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

Posts Tagged ‘Shema Yisrael’

Temple Mount Closed, 3 Jews Arrested for Saying Sh’ma Israel

Monday, October 14th, 2013

UPDATE: According to Ma’ariv, the Temple Mount compound has been closed to visitors, following the arrest of ten men who danced and waved Israeli flags at the site. The area is now clear for Arab kids to continue their soccer matches.

We previously reported that Jerusalem police on Monday morning detained for interrogation three Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount on suspicion of praying and bowing in the area which is designated for strictly Muslim worship.

According to Yehuda Glick, a Temple Mount Heritage Foundation official who has been detained last week and banned from setting foot on the holiest Jewish site, the three Jews, Mevo Horon Rabbi, Rav Micha Peled, and Rabbis Yaakov Heiman and Danny Simmon, were arrested after they had been caught saying the “Sh’ma Israel,” the twice-daily utterance of the covenant between God and the Jews.

Not a very popular document near the Al Aqsa…

The United States Dept. of State has deplored numerous times the unequal treatment of non-Muslims on Temple Mount. Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims who are spotted shutting their eyes meaningfully or moving their lips silently are immediately approached by police who usher them off the compound.

According to Glick, there appears to be anew campaign emerging on the part of the police, whereby they would be guaranteed a measure of peace by the Waqf, the Jordanian charity supervising the site, in exchange for banning anyone who manages to upset the Arab bosses of the place.

Several months ago, MK Moshe Feiglin, a frequent visitor to the holiest site for Jews, was banned indefinitely, backed with an order from Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Jerusalem Menorot

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

The Menorat HaKnesset

The bronze, four and a half meter high Menorat HaKnesset stands in the Menorah Plaza by the main entrance to Gan HaVradim. This impressive menorah, in the shape of that which appears in the Arch of Titus, was created by Jewish sculptor Benno Elkan of England. It was given in 1956 by the English parliament as a gift to the State of Israel.

Like a “visual textbook,” it has engravings of some thirty important events, idioms, characters and terms from Jewish history. Each of the seven branches portrays a number of specific scenes, carved in relief.

The menorah interweaves themes of galus and geulah, showing the tidal waves of the rise and fall of the Jewish People throughout history. The first depiction on the right hand branch illustrates Yirmiyahu bewailing the Churban, while the last left hand branch’s upper engraving shows the Final Redemption as pictured in Yeshayahu where a lion and a lamb will live in harmony (Yeshayahu 2:4, 11:6).

The 70 years of the Babylonian Exile (lowest representation on last left hand branch) is illustrated by showing the exiles lamenting the destruction of Yerushalayim and Bayis Rishon by the rivers of Bavel. This scene is counterbalanced by a depiction of the Shivas Tzion of Ezra seen on the following branch at the top, together with an image of Nechemiah,  (lowest bottom carving on outer right hand branch) who served King Artaxerxes of Persia in a high-ranking position. He fortified those who had come back to Tzion from Bavel with Zerubavel and Yehoshua Kohen Gadol. In the face of much opposition, he was instrumental in organizing the rebuilding of the walls of Yerushalayim and helping many of Klal Yisrael resettle. In addition, during his time, Torah observance was greatly strenghtened.

The engraving on the outer left hand branch shows Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai asking the Roman authorities to establish a center in Yavneh for the study of Torah. He realized that Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash were facing destruction and knew that in order to preserve the Eternal People, their eternal law needed to be preserved first. His request for Yavneh was a way of ensuring our continued survival as a nation.

The central point of the menorah, to which the eye is instinctively drawn, is a circle exactly in its middle which says “Shema Yisrael.” The central branch‘s first engraving shows Chur and Yehoshua holding up Moshe hands in the war against Amalek. When Bnei Yisrael looked up at Moshe’s upheld hands, they turned their heart towards HaKodesh Baruch Hu, and were able to overcome the enemy. It’s a reminder that wars are not won by military superiority but rather by the might of Hakadosh Baruch Hu as He fights for His children. The words from Zecharyah (4), which are carved on the bases of the two outer arms strengthen this concept “Not because of the (number of) soldiers or the (military) strength, but with My Ruach, said HaShem Zvakot.”

The scene symbolizing David’s triumph over Goliath echoes the above ideas (3rd branch from the left top) – as does the Chashmonaim victory of the few over the many, portrayed in the 2nd scene of the outer right hand branch. When we consider the numerous wars fought in Eretz Yisrael from 1948 and on, it is clear that it was only with Hashem’s kindness that we were able to prevail over our enemies. And it will only be with the help of the Almighty that we will survive our current problems.

There are many other scenes depicted, such as Shlomo’s understanding of the language of the birds and Avraham Avinu’s purchaing the Cave of the Machpelah, as well Rachel Imeinu bitterly weeping over her children in exile.

To reach the Menorat HaKnesset, travel on the Yitzchak Rabin Highway, turn in at the Supreme Court onto Rechov Rothschild, and keep on going until you see the Knesset Menorah to your right.

The Golden Menorah

As you walk up the steps that lead up to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, to your right is a golden reconstruction of the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash created by the Temple Institute. Surrounding the menorah are stone benches allowing visitors to sit and enjoy a panoramic view of the Temple Mount with the golden glass-caged menorah in the foreground. The part of the Western Wall exposed by the southern excavation at the Davidson Centre is also clearly visible. But the Mugrabie Bridge and a large tree hide the section we call the Kotel.

My Father, Dayan Grunfeld

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

One cold December evening, I walked into my father’s book-lined study to light the Chanukah candles, which were placed beside the window that overlooked a high street in North London.

My father was seated in his armchair surrounded by the red glow of the crackling log fire, and in the chair next to him, wearing a flowing red robe and white skull cap, sat Sir James Parkes, the renowned Christian theologian and author.

I hesitated and backed away.

“Stay and light the candles,” said my father.

Gingerly, I approached the menorah and with flame in hand, I mumbled the blessings under my breath so that Sir James would not hear.

“Amen,” responded Sir James loudly, and I felt a sense of pride that Sir James had acknowledged our faith, mixed with shame that I had tried to hide it.

My father never hid it. He believed that God and His Law served as the province for all mankind and was in no way reserved for the Jews alone. From its very inception, universalism was axiomatic to Judaism. The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of Man, not with the story of the Jew. God chose the Jews to carry the message of monotheism until the dawn of the Messianic era when all the nations of the world would at last acknowledge Him.

The purpose of designating the Jews as the Chosen People is clearly outlined in the leitmotif of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, namely to fulfill the wish “that every creature know that God is its Maker and proclaim that the God of Israel is King and his Kingship rules over everything.”

If the Jews were to isolate themselves in a ghetto and shun the secular world, such a goal would never be achieved. For my father, there was an intimate connection between the position of Israel as the Chosen People on the one hand and the Messianic unity of mankind on the other. To maintain one’s identity as a separate religious and ethnic group and yet work loyally for the whole community of mankind was, for him, no contradiction.

Consistent with this thinking, my father believed that religion should embrace the whole of life in its personal, economic and social aspects and that it was a fundamental mistake to try to localize God in a House of Worship. God is either everywhere or He is nowhere and the Law of God either rules supreme in all aspects of life or it rules nowhere at all.

According to my father, the origins of the Holocaust could be traced back to the emergence of the Renaissance era with its separation of God and State, and its insistence that God Himself and the Divine origin of His Torah be proven in the courts of human reason. God, imprisoned by the Renaissance in the House of Worship, was the first displaced person of Europe and into the vacuum created by His expulsion rushed the demons of Machiavellian sovereignty, bringing death and destruction in their wake.

Mankind’s inventiveness and destructive energy had run amok and were charging headlong with atom bombs and nuclear armaments toward the precipice of universal self-destruction with none of the precepts and boundaries of religion to keep them in check.

* * * * * As a student of the works of Immanuel Kant and a disciple of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, my father believed the Torah could address all its critics, including the “wise men” of higher criticism, which he, together with others, dubbed “higher anti-Semitism.”

His premise was that God and the Divine origin of the Torah lay beyond the reach of human reason, which can neither prove nor disprove them because, to use the language of Kant, they are not “phenomena,” not part of this world, but “noumena,” beyond this world. Nevertheless, they are facts, to the same extent that nature itself and the soul of the human being are facts.

They exist, without doubt, even though we do not fully comprehend them. One cannot analyze the soul through a microscope, scan God through a telescope or view God speaking to man by using the spade of the archeologist. To deduce from this that God and the soul do not exist would be rather like the fisherman who claims that water does not exist because his net never captured it. Accordingly, to my father, the only way to perceive God is through the observance of the mitzvot, which he called power stations that generate holiness.

Lollipops Don’t Fall From The Sky

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Last week I published a letter from a thirty-eight year old single woman who lamented that despite her having become a ba’alas teshuvah, forsaking her secular life, committing to Torah and mitzvos, going to rabbis, receiving berachot – in short, doing all the “right” things – she has failed to find her bashert, her soul mate. She wondered where G-d was and what all her sacrifices were all about. She was angry at G-d and regarded all her efforts as having been for naught. “My joy in Judaism has disappeared,” she wrote. The following is my response.

My dear friend:

As I write this column, the portion of the week is Chukas. I have found that if one searches properly, the parshah of the week always offers clarification on the challenges one has to wrestle with.

You have resentment in your heart. You feel you have been treated unfairly and that your commitment to Torah and mitzvos has been futile. In your disillusionment, you are angry at G-d and ready to give it all up.

Look in the Torah portion to which I referred. Miriam, Aaron and Moshe himself, the giants of our people, had their hopes dashed. Their dream of entering Eretz Yisrael was never realized. They could have argued, “For this we sacrificed? For this we labored? The nation has the privilege of entering Eretz Yisrael and we do not? Where is justice? It’s just not fair!” But they remained silent and accepted the will of G-d with equanimity, love, and a full heart.

Throughout the long centuries of our painful history, the emblem of our people has been unconditional faith. No matter where life took us, no matter what catastrophe befell us, we clung tenaciously to our G-d. Obviously there have been individuals whose faith faltered, who disappeared into the melting pot of assimilation, but we as a people triumphed, and our “Shema Yisrael” reverberated and continues to reverberate throughout the world.

I myself, a child of the Holocaust, can testify to this. With my own eyes I saw the indescribable suffering of our people. I will never forget the holy countenance and the voice of my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, who, after our own liberation from Bergen Belsen, received the catastrophic news that he was the only surviving son of the glorious rabbinic house of my grandfather. In a trembling voice, his eyes filled with tears, my father called out: “Ribbonoh shel Olam, I ask only one thing – that all my children, all my generations, should remain by Torah.”

Think about this and absorb it well. Wouldn’t my father have been justified in saying, “I am through! If this is the reward of great tzaddikim, if this is how You protect Your beloved chosen ones, there is no reason for me to remain and sacrifice. I’ve had it. I quit.”

Wouldn’t that have been the logical response? Wouldn’t that have been the reaction of so many in our generation who recognize entitlement but not indebtedness, rights but not responsibilities, privileges but not obligations? But my beloved revered father, like millions of others spanning many centuries and continents, had only one request, one prayer – that the light of Torah forever shine in the hearts of his descendants.

Having said this, I will try to address your personal dilemma and individual struggle.

While more than 40 years ago I had the zechus, the merit, of establishing Hineni, one of the first ba’al teshuvah movements in the world, I had actually been involved in outreach from early childhood. My father was a visionary, way ahead of his time. To the dismay of many in the chassidic world, he went to Szeged, not to be confused with Sziget, a shtetl in Romania. Szeged was a cosmopolitan city, the second largest in Hungary, as well as the most assimilated. My father created an Orthodox community there and kindled the light of Torah in the hearts of our people.

So it was from a tender age that I was nurtured in outreach. Over the years I learned it is dangerous to tell a secular person if he or she would only do such and such, the heavens would open up and all their dreams would be fulfilled. Our Torah way of life is not a candy store; lollipops do not fall from the sky, nor are there any guarantees of living “happily ever after.”

Arrested on the Temple Mount

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The world is truly upside down – a sure sign that Mashiach’s coming is right around the corner. Incredibly, as The Jewish Press reported yesterday, the highly respected Rabbi Yisrael Ariel was banned from the Temple Mount for setting it above his highest joy – the holiest and most cherished site in the Jewish world – just like a Jew is supposed to. Some terrible crime, isn’t it?

Since Israel Book Month is still with us, with special discount sales in all of the bookstores, and since I wrote about this very topic in my novel, The Discman and the Guru, I’m posting an excerpt from the book. It’s wonderful reading, especially for our young people, certainly more meaningful and Jewish than Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code, or the vampire stories that seem to be so popular today. And it certainly beats smoking marijuana and watching Internet porn.

For those who accuse me of promoting my books for mercenary reasons, the claim is totally unfounded, mainly because my natural audience is Jews, and the majority simply doesn’t appreciate the importance of real Jewish literature. And if someone does order it, I give the money to charity, so don’t worry about making me rich.

The Discman and the Guru tells the humorous story of Sam Singer, a sensitive teenager from a wealthy, assimilated LA family, who can’t relate to the crass material world around him. Setting off on his own, he journeys around the world to find God and discover true spirituality. After disappointed escapades in London, Paris, Rome, India, and Mecca, he arrives in Jerusalem, where he is arrested several times for trying to pray on the Temple Mount. Warned by Israeli police that he will be thrown out of the country if he tries once again, he undauntedly sets off at night to scale the towering southern wall of the Mount in secret. But a climbing mishap occurs, and he is left dangling in mid air, high up on the wall, when an Arab street-cleaner spots him, and spreads the alarm that a settler is trying to blow up the Temple Mount mosque, which of course, triggers violent Arab riots and an international uproar.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel, narrated by Sam himself, about his very first day in Jerusalem. It’s a little long, so print it out and save it for oneg Shabbat. By the way, Rabbi Ariel’s whole family has read the book, and, unfortunately, they can vouch for its accuracy.

Chapter Fourteen


I told the driver to take me to the Wailing Wall. I didn’t know why. I had heard that the Wall was a spiritual place. Whenever somebody had visited Israel, people always asked, “Did you get to the Wall?” “How was the Wall?” For some reason, my father had a picture of the Wall in his office, even though he had never been to Israel. He had given some money to some yeshiva in Jerusalem and received the framed picture as a gift. Probably because of that picture, when I saw the Wall, I felt I had been there before. There is no other way that I can explain it. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know what the Wall was. Obviously, it had been a part of a building. What kind of building, I didn’t know. Probably, a palace, I thought.

The soldier at the security gate looked through my backpack and asked if I were carrying a gun.

A gun? What a strange question. I had never held a gun in my life.

“No, sir,” I answered respectfully, impressed at meeting a real Israeli soldier.

He motioned me forward with a flick of his hand. I’m not kidding when I say that everything turned into slow motion. As if in a dream, I approached the Wailing Wall plaza. Even though it was three in the morning, there were people milling around; old women in long skirts and kerchiefs, and Orthodox Jews in black coats and hats. The Wall was illuminated with a shimmering light which seemed to glow from within. The massive stones seemed to vibrate as if filled with a life of their own. Men prayed at one side of a barrier, and women on the other.

“I’ve been here before,” I said to myself.

I couldn’t shake the feeling. Looking at the giant stones of the Wall, I felt awestruck. I felt overwhelmed. I felt a sensation which I had never experienced in India, nor in Mecca, nor in Rome. I felt a holiness in the air, as if it were something tangible that I could reach out and touch. Staring up at the Wall, I felt an overpowering presence all around me. Suddenly, I knew. This was the place. Behind this Wall. This was where G-d was hiding.

I walked across the plaza, pulled by a magnetic force. An old woman, a beggar, thrust out a hand. I reached into my pocket and handed her a bill. She thanked me profusely, blessing me, holding out her hand for some more.

Without stopping, I headed straight for the Wall. The closer I got, the more I felt something pulling me forward. Another beggar held out a hand, but this time, I passed him right by. Like a space capsule docking with its mother station in space, I rushed forward to touch the great chiseled blocks of the Wall. Little paper notes were crumpled up and stuffed into cracks between stones. As my fingers embraced a boulder, a shudder swept me like a wave. A current, as real shock therapy, charged through every pore in my body. Like a heart, the stone seemed to beat. I felt a pulse, as if the Wall were alive. It felt like my hands were connected to sockets of spiritual energy. Call it a miracle, or whatever you want, but the trembling I always had in my hands disappeared. The tremor that the anti-depressants had caused simply vanished. I was healed.

A sob seized my chest. I pressed my forehead against the soothing Wall. Tears streamed down my cheeks.

“Please G-d, heal my head,” I prayed. “Purify my brain of all of the poisons.”

It is hard to describe, but I was seized by a mixture of sorrow and joy. Sorrow for the past, and joy for the present. More than anything, I felt enveloped by an ocean of love. A love I had never experienced. Tears poured from my eyes. My fingers gripped the cracks in the stones, unwilling to let go. No one disturbed me. No one came over to tell me to stop. No one told me that I was insane. Other people stood facing the Wall, praying as fervently as I was. There was a soldier in uniform, a man in a wheelchair, a dark-skinned Jew with side locks and a beret.

Suddenly, an old man with a beard and black hat came shuffling over, barking out something in Yiddish and pointing excitedly to my head. Instinctively, my hands shot up to my uncovered scalp. Quickly, I zipped open my backpack and pulled out a baseball cap. Satisfied, the man nodded his head. Behind him, at the end of the Wall, I noticed an archway with a golden light shining inside. Curious, I walked forward, still in a trance from the other-worldliness of the place. I entered what looked like a cave. The ceiling was arched in a vault. Yellow spotlights bathed the cavern in a moon-like glow. To my surprise, the Wall continued, stretching the length of the chamber. A few Hasidic figures stood leaning forward, motioning with their hands, as if arguing with the stones. The massive boulders looked melted, as if they were made out of wax, as if they had withstood a fire of incredible fury. Large wooden arks and bookcases filled with prayer books and large Hebrew texts spanned the tunnel-like enclosure. At the end of the chamber, an old, white-bearded Jew sat on the ground by the Wall. He was dressed in a long prayer gown which looked incredibly like the prayer gown hanging in my closet back home. Sobs shook the old man’s broken, bent-over frame. With a mournful, weeping voice, he wailed out a prayer from the depths of his soul.

I thought of my grandfather. Watching him, my whole body trembled. Dropping my back pack, I sat on a chair by the Wall. Suddenly, I was back in my closet. I felt the same feeling. I smelled the same smell. For the first time since my childhood, I felt the presence of G-d all around me.

Tears rolled down my cheeks. No one noticed. No one cared. I cried along with the rabbi. Tears of wandering. Tears of exile. Tears of pain. Tears of being so lonely and lost for so many years. I didn’t know a soul in Jerusalem, but I sensed I was home. Sitting next to the old rabbi, I sensed I belonged. I sensed the G-d of my forefathers was near.

Without knowing it, I drifted into a deep soothing sleep. I didn’t notice the old rabbi leave. I didn’t even notice when someone placed a small booklet of prayers in my lap. I awoke to a loud chanting. “Yehay shmay rabbah….

What looked like a convention of rabbis had gathered to pray a short distance away. I had never seen so many Hasidim in one place in my life. They all wore phylacteries and had prayer shawls draped over their heads. In the tunnel, I couldn’t tell if it were night or day. In my lap was a booklet with a picture of a crown on the cover. Inside, the Hebrew prayers were spelled out in English – something called the Tikun Clalli. As I stood up, a man hurried over, holding out a pair of tefillin. With his beard and black hat, he looked like a rabbi too. I shook my head no. But the man was insistent. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“It’s good. It’s good,” he said in an English that was as broken as his teeth. “One minute. That’s all. Say ‘Shema Yisrael.’”

“Why not?” I thought. I had no other appointments to keep. When in Jerusalem do what the Jerusalemites do. I had tried crazier things in India and Mecca. Why not join the crowd in a place that felt like home?

Happily, the man strapped the small black box over my bicep and set another small box on my head. He pronounced the Hebrew blessings slowly, so that I could repeat them. Then he handed me a prayer book and pointed where to read. But I had long ago forgotten the little Hebrew I had learned as a boy.

“No problem, no problem,” the man said, still flashing his two missing teeth. “You know Shema?”

I shook my head no.

“Say, ‘Shema… Yisrael…. Hashem… Elokanu… Hashem… Echad.’”

I repeated the words after my patient instructor. The truth is, as I said it, the prayer came back to me from deep in my memory. When I finished, the man unwound the black strap from my arm. An impression of tracks remained in my flesh as if an Israeli tank had run over me.

“Last night, there was a rabbi here praying,” I said, pointing to the far corner where the old man had sat.

“Nu?” the man responded.

“You know him?” I asked.

“Everyone knows him. Rabbi Dov Ber HaCohen. He’s the Tzaddik of the Kotel.”

“Why was he crying?”

“Oh,” the tefillin man said. “Don’t you know? He cries for the Beit HaMikdash.”

“The what?” I asked.

The man gave me a strange look. His hands waved in front of him, as if he were trying to pluck something out of the air.

“The Temple,” he said with a smile, happy to have remembered the word.

“What Temple?” I asked.

“The Beit HaMikdash,” the man repeated, pointing toward the other side of the Wall.

“There’s a Temple on the other side of the Wall?” I guessed, trying to decipher his clues.

“Not now,” the man said, waving a hand to indicate a long time ago.

Suddenly, I somehow remembered that the Wall was part of an ancient Jewish Temple. But I still didn’t understand why the old man had been so broken up. If the Sinai Temple where I had been bar-mitzvahed in Los Angeles had been destroyed, I would have been happy, not sad.

“Go to yeshiva,” the man said with a smile. “Learn.”

Returning the tefillin to their sack, he walked off looking for another customer for his wares. I reached down and lifted my backpack over a shoulder. Strangely, even though I had only slept for an hour or two, I didn’t feel tired. I didn’t feel hungry either. Outside the tunnel, daylight was beginning to shine in the sky. Groups of Jews prayed around tables set up in front of the Wall. I found a stone bench at the back of the plaza and sat down to watch. Birds, disturbed from their sleep by the prayers, flew in darting circles over the heads of the worshippers. There were Jews with black hats, and Jews with knitted kippahs. There were Jews with dark, golden faces, the color of earth, and Jews who spoke Hebrew with American accents. Across a partition, women huddled by the Wall, offering their silent supplications. An aura of reverence surrounded the place. Men carried Torah scrolls out from the tunnel. People hurried to kiss them. Curious, I stepped up to a table to watch as a scroll was opened and read. I knew this was my heritage, my religion, my past, but I couldn’t understand a word they were chanting. I didn’t know how to read Hebrew. I didn’t even know how to pray. My mother was Jewish. My father was Jewish. My grandfather had been religious. In pictures, he was always wearing a hat. But he had died when I was a child. My father changed his name from Cohen to Singer and worked on the Sabbath to advance his business. So me and my brother had grown up without knowing a thing.

To tell the truth, I didn’t know what to think. I mean, Christians were religious. Moslems were religious. The Hindus had their own brand of religion, too. I had learned in my travels that they were all based on lies – maybe Judaism was too. Who said that rabbis had any better answers than bishops and monks? If someone wore a hat and grew a long beard, did that make him closer to G-d?

Returning to the stone ledge, I sat in a lotus position with my back to the low wall. Out of habit, I began to breathe deeply. Without even thinking about it, the mantra in my mind switched from “OM” to “SHAL-OM.”




Startled, I opened my eyes. A blaze of brilliant sunlight shone off of the Wall. Blinded, I squinted up at a figure. An hour had passed in a wink. Once again, I had dozed off to sleep.

“Are you an American?” the voice said.

I looked up into the face of a rabbi.

“That’s right,” I answered.

“Visiting the country?”


“Where are you from?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Lots of pollution there.”

“Yes, there is,” I agreed.

“If there is physical pollution, that’s a sign that there is spiritual pollution as well. Everything in the physical world has a spiritual base,” the rabbi explained.

I nodded my head. It made sense. After all, Hollywood wasn’t the most moral city on earth.

“Would you like to learn a little Torah in yeshiva?” the rabbi asked with a smile.

“I don’t think so,” I answered, wary of ashrams and teachers.

“Yeshiva?” I thought to myself. What a dumb idea. I’d more likely go on a trip to the moon. No one I knew had ever learned in a yeshiva. Sure, I liked the vibes of the Wall, but I couldn’t picture myself looking like these pious Jews. The beard and the hat and the ritual fringes that hung down from their trousers were the antithesis of Hollywood cool. Not that I paid much attention to looks. But having been raised in a world of chic fashion, I couldn’t imagine myself with side locks and a baggy black suit.

“Take my card,” the rabbi said. “If you change your mind, you can call me day or night.”

Smiling, he handed me his business card. Just then, his cell phone rang.

“Excuse me,” he said, walking off. “Have a nice trip.”

I glanced at the card and stuffed it into my pocket, along with the booklet of prayers I had found. Grabbing my backpack, I stood up, figuring I’d better get something to eat. Not knowing exactly where to go, I headed back toward the street, near where the taxi had left me. Up the hill, opposite the Wall, modern buildings were squeezed in between ruins from the past. Pausing at a water fountain for a drink, I ease dropped as an Israeli guide explained the sights to a group of baseball-capped tourists. “Florida Baptist Mission” was inscribed on the back of their T-shirts.

“The ancient Jewish Temple was burnt down by the Romans in the year 70 A.D,” the guide said in an Oxford-sounding English. “The Western Wall that you see here in front of you is the only remnant still standing. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Jewish tradition. The Dome of the Rock Shrine which you see in the background was built over the razed debris of the Temple in the seventh century by a follower of Mohammed, the Caliph, Omar, who conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines. Israel captured the Temple Mount from the Jordanians in the Six-Day-War, and allowed the Moslems to continue to pray there. Though the Jewish Temple has been destroyed for nearly two-thousand years, devout Jews throughout the ages have prayed for its rebuilding three times a day. Wherever Jews are in the world, they pray toward the direction of the Temple. For the Moslems, the site marks the place where their prophet Mohammed is supposed to have ascended to heaven on a fabled winged horse. However, when they pray, they face away from the Temple Mount toward Mecca, their holy city.”

I listened in fascination. I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the Temple. I knew nothing about Jerusalem. In fact, I knew nothing about the history of the Jews. In school, I had studied ancient history, but there had hardly been a mention of Israel. Christ had lived in Bethlehem – that’s about all that I knew.

The group’s pastor stepped beside the guide and called out in a rich southern baritone, as if he were delivering his best Sunday sermon.

“Friends, listen here,” he said, enthusiastically waving a Bible in the air to get their attention. “We are going up this holy mountain to see this awesome site, and remember, ladies and gentleman, brothers and sisters, this is not just the Temple Mount where Jesus overturned the moneychanger’s tables; this is not just the place where King Solomon was granted great wisdom; this is not just the place where King David composed many of his inspiring Psalms; this is not just the place where Abraham sacrificed Isaac; this place, ladies and gentlemen, in the words of the Scripture, Genesis 28:17, and Isaiah 2:2, right here in this book; this hallowed place is none other than the House of the L-rd. The House of the L-rd, brothers and sisters. The House of the L-rd.”

That’s all that I had to hear. Listening to the pastor’s inspiring words, I trembled. Everyone cheered. I slipped into line as the guide led the group up the narrow incline leading to a gate in the Wall. With my baseball cap, I looked just like one of the Baptists. A Black woman started singing a song, and the others joined in.

“Oh when the saints,

Oh when the saints,

Oh when the saints go marching in,

We will long to be in their number,

When the saints go marching in.”

Two Israeli soldiers sat at a security station, guarding the entrance to the Mount. They hardly looked up from their newspapers as the guide led his troops toward the archway. But when my turn came to enter the small passageway, a soldier sitting by the entrance stuck out a boot in my path.

Atah itam?” he asked in Hebrew.

“Sorry?” I said, not understanding.

“Are you with them?”

“That’s right.”

The soldier gave me a look.

“Do you have a passport?”

“Sure,” I said. I slid open a zipper on my backpack and took out my passport. The soldier glanced at the picture.

“Take your hat off please.”

I obeyed orders. The soldier looked surprised to see my completely bald head.

“Backpack,” the soldier’s partner said, reaching out a hand. I swung the lightweight bag off my shoulders. There wasn’t much in it save for a pair of pajamas, some underwear and socks, and a few slacks and shirts. I had never gotten my video camera back from the Swarmi.

“Israeli I.D?” the first soldier asked.

“I don’t have one,” I said.

The last few Baptists were making their way through the archway. The soldier nodded and glanced down at my feet. I looked down at the leather sandals that I had purchased in India.

“Is something the matter?” I asked.

“No. Everything’s fine. You can go in, but you’ll have to leave your bag here.”

The other soldier stuffed my bag under a table.

“They probably make spot checks,” I thought to myself, wondering why I had been singled out from the others. Maybe it was because I was the only one in the group who wasn’t wearing a T-shirt. Quickly, I hurried to catch up to the tour. Passing through the archway, I came to a cobblestone courtyard. Suddenly, it happened again. Everything turned into slow motion, as if I had entered a different world. A grove of tall trees blocked a clear view of the Mount, but even without being able to see it, I felt something unreal. A small stone building stood in the middle of the walkway where the group of tourists had gathered. The guide was pointing to an Islamic Museum which stood in front of the el Aksa Mosque.

Though I was in earshot, I didn’t hear the guide’s speech. I couldn’t. A dizziness had overwhelmed me the moment I had stepped foot on the Mount. For a moment I swooned, as if I would faint. Then, like a wind, the dizziness passed and an indescribable lucidness filled up my brain. It was a sensation ten times more powerful than the holiness I had felt at the Wall. It was more powerful than any drug they had fed me. In a flash, all of my confusion and uncertainty vanished. My past disappeared. It was as if a hand had placed an oxygen mask over my nostrils, filling me up with a burst of pure air. In a moment, all of the discs were erased. All of the websites, and modems, and therapies, and TV programs all vanished. There was only Sam Singer and G-d.

There was no doubt in my mind. No question. This was the place I’d been looking for. This was the place I belonged.

The group of Baptists strolled along the archways of the massive sixteenth-century mosque. A bunch of Japanese tourists wearing floppy, red tennis hats stood under a colonnade, listening to a Japanese guide explain about the history of the site. My feet moved over the cobblestones, but my head was in the clouds. Like my out-of-body trips in India, my soul seemed to soar into the sky. It was as if a helicopter had whisked me up and away for an aerial tour of the Mount. Even though the grove of trees still blocked my view of the golden domed shrine at the top of the mountain, I saw the whole plaza spread out before me sparkling with light.

I squinted up at the crystal blue sky. The sunlight was blinding. A trail of wispy clouds rose like a staircase toward heaven. Exhilarated by the celestial feeling, I started to sing. I wanted to pray, but I didn’t know what to say, so I started to sing instead. I raised my hands to the sky like the Baptists and sang out with all my heart.

“Oh when the saints,

Oh when the saints,

Oh when the saints go marching in….”

The old Negro ballad was the only thing that came to my mind. The words were unimportant. It was the feeling that mattered. And the only way I could express my great joy was to sing.

In my rapture, I didn’t notice the sound of the whistles. I didn’t see the Wakf guards running my way. All I knew was that one minute I was singing and then BAM, someone hit me from the side and smashed me to the ground. With an “OOFF,” I crashed to the pavement. Luckily, my arm cushioned the blow. Arab shouts filled the air. Angrily, I pushed my tackler away and scrambled to my feet. Two Wakf guards came running. One barked into a walkie talkie. The other blew on his whistle. In the distance, Israeli policemen came charging my way. I didn’t know what was happening, but I didn’t want to stick around to find out. Without waiting for an explanation, I bolted. I ran past the mosque into an open courtyard. The Wakf guards cried out and pursued. One tripped on a cobblestone. His walkie talkie flew out of his hand and went sliding like a hockey puck over the plaza. Whistles shrieked. People shouted. Blue-uniformed policemen charged forward, holding their firearms in front of their chests. Behind them, green-uniformed soldiers appeared on the Mount.

I had never been a great athlete, but I always could run. Adrenalin pumped through my veins like it never had in my life. For all I knew, the policemen were coming to kill me. What for? Why me? What had I done? I burst through the grove of trees and came out on a wide cobblestoned path. Now I could see clearly the octagon shrine which sat in the center of the Temple Mount. Its great golden dome sparkled like a small sun. But I didn’t have time to take in the scene. The cops were hot on my tail. Arabs dressed in long white gowns stopped to watch the chase. As I sprinted along a straightaway, I caught a glimpse of the Baptists who were also watching the action. Suddenly, up ahead, two Israeli soldiers appeared. Like an Olympic hurdler, I leaped over a hedge and headed away from the shrine toward the far wall at the other side of the compound. One of the Israelis caught a boot in the hedge and rolled head over heels into a ditch. The other soldier bounded over the terrain like a gazelle. I could hear him pounding the turf behind me.

Atzor!” he yelled. “Atzor!”

My lungs screamed out for air. My heart thundered. Up ahead, a towering wall cut off any chance of escape. Nor could I see any gate. Before I could cut back in another direction, I was smashed once again from behind. This time the butt of a rifle jabbed into my back. I went down with a groan. The soldier pinned me to the hard rocky ground. He twisted my arm behind my back and pulled until I hollered in pain.

Al tazooz!” the soldier commanded.

“I’m an American,” I gasped.

Shtok!” the policeman yelled.

Other boots raced up. Policemen huffed and puffed out of breath. The guy that turned out to be a Druse soldier hauled me to my feet.

Atah mishoogah?” he shouted. “Ma atah oseh?”

I knew what the word “mishoogah” meant. That’s what my parents had called me when I had prayed to G-d in my closet.

Another policeman with a khaki uniform and a bushy mustache fastened a pair of handcuffs over my wrists.

“Are you sure he’s a Jew?” he asked the others.

The soldier who had tackled me shook his head dumbly and shrugged.

“I’m a Jew, of course,” I volunteered, certain that here, in Israel, my religion would be to my favor.

“Then you are coming with us,” the cop said in an authoritative manner.

“What did I do?” I demanded to know.

“You’re under arrest.”

“What for?”

“For praying on the Temple Mount. For resisting arrest. For endangering public safety.”

It seemed like a lot of charges to me. It sounded like I was in serious trouble.

“I didn’t pray,” I protested. “I was singing, that’s all.”

“Tell it to the judge,” the arresting officer answered.

The Wakf guards backed away when the Israeli policemen took over, but in truth, it was hard for me to tell who was who.

Defiantly, I stood up for my rights.

“This is a holy place, isn’t it?” I asked.


“So what’s the matter with praying?” I wanted to know.

“Don’t play the innocent,” the commanding officer said gruffly, giving me a shove. His moustache seemed to twitch as if he were getting excited.

“Watch out,” I said, really peeved. “I’m an American. I know my rights. You don’t have any jurisdiction over me.”

“We’ll see about that,” the Israeli answered.

“Other people are praying,” I protested. “Go arrest them too.”

“They aren’t Jews. They can do what they want.”

“What?” I asked, not comprehending.

HaYorum hazeh, hoo amiti?” one of the policemen asked.

Ma petome,” the commander answered.

“A Jew isn’t allowed to pray here?” I asked, bewildered.

Boker tov,” the Druse soldier quipped.

What was he talking about, I wondered? “Boker tov” meant good morning. That much Hebrew I knew.

Hoo b’emet lo yodaya,” another policeman observed.

“That’s right, kid,” the commander answered. “A Jew can’t pray on the Temple Mount.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “If a Jew can’t pray, why is it called the Temple Mount? What else are you supposed to do in a temple but pray?”

“That’s the law.”

“I don’t believe it. It can’t be. What about freedom of speech? What about freedom of religion? Israel is a democracy, isn’t it?”

“This isn’t America,” the cop answered. “If you want to pray, go there.”

I stared at the policemen around me. They all looked perfectly serious. None of them smiled. None of them grinned. The handcuffs were serious too. They cut into my wrists when I moved. A crowd of Arabs started shouting and pointing toward the exit, yelling for us to get out. Not far away, the Japanese and Baptists had gathered, curious to see how the fracas would end.

If I had learned one thing in America, it was that a man was free to stand up for his rights.

“You mean to tell me that a Jew isn’t allowed to pray at the site of the Temple?” I asked in genuine disbelief.

Before answering, the officer’s eyes made a sweep of the Mount, as if to see what the gathering Arabs were doing. “That’s correct,” he said.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” I blurted out.

“Let’s go,” the Israeli ordered, tired of the small talk.

I shook my head no. “I’m not leaving. You don’t have any rights over me.”

“That’s it. Grab him,” the commander angrily ordered.

Before I knew it, I was lifted into the air. Two policemen held my legs, and two held my arms. Roughly, they carried me across the plaza.

“Let me go! Let me go! You can’t do this to me! I’m an American!” I yelled.

Sensing a cause of free speech, the Baptists escorted me toward the exit, as if they were marching in a rousing Dixie parade.

“Oh when the saints,

Oh when the saints,

Oh when them saints go marching in.

We will long to be in their number,

When the saints go marching in.”

The Americans applauded me as the soldiers whisked me off of the Temple Mount, back through the passage to the Jewish side of the Wall. They dragged me down the ramp and dumped me near a sign stating that all visitors should respect the sanctity of the site. Another soldier threw me my backpack. Bruised and battered, I lay sprawled out on the ground. A Temple Mount cop slid a key in the handcuffs and my aching wrists were freed. Laughing, the soldiers and policemen headed back up the walkway to their posts.

“The hell with them,” I thought, muttering a rare curse.

Indignantly, I headed back up the mountain. Who did they think they were? They couldn’t act that way to me. I was an American. Not only that, my father was an intimate friend of the President. One phone call from me and the hotshot Israeli commander would be out on the street looking for work!

The soldier at the gateway frowned when he saw me coming. The commander paused and turned back. I strode forward as if no one were there. Bracing myself, I walked straight for the archway.

“Arrest him,” the commander ordered. “Maybe he’ll cool off after a few days in jail.”

Once again, I found myself in the air. The two Israeli guards lifted me up off my feet.

“I’m an American!” I shouted, “I know my rights! The President of the United States is going to hear about this!”

My feet pedaled in the air as if I were on a bicycle. The soldiers hustled me back down the incline and shlepped me across the plaza toward a police van. After a shove and a kick in my butt, I was locked inside the rear coop of the vehicle. A hand threw my backpack inside. All of my screams didn’t help. When the vehicle swerved in a sharp circle, I went sprawling onto my back. After a short, bouncy ride, the van stopped, and policemen hauled me out of the wagon. As far as I could tell, I was still inside the Old City’s walls. Before I could look around, the cops dragged me into a building that looked like a crusader fortress. Treating me like a criminal, they confiscated my passport and shoved me into a small windowless room.

“Sit here for a while,” a cop said, closing the door.

Agitated, I paced back and forth in the cubicle. The room reminded me of the lock-up rooms in mental wards, only there the walls were padded. When no one came in to interrogate me, I sat down on the small bench to wait. But after a few minutes, I was back on my feet, pacing.

“IN G-D WE TRUST,” I said out loud. “Difficulty at the beginning works complete success. Furthering through perseverance.”

I thought about Boaz and wondered what his reaction had been to the note which I had left in his Tel Aviv flat. I thought about my father and how he would react if he knew that his son were in a Jerusalem jail. To calm down, I sat on the floor, crossed my legs and started to breathe deeply in a Kundilini pose. But before I could slip into a meditation, the door opened and the police officer who had arrested me on the Temple Mount appeared with a tall, aging police officer who looked like the actor, Mel Gibson.

Nu?” he said, as if bored.

“Praying on the Temple Mount, resisting arrest, and endangering public safety,” the Temple Mount commander reported.

The police-station detective glanced over at me with an experienced gaze.

“I wasn’t praying and I didn’t resist anything,” I said. “I was minding my own business.”

Mel Gibson nodded with the same tired expression that the famous Jewish actor was known for. I couldn’t get over the resemblance.

“What were you doing?” he asked.

“I was singing,” I answered.


“That’s right.”

Shtuyot!” the Border Police commander retorted. “He was praying with his hands in the air.”

“I was singing,” I insisted.

“What were you singing?” Mel queried.

“When the Saints Go Marching In,” I answered. “You can ask the Baptist tourists from Florida. They were singing it too. With all due respect, the policeman here wasn’t anywhere near me.”

Mel looked over to the Temple Mount commander. “Did you hear the kid praying?”

“I didn’t,” the cop admitted, “But I got a call from the Wakf guards saying that someone was praying with his arms in the air.”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know if singing is illegal,” the precinct detective responded. “I’ll have to check it out.”

“When we ordered him to halt,” the cop said, “he took off like a gazelle.”

“Is that correct?” Mel asked, turning back to me.

“I didn’t know what they were saying. Sure I ran. They were charging at me with guns.”

“That’s a natural reaction,” Mel admitted. “He’s a tourist. I think you over-reacted, Aharoni.”

“He refused to leave the Mount when I commanded him to,” the commander named Aharoni insisted. Once again, his moustache twitched nervously.

“Why should I have left?” I challenged. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Mel Gibson nodded. “B’seder,” he said. “I get the picture. If you don’t mind, Mr. Singer, we’ll run a check on your passport. You wait here, and I’ll come back soon.”

Once again, the door closed and I was left alone. Funny, I thought. The whole time that the police were interrogating me, my hands hadn’t shaken. Usually, in tense situations, my childhood tremor got worse. I didn’t know if it was because of touching the Wall, or because I felt more sure of myself now that I was in the land of the Jews. Whatever the reason, the tremor was gone.

When it became clear that the police were in no hurry to release me, I sat back down on the floor and folded my legs into a lotus position to meditate. Across the way, a pink nose and a pair of whiskers stuck out from a hole by the floor.

“Great,” I muttered. A rat. The Israelis really knew how to make a guy feel at home. Not taking any chances, I unlocked my legs and sat up on the bench, a safe distance away from the floor. Though the interrogating room wasn’t a particularly relaxing environment for achieving a state of serenity, I had learned at the ashram to put physical discomforts out of my mind. Soon, the walls of the police station melted away, and I was back on the Temple Mount, flying around above the towering dome. When the door opened, I awoke from my flight. The detective who looked like Mel Gibson stood in the doorway, holding my passport in hand.

“Have a nice rest?” the officer asked.

“Five stars,” I answered, wryly.

“Your passport’s all clear.”

“What were you expecting to find?”

“With the situation the way it is in Israel, we can’t be too careful. The Temple Mount is a sensitive spot. Just stay away from it and enjoy your tour of the country.”

I stood up from the bench. The rat had disappeared back into its hole.

“This is your first trip to the country, am I right?” the detective asked, forcing his lips into something that was supposed to look like a smile.

“That’s right.”

Mel Gibson’s Israeli double flicked through my passport.

“England, France, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia – that’s a lot of traveling for a kid. We had to make sure you weren’t a terrorist.”

“A terrorist?”

“Unfortunately, Israel attracts them.”

“What convinced you that I’m not?” I asked.

“I didn’t say you weren’t,” the detective answered. “This time, we’re giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Great, thanks a lot,” I said.

I had been labeled a lot of things in my life, but never a terrorist.

Mel handed me my passport. With a small wave, the detective sauntered away down the corridor. My backpack lay on the floor in the lobby of the station. Grabbing it, I stepped outside onto the cobblestone street. Directly opposite me, an old Ottoman tower rose up over a stone moat that belonged to Crusader times. Across the way, there was a youth hostel, a restaurant, and a post office. The Old City courtyard was crowded with tourists, merchants and Arab schoolchildren. Israeli soldiers with green uniforms and rifles patrolled the street, surrounded by donkeys and priests. Jewish mothers pushed baby carriages through the jam up of cars and taxis. I stopped a black-hatted Jew who was rushing to get through the mob.

“Which way to the Wailing Wall?” I asked.

“Follow me,” the man answered. “I’m on my way to Mincha.”

I thought he said Munich. I didn’t know what he meant. Munich in Israel, I thought? Nonetheless, I followed after him. I had traveled around the world to find G-d, and now that I had, I wasn’t going to lie down like a possum and roll over. Tough Israeli soldiers or not, they didn’t scare me. I knew my rights. America had been founded on religious freedom. Hadn’t anyone in Israel heard of Plymouth Rock? The bold pioneers of America had been willing to take on the whole British navy to uphold their beliefs. No government in the world had the authority to ban prayer or to tell a man how to worship his Maker. In America, a Christian could pray in a temple, and a Jew could pray in a church. If Arabs could pray on the Temple Mount, then so could a Jew. Anything else was discrimination, as plain and simple as that.

“How can it be that in Israel, in the middle of Jerusalem, at the site of the ancient Temple, in the very spot where the House of G-d had stood, that a Jew wasn’t allowed to pray?”

It didn’t make sense. It was racist, undemocratic, completely absurd.

I followed the Orthodox Jew down a narrow, stone stairway into an Arab casbah. Shops lined both sides of the walkway. Merchants in caftans sat on wicker stools, calling out “Hallo, hallo,” to tourists as they passed. There were carved animals for sale, carpets, beads, postcards, drums, sheepskin coats, Christian souvenirs, water pipes, kefiahs, T-shirts, and bulging sacks filled with aromatic spices, coffees, and nuts. A Bedouin woman wearing a veil passed by balancing a tray of sweet pastries on top of her head. A Coptic priest walked along conversing with an Ethiopian prelate who was dressed up in a black skullcap and frock. I felt like I was back in Mecca. A barefooted Arab boy coaxed a donkey up an alley by swatting its rump with a twig.

The smell of barbecued lamb sizzling on a rotisserie reminded me how hungry I was.

“Later,” I thought, hurrying to keep up with the rushing, Madhatter Jew.

“I’m late, I’m late, I’m late for an important date,” his steps seemed to say.

Leaving the crowded market, the Hasid turned to the right, hurried past a security checkpost guarded by Israeli soldiers and raced down a wide flight of stairs to the open plaza in front of the Wall. “Two paths diverged in a snowy wood,” I thought, remembering the famous Robert Frost poem as I parted ways with my escort. Stubbornly, I headed back toward the rampway leading to the Temple Mount gate. The same two soldiers were on duty.

“You again?” one said.

“That’s right,” I answered with a determined look on my face.

I tried to appear calm, but my stomach felt jittery. Though I knew I was morally right, I had never been a big hero. And the Israelis looked tough.

“What do you want?” the second soldier asked, gruffly.

“To go inside like everyone else.”

“What for?”

“To take pictures,” I said, holding up the panoramic Kodak I had bought at the airport in Mecca.

The Israelis didn’t seem convinced. One of them picked up his walkie-talkie and had a quick conversation in Hebrew. After receiving his orders, he told me that I could proceed on inside.

“Leave your bag here,” he ordered.

“And no praying,” the other soldier reminded.

One point for me, I thought, walking into the archway. In the distance, Arabs were kneeling on the ground, praying in front of the el Aksa mosque, their heads bowed toward Mecca, their rumps facing the site of the Temple, as if they were desecrating it. Two Wakf guards stood at attention, waiting to accompany me on my walk. Hurrying to join them were Aharoni, the mustached, Temple Mount commander, the Druse Border policeman, and two khakied soldiers.

Once again, I felt my knees weaken. Whether because of the crowd of policemen or the spiritual high of the Mount, I started to swoon. In a way, I felt like I was out of my league, a little lost kid who had wandered out onto the playing field at Yankee Stadium during the World Series. What was I doing making trouble for the Israeli police? What craziness had lodged in my head?

“You were warned to stay away from here,” Aharoni said.

“IN G-D WE TRUST,” was my answer.

“Don’t play games with me,” Aharoni threatened.

“I’m not breaking any law,” I replied.

“We’ll see about that,” the Israeli answered. This time his moustache and right eye simultaneously twitched.

“I HAVE A DREAM!” I heard Martin Luther King call out in my ears.

“LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS,” the Declaration of Independence decreed.


The words spewed out of my mouth. I had memorized them in grade school. The Israeli policemen and Wakf guards listened to every word, trying to understand what the hell I was saying.

“He’s praying,” someone said.

“No he’s not,” another answered.

“All men are created equal,” I passionately repeated, quoting the immortal words of America’s fourteenth President, the emancipator of the slaves.

“He’s out of his mind,” the Druse observed.

When I moved on, the crowd moved with me. Everyone was staring at me, watching my lips. Between the cypress trees, I could see the golden dome and the great octagon shrine with its shining Persian tiles. Arabs began to congregate to see what was going on.

“Let’s go, Singer,” the commander said. “Take a picture and get out of here before I have a riot on my hands.”

I held up the camera and took a snapshot of the Temple Mount commander. Then I took a picture of the Druse and of the crowd of Wakf police.

“Okay, wise guy, let’s go,” Aharoni ordered.

I glanced at the angry commander. Arabs were converging from all directions. Everyone was staring at me. This was it. This was the moment. I didn’t know why, but I sensed it. History had brought me to this time and this place.

“Move it, Singer, out of here,” the nervous voice said.

I no longer saw them. I was in a world all my own. A feeling swept over me that I couldn’t control.

“Singer!” the cop yelled.

Yes, I was a singer. Hadn’t my grandfather been a cantor in shul?

“Singer!” the cop warned as I opened my mouth.

Singer, that’s right. That was the name that my father had chosen from all the names in the world when he decided to stop being a Cohen. That was the name he made famous all over the globe.

“Singer!” I heard the police commander yell, so I started to sing.

“Oh when the saints,

Oh when them saints,

Oh when the saints come marching in….”

“You’re endangering the safety of the public,” the commander roared, grabbing me by the collar.

I pulled away, but the furious commander held fast to my shirt. With a grunt, he shoved me down to the ground. My camera went sliding over the cobblestones. Once again, I was lifted into the air. “Let me go,” I screamed. In a run, four policemen carried me out from the Temple Mount.

“Wait!” Aharoni yelled.

The huffing policemen set me back on my feet in the archway.

“I never want to see you back here again,” the commander warned, shoving me forcefully against the stone wall. My head flung back and crashed into a rock. For a moment, the earth flipped upside down. I saw bursts of light like fireworks. When Aharoni stepped forward to grab me again, I threw out an arm in defense. It wasn’t a punch, but a straight-arm, as if to keep an opposing tackler away. The bone at the bottom of my hand caught the oncoming policeman square in the nose. I was no Mike Tyson, but the blow startled the Israeli. Stunned, he let out a groan and crashed down to the ground. For a moment, everyone froze. I was as startled as everyone else.

Oy vay,” I thought.

I had knocked out an Israeli policeman!

Where Flowers Bloom Red From Jewish Blood

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

The place that holds the record for murders in a day – even over such ghastly places as Auschwitz and Treblinka – is Babi Yar. A ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, it is today incorporated within the urban, inhabited sector of the Ukrainian capital. The events described here took place seventy years ago, in 1941, on Rosh Hashanah.

The famed Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko wrote one the most chilling and powerful elegies to the place. Shostakovich, the renowned Russian composer, dedicated one of his great symphonies, the 13th, to Babi Yar. Both men were non-Jews who succumbed to the pain that came from contemplating man’s infinite capacity to inflict pain and suffering on his fellow man.

* * * * *

The Russian frontier exploded on June 22, 1941, when the German attack was unleashed without warning. Nine million fighting men joined the battle from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The Wehrmacht conquered Kiev on September 19, 1941. Ten days later, on September 28, notices were posted all over walls, billboards, fences, printed on bad wrapping paper. The notice read:

“All Jews in the city of Kiev and its environs must appear on the corner of Melnikov and Dokhturov Streets (beside the cemetery) at 8 a.m. on September 29. They must bring their documents, money, valuables, warm clothing, etc. Jews who fail to obey this order and are found elsewhere will be shot.”

The text was printed in three languages: Russian, Ukrainian and German. Anatoly Kuznetsov, a resident of Kiev, 12 years old at the time, wrote years later: “Many Jews lived and worked in a cluster of clay huts, small barns and cowsheds…two doors from our house. I peeped in and found them in the grip of a quiet panic, rushing from hovel to hovel, assembling their bundles.”

The Jews were distressed and frightened. The helplessness they felt was heightened by the absence of able-bodied men, who were serving in the Russian army. Mothers had to take care simultaneously of their children and their elders who were often incapable of fending for themselves. They had to make sure documents were in order and see to it that valuables were secured for a possible long trip and resettlement. They had to prepare food for at least a few days and pack clothing for family members while not even knowing what climes they would be moved to.

The unsuspecting Jews came out of their homes when it was still dark, hoping to be the first to board the trains and find seats. With wailing children, the old and the sick, some crippled and limping, some virtually crawling, Jewish tenants spilled out into the street carrying rope-tied bundles, battered wooden suitcases, patched carpetbags, pushing handcarts, baby carriages with three or four infants in each, helping each other, supporting one another.

“I could not, of course,” wrote Kuznetsov, “miss such an event as the deportation of the Jews from Kiev, and ran out into the street…to follow the events. A great crowd was ascending toward Lukyanovka, the cemetery district, a sea of heads. Suddenly there was a great troubled stir. People were saying that one could go only forward, but the return is cut off. This frightened me. I was afraid I would not manage to get out of the crowd and would be driven off with them. I pushed hard against the people, and made my way home.

Kuznetsov continued:

When I came home I saw Grandfather in the middle of the yard. He stood there with a finger raised, straining to hear the sound of firing far away.

A Sign With Soul

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha scream the colorfully illustrated posters hanging in Jewish homes and synagogues all over the globe during the month of Adar, in literal affirmation of our escalating sense of joy.

Designs may vary, but the vivid imagery of fish is common to many if not most of them.

At first glance, the sign of the fish is not quite the emblem one would envision as fit to represent the mazal of Adar, let alone the pinnacle of our spiritual transcendence. For sure there’s more to the unobtrusive aquatic creature than meets the eye. And there, precisely, lies one powerful lesson: In the depth of their watery abode, fish reside far from prying and envious eyes and thus avert the blight of the evil eye, the ayin hara, to which we are so susceptible.

By virtue of their humble existence, fish also serve as a model of unpretentiousness – which just happens to be a fundamental trait in the realm of spirituality and no doubt linked to the age-old mystical phenomena of the reincarnation of righteous souls in – you guessed it – fish.

Just about anyone reading this will recall the sensation created by allegations of a talking fish in Rockland County, New York, that made waves on dry land everywhere in 2003.

Cynics were quick to voice derision at the mere mention of the story. But though implausible to a modern intellect that stubbornly insists on viable proof, the account was far from the first of its kind. And those who accept the story at face value would argue that as a people of faith we should believe that in the realm of Hashem, anything is possible.


* * * * *

According to an oft-told story dating from the early 1900s involving the then-Pupa Rebbe, R. Yaakov Yechezkieh (also known as the Ba’al Vayaged Yaakov), with the proper emunah fish can even be called on to dance for you.

The remote European village was abuzz with excitement at hosting the tzaddik on his vacation, and by Thursday afternoon the heavenly aroma of home cooking and challas baking wafting through the balmy outdoor air attested to Shabbos preparations well under way.

The fish, however, weren’t biting, lamented the fishermen at the market where the women had gone to purchase their standard Shabbos fare. When the rebbe was made aware that they might not have fish lekavod Shabbos, he seemed unfazed. Not to worry, he assured his rebbetzin; they would have fish for Shabbos, God willing.

Friday morning the anxious rebbetzin again brought her concerns before the rebbe. This time he advised her to set the pot cooking in readiness for the fish – because “with the right emunah it will be.”

R. Yaakov Yechezkieh then headed out with his gabbai (personal assistant) to the far side of the lake for ritual immersion. Just as the rebbe immersed himself in the sparkling water, an amazing scene mesmerized the gabbai who stood by holding the rebbe’s Shabbos clothes; a big, beautiful fish had suddenly surfaced and was circling the tzaddik with its fins flapping, as though appealing to the rebbeto take it home for Shabbos Kodesh.

On their walk back through the village streets, they were quite the sight – the gabbai, fish in one hand and rebbe’s weekday clothes in the other, following closely behind the rebbe. To those who wondered aloud about where the elusive fish could have been found, the gabbai remarked simply, “The rebbe said that with the right emunah, it will be!”


* * * * *

In Vienna’s oldest Jewish cemetery (Rossau), there is a sculpture of a fish, mouth open, tail in the air. A Jewish fisherman who had netted a large fish to feed his family stopped short of clobbering it senseless when the fish emitted a heart-rending Shema Yisrael. The rav of the community resolved that the fish merited proper burial rather than consumption.


* * * * *

Not all fish with a lofty quest are equally outspoken. Take the time that members of a Jewish community in a distant city invited Reb Baruch of Mezibush for a Shabbos and managed to procure an extra large fish for their esteemed guest (a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov).

The tzaddik was immensely pleased with their prize find and insisted on divvying it up and personally serving everyone assembled at his tish (table).

Later, R. Baruch regaled them with the following story:

There once lived a God-fearing and learned young man who was beloved by all he came in contact with. As the Yiddish saying goes, he was tzu Got un ztu leit, finding favor in the eyes of God and man alike.

His wife ran a small merchandising outlet that allowed the talmid chacham to study to his heart’s content. Satan, however, had difficulty handling such virtuosity and wrested divine approval to put the righteous individual to the test.

Their modest business soon took off and the young wife, unable to bear the brunt of the increased workload, beseeched her husband to forgo some learning time in order to help out.

Eventually the need arose for some business transactions to be conducted away from home, so the young man began mingling in the outside world where he gradually picked up unsavory habits. One faux pas led to another until the once gentle and pious man’s scruples left much to be desired.

Once, while on the way to commit an unspeakable indiscretion, his ears picked up disturbing sounds of weeping. Investigation on his part revealed an entire family held captive in a dungeon due to being arrears to their landowner.

The young man wasted no time in paying off the debt to gain release of the imprisoned individuals, and his meritorious deed awoke in him acute regret for having fallen from grace and angering his Maker.

Grief-stricken, he contemplated all his wrongdoings and wondered what would keep him from spiraling downward again in the future. The tormenting thought left him so disheartened that he jumped off his wagon, dove into a nearby body of water and drowned.

The heavens were up in arms. On the one side were all of his maasim tovim of earlier years, as well as the massive achievement of his last day on earth; on the other there was the argument that though he repented on his last day and performed a great mitzvah, he nonetheless committed a grave misdeed by taking his life.

The Heavenly Court ruled that his soul would be reincarnated as a fish whose consumption as Shabbos or Yom Tov fare would absolve him of all sin.

Reb Baruch of Mezibush concluded by saying they had all participated in the poor soul’s rectification. The tzaddik then gathered ten men with whom he studied Mishnayos the entire night, assuring the neshama’s return to its rightful place.


* * * * *

Is there an ethereal connection between tzaddikim and fish? The following incident testifies that there might just be.

Once in his younger years when the Chozeh of Lublin, Reb Yaakov Yitzchok, arrived at the court of the Maggid of Mezritch on an erev Shabbos, he happened upon the bustling preparations of the fish. Without ado, he announced he would not depart from his longstanding practice of preparing his own and promptly helped himself to a piece, salted it, and placed it among the others still requiring cooking.

The maggid’s talmidim who viewed the incident were amused by the young man’s notion of having prepared “his” portion of fish, which would be tossed together with dozens of others and set before the maggid to be apportioned randomly as shirayim (the custom of partaking of the food the rebbe has tasted).

Reb Shneur Zalman (later to become known as the Ba’al HaTanya), was one of the young men present. Intrigued as to how the incident would play itself out, he marked the pre-salted piece of fish by threading it with a piece of string.

Friday night, as the maggid’s uneaten “leftovers” were rationed to the many eager seudah participants, R. Shneur Zalman’s eyes did not veer from the identifiable portion of fish.

He watched as the threaded fish was handed to someone other than R. Yaakov Yitzchok. The recipient was immediately gripped by a fever that quashed his appetite and he weakly nudged the fish portion toward R. Yaakov Yitzchok, who sat near him, with a “take it I’m not feeling too well.”

Just as soon as R. Yaakov Yitzchok took the piece of fish from him, his tablemate regained his prior robust state of health and asked for anther piece.

In later years, when the Baal HaTanya would retell the story, he’d add that as the outcome unfolded, he understood the newcomer possessed a spiritually elevated essence.


* * * * *

And then there’s the anguish of the soul that almost missed its tikkun. The episode took place about a century ago and involves a highly respected talmid chacham known as Reb Avraham Mekubal. Despite the meager stipend he received from the local kehilla in the tiny, close-knit community, he was able to indulge his passion for learning without much disruption. And so he chose a modest albeit peaceful existence over a more lucrative but stressful position in a larger city.

When a devastating fire impoverished the kehilla, Reb Avraham was left no choice but to accept a rabbinical post elsewhere.

As he and his family approached their new surroundings on an early Friday morning, they stopped to take respite at the premises of a Jewish innkeeper who was thrilled at the rare opportunity to perform the mitzvah of hachnossas orchim. Intent on hosting his eminent guests for the duration of Shabbos, the innkeeper prepared the best accommodations at his disposal and looked eagerly forward to some spiritual stimulation.

A longstanding tradition had the poritz, the landowner, coming by every Friday evening for an overflowing mug of schnapps and generous helping of fish. He arrived this night just as Reb Avraham and his family were being served the fish course, and a place setting was duly set for the visitor.

But as the poritz lifted a forkful to his mouth, a loud commotion ensued. Reb Avraham, seated at the head of the table, had collapsed in a heap on the floor. The poritz dropped his fork and rushed to join the others trying to revive their esteemed guest.

In a short while, Reb Avraham was well enough for everyone to resume the meal. The poritz opened his mouth in anticipation of relishing a tasty morsel when Reb Avraham fell to the floor again. This scene repeated itself over and over until a vexed poritz, resigned to the realization that some force was at work to prevent him from indulging in his favorite weekly repast, left his fish whole and strode out.

During the night, Reb Avraham was awakened by moans and cries for help. The innkeeper, he was informed, was suffering severe abdominal distress and appeared to be on the verge of expiring. Still weak from his earlier ordeal, Reb Avraham took pains to approach his host’s bedside.

“Be aware,” he said with all earnestness, “that your suffering is linked to my fainting spells. The holy books teach that righteous Jewish souls in need of spiritual rectification infiltrate the type of foods we purchase in honor of our holiest days; this affords the neshama a tremendous aliyah.

“By allowing the poritz to satisfy his physical appetite by way of the Shabbos fish, you may have cancelled out tikkunim of more than one bereft Jewish soul. On this Friday night, it was your father’s neshama that sought rectification at his own son’s table. As the poritz was about to indulge his craving, the neshama’s distraught cries echoed through the atmosphere. Unable to withstand the soul’s anguish, I lost consciousness, and your affliction is penance for your father’s pain.”


* * * * *

The inconspicuous inhabitants of the sea have featured quite prominently on our Jewish landscape, even as they tend to remain hidden from view.

And therein lay Haman’s folly. Fish, he scoffed, as he scrutinized the astrological signs of each month to determine the most opportune one for his malicious plan, are easily devoured.

What he could never fathom was the Jewish heart, concealed from the outsider like the fish that reside in the hidden depths of the ocean. What he failed to ascertain was that water is a metaphor for the divine attribute of kindness and that the continuously open eyes of fish allude to God’s constant watch over His beloved children. What Haman did not figure into his equation was our unbreakable bond with our Maker via the life-sustaining waters (of Toras Chayim) in which we are constantly immersed.

Notwithstanding that God alone determines the fate of the people of Israel (those who follow His ways bypass the astrological influence of the stars), all of God’s creations – among them the wondrous and intriguing constellations – were intended as lessons for His most intelligent of creations, the human being.

Fish, symbolizing the month of Adar, are likened to B’nei Yisrael and teach us the most profound of lessons.

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/a-sign-with-soul/2010/02/24/

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