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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Holidays’

A 21st Century Exodus: Dina’s Journey from Egypt to Jerusalem

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

This isn’t Cpl. Dina Ovadia’s first Passover in Israel. Slowly, slowly she seems to be moving away from her Egyptian past and becoming further ingrained in her Israeli present.

Instead of thinking about her bittersweet childhood in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Cpl. Ovadia fills her time with her army service and in preparing her home in Rimonim, in Samaria, for the Passover holiday. Today it is possible to say that she is far more Dina Ovadia than she is Rolin Abdallah – the name her family gave her as a security measure for a Jew living in an Arab country. But Dina herself grew up totally unaware of her Jewish heritage.

Dina is telling her winding, unbelievable story for the umpteenth time, but her eyes still well up with tears. Ovadia, now 22, left her family home in Alexandria for the last time as a young and curious 15-year-old girl. All she wanted was to fit in.

“Everyone always looked at me as though I was something different, the ugly duckling in the class. They asked me why I dressed the way I did, and why I spoke with my parents during the breaks, and why this and why that. I myself didn’t understand where it all came from. But I always had friends,” she says in impeccable Hebrew with a slight Arabic lilt. “I didn’t have a religious background in Christianity or in Islam. I never knew what I truly was. My parents didn’t keep the [Jewish] traditions, and I always assumed that we were secular Christians.”

Dina’s childhood detachment from her heritage gives unique meaning to every Shabbat candle she lights now and to every Jewish holiday that she did not know. And Cpl. Ovadia’s story is the Passover story, thousands of years old, expressing itself again in the 21st century.

“I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains” – Exodus 3:7

Rolin in Arabic means gentleness, but Dina was first and foremost a curious and rebellious child. She felt she had a right to belong, but she didn’t know where.

“I studied in a Muslim school. I started to grow up and learn the Koran, and then I already started to ask myself, ‘Why am I learning this?’

“I reached a stage where I got really into it, studying for tests, memorizing passages. At school they asked me to start wearing a veil to my Koran lessons. I didn’t like the idea – as a girl it seemed ugly to me,” she smiles. The disagreement led to her parents enrolling Dina in a private Christian school, where she was more at ease. “It was really fun and I felt freer,” she says.

Dina recalls how she tried to find herself among the troubling mix of religions. “We had a mosque next to the school, and the girls would go there to pray. I told this to my mother, slightly anxiously, and she was very angry. They forbade me from doing it again. I remember that I was hurt, and I started to tell them that because of that they won’t like us, and that I wouldn’t have any friends. It was the anger of a child. During Ramadan I would escape to my friend’s houses, and I even fasted on one of the days, because I always wanted to belong to something and I didn’t have a clear answer for what I was,” Dina explains.

When she told her parents that she had tried praying in a church, that didn’t make them any happier. They distanced her from every religion, without giving an explanation as to why.

The turning point occurred on a day like any other. Dina was studying for a history test, her brother and cousin were playing on the computer upstairs, and her mother, aunt and sister were also at home. Suddenly the sounds of shouting and shattering glass cut through the calm routine. “I really panicked, and immediately I thought that because we were different they had come to our house. I went outside and saw five masked faces – they were Salafists.” Five bearded men in robes, with clubs in their hands and rifles slung over their shoulders, broke through the electric iron gate at the entrance to the grand family home and demanded to know where the men of the house were. Their explanation was as simple as it was incomprehensible: “A’lit el’Yahud” – a Jewish family.

“I thought, ‘What the hell!?’ I didn’t understand why they were saying that we were a Jewish family. Anyone who was different, the stranger, was always called ‘the Jew.’ I was certain that they were mistaken. They entered the house. My mother said that the men weren’t there, and they threw her into the corridor, she slammed into the pillars, and she fainted. I started to scream – I was sure that they had killed her. And then I saw two of them going up the stairs. I heard shots. I was sure that they had murdered both my brother and my cousin.”

The Salafists went down the stairs and told the Abdallah family that they had a few days to get out of the country, and that in the meantime they could not leave their home. They threatened that if the children went to school, they would be kidnapped. Only then did they leave.

Luckily, the whole family escaped injury. The armed men shot at the boys’ heads, missing deliberately in order to scare them. “I think that today they would have just killed us all,” she says. From the moment of that home invasion, Dina’s life became entangled in a complex loop, while the two irreconcilable edges of her life began to unravel. “The Salafists would encircle the house in their vehicles, shooting into the air. That month even the school didn’t call. I slept with my mother – I was terribly afraid. My father told me that they are just thieves despite the fact that they didn’t take anything. ‘Jew’ was really a kind of swear word, he said; but I couldn’t believe him.”

A few days later, her grandfather gathered all of his family together and he revealed the truth. “He explained why he kept us from other religions and told us that we were Jewish, and we that we had little time to leave Egypt. He told us we were going to Israel. I remember the little ones at home were excited about it, but I wasn’t. I started crying and was so disappointed. I told him I did not want to move to that bad country. I rebelled against it.”

Dina knew very little about Jews as a child. “In school they always taught us to hate Jews and Israelis,” she says. “Let’s take Koran class for example. I would be sitting, taking a test, and would read a verse that said you need to kill Jews. I also remember during the Second Intifada, all the TV programs I watched that always said that Israelis are bad. I cried over the story of Mohammed al-Dura.

“My grandfather did his best to explain to us that they’re not bad, that we have to understand that in war, that’s what happens. At home we were always taught that all human beings are equal and you have to respect them for who they are, no matter what their background. In school they taught us that Israel is the enemy. They would say when I grew up that I would understand. During the Intifada I was even at demonstration, waving the Palestinian flag. It never even occurred to me that I was Jewish.”

The Jewish stereotype present in Egypt was similar to what was taught in the darker racial theories of the early 20th Century. “I knew that Jews were scary, were murderers, had big noses, ears and had beards. On television you would always see babies burning in Gaza, things I’ve never seen in Israel, but that’s what we thought.”

Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which I gave to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give unto them and to their children after them.’ – Deuteronomy 1:8

Before this dramatic turn of events, Dina tried to understand where all her friends had disappeared to. They hadn’t even called to say hello throughout the whole month.

“I had a really good group of friends,” Dina says. “We lived really close to one another, and we used to sleep over at each other’s houses. I begged my mother to go and see one of them, and in the end she let me go. I knocked on her door. She opened it, made a face and slammed the door on me. What my grandfather told me passed through my head at exactly that moment: we grew up together and just because she heard that I was Jewish she doesn’t accept me anymore? That really hit me. I said: I know that the Jews are bad, but look; I’m not bad. By this time, I had totally broken down. Right then I realized that this wasn’t the right place for me. They couldn’t accept me for who I was.”

Modern Exodus

The day of Dina’s aliyah was tinged with the sadness of leaving her house and turning her back on where she grew up.

“The whole situation had made me feel a lot of hatred, and I realized that I had nothing there,” she says. “It turned out that my uncle, who I thought had run away to France, had actually made aliyah to Israel and had enlisted in the IDF. In Egypt there is a mandatory conscription law, and when the authorities began to investigate, they found out the truth, and my family bore the consequences. But this moment was about to come regardless of any connection to my uncle.

“My parents understood that their children were all growing up, and that they no longer had answers to our questions. We didn’t take anything with us except our clothes. We just left our house exactly as it was. On that same day I saw how my friends were looking at us while we were packing our things, so I just closed the blinds. I finally understood that this wasn’t my home. It was as if Egypt itself was closing the blinds on me.”

After a brief flight to Istanbul and then on to Tel Aviv, Dina suddenly found herself in a land that just a month before she had felt so far away from, mentally if not physically.

“I was scared,” she says. “Who was going to welcome us? What if they didn’t like me? When I got off the plane all I saw was people smiling at us, and that made me so happy. My uncle, his family and the rabbi were waiting for us and smiling. It was weird – I didn’t understand the language, but I felt at peace, and from somewhere my friends’ rejection of me gave me strength – the strength to change myself.”

The family settled in Jerusalem, and Dina and her relatives joined a religious school. “I so badly wanted to fit in, but the first time I read the siddur, I was holding it upside down,” she laughs. Dina’s new beginning wasn’t free of difficulties. “One day I was walking down the corridor at school, and one of the girls said, “Hey, Arab girl!” and she and her friends started a fight with my cousin and me. Not a very nice welcome.”

After high school, Dina began her military service as an assistant Army Radio reporter on Arab affairs. She then moved to the military police for a short period, and finally joined the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, where she helps run new media in Arabic on a variety of platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Her sister Sima is set to join her in the Spokesperson’s Unit, and her brother is currently doing a selective Air Force course.

This article, lightly edited, was written by Florit Shoihet for the IDF Website

Police Harass Family on Seder Night

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Jerusalem police banged on the door of a family during the Seder Monday night to make sure that a young woman was not violating an order to remain under house arrest – even though the order had expired a week before.

The Honenu Legal Aid organization reported that the unidentified girl, known by the initial “H,” was detained earlier this month after a clash between Ramat Migron outpost residents and left-wing activists who arrived to plow land between Jewish houses.

H. and several of her friends were detained on a claim that they had assaulted a public servant and were also accused of resisting detention. Eyewitnesses reported that the detainees, one of them a young pregnant woman, were detained very violently by the police. The detainees were held in remand for two days and then released to house arrest, which was canceled after Honenu successfully filed a appeal with the district court.

Honenu charged the police with intentional harassment by interrupting the family Seder, especially since the house arrest order no longer was valid.

“It is very strange to think that they didn’t know that she had already been released from house arrest a week ago,” said H’s mother. “After all, they know how to locate anyone at any given time with the technological means that they have. Their choice to come in the middle of Seder does not seem to me to be coincidental.”

Obama to Impersonate Pharaoh at White House Seder

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

President Barack Obama once again will hold a Passover Seder in the White House, perhaps a bit more serious than year’s National Jewish Democratic Council’s ego-centric desecration of the Four Questions, which his aides re-invented to glorify the Commander in Chief.

After “Preacher Obama’s” revival appearance in Israel, he is likely to take more seriously the Passover Seder tradition this year and is even more likely to come up with his own interpretations and meaning of the Seder.

For a man who had the chutzpah to tell synagogue worshippers in Florida during his 2008 presidential campaign that he is “blessed,” as indicated by his name “Baruch” that he said means “Blessed” in Hebrew, he will have no trouble in skipping over 2,000 years of Talmudic study of the Exodus of the Jewish People that led us to Mount Sinai and eventually to the Land of Israel.

Somehow, he will dig into the deeper meaning of Passover and declare that God brought the Jews to Israel to divide the homeland and give most of it to the Palestinian Authority, whose Muslim clerics also have done a nifty job of rewriting ancient Bible. According to them, the Binding of Yitzchak (Isaac) is the wrong version, and it was Ishmael who was bound. If you believe that, then of course the Holy Temples never existed and the Western Wall was Mohammed’s hitching post.

The problem with President Obama’s annual Seder ceremony, as evidenced by his “I believe” Hallelujah speech in Jerusalem, is that he truly does believe he knows better than anyone else, certainly better than Israelis, better than Arabs and better than Talmudic sages.

We would be better off if he were to run a repeat performance of last year’s travesty, when the “Four Questions, designed to educate Jewish children about the Seder, turned into a mockery of the president’s intelligence.

In case anyone forgets, the questions posed by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) were: Why has President Obama provided record amounts of military aid to Israel?”; “Why has President Obama worked so hard and succeeded at uniting the world against Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program?”; “Why has President Obama achieved the historic passage of ‘Obamacare’”?; and, “Why has President Obama fought to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid?”

Commentary Magazine’s Jonathan Tobin wrote last year, “Passover is the occasion for Jews to remember their liberation from Egypt and to embrace not only the gift of freedom but also the ability to worship God and His laws as a people.

”While Seders are appropriate moments to remember those in need as well as other Jewish communities — such as that in Israel — which are assailed by foes, it is not the time to be delivering obsequious paeans to American politicians, no matter which party they belong to. That sort of absurd distortion of the festival of freedom bears a closer resemblance to idol worship than it does to Judaism.”

President Obama is not paying any attention to Tobin. In his pre-Passover sermon at the Jerusalem Convention Center last Thursday, he said, “The Seder… is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation. It is a part of the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred….

“To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement.”

After invoking a quote by Martin Luther King relating to Moses and Joshua, President Obama continued to the next obvious step – the Palestinian Authority.

President Obama’s inevitable reference to the Palestinian cause when he sits down for his version of the Seder with 20 chosen guests this week will be accompanied by everything that is totally the opposite of the message of the Seder, and that is materialism.

The matzah is the simplest of foods, unleavened bread. Jew lived on Manna during their sojourn in the desert. No cheeseburgers, no ice cream and not even meat, except for the plague that swept the Jews when they demanded meat and the quickly became sorry for what they wished.

Israelis Warned ‘Don’t Go Back to Egypt for Passover’

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The Israeli National Security Council’s counterterrorism bureau has warned Israelis and other tourists and businessmen to stay away from the terror-infested Sinai Peninsula, especially during Passover.

The Counter Terrorism Bureau has posted 33 warnings that terrorists, including those who take orders from Hizbullah, are roaming the world on the prowl for victims, especially Israelis.

Warnings also were posted against traveling to tourist sites, and terrorist hotspots’, such as Indonesia and Malaysia as well as the more popularly known terrorist favorites of Yemen, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Algeria.

“According to our information, there continues to exist threats of revenge against Israelis abroad, especially businessmen and former government officials,” according to the Bureau.

It added that terrorists want to kidnap victims as well as murder them. “There have been multiple kidnappings in the Sinai of U.S. citizens over the past four years, and kidnappings of foreign tourists in the Sinai have increased since January 2012.

“Overland travel from Israel to the Sinai in particular is strongly discouraged.”

It added, “Hizbullah blames Israel publicly for the death of Imad Mughniyeh,” the Hizbullah mastermind terroroist who was assassinated in 2008, presumably by Mossad agents.

The Bureau reminded travelers that Iran has accused Israel of being responsible for the deaths of eight nuclear scientists.

Spider-Man Makes Exodus from Williamsburg for Passover

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Williamsburg, New York Haredim have finally convinced Columbia Pictures to halt filming of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ in order not to cause parking problems during the Passover holiday.

“We expressed the importance for Spider-Man to pass-over filming during Passover and they have answered our call,” City Councilman Stephen Levin wrote on his blog. “Reducing the amount of parking the production uses will … allow everyone celebrating the opportunity to safely enjoy the holiday.”

Filming the movie during the Passover holiday would have caused several streets to be closed to parking.

Columbia will move its equipment on Friday, and Levin happily responded, “Thank you for letting my people park.”

New Passover Vacation Trend: Rent a Resort Home and Hire a Chef

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Approximately 60,000 Americans and Canadians will spend more than $200 million this Passover, and many of those with enough money are hiring a chef to cook for them in rented private homes in resorts, Kosher Today reported.

Scottsdale, Arizona’s Biltmore is sold out with nearly 1,000 guests coming next week, while many other Americans will celebrate the freedom from slavery at resorts and hotels in Europe and in Israel.

Jay Buchsbaum of Kedem told Kosher Today that more people are demanding not only better foods but also upscale wines. “They no longer are solidified with the Kiddush and sweet wines; they want cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cognac and champagne.” he said.

Russian Jewish Group Offers Free Matzah

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The Russian Jewish Congress has partnered with one of the country’s leading Internet companies to deliver free matzah to Muscovite Jews. The only cost to recipients will be the price of the delivery.

The collaboration with the online marketing giant Vigoda.ru will allow the Jewish organization to send two million emails on Thursday in the hope that the offer will help introduce matzah to the homes of young professionals who would otherwise not get them.

“The idea is to reach out to young and secular Jews and to reintroduce or sometimes introduce this basic custom of Judaism,” Matvey Chlenov, the RJC’s deputy executive director, told JTA. “Like most Muscovites, they are busy with careers and raising children and will often not take the effort to spend two-three hours in Moscow’s notorious traffic jams to get to a handful of places where matzot are on sale.”

The emails that are meant to place matzah on the menu this Passover were sent through Vigoda.ru, a Russian website and company that, similar to the American website Groupon, offers various deals for reduced prices in a daily email that it sends to a large number of people.

The Russian Jewish Congress has stocked up on a ton of matzah it hopes to give out with help from Vigoda and through the organization’s own campaign on social media.

David Shostak, co-owner and CEO of Vigoda, said his firm decided to include the Russian Jewish Congress’ offer in an email to two million recipients in Moscow as “a service to the community.” Shostak, who speaks Hebrew, said he runs the company from Moscow but travels often to Israel.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/russian-jewish-group-offers-free-matzah/2013/03/13/

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