If you love Eretz Yisrael, you must also feel overwhelmed by a sense of frustration. Why is Israel demonized all over the world? Why has she become the new source for the age-old canard of anti-Semitism? And why is it that Israel cannot present itself in its true light? The question is all the more puzzling, since we, the Jewish people, are renowned for our fidelity to justice, righteousness and truth. And more so, how is it that Israel has such dismal, horrible PR? How is it that we, who are masters of language, are so inept at imparting the glorious history and priestly calling of our nation? After all, we are the "People of the Book." Who, if not we, should be able to address the nations of the world and communicate our true essence?
Are you one of those people who were outraged at the bias, the libel and the naked hatred evidenced in the Goldstone Report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland? Were you stunned by the blatant lies? Were you left shocked and speechless at the sad realization that the author of this venomous report was Goldstone - yes, a Jew!
In last week's column I published a letter from a young woman who was raised in an assimilated, Reform home, but something in her soul always yearned to make a connection with Hashem and her Jewish roots. Unfortunately however, despite the fact that she grew up in a predominantly Orthodox community in New York, no one reached out to her. None of her neighbors ever thought of inviting her for a Shabbos meal, to shul, or their sukkah, and the yearning in her heart remained unfulfilled. And so it was that she became easy prey for an evangelical missionary who enticed her into being baptized and joining a Messianic Christian sect.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis, I have wanted to write you for a long time because you helped me in such a profound way. I am so very thankful for your work, your message, your books, and your unapologetic call to all Jews to return to our Torah and heritage.
Special Note: The author of the following letter is well- known to me. He is a trustworthy young man who had an impressive secular education in the States and gave it all up when he became a ba'al teshuvah and decided to pursue a life of Torah learning in Jerusalem. His wife, who comes from a fine American family that made aliyah many years ago, is equally committed. I know them and can vouch for them. I also know for a fact that this young man is a serious, sincere "learner" whose parents experienced tremendous financial reversals and are not in a position to help in any way, shape or form.
We sat down for the Shabbat meal at our friends' home in Yerushalayim. The table was beautifully set, but it was the centerpiece - a simple vase bursting with flowers - that caught my eye.
For many years Hineni has had the zechus of holding Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur davening in the beautiful ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. As if by magic, we quickly transform the banquet room into a majestic synagogue. By the time the Aron Kodesh is in place, one has difficulty remembering that just hours earlier, this was a wedding hall.
This story is testimony to what happened to some Jewish children during and after the Holocaust. It should be told for one purpose: to remember what the Christian convents did to our children, namely how they kidnapped them and converted them to Christianity.
"Happenings" are not every-day events. There are classes, programs, seminars and lectures - but happenings that leave an indelible mark on the mind, heart and soul are rare. During this past Aseret Y'mei Teshuvah (the 10 preparatory days before Yom Kippur), we of Hineni were "zocheh" - had the merit - to experience a happening that was nothing short of a Kiddush Hashem - Sanctification of G-d's Holy Name, and for that I would like to publicly proclaim my total gratitude and indebtedness to the Almighty G-d.
Truth be told, Hadassah dreaded answering the doorbell. She knew that it was probably a charity collector, and her financial situation was precarious. She had just received a letter from Countrywide Mortgage. If the mortgage on her home in Morristown were not paid by August 12, the house would be placed in foreclosure.
In my last column, I published a tragic letter from a young woman who, after a painful bout with terminal illness, departed from this world. She attributed her plight to her abandonment of the Torah way of life, specifically to the laws of tznius. Her letter evoked much response. One of the writers wrote that she had a similar experience, but Baruch Hashem, with a positive ending. She too, had been rebellious, she too, had turned a deaf ear to the pleas of her family, but she never had to struggle with illness. Her sister however (an embodiment of everything that a yeshiva girl should be), was in a very serious car accident and had to undergo several surgical procedures and rehab, which plagued her with feelings of guilt and made her feel somehow responsible.
My daughter was sitting at work one day when she heard the loud boom of a car accident right outside her office. She, together with many of her coworkers, ran out to see what had happened. Lo and behold, my daughter's parked car was hit from behind, causing it to hit the parked vehicle in front of her. Suddenly, she was inadvertently involved in a three-car accident. The police eventually came, took down the report, and her car was scheduled to be towed for repairs.
Special Note: In last week's column I published a tragic letter from a young Israeli girl who was at death's door. Subsequently, I received much e-mail in response to her painful cry, and I will share one of them with you. Next week I will respond to the letters.
Special Note: A young girl, struggling with the Angel of Death, wrote the following letter. At her request, the letter was sent to many rabbis and rebbetzinsin a position to disseminate her message among our people. Tragically, she is no longer here to see her letter published, but as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, her neshamah will surely have an aliyah in the knowledge that her request has been fulfilled and her message read and taken to heart by many.
When I was considering making aliyah, I was aware of how challenging the move might be, especially since much of my family stayed behind in the U.S. But the deep longing to be in Israel was too strong. It was like a giant magnet pulling on my soul, until I finally let go and came home.
The man walked slowly into the beit midrash. He glanced around and found an empty seat next to my son, Rafi. So began a very special relationship.
You may recall that not too long ago, after returning from a tour of Europe where I spoke in a different country every day, I wrote in this column that Europe 2009 is reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Europe. Anti-Semitism is once again raising its sinister, ugly head, not only in Europe, but throughout the world, and we, the Jewish people, are sleeping, even as we did in the early 30s.
This past Lag B'Omer, I received a precious gift. It is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The people who gave me the gift were unaware of their action, but I will be forever grateful to them.
A few weeks ago, while I was in Yerushalayim, we had the privilege of premiering our new film, "Hineni's Triumph of the Spirit." The Jerusalem Plaza, where the film was screened, had lines that snaked up the stairs and through the lobby. Over 1,000 people had gathered; unfortunately we couldn't accommodate everyone. People were standing and sitting on the floor, but you could have heard a pin drop as the story unfolded. The film depicts my family's experiences during the war years - Hungary, prior to the Nazi occupation, the ghettos.... and our deportation to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
In preparation for the Yamim Noraim, last week I focused on Mitzvos bein Adam L'Chavero - interpersonal relationships that are often overlooked, such as the escalation of chutzpah, that has become emblematic of our society.
There's a popular adage that tells us not to sweat the small stuff. I always thought that it meant we should not make an issue out of insignificant incidents that impinge on our kavod. When we are victims, we should categorize all this as "small stuff" and the best way to deal with it is to forgive, forget and move on.
With every passing day our world becomes more menacing. Events are unfolding so rapidly that we can't absorb them. The news is mostly ominous, be it local or international, situations are occurring that could not possibly have been anticipated.
Three years ago, I fell down a flight of stairs while holding my 16-month-old granddaughter. While she, Baruch Hashem, did not have a scratch, I unfortunately became totally paralyzed. After three weeks of physical therapy in the hospital and six months of outpatient therapy, I was able to recover about 75 percent of my mobility. I had some residual damage, but I learned to live a normal life - driving, working and doing whatever was necessary. I never complained because I was thankful that Hashem had saved my granddaughter and me.
Our Sages teach, "There is no comparison between hearing and seeing." To be in Eretz Yisrael is not only to pray at the holy sites or go touring, but to be in Eretz Yisrael also demands that we express solidarity with our beleaguered brethren, and demonstrate our support so that they may know that we are with them.
I have just returned from Eretz Yisrael. Hineni tours are life-transforming experiences - those who are secular become Torah committed, and those who are already observant reach a new plateau in their emunah and love of Hashem. The change commences from the moment we set foot in the Holy Land.