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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Hazani’

Jerusalem in the Twilight Zone

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

I came on aliyah in May, toward the end of Iyar, just in time for Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day. As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the same Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, of blessed memory, who co-founded the Volunteers for Israel/Sarel project, also began the joyous flag-waving parade through the streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim. While Yom HaAtzmaut was widely celebrated throughout the country, Jerusalem Day, the day marking our re-conquest of the Old City and the Kotel hadn’t yet become the gala, inspiring event that it is today. After the Six-Day War, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva would hold a festive dinner with speeches from government leaders and leading Rabbis. After midnight, students would join the Rosh Yeshiva in a joyous march to the Kotel. With each passing year, students would gather from other yeshivot around the country for the festive procession. Seeking to turn the march into a national event which would express the Nation’s eternal attachment to its Holy City, and proclaim to the world that Yerushalayim would never be divided again, Rabbi Hazani, who was studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, organized another parade for the following day. Plastering the billboards of the country with posters, he handed out hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags and had the crowds follow a lively band from Emancipation Park across from the United States consulate to the Kotel. Every year the crowds increased, swelling to fifty thousand and more. Women entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, while men and families walked along the walls to the Shechem Gate, where they paraded through the narrow main street leading through the Old Jewish Quarter, who’s name had been changed to the “Moslem Quarter” after the pogroms of 1929, when Arabs had slaughtered dozens of resident Jews and chased the Jewish population out from the Old City. How wonderful it is on Jerusalem Day to see Arabs cowering in their doorways and windows as the Jews swarm through all the gates our eternal Holy City!

That first year, being a greenhorn in Israel, the happy parade blew me away, walking side-by-side with so many proud Jews into the Old City, along the alleyways of the Moslem Quarter. When we arrived at the Kotel Plaza, Rabbi Hazani grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the bandstand where a band led the joyous flag waving and dancing. Introducing me to the huge crowd as the director of Volunteers for Israel in America, who had just come on aliyah, he had me read out a Psalm in English for the foreign press. Talk about an aliyah! I felt 100 feet tall, as if I had suddenly become a giant Jew in my connection to Jerusalem and Clal Yisrael! That year, and every year since at the incredibly festive gathering at the Kotel, the joy is supernatural, above time and space, a spiritual high like no other, illuminated by the Divine Presence which still shines forth from the stones of the Kotel, and by the great light of Redemption that fills the air over the Old City as tens of thousands of Jews from all corners of the world pay tribute to God for His transcendental kindness in bringing us back to our beloved Holy City in fulfillment of prophecies of old.

I couldn’t imagine that there could be anything like it until the following week and the arrival of Shavuot. After the evening holiday meal at the home of Rabbi Hazani, I learned with Rabbi David Samson, the English-speaking hevruta he had arranged for me at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. In the wee hours of the morning, all of the students set off for the Kotel. As we walked along Jaffa Road toward the Old City, more Jews appeared from every direction, thousands of them, young and old, men, women, and children, Haredim, Hasidim, Religious Zionists with knitted kippot, even secular Jews. It was amazing! By the time dawn arrived, the Kotel Plaza was full!

Here I was, just out of New York, not knowing Hebrew, not knowing what the Torah was really about, surrounded by tens of thousands of ecstatic davening Jews, with the choruses of “Amen, yihe shamai rabbahs” ringing in my ears like the blasts of the shofar on Mount Sinai, standing beside Rabbi Hazani and a sea of Moses-like beards. What can I tell you? New York and Hollywood were blown out of my brain, like a dream that never happened, just like the Psalm says: “When the Lord brings back the captives of Zion, we were like those who dream.” I felt like I had been Star-Trekked into another time and planet – into another galaxy and totally different reality, into a living, vibrant, electrifying Judaism I had never experienced before.

Thanks to The Jewish Press!

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I was going to start out this blog by saying that I am happy to be back at The Jewish Press. But, in truth, I have mixed feelings. After all, I’ve been living in Israel now for 28 years, yet The Jewish Press is still in Brooklyn, along with its myriads of faithful readers. True, the staff of the Internet Edition has made it to the Holy Land, and that in itself is a sure sign that Israel’s Redemption is under way, but millions of thousands of Diasporians are still stuck in galut, waiting for Mashiach – may he come soon. How wonderful it would be if they came on aliyah too! After all, at the conclusion of every Yom Kippur, and at the end of every Pesach Seder, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” And to tell it like it is, Hashem in His great kindness has given most Jews enough money to buy a ticket, and there’s even a Jewish airline that serves kosher food to get you here. And there are modern apartments and villas waiting all over Israel, a stable economy, and more hederim, Talmudei Torah, yeshivot, religious ulpanot high schools for girls, dati colleges, and talmidei chachamim per square meter than any other place in the world. Not to mention the Kotel, our holy Forefathers in Hevron, the sound of Hebrew wherever you go, and just about the only place on the globe where you can spend the whole month of December and never even know that Xmas is coming. But as our Sages have told us, the Redemption comes slowly, “kimah kimah,” unfolding in gradual developing stages, like the dawning sun which gradually rises over the mountains (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:1).

God willing, we will talk more about these matters in upcoming blogs – but now back to The Jewish Press.

Two years before I came on aliyah, some 30 years ago, I was a young novelist and screenwriter in Hollywood. One day, I was sitting on a beach in Santa Monica when the Almighty split open the Heavens and hurled down a totally unexpected thunderbolt which set me off on a magical mystery tour and spiritual journey – the subject, blee nader, of another future blog. Traveling to Israel, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and holiness of the Land. If I was truly bent on returning to my roots, this was the place to do it, I intuitively sensed. But I didn’t know where to begin. So I returned to the States, abandoned Hollywood for the far more “Jewish” Manhattan, and began to learn Hebrew in the Jewish Agency building on Park Avenue (is it still there?)

One day, two Israelis strode into the classroom. One of them, Meir Indor, was a clean shaven, lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Army. Today, he is the director of the Almagor Victims of Terror Association in Israel. His bearded partner, Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, of blessed memory, had a large knitted kippah, and wore sandals with socks. One of the founders and main activists for the Gush Emunim settlement movement, he was a teacher at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and founder of the joyous, flag-waving parade to the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim. That was back in 1982. The first War in Lebanon had broken out, and they had traveled to New York looking for volunteers to help out on the moshavim in the north while the locals were off at war. Actually, Indor and Rabbi Hazani had been brainstorming for a while, trying to think up a project to bring Jews to Israel, and this was their brainchild. Their trip to New York was the birth of the “Volunteers for Israel” program, which later turned into “Sarel.” Dr. Aharon Davidi, z”l, later joined them and worked many years on the project, but it was Indor and Rabbi Hazani who originally started it (and ran it until the “establishment” forced them out).

Anyway, I immediately decided to sign up at their emergency New York headquarters, which was located in The Jewish Press building in Brooklyn. Back in those days, although I had been learning a little about Judaism, I still hadn’t made a firm decision about observing the Torah. I owe a lot to The Jewish Press for giving me the added push to get me out of my life of Hollywood shmutz into the true limelight. Standing on the street, looking up at the formidable, block-long building, I decided to put on a kippah. I had heard that The Jewish Press was an Orthodox newspaper, so to me, a totally assimilated screenwriter from Hollywood, the building was like a mini Beit HaMikdash. From that day forth, I continued wearing a kippah, and it’s been getting bigger and bigger ever since.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/thanks-to-the-jewish-press/2012/05/01/

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