Song of Peace
Dedicated to: JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) and the JEC (Jewish Education Center) – without whom I wouldn’t have had this great journey home and a greater sense of what being Jewish truly is.
As my eyes fluttered open after a long flight over from the US to Israel, I still didn’t have a clue what I was truly embarking on. I left the comfort of the plane (oxymoron, I know) to enter the land of Israel. As I walked towards the meeting spot, I was greeted with cheers, bursts of laughter, and singing. The flag was proudly raised as 250 women met up in the Tel Aviv airport. Before I could say hi to anyone, I was enclosed in a circle of arms - - people hugging me, people I have never met, nor will I ever forget.
After getting our sim cards and phones set up for Israel, we all wandered our way through the street to fill the waiting bus. Our group leaders introduced us to the other trip leaders on our bus. The 14 members of my specific group were sharing a bus with girls from PGA, Stuart, and Israel. We were all strangers including the members of my own group as we had only met a handful of times prior to the hot July day. As if this wasn’t surreal enough, we begin the drive from Tel Aviv to Tiberias. Our tour guide spouting out historical facts as we take in the scenery surrounding us. One of the first historical stories we were told was about something that took place on Mt. Carmel, near Mt. Sinai, between Elijah and the priests of Ba-al. The significance being that just a few short months before, my son was called to the Torah in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. His Haftarah portion was this story. I read about it, heard my child speak about it, and here I was looking at the same mountain Elijah had visited long ago.
Once we arrived at our hotel, we went to our first welcome meeting. Here, Lori Palatnik introduced herself and gave a brief overview of a few things to expect. Lori is a dynamic speaker. She hooks you from the moment she begins talking. Throughout the next 8 days, we met with her and learned. We learned about parenting, how to treat our spouses, how to read and understand ourselves and the people we love. Each day the lesson was tied to something we would be learning about that day as we toured the ancient towns. First Jaffa and Tsfat, then onward to Tel Aviv for a few short hours, and Jerusalem. We went to Negev and ate where Abraham ate. We engaged in a drum circle and rode camels and danced the night away. We traveled up Masada. We visited with IDF soldiers and brought them packages filled with things from home – toiletries, shirts, socks, etc. . . We went to a Mikva, and of course to The Wall. We toured the tunnels, and spent time wandering the streets of the Old City and shopped on Ben Yehuda. We even went to a Shuk on the busiest day of the week - - Friday before Shabbat. While each and every one of these places is incredible and spiritual, and amazing, it doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of what we were doing here. It is only natural to begin to think deeper, and I found that something was awakening inside.
What was it about this place that touched my heart and soul? I am not sure I can explain it, but I will try. First of all, let me explain something. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t shed tears. Sometimes they were quick tears, and other times they were sobs. Of course,
Yad V’shem automatically brings tears to one’s eyes. Jut the sheer madness and craziness of Hitler and what he did to the Jews. The stories that were shared of those that survived. The children that perished, the moms and dads, the grandparents - - my family, your family, all a part of our ancestors - - it’s unfathomable, yet it happened. Again, I expected to shed tears here. However, one particular place that hit me hard was this place called Nalaga’at Center. This is a cultural arts center. Everyone here is blind and/or deaf. These men and women perform shows. There is a food bar as well. The waiters are all deaf. The performance we saw was a one woman show. The people who are deaf and blind were born with a condition. They were born deaf, but they went blind as they hit puberty. They remember seeing, and they remember losing their sight. The show was a memoir of this woman’s life. It showed us how at 13, she remembers losing her sight and going home to her mom as she sobbed. It was heartfelt, and I was especially struck and overcome with uncontrollable tears, as I am slowly losing my sight. Remember, this is all acted out through a blind and deaf person. No talking, she can’t see, yet the audience felt her pain, her anguish, her fears. After the show, I had the opportunity to “speak” with the actress. I found out she has a few kids and new grandbaby. This woman’s strength, perseverance, her outlook on life is incredibly strong. And for the first time, I didn’t feel so sorry for myself or feel as though my lack of sight would diminish me. I had hope.
Later on, we spent the afternoon at One Family. The mission of One Family is overcoming terror together. This is a group that helps rehabilitate broken families as a result of acts of terrorism. The men, women, and children who come here for support have lost loved ones in the wars, terrorist attacks in the cities, and in some cases the children have lost both parents. Here we met a few women who lost their boys in the recent wars. While they are certainly sad, the light in their eyes, the way they spoke of their loved ones, was so endearing. Talking about them helps to keep them in the present. While not all people are able to do this, these women we met were inspirational. And of course, the tears kept flowing from all of us in the room. And, there was a feeling of hope.
The day before Shabbat, we went to the wall. We prayed at the wall, we cried at the wall, we held each other at the wall. It was quite melancholy. The last time I was at the wall was when I was 12. I was here with my family including my own Grandma and Grandpa, and a woman whom I always considered a grandmother, Grandma Alice. (my cousin’s grandma). I felt them here with me. I remembered their wet eyes, and I remembered the many Jews who are no longer with us who fought for the land of Israel. Again, a bittersweet end to many days of crying.
Everything in Jerusalem closes between 3 and 4 o’clock. Even the Arab Quarter shuts down. This is a time that families are preparing for the next 25 hours. Shabbat quickly approached. As day turned into night, we welcomed the Shabbos Queen at the wall. We danced, we sang, we laughed. It was completely different from the day before. Shabbat was here! Shabbat was all around us. It was truly a festive evening. Growing up Conservative, I was always taught that Shabbat is a weekly holiday. It never felt like a holiday. Here, in Jerusalem,
Shabbat is as festive as it comes. Men, women, children, young, old, and everything in between is celebrating.
Funny, celebrating was a weird way to end the week, a week of crying, of learning, of listening to the stories of our ancestors fighting for rights, fighting for religion, fighting for survival. Here, in America, while it isn’t perfect, we haven’t had the same trials and tribulations, at least not in my lifetime. I started thinking back to the days of WWII. The Jews fought to stay alive. People risked their lives just to be Jewish. Jews are 2% of the population. I kept thinking about my own history. Growing up, my grandparents were Orthodox, my parents were Conservative Orthodox, and my brother and I were raised Conservative for most of our lives until our parents turned towards Conservative Reform. My family now is Reform. Do you see the pattern? We are assimilating and losing our identity that our ancestors fought so hard to keep. I know why. It is easier to fit in. Being religious is difficult in our world where we are only 2%. The activities our kids enjoy are on Shabbat - - soccer, baseball, football, hockey, etc. . . It was on Shabbat that I decided that I needed to make a change in my life for my children. While I have been slowly coming to this realization over the past year or so (when I realized my kids didn’t know there was an order to the service - -oh my, I really dropped the religion ball!), it resonated with me in Jerusalem. If I want any of the customs I grew up with to be passed down to my children and their children, I need to do something now, before they are all grown up and set in their ways.
Back in the USA, Shabbat rolls around. I wish I had the time to bake fresh challah, but I don’t. I run to Publix after work, grab two loaves of challah, put out my candlesticks, wash off my Kiddush cup (I am embarrassed to admit how much dust was on it as it is only used at Passover for the prophet Elijah), and print out the weekly Torah portion from the website www.myjewishlearning.com. We read the portion at dinner. We discuss it and figure out how it applies or doesn’t apply to our world today. We have had a few really good discussions. After the discussions, we have family game night. We all plug out and tune in. We treat the evening as if it were special because it is special. It is Shabbat. I would be lying if I told you everyone in the family loves this, but they don’t. I get push back. I know that we are too assimilated to go beyond six hours on Friday night. But, it is important to me, and I hope that one day everyone will look back and say, “Wow, Friday night Shabbat was a night I looked forward to.”
My trip to Israel was way more than a trip. It was a journey. It was about finding me, and what’s important. Israel is a home to all Jews. Israel is home to me. I feel a connection with Israel that I have never felt before. I see why people visit and end up staying. Israel is a country of hope.
Gayle is a member of Congregation Shirat Shalom.
Shortly we will finish reading the first Book of Beresheet (Genesis,) and begin the second book of the Torah, Sh'mot (Exodus.) While each book of the Torah carries important messages, the Book of Exodus is of utmost importance as it talks about the events that led the family of Jacob and his twelve sons to become the nation of Israel. This transformation took place over the course of 400 years.
But the way G-D chose to create the Israelite nation is a little peculiar. The original idea of coming to Egypt to begin with was to ride out the seven years of famine in a place where food was still available.
Why didn't Jacob's family return back to Canaan, their homeland after the seven years of famine had passed? Why be strangers unnecessarily in a foreign land?
No doubt G-D had a plan. He wanted the Israelites to become a multitude in Egypt. Their sheer numbers threatened Pharaoh so much he saw no other alternative but enslavement.
But why did the plan include having us suffer through slavery on our way to becoming the nation of Israel?
Perhaps the answer is that national attitudes are forged through common experiences. Suffering together through a long, cruel period of slavery caused the Israelites to understand and internalize deep in their souls the enormous value of liberty and justice. This became one of the most important parts of our spiritual makeup, always worth fighting for throughout our long history.
However, because of other nations' influences the institute of slavery did exist in ancient Israel. Nevertheless, there were very strict laws protecting the slaves. Foreign slaves were acquired through victories over enemies whereas Hebrew slaves were acquired because of debt that had to be repaid. Hebrew slaves had to be set free after seven years no matter how large the sum still owed.
While foreign slaves remained slaves forever, the concept of slavery was much different in Israel than in the rest of the Biblical world.
To begin with, there is no Hebrew word for slave, not the way we understand the term. The closest word is "Eved," a derivative of the word "Oved, a worker. Eved translates as one who works without getting paid. The statues of an Eved, Hebrew or foreigner, was like that of a regular worker with all the legal protection from cruelty and inhumane treatment. Especially since the Jewish people were designated by G-D as carriers of the Light of Freedom, the Eved was never considered to be property and had to be treated as a regular worker. Therefore, the Torah issued a stern warning against mistreatment of slaves.
Consequently, slaves were considered as part of the maintenance crew of the household or working crew out in the field. Many slaves most likely had a better life as "slaves" than as free people. An echo of this fact can be seen in a biblical law stating that if a Hebrew slave refuses to go free after seven years because he feels comfortable in his slave status, the owner of the house must shame him by cutting his ear lobe...
As the Israelites gained an even deeper understanding of the sacredness of freedom, the practice of owning slaves became quite rare. This is true especially during the second Temple. Slavery was eventually abolished altogether many centuries before the rest of the world caught up. (or is still catching up...)
Looking back over history, perhaps the reason for creating the Jewish nation through hundreds of years of slavery was necessary to create a unique people who would be able to always carry the ideals of liberty and justice no matter the circumstances. This we have done for thousands of years even during some extremely cruel centuries.
May we continue to do so...
It is over three years now since the mother first called but only now that I publicly share the story....
She began by telling me she would just speak from her heart. Her family was very active in a non denominational church in Kentucky which very much honored the Jewish people as Jesus was Jewish. She and her husband wanted their son to learn Hebrew and become a Bar Mitzvah, the rite of passage for Jewish teenagers. This would help them all as Christians to understand the roots of Jesus.
As you can imagine, she was quite nervous telling me all this. I replied by sharing what we teach our children in Hebrew School, "There are many paths to climb a mountain, we all reach the top and are together there. All Sacred Paths are to be respected. " I also told her that Rabbi David and I are instruments of G-d. If her family was brought to us, it was for a reason.
We began teaching the boy Hebrew and the Jewish perspective of the Torah through our online tutoring program which uses a form of video chat. As with all our students we developed a bond with the entire family. As we progressed I wasn't quite sure how a Bar Mitzvah ceremony would be performed for at that time it wasn't in the plans to have Rabbi David and me there. I thought we would work with the pastor and have him conduct some kind of brief ceremony for the church members which would include the boy reading his Torah portion from a child's size Torah. We have one of these replica Torahs in Hebrew School and it is easy to purchase.
But one thing led to another and the family decided they would like us to come to Kentucky to perform the service. It was going to be very expensive to fly both of us to perform the ceremony so we decided only Rabbi David would go. This was somewhat disappointing as I felt very close to the family and as many know, we are a team, used to doing services together. But I also kept getting the message, the inner knowingness that I was to go also.
One morning before another Bar Mitzvah service I prayed and said, "Okay, if I am supposed to be there, please give me the financial means to do so." After the service, the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy, put cash in my hands, enough to pay for 2/3rds of a ticket! The next week I received money I wasn't expecting which paid for the rest of the ticket!
Once we arrived in Kentucky we were welcomed as such honored guests! Even the invitations said our names with the words "honored guests!" Everyone was just thrilled we were there including the pastor and his wife.
We set up a sanctuary in a Fire Hall meeting room. One option was to have the service in their church but they didn't want us to feel uncomfortable. The Fire Hall became a beautiful sanctuary which I thought was so appropriate since the mystical teachings tell us the Hebrew letters of the Torah are written by black fire on white fire. The boy and his grandfather even built an ark for the Torah!
We conducted a Friday evening service and explained all the prayers as we went along. The congregation of about 100 was mostly made up of the church members who participated in every part of the service by singing along with the Hebrew transliteration and English as well! There was actually one Jewish couple there but most of the people had never even met a Jewish person before, including the grandparents of the boy!
When Rabbi David spoke to the boy he told him that he is a bridge between two sister religions. At the end of the service, we invited the pastor of the church to give his blessing over the challah after the boy did the Hebrew blessing.
The pastor broke apart the bread and said, "We have been broken." He then put the bread back together again and said, "May this now be the beginning of our people coming back together."
There was something so profound that happened at that moment! I can only describe it as Waves of Love that came into the room deepening and expanding the Sacredness that was already there. Each person's heart was truly touched that day....
But that is not the end... For each time I have retold the story of the Pastor's Bar Mitzvah Prayer people share how their hearts are so touched by this! I have come to understand that with each heart touched, there is further healing of a broken past....
And so I share this story now with you.... Perhaps your heart will be touched too....
It was on Thanksgiving last year when my family for the first time watched the videos of my nephew, Jason, taken 23 years ago. My brother in law had just bought a video camera but he didn't have a chance to take too many videos of Jason for in another month he would die. He was 4 1/2 years old.
For those of us who remember, the video cameras then were quite large and to view a video the camera had to be connected to the TV. When my sister found the stored videos all these years later but no camera, she had them transferred to a DVD.
As we all watched the DVD I looked at my older nephew, Kevin, and contemplated how he was shaped by his younger brother's death. He was only eight years old at the time. I then turned my attention to my younger nephew Corey, now a college student, who would not have been born if Jason hadn't died. I could see how intently he was watching the brother he never met. I wondered what was going through his mind.
Afterwards I saw that someone had called my cell phone three separate times. Since there weren't any messages I decided it must be a robot call. After all, who would call on Thanksgiving!
When I returned home, I saw the phone had rung again but this time there was a message. A twenty-three year old boy, the older brother of one of our seventh grade students, had died! My first thought was how Thanksgiving for this family would be forever changed! My second thought was that just like my nephews, my student's life would now be shaped by the loss of his brother.
I had spoken with my student's mother a few weeks earlier when she picked a date for his Bar Mitzvah. The day before the funeral she shared that when she was riding in the car to identify her son, she realized that the month and day of her younger son's Bar Mitzvah was the same as her older son's!
"I didn't even realize they had the same date until that moment!" she exclaimed. "Will they have the same Torah portion? It was Vayishlach and had something to do with brothers." I answered it was doubtful as the Torah portion goes by the Hebrew calendar which is based on the moon and not the secular date which is based on the sun.
A few days later I remembered our conversation and looked up the Torah portion. That evening during the Minyan service (service in house of morning) I first shared the story of how the secular date was the same. And then that the Torah portion was the same as well! It was Vayishlach, a story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau, a story of struggle and forgiveness. All of us at the service that night can attest to the Divine Presence that came into the room at that moment.
This year on Thanksgiving I again thought about the Workings of the Universe. Of how last Thanksgiving we were able to "see" my nephew Jason due to my brother in law buying the camera when he did. Of how I received the phone calls the same time I was watching the video and thinking about my nephews losing their brother. Of how the secular date of the Bar Mitzvah and Torah portion were the same for my student and his older brother.....
During his recent Bar Mitzvah ceremony my student spoke about his older brother, of how just like Jacob in Vayishlach, the leadership role of the family has been passed to him, the younger brother. He spoke of how "11 years ago today, my brother had his ceremony on this exact day and we have the same Torah portion, so this is not a coincidence."
It seems that within the Workings of the Universe, the messages are always there....
I believe they are Messages of Love....
My Student Austin and his older brother Alex.
Through so many years of teaching B'nai Mitzvah students, I have come to understand that the Torah portion a child receives is never by accident. There is always a hidden message that so resonates with the child! Recently, this was reconfirmed for me with my student, Yaffa, during her Bat Mitzvah lesson.
I knew Yaffa was one of the "Intuitive Children" as soon as I met her in third grade. Of course by nature every child is intuitive but I recognized the deep compassion and sensitivity within her being, how she was so drawn to all that is Sacred. As a seventh grader this is still who she is.
As we were concluding her weekly Bat Mitzvah lesson I asked if she had heard about her friend's accident. The friend had fallen off a horse three days earlier and was in the hospital. Being so sensitive she was quite upset! No, she hadn't heard!
I assured Yaffa that her friend was healing and reminded her she could help with prayer, with sending Healing Light. Her whole face lit up with Joy that she could help in this manner as she is a child who understands and sees energy!
At that point her internet went down and our online meeting was cut off. As I waited for her to sign back on I glanced through her Torah portion. A set of Hebrew words immediately jumped out at me!
As soon as Yaffa was back I excitedly pointed the words out to her! "El Nah, Refah Na La!" These were the words that Moses called out to G-d to heal his sister Miriam when she was struck with leprosy! Please G-d, Please Heal her!
"These Hebrew words are so powerful, Yaffa! They are used to help people heal! They are the same words on my healing tambourine! You can use these words with your friend!"
Yaffa shut her eyes to see the words. "Yes," she smiled with her eyes still closed, "I see them! They have a glowing light around them!" I answered still excited, "Use them, Yaffa! Put them on your friend's body!"
She kept smiling and nodded her head, for she had already done so....
I sat in awe afterwards understanding that this child's prayer was truly helping her friend. If the internet hadn't gone off, I wouldn't have seen the healing words to give her. And what are the chances she would even have this specific Torah portion, Beha'alotecha, containing the healing words which she instinctively knows how to use!
No, it is never an accident which Torah portion a child receives....
Once again Rabbi David put up the Holiday Lights for our neighborhood's entrance. Last year when he did it for the first time we thought it was so funny! The Rabbi of the neighborhood was putting up the Christmas lights! He had no idea what it would entail but took it very seriously. After all it was a mitzvah! (good deed)
He called a Christian friend and asked, "How do the lights stay on the trees? " She thought the question was pretty hysterical. "Just start doing it," she said "and you will figure it out! " He enlisted some help from the neighbors as to what kind of lights to buy and also later on to help him with placing the lights on the higher trees.
He did figure out how the lights stay on the trees and the display turned out beautiful! In fact, he enjoyed the process so much he decided to get blue and white lights and decorate our back yard deck for Chanukah!
This year at the very end of creating the display, I was enlisted to help hold the ladder for the high trees. It was such a beautiful day and so much fun to be inside all the bushes and trees! When we got back home, I called out, "Here we are! The neighborhood light decorators!" Rabbi David laughed and answered with a better description, "We are the Light Workers!" We both stopped and just looked at each other understanding the significance of his words. "I guess we really are, aren't we?" Rabbi David answered, I guess we really are...."
Many Blessings for All during this Season of Light...
Thanksgiving is as genuine American apple pie. I don't think that any other nation sets aside a dedicated holiday to show such an appreciation for our life. Yet we Jews can take a little credit for influencing the creation of this holiday. It is commonly assumed that the Pilgrims modeled their original Thanksgiving celebration after the holiday of Succot. According to the biblical explanation, Succot was a holiday of Thanksgiving to celebrate the end of agricultural year. There were many celebratory activities, especially in Jerusalem, thanking G-d for the spring, summer and fall crops.
In our modern American Thanksgiving version we also express gratitude for everything in our life, for who we are and what we have. In the Jewish tradition we are actually encouraged to be in an appreciative mode every day of the year. It is our obligation to try to recite 100 blessings of thanksgiving every day, always starting with "Baruch Ata Adonai", Blessed are you Adonai. How is that for an endless daily thanksgiving celebration! These blessings cover all aspects of our life. They range from our smallest daily needs and functions to seeing majestic views, to experiencing new things etc.
I believe that this year's Thanksgiving celebration is even more significant for us. We have just gone through a painful election which has torn us into a deeply divided nation, complete with lower emotions of hate and ill wishes. So deep is the division that in many families, certain topics are still avoided in order to prevent quarrels.
Appreciating what we have is a powerful way for us to begin to heal and come together again as a nation. We as Americans and Jews have so much for which we can be thankful. Whatever our political affiliation, we are and always will be one nation. For the sake of all of us and future generations let us begin working together and start with our own family members and friends. All of us are the guardians of liberty and freedom.
Indeed, things are not perfect and there is much to be done socially and economically and on the world stage in order to keep the United state what it has always been, a Beacon of Hope. But despite the political turmoil, our country is strong and safe and we have the freedom to evaluate our economy and social issues. And as we gather together at our Thanksgiving tables let us also remember and appreciate how many lives have been given so we may even have the privilege of enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday.
Yes, we have much to be thankful for this year. May we continue to be blessed with much to be thankful for every day of our lives. And in doing so, may we Jewish people continue to not only share our blessings with those in need but also follow our teachings that ask us to model respect, understanding and compassion for all.
More about Gratitude
First from Cantor Lee: The first week of November this year we read the Torah portion, Noah. G-d puts a rainbow in the sky..... On Rosh Hashanah evening this year, "The Rainbow" was the title of Rabbi David's sermon/story. Enjoy!
The Rainbow by Rabbi David RH Eve Sermon
This year there were major changes in the communication style between G-D almighty and yours truly. Some of our members correctly pointed out to me that sending an email to G-D is way passe', old fashioned and behind the times.
Heaven forbid, we should suggest the Creator of Time is behind the times...
Therefore all my communication with G-D from now on is by Tweet or Instagram. Since the holidays were approaching I got myself a Tweeter account (yes, Rabbi David means to say "Tweeter" account here - his sense of humor...)and was ready to tweet that I would like to discuss some urgent Jewish matters with the Old Mighty. I do this, as you know every year before the High Holidays. It is of course a Holiday tradition.
Usually I am the one doing the talking, the complaining. He is listening. I tweeted that I would like to have our annual discussion hoping that he would see it.
"Dear Rabbi David" the reply said, " you complain to me every year. But since it is your tradition to kvetch and complain at this time of the year about all the problems in the world I will yet again honor your tradition.
However just like last year, this holiday season again I cannot send down my chariot that usually picks you up since it has a transmission problem. And since we don't have a heavenly Uber service yet, all of our communication will have to be more of the earthly high tech kind.
Not good enough I thought to myself! I immediately tagged on G-D's face book page a selfi of myself being upset!
I wrote, "We must meet! How about if I meet your representative in some more earthly venue like a restaurant. We have some nice restaurants here in Boca." He tweeted me back, "Agreed!! But I choose the venue. And it will be on Mt. Sinai. Date and time to follow."
Mt Sinai?! How in the world....will I get to Mt. Sinai? I want to tell you that as you know, every year as the High Holy Days are approaching my beloved wife Cantor Lee gets nervous. She wonders what kind of kakamaimi story about meeting with G-D will I tell her this year? The news did not sit well with my beloved wife.
Cantor Lee, may she be blessed, was very upset with my new mishegaas."Are you telling me, my dear husband, the Rabbi, that you are going to schlep half way across the world to climb on some mountain?
Why can't G-D talk to you here in Boca Raton? There are so many nice places, country clubs, beach front hotels. Why can't you use skype or face time like normal people?'
But I insisted. "Just like old Moses," I told her, "when G-D Tells you to go, you go."
Sure enough, the complete instructions came a few days later with the date and time specified. When I reach the top of the mountain I will be greeted by a man. His name is Angel Chaim. He is assigned to listen to all my grievances and complaints.
I packed some clothes and food and bought a ticket to Israel on El Al. After a long flight I arrived in Israel in the early morning and immediately took a bus to Eilat, the closest city to the Sinai border.
Sinai as you know is not a safe place for travelers. Several terror organizations are active there, fighting with the Egyptian government. And yet tourists are crossing the border from Eilat.
At the border I joined a tourist group which boarded an old Egyptian bus. And that is how the actual trip to Mt. Sinai started. It is an hour's ride though the bare hot desert to get to the mountain. Nothing but sand and sky. The tour bus finally stopped at my destination.
"Jabel Musa" the tour guide called in Arabic. Mt. Moses. All the tourists got off the bus to take some selfies with the mountain in the background.
They were so excited and felt very special. Then the tour bus continued toward Cairo, Egypt. They promised to pick me up on the way back from their Nile tour in three days. I hoped so. It's a long way back to Eilat from here.
I started climbing the mountain for my rendezvous.
You think Masada is hard to climb? Let me tell you. Good old Moses must have been in amazing shape at the age of 80 something to scale this mountain. One has to be crazy to climb it in the middle of the day with this kind of heat. I was wondering what time of the day G-D asked Moses to climb the mountain to get the Ten Commandments.
As I was ascending I remembered the story about Elijah the prophet who by order of G-d went from Judea all the way to Mt Sinai. He climbed the mountain, then stood there at the top looking for G-D. There was no thunder, no fire, no noise, just a calm wind that blew through the mountain top.
That's when he finally understood that G-D appears in the calm and quiet of his soul.
As the mid day calm desert wind blew and the silence of the wilderness really began to stir me, I got a glimpse of what Elijah felt finding his G-D in all of this.
The energy around was intense. I kept climbing for hours drinking from the water I brought with me. I reached the top as the sun was setting in the west.
What a beautiful sight! The desert sky turned all red as the sun began to disappear and the wind grew a little stronger, blowing against me, cooling me down.
I was exhausted. I lay down on the ground getting ready to sleep. Angel Chaim will most likely not come tonight...
I slept like a rock among all rocks around me. Pre- dawn desert is just as beautiful as the sunsets. As I woke up, I sat there quietly watching the sun begin to rise in the east and felt that quiet wind blowing. What a sight!
Before I realized that I was hungry and thirsty I spotted a man approaching me out of nowhere, a little strange looking with a short beard, sun glasses baseball hat, khaki shorts and a tee shirt. It read, 'In G-D we trust. Everyone else prays.'
"Rabbi David I presume," he said with a big smile and a healthy handshake. It is so good to finally meet you in person. "Angel Chaim, good to see you too," I replied.
"And how was your trip?" I assured him that I was well and in good spirits and looking forward to our serious discussion about this year's urgent Jewish matters.
"Here," he said as he unpacking his backpack, "I brought you a few pastrami on rye sandwiches, some water and some heavenly fruits - all Glat kosher. After all, we cannot have a serious discussion on an empty stomach." I agreed.
After a nice breakfast it was now time for the business at hand. Angel Chaim pulled out his laptop and began diligently typing everything I was saying.
"Look, your honor, your angelness," I started, "every year we seem to have the same discussion. I complain about the chaos in our world, wars, terror, hatred, hunger, anti-Semitism. All I get are promises and what are supposed to be comforting words. Then, someone in heaven records my complaints, backs them into the clouds in a file, then files it away in the heavenly Archive. And the situation gets worse."
Angel Chaim hesitated for a minute and then pointed at the desert. "What do you see?" he asked.
"I see the endless desert with beautiful mountains around us."
"And what do you feel?"
"I feel serene and calm. I feel the calm wind of the early morning desert."
"And did you feel that way last night?" "No," I said, it was pitch dark. I felt a little uncomfortable lying on the ground in an unfamiliar place."
"And what happened when the sun rose?" he continued. "Well," I said, "with the light came the calmness. I saw the beauty of this place and the light wind brought peace and calm."
"And yet," Angel Chaim insisted, "this is a desert, a harsh environment which can be very unsafe and frightening. " "This is true," I replied.
Looking at my puzzled face he continued.
"This desert is a beautiful place. I myself come here sometimes to relax and have a drink in my happy hour. The rough and hostile environment along with its beauty have co existed here for a long time."
"So you are trying to tell me that world turmoil will always co exist with us as part of our life? And I had to come all the way here to hear this? You could have just said that to me on skype back in Boca!"
Angel Chaim smiled again. "Tell me Rabbi, after a long period of rain, when the sun finally emerges from the dark clouds, what usually happens?"
"Well, when it is still drizzling and the sun comes up, we see the rainbow of course."
"Well, Rabbi, would you please look up in the sky?"
I looked up towards the rising sun and the most amazing thing happened. A beautiful rainbow appeared in the east.
No rain . No drizzling. Just a large colorful rainbow!
"Do you get it now, Rabbi? You keep asking us to create miracles, to miraculously bring peace unto the world. It is not that simple but not impossible."
I was still puzzled.
"Miracles only come with Hope, Rabbi. Hope for Peace is a powerful gift, given to people. It helps defeat evil. It has been helping many generations before you and generations to come. Just as this rainbow always will be with you.... so will the Hope that comes with your prayers for peace.
I answered, "We have been hearing this for thousands of years. Can you be more specific? How about some kind of time frame?"
Angel Chaim smiled, "the stronger your hope, the stronger you are. The more you cherish what you believe the faster it will come."
The man with the strange tee shirt who called himself Chaim the Angel was packing his bag. "Keep the faith Rabbi," he said, "evil does not exist forever."
The biblical story suggests that after his Mt. Sinai experience Elijah the prophet felt content for the first time after a long period of aggravation.
I was not sure. I just stood there staring at Chaim, the angel. He left with a promise to deliver our conversation to his boss, the Old Mighty and disappeared as suddenly as he came.
As the sun rose in the east I climbed down the mountain. Not a small task for my sore knees and waited for the tourist bus returning from Cairo. I had plenty of time to think about my encounter with Mr. Chaim, the Angel.
I wondered what I could take from this experience to tell my congregation back in Boca Raton. I thought about eternal hope and steadfast belief in a better world, a peaceful world.
In the famous musical, "Fiddler on the Roof" there is an expulsion scene when the Jews of the Shtetl of Anatevka are forced out of their homes, not knowing where to go. As they were chased out of their homes, they turned to their Rabbi. "Rabbi," they said, "wouldn't now be a very good time for the Messiah to come?"
"Yes," replied the rabbi. We will just have to keep waiting for him somewhere else..." to which the Rambam one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time who lived in the 11th century said the following: "I believe in the coming of the Messiah and although he is delayed I will keep waiting for him to come.."
And it occurred to me that this year will be a very good time for peace to come. And if peace is delayed for some reason, as the Ramabam said, we will just have to continue to hope and pray for it.
And if we need another word of encouragement...
This afternoon my cousin Mario called me to wish me Happy New Year. He pointed out that this is the Jewish year of 5777. If we add the numbers we get 26. The number 26 is also the numerical value of the sacred letters of G-D's name, the Yud Hey Vav Hey. 10 is for Yud, Hey 5 Vav 6 Hey 5. The year 5777 is the year of G-D.
Perhaps this is a message for us that in this Year of G-D, this is the year Peace will Come. May it be so....
The memory comes back to me as it does each year during Sukkot. I am a child 3 or 4 years old waiting in the Temple sanctuary to visit the sukkah. I climb the steps with the other children but then time stops and I am alone. I am amazed by the clusters of fruit and thick leaves that form a canopy over me! A presence of Love embraces me, protects me.
It isn't until I am an adult years later that I understand who came to me under the sukkah. She is known by many names but in Judaism we call her Shechinah, the feminine nurturing aspect of G-d. The root of the Hebrew word Shechinah means dwelling place for She dwells inside each of us.
I sit under the sukkah as I do each year and She comes. I marvel at so many gifts we have been given to call her, to become aware of her Presence. She comes each Shabbat with L'Cha Dodi, She is under the chuppah with each bride and groom, when we are still, quiet under the sukkah as I am now.
The full moon shines through the sukkah roof, through its walls and once again She embraces me with her arms of Love. I pray and ask that we all feel her arms of Love embracing us. That we in turn bring her Love into our world.
From Cantor Lee: When Marty told me of the project he wanted to organize for Shirat Shalom and the story behind it, I knew this had to be shared! For this Living Story is one that has been a part of the Jewish people perhaps since the beginning. Marty's part in the story begins in 1951 when he was just a child....
I Remember my Grandmom by Marty Hyman
The year was 1951. I was almost seven years old and although my parents could not afford to send me to an overnight camp, I was sent to live with my mom’s parents, my Grandfather Jacob and my Grandmother, Esther, for the summer in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My Grandmother Tillie on my dad’s side lived across the street. Each weekend during the summer my mom and dad would come down the shore from steamy hot Philadelphia to spend the weekend in the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.
One weekend in July, I remember when my dad’s mom, Grandmom Tillie, came across the street to visit us and she seemed very worried. She had just received the electric bill for June in the mail and was worried about how she would be able to pay the $6.50 bill. In fact, my dad had to pay the bill for her.
I felt bad seeing how worried she was about paying a bill. She was living month to month on a very small Social Security check that was so small that she struggled to buy her food, pay rent and pay all of her bills.
Yet, I still remember visiting her for Erev Shabbat dinner on the following Friday. After she prepared the table, and lit the candles, she went into the kitchen. I followed her and saw on the window sill over the kitchen sink that she had several different shaped cans. They were her collection of Tzedakah cans.
The writing on all of the cans was in Hebrew. I didn’t know how to read Hebrew at that time. So she explained that the rectangle can with blue writing on it was for the Jewish National Fund, one square one was for an Israeli orphan’s school, another was for trees for Israel and one round can was from her own Community Synagogue that was on Maryland and Pacific Avenues.
The joy that I saw on her face when she placed the few pennies that she had into the cans made me realize how rich she felt at that moment. This was a woman that was so poor she needed her son to pay a very small electric bill for her. But in that kitchen on Shabbat, I saw in my Grandmom’s face how she felt like the richest woman on earth.
Giving Tzedakah does that you know.
While the coins and bills that you may place in the can will help someone else, what it does to you, how it makes you feel so rich is also a very important result of fulfilling the mitzvot of Tzedakah.
Marty's Tzedakah Can Project
Marty and his wife donated 300 Tzedakah cans (yes 300! ) to Shirat Shalom and designed beautiful labels as well for each can. These will be given out during Rosh Hashanah, the plan being that each family returns a full can next year during the holidays.
Marty also included blank labels so the Hebrew School children could design their own Tzedakah cans. We invited Marty to speak to the children and they were mesmerized by his story! Afterwards as they each designed a unique label and made the commitment to fill their Tzedakah can with coins, we told them that they too are part of this Living Story!
From Rabbi David:
Marty and his wife, Fran, are the embodiment of who we are as Jewish people. I recall a scene from the famous musical "Fiddler On The Roof" when Reb Tuvia hands a piece of cheese to Perchick, the young starving student from the city of Kiev, and urges him to take the gift. "Take it," he tells Perchick , it will be my honor." At first I thought this is part of the scene's humor. Then I realized there is a much serious element to that scene.
Upon creating the Jewish nation the Torah gave us the secret for survival as a nation. One can see it as a theme throughout the entire 613 commandments. It is compassion for our fellow man, to animals and to Mother Earth. The Torah as well as the entire Jewish tradition understood that a healthy society is a society which creates the kinds of social laws which take care of the weakest, the poorest elements of society as well as laws that make this world a better place even in the smallest measures.
Over the years these laws of righteousness or Tzedakah turned from merely biblical legal obligations to who we are as Jews. We became a people of Compassion with a keen sense of justice and concern for others.
Helping others takes many forms. It is our deepest conviction that we came to this world not only to enjoy it but to contribute to its welfare. This is the "Tikun Olam" we often talk about.
In fact while we do Tzedakah willingly because we understand its importance, the great Rabbis of the Talmud kept reminding us that any act of Tzedakah such as donating money to a good cause or helping in many other ways is our obligation, not a choice. In old Europe and even now in certain Jewish circles it is a tradition that even the a person with the most limited resources has a Tzedakah box to which he adds coins as often as he possible can.
Marty was telling our Hebrew School students an amazing truth. It is the truth that Reb Tuvia told Perchick. Giving Tzedakah has a profound effect on us. It makes us feel better about ourselves and about our world. It gives us hope for better world for all of us.
Indeed, we can cure the world from all its strife and hate with the prescription the Torah gave us, with acts of kindness.
One act of kindness at a time.
Would you like a Shirat Shalom Tzedakah can? We would be delighted to give you one! And how blessed we will be in knowing that in helping us we are in turn helping you!
Marty Age 7 and his grandparents
Confirmation Student Jared gluing 300 labels!
Marty with some of our Hebrew School Children
Phone: 561.488.8079 P.O. Box 971142, Boca Raton, FL, 33497-1142