Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gavriella Is Dancing in the Heavens

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. On a collective level, we are mourning for more than 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. On an individual level, we each remember members of our own families as well.

I don’t know all their names…that is the saddest part of all, I think. Their memories live on but in a blur because we know my grandfather had two sisters that remained behind in Poland, but we aren’t quite sure what they were called. I can’t really tell you why that is so important – other than that it is. Without names, they are part of the six million…but still lost.

A name is the most basic thing of all. It doesn’t define you but it is uniquely yours. Even if in some later or earlier generation there was another, still it is yours and yours alone for the time you have it. Without a name, there might have been an earlier generation, but there never will be a later one…the name is lost.

Of all the relatives, there are two that haunt me most. My husband lost all four of his grandparents to the Nazis – but we have their names. Today there are seven Shayes, several Esthers. Yehoshua lives on in my husband’s cousin; Shmuel lives on in our son.

The first name that haunts me belonged to my mother-in-law’s oldest brother. She asked that we give our first son his name, and we did. We know that her brother was the first of the family taken by the Nazis…just before the Passover seder in 1944. It seems so tragic to be a newlywed…to take a wife…and then in that wonderful and exciting first month, to be taken, terrorized, separated, and murdered.

I know, I know – tragic doesn’t come close to the horror, fear and anguish suffered by this young couple and the family left behind. My son, this man’s namesake, is 27, has served in the army of Israel and fought in two wars and has fathered a most adorable baby girl…all things the young Binyamin Elimelech Krausz never got to do…

My son’s daughter, my precious granddaughter carries the second name that has haunted me for 30 years. When I was pregnant with our first child, our beloved oldest daughter and mother to our first grandchild, we began thinking about names…if it is a boy…if it is a girl. In my heart, with no ultrasound and no logic, I knew I was carrying a girl.

Boys’ names passed me by with no interest until finally we rationalized that we would have 8 days to come up with a boy’s name but needed a girl’s name “just in case.” I didn’t care. I knew it would be a girl…and she was born on Rosh Hashana. In the end, she is named for my grandmother with a bit of her second name honoring my husband’s aunt…another victim of the Holocaust.

The name my mother-in-law didn’t want me to use was Gavriella, her young sister who died in 1944, because tradition told her that you do not name a child for another who died young. There are many who say you can get around this by giving a secondary name of someone who lived a long and blessed life; others say that when someone dies in “Kiddush HaShem” – in the sanctification of God’s name, there is no issue.

My mother-in-law was afraid and so the name of her murdered 12 year old sister was not given to her first granddaughter, the only one she lived long enough to touch, to hold, to love.

Her second granddaughter was born five years after she died and carries her name but my mother-in-law never lived long enough to see Gavriella remembered. I didn’t argue with my mother-in-law. I accepted that she was resigned to our not using the name. The next two grandchildren born to her were both boys and the issue never came up again.

But the name haunted me…who would stand for Gabriella? Would we forever leave her name behind in the cold ashes of Auschwitz while my children and others would be born into the sunshine of Israel. I longed for her; I mourned for her. When my youngest daughter turned 12 and celebrated her bat mitzvah, I thought of Gavriella and mourned anew.

As I watched my young daughter grow with her friends, tall and beautiful, free and happy in Israel, it seemed to me that Gavriella’s world got darker and farther away.

And then, my son and daughter-in-law asked us for names for their unborn child…we didn’t have many to give…but almost at the top of my list, the first I thought of…was Gavriella.

A few nights ago, I took a video of little Michal Gavriella dancing to music. Each time the music stopped, my brilliant toddler granddaughter bent down, pressed a button and started dancing again.

And somewhere in the heavens, I dream that Gavriella is dancing too….

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The End of Israel...A Message for Tuvia Tenenbom

What would you do if you read a book that predicted the end of your country...and, in effect, the end of your life and those you love? You'd probably cry a bit...I did. You'd probably reject it...I do.

But you'll think about what the author wrote...I am.

You'll want to dismiss it as nonsense...I wish...more, I believe he is wrong.

Tuvia Tenenbom has written a book, "Catch the Jew". He's a fantastic writer - more, he's a journalist...and I can tell you I say that about very few people today. Most so-called journalists, certainly many of the ones who work for BBC, CNN, and sad to admit, even the "friendly" media like Fox News, are more interested in shaping the news, rather than reporting it. They "frame" it, they will tell you, but the frame is faulty because it comes with a predetermined conclusion.

Tenenbom's book doesn't. You aren't quite sure where he's going to end up - at varying points, you wonder whether someone else will be finishing it because he ended up getting murdered upon discovery that he isn't the Aryan Christian he pretends to be. He goes among the right and laughs at them; he meets with the left and finds them moronic. He meets with Druze, Bedouin, Muslim, Christian and Jew...and pretty much every denomination among them.

I wish I could have met and shown him my Israel because what he considers the "center" of Israel, really isn't; what he calls the "extreme right", isn't either. Shades of accuracy, true, but the depth is sometimes missing just a bit. But, there are two things I think he got wrong. Considering how long the book took, how much time he spent in Israel...that's really not too bad overall.

What he got right is placed before you with sharp, insightful and even sarcastic sentences thrown out there for you, the reader. As he meets with some politician, it is as if he turns his head and speaks to you, explaining that you, like he, should not be fooled by the hot air in the room. 

The first inkling of this comes when he listens to Arabs explain how Israel is responsible for all their they cannot even repaint a small area of a ceiling because the Israelis won't let them...and then almost immediately following this, the Arabs take him (a German Christian journalist who is really an Israeli-born Jew of German descent) to see a Turkish bath being built with European donations to the tune of 2.4 million Euros. His comment "Either the Israelis are stupid, or the Arabs are liars."

He meets with a popular (left-leaning) politician and calls her an idiot; he meets with an unpopular (right-leaning) politician and is surprised by her intelligence. 

He certainly didn't mean to be right-wing, and will deny to the end that he is...and yet his biggest complaints are against the left and the Germans who are spending millions of dollars quietly undermining the Jewish state. Beyond an overall image of Israel, something he does offer to his readers, what the book comes down to for those of us who know Israel very well are those two things...the self-hate of the Jew and the anti-Semitism of the past, which is alive and well and even thriving in Germany, Europe, and elsewhere.

With these conclusions, and the solid proof he offers page after page, you can't argue with Tenenbom. It is on the last pages where you are devastated and as he leaves Israel (having finished the 6 or 7 month assignment he accepted in order to write the book), you cry with him.

I read as he predicted our demise, the end of Israel. There is no other conclusion that he can come to, having seen the endless efforts the left devotes to this very goal. Israel, he writes, a beautiful, amazing, brilliant nation that he has clearly come to love...cannot defeat the Germans and the left, the anti-Semitism, the NGOS and the Europeans and the UN. It is, he believes, a foregone conclusion.

As I closed the book, I was left feeling his incredible sadness...matching it with my own. But not for a second did I believe his conclusion, let me make that clear. It would be like watching a biographical movie where early on, the family is being told their loved one will die and so they cry and you cry with them for the agony in their hearts, even though you know that some miraculous cure is going to be found...after all, the person went on to invent something, do something, star in something...and thus the movie.

No, Tuvia - Israel is not going to die. We've survived so much more than the left-wingers and the Germans. We have known self-hating Jews from the time our people was born, thousands of years ago, and self-serving apologists since our nation was founded decades ago.

As for the Germans...they are as the Assyrians, the Amalekites, the Babylonians, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Ottomans, the Ancient more, no less. We have survived the Hamans and the Hitlers. Germans? Really, please don't worry.

We are isolated and alone...but Tuvia, when have we not been? No, we are not better than anyone else - that is a flaw in the minds of many. They equate chosen with better. Two different words, two different meanings. You can choose the ugliest or the prettiest, the plainest, tallest, smallest. You can choose anything...and yes, God chose us. 

No Jew who understands Judaism equates "chosen" with better. We aren't smarter, though we are smart. We aren't richer, that's for sure but our wealth cannot be measured in dollars and oil. What you didn't learn, dear Tuvia, when you were here, is that if we are anything, we are the most stubborn and the most determined. 

Even the left will rally to meet us in the center when we are threatened. The truest most self-hating Jew will be the one who implodes while those who love Israel will survive. Yes, they may argue about this piece of land or that law, but the Gideon Levys of Israel, the Rabbi Ariks, they were left behind in Egypt thousands of years ago; they'll be left behind in Europe and the United States. 

Their future is not with Israel, but Israel's future is not what you perceived. Last summer, against all odds, thousands of rockets were fired at Israel. Buildings they hit, cars they burned but day after day, the miracles piled up. Your greatest flaw while you were here is that you tried to dig down below the surface of Israel...and you succeeded to some extent, but you missed what was right before you eyes - Israel will not end.

My children walk this land; my grand-children are being born into it. I hope to live long enough to see my great grandchildren dancing here and when I die...please God let it be many, many years from now (like maybe around 70)...I will try to remember to think of you and say, "Tuvia, Tuvia, as your name implies, God is good. God is forever...and so is Israel."

No Tuvia, the book is great, but the ending is wrong. They've shot missiles at us...they've sent suicide bombers...they've tried to poison us, axe us, tractor us, stab us, shoot us, explode us. They've rushed our borders, tried to bomb us from the air. Have you noticed how many things have gone wrong with Iran's nuclear, I don't mean the sanctions...I mean those computer viruses, those strange explosions, even earthquakes.

Israel is a land of miracles and the Jews are a people of miracles. It makes no sense that you can fire thousands of rockets at populated areas and one by one... 99% of these rockets manage to find that little patch of "open" space. 

The Germans can pour all the money they want into Palestinian causes while pretending that they continue to atone for that which cannot be atoned. 

Tuvia, having spent so much time here, I hope you'll come back soon. Never be a stranger from this land where you were born. It is your matter where you roam, no matter where you lay your head at night. Israel will always, always, always be here, just a plane ticket away. We'll still have our idiots and we'll still have our enemies. It's a's a promise. It's our past and our future.

Don't worry, Tuvia - they'll never really catch us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Robby Berman's Sense of Humor

I've always tried to have a sense of humor and to accept that sometimes I think things are funny when others do not and, conversely, sometimes I think things aren't funny when others think they are hysterical.

The image of the exhausted baby nodding off in different directions to the hysterical laughter of the, sorry - please, take that child and let them rest comfortably. The "It's a Moron" video (take off from It's Amore) now making its way on Facebook showing dozens of...well, yeah...morons...jumping off roofs, crashing into poles, setting themselves on fire while posturing for the camera - sorry, most of these look painful and when funny turns to painful, it just isn't funny anymore. Same with humiliation. I'm not into laughing at the humiliation of others.

Apparently, Robby Berman, proud founder and director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, doesn't have that problem. He can laugh when someone else is humiliated and gets personally insulted if you don't laugh with him.

Today on Facebook, he posted a video of two Israeli soldiers stationed on the rooftops somewhere. I could guess where, but there's no reason.

I won't post a link to the video. It shows one soldier climbing a full body's length below the rooftop.

When he gets up there, the second one hands up their weapons and then tries to boost himself up - with very little to assist him - and as he struggles, the music clicks in - laughter, childish, evil, nearly hysterical sounding laughter. The soldier drops down to the lower station, tries again, and again. The soldier from above tries to assist - fails...and finally, all accompanied to the wicked laughter dubbed in, the soldier finally manages to dump himself over the wall to the higher station.

The comment Robby Berman added to this video he decided to share goes like this:

"For all my Arab friends, you got me, this is hysterical! For all my right wing friends who can't laugh at themselves...piss off."

Well, first I'll say I'm not Robby Berman's friend.

Second I'll say that this isn't laughing about "themselves" as in "ourselves." This is laughing at an Israeli soldier stationed in some hostile environment.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was offended. The first person that I know to notice this disgusting Facebook post was Dave Bender, who posted his own response here:

It seems that Robby Berman only has a sense of humor when ridiculing others but not when people disagree with him. He unfriended several of those who disagreed with him. He is so proud of his ability to unfriend those who don't like his "sense of humor" (so much for the plurality and open-mindedness). He even boasted about his ability to cut off people who disagree with him:

Robby can't unfriend me because we aren't friends. So I felt free to post my opinion, citing two people I know who ARE friends with him...

Who should come to Robby's defense...his mother! Now, a mother has a choice in any situation...she can agree with a child or disagree; she can educate or support them when they go wrong. Sadly, Hannah chose wrong.

Sadly, I doubt that Robby will wake up. Meanwhile, others have added their comments (I assume Robby hasn't had a chance to delete them yet).

What I find ironic is what Robby does for a living. He is the "founder and director" of the "Halachic Organ Donor Society" - whatever that is...
Clearly, Robby believes that people should donate their organs when they die. I wonder how many Israeli soldiers have agreed to donate their organs...I personally know the family of at least one. I can't help but wonder what they would feel if they saw Robby's insensitive comment. 

Thank you, Toby...another friend of Robby's who disagrees with him!

Is this really what the director of an organization such as his should be posting to Facebook...what does it say about him...and perhaps about the organization he founded?

To be fair, Robby couldn't have known that just hours after he posted this video, two Israelis would be stabbed, one critically. At this moment, doctors are fighting to save his life after he was stabbed in the neck. Like Robby, this young soldier has worked hard to save others - he is a paramedic; the second soldier his assistant medic.

A sense of humor is a wonderful gift - but only when it is used wisely and properly. The video is accompanied with the wicked, gleeful laughter that clearly indicates, despite Robby's mother's attempt to indicate otherwise, joy at the soldier failing to climb to the much higher perch. I would love to see Robby post a video of himself trying to maneuver the same climb...but never mind. 

I'll end with two more comments - the last the most relevant.

What if one of the two guys stabbed this morning has signed on to be a HODS donor...should they think this is funny...and if they don't...will you tell them to "piss off"?

And here, Robby, is where you choose to be the kind of man, human being, Israeli, you could can spend the next while deleting these comments and pretending that your comment wasn't out of line, that you didn't just side with our can agree that your comment was out of line, certainly insensitive. You can rise up and the two soldiers injured today, to all soldiers and to all Israelis....

Or, you can keep deleting comments, unfriending people on Facebook and stick to the idea that it's okay to laugh at people doing their jobs, support the humiliation of good people and then expect people to consider you sensitive, mature, and compassionate enough to discuss the issue of organ donation. the way, how many Arabs agree to donate organs through your organization?

Oh...and Robby's response....

Well, that's a fail in my department...lighten up...sure, no problem, the way, the bus that comes to my city was stoned about an hour ago. Lighten up, right? Oh, and the light rail was just stoned again this morning. Lighten up, right? 

I guess the old double standard is alive and well...

Terror Attack...and a Parent's Worst Moments in Israel

There are moments in Israel that I want to translate to those abroad. I don't know if I have the words...and that is something that bothers me...but I'm going to try.

About an hour ago, an Arab took a knife and attacked a young soldier. He stabbed him - in the upper chest, in the neck...exactly where is not yet hit the news sites...not that it matters...the young soldier has been airlifted to Jerusalem. He is in serious condition.

The Arab was shot and killed by other soldiers. Teams of soldiers and emergency responders arrived. The Arab's body was covered with a blanket and left there until the soldier was evacuated and the event investigated, documented, understood.

A family received a phone call - it has to be a phone call because they won't waste time while the soldier is alive and in serious condition. Whatever plans they had for his half-holiday have been canceled.

Passover lasts 7 days in Israel (8 outside of Israel...don't ask me to explain that now, please). The first and last days are considered "Yom Tov" - special, holy...we do not drive on these days, most public transportation and stores are closed and, like the Sabbath, we spend these days with family, in the synagogues, with friends. The middle five days are considered something in between regular days and holy days - still a holiday, but not to the same level as those other two days.

And so on these days, we travel, we hike, we visit. We picnic by the lake and take the kids to the zoo...

This young soldier's family might have already left for a hike somewhere or planned to have friends over for a barbecue. Instead, a short time the past hour, they received the call they have been fearing since the day their son entered the army. Somewhere in Israel, they are driving to the hospital...or maybe if they are from Jerusalem, they are just arriving there.

If the soldier is a lone soldier, a boy who chose to come serve in the army here, as our Yaakov and Chaim did, while his family is still living abroad, then that "adopted" family is frantically driving to Jerusalem. If the boy has two parents living could be driving and one on the phone. Imagine, if you can, the combination of terror and tears...or perhaps they are more capable of coping with a crisis. Some people fall apart later, others fall apart immediately.

I used to be better with things than I am now...I didn't handle the air raid siren well this past summer when I knew that Aliza was outside somewhere. I didn't handle it well when Elie's wife called me to tell me that they were driving back to the house...that Elie had been called to fight almost three years ago.

I want you to imagine what it is almost impossible to imagine. How ridiculous is that? I pray you are never where these parents are now...I pray to God I am never there...

How do you breathe? How do you drive a car? But you have to, don't you - you have to get to your son...the whole time fearing what you will find...please God, let him live...please let them be able to fix him and save him and please let him be all that he was before.

It's a bit over an hour and 20 minutes since the this moment, the doctor's are working. It's been released that there was another soldier also stabbed but lightly. He is the one who shot the terrorist.

This is the hard part...these next few hours until they release a news update to tell us how the soldier is doing...

I have no experience with this...other than for the endless times, deep in the darkness of the night, when I imagined this happening, imagined the phone call, the desperation to hear my son's voice, to know he was okay or would be okay.

I imagined the frantic drive...once, when we were in Eilat, I imagined the frantic flight because I wouldn't have wasted four hours driving, I reasoned...all to get there to see him, to touch, to hug...

I pray that the parents of this young man are already there - have already been allowed to see him...though chances are he is still being cared for. But the hospital personnel are experts here. They have skills they have been learning for decades.

Someone will come and brief the parents immediately, will sit with them, get them something to drink, to eat. They will not be alone. Soon, someone from the boy's unit - his commanding officer and perhaps even higher, will be there and will sit with them as well.

Friends and neighbors will organize food for the family, help take care of younger children if needed. Whatever they need, Israel will see to it and maybe that will bring comfort later on. They will never be alone - all of Israel is with them at this horrible moment and hopefully well into the future as they help their son get better.

For now, there is only the need, the fear...

I watched a posted video as the ambulance pulled into the hospital. I don't know if this is with the first soldier or the second, but even as the ambulance was stopping, medics were rushing to open the doors...inside, in addition to the wounded soldier, was another who had ridden with him. Never alone...the wounded soldier was wheeled quickly from the ambulance...the other soldier looking a bit lost, a bit overwhelmed, quickly followed. Never alone.

More news is coming out - the critically wounded soldier was a paramedic...the soldier who shot the terrorist was a medic who assisted him. They have dedicated their army service to helping others...and now they are in need.

May God watch over this young man, this boy...send him a refuah shlayma - a fast and complete recovery. May He send strength to the family and bless them with all that they need in the days to come.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I'm hungry... I'm thirsty

One of the many beautiful parts of the Passover holiday is the concept of opening your home to strangers, inviting all who are hungry to come and share your meal. Yesterday as we spent some time at our city's so- called lake, our grandson complained that he was hungry and thirsty.

He was given food and water and fun yesterday but later as I sat quietly thinking over the day we had, I realized what a marvel it is to have a grandchild old enough to express his needs, wants, and preference.

I love infants but it is often a guessing game... Are they hungry, tired, in pain...whatever?

The ease with which our grandson begins to express himself is a joy to watch. More than sharing what he has been taught, something amazing in its own right, opinions and thoughts are coming out.

Yesterday, I watched him as he played, ran down the grassy hill, ate all the typical Passover foods...and more. It is fun to see in your own children but when you see this with your grandchildren it is different. Perhaps because we are less busy providing these needs, or because we are not responsible directly, not on call 24 hours a day...whatever the reason, I loved hearing my grandson express himself.

He is a thinking human being anxious to share what is on his mind. As all parents I did with mine...there is the challenge of allowing the unique personality to thrive while teaching societal norms, responsibility, courtesy. Even simply the concept of obedience... He has to learn to listen for his own safety not just because he should listen to his elders.

So little and yet so smart... I am in awe of him and of his parents... Did I really do this myself years ago with my own? Surely not as well... Surely not as easily as they make it seem.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Baruch Dayan Emet - Blessed is the True Judge

There are crimes for which it is impossible to atone. 

In theory, this is not true. As a religion, we firmly believe that God waits, even to the last moment of your life, for you to truly repent and if you do, you are welcomed into the next world. 

In reality, there are crimes so vast and people so guilty, it's almost a given that it won't happen. Such was the sorry life and death of one Soren Kam. It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied - Kam is the perfect proof that this is true. He committed a crime so vast, so evil...and never repented.

These crimes that I write of become a forever kind of thing. Forever the victim will live with it, forever the guilty cannot deny it. It is probably human nature for both sides to be overwhelmed by the magnitude and the finality of that impossibility but impossible it remains, especially now...more than 70 years later.

A few weeks ago I sat with a German man at a table in India as we both contemplated possible cooperation between our companies. The Holocaust was the elephant in the room as we exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the conference underway just a few floors above our table. He ordered a ham and cheese; I ate nothing - not even water - in a land where it is extremely difficult to find anything kosher to eat.

"How would the Israelis feel about this?" he asked me at one point and I countered with, "how would the Germans feel?"

His response was that the Germans would be concerned about being confronted and we talked about my recent dealings with the German section of a company for which I offer technical writing services. I told him about the time one German responded heatedly to a discussion underway with the unfortunate phrase, "we have to find a final solution for this." 

"He didn't know what he was saying," the German man in India said quickly and I quickly assured him that every Israeli...every the meeting knew this. And yet, there is no denying that the German and Israel have that elephant sitting beside them at every meeting.

Cooperation between our two companies would be, from so many perspectives, a win-win for both was left at that and in the weeks that have passed since I returned home, I have yet to pursue it does he.

A few weeks ago, a 93-year-old man died in Germany. His death angers me and I feel that anger spreading to the concept of "Germany." This old man that died lived out his life relatively well, untouched by the misery he brought to others. He was never brought to justice for the crimes he committed as Denmark's highest ranking Nazi. It is known that he personally murdered a man...with his own hand  and despite two...not one, but TWO extradition requests, Soren Kam was allowed to live out his life as a free man in Germany.

 "The fact that Soren Kam, a totally unrepentant Nazi murderer, died a free man in Kempten [Bavaria] is a terrible failure of the Bavarian judicial authorities," the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said in a statement. "Kam should have finished his miserable life in jail, whether in Denmark or Germany," the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, Ephraim Zuroff, said after Kam's death on March 23.

After the war, Kam fled to West Germany, changed his name, and was given citizenship in 1956. For forty years, he lived with his past, his secrets and yes, his continued hatred. He remained a Nazi...hiding his disgusting past, hunted by those who wanted to bring him to justice. More than 40 years later, in 1999, the Danish Justice Ministery finally got around to requested an extradition of Kam, but Germany refused. 

The Germans refused a second request in 2007 after a Germany court claimed that the cold-blooded killing of the man was not murder but manslaughter, and based on that ruling, the statute of limitations for manslaughter had expired. Germany protected its Nazi to the end.

Meanwhile, a clearly unrepentant Kam was reported to have continued to attended veterans' rallies of SS men and continued a liaison with Heinrich Himmler's daughter. Like Kam, she too had no shame and was well-known for her dedication to assisting a global network for SS members.

"Kam should have finished his miserable life in jail, whether in Denmark or Germany," Zuroff said.

Jews firmly believe in a better world that follows this one, one in which your place is often determined by the actions of this world, the kindnesses you do, the compassion you show. What was denied you in this world, may be yours in the world to come; what sins you perform in this world, are paid for in the next. There is no eluding justice; there is only the truest, highest, purest justice for all.

Kam showed no kindness, offered no compassion - and in the heavens above, there was a communal sigh of relief on March 23 when Kam breathed his last because now is there, in the most important court that has ever existed. 

Ephraim Zuroff was completely right - Kam should have finished his miserable life in jail and the failure for that not happening remains on the head of Germany. There are sins for which you can never atone. There was no justice meted out to Soren Kam...but that is not surprising.

The only comfort is that as the victims of Soren Kam, of the Nazi party, and of the German judicial system that failed to punish their tormentors, are under the cherishing protection of the God of Israel, where they will forever remain, Kam has now joined the rest of his colleagues in a hell beyond their worst nightmares. The fires that burn there are eternal, the misery they caused in their lives a shadow compared to what they suffer now.

When someone dies, Jews say, "Baruch Dayan Emet." Blessed is the True Judge.

Now, after Kam's death, we say the same thing - Baruch Dayan Emet.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Promise of Redemption

Many religious Jews believe deeply that there are no coincidences in life. None...not a one. All that happens, happens within the realm of a knowing God who watches, always watches over His creations. Last summer, when the missiles were falling, a secular friend told me I was lucky because in being religious, I had faith where she had terror, I had trust while she worried.

I'm usually a news-aholic, checking the news every hour and often more often. I have always been that way, but so much more so since moving to Israel.

The last few days, so unlike myself, I have barely followed the news. My house is now ready for Passover, the cabinets labeled with dire warnings to any who would dare to open them.

I saw the news late last night that a deal with the Iranians was reached. They are to get more than 11. billion dollars in the coming weeks and basically their nuclear capabilities are left unchecked.

Naturally, the Iranians are dancing in the street just days after reiterating their intention to destroy Israel.

It may shock you to hear that Israel is celebrating as well. Tonight, we begin to celebrate the date of our first redemption...the time we were freed from slavery and guided to this land...this very land where I make my home today. Just about 20 minutes from my home is the place where we believe Joshua led the Jewish people across the Jordan river into their land...20 minutes away...redemption.

We were redeemed many times - small redemptions like when a missile hit a house from which moments before, the family was called away. Redemption from more deaths, when a bus driver bravely slammed the gas and then the brake, while opening the door to allow his precious passengers to escape. Redeemed again, from Auschwitz and Bergen Belson, Chelmno and Treblinka.

We have survived Hitler. Amalek. Haman. Kings and Popes. Czars and crusades and inquisitions. Pogroms. Ghettos. We have crossed rivers and continents to bring our people home and we have remembered - every step of the way - what it was like to be homeless and so we gather - not just our own people, but those in need.

There are no coincidences in life. Remember that. Believe that. Obama signed this absurd "framework" agreement to secure his place in history. There is a relatively good chance that his place in history will include a footnote about World War III and an Iranian attempt at nuclear weapons.

In a shatteringly small amount of time, the Soviet Union fell. It was thought, at the time, that the corruption, the greed, the cruelty with which it treated its own people helped hasten its downfall. In the wake of the fall of the former Soviet Union, there seemed to be only one superpower left - and that was the United States.

What Obama has succeeded in doing in his six years as president is largely to remove that status. Financially weak, politically hypocritical, the US is more and more being seen as a failing star. This agreement, hailed by most here in this region and by many others as a failure, will push us that much closer to the edge.

Certainly, Israel knows that it acts alone, it walks alone. It is a redemption in itself, this being alone. For many years, we have had to walk a tight line between our allegiance to the pact we share with the United States and our own interest as a strong nation that fully intends to be the final and only eternal home to the Jewish people.

We have compromised by declaring freezes on building while our enemy builds vast areas of homes for their people, illegally siphoning off water, electricity and more. We have gone to war, while crippling our sons from taking the actions needed because of international sensitivities and the displeasure of an egotistical tyrant in the White House who cannot be pleased by anything we do because he is, fundamentally, opposed to the concept of our existence.

Yes, that's right. Obama has systematically worked to undermine Israel in the eyes of the American people and the world - throwing it little tidbits of praise to muddle the images. No nation can thwart its allies to such a devastating extent and still be considered to be supportive.

This agreement is, as Benjamin Netanyahu correctly points out - not just a colossal disaster, but an historical mistake. The message is clear - our future, our redemption, is not (and never has been) in the hands of the United States government.

Already weeks ago, as part of his temper tantrum, Obama suspended key cooperation with Israel - we too will likely be less forthcoming in detailing our intentions.

Passover is a promise to the Jewish people from God. I will take you out of Egypt, God told us, and I will make you a people. I will give you a land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Today, Israel is a land that flows with not just milk and honey, but innovation, breaking technological masterpieces, medical inventions and more. We are a people - proven every time we are challenged. Last night, it seems that two stupid young men pulled a childish prank by staging a supposed kidnapping. The details are not clear - but what is clear is two things happened last night. One - the security forces mobilized. Men who had just arrived to their homes ready to spend their Passover holidays with their wives and children, rushed back to look for one missing young man. And two - all over Israel, people began to pray.

There are no coincidences - and there are no wasted prayers. We are a people returned to our land - divine promise that only a fool would ignore.

My home is about 40 minutes from a mountain that stands ancient and proud over a dead sea. Romans once camped there promising to destroy the wonder of the world Jews had created on top of Masada. That victory was denied to them. They conquered the mountain but took no captives, had no slaves to drag back to Rome.

And a promise was made - Masada will not fall again. We have held Masada for almost 67 years, we will hold it for another 670 and 6700 years beyond that. Israel is not a superpower - never was and likely never will be. All that we are, is a fulfillment of God's promise, a redemption for a tiny people who want to live in peace but are prepared to go to war - against the Iranians if necessary.

I think an agreement was signed yesterday, but I heard more. I heard a promise from God as He looked down at the fool in the White House. You are My people, He whispered gently to Israel last night. I will see you through; you have conquered the mountains and are eternal. I have made you so, God promised...redemption is coming, redemption is here.

You have been redeemed through time, God reminds us tonight. Have faith and do not fear. All the world is a narrow bridge, we sing, and the most important thing is not to be a afraid.
עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה

An eternal people is not afraid of a long path...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Great Passover Cliches

You know you need to rest when your brain fills with the great Passover cliches...feel free to join in any time...

seems appropriate for the day...

  • It's always dirtiest before you clean.

  • Don't air your dirty laundry in public...better to send it out to the laundromat.
  •  A rose by any other name would still smell better than the oven cleaner I just sprayed on the oven racks (that I'll be putting away because I have Passover oven racks).

  • Never forget that dust and dirt are the greatest evils known to Nisan (the Hebrew month, not the car).

  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder is not a good enough excuse to get out of Passover cleaning!
  • Passover is the time of our freedom...from everything but cleaning.
  • If Moses could see us now...he'd wonder where we took the wrong turn.
  • In bringing 10 plagues on Egypt and parting the sea for the Israelites, God was trying to teach us an important lesson...and as soon as I finish scrubbing my oven, fridge, counters and floors...right after I pack away enough dishes to make room for the Passover dishes and unpack them...and rinse them to dry...and finish the Passover shopping...and cooking for the Seder. Right then...I'll try to figure out what that lesson was.
Once upon a time, in a far and distant land, the God of Israel blessed his people and brought them home...why we have to give up noodles for seven (eight days outside Israel)...I don't know...

Okay, enough joking...back to cleaning...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When a Jew Dies Far from Home

Jews take life very seriously. They also take death very seriously. The story we heard on Shabbat from the Chabad Rabbi in Bangalore was about an Israeli man who chose to live in some far off Indian village, as far from what he had known in his life as he could possibly get.

I don’t know if the man was a husband, but he was certainly a father, an Israeli. He chose to leave his family (son and perhaps wife or ex-wife) behind to find himself in India, or perhaps to lose himself. I don’t know which. I do know, from what I heard about him, that he was not a bad man, but a good man who made some bad choices. He died in some distant village in India. To his son, he was a very bad man who had abandoned him. To the village in India, he was nothing short of amazing. He helped everyone in the village and was loved and praised. One man...two different impressions.

His child, now grown, married and a father himself, lives in Israel and was contacted when his father died. It's not hard to understand that the son was very bitter and wanted nothing to do with the father who abandoned him.
Normally, if a foreigner dies in India…the country representatives and the family are notified and they quickly make arrangements.

The body is flown home to the grieving family and buried. Here, rather than a grieving family, the initial contacts resulted in bringing forth the anger of the now-grown up child, a man with a family and children of his own. Perhaps in loving his own children, he was even more hurt and upset about his father’s desertion.

The son had no intention of making arrangements for his father’s body to be flown back to Israel; mainly, he just wanted to be done with it. Sadly, it is not an unusual event to hear that an Israeli dies in some distant land. And almost immediately, the Foreign Ministry, at the urging of the family, makes arrangements to bring the body home for burial.

At this moment, a team of Israelis is searching for the body of an Israeli who was killed when a German co-pilot steered his plane into the side of a mountain, killing everyone on board.

As for this older man who died of his death in India got to the Chabad rabbi in Bangalore who, from the moment he heard, was haunted by the responsibility he felt to find the body and ensure the deceased was given a Jewish funeral, buried among Jews - if not in Israel, at least in a Jewish cemetery in India.

When a Jew dies, the body is given a shomer, a human “guard” who never leaves it unattended until it is buried. Not for a second, around the clock, is teh body alone,  until it can be returned to the earth. From dust we were created, we are told and to dust we return. But not alone...never alone.

Rav Zvi Rivkin used every connection he had, did all he could. He spoke to the son and demanded that the son give him permission to take custody of the body. As his own expense, Rav Rivkin assured the son, he would see this Jew buried according to Jewish law.

It took a while, precious hours, for Zvi to get permission, to find out what village.…but as soon as he did, he set out across India. He arrived to find that the villagers had approached the son and demanded the right to bury a man they respected. The son didn't care and so gave the villagers permission. It was to this scene that Zvi arrived.

It had been decided that they would do an autopsy and then would bury the body in the Christian cemetery. The Rav called the man’s son and at first, in anger, the son, now a man, said he didn’t care. It took time and anger and persuasion and more, until the son agreed and the Chabad Rabbi finally was given the body.

During the debates, the international phone calls and more – people came and told Zvi about the man who had died. These stories, Zvi stored away, hoping someday to share with the man's family. There is no question that this man who abandoned his child, caused great pain and trauma, but in his later years he worked hard to help others. He took care of people who needed his help and watched over, cared for others in his village.

Exhausted from almost no sleep and barely any food, Zvi brought the man back to Bangalore hours before the Jewish Sabbath, where he was buried with dignity and honor.

What possessions the man had were given to Zvi, intended for the man's son in Israel. Slowly, as travelers heading home to Israel have room, they are being shared and someday, someday, Zvi hopes either the man's son, or at least his grandchildren, will some day visit the man's grave.

What Zvi understood right away was that through the anger of the boy, the son, was the need of the man he had grown into to come to terms with his father, to forgive him and ultimately to learn more about who his father had been.

It is a story that can have no winners and yet through the caring and devotion of a Chabad Rabbi in Bangalore, the story had no losers. Sometimes in life and death, that’s the most you can ask for.

May God bless the memory of this man who did wrong and did right, and may God bless the man’s son who in learning to accept is able to reclaim a bit of what his father was.

And, of course, may God bless the Chabad Rabbi, his wife and children, and the holy work they perform, simply for being there to help others...even those who have moved on to the next world.

More stories yet to come....

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Stories He Could Tell

I don’t think Chabad rabbis anywhere ever tell all the amazing stories of their lives, of people who they have encountered, of deeds they have done. Hundreds pass through their doors without hearing some of what we heard. Perhaps it is because most of their visitors are either visiting on business in a rush to get home, or are young and intent on their next port of call. Most are not religious but come to feel a need for home and if home is something you can’t bring with you, the connection to another Jew is readily available here in the warmth Chabad families offer their guests.

Most come for a meal, listen, eat, perhaps join the rabbi in prayer or song, and then quickly leave. By contrast, we stayed. On a warm and humid Shabbat in Bangalore, we stayed to talk Friday night and then the Rav Zvi Rivkin and his wife, Noa, and their three young children all walked us back to the nearby hotel – even the little two year old who loved the rare opportunity to go outside and see the world.
Bangalore is a thriving city but like most cities in India, attempting to cross a street is challenging; doing it with a two year old could be terrifying. When we thought to book the hotel across the street from Chabad, the rabbi guided us to another place – a bit further away, but close enough not to have to cross any large streets.

We came back Saturday for lunch – something the other Israelis who were visiting the city did not do. We normally nap on Saturday afternoon – this time, we were enjoying the conversation so much, we stayed. We heard about life in India and in particular, two stories that live in my mind. As they were shared with me, I knew they had to be written down, shared. It is very likely stories like this could happen in many countries. They are less typical of India as they are typical of the type of dedication and devotion Chabad rabbis bring to wherever they are stationed. And yes, stationed is the correct word. They are, in a very real sense, soldiers on the forefront of a war. Their goal is to provide that connection to home. They are like a very long line and all you have to do if you feel yourself getting lost, is to reach out and grab on, and they will pull you home.

To understand why these men put themselves and their families so far from their own comfortable communities, you have to remember that what a Jew cherishes above all, is life – whether his own life or the lives of his family, his neighbors, his community, another Jew, or simply another human being.

First, I’ll tell you the story of a Jewish man who died. I won’t tell you his name because though it a person’s name always matters, in this case it is less about who he was, as what was done to bring him home.

Then, I'll tell you the story of two babies in Bangalore.

And I'll try to share other stories as well. India is an amazing many stories...stay tuned.

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