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July 30, 2015 / 14 Av, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish History’

The Brave Soldier from Auschwitz

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

My late father was a survivor of Auschwitz.  He arrived there as a young Hassid from a Jewish village in Poland, and he left as he had arrived, with his faith intact, and with an awareness that following the Holocaust, he must not be tempted by the offers of the JDC and HIAS to travel to America.  As he put it one of the few times he broke the long silence that characterized his life: “The time had come to go home.”

He went to fight in the War of Liberation, although my mother, who had survived the ghettos, already was carrying me in her belly.  They had made a decision to build a family together, and were married by a British military rabbi in a Cyprus detention camp for Jews who attempted to break the British blockade of the Land of Israel.

Upon arriving here in Israel he was immediately conscripted and sent to infantry training and then to serve at Haganah positions.  He left my pregnant mother in a village in the north with other families that had come from the gloom of the Diaspora and forged a community of Hassidic laborers out of its wreckage.

Alongside him served other survivors.  The cynics among them would later laugh about those days of “Yiddish soldiers” whose maneuvers were executed in exquisite Yiddish that to my ears sounded like a Dzigan sketch.   I remember their reminiscences about mortar-firing exercises accompanied by otherwordly orders straight out of the shtiebl.  “Arise, Reb Yechiel—honored with the firing of one bomb!”

As much as this was a Hassidic community, it was a Zionist one, at once hard-nosed and idealistic.  Its members took Independence Day with the utmost seriousness, and recited the formal blessing over the Hallel prayer.  “Anyone who wasn’t there has no business telling us not to say a blessing,” Daskal, the synagogue manager, once said to me.  He would later lose his son Ya’akov, a brilliant yeshiva student, when he fell with two fellow students in a terrorist ambush in the Jordan Valley.

There was no quibbling with decisions as to who was called up for duty.  Encounters at the shtiebl between Torah students and fighters lacked the tension that is there today.  There was agreement that everyone was on a mission, whether a military mission or one of Torah.

“A Head with Tefillin”

It was the first day of the Yom Kippur War.  We were in the middle of the Mussaf prayer, and I was there in my commanding role in the Hassidic choir as we sang “Be with the mouths of your people the House of Israel.”

My mother, who had been informed well in advance that two consecutive calls were due cause to pick up the phone on a Shabbat or holiday, arrived at the synagogue and hurried me out.

“I think they’re calling from your unit,” she said nervously.

Before saying goodbye to me, the old Hassidim sent me to receive a blessing from the rebbe of the neighboring shtiebl, who was considered a miracle worker.  He too had come from there.

With the convulsions of war and the battles, I moved around between various units so as to stay on the front.  As time went on, as would be expected of me, I lost more and more of my equipment—but not my gun or my tefillin.

My gun—granted, but tefillin?  To understand that you have to know a story from my youth.

One day in yeshiva I received a package of cookies from my mother, accompanied by an agitated letter from my father.

“My dear son,” he wrote in the rugged handwriting of a manual laborer, “you know what ‘a head without tefillin’ is.  But the head of the yeshiva has informed me that you missed putting on tefillin one day!”

He continued, adding that in Auschwitz there were no tefillin, until in 1943 a certain group of Hungarian Jews arrived.  When he heard that they had a pair of tefillin, he began crossing the fence that separated him from them very early each morning to put on tefillin for a moment and say “Shema.”

“Let this deed not seem trivial to you,” he wrote in Diasporic Hebrew.  “It was a very difficult thing to do, it was cold, and I stood the risk of missing the distribution of rations—and someone who missed receiving food for one day was in danger.  Nevertheless, this was [serving God] ‘with all your means.’”

When I came home I wanted to hear more of the story.  Was the fence electrified?  It wasn’t every day that he opened up, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

“What was, was,” he said definitively.  “That is all.”

“But wasn’t your life at risk?!” I said deviously.  “Is it really permitted to risk your life in order to perform a mitzva?”

That already was a halakhic discussion.  He responded.

“True.  As soon as I saw that other Jews were copying me and waiting on line, I stopped.”

I took this story with me to every war.  Before beginning a day of forced labor, a Jew goes and finds other Jews like him waiting at dawn on a long line to put on tefillin.  Just so they would not have “a head without tefillin,” as the Talmud puts it.  How then could I not be sure to put on tefillin every day?

Still, the Lebanon War came and, as luck would have it, my tefillin remained in the APC behind the lines with the rest of my equipment, while I was in the alleys of Baabda at the entrance to Beirut, part of the first battalion to arrive there.  A few inquiries later a pair of tefillin was found for me, and I went to the side, dressed in tefillin and talit.

Suddenly an Arab couple appeared, a man and woman dressed in their finest.  They drew closer, heading straight for me.

I pulled my gun out of the folds of the talit.

“Rifa ayadikum!” I ordered in Arabic.  “Put your hands up!”

As they stood there opposite me, their hands aloft, the man made a gesture to his wife with his raised hand.

“Marati!” he exclaimed.  “Yahudi.”  “She is a Jew.”

“Prove it,” I countered.  “What does it say inside this box?” as I pointed in the direction of my forehead.

“Shema Yisrael,” she answered, lowering one hand from above her head, covering her eyes, “Hashem elokeinu, Hashem echad.”

“Uchtei anta,” I said.  “You are my sister.”  Her eyes were moist.  I think mine were, too.

I could feel my father standing there with me, and his fathers as well.

“How great tefillin are,” I thought.  “They connect different worlds and different generations.  If I hadn’t been wearing them, the lost daughter who married a Christian man might not have dared approach the enemy invaders.  She might never have reconnected with her family in Bat Yam.”  Now, as she told the story of her family members with whom she had lost contact when they departed for Israel, the connection was renewed.

One good deed leads to another.  I don’t know what happened to that woman, but maybe, just maybe, her earth-shattering “Shema Yisrael,” together with the prayers for the safety of our soldiers, gave us the boost we needed in the ensuing battles.

A Dream

I have a strange occupation: I attend funerals and memorial services.  After a recent funeral, I had a dream in which my father appeared, waking me with his numbered hand.

“You cried?” he said.

“No.  Why?”

“I heard you cry.  I know you.  You’ve cried every time since you came back from the Six-Day War as a young man.  Anyway, I thought I heard you crying from up here, so I came.”

“So I cried.  So what?

“I’ve told you a thousand times you don’t have what to cry over.  We didn’t cry ….”  He gestured with his numbered hand.  “What we went through without crying … Thousands of us killed every hour, herded by the hundreds into the crematorium every seven minutes, and we didn’t cry!”

“Then maybe the time has come to cry,” I said.  “The numbers keep adding up.  There’s no end.  You promised us that we had come here to put an end to the era of death!”

“Nu, nu,” said my father in his Polish Yiddish Hebrew, clicking his tongue.  “Have you forgotten the inheritance I left you?”

“What inheritance, Abba?  You worked liked a dog your whole life, but there was no inheritance!  Not a dime!”

“What abbout the Kaddish prayer I left you?  That inheritance.  Every year I said Kaddish on the Tenth of Tevet and on Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of all the relatives who were murdered by the hundred.  Now it’s you, my heir, who has to say it instead of me.”

“What kind of an inheritance is that, Abba?” I yelled.  “I should say Kaddish?  I never even met them!”

“Precisely,” my father exclaimed with a victorious smile.  “You understand now.  You never met them, and I never meet them either.  They went to their deaths anonymously by the hundred, by the thousand, by the million.  Now everything has changed.  Today your newspapers are full of names, pictures, stories.  Every person who is killed has a name, and the whole nation remembers him.  Where we were, who remembered them?

“Now you understand that there is a difference.  In between the tears, you can smile a little, you have to allow yourself some happiness.  Now you have a state, and an army, and someone to bury the dead, which we did not have …”

With that my father disappeared, wearing the doleful smile he had worn when he came, offering a survivor’s consolation so relevant to these days.

Originally published in Makor Rishon, April 12. Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.

Museum Seeks Jews’ Memories of Baseball

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Josh Perelman is seeking kin — but not his own. Rather, Perelman is on a quest for families and individuals who will share memories, artifacts and pictures that help tell the story of the American Jewish relationship with baseball.

As chief curator for the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Perelman is mounting an exhibition that will open next March. Instead of focusing solely on American Jewish baseball icons such as Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, the exhibit is meant to be grass roots and personal, revealing how Jews connected to this country and to each other through America’s national pastime.

The connections need not be related to professional baseball, Perelman said. They could involve memories such as rushing through dinner to make Little League games, reminiscences of playing ball in Jewish summer camps and displays of team uniforms that were sponsored by Jewish businesses.

When a caller mentioned to Perelman a friend’s b’nai mitzvah at which guests were seated at tables named for Jewish Major Leaguers — including Lipman Pike, considered the first Jewish professional baseball player — Perelman expressed interest in obtaining a seating card from the event.

On a website launched last week by the museum, fans are encouraged to alert the museum to what items they might want to donate or lend, as well as to stories about the person’s connections to baseball.

Some items to be displayed in the museum might not relate to Jewish ballplayers at all but will help illuminate the exhibit’s theme, “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Jews in America.”

For example, Paul Newman of Philadelphia posted photographs of two baseballs that were signed long ago by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, stars on the Reds’ championship teams in the 1970s. The players personalized their autographs for Newman’s late father, Rabbi Max Newman, of Cincinnati.

Another photo shows former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine posing in 2011 with a smiling Rebecca Alpert, a professor of religion and women’s studies at Temple University. Alpert wrote in the post that she “grew up believing that rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers was what Jews were supposed to do because the Dodgers integrated baseball and represented the working class.”

Many of the items that respondents mentioned, posted or offered to the curators relate, of course, to Jewish Major Leaguers: a brilliant color image of a very young Koufax wearing his Brooklyn cap as he delivered a pitch against a backdrop of trees and a blue sky; photos from the 1970s of Washington Senators first baseman Mike Epstein fielding and sliding; and a black-and-white shot of Greenberg with boxing champion Joe Louis, under which the unidentified emailer wrote, “Jews have long regarded themselves as a people on the outside looking in. African-American heroes like Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson have been part of ‘our crowd.’ ”

“The story of Jews in baseball has typically been told by focusing on Major League Baseball, and counting up how many Jews played in Major League Baseball and disputing who’s a Jew and who’s not a Jew: Was Elliott Maddox Jewish? Was Rod Carew Jewish?” John Thorn, the lead consultant for the exhibition, said by telephone. “To me, the far more interesting story was on the other side of the television set: What was the ordinary Jew’s experience with baseball? How did baseball become a binding, integrating, assimilating force in Jewish life?”

Aside from his professional qualifications as Major League Baseball’s official historian, Thorn is in a unique position to examine the issue. Thorn, who is Jewish, was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany after World War II and settled with his parents in New York. Baseball, particularly the experience of collecting baseball cards, was how the young Thorn made his way in his adopted country — his “visa to America,” Thorn said.

“The story of baseball being more than a game, which is a cliche, of course, resonated for me particularly,” he said.

Up to 200 artifacts will fill the 2,400 square feet on the museum’s fifth floor. After closing at the end of the 2014 baseball season, the exhibit will tour nationally, with smaller versions visiting Jewish community centers, synagogues, historical societies, libraries and stadiums, Perelman said.

Besides the general public, items will come from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, is among those serving on the advisory committee.

Counting and Remembering the ‘Dust of Jacob’

Monday, April 15th, 2013

“Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the seed of Israel.” Numbers 23:10

The sun sets above the hills. The siren cries out and on the busy highways that wend among the hills, the traffic stopsthe people stop, and a moment of silence comes to a noisy country. Flags fly at half mast, the torch of remembrance is lit, memorial candles are held in shaking hands and the country’s own version of the Flanders Field poppy, the Red Everlasting daisy, dubbed Blood of the Maccabees, adorns lapels. And so begins the Yom Hazikaron, Heroes Remembrance Day, the day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of terror– Israel’s Memorial Day.

What is a memorial day in a country that has always known war and where remembrance means adding the toll of one year’s dead and wounded to the scales of history. A country where war never ends, where the sirens may pause but never stop, where each generation grows up knowing that they will have to fight or flee. To stand watch or run away. It is not so much the past that is remembered on this day, but the present and the future. The stillness, a breath in the warm air, before setting out to climb the slopes of tomorrow.

Who can count the dust of Jacob? And yet each memorial day we count the dust. The dust that is a fraction of those who have fallen defending the land for thousands of years. Flesh wears out, blood falls to the earth where the red daisies grow, and bone turns to dust. The dust blows across the graves of soldiers and prophets, the tombs of priests hidden behind brush, the caverns where forefathers rest in sacred silence, laid to rest by their sons, who were laid to rest by their own sons, generations burying the past, standing guard over it, being driven away and returning each time.

On Memorial Day, the hands of memory are dipped in the dust raising it to the blue sky. A prayer, a whisper, a dream of peace. And the wind blows the candles out. War follows. And once again blood flows into the dust. A young lieutenant shading his eyes against the sun. An old man resting with his family on the beach. Children climbing into bed in a village beneath the hills. And more bodies are laid to rest in the dust. Until dust they become.

In this land, the Maker of Stars and Dust vowed to Abraham that his children would be as many as the dust of the earth and the stars of heaven. In their darkest days, they would be as the dust. But there is mercy in the numberless count of the dust. Mercy in not being able to make a full count of the fallen. In remaining ignorant of that full measure of woe. Modern technologies permit us terrible estimates. Databanks store the names of millions, village by village and city by city. Terrible digital cemeteries of ghosts. But there is no counting the dust. And when we walk the length and breadth of the land, as the Maker told Abraham to do, it the dust that supports our feet, we stand upon the shoulders of giants. We walk in the dust of our ancestors.

Some new countries are built to escape from the past, but there is no escaping it in these ancient hills. IDF soldiers patrol over ground once contested by empires, tread over spearheads and the wheels of chariots buried deep in the earth. The Assyrians and the Babylonians came through here in all their glory. Greek and Roman soldiers and mercenaries pitted themselves against the handful of Judeans who came out of the Babylonian exile. The Ottoman and the Arab raged here, and Crusader battering rams and British Enfield rifles still echo in the quiet hills.

Here in the silence of remembrance the present is always the past and the sky hangs like a thin veil fluttering against the future. The believers cast their prayers out of their mouths against the veil. The soldiers cast their lives and their hearts. And still the future flutters on above, like the sky near enough to touch, but out of reach. Beneath it, the sky-blue flag, the stripe of the believer’s shawls adorned with the interlocked star of the House of David.

Irena Sendler, We Honor You

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

During World War II, Irena, a Polish Christian woman, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids.

Irena kept a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.

During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2,500 kids/infants. Read that number again – 2,500 lives…Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazi’s broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out, In a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected. Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming. Today, we honor her courage, her bravery. She has been recognized as a Righteous Gentile in Yad Vashem.

May God bless her memory.Please share this to honor the sacrifice and courage of this fine human being who gave so much and saved so many.  See also www.irenasendler.org.
Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

How Not to Remember the Holocaust

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I’m troubled.

History is important, because justice today depends on a correct understanding of yesterday. If your vision of the past is distorted, then your objectives for the future and present actions can be morally wrong, pragmatically futile, or both. If you don’t believe this, think about the consequences of the false Arab and leftist narratives about Israel and “Palestine.”

Therefore, understanding what Hitler did to the Jewish people, what historical trends led up to it and how the world responded, is critical for all of us today. There needs to be a Holocaust remembrance Day and it ought to tell its story in detail, over and over to each generation of humanity, and not just to Jews and Europeans.

But certain ways of observing this day make me very uncomfortable.

One is what I call the “universal kumbaya Holocaust observance.” The message here is that there are lots of genocides, they are all similar, and we have to try to understand our fellow man in order to prevent them. I went to an event once in which it was said that the real Holocaust encompassed 11 million people — Jews, Gypsies, gays, disabled and mentally ill people, etc.  I didn’t understand how they got to 11 million, nor why they stopped there: about 60 million people died as a result of WWII, probably about half of those in the European theater. Estimates range from 10 to 20 million Chinese dead in the conflict with Japan. Perhaps they should have lit 30 candles for the evil done by Hitler, and added another 30 for Imperial Japan?

The trouble with a universalized observance is that it obscures the significance of the specifically Jewish genocide, the fact that the Holocaust was the perfection, made possible by modern technology and careful planning, of the pogrom, the culmination of  the hundreds of anti-Jewish murders committed over the centuries simply because the victims were Jews, as the Nazis said, a final pogrom which would, for once and for all, erase the Jews from the world.

And by hiding the meaning of this event in plain sight, as it were, among all the other horrors of war, it also absolves today’s Jews from the responsibility to find their own solution to the specifically Jewish problem of endemic Jew-hatred, which has not gone away.

Another kind of Holocaust observance is the “emotional binge,” in which participants try to bring themselves to the point where they can almost feel the doors of the gas chambers closing on themselves or (worse) their children, in order to fully internalize the “real meaning” of the Holocaust. These events include talks by survivors about their experiences, dramatic performances and even re-enactments in which participants play the role of Jews and Nazis (all of these have been done in my community). The common characteristic is that they are intended to evoke the strongest possible emotional responses.

The catharsis provided by emotional binges is greatly enjoyed by some people, but it adds nothing to the understanding of history. Indeed, it creates a dangerous fixation on the dead Jews of the 1940s, to the detriment of those living today.

Finally there is the “symbolic but trivializing gesture.” A local synagogue is attempting to collect 6,000,000 buttons in remembrance of the 6,000,000 Jewish victims of Hitler. It was explained that this is a big number, and the stack of buttons that they will make will help people visualize the extent of the Holocaust.

It’s hard to comment on something quite this silly. Collecting, storing and displaying that many buttons is  a large effort, which one imagines could be exerted to much more effect in some other way. Personally, I have no problem visualizing 6,000,000 people: I just think about the Jewish population of today’s state of Israel.

Which brings me to the general problem I have with all of these ways of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. They are entirely consistent with total ignorance of the real lesson of the Holocaust for Jews, which is not that 6,000,000 is a big number, or that the death of a child is horrible, or that genocide is bad everywhere, in Rwanda or Armenia or anywhere else.

This is why it is possible for some Jews to light candles, cry, and “dialogue” about the need for cross-cultural understanding with non-Jews until the cows come home, and then go out and (for example) join a demonstration against Jews moving into eastern Jerusalem.

Passover Guide for the Perplexed 2013

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

1.  A central Passover lesson: Liberty entails responsibility, communal-awareness, blood, sweat and tears; not complacency, wishful-thinking or egotism. Sustaining liberty obligates free people to assume the cost, risks and sacrifice of self-reliance, including forty years in the desert and the defiance of great powers, lest they forfeit liberty and risk oblivion. The Hebrew word for “responsibility” – אחריות – consists of the word “liberty” – חירות – reinforced by the first Hebrew letter – א – which is the first letter of the Hebrew words for God, faith, Adam, human-being, father, mother, light, soil, land, love, tree, covenant, soil, credibility, awesome, power, courage, spring, unity, horizon, etc.

2.  The Passover-U.S.-Israel connection:  Moses, the U.S. Founding Fathers and Israel’s Founding Father, Ben Gurion, were challenged by the “loyalists,” who were intimidated by the cost of liberty, preferring subjugation to Egypt, the British King and the British Mandate.

3.  Passover (פסח) highlights the fact that the Jewish People were passed-over (פסח) by history’s angel of death, in defiance of conventional wisdom.  Non-normative disasters have characterized Jewish history ever since slavery in Egypt and the Exodus: the destruction of the two Temples, exiles, pogroms, expulsions, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, daily Arab/Muslim terrorism and wars, etc. The 1948 re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty – against global, regional, economic and military odds – constituted a modern day Exodus and Parting of the Sea.  Principle-driven tenacious defiance-of-the odds constitutes a prerequisite to Jewish deliverance in 2013, as it was during The Exodus some 3,450 years ago.

4.  Passover’s centrality in Judaism is highlighted by the first, of the Ten, Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Passover ethos is included in daily Jewish prayers, Sabbath and holiday prayers, the blessing over the wine, the blessing upon circumcision, the prayer fixed in the Mezuzah (doorpost) and in the annual family retelling of the Exodus on the eve of Passover. Passover symbolizes the unity, interdependence and straight line/direction between the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel.  In Hebrew, Israel (ישראל) means “straight,” “overcoming” and the acronym of the names of the Jewish Patriarchs (אברהם, יצחק, יעקב) and Matriarchs (שרה, רבקה, רחל, לאה).

5.  David Ben Gurion, the Founding Father of the Jewish State, Passover and the reaffirmation of Jewish deed over the Land of Israel: “More than 300 years ago, a ship by the name of the Mayflower left Plymouth for the New World. It was a great event in American and English history. I wonder how many Englishmen or how many Americans know exactly the date when that ship left Plymouth, how many people were on the ship, and what was the kind of bread the people ate when they left Plymouth.

Well, more than 3,300 years ago, the Jews left Egypt…and every Jew in the world knows exactly the date we left. It was on the 15th of [the month of] Nisan. The bread they ate was Matzah. Up to date all the Jews throughout the world on the 15th of Nisan eat the same Matzah, in America, in Russia. [They] tell the story of the exile from Egypt, all the sufferings that happened to the Jews since they went into exile. They finish by these two sentences: ‘This year we are slaves; next year we will be free. This year we are here; next year we will be in Zion, the land of Israel.’ Jews are like that (The Anglo-American Committee, March 11, 1946,http://bit.ly/evSqbP).

Rabbi Gamliel, Head of the Sanhedrin, mid-first century: “In each generation, every individual must consider himself as if he/she personally participated in the Exodus from Egypt.”

6.  President Ezer Weizman, Passover and the avowal of Jewish roots in the Land of Israel, Jewish unity and collective-responsibility:

Only 150 generations passed from the Pillar of Fire of the Exodus from Egypt to the pillars of smoke from the Holocaust. And I, a descendant of Abraham, born in Abraham’s country, have witnessed them all. I was a slave in Egypt. I received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Together with Joshua and Elijah, I crossed the Jordan River. I entered Jerusalem with David, was exiled from it with Zedekiah, and did not forget it by the rivers of Babylon. When the Lord returned the captives of Zion, I dreamed among the builders of its ramparts. I fought the Romans and was banished from Spain. I was bound to the stake in Mainz. I studied Torah in Yemen and lost my family in Kishinev. I was incinerated in Treblinka, rebelled in Warsaw and migrated to the Land of Israel, the country whence I had been exiled and where I had been born, from which I come and to which I return…. And, like our forefather King David who purchased the Temple Mount, and our patriarch Abraham who bought the [Hebron] Cave of Machpelah, we bought land, we sowed fields, we planted vineyards, we built houses, and even before we achieved statehood, we were already bearing weapons to protect our lives… (German Bundestag, January 16, 1996, http://bit.ly/10aOcJr).

7. “Next Year in the rebuilt Jerusalem” concludes the annual reciting of the Haggadah, the Passover saga.  It reaffirms the ancient Jewish commitment to build homes all over Jerusalem, the 3,300 year old indivisible capital of the Jewish people.

8.  Passover’s centrality in the American ethos inspired the Puritans, the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and contemporary American morality and state of mind.

The Pilgrims
 – beginning with William Bradford’s “Mayflower” and John Winthrop’s “Arabella” – considered Britain “modern day Egypt,” the British king was “the modern day Pharaoh,” the sail through the Atlantic Ocean was “the modern day parting of the sea” and America was “the modern day Promised Land.”

The Founding Fathers
 were significantly inspired by Moses and the Exodus.  In 1775, the president of Harvard University, Samuel Langdon, said that “the Jewish government [that God handed down to Moses] was a perfect republic.”  Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” (the cement of the 1776 Revolution) referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England.”

The term Federalism is based on “Foedus,” the Latin word for “The Covenant.” The Founding Fathers studied the political structure of the semi-independent 12 Tribes (colonies), which were governed by tribal presidents (governors) and by Moses (the Executive), Aaron (the Judicial) and the 70 Elders (Legislature). John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin proposed the “Parting of the Sea” as the official U.S. seal. George Washington and John Adams, the first and second presidents, were compared to Moses and Joshua. Washington was eulogized as Moses and Virginia was compared to Goshen.

Yale University President, Ezra Stiles stated (May 8, 1783): “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776.”

“Let my people go” and “Go down Moses” became the pillar of fire for the Abolitionists. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10) is inscribed on the Liberty BellThe Statue of Liberty highlights a Moses-like tablet. The biography of Harriet Tubman, who dedicated her life to freeing other slaves, is called The Moses of Her People. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was motivated by the laws of Moses, which condemn slavery. Martin Luther King was considered the Moses of his age.

Daniel Boone
 was referred to as “The Moses of the West.” 

A statue of Moses stares at the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is featured (along with Maimonides) in the U.S. House of Representatives Rayburn Building subway station, towers above the Supreme Court Justices (in addition to seven additional Moses statues in the Supreme Court Building) and is found in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.  A Ten Commandments monument sits on the grounds of the Texas and the Oklahoma State Capitols. Cecile DeMille’s hit movie, The Ten Commandments, promoted U.S. liberty, morality and freedom of religion and expression, in contrast to Soviet oppression.

Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President: “It is as if Kennedy, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never enter, but which Joshua would make his own.”

9.  Moses, the hero of Passover, has been a role model of effective leadership, highlighting humility, faith, principle and endurance-driven leadership, along with human fallibility.  Moses’ name is mentioned only once in the Passover Haggadah, as a servant of God, a testimony to Moses’ humility. The only compliment showered upon Moses, by the Torah, is “The humblest of all human beings.”

10.  The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee, a pivot of liberty. Fifty days following the Exodus, Moses received the Torah (Pentecost Holiday), which includes – according to Jewish tradition – 50 gates of Wisdom.  Where does that leave the 50 States?!

11.  Passover highlights the centrality of spiritual, social and national Liberty. The difference between the spelling of Ge’oolah (“deliverance” in Hebrew – גאולה) and Golah(Diaspora in Hebrew – גולה) is the first Hebrew letter, Alef – א.  (Please see #1 above).

12.  Passover – the role model of liberty – interacts with Shavou’ot/Pentecost – the role model of morality.  Liberty and morality are mutually-inclusive.  The liberty/morality interdependence distinguishes Western democracies from rogue regimes.

13.  The Exodus took place around 1,400 BC, establishing the Jewish People in the forefront in the Clash of Civilizations between democracies and rogue regimes.  Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan ניסן – the first month of the Biblical Jewish year and the introduction of natural and national spring (Nitzan is the Babylonian word for spring and the Hebrew word for bud).  Nissan (Ness – נס is miracle in Hebrew) is the month of miracles, such as the Exodus, the Parting of the Sea, Jacob wrestling the Angel, Deborah’s victory over Sisera, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, etc.

14.  The 15th day of any Jewish month features a full moon, which stands for optimism – the secret Jewish weapon – in defiance of darkness.  It is consistent with the 15 parts of the Hagaddah (the Passover saga); the 15 generations between Abraham’s message of monotheism and Solomon’s construction of the first Temple; the 15 words of the ancient blessing by the Priests and the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, Arbor Day – the “Exodus” of vegetation.  The Hebrew value of 15 corresponds to two Hebrew letters which are the acronym of God – י  and ה.

15.  Passover has four names:  The holiday of Pesach (“Passed-over” and “sacrifice” in Hebrew), the holiday of liberty, the holiday of Matzah and the holiday of spring.  The number 4 features in the Passover Saga, representing the four women who shaped the life of Moses (Batyah – Pharaoh’s daughter, his savior, Yocheved – his mother, Miriam – his sister and Ziporah – Jethro’s daughter, his wife); Joseph’s four enslavements- twice to the Midianties, once to the Ishmaelites and once in Egypt; the 4 times that the word “cup” was mentioned by Pharaoh’s jailed wine-butler when recounting his dream to Joseph; the 4 Sons (human characters) of the Haggadah; the 4 glasses of wine drunk on the eve of Passover; the 4 Questions asked on the eve of Passover and the 4 stages of the divine deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The 4th Hebrew letter (ד) is an acronym of God.

16.  Passover is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature.  Spring, Aviv in Hebrew (אביב) consists of two Hebrew words: Father – אב – of 12 – יב – months/tribes.  The word spring is mentioned three times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus.  Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts for 7 days, just like the creation of the universe.  Passover is the first of three Jewish pilgrimages, succeeded by Shavou’ot/Pentecost, which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments, andSukkot/Tabernacles, named after Sukkota – the first stop in the Exodus.

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The Meaning of Freedom

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

It’s an interesting time in Israel now. The Passover holiday is days away. It’s a holiday that I mostly dread because it comes with immeasurable work and only spare moments to enjoy – at least for me and for many women who are still fulfilling the more traditional roles of caring for home and food and such. No matter how much help I get in the house, it seems I am still the planner, the coordinator, the ultimate one responsible for seeing, checking, and often doing what it takes to bring the holiday in.

I have come to dread it – from the start to the end and have yet to learn how to enjoy the more important aspects. There is an amazing rabbi who was asked how long it should take to clean for Passover. I remember more the principle of what he answered than the clear numbers he cited. It was something like a day or two, perhaps three. The person then went and asked his wife how long it takes her to prepare and she answered, three weeks, just like everyone else. Perhaps it was four.

Passover is often lost in the details and it is a shame. The details are cleaning your home – your office, your car, etc. – but sadly, too many turn it into spring cleaning and so you see the neighborhood, in fact the country, alive with those who are painting their apartments, fixing railings outside, buying new furniture and appliances. None of that is really connected to the holiday and yet my windows are dirty from the long winter and I want them cleaned.

Already, my arms are starting to hurt – the deep inside pain I get when I strain them. I’ve carted out garbage, washed cabinets, sorted through drawers and more. This year seems especially tense and stifling. We crave freedom – and yet we are being smothered from the holiday on one end and Obama’s visit on the other. I need to travel to the center later this afternoon – how will Obama’s arrival impact on that? One major highway will be closed for some time – the second, to which traffic will be diverted, is a road that was built to by-pass Arab villages and protect Israelis as they drive to Jerusalem. It is called Route 443. People have been murdered on that road – shot at point blank range. Regularly there are stoning attacks. The army promises to put more surveillance on the road, more jeeps and soldiers.

I travel that road regularly – often out of the Israeli principle of dafka. Dafka is an amazing Israeli word that defies translation. I learned it decades ago, long before I lived here. I remember way back in college, freshman English course at Barnard College. We were having an intellectual discussion and I disagreed with the previous person. It was a free-flowing, open conversation among the entire class, with the teacher (the only male in the room) looking on proudly.

“Dafka the opposite,” I said and began to explain. A few, very few, looked confused and so the Jewish professor smiled and said, “explain ‘dafka’, Paula.”

I tried..Dafka means…on purpose…dafka means…intentionally so….deliberately so…but it has a twinge of insolence, resistance. If you tell a child to stand over there, they will dafka sit down. Defiance, pride, intention. I can’t explain dafka but it is the dafka principle that has me driving on 443, even when they throw stones there. I will not let them keep me from my country.

So Obama will come to Israel today and Israelis will be diverted to a road on which there are often more stoning attacks and likely there will be more because the Arabs too want to deliver a message to Obama. I doubt Obama will know that yesterday in Ramallah, they were driving cars over pictures of his face, burning American flags, and painting big red X’s over his nose.

Meanwhile, Obama seems to be the only one truly free here. He has freely chosen to insult Israel by deciding that students from one university will not be invited to his meeting with university students. Ariel University is located over what Obama calls the “green line” – how convenient it is for him to ignore the fact that Ariel, like  ALL universities in Israel, admit hundreds, even thousands of Arab students and provide them with access to educational degrees widely honored and respected. The last I heard, three of Israel’s five universities are in the top 100 in the world. This is the education we make available to Jew and Arab alike – but Obama will insult us be showing his selective prejudice.

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