A Settlement in the West Bank

Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either. 

-Golda Meir

If you will it, it is no dream.

-Theodor Herzl

Israel is a very special place. It’s a combination of things: the spirituality in the air, the feeling of belonging, the nationwide sense of community and pride of what we have done.  Having a country we can call home is not the norm. It’s something we should remember everyday, it’s something we should be grateful for.

-Jorge Nassau

 

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Meir Cohen wakes up every day, places a yarmulke on his head, kisses his wife and two kids goodbye and leaves for work.

When Meir leaves his family to make a living, he also leaves  a Jewish Settlement on the West Bank.

For Meir and his neighbors living in the settlement, every day is living a belief.  His decade old community started building without help from the government but with something more valuable: a belief in their mission and a dedication to seeing that belief come to fruition.

That’s what Israel is.  Living a belief.  

Every step on Israeli soil is a statement. Every breath of Israeli air is a declaration of what we have accomplished. Every man, woman, and child living here is the human embodiment of humanity’s ability to pursue an ideal.

Whether through practicing Judaism or through fulfilling the Zionist  dream, everyone here comes with a purpose to live out their beliefs.  In memory of those who died for Judaism, we live for Judaism. In memory of those who died for Israel, we live for Israel.

If the Jewish people are to be a light unto other nations, then Israel too has claimed it’s right as a light unto others.   Not only in it’s contributions to the scientific world, but also in the devotion that each and every person living here gives to their beliefs, Israel has shown to the world what it means to stand up for what you know to be true and to never sacrifice integrity for comfort and security.

עם ישראל חי   

A Sculpture In Safed

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Tourist trinkets and Hamsa bracelets lined the street as I passed by shops in Safed. I wasn’t looking for a bracelet with the Shema on it or a new Magen David necklace.    I had already been on the Israel trip where that was the norm.  I was looking for something different.

What I found was a message.

I spotted an art gallery and entered.  I was immediately drawn toward a particular sculpture.  The familiarity of the sculpture struck me. It was an abstract representation of two human beings in an embrace.  Neither gender nor any other characteristics were discernible from the piece. All that was expressed was two humans making a connection.

What immediately came to my mind upon seeing the piece was a sculpture by Laura Rubio, a Mexican artist currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia.  The figure is of two forms connected and embracing.  Although the forms are more rounded and smooth than the sculpture I found in Safed, they both express human intimacy.  It struck me how these two artists could live on opposite sides of the world but still express the same universal human experience.  

Diversity is beautiful.  I love how in Israel I can see Arabs, Europeans, Ethiopians, Americans, and all other types of people on the same street. Within the Jewish nation, there are many different lifestyles and ways of expressing Judaism.  Differences between people can be beautiful.  However, we often forget that underneath the different clothing and life perspectives, much of what we experience is the same.  When you can recognize that all human beings have the potential to experience love, affection, and connecting with others it is easier to also recognize the respect that each human being deserves and to understand that the universality of the human experience is there to help us recognize the importance of placing value on each and every soul, whether they be Jewish in Israel, Muslim, Israeli, or Atlantan.

Laura Rubio’s Art

Each Day is a Gift

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It was the year that Lake Wendy at Camp Barney Medintz went dry.  I had driven up to CBM with my family for a friend’s Bar Mitzvah weekend.  So, too, had Sam Lapidus.

Wendy was off limits.  A barren wasteland occupied the area where I had once spent afternoons swimming and kayaking.  The floor of what had been Lake Wendy was speckled with plants and unidentified objects.  It was as if a giant Meteorite had landed in the middle of my Summer Place.  I stared with curiosity as my family and I walked on the path next to what had been a welcoming body of water. I wouldn’t dare venture into something so strange.

The Saturday afternoon of that weekend I was free.  My family was off exploring corners of Camp Barney I already knew.  I snuck off in pursuit of something different. I found Sam.

I had met Sam over the years on various occasions.  Shabbat dinners, camp reunions, our paths had already crossed many times before.  None of those occasions had the same impact on me that this encounter would have.

Sam wanted to cross Lake Wendy.

It was crazy.  I had never thought to even step foot in that alien wasteland, let alone cross it. But I agreed to go with him.

I’ll never forget walking across Lake Wendy with Sam Lapidus.  The red clay and dirt underneath my feet was moist from the water that had previously occupied as it’s cover.  sunglasses and other lost items lay next to shrubs and plant life that had emerged from the ground.  This otherworldly scene, however, was no longer strange.  Sam’s confidence and excitement over the experience put me at ease. There was no hesitation. We were here to experience life.

Sam Lapidus lived everyday as if there was a Lake Wendy to cross.  Each day was an opportunity to live, each day was a gift.   My experience with Sam changed me. I chose to live as if each day counted.  I chose to always cross my Lake Wendys without hesitation, to turn strangeness into adventure and to not just gaze with curiosity but to investigate and experience.

Sam was 14 years old when he passed away after a long battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma.  The lives he changed in those four years number in the thousands. All you have to do is visit his Facebook page to discover the impact he had on those he encountered.  It has been four years and people post daily about how he changed their lives and provided inspiration and impact that continues to this day.  His life is the inspiration to cross your own Lake Wendy.  His message was simple. Live. Cross Lake Wendy. Each day is a gift.

A Summer Camp Shabbat

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I’ll never forget Friday nights at Camp Barney Medintz.

Regardless of how many times I would shower during the week, I always felt cleanest on those Shabbat evenings.  Maybe it was the white shirts from my first year that turned into sundresses in my last years, or the extra time I would take getting ready simply because I knew that somehow that night was special, or the half a day on the cabin calendar that was allocated to Shabbat preparations, but something at CBM changed on those evenings.

I can attribute my impressive knowledge of folk rock to the programs given out as I walked into the Chapel.  The song lyrics contained in those papers defined my American Jewish Summer Camp experience. Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band, and Harry Chapin provided a soundtrack to searching for my cabin in the giant chapel and looking forward to the chicken, the brisket and the opportunity to sit with our brothers and sisters that would always follow during dinner.

I can’t deny the closeness I would feel to my camp friends as we swayed together, our arms on each other’s shoulders, singing Debbie Friedman covers and CBM classics.  For once, all of Barney was under one roof, all of our voices joining in song, celebrating another week that had passed at our Summer place.  Miriam’s Song rang loud and clear and we danced with our own imaginary timbrels as the song leaders played their guitars next to the lucky unit that got to guide the service that evening.  The setting sun was the only reminder of the passing of time as we forgot that each Shabbat brought us closer to the end of our perfect summer.

Now that I have ceased to be a camper and finished my term on staff, I often am reminded of those special Shabbat evenings nestled in the North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I have campers of my own, I plan on sending them to CBM, my special place, if not for anything else but simply so they too can enjoy the beauty of those Friday evenings.  I hope that on CBM Friday night dinners, they sit with each other just as I did with my own brother. I hope they’re not afraid to join in when the song leaders sing Hallelujah, and most of all, I hope that they invite me to a parent’s weekend because no matter what stage of life I am in, I’ll always want to return to those Friday nights at Camp Barney Medintz.

אהבת אחות Sisterly Love

“The Mitzvah to love G-d is really a conduit to loving your fellow Jew (for God is within your fellow Jew.)” -The Rebbe

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”- Hillel

“Love every single Jew, without exception, with the full depth of your heart and with the fire of your soul, no matter who he is or how he behaves.”- Rabbi Eliazer

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I can still remember the words of my mother in the car as she tried to keep the peace on our way to school.

 

“There is never an excuse for hitting your brother.”

 But he said this, and he did that, and he won’t stop this.

 Doesn’t matter.  There is never an excuse for hitting your brother.

 We learned early on that the solution was never hate. It was never violence.  For my family to work, we had to get along.

The Jewish people necessitates a similar attitude. We are a family.  Do we really need someone to tell us that there is never an excuse for hitting our brothers?

Lately, the Women of the Wall have been making headlines as they push for reform in Israel.  The Haredi community has also been making headlines for hateful acts toward the activists.

Whether you are for the Women of the Wall or against the Women of the Wall, there is never an excuse for hitting another Jew.  As they fight for freedom of worship, they should not have to deal with objects being thrown at them.  We were all slaves in Egypt, we were all in the Holocaust, and now we are all throwing chairs and water bottles at each other? How does that make someone a “good jew”?Something doesn’t quite fit.

 Rabbi Hillel said that the meaning of the Torah was “love your fellow Jew, and the rest is commentary.” If this is the case, then shouldn’t respect toward another Yehudi override any ideas of tradition? The laws of Judaism exist to teach the value of loving your fellow.   Regardless of what they are doing, whether it be wearing tallit,  donning kippahs, or being annoying on the way to school, there is never an excuse for hitting your brother.

How Shavuot Teaches Us to Learn

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High school boys wearing yarmulkes, older couples holding hands and young women in their holiday best all sit gathered around a man telling a story of bioethics, the Golem, and Frankenstein.  Replacing the story teller, an octogenarian begins to speak on the role of the Cohenim in the days of the temple.  A local teacher later comes to the front and gives a lecture on Revelation.  This opportunity to learn, what seems like a TedX Conference in the making, is actually a holiday.

Tonight is the beginning of Shavuot.  On Shavuot, we celebrate the beginning of the harvest and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  It is customary on Shavuot to spend the entire night studying Torah. Many communities have their own version of this tradition, for example, having speakers come to present to a crowd.

The festival is called the giving of the Torah and not the receiving of the Torah. In this way, the Jewish tradition recognizes that people are constantly receiving knowledge. Learning should never stop.

Holidays in the American mindset are  usually associated with a break. A break from thinking, a break from school, a break from learning. Judaism, however, recognizes that there is no break from learning. By associating learning and knowledge with holidays, Judaism creates a positive perception of education.

Not only on Shavuot, but on all other Jewish holidays, learning and books is central to celebration.  On Passover we read the Haggadah, on Purim we read the Megillah.  Lessons from those stories are central to the Jewish tradition.  In Judaism, a person does not stop growing until they are dead.  There is always an opportunity to become a better person.  Whether a high school boy wearing a yarmulke, an old couple holding hands, or a young woman in your holiday best, Judaism teaches that you are never too old to grow, that life is one long lesson, and that there are always new stories to learn.  

A Death in the Family-2010

I sit in my basement.

I watch the dust fall off of the director’s viewfinder that Pop gave me before he passed. I wipe the lens slowly, stopping every few seconds to suppress the inevitable tears that build up in my eyes while I think about the man who gave it to me.

 

I put the chain around my neck.

I bring the viewfinder to my eyes.

And my basement melts away.

 

The unfinished concrete walls are replaced by dimly lit white washed rooms. A painting hangs on one end and a TV is lighting up the room with an episode of Twenty Four. On the couch sits a man with a Jolly Rancher in his mouth and a girl, his granddaughter, sitting beside him. That man is my grandfather and that girl…is me.

I don’t dare take off my viewfinder as I watch the me of a couple months ago become the me I am today. She learns, thirsting for every word that comes from my grandfather’s mouth. He holds in his hand a black lens-like object on a chain, my viewfinder, and she stares at it in awe. He describes the secrets of film, secrets that I still hold in my memory, that wash up on the shores of my mind and create a downpour of tears on my face when they appear.

A single tear forms in my viewfinder and I pull it away from my eye. The couch, the TV, my grandfather, they’re all gone. I’m back in my basement. A light flickers overhead and I stare down at the viewfinder hanging from my neck. I know the suppressed memories it will bring to mind if I dare take another look into the viewfinder, but I ignore my own mind’s warnings and bring the object to my eye.

 

Everything goes black.

 

Fade into a new scene, and I see my mother, aunt and my cousin lying down in a bed together. The TV is playing Twenty Four in another room and the faint sounds of a sick mans snores can be heard over the dialogue. My mother cries alone on one side of the bed while my aunt and cousin embrace each other as they cry silently, afraid to wake up the snoring man in the next room. I spot my previous self staring out the window. She turns away from the window and stares directly at me. The piercing stare of a girl who just finished crying, the mirror image of myself looking back at me with red eyes and running makeup. A chill runs down my back and I put down the viewfinder.

My pulse is racing at high speeds and my eyes are watering.

I bring the view finder back to my eye.

 

Coral Gables, Miami.

A funeral.

 

It’s the last day of summer. My cousin has her face in her hands, tears fall and underneath her face contorts with the pain that only the passing of a loved one can induce. My previous self is talking to my grandpa’s brother. Unable to bear the pain. Unable to grasp the reality of what is actually happening. Unable to look into the hole where he is kept.

Friends sit in rows of forest-green chairs, hold each other’s hands and hold each other in the only way they know how to alleviate the pain.

Black limos line the streets and palm trees sway in the Florida breeze. A rabbi says a prayer, a friend picks up a shovel, a young boy weeps from his seat, and I remove the viewfinder.