Where I Come From, A Poem

WHERE I COME FROM by Rivka Liron Bat Cohen

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I come

from a people

with a warrior gene

a history of victory

a tendency toward miracle

perpetual David

against perpetual Goliath

a nation of soldiers

an enemy of empire

I come

from a people

where peace is imperative,

a beginning and an ending

an idea we work for

shaped by diversity

embracing difference

loving unity

I come

from a people

with a language

concentrated in one country

spread throughout the world

in houses of worship and houses of man

studied in it’s original form

spoken in partnership

with foreign dialects

breathing familiarity in to tradition

decoding, recoding, and recording existence

I come

from a people

of pioneers

inheritors of our own destination, our own destiny

reality builders

risk takers

tilling territory, toiling in history

working old soil with new hands

I come

from a people

with a code

a guide to improvement

a lesson in connection

a written relic

a living document

shaping ethical landscapes

speaking to individuals

addressing nations

I come

from a people

a spiritual nation

an indescribable inheritance

a disputed definition

a tribe of millions

thriving on questioning

seeking out truth

a symbol of singularity

an echo of eternity..

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.  

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.

A Lesson on Sukkot

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“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hand.

They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see;

they have ears, but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell;

they have hands, but cannot touch, feet, but cannot walk;

they can make no sound in their throats.

Those who fashion them,all who trust in them shall become like them.”-Psalms 115:4-6

 

As I flipped through the pages of my Siddur on Sukkot, this particular psalm stuck out to me.  There was something about it that was haunting, something relevant, something real.  I wanted to analyze it.To know what it meant.  To connect it to my reality.  

Walking home with my friend Davina, my thoughts became clear as we discussed the passage.  

What are the idols that people construct and worship today? Are they statues made out of gold and silver, or are they something more subtle?  The idol of today is hidden behind advertisements and ideas of glamour. The idol of today is what to get next and how to get it. The idol of today is what to buy and what to wear. The idol of today is materialism.  

In a society that worships objects, do the people themselves become objects?  In a world that is so focused on items, are people defined by what they own?  How many  define themselves based on the new brand name that they wear and the car that they drive? By worshipping items, our society has become one that labels it’s people by what they buy. A man must have the latest basketball shoes.  A woman must have that brand name purse.

On Sukkot, we forsake our homes to live in temporary structures.  We leave physicality behind and enter into a dwelling place where our experience is largely shaped by our company and not by the comfort afforded by our normal abodes.  On Sukkot, we leave the trappings of materialism and enter into a reminder of what is truly important in life.  We realize that our houses are only temporary.  That everything could be swept away in a second. We realize that we must not identify ourselves by the clothes we wear and the things we own, but by our actions and the way that we impact others.  Only then can we truly break free from the shackles of idol worship.

 

Chag Sameach ve Shana Tova Am Yisrael

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revolutionizing Extremism

“Some people believe exactly what I believe, but they like to wear ties. They know their ties neatly around their necks, cutting the brain off from the flow of blood, and this solves the problem.  The mind to one side, life to the other. I, you know, don’t like ties. I don’t like dividers.  Understand me. My beliefs are nurtured not only from external well springs, but also from my veins, and in my veins flows blood” -Israel Eldad

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On a Saturday night at Nefe Nehemiah I walked around the community and spoke to my host.  “People used to die for their beliefs” he told me as we gazed upon the Samarian hills.  I conceded.  Today, it seems, less people are willing to live for their beliefs,let alone die for them.  We are left with a mentality that even if your beliefs are right, then it is a crime to act on them.   The risk of being called an extremist is too powerful, but it seems many people have forgotten that there is such thing as “extremely good.”

An animal has no beliefs, no ideologies, this is a privilege granted only to human beings.  An animal survives.  A human being lives for something greater.

Belief isn’t something to be argued about at the dinner table, it’s not a passing thought. It’s something to act on. Something to live by.   Something that gives us strength.

Judaism was built on people who today would be called “extremists”.  Avraham Avinu was willing to be thrown into the fire to live up to what he knew to be true.  While the rest of the world fought against his claims, he fought for truth.  He never agreed to the “almost oneness” of G-d,  only accepting the one truth, while the Idol-worshipping world continued to call him crazy.  Today, there are people who follow in the path of Avraham and live by what is true while the rest of the world continues to call them crazy.  It is time that the world wakes up to the other side of extremism, the side that leads to positive change in the world, that compels people to act, the kind that brings good into the world and the kind that we as people who desire to change the world should embrace.

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