A Good Heart

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“It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you. A good person will rise above it”.  My father had always been a good person, but I had never realized the extent of his wisdom. His words were true. The whole world can be on the wrong path, but if you are strong enough, you can rise above it. 

Today in my University lecture, Professor Steven Katz was talking about those who rescued Jews from the Nazis during world War II.  His ultimate message was that their background didn’t matter, what mattered was their character. If you have good character, you’re going to do the right thing.

In the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says  “Go and see which is the good a man shall cherish most.  Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye.  Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion. Rabbi Yosi said, a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said, a good heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included”

Character is a  quality that can move mountains.  It can cause a person to rise above a negative situation or to fall below what is right.  As we leave Channukah behind this year, a holiday devoted to standing up for what is right, we should all invest ourselves in building beyond our resumes and becoming people that we would be proud of. We should stand up for what we believe in, build on what makes us good people, and finally, do the right thing.  

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My Jewish Family

My sisters from Itamar

 

 

As I was on my way to Yeshuv Itamar in the hills of Samaria, my bus stopped to let on a family.  Since leaving from the central  station in Jerusalem, the bus had already been full with mothers, children, and fathers excited to come home for Shabbat.  The woman coming on to the bus had 7 children. The bus had only 1 seat left.

 I had sat in the front so I could feel the force of the hills as I entered the Shomron, but had not expected the surprise I would receive from my position.  Onto my lap came a 2 year old girl, hair in pigtails, smiling at her other siblings who were similarly occupying the laps of 6 other strangers that had accepted the responsibility of “seating” for the remainder of the trip.  

As an au pair in Israel, babysitting became a team effort.  Mothers I came across in the park would instruct me on keeping the baby warm, feeding her enough. I was never at a loss for advice.  At first, I took it as an insult. Eventually, I took their advice with appreciation and knew they only had my charge’s best interests at heart.

Here in Boston, I spend many of my Shabbats with an Israeli family at their house. I am welcomed in as a family member, invited over during the week, and I have an open invitation for a bed if I ever get sick in Boston and don’t want to be alone.  I call them my “adopted family” and I don’t think they realize how much of a blessing it is to have found them here in a city far from my home. 

Whether it be in Yesha or  it be in a different city in the United States, I never feel uncomfortable going to a fellow Jewish families house for Shabbat. Always, I know I feel at home. How is it that I can feel so comfortable in a complete stranger’s house? That I know I will be taken in with open arms and treated like a family member?

The Jewish people is more than a nation. The Jewish people is a family, and if Israel is the physical embodiment of the Jewish soul, then it makes sense that I feel comfortable with a stranger’s baby on my lap, or walking in to a stranger’s home, because, in reality, these people are no strangers. They are my family.

Learning from Tremps

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After a weekend on the Yishuv, I had several options to get back to Jerusalem.  I could climb on a bus and join fifty other people and their kids, sad to leave the hills and Shabbat behind.  I could see if the family I had stayed with was heading into the city and join them. Or I could take a tremp.

I remember when a good friend of mine first taught me the rules.  Don’t talk on the phone. Don’t play music. Get out when you get to your stop.   To be on the safe side, all of my tremps were drivers coming out of the Yishuv I had just spent the weekend on.  They were usually either women or families.  

I loved coming back to Jerusalem in a tremp.  It was a peek into another person’s world. The music they listened to, the conversations I could have if they started speaking to me.   The connections I made all over the Shomron as I was driven through the mountains under the stars and toward my destination.

Now that I am in Chutz La Aretz and away from my home, I don’t take tremps anymore.  Not only is it dangerous, but it is also out of the question. No one driving out of my neighborhood will offer me a ride if I am heading elsewhere.  That is not in their mentality. They have their cars, they’re comfortable. I can get there myself.  

When did the American mentality become so me me me and less we we we?  Judaism teaches that we are all one, part of the greater whole of existence.  Perhaps that is why strangers were so willing to give me rides back to Jerusalem on those Saturday nights.  If we are here to connect, then surely we should have no problems offering rides to, if not strangers, at least acquaintances and friends who are in need of transport.  We were not put on this earth to acquire, but to give.  Perhaps America could take some cues from people who pick up strangers in cars.  You have 5 seats built in for a reason.

Exile, a poem

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How do you wake up a sleeping nation 

When it’s pillows are made of the finest silks

They sleep with the enemy

wrapped in luxury

shrouded in darkness

Chasing dreams that can’t bring them satisfaction

A Walk to Remember

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Jerusalem is hilly. It’s sidewalks are uneven and there is nothing intuitive about navigating it’s streets.

Jerusalem is the perfect walking city.

I have spent hours walking alone along it’s ancient roads, wandering the city and without fail finding something exciting going on along the way.

We, the Jewish nation, have been in Exile for thousands of years, and while on this earth it is our mission to continue working toward redemption.  In order to understand exile, The Baal Shem Tov used to create his own Galut. He would spend a  period of time traveling from place to place with nothing on him, encountering people who had no idea who he was, himself and G-d his only companions.  This practice used to be common among the Jewish Sages, but today it is barely used.  

The self-induced exile was used to bring the traveler closer to his essential self and closer to G-d.  When there is no family support system around you, you put your faith in G-d for support.  When you are traveling without possessions and without a reputation, you learn to trust your essential self and you see more clearly the desires of your soul.  

Rav Kook said “Your deep soul hides itself from consciousness. So you need to increase aloneness, elevation of thinking, penetration of thought, liberation of mind .”  Spending time alone is an essential step in realizing your true self.

A relationship takes work.  It takes time to connect with another.  Connecting with yourself is no different.  In order to understand who you really are, you must devote the time to listening to the desires that are so often ignored and drowned out by the sounds that seem to pervade every aspect of life.  Especially this month, Elul, the time for Teshuvah, getting to know your self, your soul, and it’s true desires is important if you want to actualize your potential.  So take a walk,  light a candle and sit in your room without disturbance, or take a long trip where no one knows your name. In order to really hear, you must turn off the other voices in your head and listen closely to the singular most important one: your own.

 

 

 

This is Ours, A poem

Synogogue in Hebron

I was a slave in Egypt

I was dragged from Gaza

No, Gush Katif

Hear O Israel, the Lord is

one

soul in many bodies

Stabbing our left hand with our right

Perpetuating

crimes against ourselves

Jews,

Turn Toward Jerusalem

Raise your right hand

and remember

We were slaves in Egypt

Do not delude yourself

with illusions of separation

Their pain is my pain is your pain is our pain

Wake Up, A Poem

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I wake up

To the rock covered hills

To the olive trees and lined caravans

To a sunrise in Samaria

 My empty sleep has ceased

Truth has ended slumber’s term

Is there anything more beautiful

Than this land, these people, these rock covered hills

These olive trees and lined caravans

This sunrise in Samaria

Awake, my soul, from your slumber

Sing out Modeh Ani  

A new morning has come

I join my spiritual nation

Am Yisrael

The marriage of our two souls seeks out the fruits of it’s consummation

The people of Israel and the land

Combine under the Chuppah of Heaven

And make a house for their kingdom