Out of Darkness

On the short bus ride to Yad VaShem (The Jewish People’s living memorial to the Holocaust), Lana asked us to imagine a room that would fit 100 people, then think of a space that holds 500 people, a 1000 people and maybe you have even been to a football game where 150,000 were in attendance, keep going and see if you can imagine a space that would hold 1,000,000 and then 6 million.  It is mind-boggling, right?  Our tour of Yad Vashem was certainly filled with darkness but on today’s tour I did not only feel the darkness of such a painful period of our history.  I felt our history.  Lana Zilberman shared with us facts about the Holocaust but more than that, our tour was about the people–the mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sons, daughters who LIVED a life before it was cut short. We were reminded that if it were not for the decision of our ancestors to leave their homes to come to a new land, our lives would have been very different.  Perhaps it would have been us we were memorializing today.  Yad VaShem ends on a note of hope and light and sends us off with the clear message that we are responsible for each other and “never again” means nothing if we don’t do our share or even more than our share of working to end hatred and prejudice.

After lunch, we went the Hertzl museum (which was fantastic) and toured Mt. Hertzl, visiting the graves of Hertzl, the founder of world Zionist movement, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres and other founding fathers and mothers of the State of Israel and we lit a yahrzeit/memorial candle at the graves of fallen soldiers.

It was a rough day. It was an inspiring day.

My son at Hertz’s tomb:Hertzl's Tomb


Posted in Anti Semitism, Congregation Beth Am, Israel, Uncategorized


Shavua Tov! Just landing from a truly wonderful Shabbat and pre-Shabbat tour.  Friday morning we went to the Ayalon Institute near Rehovot.  The website explains it best: “Next to the Rehovot Science Park, on Kibbutz Hill, stands the Ayalon Institute, which tells one of the fascinating and mysterious stories in the history of the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel. Here, beneath the ground, and right under the nose of the British, a factory was created for the production of 9mm bullets for the Sten submachine gun, which was the personal weapon of Palmach fighters. The factory lay eight metres below the ground and was the size of a tennis court. The task was assigned to the members of the Scouts A group, who were joined by others, a total of 45 young men and women. The site operated under complete secrecy from 1945 until 1948, a period in which over four million bullets were produced.”  Amazing!!

Then we headed to Machne Yehuda–the fruit, vegetable, nuts, halva, and anything else you want or need  market and where Nathan was happy to have a chance to put on Tefillin.  Lucy was proud to tell this Hasidic gentleman that she had her Bat mitzvah with her brother but does not want to wear tefillin….

After lunch at the very crowded market we made our way back to the hotel and then off to share Shabbat with a reform congregation, Kamatz. Our tour guide Lana is on the Board of Director’s and her congregation and Rabbi Alona Nir warmly welcomed us into their beautiful sacred home.  They are a special community, and I loved praying with them.  They explain on their website:

“A Reform Jewish presence is crucial for the future of Israel. Between a fully secular Israel completely detached from its religious roots and values, and an uncompromising Halachic state, lies a middle ground, a third way- an Israel rooted in the prophetic Jewish values of social justice, equal rights, compassion, pluralism, and tolerance. This is our Jewish and Zionist vision.
Our egalitarian, upbeat and joyous services create the sacred moments necessary to balance the tensions inherent in Israeli life and offer you, our friends and partners from around the world, a home away from home whenever you are visiting Israel.”  I hope you will visit them.
IMG_0682Lana introducing us to her community.
Dinner was back at the hotel with two lone soldiers (IDF soldiers who do not have family in Israel) and then to sleep.  Today was spent with dear Israeli friends whom I have known for close to 35 years!  And finally, tonight was another fun evening.  We walked to downtown Jerusalem and on Ben Yehuda Street ran into two of Beth Am’s finest, Simon, now a rabbi who is also visiting Israel and Erin a 1st-year HUC student living in Jerusalem for the year.  Pride and Joy!!  And still, we met others we know too.  It has been a wonderful two days.  Feeling so fortunate.
Shavua Tov! To a good week!
Posted in Israel, Uncategorized

A Divided City

A call for a day of rage, a tekes/graduation ceremony for tons of Israeli soldiers, a walk on a 2000-year-old sidewalk, a stop to get free WiFi and a toasted cheese bagel. Women standing on chairs, peering over to the men’s section to see a Bar Mitzvah, a reform Bat Mitzvah nearby at Davidson’s arch, melodies, drumming, clapping all merging as one.   An Arab selling bagela, a Jewish orthodox elderly woman wailing while holding on to the wall.  An old Armenian monk sitting on the steps of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We stood today in a section of the Old City that is holy for four religions. The very same spot!!!

Connection, fear, bewilderment, awe, tears, prayers, disbelief, faith… Jerusalem…the City of Peace is hardly a city of peace.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. And then go and work for it.

Today…a most remarkable day.

Blessings from Jerusalem.

Posted in Israel, Uncategorized

Liberating Judaism

“When we fight against the monopoly, we are actually liberating Judaism for all Israelis and since this is the fastest growing Jewish community on the Planet, it is a worthwhile fight.”  Anat Hoffman speaking to our Beth Am Tour this evening. Anat Hoffman

After a beautiful morning looking at hundreds of thousands of cranes and over 400 bird species at the Hula Nature Reserve–a most important wet habitat in the Middle East. Our Docent taught us that birds fly south – not for the weather, but when the days get shorter… they are seeking light, which means food for them.  This amazing bird sanctuary and habitat is the only rest stop for them until they finish migration in Africa.  The birds are searching for the Light!  IMG_0564

Light–in Psalm 26 we read, “For with you is the source of light, in your light do we see light.”  We search for the light too–a symbol holiness, warmth, goodness, even happiness.  Yet we don’t have to go very far, for there are sparks of holiness within us.  God’s light is contained within.

After the Hula Valley, we stopped for lunch, spent some time at Capernaum, a Christian Holy site.  On the way to Jerusalem, we learned a bit about the history of the city post-1948 and began a discussion on geo-politics which I know will continue for the next several days and beyond!

As we entered Jerusalem, Lana played a recording of the song Yerushaliem Shel Zahav–Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer and I was so very moved.  No matter how many times I have been here, no matter how complex a city this is, when I enter Jerusalem, there is an instantaneous feeling of connection–to the ancestors, to the history, and to the Holy One.

The lecture by Anat Hoffman was important and very moving.  I will be speaking and be writing more about what we learned in the days and weeks to come.

This was another very good day.

Blessings from Jerusalem.

Posted in Israel

40 Miles From Damascus

What a difference two years makes.  Standing only 40 miles away from Damascus, we looked out from the Golan Heights into Syria.  Today, the U.N Guards were looking at their cell phones and only occasionally into their high powered telescope pointing towards the 4th largest city in Syria.  When last here we were witness to a brutal, full-scale siege in the Syrian civil war.  Standing on the very same platform today, we saw only beautiful landscape and heard nothing but the sound of the tour guide’s voice.  Gabi remarked two years ago that she knew if people did survive the siege, they would never have their homes to return to and most likely become refugees and be bounced about unwanted by anybody.

Lana, our guide, did speak about the refugee population and their horrific situation.  We shared that Congregation Beth Am has adopted a Syrian refugee family and it has changed the lives of a few Beth Am families who work closest with them.  There is a GoFundMe page for the Alatrash Family and we are making a great effort to help ensure their self-sufficiency in the next year.  We were inspired to help this family and we will be exploring more about the refugee crisis in the future.  We have to be part of the solution! 

Before the Golan was a small hike at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, then lunch and a visit to beautiful Safed/Tzafat, where we learned about Kabbalah while sitting in the Caro Synagogue,  did some shopping and then dinner back at Kibbutz Goshrim.

What a great day inspiring me to work harder for immigration rights and to also help take care of the Alatrash Family as much as I possibly can.  If you are able to help, please learn more about them here.

Blessings from the North


Posted in Israel

Silver Platter

We started the day with a lecture and discussion on the complexities of Israeli society and culture with Professor Paul Liptz.  One hour for the topic is certainly not nearly enough, but it was enough to make very clear–living here means simultaneously living in one of the measurably happiest counties in the world and also one of the most stressful.  On the way to the next site to learn about the founding of Israel and the War of Independence, our awesome ARZA WORLD tour guide, Lana Zilberman read us  Natan Alterman’s poem, The Silver Platter. The famous poem was inspired by Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel who commented on the 1947 UN Partition plan;  “No state is ever handed on a silver platter.”
Translator: David P. Stern
…And the land will grow still
Crimson skies dimming, misting
Slowly paling again
Over smoking frontiers
As the nation stands up
Torn at heart but existing
To receive its first wonder
In two thousand years
As the moment draws near
It will rise, darkness facing Stand straight in the moonlight In terror and joy
…When across from it step out
Towards it slowly pacing In plain sight of all A young girl and a boy
Dressed in battle gear, dirty
Shoes heavy with grime
On the path they will climb up
While their lips remain sealed
To change garb, to wipe brow
They have not yet found time Still bone weary from days And from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue
And all drained of emotion
Yet the dew of their youth
Is still seen on their head
Thus like statues they stand
Stiff and still with no motion And no sign that will show If they live or are dead  
Then a nation in tears
And amazed at this matter Will ask: who are you? And the two will then say
With soft voice: We–
Are the silver platter On which the Jews’ state Was presented today  
Then they fall back in darkness
As the dazed nation looks And the rest can be found In the history books.
At the end of a long day of touring the Palmach museum, Cessaria, Haifa Bahai Garden’s, meeting with Paul Liptz and having a home hospitality lunch and learn with a member of the Druze Israeli community, I know that we too are carrying  silver platters tarnished with the hopes, dreams, and visions of those who came before us.  I hope we are worthy. And I hope that we can change the course of history, one peaceful act at a time.
Posted in Israel, Uncategorized

Se’mu Lev: Pay Heed

Day One:

It was a truly beautiful day filled with awe-inspiring moments, facts, tours, descriptions, long walks, new sights and smells and… a day that required stamina and patience.  See, there was a massive labor strike in Israel over the proposed layoffs of 1700 workers at Teva Pharmesutials, the largest generic drug company in the world and every segment of the population in Israel was affected by the strike, including the airport where the passport workers struck from 8am-noon.  This mayhem and other odd travel adventures resulted in plenty of exhausted, weary travelers and changes to our Day 1 itinerary.  While waiting close to 2 hours in the airport for the second half of our group to arrive, Gabi, my 16-year-old mentioned that one of her favorite sayings is Se’mu Lev: Pay heed.  Pay Heed–Pay attention, don’t miss anything and everything is important! Pay heed–we might not have planed the day the way it turned out… but don’t ‘zone’ out, don’t miss it, even if you don’t like it.  Se’mu Lev: Be where you are. Be present.

There is a beautiful Piyut, liturgical Poem Odeh LEl which perfectly expresses the idea of Semu Lev: Pay attention to your own soul. She is beautiful and calls to you. And as my friend Rabbi John Bush reminds me, Se’mu Lev–“put your heart into it” Pay close enough attention that you can hear the call and prayers of your heart and the whispering of your soul.

One of the stops we made today,  Independence Hall deeply touched my soul. On this 6th night of Hanukah, the retelling of how David Ben Gurion declared Israel a state was reminiscent of the Maccabean struggle.   Our museum docent was incredible and the story of the founding of this Country in the midst of war, hatred, alienation, and destruction is quite simply… a miracle.  At the end of the tour we sang Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem and there were tears shed by many of us.  Although words today like “homeland” have great political conotations, I also recognize that Israel was born out of great necessity and remains a haven for Jews fleeing hatred and persecution. When paying heed to this story I can feel the miracle of the birth of the State of Israel in my kishkes–from deep within.

Also,  knowing that for one-day thousands and thousands of Israelis went on strike and shut down the country today in solidarity with 1700 people also reaches me and reminds me that sometimes, family does support family.  Yes, not always, in fact not even most of the time here, but every so often, they get it right.

Se’mu Lev~ today was indeed a day to pay heed.

Greetings from Tel Aviv.

Posted in Israel, Mindfulness