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December 2, 2016 / 2 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Holy Land’

Controversy Abounds During Pope’s Visit To Israel

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

JERUSALEM – Coming as a self-described “pilgrim of peace,” Pope Benedict XVI vowed to fight anti-Semitism and called for a Palestinian state in the moments after his arrival in Israel for a five-day visit.

But controversy marked the visit this week from the start, as the pope’s supposedly non-political trip abounded with politics and his hosts in Israel and the Palestinian Authority parsed his words with nearly Talmudic precision eyeing support for their positions.

On Monday, his first day in Israel, the pope was criticized for not being contrite enough about the Holocaust on behalf of the Catholic Church. Later he cut short an interfaith meeting of clergy after a Palestinian Muslim cleric launched a surprise attack on Israel during an impromptu address.

“I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace – peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world,” Benedict said Monday morning during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport, where he was met by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benedict would repeat that desire for peace and interfaith dialogue in every appearance in the early days of his trip, which the Vatican insisted is non-political.

But his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, sparked criticism by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who greeted the pontiff at the museum.

“I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope,” the pope said.

The cry of those killed “echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood.”

Following the visit, in which the pope did not enter the actual museum due to an exhibit that offers an unflattering portrayal of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of being silent in the face of Nazi atrocities against the Jews during World War II, Lau criticized the pope’s speech in an interview on Israel’s Channel 1.

Lau, a survivor of Buchenwald who serves as the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, lamented that while Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in his address at the museum nine years ago offered a moving personal expression of grief, the current pope did not go that far, instead offering the Church’s “deep compassion” for those killed in the Holocaust.

“I personally missed hearing a tone of sharing the grief,” Lau said. “I missed hearing ‘I’m sorry, I apologize.’ ”

Lau also pointed out that the pontiff, who is German by birth and was a member of the Hitler Youth, did not mention the Germans, or Nazis, as those who carried out the genocide, and used the word “killed” instead of “murdered” to describe how the Jews died.

And, he added, the pope never said that 6 million were killed, saying only “millions.”

Rivlin also criticized the pope.

“With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the burden he bears, as a young German who joined the Hitler Youth and as a person who joined Hitler’s army, which was an instrument in the extermination,” he said Tuesday on Israel Radio.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi fired back Tuesday, noting that the pope has denounced the Nazis and spoken of his German heritage in previous speeches, including during a visit to the Auschwitz death camp, and used the six million figure during his remarks upon arriving in Israel.

Lombardi also said four times that the pope never served in the Hitler Youth, whose members were volunteers, but that he was forced to join anti-aircraft troops against Allied aerial raids near his hometown.

The pope stopped an interfaith conference in Jerusalem after the head of the Palestinian sharia court accused Israel of killing women and children and urged the pope “in the name of the one God to condemn these crimes and press the Israeli government to halt its aggression against the Palestinian people.”

“We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage,” a papal spokesman said. “We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident.”

During a brief visit Tuesday to the Western Wall, the pope placed a handwritten personal prayer between the stones of the wall asking God to “send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family,” according to a text released by the Office of the Holy See.

Following his quiet reflection at the wall, the pope made a courtesy visit at the compound to the chief rabbis of Israel.  He had made a similar visit to the grand mufti of Jerusalem before his wall appearance.

The pope, who traveled with a 40-person staff and 70 reporters, and stayed at the papal nuncio’s residence in Jerusalem during his visit, was scheduled to visit a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem on Wednesday and Nazareth on Thursday. He was to fly back to Rome Friday afternoon on a special El Al flight.

Upon the pope’s arrival, “Operation White Robe,” which included 80,000 police officers and security guards, went into effect to protect his safety.

The pope arrived in Israel after spending two days in Jordan, where he celebrated Mass before an estimated audience of 25,000 in a soccer stadium in Amman.

On Saturday he visited Mount Nebo, from where the Bible says Moses saw the Land of Israel. The pope said the site was a reminder of “the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people.”

Benedict also visited the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman. He did not remove his shoes while visiting the mosque and engaged in silent reflection rather than prayer, according to reports. In a meeting there with Muslim leaders, the pope called for a “trilateral dialogue,” including the Church, to help bring Jews and Muslims together to discuss peace.

The pope and Peres together planted an olive tree at the president’s residence Monday afternoon, followed by a performance by a choir made up of Jewish and Arab girls joined by Israeli tenor Dudu Fisher, who sang “Bring Him Home” from the musical “Les Miserables” only minutes after the pope met with the family of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“Old divisions have aged and diminished,” Peres told the pope. “So more than the need for another armored vehicle, we need a strong, inspiring spirit to instill both the conviction that peace is attainable, and the burning desire to pursue it.”

“Ties of reconciliation and understanding are now being woven between the Holy See and the Jewish people,” he added. “We cherish this process and your leadership. Our door is open to similar efforts with the Muslim world.”


Marcy Oster

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 4/09/09

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Epilogue to Esther’s Story (Part 5)

The following letter was written by Esther on Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar, a day before she boarded her flight and left America to settle in the Holy Land…

My Dear, Dear Angel of Life, Rachel,

I started answering you early this morning (5:00 a.m.). I could not sleep. Aryeh will be here around 3:00 p.m. and I will be occupied with last-minute things. So, I decided to sit and write my last e-mail to you before I leave the USA.

Rachel, the video has been replaying in my head all night – in reverse. I see the years that have passed by, my anguish, depression and torment. But I try to set that aside and to focus more clearly on the scenes and images that have run past ever since my first letter to you, when I was desperate, broken, and unwilling to go on. You read, you understood and you responded.

Your words were like the cool waters on a tired soul and the soft balm on a sun-scorched skin. They actually lifted me from the deep pit of despair I was laying in. You drew out of my pained soul the bitterness, the desperation, and the will to die. In words as wise as King Solomon, you were able to transform the taste of death in my mouth into a tremendous shot of life’s adrenalin and the will to live, to do and to accomplish.

The fat “shopping-bag lady” I had become has metamorphosed back to the almost original self, both bodily and in a healthier soul. Your support and encouragement peeled off the skin of emotional disaster I had been wallowing in for so long. The kind words and wise advice you showered me with enabled a suicidal woman to seek out the “light at the end of the tunnel” – and what light there was, there is!

Hashem sent you as the redeeming messenger to bring me back from the living dead; the letter you printed brought my son back to me and thrust me into the warm embrace of a loving family I would have otherwise never known to exist. No amount of gratitude can ever say what lies in my heart for you.

And last but never the least – Aryeh!!! To think that had Hashem not given me the thought to finally, desperately, reach out for possible help The thought of Aryeh, the crowning jewel of my return to life and the wonderful breath of hope he has brought me this all, my dear Rachel, will forever be marked in Heaven to your credit.

I know you would have liked to see me, to hear my voice to assure yourself that I am real and you are not dreaming, but I cannot yet do that. Not yet, my dear Angel of Life, who has been there for me, with me, every step of the way to my rehabilitation. Perhaps someday in the future perhaps when I am quite old perhaps

And yes, I am real. I am alive, and I am forever thankful that you came into my life.

Stay well, my Dear Rachel. May Hashem shower you with requited love as you have done for me. Do print my entire story, if you wish. Perhaps someone, somewhere out there in our world, will be helped by reading my story, and it will have been worth it.

Shalom, Rachel, and may Hashem be with you forever and ever.


My Dear Esther,

I do not cry easily, but your heartfelt parting words have moved me to tears.

How apropos that you chose “Esther” by which to disguise your identity – a name that means “hidden.” How appropriate that the date of your departure falls on the day that heralds the month of Adar – a month that celebrates simcha, joy, at G-d’s miracles. And how utterly befitting for you to be crowned Queen by your Prince just as we prepare to commemorate our own Queen Esther.

The happiness I feel for you at this glorious turn in your life is indescribable. You are young yet and full of hope and promise for a beautiful future with a special someone at your side, one who is fortunate to recognize your beauty inside and out. Chasdei Hashem!

At this time, I must beg your forgiveness for anything I ever said in our correspondence that may have hurt you. My intention was only to drag you out of the bottomless, useless and dingy pit you were mired in.

Your praise is too profuse… I take no credit for your transformation. It was G-d’s plan, but I am nonetheless immensely touched and grateful that He allowed me to play a part in it.

From the depths of my being I wish you hatzlachah and a wonderful life filled with endless nachas, joy and fulfillment.

I understand your need for privacy, especially in light of having led a secluded existence for so long, yet I do hope we will one day meet. And who knows… maybe we knew each other in another lifetime…

Please give my best to your adoring son who has my deepest admiration for all that he has done – his kibud eim will stand him well both in this world and the next. He has proven himself to be a model son. (And a model shadchan. Clever and considerate in his strategy, he had you and Aryeh encounter one another without ceremony, keeping his motive to himself – in order to avert discomfort for either of you should nothing have come of your initial meeting.) May G-d repay his tremendous compassion as he goes on to reap much nachas from his beautiful mishpachah for many, many healthy years to come.

Wishing you and all of our readers a sweet, inspirational and meaningful Pesach. Yours, my dear Esther, is sure to be a most memorable one. I’ll be thinking of you and keeping you in my prayers…

L’Shanah Haba’ah b’Yerushalayim!


Orchards and Vineyards and Nature Divine

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Delectable, delicious, delightful – and available to us in a smorgasbord of flavors and consistencies.

Even the most finicky eater is bound to find a fruit to tickle his or her palate – juicy or velvety smooth, creamy or crunchy, sweet or tangy.

No, this is not a plug for the fruit growing industry or the latest in ice-cream concoctions. It is a birthday celebration of the sturdy and hardy tree. Why, then, wax poetic about fruit?

Anyone who has attended a birthday or anniversary bash for a respected senior figure will have noted that the accolades extended and the accomplishments cited nearly always center on the fruits of one’s labor of love. The achievement that inspires the most lavish praise is inevitably the legacy one leaves behind for future generations.

“He shall be like a tree replanted by streams of water that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaf never withers. And everything he does will succeed” (Tehillim 1:3). The Torah-abiding man will flourish just like the tree that receives its nourishment from the water by the stream, and he will garner success in all his works.

Tu B’Shevat, literally the fifteenth of the month of Aquarius, which is symbolized by the water bearer, is the New Year of the fruit-bearing tree and is celebrated by the festive partaking of its bounty.

Traditionally, the assortment will consist of three groups of ten: one is of the fruits that are eaten in their entirety, such as grapes and figs; the second is of the pitted variety, such as olives and dates; and the third group consists of the kind that have an outer layer in the form of a peel or shell, such as pomegranates and nuts.

In Song of Songs (6:11) Hashem says, “I descended to the garden of nuts.” According to Rashi’s commentary, Israel is likened to the nut, which has an unpretentious exterior but is moist, meaty and nutritious on the inside.

The verse continues, “to see whether the vine has blossomed and the pomegranates have ripened.” The vineyard is an allegorical

reference to the flowering talmidei chachamim, the pomegranate’s numerous seeds alluding to the many merits accrued by those who adhere to God’s commandments.

In the Holy Land, nature awakens during the month of Shevat, and the month’s symbol, the d’li (water pouring bucket) generously nurtures the earth’s new growth. The sign of Aquarius is associated with the Jewish people, whose immersion in the waters of Torah occurred on the first of this month when Moshe Rabbeinu began to review the oral Torah with the Children of Israel during the last year of their sojourn in the desert.

Those born under the sign of Aquarius are personable, refined and caring individuals yet are able to be emotionally detached. With a penchant for the sciences, they tend to be educators and researchers.

Moshe drew water from the well for Yisro’s daughters to water their flock of sheep, and he would later draw the life-sustaining waters of Torah to sustain his own flock, the B’nei Yisrael. Well versed in astrology, Yisro assessed his future son-in-law by his water-drawing prowess that marked him as one of the Children of Israel.

The water-carrying maiden Rivkah married our patriarch Yitzchak, their union perpetuating the nation symbolized by the water carrier.

The month of Shevat shares its element of air with the months of Sivan and Tishrei. All three months are associated with the Torah. During Sivan, the light of the Torah was revealed to us on Har Sinai, in Shevat Moshe expounded the Torah to us in the wilderness, and in Tishrei we celebrate Simchas Torah, having completed another year-long cycle of weekly Torah portions. The “air” we breathe is vital to our existence.

While Tu B’Shevat may be viewed as a relatively minor holiday event when compared to our more prominent festivals of the year, fruit figures quite significantly in just about every one of our holidays.

On Rosh Hashanah we herald a sweet new year with the fragrant apple dipped in honey. On Sukkos we are commanded to take the pri eitz hadar (the beautiful fruit of the tree), the esrog. (After Sukkos, many prepare the esrog as a preserve to be tasted on Tu B’Shevat – an ideal time to pray to acquire a beautiful esrog for the next Sukkos holiday.)

Pure olive oil is at the core of the festival of Chanukah and grapes produce the wine that gladdens our hearts on Purim. And while we pay homage to the tree by partaking of its fruit on Tu B’Shevat, we conversely celebrate the fruit’s New Year on Shavuos by adorning our homes and places of worship with the tree’s leafy branches.

” You shall eat from them and not cut them down for man is the tree of the field ” (Devarim20:19). The human being has much in common with the tree. A properly and lovingly nurtured growing environment, whether in the home or in the field, is the most inclined to produce the choicest fruit. One reaps what one sows.

The city of Nadvorna suffered an epidemic outbreak and various ordinances were enacted to prevent its spread. With the approach of Sukkos, Reb Mordechai of Nadvorna busied himself with the task of building his sukkah.

It wasn’t long before a town official called on the tzaddik and ordered him to dismantle his hand labor for lack of a work permit. When the rebbe ignored the officer and likewise paid no heed to follow-up directives, the infuriated official issued a summons for Reb Mordechai to appear before him – but that, too, was duly disregarded.

Utterly exasperated, the official was left no recourse but to confront Reb Mordechai in person, whereupon the rebbe remarked that Reb Meir of Premishlan was his great-uncle. As the unimpressed official seethed, an even-tempered Reb Mordechai began to recount the following:

There once was a Ukrainian Orthodox priest who had ten sons, all young, strong and healthy. Their father was also the owner of a magnificent garden that was bordered by majestic trees that was a sight to behold, their fragrant fruit a delight to the palate.

Overcome one day by an impulsive desire to own a field of flowers, the priest had his whim catered to by ordering the destruction of his trees. No sooner did his newly planted flowers begin to blossom than his eldest son fell ill. Bed-ridden, the young man’s condition deteriorated quickly until he died.

Precisely at that point, the next son in line became sick and similarly succumbed. The pattern repeated itself with the rest of his offspring, until only one was left alive. He too, however, soon became ill.

The priest was beside himself with grief; even the most acclaimed physicians were mystified. One of the priest’s advisers suggested that the renowned tzaddik the Rabbi of Premishlan, acclaimed for his medical miracles, be consulted.

Coming face to face with the rebbe, a bent and sorrowful figure poured out his heart and wept over the tragedies that had befallen his handsome young sons. His tenth, confined to bed, was now in imminent danger of meeting the fate of his late brothers.

“You had a spectacular orchard,” said Reb Meir of Premishlan, “but you were not content with the fruit or with their scent. Instead, a hankering for a profusion of blooms overtook your senses and you had those wondrous trees uprooted.

“You were perhaps unaware that a tree is a living entity, much like the human being. And that severing the life of a tree can exact severe penalty. You felled the living trees belonging to God, and He in turn struck down your trees.

“But I will take upon myself to pray for your youngest, and he will, God willing, survive.”

Concluding his story, Reb Mordechai of Nadvorna made a startling disclosure.

“You are that tenth son,” he told the official, “and your life was spared through the prayers of my great-uncle. Is this your way of expressing your gratitude and appreciation?”

“You speak the truth,” replied the shaken official. “The great Rabbi Meir of Premishlan saved my life. You may have your sukkah. Moreover, you may erect an additional ten if you wish.”

The Aquarian, an original thinker, is infinitely creative and far-sighted. Opinionated and outspoken, this native is yet sensitive, tolerant and logical.

The Torah extols the virtuousness of the land of Israel, which is blessed with the shivas haminim, the seven species. “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive and honey [dates] .” (Devarim 8:8). These take precedence in the varied selection of fruit which graces our Tu B’Shevat table (the sequence being: olive, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates, with some people also including wheat samples).

The verdict is still out as to which species of fruit caused the downfall of Adam and Eve and their subsequent ouster from the Garden. When the first man and woman first discovered their nakedness and in their shame sought desperately to cover up, it was the fig tree that yielded its leaves for the purpose – which is why the fig is considered by some to have been the fruit coveted by Eve.

Others are fixated on the traditional apple, but most Torah scholars believe the exalted tree, the Eitz Hadaas, that graced the center of Gan Eden grew esrogim. An esrog, after all, is high ranking in the world of fruit, its tree is said to have the same taste as its fruit, and the citron, contrary to the nature of other fruit, blooms on the tree year round.

Being that Tu B’Shevat is in essence the trees’ Rosh Hashanah, it behooves us to revisit the third day of Creation when the tree, by Divine command, made its first appearance.

Close scrutiny reveals that Hashem called into existence the fruit tree, not a tree that bears fruit. “Fruit tree” would indicate the entire tree’s edibility, the bark as well as its fruit. Indeed, Rashi attributes the tree’s mutation from its original design to be earth’s punishment for Adam’s sin of defying God’s command and consuming the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

How apropos then that on Tu B’Shevat – as we enjoy the bounty of fruit we are blessed with – we are to reflect on the sin of Adam and Eve and have in mind to rectify their transgression of eating of the forbidden fruit.

“And when you enter this land, you shall plant fruit-bearing trees. ” (Vayikra19:23).

A well-known Talmudic story teaches us about the purpose of our existence, of long-term investments, and more. The famous tale revolves around Choni the circle drawer who acquired his claim to fame when, during an agonizing and lengthy dry spell in the Holy Land, he drew a circle in the dusty earth, stood in its center and called on God to bless His people with a desperately needed rainfall. Claiming he would not move until God hearkened to his plea, he stood his ground until his prayer was answered.

Choni, the Gemara states, had long been troubled by the verse “When Hashem returned [the captives of Zion] we were like dreamers” (referring to the 70-year Babylonian exile). How, Choni wondered, could anyone actually sleep for a 70-year stretch?

Now, Choni was no mindless fool. As a tzaddik and learned man, he could surely grasp the meaning of “like dreamers.”

  The Chidushei Ha’Geonim offers a cogent interpretation: Choni, troubled by his generation’s laxity in Torah study and in the performance of mitzvos, was vexed at how people could squander a (seventy-year) lifespan in a preoccupation with meaningless objectives – “dreaming,” as it were.

  God took the edge off Choni’s persistent frustration by leading him to a scene where a man was hard at work in planting a carob tree. Since it would be decades before the tree would blossom to fruitfulness, Choni questioned the man’s motivation. The patient gardener explained that he was setting down roots for his children and grandchildren, just as his father and grandfather had done before him.

This encounter lent Choni a measure of clarity: In contrast to the man planting the carob tree who understood that by toiling in this world he would realize a return in the next world, those who had so baffled him indulged only in the self-satisfaction of the here and now as they allowed themselves to be seduced by the lure of instant gratification with nary a thought to investing their energies for future, meaningful gains.

When this realization dawned on him, Choni “sat down to eat” and “fell asleep” – a metaphoric allusion to material pursuits, symbolized by the act of eating, that induces “slumber.” He “awoke” after seventy years and found that his donkey had reproduced new herds of donkeys – an analogy to being rooted in materialism (chumriyus), which is symbolized by the “donkey” (chamor).

The endless pursuit of physical comforts versus spiritual values can lead to toxic entrenchment.

The Aquarian is at once engaging and unreachable; idealistic and romantic yet practical; intelligent, devoted and warm, yet in need of solitude and quiet time.

In all our ways, in all our days, we thrive to strengthen our emunah, our faith, in our Father above. Saying a blessing over the food we eat elevates the mundane to a spiritual plane and infuses our world with holiness. On Tu B’Shevat we are further mindful of making amends, of being instrumental in bringing about the rectification of man’s first rebellion against God.

As we pronounce the blessing and savor the fruit’s heavenly taste, we fete the tree and pray for a successful harvest. The numerical value of ilan (fruit tree) is 91, the same as that of amen – a root derivative of emunah.

“It is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it” (Mishlei 3:18).

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Rachel Weiss

A Prayer For Eretz Yisrael

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

For me, the moments before sundown every Friday evening are like a “mini” Yom Kipper. As I light my Shabbat candles, I feel that the Heavenly Court is in “session” and all who light their candles are blessed with a golden opportunity to appeal for Hashem’s mercy for relief from their troubles – whetherthey are related to health, nachas, shalom bayis, a shidduchor peace.




Our Father who is the Almighty,

We, Your children, call out to You,

For our enemies are many and virulent,

And our friends unpredictable and few.


Like malignancies, our foes terrorize us,

Fueled by a hatred attached like skin,

So fanatic in their desire to destroy us,

They gladly annihilate themselves and their kin.


We are so weary of this non-stop attrition,

For millennia, we have had no respite,

From vilification, persecutions and genocide,

We see no end in sight.


Yet though we have returned to the homeland

That You gave us for all eternity,

We have had no peace, no escape

From the bloodlust of a crazed enemy.


Day after day, year after year,

We face death, destruction and woe,

We bury our loved ones, again and again,

Tormented by foe after foe.


We lie in our beds, sleepless,

Our hearts heavy with sorrow,

Our minds are beset with great worry,

As to what horror we will face tomorrow.


We are tired. We are drained. We are worn

By the timeless suffering we have borne.

We are becoming confused and self-doubting,

By relentless defamation, slander and scorn.


The world is silent when our children are bombed,

But howl with rage when we fight back,

In their twisted eyes we are never defenders,

Just predators who initiate the attack.


Each time we protect and defend ourselves,

We are condemned by hypocritical nations,

Blood-soaked countries that have no shame

Over their past plunders, pillages and invasions.


We turn to You, the God of Mercy,

You, who we fear and adore,

Please heed our pleas and bring relief,

For our battered souls cannot take too much more.


Please give wisdom, insight and determination

To the conflicted leaders of our Holy Land,

Let all their decisions and their actions

Be guided by Your Heavenly Hand.


Let all attempts by our enemies to harm us

End in failure, be futile, and come to naught,

That You are the Shield of David

Is a lesson they must be taught.


Perhaps we are lacking in merit,

And for our troubles we are to blame,

But bless us with Your forgiving chesed,

If not for our sake, then for the sake of Your Name.


Let us bask in Your loving-kindness,

Let us sing Your praises with glee,

Let us know just peace and contentment,

Today, and for eternity.

Cheryl Kupfer

Title: Geulah B’Rachamim

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Title: Geulah B’Rachamim

Author: Pinchas Winston

Publisher: Thirtysix.org



        Geulah B’Rachamim contains 60 easily absorbed lessons about the significance of Jewish life on holy soil. Its purpose is to help Jews fulfill the mitzvot of anticipating and yearning for Geulah (Redemption).


       The overriding message presented in Geulah B’Rachamim is this: Geulah will come peacefully and pleasantly with world Jewry’s genuine desire for it.


      This goal can be expressed in many ways; one of the most important being a Jew’s personal longing to be in the Holy Land, and most certainly with actual residence there. But if we persist in staying in host Diaspora countries, where the Shechinah is in ever-decreasing supply, geulah might arrive, we have learned from experience, not so pleasantly.


    The author puts Jewish history in concise perspective: four/fifths (about 12 million) of enslaved Egyptian Jews didn’t leave with Moshe Rabbeinu. They died because they weren’t willing to leave the newfound comforts of Egypt – now that their captors had been destroyed – for a spiritual life. Six million Jews died in the Shoah in spite of their high level of Torah learning, convinced that Jewish life in Europe would last far longer than it did. It came instead to a horrific end, begging the question “Did we stay too long again?”


    When every leisurely stroll – or even a cough – in the Holy Land earns a heavenly reward, the significance of Parshat Balak and aliyah take on dramatic meaning. As the author rhetorically asks readers, “Should we not be mindful of how long we’ve lived in a particular place in the Diaspora? Do we really have a choice, when staying too long always means losing everything which we worked so hard to build up?”


     These delightful thoughts from Torah and related commentaries are among those included in this 198-page paperback sefer:  “Once Mashiach comes, and evil has been completely eradicated, then the light of God can increase daily for everyone and the pleasure of receiving it will be tremendous Sadness, depression and all unfortunate states of mind will never exist again.”


     “As with many important things in life, context counts for a lot when it comes to appreciating current events Hence the Torah tells us “Remember the days of old, understand the many generations that have passed. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders will say it to you (Devarim 32:7)” (p. 36).


    Read what the Abarbanel predicted about life in Israel as the “righteous shoot of redemption” (p. 199) and kvell while planning your aliyah.


    This book holds more gems of Jewish thought about the commandment to reside in Israel.  


    Learn more about Geulah B’Rachamim at www.thirtysix.org. 



     Yocheved Golani is the author of highly acclaimed “It’s MY Crisis! And I’ll Cry if I Need To: ALife Book for Helping You to Dry Your Tears andCope with a Medical Challenge” (Booklocker Publishing). 

Yocheved Golani

Title: Army Fatigues

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Title: Army Fatigues

Author: Mark Werner

Publisher: Devora Publishing




Mark Werner’s engaging text about serving in Israel’s international volunteer military brigade Sar-El (a.k.a. Sherut LeYisrael) is a fun read. Werner clues readers into Israeli slang, military terminology and the stuff of daily life while portraying his work on military bases with “you are there” dynamism in his prose. Werner’s visits to friends and family plus his scenic outings are equally as vivid.


Here’s a look at some of the action in the memoir that readers will probably enjoy: Lifting metal rods to make order of mismanaged hangars, hacking at flammable undergrowth in order to minimize danger to buildings that house combustible munitions, and admirably coping with other hard labor under primitive conditions.


Finessing personality quirks among military commanders and non-military acquaintances is also part of the fun while the author and his Sar-El colleagues relieve active-duty soldiers from scut work. You’ll feel as if you’re alongside the author throughout his well-reported tale.


Educational, entertaining reading, Army Fatigues has one glaring fault. Despite the compassionate hard work that the author invests into his volunteerism, Werner’s insights into the political realities of Israel are discolored by his incomplete knowledge of why a Holy Land exists in the first place.


Gush Katif was not destroyed for altruistic reasons. Arabs do not kill unarmed civilians and everyone else in their crosshairs because they need employment skills or because the Oslo Accords failed. The lines of decency crossed in Israeli society are derelictions of Jewish duty, not charming likenesses of other societies and locales.


        And Israelis have not been well served by political “leaders.” The evidence lies in many graves.


Non-observant of halachah, uneducated about the G‑dly mandate to live in the Holy Land, Werner relies on moral relativism and personal opinion rather awareness of the Jewish destiny. Altruism, the Holocaust, the lie foisted upon the world as Palestinian peoplehood and poorly informed personal opinion (see the Introduction, page 131, and numerous remarks throughout the text respectively) serve as Werner’s rationales for his attachment to Israel and his sense of how Israeli life should proceed.


Werner and other Sar-El volunteers are good guys helping overworked, demoralized soldiers while saving Israel’s government lots of money. But the author needs clarity about fundamental facts on the ground.


We’re not Jewish or focused on Israel because of the Holocaust even if a deceased father such as Werner’s was one of its Jewish heroes. The Jews-to-Israel relationship dates back thousands of years: Jews are commanded to be here. Failure to comply is not an option. Parshat Shlach proves the consequences of failing to absorb that Zionist reality. We’re still paying the price for that mistake. Army Fatigues illustrates the enduring nature of misplaced Jewish loyalties.


The land is very, very good. Forgive the name-dropping, but G‑d said so through Calev and Yehoshua. End of story.


Yocheved Golani is the author of highly acclaimed It’s MY Crisis! And I’ll Cry If I Need To: A Life Book for Helping You to Dry Your Tears and Cope with a Medical Challenge (Booklocker Publishing).

Yocheved Golani

‘To The Land That I Will Show You’: Mapping The Holy Land

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Imaginary Coordinates

Now through September 7, 2008

Spertus Museum

610 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago



Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972) imagines a dialogue between the explorer Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Khan. The young Polo captures the aged Khan’s attention with his vivid descriptions of his travels, and though the ruler appears to be living vicariously through the young traveler’s adventures, it quickly emerges that Khan and Polo share no common language. There is no way of knowing whether Polo’s gesticulations and drawings in the sand actually convey anything to Khan, and even if they did, Polo’s tales are based on fictive (or “invisible”) cities rather than true cartographic ones.


Polo’s accounts of the 55 invisible cities are so innovative, because maps are generally thought of as pragmatic tools that stand or fall, based on their ability to successfully and coherently decipher actual spaces and teach strangers how to navigate those places. Yet, as the Spertus Museum’s exhibit “Imaginary Coordinates” shows, maps as tools for steering are relatively modern inventions.


“The central understanding that maps have less to do with landscape than with the intention of their makers and that they are produced within socially manufactured contexts is the starting point of this exhibition, whose chief purpose is to explore the limits of mapping; what or who remains absent from the map; and where, if not on the map, this difference might be found and recognized,” writes Rhoda Rosen, the director of the Spertus Museum, in the catalog.


Heinrich Bunting’s woodcut map “Die ganze Welt in einem Kleberblat” (1581), which appears in the Spertus show, depicts the world as a three-leafed clover, with Jerusalem (spelled “Ierusalem”) in the central position. The leaves represent Europa (including Roma, Italia, Hispania, Germania, and Graecia), Africa (including Lybia, Aethiopia, and Caput Bonae), and Asia (including India, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Armenia, and Mesopotamia). A cropped American continent lies in the bottom left corner of the map, while a boat and three fish occupy the oceans, whose waves resemble a cross between many pairs of lips and lightning bolts.



Shirley Shor. “Landslide” (2004). Sandbox, custom software, projector. The Jewish Museum, New York, Promised gift of Jane and Ishaia Gol. Courtesy of Moti Hasson Gallery, New York.



In the clover formation, Bunting betrays his birthplace, and indeed the full text above the map reads, “Die ganze Welt in einem Kleberblatt welches ist der Stadt Hannover meines lieben Vaterlandes Wapen” (“The Whole World in a Cloverleaf, Which is the Coat of Arms of Hannover, My Dear Fatherland,” translation by Naomi Verchovsky).


Though Bunting’s map would prove fairly useless to a traveler trying to get from point A to point B, Shirley Shor’s “Landslide” (2004) would not even strike most viewers as a map to begin with, if it did not appear in an exhibit about maps. Shor, an Israeli artist born in 1971, creates her “map” by projecting patterns (via a mirror) onto a sandbox. The projection initially looks like a very colorful game of Tetris or an abstracted puzzle or funky camouflage. But as the projection unfolds, the colors gradually overtake each other until the projection is just two colors – more closely resembling two bordering countries on a map.



Palphot, Herzeliyah, Israel. Refrigerator Magnet with Map of Israel, c. 2007. Plastic, printed paper, magnet, mercury; 56 × 56 mm. Spertus Museum, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, Chicago.



Other maps like “Rabbinical Map of the Holy Land,” published in 1545 based on a map Rabbi Eliae Mizrachi, offer visions of biblical landscapes. According to the “Imaginary Coordinates” catalog, the “so-called Rabbinic or Rashi map” is based on “boundary drawings” created by Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (French, 1040-1105), also known as Rashi (an acronym for “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki”), “to help elucidate and illustrate biblical geography.” The rectangular map, labeled in English and in Hebrew, depicts the Red Sea as a pair of parallel horizontal lines on the bottom of the map. The rest of the map tracks the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the places they camped, including: Kadesh Barnea, Etham, Succoth, and Rameses.


Yet, if the Israelites’ trip truly followed the Rashi map, they would have walked south from Egypt, turned left and continued on an eastern path at a 90 degree angle to their original direction, and then again turned 90 degrees and walked north again. (The entire trip would assume the form of the letter ‘J,’ composed from bottom to top.) This map, though it does use biblical places, does not follow actual geography, and must therefore be viewed as a religious and perhaps symbolic statement, rather than a scientific one. The creator of the map succeeds in debunking the view that the Jews actually crossed the Red Sea (they actually followed a horseshoe-shaped path, doubling back to the original side), but all other aspects of the map are symbolic and literary.



Heinrich Bünting (German; 1545-1606). “Die ganze Welt in einem Kleberblat (The whole world in a clover leaf).” From a translation of Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae. Woodcut; 225 × 360 mm. Mark R. Pattis, Highland Park, Illinois.



Bunting’s, Shor’s, and Rashi’s blends of mapmaking all illustrate how complicated it is to translate three-dimensional space into art without projecting one’s nationality (like Bunting) and without choosing symbolism over actual landforms (Rashi). But Shor’s sandbox map arrives at another controversial aspect of mapmaking that specifically applies to mapping the Holy Land: where are boundaries placed, and who gets to place them? Are not all maps, Shor might wonder, just projections upon sand which knows no boundaries or borders?


This slippery application of boundaries surfaces in Abraham bar Yakov’s 1711-1712 copperplate engraved map of Israel in an Amsterdam Haggadah. Bar Yakov, a German whom the Spertus catalogue presumes to be a convert to Judaism delineates the boundaries of the tribes in his map, which is a copy of Christian van Adrichom’s 16th century map. Bar Yakov places his own mark on the landscape by introducing Hebrew and editing out all of van Adrichom’s references to Christianity and the New Testament. The 18th century map is also a collage of different phases of history (Abraham’s tent and Jonah and the whale make appearances, even as the land is separated by tribe, and thus dates at earliest to Joshua’s life). But even the land dividing is guesswork, for the Bible only offers cities as guides, but never actual borders. Bar Yakov improvises the actual boundaries, much like the Jews in Joshua’s time, no doubt, had to create the actual borders.


The Spertus show gets even more controversial in its exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it unfolds across the Holy Land. There is perhaps nowhere more at stake in maps and mapmaking than there is in the Middle East, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims all turn to their scripture to claim the land. Spertus includes Palestinian maps in “Imaginary Coordinates” in an effort to show how different nations and religious groups view the Holy Land and its boundaries.


Some viewers will see a moral or religious relativism in this curatorial move, and others will see an anti-Israel move in the decision to show Palestinian maps. Perhaps the curators intended to legitimize all sorts of maps of the region and to question who holds the correct maps. But these questions are beside the point and it would be wrong to judge the entire show on political or religious grounds.


Spertus has to be commended for bringing attention not only to controversial maps, but also to the ways in which all maps carry invented components. Not every map is propaganda per se, but neither can they be trusted to approach land from an objective standpoint. In this light, every map in the show ought to be examined (indeed admired) from a skeptical distance.


A final story illustrates this point. At the end of a tour of the show that she led, Amanda Friedeman, museum educator, revealed that the museum had to take steps to disrupt the reflective aspects of the windows in the museum’s gorgeous, new building, to prevent the many birds that migrated off Lake Michigan from flying straight into the glass. The birds needed help to prevent them from blindly carrying on into a mirage, but viewers who spend time with the many maps in the Spertus show will never take what they see for granted on their next trip.


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.   

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/to-the-land-that-i-will-show-you-mapping-the-holy-land/2008/06/12/

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