Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Book's Cover

When I first started praying at the Kurdi beit knesset near my home, a co-worker asked me, "Isn't that the beit knesset where the taxi drivers pray?" This happened four years ago, and I don't really remember reacting to the comment bar feeling a bit insulted inside.

One of the people who prays with me at another beit knesset near my place is also a taxi driver. Granted, I think he's doing it for some extra money as I think he's retired but he's still a taxi driver. Abroad, one would scoff at that line of work - Here too apparently. A taxi driver? Peasants. However, this taxi driver (and many others too I'm sure) is special. He's a phenomenal shat"z (shaliach tzibbur, the person who leads the prayers) and ba'al koreh (The person who reads the Torah). What's even more impressive is his four boys (I've never met his two girls) are all also excellent when they're called to be the shat"z or ba'al koreh, from the youngest (14) to the oldest (25 I think). Yup, a taxi driver ... A phenomenal man.

It reminds me of the story of the Rabbi who entered the classroom every morning to find new insights on the Talmud on his chalkboard. Every day, without fail, the chalkboard contained pearls of wisdom that were mostly new to him. One evening, the Rabbi stayed in the corner of the classroom and waited for the protege to reveal himself. At midnight, the yeshiva's elderly janitor walked into the room. To the Rabbi's amazement, he sat down at a desk, begun reading the Talmud and started to scribble on the chalkboard. His genius was the janitor.

I guess both stories are rather nicely summed up by Pirkei Avot 1:6, "Judge every person favorably."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Voices of the Farhud" by David Kahtan

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Farhud [The massacre, rape and dispossession of 145 Jews in Iraq in 1941]. Here is a short 20 minute movie about the horrifying event from people who lived through it:

Part 1 & Part 2

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I love you

The week started with an inspiring post by a poster on about 'counting the blessings.' It's something I've blogged about in the past, and I feel it's something we struggle to do enough. How often do we stop and appreciate our blessings (loved ones, our health, our parnassa etc)?

I got a SMS on Tuesday night from one of my team members. "My father passed away," it started. I stopped. "I read this wrong," I hoped. I read it again, "My father passed away." I looked at my wife, and told her. Our expressions were probably identical. The same fears we (and I guess most people) have were now being lived by a good friend.

The next day I had to call my Dad. I wanted to hear his voice. To tell him what I tell him whenever I talk to him, "I love you." The idea of not being able to hear either parent's voice, or tell them these simple words, scare me deeply. I dread the day. Alas, that day will come ... that's life. Until then, I hope to continue to appreciate the amazing parents I've been blessed with. These tragic events only highlight how important the 'task' is ...

Words of appreciation (and love) are the "simple thing you got left to trust," (courtesy of Juluka's "Simple Things") - why otherwise would we start every day with modeh ani?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Media Coverage of Israel

An Israeli is on vacation and is visiting a zoo in the States when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion's cage.

Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to devour her - under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The Israeli runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the Israeli brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A reporter had watched the whole event. The reporter says to the Israeli: 'Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I've seen a man do in my entire life.'

The Israeli replies, 'Why, it was nothing, really. The lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger and did what I thought was right.'

The reporter says, 'Well, I'll make sure this won't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, and tomorrow's paper will have this story on the front page! So, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?'

The Israeli replies, "I serve in the Israeli army and I vote for the Likud.'

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the Israeli buys the paper to see news of his actions, and reads the front page's headline:


It may be a joke, but sometimes you just wonder (for many real examples of this, check out Honest Reporting).

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A letter

The Germans were coming, and there was no chance that anyone would survive. The mother decided that she was going to give her daughter over to a non-Jewish couple - perhaps she would be saved. The following letter was sewed into the shirt of the girl in hope that it would remain with her ... that someday she would read this letter.

Dear Mirrele,

I can’t believe that I have one night to struck a life time of love into this letter. Tomorrow morning at 4 am – if it can be called morning – I’m giving you up. I’m taking you Mirrele to the back entrance of dear, brave Herman’s grocery, and the child rescuers will be waiting there for you, and the 32 other children under the age of three. They will inject you with a sedative, so you won’t cry, and then they’ll slip off into pre-dawn, with you, my life, my love, out of this horrible country to safety.

We’ve pushed it off, and pushed it off, Mirrele. We didn’t want to believe we would have to give up our child, probably never to see her again. But this is the last child rescue. After this there will be no-one left to rescue, because tomorrow our informers tell us is the last big round up. Tomorrow they come for men, women and children. And I’ve been convinced by these words spoken by our entrusted informer Herman, the brave gentile grocer any child they take away either dies immediately or dies on the way to the death camps. We were the last ones to be convinced to give up our child.

He said finally, with the deepest sadness, and every exhausted wrinkle in his face, “I cannot force you. But if you keep her with you she will be dead in a month. They have no use for babies. She cannot work for them. If you want to give her to us bring her to the back entrance of my grocery at 4am. No belongings. Whatever food you have. Goodbye”.

Mirrele, do you see why I had to give you up? He said no belongings, but I will beg, I will plead that this letter be allowed to go, sewn into your undershirt. And then I will pray to G-D the letter stays with you until you are old enough to read it. You must know that we love you. You must know why you are alone without parents. Not because they didn’t love you, but because they did.

Its eerie to think that by the time you read this I will probably be dead. That’s what Herman said is going on. People die either immediately, on the way, or after a week or two of forced labour and no food. But I won’t have lived in vein, Mirrele. If I know that I brought you into the world and you will live and survive and grow big and strong, and you will be happy. You can be happy, Mirrele – because we love you.

What makes the difference in the lives of adults, it seems, is if they had to kill childhood, secure it with lots of love and acceptance, and means fulfilled, and predictable routines in the life. You have that up till this minute. You have it up until 4am. But then you won’t. Who knows who will end up taking care of you? Some family who will take you in for the money. Herman will pay them. They will surely be kinder to their own then to you.

Here is where pain mixes with rage. I rage at the animals who are making it possible for you to cry and I won’t be there to comfort you. But you will have this letter. And this letter will make you feel secure, if G-D answers my prayers.

You leave us Mirrele, even though you can’t see us. We’re with you. We’re watching you. I’m praying for you. Every time you have troubles, we are pounding on the door to G-D’s very throne room, and shifting on the audience to demanding mercy for you, Mirrele, down on earth alone without her parents. And G-D will listen to us. We won’t leave Him alone, until he agrees with us, that you deserve health and love and happiness.

Mirrele, you will wonder what your first two years were like? You wish you could remember. Let me remember for you, right now, tenderly on this piece of paper.

You like hot cereal in the morning with lots of milk and sugar – except there is no milk and sugar now, not in the whole city. But I make you cereal anyway, and you eat it with big smiles between every bite. Then you become ready for your nap, so I wrap you putting you where the sunlight will fall on you. I rock you until you fall asleep, and then I put you in my bed. You sleep well there. You like my smell. What will you smell tomorrow night? Surely nobody will wrap you tomorrow morning – not even in the shade.

O G-D, I cannot do it. I will do it for you Mirrele, so that you will have at least a hope for life.

Mirrele, do me a favour. After you grow, after this dirty nightmarish war is over, I know there will be those who underplay the tragedies going on here every day. They will say, “War is war. It was just a war”. Mirrele, tell them about the agony. Tell them how you felt secure in my arms being rocked to sleep in the sunlight. Tell them how your father ran one night a year ago when you were sick to get you medicine, past sentries whilst breaking the curfew. He risked his life to ease your pain.

Mirrele, now the three of us are being torn apart. Just a war? Tell them Mirrele that all the wars in the world don’t add up to the agony in my heart right now as I write this.

G-D, it’s 2am already. Only two more hours with my loved, my baby, my life, my Mirrele. I’m going to hold you now, Mirrele, for two hours. Your father and I are going to wake you, feed you, and tell you over and over how much we love you. Your barely two years old, but maybe if G-D is good, maybe you will remember us, until you are old enough to read this.

There will be bad times ahead for you Mirrele, I know. But just think about me holding you, rocking you to sleep in the sunlight. Keeping that sunlight in your heart always.

I love you. Your father loves you. My G-D help us all.

It remained with this woman, who at least knew her name. Her name was Mirrele, Miri. She never knew her mother’s name. Her mother signed off 'Mamma'. She calls herself Miriam bat Liba. Liba means ‘loved’, because that is what she remembers about her mother.

This is about a mother who was forced to abandon her child out of love.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Netzer Hazani

[Put aside your feelings re: the Disengagement and watch the lives of the kids who lived through the event]

The story of high-schoolers from Netzer Hazani during their last summer vacation before the Disengagement. A movie about perseverance, unity and faith till the end (In Hebrew with English subtitles).