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It’s true. My Zionism was made in China. I grew up in New Jersey in a town that was nearly one third Jewish. Everyone on my street was Jewish. Half my soccer team was Jewish. In Synagogue, my Cantor infused every message with Zionism, as did his wife and children. To my parents this was pure mishugas.
My parents loved Israel for the refuge it provided for those other Jews who were desperate for a place to go. They spoke of how it saved Holocaust victims who had been turned away at every port in the world. They sent money to aid the Russian Refusniks as they looked toward Zion. They answered pleas to help African Jewish refugees, settling in Israel, who also had nowhere else to go.
It was a refuge for others, not for us. Our family legends were of settlers who made it to America from Russia on the eve of the Russian Revolution, with the Cossacks at their heels. We were living in the promised land of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States. On Passover we didn’t conclude our Seder with, next year in Jerusalem. “Next year in Boca Raton,” we would shout, tongue-in-cheek.
I went to Hebrew School, Jewish camps, Jewish youth groups and as a family we collectively helped raise money for Jewish Federation. The Bnai Brith Guide to University was our bible; only schools where Jewish students numbered in the double digits were relevant to us. So I ended up at school in New York where nearly 20% of the students were also Jewish. There was a Judaic Studies Department and a kosher kitchen for students who needed it. I was well on my way on the path to finding the future Jewish doctor of my grandmother’s and mother’s dreams. He was right here in New York, not in Israel plowing the fields of some kibbutz.
To my grandmother’s dismay, I never did find that Jewish doctor and instead had ambitions of my own. I went on to law school. In law school, I was president of the Jewish Law Student’s Association. I navigated through Jewish Washington D.C with ease in my Jewish world. I went on to complete a fellowship program with the Anti-Defamation League in New York.
My Zionism remained in my pocket, unexamined and unused. I never was asked, in my Jewish world, to prove my love for Israel. I never put a label on myself nor saw the need to. As a Diaspora Jew, I was fairly comfortable with the distance my family carefully formed between us and Israel.
It was not until recently, well into my thirties, that Zionism even entered the conversation. I finally made my first (and second and third) trip to Israel. We now alternate summer holidays from Hong Kong between the United States and Israel.
As editor of a Jewish magazine based in China, at every cocktail party and public event, I am asked to defend Israel (at least I can now say that I have been there). This conversation always seems to immediately follow the customary, “How long have you lived here and what do you do?” I explain that while I am Jewish, I am not Israeli. I have begun to understand that to most people here there is simply no distinction between the two. The terms are interchangeable.
Recently, at a dinner party, I was questioned about the legitimacy of the settlements. I tried to again draw a distinction between a Jew and an Israeli. I tried to explain that I was certainly not an Israeli government spokesperson. I looked at the Indian and Chinese faces around me, waiting for a response. I was a spokesperson. I began to give a carefully self-edited response. One Indian gentleman interrupted, “Are you a Zionist?”
Again, silence. I had never been asked the question before. What was his definition of a Zionist? What was mine? What impact would my response have? Everyone continued to stare, glasses of champagne in hand.
I took a deep breath and a drink. “Yes, of course I am. I am a Zionist,” I offered hesitantly. My husband glanced over just as the crowd dispersed. I tell him later that evening that I was put on the defensive. I felt funny about my declaration, unexpected and still unexamined. It is weighty and stays with me.
I hear my seven-year old daughter tell her friend that Israel and the US are her homes. I ask her why Israel. “Because Israel is the homeland of all the Jewish people,” she unabashedly responds. Being raised as an expat in a foreign country means her understanding of home isn’t bound by a definition of where you live, it can’t be. It is a place you return to, somewhere that is somehow part of you.
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Yet all are part of one neshamah, planted in rich, verdant soil, determined to grow. May our garden continue to produce a glorious assortment of flowers and trees, each attached firmly to its roots. Our diverse southern vegetation flourishes and grows into different trees, flowers, and fruits, and a rainbow of glorious shades and hues appears. Yet each shoot is rooted in the same soil, stretching its branches and blossoms heavenward in an endless pursuit of growth and connection to the One above.
This past Lag B’Omer, we were blessed to make our first upsherin, where we celebrate our son’s first hair cut. It’s a wonderful milestone that mimics the three years that we refrain from plucking a tree’s first fruits and symbolizes the entry of the child into the world of Torah learning. It’s a clear sign to everyone; this boy is no longer a baby.
Although there are more direct and faster routes to Beer Sheva and Eilat and all the sites and towns in-between, the Basor River is one of the beauties of the Negev that defiantly justifies a diversion.
The importance of death customs has been ingrained in me since birth. When I served as a shomeret for my grandmother, I was instructed not to eat, drink or perform a mitzvah in the same room. In the shock of death, it seemed rather inane to be told it would be considered mocking the dead. My grandmother was gone; she couldn’t do those things because she didn’t exist anymore, a fact that still makes me tear up.
I would have to say that one of the most annoying things about having a newspaper advice column, aside from all these people writing to me and asking for advice, is that they frequently don’t tell me WHY they’re asking.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, who passed away on 28 Tammuz, (July18) this year at age 102, spent all of his days and most of his nights learning Torah. He was the paramount leader of our generation, and inspired tremendous awe and reverence in everyone who knew him. Now, every woman has the stunning opportunity to do something in his memory. A Sefer Torah is being written in his memory and women around the world have the chance to dedicate a letter.
Due to her family situation, it is understandable that she will have more responsibilities than other girls her age, but she would benefit from having some free time and receiving more appreciation for her hard work.
For children, summer means outdoor sports, picnics, and of course, no school! Teachers and students work hard all year long – and everyone deserves a break from education over the summer. However, this two-month break can often have some pretty devastating consequences.
It was only after we celebrated the great news that we were expecting twins that we saw the first sign of problems. First of all, my wife was losing, not gaining weight, even as the babies continued to grow normally. Soon after, routine blood work revealed that my wife was suffering from gestational diabetes.
Rabbi Pinchas Gruman is the new rav of the Minyan at Aish Tamid.
One of the most respected Torah figures in Los Angeles, Rabbi Gruman has been described as “The Los Angeles link in the mesorah of the yeshiva world” by Rabbi Nachum Sauer. As a talmid in Lakewood in the 1950s, Rabbi Gruman received semicha from Rav Aaron Kotler, zt”l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles.
Another tree is down.
I’m driving down Lakewood Avenue, figuring that maybe, just maybe, the tree that blocked the middle of North Lake Drive has been removed, and I can go through. After all, they had a whole day. I’m sure things have been taken care of.
In the quaint and picturesque Hungarian town of Szentendre (Saint Andrew), just outside of Budapest, our group of five new friends who had gathered from throughout the Jewish world bask in the sunlight, seemingly frozen in time. We weave along the cobblestone streets browsing in and out of charming little shops offering handmade crafts, delicate latticework, whimsical wooden toys and intricately painted porcelain. We sit outside and feast on pastries that look more like art than edibles and ice coffee is reminiscent of ice cream floats.
It started as my daughter’s third grade assignment: choose a person to write about, preferably an American, preferably a Jew. We were going to do just that. I intended to help my daughter choose the topic and then to back away yet, Emma Lazarus ended up drawing me in.
I met Mr. E at a poetry reading. Hong Kong’s literary scene is small and two Americans reading in one evening was an unusual event. We became Facebook friends, generally “liking” the same local literary events and book launches.
A Hong Kong symphony of sounds fills the air as local laborers shout across the shul courtyard in Cantonese while tossing bamboo in a pile for the sukkah: Filipino maids chatter in Tagalog hovering over the children in their charge, the radio of the Nepalese gurkhas, the Synagogue security, crackles and jackhammers provide the background music. The thick air and humidity within the walls of the partially constructed bamboo sukkah sharply contrasts with the crisp fall air of Sukkot in the northeastern corridor of the United States, where the sukkahs of my childhood were laden with dried fruit and autumn color. Dozens of colorful miniature Chinese paper lanterns dangle from the sukkah and here replace the burnt orange and golden gourds of autumn.
In an effort to procrastinate, I occasionally like to bounce some ideas around. As I work from home with only my two cats for company, this often means waiting until my children return home from school.
Hong Kong’s Ohel Leah Synagogue recently celebrated the dedication of a new Sefer Torah. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Lady Elaine Sacks joined Rabbi Asher Oser and Assistant Rabbi Ariel Zamir of Ohel Leah at the festivities. Also present were Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon of Chabad of Hong Kong, Rabbis Meir Azarzar and Avner Cohen from the Shuva Israel community, and the sofer, Rabbi Yehonatan Yitzhak-Halevy. Hundreds of members of the Hong Kong Jewish community participated as well.
Pesach means bite-sized sweet kidney mangos and the return of the longon. Shavuot brings back the pomelo. Chanukah means miniature Mandarin oranges. And its always star-fruit for Rosh Hashanah. While our palates might have changed, along with our knowledge of Southeast Asian fruit, when it comes to Pesach it’s really all Osem and Yehuda Matzot for us.
A traditional Purim in Hong Kong requires an obligatory visit to Pottinger Street in the bustling Central District. Also known locally as Stone Step Street, Pottinger Street is more of a steep, irregularly paved pedestrian stone path (with steps too small for Western feet) than a street. My children run ahead up the stone slabs as I carefully balance my size nine feet on the thin, uneven stairs. My five year old stumbles but quickly recovers and catches up to the big kids.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/zionism-made-in-china/2011/01/20/
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