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 Nation of Our Own

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In the period between 1935 and 1938, Entjudung (removal of Jews from Germany), although not official policy, was a strategy used by the SS to rid the country of it’s Jewish population. Organizations meant to increase emigration to British Mandated Palestine were encouraged by the SS and articles in the Jewish press encouraging Jews to stay in Germany were suppressed. The SS divided Jews into two major categories: assimilationists and Zionists.  The assimilationists encouraged German Jewry to remain in Germany and pursue recognition as Germans while the Zionists urged their communities to get out of the country.  

Those who chose to listen to the Zionists were lucky, because in the coming years, what would be known as the “Final Solution” was to take place. Six million Jews would perish and those who chose to leave would escape the tragedy of what was later to be termed “The Holocaust”.  It is strange to imagine what the Jewish world would look like if all of us had listened to the Zionists.

The Jewish people never do well when we imitate other nations.  German Jewry attempted to remain in Germany as “Germans with a Jewish religion” while the German people would never accept them as anything other than Jews.  In Biblical times, we asked for a king so that we could be like “all other nations”.  Although some of our kings had redeeming qualities, overall the institution of monarchy did not prove positive for the Jewish people.  When King Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with the other nations,

(Here’s the text from Isaiah Chapter 39 of the interaction)

ב  וַיִּשְׂמַח עֲלֵיהֶם, חִזְקִיָּהוּ, וַיַּרְאֵם אֶת-בֵּית נְכֹתֹה אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף וְאֶת-הַזָּהָב וְאֶת-הַבְּשָׂמִים וְאֵת הַשֶּׁמֶן הַטּוֹב וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית כֵּלָיו, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא בְּאֹצְרֹתָיו:  לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-הֶרְאָם חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּבֵיתוֹ–וּבְכָל-מֶמְשַׁלְתּוֹ.  {ס} 2 And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them his treasure-house, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. {S

the Nation that Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with and showed the Beit Hamikdash to, the Babylonians, would eventually destroy the temple and send us into exile.

Today, the Jewish people face a difficult question, but one that by now should be easy to answer: Do we act as the Jewish people or do we act to appease and strive to become like other nations?  History has shown that when we refuse to accept who we are, nothing good comes of it.  It has also shown us that when we choose to appease other nations with our actions, it is an exercise in futility.  When thinking of the Holocaust, we like to say “Never Again”, but we need to begin to look at the details and realize that there are steps that need to be taken in order to prevent another catastrophe.  Israel, our nation, should strive to actualize it’s potential as the Jewish State and not try to be the mini-me of the United States.  It should make decisions based on what is best for the nation and not what is best for the governments of other nations. Jews should strive to reclaim their cultural identity and embrace it.  Maybe it’s time that the we, the Jewish people, took a hint from the messages that hundreds of musical artists and writers have been telling us for years, and finally be “True To Ourselves”.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War against the Jews: 1933-1945. 10th Anniversary ed. New York City: Bantam, 1986. Print.

Diaspora, a poem

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Sometimes exile cuts like a knife

Away from my home is just a half life

Don’t know if feeling this lost is worth the cost

How long can my soul stand

to be away from the Holy land?

From Boston I can clearly see, it’s Am Yisrael that calls to me

And my greatest fear, do I betray my people while I stay here?

Friends lay down their lives on the front line

And I am in college biding my time

Is this for them, or is this for me?

Will the nation benefit from my degree?

I  come to terms with reality

Exile means I am not yet free.

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

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