Chag Shavuot Same’ach!

חג שבועות שמח! Chag Shavuot Same’ach!

The festival of Shavuot (“Feast of Weeks” or Pentecost), beginning tonight is the culmination of the 7 weeks (hence the name) of counting the Omer – Sefirat Ha’Omer. We are instructed by G-d (ויקרא כ”ג:ט”ו – Lev. 23:15) to count, from the 2nd day of Pesach, 7 weeks, at the end of these 7 weeks, a measurement (Omer) of first fruits (bikurim) were brought as a sacrifice to the Temple in a joyous parade.

The one-day festival also commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai, and in normal, “non-corona” times, we mark this by learning Torah throughout the night (or at least for part of the night), including a special text that is customarily read – the Tikun Leil Shavuot. Synagogues have all-night study sessions, as do schools, youth groups and social groups (including my own women’s group). It is a wonderful feeling to be outdoors in the middle of the night and still see groups of people going to and from their study sessions.

Tomorrow night Shavuot runs straight into Shabbat so we will all be enjoying a welcome two-day festival.

This year the prayers and study sessions will all be in a smaller format but we are grateful to Hashem and to our authorities for having brought us through the pandemic safely (so far tfu tfu tfu) and everything is opening up again slowly.

If you would like to learn more about Shavuot, here are some more resources: Judaism 101 and Aish.com.

Cheesecake for Shavuot

On Shavuot we eat dairy foods, for various reasons, including the following possible explanations:

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews. Included in the Torah are the laws of kashrut (kosher dietary laws), which tell Jews what can and cannot be eaten and in which combination. For instance, dairy and meat cannot be mixed in the same meal and animals must be killed in a certain way in order to be considered kosher. Before the Torah was given the concept of kashrut did not exist. Hence, one explanation for the eating of dairy on Shavuot is that when the Jews received the Torah they did not have the tools they would need to prepare kosher meat. As a result their first meal after receiving the Torah was a dairy meal. (Mishnah Berurah 494:12; Talmud – Bechorot 6b.)

Another possible explanation has to do with Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs). Verse 4:11 says “milk and honey are under your tongue” and some have said that the Torah is like the milk in this verse. Like milk, the Torah sustains us. Hence, a dairy meal on Shavuot celebrates the nourishing quality of the Torah.

The Revelation at Sinai (when the Torah was given to the Jews) occurs directly after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. This journey is described as one “from the misery of Egypt to a country flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:8-17). Thus, eating dairy on Shavuot commemorates the sweetness of freedom and the new life that lay before the Jewish people.

I have to admit the cheesecake is one of my favourite parts of the festival! 🙂

We also decorate our synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery to commemorate the way that Mt. Sinai burst into flower in honour of the Torah.

In the morning we read Megillat Ruth (the Book of Ruth) in the synagogue for a couple of reasons: the story takes place at harvest time; and more importantly, Ruth, an ancestor of King David, was a Moabite convert who voluntarily became a member of the Jewish nation.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has some beautiful and thought provoking words about the Ten Commandments, which we read in the synagogue on Shavuot:

In summary, he asks why the importance of the Ten Commandments when Jews have 613 mitzvot which they must keep. He divides the Ten Commandments into sets of three: Three commandments, or more accurately, utterances, concerning G-d Himself: His existence, and our obligatoin to worship Him and no other god.

The second set of three concern the laws regarding the “createdness” of life: Shabbat, honouring our parents and forbidding murder.

The final set of three concern the laws:

against adultery, theft and bearing false witness – establish the basic institutions on which society depends

And then there is one stand-alone prohibition against coveting or envy. Rabbi Sacks writes:

Finally comes the stand-alone prohibition against envying your neighbour’s house, wife, slave, maid, ox, donkey, or anything else belonging to him or her. This seems odd if we think of the “ten words” as commands, but not if we think of them as the basic principles of a free society.

The greatest challenge of any society is how to contain the universal phenomenon of envy: the desire to have what belongs to someone else. Rene Girard, in Violence and the Sacred, argued that the primary driver of human violence is mimetic desire, that is, the desire to have what someone else has, which is ultimately the desire to be what someone else is. Envy can lead to breaking many of the other commands: it can move people to adultery, theft, false testimony and even murder. It led Cain to murder Abel, made Abraham and Isaac fear for their life because they were married to beautiful women, and led Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery. It was envy of their neighbours that led the Israelites often to imitate their religious practices and worship their gods.

So the prohibition of envy is not odd at all. It is the most basic force undermining the social harmony and order that are the aim of the Ten Commandments as a whole. Not only though do they forbid it; they also help us rise above it. It is precisely the first three commands, reminding us of God’s presence in history and our lives, and the second three, reminding us of our createdness, that help us rise above envy.

We are here because God wanted us to be. We have what God wanted us to have. Why then should we seek what others have? If what matters most in our lives is how we appear in the eyes of God, why should we seek anything else merely because someone else has it? It is when we stop defining ourselves in relation to God and start defining ourselves in relation to other people that competition, strife, covetousness and envy enter our minds, and they lead only to unhappiness.

Thirty-three centuries after they were first given, the Ten Commandments remain the simplest, shortest guide to the creation of a good society.

Words to live and thrive by!

Wishing my family, friends and all of Am Yisrael Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

!חג שמח

 

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Chag Same’ach! Yom Yerushalayim 5780 – 2020

The Old City of Jerusalem early this morning, Yom Yerushalayim. Picture by Miriam Tannenbaum

Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of Israel’s miraculous victory over combined Arab forces in 1967, began last night (Thursday). Usually the chag is marked with festive prayer services in synagogues around the country. This year, because of the restrictions of the coronavirus, the festivities have either been online or in a much smaller format than we are used to.  However, these last couple of weeks the Israeli authorities have begun lifting these restrictions, and tonight my own shul opened its doors for the first time since shortly after Purim, with a festive prayer attended by up to 50 men.  The service was broadcast by Zoom to the rest of the community.

This year we mark the 53rd anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, as well as the liberation of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights (and the Gaza Strip but that’s another story) in the Six Day War. The day is not a national holiday in Israel but it is (usually) celebrated with special ceremonies, prayers and celebrations in schools, municipalities, youth clubs, and of course throughout Jerusalem.

Since the country is slowly emerging from its corona lockdown my cousin took the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem at sunrise and she took these beautiful pictures, above and here below:

Early morning prayers at the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim. Picture by Miriam Tannenbaum

Early morning prayers at the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim. Picture by Miriam Tannenbaum

Just in time for Yom Yerushalayim an incredible discovery was made near the Kotel, the Western Wall, in the Old City: a series of underground rooms, a courtyard and more. Watch this video:

The Jerusalem Post reports on this remarkable archeological find:

Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem residents were storing food and water, cooking, maybe even living in a unique subterranean multiple-room structure barely 30 meters from the holy Temple.

This new discovery was unveiled by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation on Tuesday ahead of Jerusalem Day.

Descending into the underground chambers from the Western Wall Plaza – glaring with light and still under the coronavirus regulations and a heat wave – is nothing less than a journey back in time before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, when the city was still bustling with Jewish life and rituals.

“At the time of the Second Temple, 2,000 years ago, this was a public area, the civic center of ancient Jerusalem,” Dr. Barak Monnickendam-Givon, co-director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA together with Tehila Sadiel, told The Jerusalem Post. “We think that the public street passed just a few meters from here, and we are standing next to what we archaeologists call the ‘big bridge’ that connected the upper city to the Temple itself.”

Clay cooking vessels, oil lamps and stone containers, useful to store water and minimizing the risk of giving it ritual impurity according to Halacha, are among the objects retrieved by the researchers so far, allowing them to assess that the carved structure was in use in the first century CE. How much earlier it was actually built remains a mystery, one of the many that will be addressed as the studies proceed.

Western Wall Heritage Foundation director Mordechai “Suli” Eliav said in a press release: “I am excited, on the eve of Jerusalem Day, to reveal to the Jewish nation a new treasure trove of impressive and fascinating findings that shed light on life in Jerusalem throughout the generations in general and on the eve of the destruction in particular.

“This finding epitomizes the deep connection of Jews with Jerusalem, their capital. Even when there were physical limitations, prayer at the foot of the remnant of our Temple never ceased, and this is tangible evidence of this.”

Despite the fact that archeological discoveries like this prove beyond a doubt the connection between the Jewish People and Jerusalem, and despite numerous documented historical facts like the San Remo Conference which granted the Jewish People the right to all the lands in what is known as the Entire Land of Israel, up to and beyond the Jordan River, and despite the documented history of the theft of this land by the Arabs between 1948 and 1967, many of the world’s nations do not want to accept that the Jews, as represented by Israel, have returned to these lands. Moreover they strongly object to Israel applying sovereignty to the territories liberated from the Arabs in 1967 – something that should have been done on the Seventh Day (but that’s another matter).

There is finally a President in the White House who approves of Israel’s intentions to apply sovereignty, and his Ambassador to Israel has actively encouraged Israel in this, but as anyone could have predicted, many people, including Jews, are not happy. Why? Because Jews. Because the world cannot get used to the idea of the independent strong Jew, the one who has shed the Exile and returned home, the Jew who refuses to cower before the gentiles. Sadly there are many Jews themselves who cannot shed the “galus Jew”, the feeling of fear or trembling at what the Gentiles will say, and they work to undermine our sovereignty, not only in our holy places, but in all the Land of Israel.

We have much work to do!

Let us go back to those dramatic days of the Six Day War which Israel so unexpectedly won, and won so decisively, recapturing our holy places:

 

And for an insider’s view of the nerve-wracking decisions which had to made by the Israeli leadership at the time, here is a clip from the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Moriah Films acclaimed documentary “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers”. This clip features Ambassador Yehuda Avner, who was chief aide, English language notetaker, and speechwriter to Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres.:

 

On a personal note, I give thanks to Hashem that I fulfilled not only my own dreams but the dreams of my ancestors when I made aliya over 42 years ago to Jerusalem. That is where I spent my first few years in this country and that is where I met my husband. And though we moved to Petach Tikva when we got married, Petach Tikva itself, the first settlement established outside Jerusalem in 1878, was founded by Jerusalemites, and so to this day Petach Tikva follows Jerusalem customs concerning life-cycle events, Shabbat and festivals.

Jerusalem is thus never far from my heart, and of course never far from the heart of every Jew.

May next year’s Yom Yerushalayim be celebrated in full glorious technicolour instead of the necessary restrictions imposed this year. As the country starts to open up, may the streets of Jerusalem be once again thronged with pilgrims and worshippers, as the prophet Zecharia said:

כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה שַׁבְתִּי אֶל צִיּוֹן וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם וְנִקְרְאָה יְרוּשָׁלַ‍ִם עִיר הָאֱמֶת וְהַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת הַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ. כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם וְאִישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ בְּיָדוֹ מֵרֹב יָמִים. וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת מְשַׂחֲקִים בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ.

Thus said Hashem: I have returned to Zion and I will dwell within Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the Mountain of G-d the Lord of Hosts the Holy Mountain. Thus said Hashem the Lord of Hosts, the old men and old women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, and each one will have a walking stick in his hand becauuse of their great old age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.

We see these miracles with our own eyes daily. How can we deny the reality of G-d’s miracles?

!זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו

This is the day that Hashem made, we will rejoice and celebrate on it!

Chag Same’ach Jerusalem! Chag Same’ach Judea, Samaria, Golan and Binyamin, they too were liberated during the Six Day War through Hashem’s miracles and the soldiers’ bravery.

Posted in History, indigenous rights, Israel news, Judaism | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Some good news for Lag Ba’Omer

Today is Lag Ba”Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, a semi-holiday marked by bonfires in the night, music and a popular day for weddings. This year, because of the coronavirus restrictions, bonfires were banned except in a very few specified places with a minimal number of participants, and weddings have only just been permitted again by the authorities, also with a very small number of participants and held outdoors.

However since this is a happy day I thought it would be appropriate to post some good news (which I haven’t done for quite a while now).

First some good news concerning corona: not only are Israel’s statistics in fighting the virus extremely good, enabling a slow (or maybe not slow enough) “exit” from the lockdown, but Israel is at the forefront of fighting methods to combat the disease (via Reality):

An Israeli air-filter could help capture and destroy corona particles:

A team of scientists and engineers in Israel have developed a carbon-based filter that can capture and destroy a strain of animal coronavirus, the Cambridge Independent news site reported.


Called TorStran, the thin carbon nanotube mat has the properties of filtration and air permeability that allow it to capture molecules in airborne droplets. The fact that it can filter and disrupt the virus at the same time can potentially make it an effective tool to reduce the risk of infection by removing contamination from the air.

The company, Maalot Tarshiha-based Tortech Nano Fibers, said it plans to rapidly prototype and test the product to help with shortages of protective equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic, the report said.

Similarly, an Israeli mask with a unique anti-pathogen fabric has entered the US market:

The Israeli startup Sonovia, which sped up efforts to manufacture masks using its anti-pathogen fabric at the start of the coronavirus crisis in Israel, has launched commercial sales.

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Sonovia mask

The company’s technology is based on a lab-scale sonochemical process that was developed at Bar-Ilan University. Sonovia started manufacturing its product in March at a plant near Nahariya when Israel had only 200 patients, and has sold 30,000 masks. Most of its clients are distributors and nonprofits in the United States.

Sonovia developed an almost-permanent, ultrasonic, fabric-finishing technology for mechanical impregnation of zinc oxide nanoparticles into textiles.

“The technology is based upon a physical phenomenon called cavitation,” said Migdal. “Sound waves are used to physically infuse desired chemicals onto the structure area of materials, enhancing them with clinically proven antiviral and antibacterial properties.”

Sonovia uses lower-cost, metal-oxide nanoparticles, including zinc oxide and copper oxide, to impart antibacterial protection. Research conducted through a grant by the European Union, in conjunction with 16 partners from 10 European countries, found the one-step process to be effective. Ultrasonic irradiation causes the formation of antimicrobial metal-oxide nanoparticles and actively impregnates them into textile fibers. Moreover, those fabrics impregnated with the zinc and copper oxides were shown to retain significant antibacterial activity even after 100 wash cycles at 75ºC or 65 wash cycles at 92ºC.

Kol hakavod to these two companies! May their inventions prove to be successful and thus help save countless lives.

Israel has every reason to be proud of the way it has handled the corona crisis, from the intial quarantining of travellers, to contact tracing, tracing the movements of infected people to prevent further infections, isolation of infected people in “coronal hotels” and the general obedience of the Israeli public (not a given at any time!) to the rules including wearing masks and social distancing.

So it is gratifying for us to be included in a potential “first movers” club, a group of seven nations that have largely overcome the virus and wish to cooperate on travel, trade and other international cooperations:

Australia now has a roadmap out of the COVID-19 crisis, but helping guide the way is input from a group of nations across the world that have been dubbed the “first movers”.

The eclectic group of countries — which counts Israel, Greece, Denmark, and New Zealand among its members — is swapping tips along the path out of the crisis.

At a meeting held before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia’s plan on Friday, the leaders compared notes on opening up schools, contact tracing, and future travel.

See this short video on this subject:

And now, to return to this special day, here is some very timely good news: a rare Bar Kochba Revolt* coin has been found at the foot of the Temple Mount: (* An explanation of the Revolt is at the end of this excerpt):

In honor of Lag B’Omer, the Israel Antiquities Authority presents this rare bronze coin from the period of the Bar Kokhva revolt (circa 132 CE), which was discovered in archaeological excavations of the IAA in the William Davidson Archaeological Park, under the supervision of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ltd. located between the Temple Mount and the City of David. The excavations are conducted by the IAA and funded by the Ir David Foundation (Elad), which operates the site.

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A Bar Kochba Revolt coin found at the foot of the Temple Mount

The coin is decorated with a cluster of grapes and the inscription “Year Two of the Freedom of Israel,” and the reverse side features a palm tree and the inscription “Jerusalem.”

Coins from the period of the Bar Kokhva revolt, declaring the rebels’ goal of liberating Jerusalem from Roman occupation after the destruction of the city, are relatively common. The discovery of these coins helps researchers map out the revolt, which took place approximately 1,890 years ago. It is interesting to note that the rebels minted these revolt coins on Roman coins with stripped or damaged faces. The revolt coins featured the Temple facade, trumpets, a harp, as well as the inscriptions: “Redemption of Israel” and “Freedom of Israel.”

In the archaeological and historical research based on the testimony of the Roman historian Cassius Dio, it is accepted that the Bar Kokhva revolt broke out in 132 CE, after Emperor Hadrian declared the establishment of a Roman colony called “Aelia Capitolina” in Judea. This colony was built on the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem and began with the construction of a temple dedicated to the god Jupiter on the Temple Mount. The establishment of the Roman city and the construction of an idolatrous temple in place of the Jewish Temple, in addition to restrictive religious decrees, distressed the Jewish population that had remained in Judea. They launched a widespread revolt against the Roman government under the leadership of Shimon Ben-Koziva, known as “Bar Kokhva.” The revolt lasted about five years, causing heavy casualties among the Roman legions – so much so that they had to deploy large military units from around the Roman Empire to complete their ranks. The revolt ended with the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities and villages. However, Bar Kokhva remains etched in the memory of the Jewish nation as a historical hero.

Sadly today another Jewish hero fell in battle: Sgt. Amit Ben Yigal was killed by a rock thrown at his head by a terrorist during an arrest in a Palestinian village. May Hashem avenge his blood and may his family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Just as the Bar Kochba Revolt ultimately failed, the Jewish people were not vanquished, and we have lived to rebuild our home in our holy Land of Israel. May the death of Sgt. Amit Ben Yigal Hy’d also not be in vain, and may we merit to see the final Redemption.

Posted in History, International relations, Judaism, Technology, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chag Atzma’ut Same’ach! Happy 72nd Independence Day Israel!

The Israeli flag is projected on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, as Israel celebrates it’s 72th Independence Day under lockdown due to the coronavirus, April 28, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yom Ha’atzmaut Same’ach! The Israeli flag is projected on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and, as we note every year, the country swings in a mad but so-Israeli kind of way from the mourning, sorrow and remembrance of Yom Hazikaron to the flag-waving patriotism and general merry-making of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Sadly this year the celebrations were much more subdued due to the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic, which involves self-isolation, social distancing and so much more. However, Israelis have never been known to let a bad situation get them down, and as we saw with Pesach and then Yom Hazikaron, we have found many inventive ways to celebrate.

Prayers marking the transition from the mourning of Yom Hazikaron to the celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut were held, not in synagogues, but on street corners, in car parks, on balconies and in parks throughout the country, with limits on numbers, masks were worn and 2 meters distance between worshippers. It’s amazing how one can manage when one needs! We went to the minyan at my brother’s car park (I brought a beach chair to make life more comfortable ☺). The prayers felt even more earnest than usual, because of the situation and because we are so grateful that we have finally been allowed to hold prayer services, even if only outdoors and in limited numbers.

As is traditional, the highlight of the service was the blast of a Shofar followed by a rousing rendition of “Next year in Jerusalem!”.

All around I could hear other minyanim, each carrying on at their own pace, some with musical accompaniments, some with professional-sounding chazanim (cantors) and it gave us such a wonderful feeling of unity and joy!

Local municipalities tried to add to the celebrations with music trucks, singers in town squares with residents looking on from their balconies, and fireworks.

The central Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony took place at Har Herzl in Jerusalem with torch-lighting and music but with no audience.

Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on Tuesday called for national unity to fight the coronavirus pandemic at the annual torch-lighting ceremony for Israel’s 72nd Independence Day, while warning the health crisis could yet worsen.

“From here, I’d like to spread hope. We are experiencing difficult times, and we must prepare for no less difficult times that still await us,” said Gantz. “We are facing an enemy that is testing our health and our humanity, and teaching us a national and social lesson on mutual responsibility. Every one of us is responsible for the lives of their brothers. Mutual responsibility and cooperation are our path to victory.”

He spoke at a prerecorded Independence Day event at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery, as the country watched from home amid a curfew to prevent gatherings.

“We are at the start of the 72nd Independence Day. We will continue to build a nation that is greater than the sum of its parts,” continued Gantz. “A model society that is not afraid of challenges, and looks ahead with hope. A society in which we, the leaders, take responsibility, work for you, the citizens of Israel, care for the unity of the nation and uphold democracy and human rights for all. A society that has some chutzpah and is out of the box, but is also stable and strong.”

A video message from Netanyahu was also featured at the torch-lighting ceremony. The event honoring 12 outstanding individuals for their contribution to the country was this year focused on saluting medical staff fighting the virus. Though traditionally helmed by the parliament speaker, last year Netanyahu successfully pushed to speak at the event.

“We’ve never had an Independence Day like this. We’re far apart physically, but we’ve never been closer,” said Netanyahu in the video address, praising medical staff and security forces who are enforcing the rules.

“A day will come when the hugs will return… but we’re not there yet, because the pandemic is still here,” he said.

Lighting the first torch, Gantz invoked his Holocaust survivor parents and career as an Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and dedicated the honor to the medical personnel combating the virus, security forces, the Knesset, the Israeli soldiers whose bodies are being held in Gaza and the two Israeli captives there, and all Israelis.

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The torch lighters for Yom Haatzmaut 2020

The torch lighters honored this year were: Israeli comic Tzipi Shavit; singer Idan Raichel; Druze IDF commander Hisham Ibrahim; Eli Ben Shem, who runs the Yad L’Banim organization for the families of fallen soldiers; Prof. Galia Rahav, who was representing Israel’s doctors; Renee Abitbul, 92, and Yasmin Mazawi, 18, who were representing hospital volunteers and volunteer medics, young and old; educator and social activist Adi Altshuler; Uri Cohen, a founder of the “Masa Yisraeli” educational program; the head of the Yedidim non-profit, which offers roadside assistance, Israel Almasi; “Birthright for Moms” founder Lori Palatnik; and nurses Ahmad Balauna and Yael Viluzhni-Azulay, who were representing all nurses.

Watch the singer Idan Raichelas choking up with emotion in his speech as he thanked the health workers, the security forces, and his family and supporters, before he lit up the torch:

You can watch the entire ceremony here:

Apart from the joy and the ceremonies, there is another very interesting aspect to this year’s Independence Day.

Not many people know that the San Remo declaration, which is essentially the founding document of Israel’s re-establishment, was signed exactly 100 years ago today, on the 5th Iyar 5680, 23rd April 1920. It is eerie how the date reappeared on the day independence was declared by David Ben Gurion on 5th Iyar 5708, 14th May 1948.

There is a fascinating monograph by Prof. Ephraim Karsh of the BESA Center of Bar Ilan University on “How the Jewish National Home entered International Law” which is worth a read. Here is just a small excerpt:

There is probably no more understated event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflictthan the San Remo Conference of April 1920. Convened for a mere week as part of the post-WWI peace conferences that created a new international order on the basis of indigenous self-rule and national self-determination, the San Remo conference appointed Britain as mandatory for Palestine with the specific task of “putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2, 1917, by the British Government [i.e., the Balfour Declaration], and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”1 This mandate was then ratified on July 24, 1922 by the Council of the League of Nations—the postwar world organization and the UN’s predecessor.

The importance of the Palestine mandate cannot be overstated. Though falling short of the proposed Zionist formula that “Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people,” it signified an unqualified recognition by the official representative of the will of the international community of the Jews as a national group—rather than a purely religious community—and acknowledgement of “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home in the country.”2

My brother David noted, quoting our teacher Dr. Hagi Ben Artzi, noted the religious importance of the San Remo conference:

And this year is exactly the 100th aniversary of the San Remo conference which opened on 5th Iyar 1920. At which all the major powers who represented the 3 branches of Christianity Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox agreed to award Eretz Yisrael from the sea to the Jordan to the Jews. Theologicslly this released us from the שבועה [oath to G-d] not to return to our homeland. Fascinating that this Divine milestone also happened on  [5th Iyar] ה” אייר

And now to conclude this post, here is a magnificent rendering of the prayer we say every Shabbat, asking G-d to bless the State of Israel.

The online platform for Cantors, Choirs, Singers and Bands- JVocals.com, in collaboration with the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella conducted by Sasha Tsaliuk, is launching a special musical production in honor of Israel’s 72nd Independence Day for the famous melody composed by the world-known cantor Sol Zim, to the words of the blessing for the peace of Israel, chanted every Shabbat in synagogues all over the world: “Our Father in Heaven” (“AVINU SHEBASHAMAYIM”). 19 cantors from around the world had gathered for a homemade performance of the piece: Benny Rogosnitzky USA Shai Abramson Israel Yaacov Motzen USA Yaki Lauer Israel Yanki Lemmer USA Avremi Roth Israel Dudu Fisher Israel Uriel Granat Russia Chaim David Berson USA Avraham Kirshenbaum Israel David Guber Canada Gia Beshitaishvili Russia Israel Rand Israel Yechezkel Klang Israel Sol Zim USA Chaim Stern Israel Simon Cohen Israel Daniel Mutlu USA Yossi Schwartz Israel.

Enjoy!

Happy Birthday Israel! Chag Same’ach!

When you think how far we have come in such a short time, the blink of an eye in historical perspective, we have to thank G-d for bringing us to this day.

זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו

This is the day that Hashem made, we will rejoice and celebrate on it.

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Yom Hazikaron 5780 – Israel’s Memorial Day 2020

Soldiers wearing masks stand at attention at the national opening ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 27, 2020, (video screenshot)

Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, began last night at sundown with the sound of the siren, as Israel commemorated its fallen with a one minute siren at 8 pm and a surreal ceremony at the Kotel, where – due to the constraints of the coronavirus – all the participants wore face-masks and there was no audience. Instead, the ceremony was broadcast live and livestreamed on all media.

The extraordinary circumstances made for some stark imagery, with soldiers wearing protective face masks standing at attention in the nearly empty plaza.

President Reuven Rivlin and military chiefs wear protectives mask during the national opening ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 27, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

As he began his televised speech, President Reuven Rivlin’s voice cracked as he addressed bereaved families unable to attend.

“This year, you are alone in your rooms, listening to the echoes of their voices. We cannot come to your homes, we cannot stand alongside you at the military cemeteries. We cannot embrace you,” he said.

The siren “shatters the silence and breaks our hearts,” he added.

Rivlin acknowledged the difficulty for families after losing their loved ones, with many asking themselves why carry on.

“You battle every day for life… And now comes this disease, and it suddenly feels as if the world is turning more slowly,” he said.

“I know, dear families, you don’t need Memorial Day to remember… Today is for us, so that we can — even for a moment — get to know the names and the faces, the lives and the stories of the sons and daughters of this country, of your beloveds, which will become ours.

“This year, we can’t cry together. This year, we can’t look into your eyes,” he said.

But Israel will remember “the unfathomable price” that was paid in human lives for Israel to exist, Rivlin vowed.

Candles are seen at the graves of fallen soldiers, at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery on April 27, 2020. Cemeteries were shut Monday to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Speaking after Rivlin, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi noted the difficulty of commemorating Memorial Day in the time of coronavirus.

“Bereaved families, even now, despite the distance, all of Israel is with you, through all kinds of screens. Every person in their home is stopping, is sympathizing, is dedicating time to the memory of your sons and daughters,” Kohavi said.

“These are complicated times, which bring worry and concern from the lingering danger. A time of crisis is like a time of war, it pushes aside the trivial and minor and makes the important things, the ethical things and the sanctity of life stand out,” he said.

In his speech, Kohavi also warned Israel’s enemies that the military would be there to confront them.

“Against enemies and armies of terror who don’t stop harming the citizens of the State of Israel — the IDF is there: ready, powerful and aggressive. We will be there for every mission, prepared and determined, and we see victory as the only way to achieve our goal,” the army chief said.

Earlier Monday, military cemeteries were shut to bereaved families, for the first time on Memorial day, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus..

Because the cemeteries were to be closed on Memorial Day today new traditions had to be invented or adopted, as bereaved families went earlier to visit the graves of their loved ones.

Another new corona-era tradition has been singing on balconies. Last night Israelis were urged to go out on their balconies or stand by their windows and sing the Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, along with the Chief Cantor of the IDF. Here is the beautiful result, each clip being from another town across the country:

 

On Yom Hazikaron we must remember not only those who fell, but those who are still missing. Tzur Goldin, the twin brother of Hadar Goldin Hy’d who fell in battle in Gaza in 2014, and whose body is still being held by Hamas, pleads that his brother’s body, and those of other MIA, should not be left behind:

In 2014, a UN-US brokered ceasefire brought a pause to the fighting in Operation Protective Edge. During that ceasefire, my twin brother, Hadar, of blessed memory, a lieutenant operating inside Gaza at the time, was ambushed, killed and kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. His body is yet to be returned to Israel for burial.

This picture taken on August 29, 2018 shows a photo of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin taken while on army duty, as shown by his parents at their family home in Kfar Saba. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Hamas also still holds the body of Oron Shaul, another soldier from the same operation, along with living Israeli citizens, who are held captive by this terror organization.

Those realities shape what Israeli Remembrance Day means to me.

On this day, our country stops and thinks of our fallen. We think of those who went into battle, never to return. We think of the wounded veterans. And we think of the civilians who fell victim to terror attacks.

I never imagined becoming one of the community of bereaved families; a community made up of those who never sought to become members. The years since Hadar was killed and kidnapped have been years of pain for me. Yet our family is not only bereaved. We are also captive to a dreadful limbo as we wait for Hadar to be returned home.

We will forever be bereaved. Our mission is to cease being captives.

On Memorial Day, the value we must recall above all others, is that of our common duty to fight for the return of every soldier and civilian in captivity, dead or alive.

I too fought in Operation Protective Edge. Hadar and I were operating a mere 500 meters from one another during the fighting. I know the mindset of a soldier. Soldiers go into battle, knowingly endangering their lives, and they think of their families at home and wonder how they would cope if something were to happen. Yet soldiers also derive strength from the knowledge that their brothers in arms will do all it takes in order to bring them back to Israel if they are injured, or if the worst should happen.

Since the storied Entebbe raid of 1976, the State of Israel has been in a fight against the terrorism of kidnapping. Terror organizations have created an equation: they kidnap soldiers and civilians and exploit them as an asset and Israel pays a pyrrhic price, time and again, in order to gain their release.

They also force Israel to choose between two types of moral injustice: leave soldiers on the battlefield – effectively the case for Hadar – or release thousands of terrorists in exchange for the return of our soldiers.

My family and I believe in a third way.

Terror organizations must be made to realize that the kidnapping of soldiers or civilians is a liability for them, not an asset. We must make them understand that it is they who will pay a price, not us. In order to shift the paradigm, measures to improve the humanitarian situation inside Gaza must not be undertaken until our captives are returned.

The mission of my family is to ensure that the national sacrifice – the one we speak of during Israeli Remembrance Day – remains tied to national solidarity. My brother, Hadar, and Oron Shaul, and all other captives, must come home, and no terrorists must be exchanged for their release. Achieving that goal, which is possible, will save a great many lives in the future.

Hamas cannot have it both ways. It cannot be the beneficiary of humanitarian solutions while simultaneously engaging in acts of terrorism.

On this day, I think about my brother Hadar. I think about Oron Shaul. I think of the soldiers who never returned from Gaza and the Israeli civilians being held captive there. I think of Ron Arad and every one of our MIAs, and I think of how important it is that the principle of no soldier being left behind is a principle we must not leave behind, for the good of the rest of the world and for all future generations of Israel’s soldiers.

May the memory of Israel’s fallen be a blessing.

The pain of the Goldin family and of the families of the other MIA’s is unfathomable to us. Not only have they lost their loved one, but they have no closure, no grave to visit or to mourn at.  It is high time our leaders stopped playing games with terrorist organizations.

There are many sites, some official and some grassroots initiatives, to commemorate the fallen soldiers. Here is also a government-run Yizkor page where you can light a virtual candle in memory of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.

In these days of mutual acrimony, when we are trying so hard to unite the different sectors of our nation, there is also a wonderful initiative, called Pray and Remember, set up by Haredim who are saying Tehillim (Psalms) in memory of the fallen soldiers.  We can pray at the same time that this will help heal the rifts in our society.

Let me conclude with some words of hope and optimism from the wonderful, inspirational Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, words which clarify so sharply that our soldiers and terror victims did not die in vain.

Let their deaths not be in vain. “In their death, they bequeathed us life”.

במותם ציוו לנו חיים

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Yom Hashoah 5780- 2020

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Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah this year took on a much more subdued tone than in normal times due to the strictures imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. For the first time ever the ceremony was broadcast online while the host and choir addressed an empty audience:

Despite Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square being eerily deserted, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day ceremony nevertheless went ahead in perhaps the strangest circumstances of the country’s history.
In the shadow of the coronavirus epidemic, the host of the ceremony addressed an empty square and vocalists performed without an audience – but the speeches from the country’s leaders, the stories of survivors and the prayers for those murdered all went ahead regardless.
Speaking via video, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the fight against the coronavirus outbreak was perhaps the biggest global crisis since the end of the Second World War.
He noted that during the Holocaust, multitudes of Jews died from disease due to the inhuman conditions imposed upon them by the Nazis, but said that although Israelis face today another contagion, the circumstances could not be more different.
“Today we have a national home, we have our own country. A strong, advanced country which is much appreciated,” said Netanyahu.
He noted that earlier this year, the country had hosted many world leaders at Yad Vashem to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz and pledge to fight antisemitism, saying that they had been impressed with the Jewish’s states success in “replacing helplessness with power and mighty accomplishments.”
President Reuven Rivlin also delivered a recorded address, saying that the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant difficulties should not cloud out the memory of the past.
“We must remember! We remember! We will continue to remember! For our own sakes, and for future generations,” said the president.
“Even in these difficult times, when we are confronting a global pandemic and the current sense of anxiety, we hear and make place for remembering the past, the victims and you, the survivors. You, who survived humanity’s darkest hour. A catastrophe brought by humans on humans.”

The traditional six torch-lighters at the ceremony could not be present but their stories were broadcast on the online ceremony and the torches lit in an empty auditorium.

Yom Hashoah 2020 torch-lighters

This year’s torch-lighters were Zohar Arnon, Aviva Blum-Wachs, Haim Arbiv, Lea Reuveni, Avraham Carmi and Yehuda Beilis. You can read their life stories and experiences at their linked names.

A positive note took place today when Mansour Abbas, an Arab MK, and member of the Arab Joint List, addressed the Knesset in honor of Yom Hashoah for the first time, condemning Holocaust denial and mourning the deaths of the 6 million:

MK Mansour Abbas, head of the religious United Arab List party that is part of the Joint List, eulogized the victims of the Holocaust in a speech to the Knesset on Tuesday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the first Arab MK to do so. Abbas said that he was uttering a prayer from the Quran in memory of the souls of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
“As a religious Palestinian Muslim Arab, who was raised on the legacy of Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish who founded the Islamic Movement, I have empathy to the pain and suffering over the years of Holocaust survivors and the families of the murdered. I stand here to show solidarity with the Jewish people here and forever,” said Abbas.
Abbas said that he would speak about the Holocaust “not from books or from internet quotes, but rather from an moral worldview and internal contemplation on the person inside me and historical insights formed through a number of years.”
“I bow my head before the heroism of women and men who started the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the decree of death and the feeling of despair to protect the human image,” said Abbas. “I also bow my head before heroes from multiple nations, righteous among the nations, Christians, Muslims and other, especially Muslim Arabs in the great mosque of Paris and in and in the Muslim country of Albania that took in and protected Jews throughout the war.”
Holocaust denial is a remnant of Nazi ideology. It is a moral failure and its betrayal of the values of truth and justice is a transgression of a fundamental principle in Islam, the testimony of truth and justice,” said Abbas.
“Politicians or religious men or any person who doesn’t manage to shake off racism or hatred of the other or doesn’t stop inciting conflict and war should not touch the Holocaust and should not desecrate their sanctity,” added the Arab MK.
Members of the Joint List who were at the Knesset on Tuesday morning stood in silence among the rest of the MKs present for the two minute siren sounded to mark a moment of silence for those killed in the Holocaust.

But lest we get too comfortable in our glorious present in the Land of Israel, the land where our persecuted forebears could only dream of reaching, antisemites, disguised as “only” anti-Israel activists, disrupted a Yom Hashoah memorial ceremony in Berlin – yes, the place where it all began:

Anti-Israel activists disrupted a Zoom meeting by the Israeli Embassy in Berlin commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day by posting pictures of Hitler and shouting antisemitic slogans, according to Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff.
The event, which hosted Holocaust survivor Zvi Herschel, was suspended and reconvened shortly afterwards without the activists.

But let us not dwell on the haters. Watch this moving video from the haredi town of Betar Illit:

 Similarly I saw on the Israeli TV news much-maligned haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) standing to attention during the siren, and those who were outdoors were wearing masks. The corona pandemic has united us all and brought out the best in our nation.

As I have done in the past, I draw your attention to my Family History pages where I have recorded the history of my family during the Shoah, especially the murder of my mother’s three brothers, David, Elchanan and Uri Strauss HY’D, in Sobibor.

יהי זכרם ברוך

Never forget. May the memory of the 6 million be for a blessing.

ה’ יקום דמם. יהי זכרם ברוך

 

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