After centuries of assimilation and isolation from the rest of the Children of Israel, pockets of Jews in China, India, Spain, Portugal, South America, and far-flung regions of the former Soviet Union are rediscovering their Jewish heritage. Thank you to Laura Ben-David of Shavei Israel agency for the photos and your visit to Detroit to teach us all about the amazing work you do. Here is my story from the December 17 issue of the Detroit Jewish News.
Reclaiming Judaism Shavei Israel agency helps “lost” Jews find their heritage.
By Stacy Gittleman
Whether the people it helps live in China, India or Brazil, an Israeli agency called Shavei Israel (Israel Returns) is helping “hidden” or “lost” populations of Jews reclaim their Judaism.
Times of Israel blogger and Shavei Israel employee Laura Ben David made a Detroit stop Nov. 14 at Young Israel of Southfield during a multi-city North American tour to promote awareness and explain the “incredible phenomenon” of Jews previously thought to be lost to the rest of mainstream Judaism returning to their Jewish heritage.
Shavei Israel works with pockets of those claiming Jewish ancestry in nine countries and counting. It is comprised of a team of academics, educators, and rabbinical figures and has the support of rabbinical authorities in Israel and the United States.
“We find it humbling that, in spite of all the problems the Jewish people face, there are emerging hidden people who identify themselves as Jewish and who want to throw their fate in with the rest of us,” Ben David said to a group of 30 at Young Israel in Southfield.
She spent her childhood summers visiting her grandparents and extended family in Detroit. Her grandmother, who is 100, lives at Fleischman Residence in West Bloomfield. Now living in Israel, Ben David describes her job as her “life’s work of reconnecting people to Israel and their Jewish heritage.”
“We find no matter where in the globe we go, there are people who feel very strongly a connection and a love for Israel,” she said. “The very least Shavei Israel can do is help them find their way either by strengthening their Jewish connections while they live in their current countries or helping them make aliyah.”
Ben David focused her talk on the Jews of India or the Bnei Menashe. It is the largest group of “lost” Jews who claim to be direct descendants of the Lost Tribe of Menashe. In recent years, Shavei Israel has brought 3,000 Bnei Menashe to Israel. Another 7,000 remain in India waiting to make aliyah.
The transition to life in Israel and acceptance of their Judaism is a challenge. Although the Israeli rabbinate visited Indian Jewish population centers to verify their authenticity, Ben David explained the Bnei Menashe still must go through a brief yet intensive course of study for conversion. However, because of India’s anti-proselytization laws, they must first move to Israel and undergo conversion there to become full Israeli citizens.
Shavei Israel works with pockets of those claiming Jewish ancestry in nine countries and counting. It is comprised of a team of academics, educators, and rabbinical figures and has the support of rabbinical authorities in Israel and the United States.
Regardless of red tape, Ben David said groups of students greet the arriving Bnei Menashe with open arms. The Bnei Menashe spend three months in a resettlement community in Jerusalem where they learn Hebrew and enroll in a rigorous Judaic study to prepare them for the Beit Din, or the Court of Rabbis, for conversion.
Eventually, they go on to live in “carefully selected” towns throughout Israel where they receive training and education that will lead to sustainable employment. Though they retain “the flavor and culture” of their home country, they become full Israeli citizens and eventually their children will serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
“Our social workers stay in touch with our new olim [immigrants] and we are constantly revising our program to meet their needs,” Ben David said.
“We give them as much support as possible with a goal to facilitate their economic independence.” Young Israel’s Rabbi Yechiel Morris said the talk was eye-opening because it is “fascinating for Ashkenazi Jews like us to know there are other pocket populations of Jews in the world we are only starting to discover. “We are truly a scattered people who are only now starting to make our way home from all the corners of the Earth,” he said.
When I penned this last week for the Detroit Jewish News, Joseph’s Tomb had not been set on fire by Palestinians twice. Yet. The thought of the Palestinians petitioning UNESCO that the Western Wall should be declared a Muslim holy site went beyond the pale of imagination.
But here we are. According to the world authorities, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Machpelach have no Jewish connection. Will this be enough of a shakedown to shake us out of our complacency?
On Oct. 8, The New York Times published an article that disregarded any Jewish historical claims to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ask the average pre-bnei mitzvah adolescent attending a supplementary congregational Hebrew school why this is so troubling and you may get some blank stares.
In a 2007 study from the AVI CHAI foundation, one Jewish educator lamented that in the ever-shrinking hours of a child’s Jewish education, “we have lost the battle for time.” The paucity of contact hours spent at Hebrew school means that our Jewish kids are getting a minimal Jewish education. They learn to decode Hebrew enough for Hebrew prayer and bnei mitzvah preparation. Through experiential learning, they get the basics of the Jewish holiday cycle and maybe a sprinkling of Torah stories. Teachers need to accomplish this within five or less hours of weekly instruction, all the while dealing with the disruption of kids arriving late or leaving early because of extra-curricular activities.
That means teaching Jewish history – from our most ancient beginnings in Judea, through the Roman exile and all the way up to the birth of the modern State of Israel – has mostly met the chopping block. If you need evidence, visit the resource room or library of any temple or synagogue and you will see volumes of history textbooks printed in the last decade languishing on the shelves.
I speak from experience. I have taught Hebrew school in one capacity or another here in Detroit and in Western New York for 13 years. I have been trained on several curricula that attempt to infuse experiential history lessons into the classroom using both traditional and the most up-to-date methods of the Digital Age, only to scrap carefully constructed lessons for the sake of time.
As a parent, a Jewish educator, and a writer who has been observing media coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict since college, I cannot help but notice an ominous connection between the neglect of teaching Jewish history and the rise of the distortion and demonization of Israel and of Jews in Israel, on the American campus and throughout the world.
American Jewish kids with a minimal education, or no Jewish education after their bnei mitzvah, are blindsided when they reach the college campus and do not know how to respond when confronted with organizations on college campuses calling to boycott “apartheid” Israel.
As parents and Jewish professionals, we are doing ourselves a disservice when we let our children’s Jewish education take a back seat to our many other priorities. Our children need to learn Jewish history – to see where we have come from and what past generations endured to maintain their Judaism – to shape their own Jewish identity and destiny.
This year, after much soul searching, I decided to “home Hebrew school” my own child. I do not recommend this for everyone. Ideally, Jewish learning needs to take place in a communal setting and with lively discussion. Believe me, getting your own kid to take you seriously as a teacher is no cakewalk, but with the promise of a treat after a certain amount of studying has been accomplished, we settle down and get to work.
Each time, we get through one chapter from an age-appropriate textbook. Fortunately, there are many educational resources and videos online to make ancient Jewish history come alive. Right now, we are working our way through learning about ancient Judea and the Jewish revolts after the Romans conquered Jerusalem.
Even as Israel works hard to preserve its antiquities, there are some who wish to erase them. As we sat learning the other night, an online news source reported that Palestinians had destroyed a 1,900-year-old cave in the Gush Etzion region that dated back to the Bar Kochva revolt. If you had never heard of this era in Jewish history, I encourage you to look it up.
“Just Another double Murder.” Here is proof that #NPR no longer even tries to hide its anti-Israel bias
Sukkot. The Feast of Booths. In Hebrew, the fall Jewish holiday is also known as “Zman Simchateinu,” the time of our joy.
Sadly, this week has been anything but.
It has been a season of Jewish blood.
It has become a season of terrorizing Jews in their own Jewish homeland.
It has become a time of complete isolation for Israel and the Jewish people, when at the United Nations not even the United States, with Kerry boycotting Netanyahu’s speech, stands strong with Israel.
Last week, I watched in horror as the Palestinian Flag, the same flag that was waved in triumph by throngs of celebrants in Judea and Samaria on 9/11 – was raised in recognition at the United Nations.
I was disgusted yet hardly surprised, at the raising of this flag, when Abbas announced in his speech to the United Nations as Abbas said his people are no longer held to the stipulations to the Oslo accords, as if they ever did have peaceful intentions of co-existence.
A shred of me was hopeful. If these people really want a nation, than perhaps that wavering flag would signal them to show the world that they can indeed conduct themselves with peaceful dignity. That they are ready to do the hard work it takes to create a country. That they are now more concerned with building up a nation of their own rather than destroying another.
In the morning, I woke to the news – on my Facebook feed, that a Jewish couple driving home from a Sukkot celebration were murdered by Palestinians in cold blood as four of their children sat in the back seat.
So, I turned on #National Public Radio and I waited to hear the coverage. Surely, after they dedicated so much coverage to another senseless death in Jerusalem when Israeli extremists torched an Arab home in Jerusalem, killing a baby and burning other family members.
Yes, the news cycle was a crowded one: another mass shooting. Another hurricane barreling towards the East Coast. Th endless war in Syria.
But surely, there must be some time to dedicate 1 minute, 30 seconds to report the murder. Especially since Abbas’ Fatah Wing declared full responsibility immediately following his scathing speech at the UN General Assembly.
So, I called NPR on it.
I questioned them directly in a message on their Facebook page. Here, I screen captured the exchange:
Does this lift any doubt just how blatantly biased NPR is towards Israel?
Are you really still a supporter of NPR?
“It is very nice that you and your other American friends care about protecting the Arctic Circle and the polar bears against global warming. And I understand you want social justice and equal rights and the right to choose for a woman. Yes, all these things are very nice and good and important. But here in Israel, the first thing we need more than anything is security for us and our children. We just want to live. We want to go to sleep at night and not worry that Iran is building a nuclear bomb to shoot at us.”
I sat in my host family’s living room. On my 2008 educator mission to Israel I stayed with Keren, a teacher, her husband, Omer, a systems manager (or something like that), and their two young daughters. It was in the evening and Keren was upstairs putting the girls to bed in their two-level condo in Modi’in Israel.
Next to the girls bedroom, which they shared, was another room that many in Israel had if their home was built after a certain year. In their house, It is an inner room with thick, lined walls and no windows and closes with a thick door that shuts with a crank. one thick door that when shut,
The thing is, in Israel, space is tight. Square footage is expensive. Like, think close to Manhattan expensive. And although Israelis are not supposed to use this room for anything else but a safety shelter, it is often used as a room. For a home office. A playroom filled with colorful toys. An extra space to store like any other American needs, all the extra stuff that comes along with living in a consumerism society.
I was visiting Israel to teach Israeli kids a little bit about what it was like to be a Jew in America. But that evening, I was the one getting a lesson on the mindset of Israelis as I sat on the white couch with a glass of precious water – no ice – my feet resting on the cold tiled floor.
It was the spring of 2008. Israel was in the wake with its military action in Lebanon and Gaza after the kidnapping of three soldiers from 2006. In the United States, elections were heating up and most of America was fed up with the way things were going under the Bush Administration.
The economy was about to tank.
We were five years out of Bush’s “mission accomplished” announcement, where nothing seemed to get accomplished except hundreds of our soldiers getting killed or wounded. Where were the weapons of mass destruction? When would we ever see a troop draw down from Iraq? Afghanistan?
I was the Democratic Party’s dream voter. I stood, and still, stand for every issue on the Democratic ticket. Strict environmental regulations. Stricter gun control. Pro Choice. Fulfilling the legacy of Ted Kennedy’s call for universal health care.
When it came to Israel, I still believed that supporting Israel was a bipartisan issue. But in 2008, there started to be a shift that if you really wanted to support Israel, voting for a Democrat is not the way to go. I had been warned by friends and certain family and now, I was getting a plea from Omer.
Early every morning, Omer gets picked up outside his condo by a company bus to take them to the offices inside the Ben Gurion Airport. Except, that next week, after I headed back to the States, Omer would be heading out for a month of reserve duty, just as most Israeli men do, one month per year, until they are in their 50’s.
But back to the couch.
Omer did not belittle me for my then progressive beliefs, and said in a big country like the U.S., he could understand why people would back these issues. He did not tell me which way to vote, but told me who he hoped would win in no uncertain terms.
“I think Obama is a good man, but here in Israel, we really like McCain. We need a sheriff in the White House.”
Eight years later I have not forgotten Omer’s words. I wonder what he thinks of the United States now. Does he feel betrayal by American Jews, myself included, who vastly voted for Obama, once and even twice?
And now the Iran Nuclear agreement is up for vote in Congress.
Below, if you care to keep on reading, is my article from this week’s Detroit Jewish News covering the Washington Institute’s David Makovsky’s speech before Detroit’s Jewish community. He offered as balanced a perspective as possible on the Iran Deal. Although the Wall Street Journal contributing writer has written strongly against the deal, I learned later that his sponsors here asked him to give a balanced overview and not his own personal opinions.
I wonder why.
I woke to the news that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a statement today coming out against the deal.
Somewhere in Israel, I hope that this news has reached Omer, and that he is smiling with just a little bit of hope.
David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, mapped out the pros and cons of the Iran nuclear agreement to an audience of nearly 1,000 donors to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township on July 30.
Stressing the many questions that still remain on how the deal will be enforced should it be enacted, Makovsky spoke of the “atmosphere of anguish” going around Congress as it heads to a vote on the agreement.
He also emphasized the urgent need for cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence and security departments.
Detroit’s Federation is one of only eight in the nation that have come down in the first week squarely against the agreement. Noting the size of the crowd, Federation President Larry Wolfe said this is a time of “deep concern, interest and anxiety within Detroit’s Jewish community.
“The Federation of Detroit needs to take a stand, particularly with their fellow Jews in Israel who feel abandoned and isolated, especially in light that with this deal, terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah funded by Iran will be flush with cash,” Wolfe said.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the future for Jews here in Detroit, Israel and around the world.”
Professor Howard Lupovitch, director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, Wayne State University, served as moderator.
To illustrate the complexities of either being for or against the deal, Makovsky walked the audience through a hypothetical face-to-face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.
Makovsky outlined Obama’s reasoning why this is the “best possible deal” with Iran. It guarantees that Iran would be nuclear weapon-free for 15 years.
After that period, Iran could enrich uranium to weapons grade level within 12 months. Presently, Iran is three to four months away from this threshold.
The deal would also cut the number of Iran’s working centrifuges. According to Makovsky, Obama would argue that it is the best chance to move Iran into “inte grating itself into the global economy” for the general Iranian population who wants to become more Westernized.
In this imaginary exchange, Netanyahu would argue that the deal has not eliminated Iran’s nuclear threat but only managed it by acknowledging that, in 15 years, Iran will be treated like any other nation and there is nothing to stop Iran from “racing toward the bomb” when the deal expires.
Netanyahu would also ask why the U.S. and other countries involved in negotiations did not clearly outline a set of possible violations and penalties as a way of holding Iran accountable to the agreement.
Also, Netanyahu would ask how reasonable would it be to ask countries like China, Russia or France to “snap back” sanctions once they are entrenched with business dealings with Iran and are “lining their bank coffers with money from oil revenues?” Also troubling are the billions of dol lars of frozen assets that could flow back into Iran’s economy upon the agree ment’s enactment. If Iran’s top banks will have sanctions lifted against them within eight years under the deal, Makovsky said the nations involved need to develop a clear strategy of how to follow the money trail so it does not further fund terrorism in the “volcanic” Middle East.
In spite of the uncertainty, Makovsky offered hope in the fact that fractious Arab nations are moving closer to work with each other, united in their fear of a nuclear Iran. If the Arab nations can do this, so, too, should Israel and the United States, he concluded.
“My one plea is that the security and intelligence relationship between us needs to come together as soon as pos sible,” Makovsky said.
“With Israel now encircled by non state entities as governments around it break down, we cannot afford to wait until the next presidency or even another year to start collaborating. We no longer have the luxury to be angry with one another.”
I feel weird asking it because I am not the kind of person to ask for a lot of help. Hell, I even feel bad asking a neighbor to for an egg or a cuppa sugar to save me from pulling my boots on and heading out to the supermarket on a snowy day. Or asking you to pick up my kid at band rehearsal if I drive the other way, would you drive the other?
But this is a biggie. A total solid.
If things in this country got very bad for me, your Jewish friend;
if it came to it where laws were put in place forbidding people to do business with Jews, for going to school with Jews, for being treated by Jewish doctors or seeking counsel from Jewish lawyers; if Jews were forbidden from riding in public transportation or eating in restaurants, or going to movie theaters:
Would you hide me?
What about just my kids?
In the height of World War II, there were the few, brave righteous gentiles who imperiled their own lives to hide Jews in their basements, a large closet, a ditch under their barn, and most famously, in an Amsterdam attic. Some of their stories can be viewed here in a video created by the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
Pretty dark and drastic, perhaps fatalistic and Pollyannaish all at the same time just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, right?
I know. Sorry if I am freaking you out.
Yet, I am beginning to have my doubts just how many would say yes.
It is evidenced by the alarming silence, or maybe apathy, or maybe just news fatigue I have witnessed ever since this summer.
And I know, for my Facebook friends, you are probably sick of all the stuff I have posted since this summer, starting with the horrible war between Israel and her neighbors in Gaza, followed by the outrageous double standard displayed in media coverage. You are just probably sick to death of me and have most likely hidden all my rantings from your newsfeed.
I have also posted many petitions asking you to stand up against hatred against the only democracy in the Middle East. I have tried to educate the unfamiliar on the history of the formation of the modern state of Israel, lest you are misled by those who want you to believe that Jews are land stealing colonists with no ties to this scrap of land in the Middle East.
I have tried to make you understand that yes, when some say “I have no problem with Jews, it is just the Zionists we hate” that this is just a thin veil, a code word for Jew hatred.
I have tried to teach you the real meaning of what it means to be a Zionist. I posted petitions asking our government to stop forcing Israel into any negotiations with a party who in its very charter calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state, and Jews in general.
I have shared petitions about lending your voice to speak out against the rapid rise of Jew Hatred in Europe and even right here in our own country as college student governing bodies pass ruling after ruling asking their university administrations to stop doing business with any business that does business with Israel, to stop RESEARCH and PROGRESS if it means collaborating and learning and working with Israeli researchers.
Post after post, I pretty much knew who would share, or who would comment, or maybe who would just click “like.” Same people. Same choir.
Those who know their history understand what silence in the face of evil brings. That is why I am asking you that very uncomfortable question:
Would you hide me?
It is not only me who feels this way. Just this week, clinical social worker Carla Naumburg, PhD wrote in “Jewish, American and Scared” how she is making sure that all her ducks are in order: passport, bank statements, title deeds to house and car, just in case she has to flee with her family to Israel. As many French Jews have been fleeing after anti-Semitism in that country has nearly quadrupled over the last few years. I shared and posted about that too, mostly to seemingly deaf ears.
How many of you have dared to tweet #JeSuisJuif?
So, if you are Jewish, please share this post and ask this question of your friends.
If you are not Jewish, check in with your conscience and think back to a time when you (hopefully) watched a Holocaust documentary, or Schindler’s List, or visited a Holocaust Museum, and asked yourselves how the hell could this have happened?? Ask yourself what you are doing right now, in the 21st Century, to prevent this from happening again.
Silence and apathy of the majority of the good allowed evil to take over and murder millions.
Silence and apathy, that’s how it happened.
It is a good thing there is now a place I can go, if it comes to it.
Last night, I volunteered at Detroit’s evening of Solidarity with Israel. After attendees passed through a strict security screening process, I gave them each a sticker bearing the logo shown above. Fellow volunteers gave out over 2,700 stickers to Israel supporters.
While the world looks bleak now for all world Jewry, and while radical Islamists spread their fiery hatred for Jews just like the Hitler Youth did in the 1930’s, it soothed my soul to see so many: Jewish, non-Jewish, black and white, coming together for a few hours to support the United State’s biggest ally in the Middle East in her war on terrorism.
By the way, my daughter is still on her trip in Israel. She just returned safely to Jerusalem after a sea-to-sea hike in the North.
Last weekend, she did spend some time in a bomb shelter. She heard the Iron Dome obliterate an incoming misile. But then, after they got the clear, she and a family she was staying with went on with life.
Here is my most recent piece published in the Detroit Jewish News.
A few weeks ago, my parents, husband, son and I were riding down the Belt Parkway in New York to take our 17-year-old daughter to JFK. She was about to embark on Ramah’s six-week Israel Seminar, a trip she knew she wanted to do since she was about nine years old. The news that Hamas murdered the three teenaged boys was less than 24 hours old. Seated in the middle row with my mom, I curled my hand into hers. I just kept squeezing it.
The scene at the departure terminal, though chaotic, was almost healing. Hundreds of Jewish teens about to leave for Israel on one trip or another greeted each other with smiles and hugs.
Expressions on the faces of the parents revealed one thing: we all knew our relatively carefree Jewish American kids were headed to Israel in a time of national mourning. Who could predict that a war would unfold in just days after their arrival?
What have I been doing since she left?
It has been a surreal time. While the program posts photos of the kids having fun on hikes and gazing over the Haifa skyline, while my daughter calls me from Jerusalem telling me about the fantastic time she had working with the children at the Ramah Israel Day camp in Jerusalem, friends in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Be’er Sheva post on Facebook about dashing for stairwells or shelters when the sirens blare.
On my wrist, I wear a blue Stand With Us rubber bracelet showing my support for Israel. My watch is set to Jerusalem time so I know the best time to call my daughter. My cell phone has become an appendage to my body. I pray daily for her safety, for all of Israel and her Defense Forces.
I thank Ramah Seminar in Israel for their tireless efforts of keeping our kids safe and having as an enjoyable and educational experience as possible while constantly keeping parents in the loop of the changing security situation. After an extended stay in their northern base in the Hodayot Youth Village, the “seminarniks” finally traveled safely to their home base in Jerusalem on July 15. In fact, a parent conference call to update us on the matzav started just as the IDF launched their ground offensive into Gaza.
But life goes on. I have taken the cue from my Israeli friends who endure this daily threat to keep moving on through routine and simple distractions. If my Israeli psychologist friend, an olah from New York, can help spread calm by teaching Yoga to women in a bomb shelter in Sderot, I too will try to find Zen on my mat. I work in my garden and take walks.
Even as the bombs fall, and the inevitability that she may spend some time this summer in a bomb shelter is very real, I have no regrets that my daughter is in Israel. I will not deny the danger or my worry. I know that this time in Israel will be a transformative one for her that can only strengthen her understanding of what it means to be a Jew and never take our Jewish homeland for granted.
When midnight here rolls around, my mind is already seven hours ahead wondering what the dawning day on the other side of the planet will hold for Israel. If you too have a loved one in Israel and find yourself up in the middle of the night, I’m sleepless right there with you.
- Why we’re letting our daughter stay in Israel in wartime (haaretz.com)
Summertime is usually a carefree time.
Not this summer.
This summer, it has been hard for me to focus on anything that is not Israel. And usually I love thinking about Israel – all the great things it gives the world , memories of my four visits there, and now living vicariously through my daughter, who is spending her summer in Israel.
That’s where the carefree element of my summer has all but disappeared.
It started with the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli teen boys. It was followed up with the equally horrible murder of that baby-faced Arab boy. Then the increase of rocket fire. And now, our soldier’s putting their lives in jeopardy to protect the lives of all living in Israel.
That includes my daughter. And people I met through a sister-city educator program. And my daughter. And friends who now live there. And my daughter.
The news has been all-consuming. Other news is barely registering with me. Was there some ruling on Hobby Lobby that I should be all fired up about, or sending unaccompanied children back over the border to Central America? What was that again? But, oh, another rocket has been fired into Israel. Another Palestinian child has been used as a human shield by Hamas. Oh, am I supposed to be packing my youngest up for camp?
Over Facebook, I see my Israeli friends posting about running to a bomb shelter, or a miklat, a safe room,or when there are neither of these things, a bathroom or stairwell shelter.
Some darkly joke about what are the top 10 essential things you need in a bomb shelter. Topping that list includes flashlights, water, ice cream, wine, and chocolate. LOTS of wine and chocolate.
This week, I had to ask the surreal question to my daughter, who wished to visit her friend for Shabbat in Ra’anana.
“Can you please find out if your friend’s family has a bomb shelter?”
Can you imagine asking your American friend such a question before visiting?
Do you have cats, ’cause my kid has allergies.
What can I bring you for dinner? Wine? A salad?
Oh, and does your house have a bomb shelter?
In more peaceful days in Israel, I remember spending a summer working on a kibbutz up near the Golan Heights. I didn’t think twice about going into a bomb shelter, but they were pretty much used as “disco” shelters back in the 80’s. The shelter was a cool place to hang out at night after working. I never associated it as a place to take cover from an attack.
In more peaceful days in Israel, I gave my daughter about 50 shekels for the evening as she set to hang out at night in Tel Aviv with her friend, the one from Ra’anana. They roamed freely the streets of Tel Aviv, got pizza and gelato, and hung on the beach until 11 at night.
This Shabbat, my daughter, my intrepid and strong daughter had her first taste of what it is like to sit in a bomb shelter. She heard the boom of Israel’s Iron Dome shoot down a rocket aimed for where she is, a suburban town near Tel Aviv. In her nonchalant manner, she said it was like going to hang out in our basement.
Last weekend, I tried to snag some of my own carefree moments. My husband took me on a bike ride along West Bloomfield’s trail system. I felt carefree and peaceful. But every now again, a dark thought crept into my mind. If a siren went off along the path, and we had 15 seconds to take cover, where would we go?
Last weekend, friends who, most likely sensing that I really needed a night out, invited us out to Detroit’s Concert of Colors. Among the many free acts who played at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall was the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars group that came out of the horrors of war in their native country and helped heal with music.
Indeed, the infectious music was healing and joyful. Everyone, in every shape, size, color, religion was dancing in joy to the music. I also let myself feel some joy and danced with my husband. The leader of the band was right. He was no doctor, but he said dancing a little bit every day gets rid of all the toxins in your body and makes you feel good. After every song, the leader of the band just wanted to know one thing from their audience: Are You Happy?
And I was.
But there was one guy at the show with a smug look on his face. He wore a beat up T-shirt that read “Free Palestine” in English and I guess Arabic. He didn’t look happy. But I refused to let him make me not feel happy that very moment. Even though, I felt like telling him, that cause he holds dear, well, some of the people who are so dedicated to that cause would have no druther about strapping a bomb to themselves underneath their clothing, walking into that concert hall where we were all dancing in joyous unison, and blowing us all to pieces.
Summer in our house means that the kids in my family get a break from their usual surroundings and, though we will miss them, we the parents take a short break from parenting.
I know that sounds bad to some, that we need a break from parenting so we ship them off to camp. But a wise woman, a mother of five boys, once told me when my children were very young, that one day I will understand: summer is a good time for everyone in the family to have some time on their own in a different place.
I lit three more Shabbat candles than usual and said an extra prayer.
Eyal, Naftali, Gilad, where are you? Who is watching over you? Who is feeding you? Who is clothing you? Gd in Heaven please give them strength and keep them safe until they are rescued. Please.
My husband and I held hands with our three children and sang the blessings. We blessed our children. I now have to rise up on my toes to kiss the top of my fifteen-year-old son’s forehead. He has to bend down to put his head on my shoulder when he hugs me. I can feel his shoulders getting broader. Looking down, I wonder how those feet which were once so tiny got to be the size of a mans, with no signs that they have stopped growing.
As much of a man he is turning out to be, I still dote on, and nudge my teen-aged son. A son who can’t seem to eat enough though he remains thin as a bean pole. A son who plays guitar, has formed a band, and has introduced me to a lot of cool music
The kids that night ate heartily. They enjoyed the last homemade challah they would have until the end of August.
We are not Shabbat observant. After dinner, Broadway show tunes played on the Sonos. My children sang and danced loudly together around the family room.
I tried to soak it all in and be joyful, but having the knowledge that across the sea, there were empty places at the Shabbat tables of three families in Israel, my joy was tinged.
We are going on the third Shabbat in which these families will not have their sons home. Kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from school, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal have not been heard or seen since in spite of a vigorous search and investigation from the Israel Defense Forces.
I don’t know what is sustaining these families. Think about when you lose sight of your kid in a shopping mall or at a carnival. Those few moments are agony. For two weeks, every moment for these families has been agony. Every night their beds are empty must be agony.
I have so many questions.
Where are they being held?
Why is there NO coverage of the kidnapping of these boys in the US media, even though one of the boys has dual US-Israel citizenship?
Why has our President been so silent in this matter?
How could the United Nations be so cruel as to mock the pain of the three mothers, who went to Geneva to testify and plead on behalf of their sons, only to get a response from the UN that there is no evidence of an abduction, that perhaps these “settlers” went on holiday and didn’t tell their parents?
Where are they?
Where are they?
And, what can I do?
What else can I do?
I follow every bit of news coming out of Israel on my Facebook feed, sites like the Times of Israel and Israel365
I say special Psalms
Ribbons tied to my tree for the boys? Check.
Create a sign with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys? Check.
There is one woman I know who is doing more to help the boys more than anyone else I know.
Remember the woman with the five boys? Almost a decade ago, she and her husband and five boys made aliyah. Now, she works as an educational psychologist and is on the ground in the very town from where the boys families live and is helping schoolchildren there cope with this crisis that has taken away their friends or their siblings. You can listen to her being interviewed on a local Israeli radio show.
Therein lies the difference between one side and the other.
We as Jews when it comes down to it, we really care for each other and will support each other because we are responsible for each other. All of Israel is responsible for each other. In the end, it is something we must stand by to know that it will be all right in the end because we care for each other, and we place the value of life of any living human in the highest regard.
It is sad to say that on the other side, that is clearly not the case.
Let’s get something straight.
The anti-Israel “Boycott Divest Sanctions” movement hitting campuses across the globe is nothing more than a new fangled incarnation of simple Jew hatred.
In advance of tonight’s Central Student Government hearing tonight to reconsider its decision to table a vote to approve a resolution asking the University of Michigan boycott and divest from academic and business dealings with Israel, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit sent out the following email:
To Our Friends and Supporters:
As you may know, the Central Student Government (CSG) at U of M last week rejected an anti-Israel divestment resolution. However, due to pressure from an anti-Israel campus group, CSG will reconsider the resolution at its meeting tonight. We want to bring you up to date on developments surrounding this resolution and how you can best support efforts to convince the CSG to sustain its initial rejection of it.
Federation and JCRC work continuously to advance the interests of both Israel and the Jewish campus communities. Tilly Shames, the Executive Director of U of M Hillel, serves as our agencies’ eyes and ears on campus and has been keeping us well-informed on developments related to this proposed resolution. With her many years of experience fighting anti-Israel activities on campus, she knows what tactics work and don’t work with college students. Her most important advice is to ensure that it is students who remain most visible and vocal in the fight against the resolution. CSG is an organization of students serving the needs and wishes of students, and is not likely swayed by older adults, especially if they are not part of the campus community.
Rather than show up at tonight’s meeting with calls or demands that CSG again reject the anti-Israel resolution, the most effective way you can affect the vote is to contact the university administration asking that it issue a statement calling for its rejection and expressing concern on how the issue is polarizing the campus. You can do this by emailing U of M President Mary Sue Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling her office at (734) 764-6270. Your contact will be most effective if you convey your message respectfully.
Please know that the BDS activists have been threatening and intimidating Jewish students at the University of Michigan. BDS is nothing more than intellectually disguising age-old Jew hatred in the name of “human rights.”
if you are at a loss of words at what to write to President Coleman, I suggest you may want to take an excerpt from LA radio commentator Ben Shapiro‘s statement at a similar hearing at UCLA, where they voted against the resolution 7-5.
Here is the full transcript of his statement:
Please do not be silent. Please write the UM president at email@example.com and stand for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East which supports freedom of religion, gay rights, educational opportunities for women, and freeedom of expression,
On these snowy days I admit I have done way too much trolling on my Facebook news feed. One alarming video clip that came across my newsfeed was a very disturbing video of Fascists in France waving a red swastika flag, shouting Jews Out! Jews Out!
Do they have the right to march peacefully and express their views in a democratic society? Maybe. Have these French citizens forgotten the history of WWII when the Nazis themselves goose-stepped through the streets of Paris shouting the same hatred? Absolutely.
Today’s Germany would not stand for such hate marches, free speech or not. In fact, it is illegal to fly the Nazi Flag anywhere in Germany or have a Nazi rally.
I wonder, in this country which proposes to ban the wearing of any religious symbol or clothing, what they teach their children about religious tolerance.
A few weeks back, I had the honor of attending and covering a “Face to Faith” Journey to Judaism sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Greater Detroit. Sitting in the massive sanctuary of Temple Israel of West Bloomfield with 150 seventh graders, I felt right at home. And you know something, so did the kids. Even if they never set foot in a Jewish house of worship. Even if they never had a Jewish friend.
Cynics might wonder if such interfaith explorations organized by Detroit’s Interfaith Council really teach tolerance. But, after you watch the disturbing and disgusting video of Fascists marching down a street of what is supposed to be the world’s most civilized city shouting “Jews Out!” consider the alternatives.
Here is the article which ran in the Detroit Jewish News
What does a rabbi look like? To the uninitiated, a rabbi wears a long black coat, grows a long beard, and therefore must always be a man.
Temple Israel rabbis, teachers, and other volunteers at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield helped to dispel this and many other misconceptions about Judaism as they guided a diverse group of 150 seventh graders from six school districts through a “Jewish Religious Diversity Journey.” The trip was part of a series of explorations into different religions created by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
According to the council’s administrator Meredith Skowronski, Religious Diversity Journeys for the past 11 years has taken young leaders – 25 handpicked students from each school district – on six trips to a different house of worship to foster understanding and a celebration of cultural differences. Participating school districts include Berkeley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, West Bloomfield, and Walled Lake.
Gail Katz, a retired Berkeley teacher and the director of Religious Diversity Journeys, explained that the program fits in perfectly with the World Religions unit of the seventh Grade curriculum.
“The Journey only extends what they are learning beyond the textbook and the classroom,” said Katz as she mingled with the students during a morning icebreaker. “We strive to increase respect and understanding among all students.”
Rabbi Josh Bennett – who is clean-shaven and does not wear a long black coat – kicked off the formal component of the day of learning in the temple’s large sanctuary. Students, impressed by the large golden ark on the bimah, learned about the three different branches of Judaism and the belief in one God, learning Torah and the connection to Israel, which unites Jews across every level of observance
Later in the morning, groups of students took turns touring the building and listening to Rabbi Ariana Gordon explain the cycle of Jewish holidays, the complexity of having a Hebrew calendar that is both lunar and solar, and the odd phenomena this year that was “Thanksgivingkah.”
The students also visited the building’s mikvah and viewed an open Torah Scroll with Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny.
“These trips are an invaluable lesson where kids get a hands-on learning experience and are made to feel welcome in different houses of worship,” said Kaluzny after teaching a group about how a Torah scroll is made and written.
Over a Mediterranean vegetarian lunch prepared by Mezza of West Bloomfield and sponsored by Temple Israel, students expressed their appreciation for the program, which allows them to explore other traditions and pose questions that would seem inappropriate or uncomfortable in a classroom setting.
Ben Johnston of West Hills Middle School came away from the program with a better understanding of the different branches of Judaism and the customs and holidays his Jewish friends celebrate.
“This program is important to me because we have a diverse society,” Johnston said. “We go to school with different kinds of kids, and as we get older, these are the people we’ll go to college and work with. We must have the knowledge of their backgrounds so we can be more tolerant and understanding.”
Ben Johnston, a student at West Hills Middle school, learns about the role of a mikvah in Jewish life during a Religious Diversity Journey.
Ashley Liles and Maddy Merritt, both of Sashabaw Middle School in Clarkston, do not go to school with many Jewish kids. The program allowed them to peer into a Siddur and not feel embarrassed to ask why it opens up backwards or why the letters look different than English.
The “journey” gave them a better perspective of the history and origins of the Jewish people. Not only did it widen their understanding of Jewish holidays beyond Chanukkah, but the lesson with Rabbi Gordon also gave them a broader understanding of a holiday they would otherwise only know as a “Jewish Christmas.”
Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, displays a Torah scroll to seventh graders on a Religious Diversity Journey with the help of parent volunteer Janet Cummins of Birmingham.