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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Thanksgiving In Zimbabwe

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Seldom do I use the term “life transforming” because very few things in life are. Change is something that requires diligence, effort and even monotonous repetition. It doesn’t come cheaply.
 
But what I did this past Thanksgiving forever changed my perception of the world. As a volunteer with my good friend Glen Megill’s organization, Rock of Africa, a Christian relief effort, I traveled to Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries on earth to one of its poorest villages.
 
Joining me was my daughter Chana; my friend, the writer and radio host Dennis Prager; Dennis’s son Aaron; Glen Megill; and several Christian volunteers. We staged an outreach program preparing a Thanksgiving feast for 500 villagers. Most important, we gave them seed that can produce shima, the corn-flower mixture that is the staple diet for most of Africa and which, for $25 a year, can literally keep a family alive. The feast consisted of ten slaughtered goats and giant pots of cooked cabbage and shima.
 
It would be difficult to convey the appreciation of the villagers for one good, hot, meaty meal. The people we met were gentle, beautiful – and utterly poor. The village consisted of nothing but mud huts, the chief’s homestead included. These people have next virtually nothing. They live in tiny pen-sized huts; one we visited housed a hospitable but infirm man in his late eighties who lives with and takes care of his twelve-year-old-grandson whose parents died of AIDS.
 
Of the hundreds who came to our feast only a few were young mothers and fathers. We saw scores of young children strapped to their grandmothers’ backs in the African way. So many on this continent have already been lost to AIDS – an entire generation wiped out by a killer disease.
 
Despite these serious challenges, the people smile and exhibit unbelievable warmth. Are they happier than we in the West? I cannot say. I have never believed in the ennobling quality of poverty and I will not glamorize a life with so little. But what is undeniable is that they seemed far more satisfied, more grateful, and more content.
 
We in the West who are fortunate to be able to translate so much of our potential into something professionally and personally fulfilling are frequently plagued by an insatiable material hunger, making it challenging for us to ever find the inner peace these villagers seemed to possess.
 
As we Rock of Africa volunteers cooked and served the food, I noticed that among the villagers there was not a single finicky eater. They ate every part of the goat served them – the stomach, the intestines, the vertebrae. Food was not a luxury. It was survival itself.
 
The men and women sat apart. When the women, my daughter included, served them, they curtsied, as women do by tradition before men. If a woman does not curtsy, the man will not accept the food.
 
Most memorable were the children, who were wondrous in every way. Gorgeous, extremely polite, and exceptionally well behaved. They exhibited none of wildness common among Western kids. Hundreds of them sat in perfect rows on the floor, grateful to have a warm, hot meal. They too sang and danced for us and we danced with them.
 
The most moving part of the day was when we distributed the corn seed for the families. The chief called out the names and as they came forward for the seed they were glowing. Many of them kissed the bags as they collected them.
 
It should be mandatory to take Western kids to Africa for at least one humanitarian mission. It would help wean them from the corrosive materialism that has overtaken us and it would lead them to appreciate their blessings and share more of it with others.
 
All this was made possible because of two angels. The first is Glen Megill, the American businessman who created Rock of Africa and is one of the most righteous men I know.
 
The second is a young woman whose courage and heroism left me incredulous. Her name is Regina Jones. She’s thirty years old and from Detroit. She moved to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, four years ago after a teen life where she owned more than two hundred pairs of shoes.
 
She now lives on her own and runs the organization. She saves orphaned street children from dying of AIDS. She teaches villagers how to become self-sustaining. For our feast she went at midnight to a neighboring village, negotiated the price of the goats, rented a trailer in the morning and picked them up so the villagers could eat meat. I personally watched her lovingly lecture a man with a white beard to help out his wife more with their tiny farm.
 

No, she is not a household name and she will never be as famous as Britney Spears. But to me she was a small reminder that the suffocating selfishness of Western material culture can indeed be transcended.

 

 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network and the author most recently of “The Blessing of Enough.” Donations to Rock of Africa can be made via the organization’s website, www.rockofafrica.org.

A Word Is Worth 100 Pictures: Richard McBee Empowers The Biblical Sarah

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Paintings by Richard McBeeJanuary 18 – February 22, 2009The Chassidic Art Institute (CHAI)375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.718-774-9149, hours: 12-7 p.m.

Writing a biography of the biblical Sarah, whether in text or images, is about as easy as hunting tigers in Africa or helping Pooh chase Heffalumps and Woozles. Born Sarai, Sarah lived in her husband Abraham’s shadow. She was very attractive (as per Genesis 12:11) though barren, and seemed to have had a rebellious personality. She laughed when she was supposed to trust G-d, and even Abraham doubted the justice of her verdict to expel Hagar and Ishmael. But she silently watched Abraham identify her twice as his sister in hostile countries, about 120 miles apart, and each time she was nearly defiled by the monarch. And when Abraham set out to sacrifice her only son on a stone altar with a knife and a fire – she keeled over and never spoke (or breathed) again.

It is no wonder that painters throughout history have not even bothered with Sarah. The handful that did approach the topic only portrayed Abraham burying Sarah or the happy couple in Egypt, with Sarah standing off to the side as a supporting actress. It comes as a bit of a surprise then that Richard McBee has been obsessed with the Sarah stories for years. Not one to shy away from challenges, McBee not only tackles the Sarah stories, but he does so from Sarah’s perspective. Simply put, this is unprecedented.

Even if you are good at puzzles, you probably won’t guess that Sarah was the subject of “Sister Act.” The setting evokes the Emerald City from the Land of Oz. A man in a tuxedo at a balcony surveys a group of soldiers with bayonets and a Chassidic man hunched awkwardly to the side, perhaps swaying in prayer. A muscular man matter-of-factly places his hands on his hips as he glares at a human Jack-in-the-Box in the foreground, or more accurately, a Jill-in-the-Box.

 

 

Richard McBee. “Sister Act.” All images courtesy of the artist.

 

According to the Midrash, as told on Chabad’s website, Abraham, fleeing the famine back home in Canaan, finds his way to Egypt and hides his wife in a box so the border patrol does not abduct her. When the officials demanded taxes on the contents of the unopened box, Abraham agrees to pay the highest tax bracket (spices), which of course leads the suspicious Egyptian police to open the box and whisk Sarah (then Sarai) away to Pharaoh. McBee adapts the story in several important ways. Where Chabad claims the box was “large,” McBee’s small box adds insult to injury by requiring Sarai to uncomfortably fold herself in two, Pharaoh wears not Egyptian regal garments but cocktail attire, and Abraham wears a shtreimel instead of a turban.

The painting, which is on exhibit at the Chassidic Art Institute, is part of McBee’s newest series of paintings, which captures the story of Sarah. A second piece in the show is “Whip Angel.” Unlike the vulnerable Sarah of “Sister Act,” McBee’s “Whip Angel” finds the one tale where Sarah is empowered. Pharaoh, still clad in a tux with a bowtie, stands to the left in his penthouse apartment, as Sarah, reclining on a sofa on the high ground, directs an angel to whip the king. This follows another Midrash in which the angel, upon Sarah’s command, keeps Pharaoh from approaching Sarah. McBee’s Sarah seems only semi-comfortable with her newfound power. She holds her hand up to her heart simultaneously shocked and intrigued.

 

 

Richard McBee. “Whip Angel.”

 

Both “Sister Act” and “Whip Angel” are very complicated pieces. They clothe biblical characters in modern dress, plant them in contemporary scenes, and one includes the fantastical angel wielding a dangerous whip. It is easy to see how this sort of collage could look ridiculous, but McBee manages the unlikely combinations using the same sort of approach Chagall used to convincingly suspend bodies in the air without compromising their weight – keeping the interior spaces simple and carefully balanced. McBee’s biblical interpretations are theological and perhaps feminist triumphs, but those ideas succeed because the paintings work pictorially, first, and only then as texts.

The other works on exhibit at CHAI – which include several Sacrifices of Isaac (including “After the Akeida” which was the first of the series), Isaac blessing Jacob, several Exodus paintings, and Jacob’s dream – are a bit more straightforward than the Sarah series. One work, “God Passes By,” stands out.

 

 

Richard McBee. “After the Akeida.” 1991. 24 x 24.

 

The story derives from Exodus 33: 17-23 in which Moses asks to see G-d’s face. This is of course impossible for a living person to do, so G-d offers an alternative. Moses will stand in a rock crevice, and G-d will cover him with his palm and let Moses see his “back” as he passes by. I know of only one work that addresses this theme, a miniature by the Master of Alexander, c. 1430 in the collection of The Hague. The Alexander Master’s piece is dramatic, with Moses kneeling in front of a whirlwind.

 

 

Richard McBee. “God Passes By.” 2006. 18 x 24.

 

McBee’s painting, by comparison, is far less grand. It takes a while to even notice Moses, who is camouflaged with the rocks. G-d, of course, is nowhere to be seen, and he might have already left the scene, judging from Moses’ pensive mood. Since Moses looks out at the viewer, McBee has perhaps offered a G-d’s-eye view of the scene – another unique and controversial approach. And as in his Sarah paintings, McBee seeks psychological elements in the biblical tale rather than just telling the superficial story.

Searching for a voice for the disenfranchised requires a lot of guesswork and projection, of course. At its best, McBee’s series offers the artist’s attempts to “become” Sarah’s character – almost like the kind of conjecture an actor might undergo to perform the Sacrifice of Isaac. Even though he considers himself a feminist, McBee’s approach can hardly be anything but a masculine one, and yet he has clearly approached the subject, not only as a painter, but also as a scholar. Just as the rabbis of old sought to uncover the truths of the texts, even when that meant trying to understand biblical women, McBee’s series – with the benefit of modern, progressive eyes – is an effort in transcendence and open-mindedness. Presented with a single word from the text, McBee has created a hundred pictures.

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

Author Resurrects ‘Patterson of Palestine’

Monday, December 29th, 2008

He was Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu’s godfather. President Teddy Roosevelt counted him as a friend. And in a recently published biography, author Denis Brian calls him the father of the Israeli army. His name is Colonel John Henry Patterson.

During World War I Patterson trained and commanded the Jewish soldiers of the Zion Mule Corps and the 38th Battalion of the British army’s Royal Fusiliers, one of several battalions that comprised the Jewish Legion. Many of these soldiers, Brian argues, formed the backbone of what later became the Israeli army in 1948. “Without those men it’s almost certain that Israel would have been defeated,” Brian says.

 Greatly influenced by his wartime experience, Patterson, a non-Jew, spent the remainder of his life (he died in 1947) lobbying for the Zionist cause. He worked alongside the likes of Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who had lobbied for and then fought in the Jewish Legion; Benzion Netanyahu, the father of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieutenant Colonel Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed in Israel’s 1976 raid at Entebbe Airport; and Peter Bergson of the activist Bergson Group.

 Patterson is most famous in history for his lion-hunting exploits in Africa in 1898, which are depicted in three movies. However, what most fascinates Brian, author of The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson, is Patterson’s unusual dedication to Zionism. Brian recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: How do you explain Patterson’s love for Jews and dedication to Zionism?

Brian: He was very impressed with the Jewish soldiers he fought with and got to know. He was particularly impressed with Jabotinsky, who he regarded as a great individual as well as a great leader.

 He obviously was also brought up on the Bible, which influenced him a great deal. That, in fact, is also why many of the American presidents have been so pro-Zionist from the very start. You may not know this, but John Adams, the second president of the United States, wanted 100,00 Jews to invade Palestine and take it over. He recommended this in a correspondence with a Jewish friend.

 You write of an incident in which Patterson stood up for the honor of Jews.

 Yes, a fairly high-ranking British officer called one of his soldiers a dirty Jew.  He had his men surround the officer with bayonets and got him to apologize. Then he contacted the British government and the man was sent abroad.

Patterson worked more closely with Revisionist Zionists like Jabotinsky than Labor Zionists like Chaim Weizmann or David Ben-Gurion. Why?

 Being a military man and a historian, Patterson believed one had to fight for one’s existence. That was more in line with Jabotinsky’s idea than that of Weizmann, who felt it was more important to be diplomatic, discuss things with the British, depend on the British, etc.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote a biography of Ernest Hemingway in which I discovered that one of his books, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, was based on Patterson’s experience in Africa. Then I discovered that people didn’t know that Patterson was a man of many lives. Almost everybody thought he just had to do with lion hunting, but then I discovered that he had this Jewish link, which I found much more fascinating. I had previously written a biography of Einstein, so I knew about what was happening in Palestine at the time. So the whole thing got together like that.

You write in the book that history has not been fair to Patterson. How so?

I think that other than Harry Truman, no non-Jew has been more responsible for Israel’s existence than Patterson. Israel would not have won in 1948 without the trained leaders that came out of Patterson’s army.

 But he’s not given his due. He’s probably known to 1 in 10,000 people in Israel and to even fewer in America. Many people know of Lawrence of Arabia. Well, he was Patterson of Palestine and, in fact, Patterson had much more of an effect than Lawrence on the future of the Middle East.

Getting Past The Whatever Attitude

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008


A parent turns to her teenaged son and asks, “What’s bothering you?” “Whatever,” answers the kid with a disconsolate shrug.


 


A husband enquires of his wife, “Did I do something to upset you? Is something wrong?” Her disappointed face grimaces, “Whatever”

 

A father questions his daughter, “Have you finished your homework? Did you study for your test?” The daughter turns up the volume on her head-phones and mutters, “Whatever.”


Overheard in conversation: What should we do about the terrorism? About the starving children in Africa? About global warming? “Whatever.”

 

To me, nothing captures the spirit of the times like this ubiquitous whatever-ness. We are a “Whatever” Generation that lives by the motto of “live and let live”; our first commandment is “Thou shalt be open-minded to other people’s morals” or, alternatively, their desire to be lacking in morals. Our openness is lauded as tolerance, but to me it smells more like apathy.

 

I’ve noticed that when I ask my children what they want for dinner, I’ll never hear “Whatever”; I’ll be very specifically informed which foods they like and dislike, and how they prefer it to be cooked. But as soon as something beyond our most immediate needs is at stake, it becomes too much of an exertion to express a passionate stand, to formulate a well-reasoned opinion, or to intervene with practical assistance. So we suffice with “Whatever.”

 

The “Whatever” mindset has seeped into every facet of our society – into politics, into our schools, the workplace, our relationships, even how we dress. Youngsters and adults wear frayed cuffs, torn jeans, underclothing peeking out or pants almost falling off. Anything that screams “Whatever” (ironically, we’ll spend many hours and dollars to achieve this look of casual indifference).

 

“Whatever” means I don’t really think that you sincerely care. Even if you are concerned enough to ask, I don’t think that you’ll put forth the necessary effort to change the situation or help me improve my circumstances. So, let’s be honest: if you don’t really care about this and I certainly don’t, then why are we even bothering to discuss it?

 

So the teenager sulks silently and explores all kinds of harmful pursuits in order to forget his misery. The couple joins the 50 percent of the married population in divorce court because they couldn’t be burdened with the extensive effort necessary to work through their conflicts. And our children continue to feel that their education is irrelevant.

 

I’m not sure how this whateverness became so ingrained in our society. Perhaps it began as true tolerance for the practices of others. Maybe the media bombardment of atrocities and calamities – natural or man-caused – created within us this defence mechanism to counteract feelings of absolute helplessness in the face of so much tragedy. Or maybe it happened with the fast-paced speed of technological advancement: with the whole world our village, we sense ourselves to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

 

Regardless of its causes, this caustic apathy needs to be counteracted from the roots upward, beginning with the earliest and most formative years of our children’s lives. We must impart two basic values to our children, values that Judaism has been espousing from time immemorial:

 

The Torah teaches us that when G‑d created the first human being, Adam, He created him as a single individual (unlike every other plant or animal species). The reason, explain our sages, is that G‑d wished to teach us, for all perpetuity, the importance of every human being; that every person is indeed an entire world.

 

On the other hand, mankind was created last of all creations, on the sixth day of creation. Our sages explain that this was to teach us responsibility to our world. If a human being acts with morals and ideals, acknowledging his responsibility for the rest of creation, he is higher than all creatures. If, however, man shuns his responsibility, he has sunk lower than even the smallest insect crawling on the earth.

 

Our challenge is to inculcate our children with these essential, foundational beliefs:


You matter. You are important. You are a being with infinite potential. You are a whole world, and you can make an impact. Respect yourself. Respect who you can be. And act in accordance.

 

As great as you are, your greatness is only reflected in realizing that there are things greater than you that are worth sacrificing for: values and morals, community and family. Your personal happiness is not an end to itself, but you must feel a sense of responsibility for your world.

 

These simple but fundamental values are what distinguish us as human beings. They are essential for us to believe and for our children to trust, because there is just too much at stake, for us to abandon our children to the cruelties of an irreverent, and irrelevant, whatever world.

 

Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org  and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/getting-past-the-whatever-attitude/2008/02/13/

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