Yom Kippur 5782 – Gmar Hatima Tova!

May we be written in the Book of Life for a sweet and happy new year, blessings and success

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is upon us once again. It begins in a few hours time here in Israel, when we will be entering a 25-hour fast to pray for forgiveness for any wrongs we have committed towards G-d. It is a day when we must ask forgiveness from our fellow man if we have wronged them, forgive those who have wronged us if they ask to be forgiven, and pray that Hashem will seal us in the Book of Life. This year, as with last year, that prayer, along with the line in the Avinu Malkenu prayer: אבינו מלכנו, מנע מגפה מנחלתך- Our father, our King, prevent a plague among Your inheritance, will be recited with extra favour.

We are almost back to pre-corona days, when we would attend services with day-long prayers, composed of beautiful, spiritual and emotional prayers and songs, being held in shuls and community centres throughout the Jewish world. This year attendance in shul is contingent upon having a Green Pass showing either vaccination or recovery from covid, or a negative PCR test. In addition, despite the heat (although it is slightly cooler than it has been in previous weeks) some windows and doors will be left open despite the air-conditioning to ensure fresh air flow.It has been recommended – though not required – to curtail the prayers because it is difficult to sit inside all day wearing a mask.

We should count ourselves lucky because in many countries shuls have been closed altogether.

In Israel, traffic comes to a complete halt throughout the country, even in the most secular towns, and a serene and holy calmness pervades throughout the land. Even the international airport and public transport close down for the day, starting from a few hours before the fast until an hour or so after the fast ends.

Here is a thought-provoking video from the late and very lamented Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l about finding your purpose on Yom Kippur:

In the spirit of the day, I would like to ask forgiveness from anyone whom I might have offended or hurt.

To those who are fasting I wish an easy and meaningful fast.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish my family, friends and readers Gmar Hatima Tova – May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a year of good health and blessings, and may Hashem bring an end to this plague.

גמר חתימה טובה

 

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Shana Tova Umetuka – 5782

Shana Tova Umetuka

Shana Tova Umetuka
שנה טובה ומתוקה

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tomorrow night (Monday night), and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Wednesday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5782.

I can’t help looking back at last year’s post with some degree of irony. We were so full of hope that by this year we would be back to normal. Well… not quite. We were almost there earlier this summer, and then the Delta variant of coronavirus entered Israel, and here we are again, with peak numbers of infected people (around 10-11,000 new cases per day). BUT  – there is one huge difference this year. We are now benefiting from the massive vaccination campaign of last winter, and now the booster vaccinations, which means that despite the huge numbers of infected people, the number of hospitalized and seriously ill people is much lower than it was when we had similar numbers of infected patients in the winter.

Nevertheless, caution is the name of the game, so although we are not imposed with a closure like last year, our synagogue services are going to be somewhat curtailed, windows will be left open, and entry inside the synagogue contingent upon having a green pass or a negative PCR test.

Similar to last year, many Israelis are in “bidud” – quarantine – after having been exposed to the virus and cannot take part properly in the Rosh Hashana prayers, so Shofar-blowers will be walking through the various neighborhoods to blow the Shofar for anyone who needs to hear it.

To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.

The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path.

Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.

We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.

Round Challah for Rosh Hashanah

Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness.On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, because of the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.

Pomegranates already on sale at the shuk, ready for Rosh Hashanah

It has become a tradition that the Israeli Bureau of Statistics issues its annual population update at Rosh Hashanah. This year the number of Jews worldwide has risen to 15.2 million, of whom almost half live in Israel:

Days before the new Hebrew calendar year of 5782, the number of Jews worldwide stands at approximately 15.2 million, compared to 15.1 million in 5781, according to statistics newly released by The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Among the global Jewish population, the number of Jews in Israel is close to 6.9 million (compared to 6.8 million in 5781), while about 8.3 million live outside Israel, including around six million in the United States.

The updated estimates by Professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be published in the American Jewish Year Book 2021.

According to The Jewish Agency, the above numbers include those who define themselves as Jews and who do not identify with another religion. When also including those who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, the world total rises to 25.3 million people, of which 7.3 million are in Israel and 18 million living outside Israel.

In other Rosh Hashanah-related news – I’m speaking of honey – Israel is leading the world in reviving bee colonies:

In a world where scientists acknowledge the important role bees play in our ecosystem yet worry about their dwindling numbers, farmers in Israel’s Arava Desert are working to grow bee colonies – and they are already achieving some very “sweet” results.

You would not expect to find a bee colony in the middle of a desert, yet the bees at Porat Farm in Ein Yahav, an area supported by Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA), are not only surviving, they’re thriving.

A JNF-USA supported R&D station in Israel’s South experiments with growing new types of flowers in the desert. Courtesy of JNF-USA

Despite its arid moonscape-like environment, the Arava region in Israel’s Negev Desert provides the ideal conditions for growing bee colonies. With limited pollution, the air remains pure, which in turn helps prevent many of the diseases that are decimating bee colonies around the world.

And the conditions that help bees thrive in the arid environment are benefiting local farmers as well.

In addition to the variety of delicious honeys that comes from bees, local farmers in the Arava and JNF-USA supported agricultural scientists rely on bees to pollinate their crops. In fact, farmers will rent beehives from beekeepers like Porat and place them in their fields, resulting in more profit for their businesses and better quality fruits and vegetables for Israelis and consumers around the world.

According to Noa Zer, JNF-USA Liaison in the Arava and owner of a two-acre pepper farm, “Without the bees we wouldn’t be able to grow what we grow. There would be no source of income. The bees are the best helpers.”

There are two types of bees that are being used to help boost local agriculture: the honeybee and the bumblebee. As Dr. Oded Kanan from JNF-USA’s R&D center in the Arava explained, honeybees are more commonly used in open greenhouses, whereas the bumblebee is used in closed greenhouses.

While the bumblebee does not produce honey, they are still essential for pollination. Bumblebees move their wings hundreds of times per second, and the vibrations from it allows them to pollinate a flower before they move along to the next plant. This process is called “buzz pollination.”

This new approach is a major upgrade from previous pollination techniques in the region, when farmers would have to go by themselves, flower by flower, with a special device to pollinate them. Today, thanks to the helpful cooperation of bees and innovative researchers, farmers were able to increase their yield by 60 percent. And today, farms in the Arava are responsible for producing more than half of all of Israel’s produce.

As Dr. Kanan points out, “Without bees there is no world, and this is something scientists everywhere are working on.” Communities in other countries, like Nepal, are catching on and adopting the methods that they saw being used in Israel. It modernizes the way food is being grown, helps with economic security, and ultimately has a ripple effect throughout society. It’s what farmers like Zer call, “the bee effect.” By helping Israel’s desert bloom, these little bees, with the help of local farmers and JNF-USA, are making a big impact. And that’s something that is pretty sweet and worth celebrating this year!

This really is something sweet to celebrate!

May Hashem hear our prayers wherever they are held, whether in grandiose synagogues, temporary prayer halls or in outdoor spaces. May He grant us all good health and an end to this terrible plague.

If I have offended anyone during this past year I ask forgiveness of them and sincerely apologize.

May Hashem grant us good health, peace, joy and prosperity, and may He inscribe us all in the Book of Life.

תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה

Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy new year.

 

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Tisha B’Av 5781 – 2021

https://www.93fm.co.il/radio/554670/

Tisha B’Av

Today it is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Today we remember the destruction of our two Holy Temples, both destroyed on this day, along with a host of other calamities.

As I wrote in a previous Tisha Be’Av post:

The fast commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem as well as a whole slew of tragic events that befell the Jewish people on that day:

These include the capture of Bethar, which marked the final defeat of Bar Kokhba‘s rebellion against the Romans, and the razing of Jerusalem by the Romans. The edict of King Edward I compelling the Jews of England to leave the country was signed on the ninth of Av in 1290, the Jews were expelled from Spain on that day in 1492, and World War I broke out in 1914. The sadness and mourning that Jews feel on this day are reflected in the various practices of Tisha B’Av, including abstaining from joyous activities like study of Torah, from eating and drinking, from sexual activity, and from wearing leather.

You can read a chronology of the major events leading up to the Churban (the destruction of the Temples and Jerusalem) at the link.

Since we are so far removed from the destruction of our Temples, it is extremely hard for a modern Jew to truly mourn the loss, even though that loss led to so many more tragedies and innumerable massacres and persecutions of the Jewish people throughout the centuries of the Diaspora. Especially today, living in the thriving independent State of Israel, mourning the loss of our sovereignty seems so hard when we are living in it today.

However, here is a story to bring this all into perspective, and to show us how we should really be mourning on Tisha B’Av:

We can also mourn the lack of our sovereignty in many parts of Eretz Yisrael, but particularly on Har Habayit, the Temple Mount, where our Temples once stood in all their glory but is now the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Waqf, the Muslim trust that rules the site, would like to ban all Jewish worship from the site, but at last the Israeli government, first under Netanyahu and now under Naftali Bennet, is insisting that Jewish worshippers be allowed to ascend and maintain their freedom of worship.

However, it doesn’t usually work out quite as smoothly. Today over 1,000 Jewish worshippers were permitted to ascent to the Har Habayit, but not without clashes with the Muslims who were incited that “settlers are storming the Al Aqsa mosque” and other outrageous lies.

Dozens of Muslim worshipers barricaded themselves on the Temple Mount in the early hours of Sunday, ahead of the arrival of the Jewish visitors. Some of them briefly chanted: “With spirit, with blood, we’ll redeem Al-Aqsa.”

Israeli police entered the site and used sponge-tipped bullets and “crowd dispersal methods” to clear the area. Israel Police said that some Palestinians threw stones.

In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he deemed “the dangerous and ongoing Israeli escalation.”

“The Palestinian Presidency…considers this a grave threat to security and stability, and a provocation to the feelings of Palestinians, and holds the Israeli government responsible for this escalation,” Abbas’s office said in a statement.

The European Union’s mission to the Palestinians said it was “concerned over [the] ongoing tensions.”

“Israeli authorities, religious, and community leaders from all sides should act urgently to calm down this explosive situation,” the organization wrote in a tweet. [And they should butt out of our domestic affairs – Ed.]

Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza, mocked the “straying herds of settlers” ascending the Temple Mount.

“That the occupation is giving free rein to these straying herds of settlers does not reflect control or sovereignty, but rather is an attempt to cover up for impotence and deficiency,” Mohammad Hamadah, a Hamas spokesperson, said in a statement.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group called the clashes “terrorism and aggression that affects all Muslims in the world.”

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh — one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest advisers — condemned Israeli police actions at the site.

“The storming of  the Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Israeli political decision to establish facts on the ground, in defiance of the international community’s will, and bodes poorly for the orientation of the new government in Israel,” al-Sheikh tweeted.

“Storming settlers” aka Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av

Muslim clergy in East Jerusalem called on followers to come to the site, as this week marks the start of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in the Islamic calendar. The holiday often sees mass congregational prayer on the Temple Mount. [ It should be noted that Hamas launched the last war with the pretext of Jews storming Al Aqsa].

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B’Av fast day on July 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

And here we have the true reason for the Muslims’ hysteria about Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount – they fear they are losing control (about time too):

Sunday’s clashes came a day after a report said Israel has quietly started allowing Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount in recent months, in what would appear to be a major change to the status quo that has existed at the holy site since the Jewish state captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during 1967’s Six Day War.

Anxious to reduce friction with the Muslim world, and given that Orthodox sages generally counsel against ascending the Temple Mount for fear of treading on the sacred ground where the Temple’s Holy of Holies stood, Israel since 1967 has allowed the Jordanian Waqf to maintain religious authority atop the mount.

Jews have been allowed to visit under numerous restrictions, but not to pray.

A Channel 12 reporter, however, in recent days filmed prayers taking place at the site, as policemen — who in the past would eject any person suspected of prayer, and sometimes kicked people out for merely citing a biblical verse while speaking — passively looked on.

The report said that in addition to prayers, lengthy Torah lessons have been held on the Mount, again with the tacit approval of the police.

This is a definite improvement over past procedure but there is still a long way to go to ensure Jewish religious rites on our own holiest site.

But let’s move on to better news. Since we are now past midday, it is permissible to talk and think about more heartening and encouraging subjects. And recently there has been a slew of wonderful discoveries in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel:

A 3,000 year old inscription with the name of one of the Biblical judges was found near Kiryat Gat in southern Israel:

An inscription dating back some 3,100 years ago bearing the name of a biblical judge Jerubbaal was uncovered in the excavations at Khirbat er-Ra‘i, near Kiryat Gat in the Southern District of Israel, the Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday.

The writing, inked on a jug, marks the first time that the name Jerubbaal has been found outside the biblical text. It is believed that the owner penned his name on the jug.

The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel. (photo credit: DAFNA GAZIT/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

“The name Jerubbaal is familiar from biblical  tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash,” according to Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and archeologist Sa‘ar Ganor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Garfinkel and Ganor co-direct the excavations at the site with Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davies from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia – a partner in the dig together with the IAA.

“Gideon is first mentioned as combating idolatry by breaking the altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole,” they explained. “In biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops. According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod.”

At around the same time we learned of the discovery of 2,000 year old “Freedom to Zion” coins from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt – the revolt which ended in the fall of Betar on Tisha B’Av and which is commemorated today:

Two coins dating back some 2,000 years were found in the Binyamin region of the West Bank during an archaeological survey conducted by Bar-Ilan University, the university and the Binyamin Regional Council announced Tuesday.

he 2,000-year-old coins that date back to the period of the Jewish revolts against the Romans, July 13, 2021. (Credit: TAL ROGOVSKY)

The coins date back to the period of the Jewish revolts against the Romans.

The area is located in the northern part of the Judean Desert.

One coin was discovered near Wadi Rashash, and another in a location known as Hirbet J’bait.

The artifact found in Hirbet J’bait was minted around 67 CE. It features a vine leaf and the Hebrew inscription Herut Zion (Freedom for Zion) on one side, and a goblet and the inscription “Year Two” on the other. Just three years later, in 70 CE, the Romans would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem. Several other remains from that period, including a ritual bath, have been uncovered in the area.

The second coin dates back to the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt some 70 years later. It bears a palm branch surrounded by a wreath and the inscription LeHerut Yerushalayim (Freedom to Jerusalem) on one side and a musical instrument and the name “Shimon” on the other – the first name of the rebellion’s leader Bar Kochba.

The revolt – also known as the Third Jewish Revolt – broke out over the religious restrictions imposed by the Romans, as well as their decision to build a Roman city over the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem, including a pagan sanctuary where the Temple had stood.

Most exciting of all though is the incredibly exciting discovery of First Temple era walls of Jerusalem, still unbreached!

In a potential contradiction to the biblical account of the 586 BCE destruction of Jerusalem, continuing excavations in Jerusalem’s City of David National Park have revealed a previously unseen section of the First Temple-period fortification wall that was breached — but apparently not entirely razed — by the Babylonians.

The exposed section of the First Temple-era protective wall on Jerusalem’s eastern perimeter. (Koby Harati/ City of David)

According to 2 Kings 25:10, “The entire Chaldean [Babylonian] force that was with the chief of the guard tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side” (The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh). But this newly found extant section of the eastern city wall, connected to two previously excavated and documented sections, means that potentially the entire length of the eastern border was not in fact torn down by the conquering Babylonians.

With this discovery, archaeologists are now able to reconstruct the run of the wall that encircled the ancient Kingdom of Judah capital on the eve of its destruction, which is commemorated by the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av on Sunday.

The new eastern section connects with two other previously discovered adjacent wall sections found in the 1960s by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon and in the 1970s by archaeologist Yigal Shiloh. By connecting the dots on the map, there is now an almost continuous 200-meter (656-foot) fortified wall on the eastern slope of the City of David facing the Kidron Valley. This new section was uncovered during excavations in 2020.

The new find puts to rest an ongoing debate among archaeologists over whether the previously known wall sections were indeed used for fortification or instead as support walls for construction on the steep 30-degree slope on the eastern side of the city. Part of the reason archaeologists traditionally argued that these existing sections could not have been used for fortification is the fact that the biblical narrative relates that the fortification walls had been shattered by conquering soldiers. Presumably, then, the argument went, sections of wall found to be still standing must have served a different purpose.

But now, “with the current exposure of the section that almost physically connects between the two [previously known sections], it is clear that there’s a wall that’s running for hundreds of meters,” said Uziel. This lengthy wall section on the eastern slope, put together with previously known sections of Jerusalem fortification in other parts of the city such as the Jewish Quarter’s Broad Wall (45 meters/148 feet long, 23 meters/75 feet thick) means that it “only makes sense” that it was a fortification surrounding the city, said Uziel.

As always, these discoveries put paid to the lie that the Jews are an alien race in the Land of Israel. Every one of these treasures proves our millennia-old connection to Israel.

May this be the last Tisha B’Av that we have to fast. May we celebrate next year in rebuilt Jerusalem with the reconstruction of the Third Temple.

כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה

Those who mourn Jerusalem will merit to see her in her joy

 

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In memory of my mother Judy Prager z”l

My mother, Judy Prager z”l

Baruch Dayan Emet. A month ago exactly my dear mother Judy Prager passed away after nearly two years of illness, and the last month in a very serious condition in hospital.

Mum died on 4th June 2021, 25th Sivan 5781 on Friday night. The funeral was held on Sunday, 6th June, in Segula Cemetery in Petach Tikva.

My intention was to tell you all about my Mum and her life here but it is a daunting task. I will give you a short summary, and you can read the hespedim (eulogies) from her funeral, and from the Shloshim (30 day memorial service) and thus gain a deeper understanding of who Mum was.

Mum was born in Michelstadt, in the Odenwald in Germany on 7th May 1935. At the age of 3 the family moved to Frankfurt. After Kristallnacht and the arrest of my grandfather, who was incarcerated in Buchenwald, my grandmother sent Mum’s 3 older brothers to Holland on a kindertransport for safety. After my grandfather secured his release by paying a ransom to the Nazis, the family left for England. The 3 boys remained in Holland and were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis in Sobibor in 1943. You can read the story in my Family History pages.

Mum grew up in a very busy household in London with 4 younger sisters, 2 cousins rescued by my grandfather from Europe after the war, and assorted lodgers and visitors. After finishing school Mum learned to be a very skilled and talented dressmaker.

She met my father through the Jewish youth groups and got married when she was all of 19.

Mum was a very active member, and eventually honorary life member of her Emunah group both in England and then in Israel after my parents made aliya in 1992.

Besides her voluntary work in Emunah, Mum volunteered for 22 years, together with her sister Ruth, in the gift shop of Schneider hospital. Sometimes I think she kept the shop afloat by buying gifts for her multitudes of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 🙂

Mum was a devoted wife and mother, running the house like clockwork and looking after our father (may he live to 120), all while instilling in us four children the values of her Jewish upbringing, a fierce love of Israel, and an outstanding sense of justice and fairness which stayed with her till her dying day.

She was also a very hands-on devoted grandmother and great-grandmother. Before my parents made Aliya, mum would keep a suitcase permanently half-packed, ready to fly at a moment’s notice whenever the travel agent would call her and ask her if she wanted to fly that afternoon since there had been a cancellation. Grandma’s arrival “from the sky” (where my children thought she lived!) was a highlight of my children’s childhood.

Mum took huge delight in her great-grandchildren too, and thought nothing of travelling cross-country with me to visit my own grandchildren living in their far-flung yishuvim.

Mum was a huge inspiration to me, especially in her love for Israel and her fervent defence of the country in the media and online. Her letters to the Jerusalem Post are legion and legendary.  She, along with my father, gave me her blessing to leave home and make aliya alone to Israel, and I was so excited when 15 years later my parents joined me.

Mum was a huge supporter of my work on this blog and you can read her many comments here (as “JudyinPT”) particularly on my earlier posts.

I could go on and on but I will stop here, and post recordings and the transcripts of the hespedim from the levaya, followed by the Shloshim and the stone-setting which took place earlier today.

May Mum’s memory be blessed, may she be a melitzat yosher in Heaven for all of Am Yisrael.

יהודית בת יהודה ודיה, תהיה נשמתך צרורה בצרור החיים

The Levaya (Funeral)

You can watch a recording (apologies for the sound and video quality) of the levaya at this clickable link here.

Here are the Hespedim, in order of presentation:

My younger brother Mark
Rabbi Moshe Lifshitz (Rabbi of Mekor Chaim shul in Petach Tikva)
My niece Talya Brown
My older brother David.

I don’t have a transcript for Rabbi Lifshitz’s hesped. Here are the others:

Mark’s Hesped for Mum

Talya’s hesped for Mum

David’s Hesped for Mum

Here is a recording of Henry singing El Maleh Rachamim at the Levaya:

 

Erev Limud for the Shloshim

We held an Erev Limud (an evening of learning and memories) on the shloshim, the 30th day after Mum passed away, the evening of 4th July 2021, 25th Tamuz 5781. It was a very moving event, attended by about 50 people, all family. My mum’s sister Eva and her husband Leo flew out from London (first time in a year and a half at least because of corona), and other cousins and relations drove in from all around the country.

It was a very sociable if poignant event, and I feel (hope) we did Mum proud.

We held the event in our shul hall, and several people spoke.

My nephew Chanan made a siyum.
My brother-in-law Eli spoke
My son Zvi spoke
My sister Reeva spoke
I spoke.
Henry sang El Maleh Rachamim again.

We broadcast the entire proceedings on Zoom for the benefit of our family members living abroad. Click on this link to watch it all.

Here is the transcript of Zvi’s beautiful speech:

Zvi’s Dvar Torah 30 Grandma

Here are the transcripts of Reeva’s speech and my own:

Reeva Shloshim azkara talk for Mummy zl

Anne Shloshim memories of Mum z”l.

Gilui Matzeva – the Stone-setting

At 5.30 pm. Israel time today, 5th July, 25th Tamuz, we held the ceremony of the גילוי מצבה – the “stone-setting”, dedicating the Matzeva (the gravestone) to Mum.

Mum’s Matzeva

The flat stone of Mum’s Matzeva, with the names of her 3 brothers David, Elchanan and Uri Michael Strauss who were murdered by the Nazis in Sobibor in 1943

We began with the traditional Tehillim (psalms) said at the graveside, followed by Kaddish.

Then David read out the words on the Matzeva and explained their meaning.

Henry sang El Maleh Rachamim once again, and then David added a few words:

This was followed by the very large crowd of family and friends laying a stone on her grave as a sign of respect and memory. This brought to a close the month long period of mourning. For us children the mourning period will continue for a year.

May Mum z”l be a melitzat yosher for us and for all of Am Yisrael. May her memory be for a blessing.

תהי נשמתה צרורה בצרור החיים

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Chag Atzma’ut Same’ach! Happy 73rd Independence Day Israel!

Independence Day celebrations in Tel Aviv

It’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and, as remarked upon by both local and foreign observers, the country swings in a schizophrenic 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.

Prayers marking the transition from the mourning of Yom Hazikaron to the celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut were held in synagogues throughout the country.

Last night we attended the prayers in Petach Tikva’s historic Central Synagogue. It has been closed for a couple of years for renovations, which continued throughout last year’s lockdown, and the result is outstanding! The historic charm and authenticity have been preserved while improving safety, acoustics and comfort.

The ladies’ gallery in Petach Tikva’s historic 130-year old Central Synagogue

The prayers themselves were as uplifting and inspiring as ever, with the chazan accompanied by guitar, darbouka and trumpets.

The central Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony took place at Har Herzl in Jerusalem with torch-lighting, parades, music and more. Besides the fantastic flag-bearers forming clever formations, the highlight was the 12 torchbearers:

Torch-lighters at the main event included doctors and nurses representing medical teams who have been at the frontlines of battling the coronavirus pandemic; Rabbi Eitan Schnerb, whose daughter Rina was murdered in a 2019 terror attack in the West Bank and who founded a non-profit aiding the needy in the city of Lod; Shira Isakov, who survived a murder attempt by her husband and has become a vocal advocate against violence toward women, alongside the neighbor who helped save her life; Abie Moses, head of an organization that helps victims of terror attacks; Major Maor Cohen, who volunteers with children with cancer; Zipi Harpenes, a school principal in Beersheba; Gabriela Sztrigler Lew, who volunteers in the Shalom Corps doing community work around the world;

Not mentioned here are the 102-year old Yemenite teacher who spoke and lit the torch like a man 50 years younger! And the very moving story of two Arab-Israeli nurses whose actions touched the nation during the corona pandemic:

Muslim male nurse Maher Ibrahim heads the nursing staff of Emek Medical Center’s Covid-19 ward where severely ill and ventilated patients fight for their lives.

Maher Ibrahim, head nurse on Emek Medical Center’s Covid ward. Photo courtesy of Emek Medical Center

Ibrahim was on duty recently when a religious elderly Jewish patient was nearing his end.

Emek spokesman Larry Rich describes the poignant scene to illustrate how coexistence pervades daily life in Israel even if it doesn’t always make headlines.

“The patient’s family would not make it in time for the inevitable farewell. Maher, trained in Jewish studies, applied his knowledge and deeply empathic spirit at that critical moment,” Rich tells ISRAEL21c.

“In a phone call with the man’s family, Maher the Muslim nurse recited aloud in Hebrew the Shema Yisrael prayer –‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.’

“His act of loving empathy, kindness and understanding went far beyond the norms of nursing and in that brilliant timeless moment, he personified the spirit of Emek and Israel,” Rich says.

Yaish Giat, the Yemenite mori (teacher) and spice shop owner is an extraordinary man:

Giat, who was born in Yemen, is a “mori” (a religious teacher and spiritual mentor) and Torah scholar, as well as the owner of a spice shop in Ashkelon where he dispenses natural medicines.

Yaish Giat

Giat’s medicinal expertise is acquired from ancient methods, passed along through the generations. He bases his remedies off the practices of Maimonides, the influential medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher and physician.

The 102-year-old serves as a guide to those who turn to him for advice, expertise and blessings. He continued to work during the pandemic, inviting people into his home, where he provided spiritual assistance to many in accordance with the unique tradition of Yemenite Jews.

Giat also volunteers as a Torah scribe and many of his Torah scrolls have been donated to synagogues across the country.

Giat explained his “secret” to living a long life. “First of all, it comes from the blessed Holy One,” he told Ynet.

He added: “You should relax and divide the day into three parts: eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours to eat and drink. You don’t need to worry about anything. I am always free.”

“Giat, a representative of the older generation, a native of Yemen, symbolizes the pioneering, influential and overflowing aliyah of all Yemenite Jewry to Israel,” they said.

“He is a representative of the generation of grandparents, who symbolizes the eternal light of the generation of founders who immigrated to Israel, built and were built within it,” the announcement added.

“His material and human spices, the materials from which true love is made, along with his volunteer work as Jewish scribe, express the Israeli spirit, in all its virtues,” they said.

You can watch the entire show here:

In an incredible turn of history, Israel – which is used to being vilified and shunned by the rest of the world – was honoured by several world landmarks being lit up in blue and white in honour of Yom Ha’atzmaut:

Buildings and landmarks across the US and the globe lit up in blue and white Tuesday evening in celebration of Israel’s 73rd Independence Day.

Denver’s city call lights up in blue and white in honor of Israel’s Independence Day on April 14, 2021. (Israeli-American Council)

The initiative, which in the US was spearheaded by the Israeli-American Council, saw New York’s Cuomo Bridge along with city halls in Austin, Beverly Hills, Boston, Denver, Hollywood, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco light up in the colors of Israel’s flag.

The San Francisco City Hall is seen lit up in blue and white. (photo credit: SHANIE ROTH)

Outside the US, Ukraine joined in on the festivities, lighting up its city hall in Kyiv in blue and white. In Zagreb, Croatia, an Israeli flag was being projected on a fountain in the city center. In Uzbekistan, the Israeli flag was being projected on a hotel overlooking the central Amira Temura Square in the country’s capital of Tashkent. Similar gestures were seen in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, San Paulo and Vilnius.

My favourite Israeli commentator Sivan Rahav Meir had beautiful inspiring words as she wrote about the 12 torchlighters:

שום מחלוקת פוליטית לא יכולה לקלקל את התמהיל המיוחד הזה. מי שמחפש לו הסבר יצטרך ללכת יממה אחורה, לנאום הרמטכ”ל, שפתח את דבריו ברחל אימנו, הזכיר לנו שאנחנו חלק מתוכנית גדולה ונצחית, וציטט את מה שנאמר לרחל: “וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם”. ככה זה נראה כשהם מתחילים לשוב.

No political argument can ruin this special mix. Anyone looking for an explanation will have to go back one day, to the speech given by the Chief of Staff, who opened his words with our Matriarch Rachel, reminding us that we are part of a large and eternal plan, and quoted what was said to Rachel: “And the children shall return to their borders”. This is what it looks like when they start returning.

To celebrate this year’s Independence Day, a beautiful song, “Listen to me my brother” was performed by veteran Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon and Yishai Levi:

The words are so fitting as the theme of this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut is brotherhood. May we merit to see many more years of love and brotherhood in this crazy, wonderful little country of ours, till 120 and beyond!

זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו

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

Posted in Israel news, Slice of Israeli life, support Israel | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Yom Hazikaron 5781 – Israel’s Memorial Day 2021

Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day 2021

Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, began last night at sundown, as Israelis commemorated their fallen with a one minute siren at 8 pm and a ceremony at the Kotel.

Israelis paid tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers and terror victims starting on Tuesday evening, bowing their heads for a minute of silence as sirens sounded around the country to mark the start of Memorial Day.

The one-minute siren at 8 p.m. was immediately followed by the state ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. On Tuesday night, additional public memorials will be held, including at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park and in the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said Israel will make “every effort” to return its captives, which include two civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers believed to be held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

“This is a sacred mission that we’re not letting go of,” he said.

Speaking at the official state ceremony held at the Western Wall, President Reuven Rivlin said the message of the day was that citizens of the Jewish state must not take it for granted.

“From here, I want to speak to you, the commanders, the soldiers, those soon to enlist, the young generation. I grew up as a child at a time when we did not have a state. For me, for those of my generation, the State of Israel is not something to be taken for granted. This strong and powerful country you see was established by the heroism and dedication of young people of your age,” Rivlin said.

“Today, the task of protecting the State of Israel, is on your shoulders. Remember, without love of the homeland, dedication to mission, aiming for victory, comradeship, purpose, personal example and the purity of weapons, a free people will not be established here. The Israel Defense Force and the State of Israel, we, need you young, strong, united, united, united, determined to lend a hand, determined to continue to prevail, ready when necessary, to pay a price,” he entreated.

An aerial view of female Israeli soldiers saluting at the graves in the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv, Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The IDF Chief of Staff, Gen. Aviv Kochavi made a remarkable speech which has earned the title “the Three Mothers Speech“. He connects the Jewish Biblical matriarch Rachel with two other mothers:

In his speech, Kochavi recalled three mothers who suffered so that the people of Israel could live and establish themselves in their land.

“The journey of the people of Israel back to their land is an unprecedented event in the history of nations. It is a kind of miracle, even if the current generation sees the country as a natural event. The achievements recorded here from the day the first person stepped on the shores of this blessed land and joined the old Yishuv are extraordinary. It is a journey of faith, determination and creativity, during the entire length of which generations of defenders stood and paid a heavy price price, a price in blood,” Kochavi said.

The Chief of Staff recalled the beginning of the Jewish people’s history. “This journey was not just the Exodus from Egypt but the Exodus from the East and the Exodus from the West. It was an entire people who woke up and started walking, old and young, fathers and mothers, three of whom I want to talk about. The first was our mother Rachel, who did not get to live in her own country, and knew alienation and a lack of belonging. She managed to reach Israel but did not manage to live in it and when her children were forced to depart from Israel they passed by her grave. Most of the life of the Jewish people passed beyond the limits of its land, when the people was insecure, unprepared and repeatedly persecuted and slaughtered. Zionism changed this situation fundamentally. Determined leadership in the face of many difficulties has done an incredible act, swept away and inspired many who have developed into a great people and the State of Israel. We are the generation of children who returned to our borders. We returned to the world in this time, but the return journey was and still is unbearably difficult.”

“The other mother, Nehama, also took action. She left her home in Ukraine and together with her husband Joseph, who fled Nazi Austria, immigrated to the land of Israel to establish a family and a state, changed their last name to Yisraeli and established their home in Kibbutz Dovrat. It was a house saturated with Zionism and values. “A resurrected people need children,” said Nehama – and gave birth to five, two of them sons: Effi and Dedi, were friends in heart and soul. Effie became an officer and instructor in an armored officers course and Dedi followed his brother and became a trainee in that course, the course that did not end. The Yom Kippur War interrupted him and the two brothers were sent to Sinai.

“On the second day of the war, Dedi’s tank was hit, and although he was badly burned all over, he returned to rescue a crew member and only then was he taken to the hospital. His brother Effie remained on the battlefield, and although his tank was hit he moved to another tank and continued to fight. On the 12th, when the IDF was already fighting on the west bank of the Suez Canal, he was hit once more and killed. A familiar knock on the door of an Israeli family’s house, the knock which bodes evil tidings, became the heartbreak which is part of the Israeli story, part of the Israeli pulse.

“Many, too many families, have heard the knock followed by a great outcry, a heartbreak and pain that could not be contained. Dear families, you have lost that which is the most precious of all. All around everything continues to develop and change, and only your sorrow is fortified in its place, deepening its roots and burdens. We try to understand the intensity of the pain and insist on remembering and reminding ourselves to learn from the events and to teach and see them as part of the defenders of the state. For our part, out of a commitment to the current generation of soldiers and their families, we will do everything to send them solely on worthy missions, we will improve the IDF’s capabilities to carry out the missions successfully but no less to guard and protect the soldiers. Tens of thousands of soldiers and commanders now perform an infinite number of missions and return home safely as a result of the professionalism and concern of their commanders. This concern also includes caring for the injured, and a supreme effort to return the captives and missing persons to their families and country.

“The fallen defended the country, and we continue in their shoes. Standing guard. At times, the security that the State of Israel enjoys may seem obvious, but behind every protected and safe day stands an entire army that collects intelligence, prevents intrusion or shooting, raids, attacks, stops threats and prevents weapons and attacks. Even those who are immersed in defense and operational activity do not always see the magnitude of their act, whether it is the soldier who is currently marching on the northern border, as well as the officer who revealed many enemy targets this week, as well as the pilot who returned a few days ago from an attack.

“The security enjoyed by the citizens of the country consists of the achievements of all security organizations and all IDF soldiers, but the first to bear the burden are the combat soldiers and combat units who hold state security on their shoulders. Their actions should serve as an example of good citizenship, an ideal for education, and a role model in every family, school, community and locality. Exemplary organization is also the additional role of the IDF – an army that unites and unites all parts of the people, expresses the common good and is a model to emulate and identify with. IDF soldiers train together, fight together, win together, and when a friend is killed – bury them together.

“I do not know the name of the third mother, but she represents many mothers who fill the land. They have started a family, and their children are fulfilling themselves and continuing to build the State of Israel. They are secular and religious mothers, from the village and the city, Jewish, Druze, Christian, and Muslim – and they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they all live in their own country protected and safe. Nehama Yisraeli, the Palmach fighter who lost her two sons who served in the IDF, and whose many descendants served in combat units, is a symbol of values ​​and strength, and is an outstanding example for all of us. I salute her and her family and salute the many families for whom the bitter news has knocked on their door twice. On behalf of all the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, I salute all the bereaved families: mothers and fathers alike, widows and widowers, brothers and children. You all deserve deep appreciation. I salute you, hugging and strengthening you as much as possible,” Kochavi concluded.

You can see some of the speech here:

This past year saw the smallest number of soldiers and victims of Palestinian terrorism, and yet each loss is almost too much to bear, especially for their families:

Three Israelis — a soldier and two civilians — were killed in violent, nationalistic attacks over the course of the past year, by far the lowest number in the country’s history.

This bittersweet distinction comes as Israel on Wednesday commemorated Memorial Day, remembering the 23,928 people recognized as having fallen on behalf of the state since 1873.

Over the past year, 112 names have been added to that list — 43 of them active servicemembers and 69 who were recognized as having died of wounds sustained in wars or terror attacks. Those 112 people includes those killed in accidents or died of illness over the past year, as well as people who died years ago but have only now been officially recognized as having died of injuries related to their military service or an attack.

Of those, only three were killed in violent attacks in the past year: Esther Horgen, Rabbi Shay Ohayon and Staff Sgt. Amit Ben-Ygal.

Esther Horgen, 52, was found dead near Tal Menashe after a terror attack on December 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

Horgen was killed on December 20 in a brutal terror attack outside her settlement of Tal Menashe in the northern West Bank. According to the indictment against her suspected murderer, Muhammad Mruh Kabha, Horgen went out for a walk when she was attacked by Kabha, who had been hiding out in the woods outside Tal Menashe, waiting for a victim.

According to the indictment, Kabha ran after her and knocked her to the ground. Horgen, a mother of six, tried to fight him off but he pinned her down and then repeatedly hit her over the head with large rocks, causing her to bleed and breaking bones in her arms and chest, until she stopped moving. Her body was found in the early hours of the next morning after her husband, Benjamin, reported her missing.

Ohayon, a father of four, was stabbed to death in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva on August 26 by a Palestinian man, Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, 46, who had a permit allowing him to work in Israel.

Rabbi Shai Ohayon, who was stabbed to death in an apparent terror attack at Segula Junction on August 26, 2020 (Courtesy)

Ben-Ygal, who served in the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, was killed during an arrest raid in the Palestinian village of Yabed on May 12. As his unit was moving through the village, a Palestinian man, Nizmi Abu Bakar, allegedly threw a brick at Ben-Ygal, striking him in the face and fatally wounding him. Ben-Ygal was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead of his injuries a short while later.

Amit Ben Yigal Hy’D

To conclude this post, Haviv Rettig Gur has written an incredibly moving, elegiac article about Yom Hazikaron: When the whole world weeps:

On Israel’s Memorial Day, we borrow one of the oldest and strangest insights of our religion: that the world is infused and saturated with our emotions. When we grieve, the land grieves, the heavens grieve. The divine itself weeps with us for our fallen children.

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In some of the oldest sections of talmudic literature, the two opposing forces of holiness and impurity so central to Jewish ritual are depicted as real forces in the world, able to move in and out of closed spaces, able to spread, and susceptible to being beaten back by human action. It’s not about cleanliness. A mud-stained child is pure; a sanitized hospital is impure. Impurity is driven by death; a corpse is its original, primal source. Priests, kohanim, may not walk into cemeteries. The meat of death may not be cooked in the milk of life. Two fundamental forces of the human experience are locked in perpetual battle, susceptible at every turn to human intent and action. We can drive back impurity — the symbol and agent and acknowledgement of death — but never defeat it. And we can sanctify our lives, and thus all life, and thus discover that life is the sanctification of the world itself.

That insight is in some ways the beating heart of three millennia of Jewish law and thought.

The world is full of holiness and of contamination, heart-breaking purity and endless despair. We feel it, we react to it, we wade through it as we go about our daily lives and emotions.

In an important sense — forgive me, rabbis, for such a sweeping statement — Judaism is the art of navigating through that world, not the measurable one outside us, but the chaotic one within, the world in which we all actually live our lives.

From our modernized lives, whose measured boundaries are set by stern scientists and anthropologists with their methods and explanations, we are drawn for a day back into the old ways. The world weeps, the air is weighed down with its heavy burden of tears and memory. Our communal world becomes, for a day, what we feel within us.

There’s someone I happen to remember today, the memory unbidden, even unwanted. He has a story, he has a name, but I’m not the sharing sort. I know he is gone, but I know, too, that he hears me remembering. How could he not? The whole world weeps for him at my side.

Read it all.

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

במותם ציוו לנו חיים

Posted in History, Israel news, Terrorism | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments