Saturday, 30 December 2017

Jewish Immunization








It is no secret that I detest missionaries, especially the kind that misrepresent Jewish scriptures in order to lure innocent Jewish souls to join their religious and eschatological plan. It is also no secret that I am not the only one.

Detesting by itself, however, is not enough. Neither is protesting sufficient. In many cases I feel that "The lady doth protest too much” and does too little.

Recognizing that Yisrael has a missionary problem is a first and much needed step. However, it is clear by now that Yisraeli politicians and the current system will do little, if anything, to stop the spread of this virus that nibbles at us slowly with the eventual mission of removing the Jewish essence of Yisrael and replacing it with that of “The New Jerusalem,” as some openly declare. Some who claim to be friends of Yisrael, are familiar as missionaries on the radar of those who are on the lookout for them, at least by their overt (and sometimes by their cunningly and well crafted) covert agenda. They have infiltrated charitable Yisraeli institutions. They are given land to set camp and enter alliances in the Knesset with some MK’s and are supported by Yisraeli and Jewish enablers. They conduct interfaith services with their enablers, leaving many vulnerable to this innocent and so- called noble concept.

Too much money, power and side benefits are involved in the cooperation between all parties, needless to add, at the expense of Jewish identity of the Jewish, the ONLY Jewish Homeland. It is a collaboration that has seeped very deep, too deep to easily root it out, so it seems. Such nefarious alliances, including some of our own Likud members, have been documented, exposed, written about and discussed ad nauseam by many on various forums

What then can and should be done?

As a teacher of Jewish children in Eretz Yisrael, the country and the People I care about first and foremost, I am doing my share, I believe, in helping contain and eradicate this virus.

Education is my way of fighting it. I call it “Jewish immunization.” Knowledge, as we all know, is power. It is the knowledge of our wonderful tradition, our great history starting with the Tanach, which I believe is the best weapon to ward off any efforts by elements who try to steal Jewish souls, sometimes in deceitful ways, misrepresenting verses from the Tanach to try and convince Jews that it is their way which will bring an end to their misery and loss of direction and purpose in life.

Towards that end, I do not only teach them about our celebrated tradition, about our marvelous culture and history, I also educate myself about it. And there is so much to be educated about, so much to absorb. The more I learn and study it, the more I realize how little I know, yet, the more I learn it and delve into it, though, the prouder I am of it.

Imparting and passing on that knowledge, the pride which comes with that knowledge, is the greatest pleasure of being a teacher. When I address my students, and instruct them about it, I feel as if I am under a spell. I am thrilled, I experience the rush of adrenaline flowing rapidly through my essence. I can sense the invisible waves of delight and dignity that emanate from me. I look at their faces, I observe and study them.  The expression in the eyes of some, that shining look that tells me that they are swept by my enthusiasm and share my joy while silently partaking and basking in the art of knowledge. I can almost feel their Jewish roots strike and spread deeper filling the vacant corners of their young core, shaping their fragile universe and providing them with the security and firm Jewish foundations and existence that has kept our People going for a few thousand years. Their expression confirms to me that their Jewish identity is slowly being reinforced and that, hopefully, one day it might be as unshakable as mine.

This is when I know and am comforted by the understanding that they are on their way to fulfilling our destiny, our millennial old destiny.


What more could any Jewish teacher ask for?

Wishing all of you a great year in 2018.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Tefillin











The Hebrew word תפילין (Tefillin or phylacteries in Greek) which is also referred in the Torah as טוֹטָפוֹת (totafot) describes a set of two small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from four sections of the Torah. These boxes are attached to leather straps. The word Tefillin is derived from the same root as the Hebrew word Tefilah (prayer) and these are worn by Jewish men during weekday morning prayers.
One of the boxes is placed on the left arm against the heart - the seat of emotions, and the attached leather strap is wound around the left hand, and around its middle finger. The other box is placed above the forehead -the seat of reason.
“In this manner,” according to Alexander Cowen, “our attention is directed to the head, heart and hand. It teaches us to dedicate ourselves to the service of G‑d in all that we think, feel and do. It is also to teach us not to be governed solely by the impulse of the heart, lest that lead us into error and transgression. Nor are we to be governed by reason alone, for that may lead to harsh materialism.
Placed on the arm opposite the heart, and on the head, the Tefillin signify the submission of one's mind, heart and actions to the Almighty, as well as the rule of intellect over emotion.”
Why have I decided to write about this subject now, you may ask?

A few days ago, I returned on an El Al flight from New York to Yisrael. As always, observant Jewish passengers perform this very important and several millennia old Mitzvah, one we are commanded in Devarim (Deuteronomy 6:8) “And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.”
Watching them filled my Jewish heart with joy and my cup of Jewish pride overflowed.

Sweet memories of my late father always surface before my eyes when I witness such scenes. They reconnect me with the beautiful days of my childhood when I would wake up to my father’s soft recitation of the morning prayer. His melodious chant was always filled with so much earnestness and sincerity. I would listen to him as he repeated the following verses from Hosea 2:21-22 while winding the leather strap around the middle finger of the left hand:
"וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי לְעוֹלָם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בֶּאֱמוּנָה וְיָדַעַתְּ אֶת יְהוָה."
“And I will betroth you unto Me forever; and I will betroth you unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in compassion. And I will betroth you unto Me in faithfulness and you shall know The Lord.”
This particular verse, which is the second reason I elected to put my sentiments on paper, bears a great significance for me, as a Jew. It encapsulates the eternal covenant between G-d, Am Yisrael and our Jewish People. It allows us to get closer to satisfying our aspirations to know G-d, the One and Only G-d of Yisrael and His benevolence towards us.
This daily renewal of the vow of betrothal and the eternal love story between G-d and Am Yisrael coupled with its subsequent commitment and rewards is what the gift of being Jewish is all about. How many of us avow, daily, our alliances, loyalties or sacred covenants be they with partners, siblings or just friends and dear or loved ones?
Furthermore, the marks of the straps that are left on the skin of those who perform this Mitzvah remain for much longer after they are removed. They continue serve as a constant reminder of that which has kept us Jews and Am Yisrael the Eternal People.

This verse from Hosea and the Mitzvah of putting on Tefillin are also a reaffirmation that my unshakable Motto, נֵצַח יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יְשַׁקֵּר)Samuel 1 15:29 The Eternal of Yisrael shall never lie), is not merely another verse. It is a living proof that Jews are the People of Eternity and that G-d will never forsake us.
For as long as ONE Jew, yes ONE Jew only still performs it, just like in the words of Hatikvah, our Hope is not lost.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Time to Drain the University Swamps








I remember the days, not so long ago, when a biased university lecturer poisoning the minds of our youth made the news. Many would rise in rage, wring their hands and bemoan the sad reality of today’s academic institutions. Though names after names of such culprits keep popping up, what was then a cause for concern has, unfortunately, become the norm. Many simply seem to have gotten used to it.

I encountered such bias. It was quite an eye opener.

The year was 2000, more precisely, the fall of 2000. Let me take you back to that time and introduce you to a name that has run a familiar and blood pressure raising note in my mind. Meet Dr. Ron Macintyre, a senior lecturer in Political science at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Though I was myself a lecturer at that University, I had never met Macintyre. Unfortunately, his name was brought to my attention under some dismal and disturbing circumstances.

I happened one bright morning when I received a telephone call from a young student by the name of David B..

“Your name was given to me by the Yisraeli Embassy in Wellington,” he told me after he introduced himself. He was a freshman at the university and attended one of Dr. Macintyre’s classes. “I am in his POL 101,” he added.

Later, I discovered that many refer to Macintyre’s class as “PLO 101” due to his staunch pro-Palestinian stance.

“It started with him entering class on the first day wearing a Kaffiya while boasting that it was given to him by no other than Yassir Arafat,” David told me. “A visit to his office,” he added, “revealed walls adorned by photos with leaders from the Arab/Muslim world, ruthless leaders like Khaddaffi and others.”

No one should have a problem with such a display. Anyone can befriend and be photographed with whoever they wish. We could not, however, allow such alliances to interfere and affect the line of teaching in an academic institution.

Being a young and rather uninformed kiwi youngster, David was appalled at the anti Yisraeli and biased message delivered by Dr. Macintyre from the university podium. His strong sense of justice compelled him to contact the Yisraeli Embassy in Wellington in an effort to develop a more balanced view about the middle eastern conflict. They directed him to me.

David did not waste any time and called me promptly.

“Surely, we cannot let such antics go on,” he voiced his concern when we met for coffee a day later. “No, definitely not,” I thought to myself. “This is where I will need your help, though,” I added as I looked David straight into the eyes. “Are you ready?”

Both David and I established a strategy whereby we could monitor what information or rather disinformation Dr. Macintyre was feeding his students and, if and when necessary, report him to the university’s board.

We did not have to wait very long. During his last lecture before breaking away for the Christmas holiday in 2000, Dr. Macintyre showed his students a documentary entitled: “The Final Solution,” about the Nazi extermination of the Jews and other undesirables during WWII. At the end of the film, timed and perfectly synchronized with the end of the lecture, Dr. Macintyre asked his students to go home and “over the holidays” ponder whether that was not what the Jews were “currently” doing to the Palestinians.

How about that for twisting, toying with and tainting the brains of those who need to learn how to think instead of what to think?

David called me as soon as he came out of that lecture.


That afternoon, David and another justice seeking fellow student lodged, with my help, a formal complaint against Dr. Macintyre with the University Chancellor. I also sent a stern letter to all that were concerned expressing my dismay at such “academic conduct” as demonstrated by a member of the university staff.

A week later, I ran into the head of the Political Science Department of the University. “Dr. Macintyre showed me a copy of the letter you sent to us and asked if you were ‘for real,’” he told me. We had a good laugh.

You bet, Dr. Macintyre, you and all the “Dr. Macintyres” of this world, we are very much “for real” and we will chase you and your dirty tricks out of our campuses and drain the University swamps of you and your ilk!

 May we all have a Joyous Holidays Season full of honesty, truth and unbiased perspectives.





Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A Vanished World











Yesterday, I posted a video of a rare footage that captured Jewish life and culture in the Shtetl before WWII. I am a product of that culture. I am grateful that I am.

Now, I cannot expect everyone to share my sentiments on this. However, I am dumbfounded at some of the reactions that somehow projected a negative attitude and somewhat contempt towards that chapter in our Jewish history. Yes, there were pogroms, yes there was persecution and yes, there was poverty. But is that all that people see and remember of it?

How sad!

 
Life in the Shtetl was very hard and often dangerous, no doubt about that. It was particularly true during the end of 19th and early 20th centuries when persecution, economic restrictions and outbreaks of violence pressed increasingly on the socioeconomic foundations of the shtetl.

But it was the culture that helped overcome some of those difficulties, I believe, 
 create a wonderful resilient Jewish spirit. 

I personally was always captivated by the stories that I heard about the shtetl. I was enchanted particularly by the values of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) and Menshlikhkeyt (humanness) around which the shtetl's life revolved. The traditional ideals of piety, learning and scholarship, communal justice, and charity were integrated in the warm and intimate life style of the shtetl.

As a child, I would always want to hear more about the life that had become a graveyard.

"Bobe, dartziel mir a maise fun amolike yorn (Grandma, tell me a story from the old days)," I would constantly beg of my grandmother in Yiddish. 

Those were some of the happiest moments in my childhood. The stories told by my grandmother mirrored a life of substance and meaning that could not and would never be duplicated. They had a hidden glow about them, always threaded with humour, wisdom and wit.

One person asked, after watching that video, “Where were the women in that video?” “They were at home,” answered another. I will tell you where the women were. They, the Yiddishe Momas, were at home raising some of the finest Jewish kids, giving them all the love and warmth that no nanny or living in maid could ever.  The home was the basic unit in the culture and life of the shtetl; it was founded on a patriarchal and closely- knit structure on traditional lines. The Jewish mother oversaw the Home. And thank G-d for that.

If you really wish to know what the women did, let me invite you to read the lyrics of "My Yiddishe Mommee." It will tell you where women were in that video. I know what it means, I had such one “woman” as mother. Mine was not only at home, she was also out working hard helping my father create a fine Jewish Home. She was one who is described in these few lines:
"How few were her pleasures, she never cared for fashion's style 
Her jewels and treasures she found them in her baby's smile 
Oh I know that I owe what I am today 
To that dear little lady to old and gray 
To that wonderful Yiddishe Momme of mine."

The synagogue, Beit Hamidrash, was the house of prayer, the house of study and the house of assembly combined. It was the place that preserved the Great Spirit of the Jewish people in its purest form. It was the compassionate, old, loving and loyal mother who, in her graciousness gathered the tears of her lost sons and daughters constantly sheltering and consoling yet at the same time granting them the iron will for an eternal spiritual survival. 

Has anyone ever read Bialik?

Bialik, the greatest Jewish poet, in my humble view, was a product of that culture. His poetry mirrored the suffering, but it also reflected the Jewish Spirit that this culture produced and preserved. He was the bridge between that culture and our modern Jewish state. So were Sha”i Agnon, Natan Alterman and many others who were  reared in that culture. I cannot brush it off as insignificant, dear readers.

The hardest blow, however, came in the form of a private message from a person who shall remain nameless. That person could not understand how I felt the way I did about this chapter in our history. That nameless person went on to suggest that those Jews of the shtetle, my people were “whimps and went like a lamb to the slaughterhouse.”

To that nameless person and all those other nameless who feel “machoisticly” superior to the millions who died in the Shoah, let me say this.

What did you expect of 1.5 million children that were mercilessly murdered in the Shoah, resistance? How about the frail elderly, women, and disabled ones? Had you been in their place, would you have believed then that the human mind could have conceived of putting people in ovens??? Would you not have jumped into a shower after several days of being in a cattle train surrounded by the smell death, urine and facies? Would you, yes YOU, have thought that instead of water, you would be showered with Zyklon B?

Those who could resist, did resist.

My father was one of them. He had a choice. He escaped and joined the partisans. That is how he earned 71% disability from the Nazis.

That culture cradled, developed and shaped others like him. It also produced Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, Begin and many other giants, lest you forget. Those ended up being the leaders of our Great Home, Medinat Yisrael.


That is how I prefer to remember that Vanished world. That is the way, I always will.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Am Segulah







Some words contain an idea, a concept and sometimes a whole universe. They simply cannot be translated into any language or transferred to another sphere of a national or cultural experience lest they lose their linguistic sensitivity.

The Hebrew word “Segulah” is one of them. “Am Segulah” is what G-d refers to Am Yisrael as and on several occasions in the Torah. " "וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ" )Exodus 19:5) (Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine).
Am, as many of us know, is a nation, a people. Am Segulah is a unique, a very distinct and rare nation. Segulah סגולהstems from the Hebrew root, ,סגל the same root of the word, purple סגול . What then, may some of you ask, is the relationship between Am Yisrael and the colour purple?
It is not a secret that purple is the colour of royalty and has been for thousands of years. There is a reason.
The production of the colour purple in ancient times was costly. Hence, it was rare and accessible only to kings and rulers who could afford purple fabrics. The dye that was used to produce the colour purple originally came from the city of Tyre, ruled then by the ancient Phoenicians. It was extracted from the Mollusk which according to the Online Oxford Dictionary is “An invertebrate of a large phylum which includes snails, slugs, mussels and octopuses. They have a soft unsegmented body and live in aquatic or damp habitats.” It took thousands of mollusks to create just a tiny quantity of the dye.
It follows then that since it was exclusive to kings and rulers, the ones who could afford to purchase fabrics of that colour, purple became linked with the ruling classes of ancient empires. The colour was also associated with holiness and wisdom as those who wore it were regarded by many as descendant of gods.
Though not all members of Am Yisrael are part of the imperial classes, our nation, just like any other, each in their own way, is unique. Am Segulah, though, is what G-d named and referred to our People as the quote from Exodus above points. It is not a title that, one bright day and out of nowhere, we chose to adorn ourselves with.
What many Jews, however, fail to understand is that this title, associated with once a very rare and unique colour, is not merely a label one can wear as a feather in their hat or let it serve as the laurel leaves upon which they can rest and enjoy that title. To be a chosen, chosen to carry a unique mission, role or destiny, requires constant work and toil. It bears high responsibility and demands repeated and concerted efforts to prove, time and again that the title and the awards attached to it are well deserved and well earned.
Nowadays, as the colour purple has become more widely accessible, I pray and wish that this new reality does not dilute the significance of our People’s role in history. I implore every Jew to remember who we are, where we came from and prepare ourselves to our destined purpose on the timeline of history. Only a close familiarity with these will ensure that for us and our relationship with G-d, we will forever remain as rare, precious and unique as the ancient purple dye, an Am Segulah.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The importance of reporting all the facts






 This article was written jointly with Roger Froikin

Our dear friend Sheri Oz recently published a series of articles on the Jordan Option conference that was held in Jerusalem on October 17.

She was among those who attended the conference. Her articles were based on her personal impressions of the conference and its speakers. While Sheri's articles contained important information, perhaps they could have provided a wider perspective of the conference and its organizers. On initial impression, Sheri’s articles seemed objective as she reported the events and quoted, mostly verbatim, the person(s) she interviewed leaving the readers to draw their own conclusion.

However, a second and more careful reading of the articles seems to reflect merely one side of the issue, the one she heard at the conference and those she spoke to wished her to share with her readers.

First, contrary to what is mentioned in Sheri's articles, there was no "controversy" between the London based Jordanian asylum seeker, Mudar Zahran and the highly respected Yisraeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. In fact, Mudar has been waging a smear campaign against Khaled Abu Toameh for several years. Second, we need to understand that such a report, as this article clearly was meant to be, will always be more influenced by those interviewed than it will be objective on an issue.

Though the article mentioned the other side, Khaled, Sheri never contacted him or gave him the right of response.

The campaign began after Zahran was booted out of Gatestone Institute. Two people who, according to Khaled Abu Toameh, have been involved in the smear campaign, Ted Belman and Rachel Avraham, are currently facing legal proceedings by law firms hired by Gatestone Institute and Khaled Abu Toameh.

It needs to be noted that Sheri's articles, though no fault of her own, were not inclusive of important information published recently about the conference and its organizers. Take, for example, the recent disclosure by Varda Epstein on Elder of Ziyon website that one of the keynote speakers, Michael Ross, is a lobbyist for the adult entertainment industry in California. Sheri's articles quote Ross, but do not make any reference to his work in the porn industry. Granted, the disclosure and exposure of Ross’s involvement in the pornography industry came out AFTER Sheri published her articles. Were Sheri to write today, however, now that Sheri knows the truth about Ross, she might want to ask herself what is the connection between porn and the conference she and others paid money to attend.

Sheri was aware of the public controversy surrounding the conference and Mudar as she has read Varda Epstein’s articles prior to writing her articles. Though I personally never detected any support of either Mudar or Belman in her article, the two twitted it as if the article praised them and their venture. Is it possible that either they or some of us might have grossly misunderstood Sheri’s intentions behind writing the article?

Recently, the Gatestone Institute issued the following Notice. Sheri was aware of it as well. Here it is:
https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/11145/notice


It is important for all of us that these matters be looked at carefully and fairly and without providing half the story, half the facts. The best results come when we have all the facts with which to judge.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Metzada











Last Sunday night, while many of you were sound asleep, my students and I made our way to the top of Mount Metzada (Massada). It was a bright night with a full moon shining above lighting our path as we climbed this significant milestone in our Jewish people’s history. We were on our way to experience the place where members of our great Jewish nation remained faithful to their chosen destiny. We were on our way to keep our promise to them, to vow that we would never forget them and remind them and ourselves that their untimely death was not in vain.

I had been to Metzada many times before.  Something draws me personally to this place. I was one of them. I am one of them. Their blood runs through my veins. To walk again and again in the footsteps of the Zealots who were determined to keep their faith and remain defiant for as long as they could, makes my heart flutter. To roam along this flat top mountain, close my eyes and imagine myself as one of them, fills me with great pride. To share their joy of planting crops, educating the young ones about our Jewish history and to breath the air of freedom of being Jewish for as long as one could, is the fulfillment of the ancient and eternal promise of G-d to Am Yisrael. To stand there and look in the direction of Yerushalayim as we were sadly watching the clouds of smoke rising from the destroyed city of G-d yet knowing that the Eternal of Yisrael shall never lie, always filled my palate with that bittersweet taste that has ceaselessly been coating our Jewish essence.

On each visit to Metzada, I look down at the site of the Roman camps and wonder what it must have been like to watch them from above, try and guess their next moves and plans in their efforts to annihilate us. I imagine observing them and their thousands of slaves toiling to build the ramp alongside the western part of the mountain while worrying about our old and young frail ones and what fate awaits 
them.

Never, however, had I visited Metzada at night. 

When we reached the top, I faced our ancient fortress under the moonlight. I was awestruck. The desert night had always bewitched me. Now, I was surrounded by its magnificence. Its recollections echoed against the walls of my beings.The cool air caressed my face. It soothed and cradled my soul in its ancient music.



As the first rays of the morning sun kissed the horizon, I sat on a rock as I had done in times gone by and counted my blessings. And there are many countless ones.

To be able to stand on top of Metzada as a Jew, as an Yisraeli Jew, in our Ancient/Modern Home and pledge our loyalty to our People and our Jewish heritage, to be able to vow "Again Metzada Shall Never Fall," however, is by far one of the greatest blessing of them all.

Wishing all of you Shabbat Shalom and Shavua tov.


Saturday, 28 October 2017

There is an Avraham in Every Jew








Lech Lecha לֶךְ-לְךָ is the name of this week’s Parasha (Torah portion) from Beresheet 12:1 – 17:27

Each year as we get to reading it, the Jew in me is, yet again, filled with awe witnessing the courage of Avraham, our forefather. To be able to pick up one’s past life, leave the comforts of one’s Home and follow the directives of a voice, a calling, be it external or internal and face the unknown, does indeed require much valour, resolution and bravery. Avraham certainly took the road “less traveled by” in the words of Robert Frost and that made “all the difference.”

And that move, that major step by Avraham, as we Jews believe, has changed the face and the essence of humanity forever.

At this point, I would endeavor to say that Avraham was not the first one to whom that “voice” spoke. I would say, however, that he was probably the first one that heard it, listened to it and followed its command.

Though not every Jew is a born Avraham, we all have some of him in us. We all possess the potential to make a difference, small or major, in our world. Such opportunities present themselves to us on our Life’s path almost daily. Unfortunately, many of us miss them, intentionally or otherwise. We miss them for several reasons.

First and foremost, some Jews have chosen to continue to live in their comfort zone and any effort to rattle it is rejected by them. 

Others, sadly enough, have simply elected to tune out of the dynamic world that surrounds them. They have decided to seal their ears and resuscitate the blinders over their eyes. The sounds of their inner silence have become their new idols, their panacea. “It is not my problem,” they keep telling themselves as they engage in their selfish dialogues in a futile effort to justify their choice.

I was one of those. Though the fighter in me never ceased her battles, I rarely responded to the calling, until over 8 years ago.

I was residing in the UK at that time, living a comfortable lifestyle, mingling with all the who’s and who’s through family connections and work. I was at last, I felt, enjoying the fruits of my labour from long and hard previous years.

Then, one bright day, it hit me. I paid heed to the voice that was calling me. I stopped and listened to it. It kept asking, “So what’s next? You have done for yourself and nicely so. Is that the legacy you want to leave in this world. Is that what your Jewishness is all about?”

There was only one alternative left for me: moving back to Eretz Yisrael and doing for our Jewish people and our future here. It was time to make that long dormant dream, buried deep inside of me, a reality. I followed that voice and, just like Avraham, I have been blessed, albeit on a much smaller scale.


The dictate of “Lech Lecha” is what being Jewish is all about. It is a directive that has run like a golden thread through the spiritual DNA of our Jewish generations. It is our duty as Jews to dare, to go against the stream and to venture. That has been not only our duty but our destiny as well. That is the key to our survival, Past, Present and Future.


My dear fellow Jews, we each have different voices calling us. We each hold different vocations, some are easier to achieve than others. Regardless of the magnitude and the significance of our calling, each carries a blessing.

So, let us give rise to the Avraham that is in us, harness our courage and wisdom and follow in the footsteps of the great first Hebrew. Let our ancient Spirit, prudence and invincibility guide us. Let it take us through the road “less traveled by.” Let us embark on our destined journey and leave our footprints not only on that road but also on the hearts and souls of many others for many years to come.

Shavua tov


Special thanks to Michal Dar-El.



Saturday, 21 October 2017

Timshal









תִּמְשָׁל (Timshal) is a Hebrew word which means “you shall control or rule.” It is mentioned in Beresheet chapter 4 in the story of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s two sons.

G-d requests that they each sacrifice a gift to Him. He accepts Abel’s offering and rejects that of Cain. Naturally, Cain is upset, even jealous. G-d must have known that Cain would be tempted to punish his brother for that and was about to commit a sin, a crime and suggests to Cain to resist and triumph over it: “ לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה, תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ.” (“sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be its desire, and thou shalt rule over it”). To me, the word “Timshal” encapsulates responsibility and our human capability to choose between good and evil.

Cain ignores G-d’s words and kills his brother Abel. G-d then punishes Cain by banishing him.

Why did I decide to write about this, you might ask?

The reasons are twofold. The first is because it was part of Parashat Hashavua, the Torah portion, last week. The second bears just as much importance to me on personal and professional levels.

Recently, I have been teaching my English class a story by Langston Hughes. It is called “Thank you Ma’am.” The story tells about a young boy, Roger, who, one night, attempts to rob an older woman by the name of Ms. Jones. It is an excellent story with a great lesson and I highly recommend that you all read it.

The boy, as he later shares with his victim, tries to rob her because he wants to buy a new pair of shoes and needs the money. Temptation and greed drive him to break the law and commit a crime. Ms. Jones could easily turn him to the police and forget about him. Instead, she takes him into her home, offers him to wash his face, comb his hair and shares her meager meal with him. Most importantly, she teaches him a very valuable lesson. I call it the lesson of Timshal.  Evidently, she, too, had, at one time, difficulty in choosing between good evil, right over wrong.  “I were young once and I wanted things I could not get,” she proceeds to tell him. “I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son.”

I would venture to say that most of us have done “things” in our lives, some worse than others. Temptation which in turn may lead us to break laws or some moral code, lurks at the doorstep for almost all of us. Many of us want bigger homes, better clothes, more expensive cars or other luxuries which we cannot afford. These temptations may lead us to doing “things” that are not always right. How many of us have asked themselves and maybe more than once, “was my deed good or bad? Have I done right or wrong?” It is an individual struggle. Some can control the urge to cross that threshold more than others. Some are just too weak to resist it.

Before she bids him farewell, Ms. Jones gives Roger a ten-dollar bill so that he can buy the shoes he so desires. As he leaves her home, she tells him, “But I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.” The readers are left with the feeling of hope, a sensation that he will have learned that precious lesson and the importance of choosing good over evil.

Another book that one of my beloved students has recently chosen to do a book report on, “East of Eden,” by Steinbeck, is another example of a literary creation that employs the Beresheet concept of Timshal as one of its main themes, if not the most important one. There, the association is even more explicit than in Hughes’ story.
Firstly, is Steinbeck’s choice of title: it is to the lands which are East of Eden that G-d banishes Cain. Secondly, the selection of the name Adam, the name of the father of the two feuding twin brothers, Aron and Cal. (resembling the story in Beresheet, Cal causes the death of his brother Aron, albeit indirectly).


Thirdly, and most importantly in my view, the association to the Torah story is condensed by the repeated use of the Hebrew word “Timshal” (Timshel).

It is Lee, Adam’s dedicated and educated housekeeper who has researched the meaning of this Hebrew word and who is eventually instrumental in helping the family become a cohesive unit. As Lee attempts and succeeds in convincing Adam and Cal of the cogency of the concept of “Timshal,” father and son make peace and Cal realizes the power that rests in him to overcome evil.

As a teacher, I hope that we all internalize this important lesson and learn that overcoming evil is not only part of making this world a better place but also that it is up to us, through our power of free will, the most precious of human capabilities, to make it happen.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

In the beginning....









As we start reading the Torah over, I cannot cease, yet again, to marvel at its wisdom. Some believe it was written by G-d, the ultimate composer. Others believe it was written under Divine Inspiration. Whatever the source, its cup of wisdom certainly “runneth over.”

Whenever I read the first chapter of Beresheet (Genesis) which recounts the story of creation, I am enthralled by the recurring sensation that whoever wrote it several thousand years ago, must have had some understanding of science and the laws of nature.

I am not a scientist, I do not profess to be one. I am, however, intrigued.
As a lay person, I can only eandevour to address this complex issue of creation, a topic which, admittedly, has fascinated me for years and lead me to form the impressions which I have had about its narrator.

At the outset of the Book, the author states: בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ")In the Beginning G-d created the Heaven and Earth) which, as Rashi explains does not merely mean “ in the beginning” but rather “In the beginning of” the process where G-d set to create the world. In fact in that verse, we are told that three very important pillars of our existence were formed, Time, Space and Matter.

 Then we are told that “"וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ  (the Earth was Tohoo Vavoho) indicating that it was chaotic before G-d put it in order. As I stated, I am not a scientist, far from that, but nowadays, we know of studies by physicists which confirm that the expansion of the early universe at the time of the big bang, was highly chaotic. The first chapter in Bresheet unfolds to us the sequence of events that shaped our world as we know it today.

“Let there be light,” is the first act of creation. Every child knows that the sun is the source of light yet the sun, the moon and the heavenly bodies were created only later. There goes the theory that the entity that composed this recount was ignorant of the laws of science. I can partially agree with it. In our time and age, we are still discovering facts about our universe. Just as the understanding that the earth was round came at a later stage, so perhaps did the awareness that the sun is the source of Light came later to the people of the Tanach. When the “the big Light” and the “small Light” were created, according to Bresheet, they were for the sole purpose of distinguishing between the day and night and to determine the special and Holy Days, months and years.” לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים, וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים
The composer of the chapter of creation, however, was, like modern humans, aware that Light was energy, the source of all living in our universe. And that indicates that some understanding of the laws of nature did exist already then.

Next is the act of separation between “הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ “ the upper water and the lower water,” Heaven and Earth, or as Bersheet calls it
  שמים,  ארץ  וימים “dry land,  seas and sky. The Hebrew word for sky is Shamayim. It means, “there is water there.” I can only envisage the Biblical people staring at the sky, seeing that it is blue just like the sea water next to them and concluding that the blue up above, up there, is the same blue of the water near them.

Following that, came the creation of the plants and trees. Surely, we all know that without the process of photosynthesis in which plants are an important factor and which produces oxygen,  no life could ever exist on our planet. The composer of the first chapter of Bresheet must have also known that.

Another scientific fact that is well known to modern day scholars is that life originated in the sea. The author of the first chapter of Bresheet seems to have known that too. The creation of tetrapods: the four-limbed vertebrates, had to be preceded by the creation of the various creatures of the sea.

Finally, comes the creation the animals, the reptiles and all living creatures that can survive on land, culminating with the highest forms of living, Man and Woman.

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ And G-d created Man in His image, tells us the author of this fascinating first chapter of Bresheet. We all know that the reference is not to a physical image but rather that hidden spark of G-d that each one of us holds.

May that spark shine through and ignite our world with Light, Love and every blessing.

Shavua tov!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Kavod












Kavod is Hebrew for Honour.

Honour, a word which originated in Latin, could mean a host of concepts to many. To some, it means glory, renown, dignity reputation. In Hebrew, however, the language which I, as a Jew, define myself in, it bears those and much more, a lot more.

Hebrew is a language based on the system of roots. As such, in most cases, words that share the same root are related in their meaning.

The root for the Hebrew word Kavod כָּבוֹד   is  כ,ב,ד k,v,d . It is the same root for the word, “heavy,” כָּבֵד, (kaved).  What follows then is that these words are related as they stem from the same root. We generally refer as heavy to something that weighs much and thus has a stronger influence on our lives. Honour is generally given to anyone who bears significance and meaning.

Kaved,“Liver” in Hebrew, is another word that stems from the same root as Kavod. It is that internal organ in our body whose role is to break down the food we eat, a very significant role. It was also discovered in the past that the liver is the heaviest internal part in the human body.

Kavod, appears in the Tanach 119 times. In most cases there, it is used to describe G-d.  In other cases, when it is used to describe humans, it almost always refers to their inner beauty and good qualities. These are the qualities that are the reflection of that spark of G-d, His image, that is in each one of us. Every one of us, therefore, holds the potential to adorn themselves with the title of being Honourable.  We can, through our deeds and behavior, choose to highlight these inner traits or we may choose to ignore and scorn them. Dignity,
the state or quality of being worthy of earning Honour or respect, and integrity are the compass that will dictate and guide us, humans, in choosing the right path for ourselves to be merited and deserving of Honour. That, as Roger Froikin, my mentor, has just reminded me is consistent with our great Jewish ideology and tradition of 3400 years.

This concept is also reinforced in the literature of our sages where the following saying is emphasized.  “Those who run after Kavod, the Kavod evades them…. Those who run away from Kavod, Kavod chases them.
 "הרודף אחר הכבוד הכבוד בורח ממנו, והבורח ממנו ..., הכבוד רודפו"

Again, what that saying implies is that in Judaism, genuine Honour is not external, one which is given for a flaunt of wealth, social or other position or a role. Neither is it one that can be actively sought, demanded or imposed. Rather, it is earned. It is earned for wisdom, honesty and modesty which are expressed through their deeds and behaviour. Therefore, when we witness people for whom all that matters are their title and their affluence yet when asked to engage in a matter that they consider beneath their dignity, we refer to them as players in the game of Honour.

As we enter the Jewish New year of 5778, I express a silent prayer for Am Yisrael, in particular, and the world in general. I pray that this year will bring Peace, unity to our fractured world and above all the earned cloak of  Kavod, Honour, to all.

Shanah Tovah


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Opportunities and Learning Curves





Life presents us with many opportunities. Unfortunately, we miss many. We miss them for various reasons. Fear of change or perhaps the stage that we are at on our Life’s path may not always be timely, are but a couple of the reasons for failing to see the prospects that some events, or experiences hold for us.

When the opportunity that I am about to share with you first presented itself to me, I was least ready for it.
At that time, was living in New Zealand and nearing my 50th birthday. I held a great job as a Hebrew lecturer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch and lived a quiet, sometimes too quiet, life down under.

I decided to spice up my routine and joined a local gym. That decision has changed my life, enriched it and opened up doors that led me into realms that I could only dream of.

One day while I was training with my personal trainer, I noticed some younger girls standing in front of the mirror and posing in a way that enhanced their muscle tone.

I was intrigued.

“What are they doing?” I asked my personal trainer. “Oh, they are practicing for a body sculpting competition,” she answered casually.
“You mean body building?” I persisted. “No,” she quickly corrected me. “It is a much milder, softer and more delicate field.”

“I would like to try it,” I jumped in excitement.
“Forget it,” came her abrupt response, “ you are forty-nine, fifty, forget about it.”
I was taken back by her discouraging answer but not for long.
“No dear,” I answered in a determined voice, “if anyone is going to forget it, it is you, not me. No one has a right to kill anyone’s dreams.  I am going to start training and aim toward competing. I may not win,” I added before I left the gym, ”but no one could ever stop me from embarking on that journey.”

The following day, I changed personal trainers. Shelly, my new one was wonderful, supportive and encouraging.

The routine I had to go through was harsh. It required an immense amount of self-discipline and will power. The exercise regiment was rigid. I trained for about 2-3 hours per day, walking, weight bearing exercises, practicing my dance routine and posing. The diet was, likewise, strict. I had to weigh every crumb I put into my mouth. No alcohol, no sweets. There were many temptations along the path. And while I resisted them, I knew then that I would do it only once in my life.



In November 2003 as I was standing on stage holding my 1st place trophy, another door opened up for me to reveal another great opportunity. I realized that if I, at almost 50, could reach such an achievement, I can help maturing women such as myself, women after childbirth, during menopause, improve their looks, their self-image and self esteem. I suddenly realized the niche that this experience carved for me. 



Six months later I completed a Personal Training course and received my certificate. It was an immensely rewarding experience and a great learning curve. I have learned about our body, about nutrition and overcoming hurdles to reach what many believe is the impossible. I have trained many women who achieved some wonderful results.

My advice to them all was, “do not let Life go by you, let it go through you!” 

That was, is and always will be the motto of my life.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Survival was my Hope; Celebrating Life is my Victory









That title encapsulates the essence of the story I am about to unfold to you, a moving story of survival, hope and its eventual rewards of success.

Avraham Moshe Minkowski, also known to his friends as Manny, was born in 1926 in the town of Starachowica, in the southern part of Poland.

His religious Jewish family of ten enjoyed the quite life of their shtetel.  Manny belonged to the local chapter of Beitar and lived through a relatively normal childhood until that dreadful day in November 1939 where his world turned upside down as the Nazis marched into their little town.

On that day, at the young age of thirteen, soon before his Bar-Mitzvah, Manny and his father were separated from the rest of their family. That is when his  painful pilgrimage through the inferno of drifting from one Nazi labour camp to another, towards the final destination at Auschwitz, where he was reduced to number A19762 (etched in his brain in German until this very day!), started.

That journey is laced with tales of struggle, pain, humiliation, repeated beating, starvation, theft, death and other horrors which are too harsh and too many for this paper to contain. Manny’s strong spirit, however, overcame them all. He belongs to a very special and exclusive group of Jews who have inspired many of us, Shoah survivors. He is one of the invincible. No power would or could ever extinguish their tiny spark of Hope, a spark that ignited their desire to go on living and pass their legacy to future generations.

Manny’s journey of survival, however, did not end when the Russians liberated Auschwitz. Fortunately, neither had hope left his heart.

Soon thereafter, he realized that his road to freedom was still speckled with many more harsh experiences woven with pain and betrayal, forever testing his resolute Jewish Spirit which eventually prevailed. His wanderings took him to Germany, then back to his home town and after what seemed like an eternity, Manny found his way to a refugee camp in the most southern spot of the Italian boot.

While in Italy, where he spent a year and a half, first in its southern part and later in Arona in the north, Manny joined the Italian branch of the Irgun which had over a thousand members of Beitar who had arrived with the flood of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. It was there that he acquired the skills of mechanics and electricity which would eventually earn him a very important role in the history of the early days of the nascent state, Medinat Yisrael, our Jewish Homeland.

 These skills were first handy when Manny became part of the team that prepared the explosives which were used to bomb the British Embassy in Rome on October 30th, 1946. The explosion which took place in the early hours of the morning, destroyed the central part of the building. Though the planners made every effort to avoid casualties, two Italian civilians were injured.

Then there was the Altalena Affair. Manny was selected to be one of its ten crew members.
The Altalena was an American made war ship, more precisely a landing craft. It was chartered for a twofold purpose, to bring European refugees to Eretz Yisrael and badly needed weapons for both Etzel (Irgun) and Haganah. In addition to the close to 1000 people on board, the ship also carried rifles, rounds of ammunition, Bren guns, armored vehicles and other war equipment.


                                                             Manny on board the Altalena 



                                  Training on board of the Altalena as it was making its way towards Yisrael

 A few precautionary measures were taken in order to assure that hostile powers would not be able to detect the ship. The first, a radio silence was declared and it had been agreed that the Haganah (a Jewish paramilitary organization during the British Mandate era which later became the core of the IDF) would send them a coded message where to land and unload the badly needed weapons.
Another measure was to blur the connection between the ship and the identity of its occupants. Some of the Hebrew names were changed into less sounding “Jewish”. That is when Avraham Moshe became Manny.

Unbeknown to the Altalena crew, a UN brokered truce was accepted by both sides. The first cease fire of Israel’s War of Independence went into effect while it was making its way to Yisrael.

On June 20th, 1948. The Altalena arrived at the shores of Yisrael. No signal was given as to the place of landing, as had been agreed prior to its departure from France. The crew suspected that something was terribly wrong although they could not point their finger to it. They awaited further instructions.

After an unexpected delay, the temporary government instructed it to land in Kfar Vitkin, a small town along the Mediterranean coast half way between Haifa and Tel Aviv. Soon thereafter, the offload of most of the weapons commenced. Most of the refugees were brought to shore.

Menchem Begin came to greet them. Suddenly, some shots were fired at them and they all hurried back into the ship. Begin instructed them not to fire back. “There will be no war between brethren,” were his words. They obeyed him.

From there, they sailed to Tel Aviv, flying a white flag which was visible to all. Their only wish was to negotiate. As they approached Tel-Aviv, heavy shelling of the boat was what welcomed them. The shooting came from what was known as the “Red House” – the headquarters of the Haganah. That is where the Tel Aviv Hilton stands today.

The shelling and shooting never ceased. The wounded were evacuated from the ship under fire and those who could, jumped into the water and swam ashore. Manny was one of them.




Manny pointing at the Altalena as its survivors, himself included, are swimming ashore. Notice his tattooed number A19762


Today, Manny and his beautiful wife, Rachel live a rewarding life here in Yisrael. They are surrounded by the love of their three children and ten grandchildren. His son, Yaron Minkoowski is a world renowned and one of Yisrael’s top fashion designers. Yaron married his beloved wife, Pazit Yaron Minkowski, a well-known Yisraeli actress, in 19.7 (the first three digits of Manny’s Auschwitz number). Their daughter, Ori Minkowski, 16, followed in the footsteps of her father and is now the youngest fashion designer in the world.


Manny (second to Left) in the company of  his three children (two daughters to his right), four of his grandchildren. His son, Yaron in the middle and his granddaughter Ori in front of her father, Yaron. To his left is his beautiful and talented wife Pazit Yaron Minkowski. To the left of Pazit is Rachel, Manny's amazing wife of 60 years.

For Manny, Hope and Survival undoubtedly transformed themselves into one big Celebration of Life. We wish him many more years of Health, Celebrations and sheer Bliss.