Hachnasat Orchim

The Druze people pray in a secret location.  Their hidden houses of worship are as a result of thousands of years of fear.  What once was necessity has now also become tradition and still today they worship under cover.

Thousands of years of religious persecution has led them to this point, but today in Israel there is no necessity for this, only tradition.

In the State of Israel, the Druze can worship freely.  They can join the army.  They can live out their lives, raise their children, and practice their religion without fear of coming under fire from any power.

The other day I went shopping for a skirt in Jerusalem. As I searched through the racks, I realized that along side me a Jewish woman, Muslim woman, and a nun were all standing next to eachother eachother in pursuit of purchase. 

That night, as I looked out onto the Kotel from the rooftop of the Aish building, I noticed something spectacular.  There are no signs from the Kotel banning any particular group from visiting.  From my view, I could see the first lady of Rwanda in her bright mushanana accompanied by her entourage leaving the women’s section of the wall.  Visitors from Asia, India, and all over the world with no connection to Judaism were able to visit the holy site of the Jewish people without fear.

A Jewish state does not mean a state where non-Jews are not welcome.  Hachnasat Orchim is a mitzvah in Judaism to welcome guests into the home.  The Great Sages said that inviting a guest into the house possessed a higher state of holiness than inviting the Divine Presence.  In a state built on the values of Judaism, welcoming guests into Israel, our home, is not uncommon.  Druze can be Druze and practice their unique religion within the borders of Israel, Muslim women, Jewish women and nuns can shop for clothing without worry, and anyone traveling through, living in, or finding themselves in the land of Israel is always welcome somewhere with some family at some Shabbat in the Holy Land.

עם ישראל חי


A Day in the Shuk

A day in the Shuk

Shuk in Jerusalem, Israel

Shabbat at נופי נחמיה

The windows of the Synogogue at  נופי נחמיה look out onto the mountains of Samaria. From where I stand in the בית כנסת,  I can see the Jewish and Arab communities speckled across the landscape as I turn the pages of my Siddur and listen to the men on the other side in their tallit and woven Kippahs welcome in the Shabbat at נופי נחמיה, a ישוב (settlement) in the West Bank.

Friday night dinner is outside.  A table is set in the middle of the street in front of the caravan and together, along with Jewish people in the settlement, in Israel, and around the world, we welcome in Shabbat.  The greenish white lights of the Arab communities and the yellow lights from the Jewish households dot the outlines of the mountains surrounding the area.  Meir makes Kiddush and Ligal lays out a Shabbat meal made more sweet by the sounds of children singing the prayers they learned from watching their parents.

Shabbat dinner is followed by sleep and tefillah in the morning.  On my walk home from the synogogue, a man sitting at a table outside makes kiddush on wine and we all stop to listen. He finishes, we say Amen, and then continue toward the park in the middle of the ישוב.  Young girls with long dresses and their hair in pigtails and little boys with woven colorful kippahs sit in a circle and sing tefillin.  Afterwards, they all play together in the center of the ישוב while the parents sit in a circle and  chat.  This is real community.

As the sun sets on the ישוב, it also sets on Shabbat. I sit with Meir, Ligal, and their two children, Yoav and Omer, as we enjoy the last meal of Shabbat.  Meir makes Kiddish and Ligal lights the Havdalah candle as we all bid farewell to a weekend centered around community, family, and G-d.

The other day I visited the ים המלח (Dead Sea). I met a Jewish women from Belize who was planning on making Aliyah.  As we spoke, she told me that an easy life is not a good life, a life must be difficult to have meaning.  Here on נופי נחמיה, where every Shabbat is a demonstration of the hard work and connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel,  our  day of rest is one of special significance. Every Kiddush made, every Tefillah said in the בית כנסת, every Zemirot sung and every little boy running around with his Tallit and Kippah is an expression of hope for the continuation of the Jewish nation.  Life may be more difficult on נופי נחמיה, but it surely is not worse.  If anything at all, life may be difficult, but it also just might be much better.


A Summer Camp Shabbat


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



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.