answer to my most buring question, which is: what do Jews in Jerusalem say at the end of the Seder when we say "Next year in Jerusalem ?"
The anwer is: we STILL say "Next Year in Jerusalem," for two reasons: 1) that we (Am Yisrael, the People of Israel) are not complete until ALL our brothers and sisters have left the Exile and returned to the Land, and 2) Even though we are in Jerusalem (thank G_d) we are still not able to bring the Korban Pesach (Pesach offering - the Paschal lamb) to the Temple Mount, to the re-built Temple where we can offer the sacrifices as prescribed by HaShem in the Torah.
Until all the Jews come home and the Temple is rebuilt, we still say "Next Year in Jerusalem." even if we are lucky enough to be able to conduct the Seder literally a stone's throw away from the Temple Mount itself.