Thursday, April 26, 2012

64 for 64

Israel turns 64 today.  What an amazing ride it's been so far for Israel since David Ben Gurion made his famous speech on May 14th, 1948.  In honor of this milestone, I'd like to share 64 things I love about Israel in no particular order.  The '64' will include historical events, sporting events, food, our famous personalities and personal milestones.  May the list keep on growing forever ...

Batter up ...

1.  Did I mention Ben Gurion's famous speech?

2.  Humus and Madbucha - Nothing beats these dips on a fresh pita. 

3.  Menachem Begin's speech after the Altalena, "We shall continue to love the people of Israel, and we shall continue to fight for the people of Israel...Help me to persuade my people that it is forbidden for brother to raise a hand against brother, that it is forbidden that a Hebrew weapon be used against Hebrew fighters."  Simple words that saved a country from civil war.

4.  Itzar Zohar and the Alphabeta winning Israel's first Eurovision title in 1978 with "A-Ba-Ni-Bi"

5.  Rain.  In a country that so desperately needs rain, it's a blessing when it happens.

6.  The quiet that transcends as Erev Shabbat approaches in Jerusalem, or most Israeli cities for that matter.

7.  Ha'Tikvah, Israel's national anthem.  Goose bumps every time I hear it sung, "We still haven't lost our hope."

8.  Talking to the older generation, the ones who knew a world without Israel, or Europe before and during the Holocaust, or the Arab world before the Mizrachi Nakba, or Israel during the highs and lows of the last 64 years.

9.  Yossi Benayoun scoring the winner in the Bernabeu to lead Liverpool to a 1-0 win over Real Madrid in the first Champions League game between the European giants.

10.  Yom Ha'Zikaron (Memorial Day).  Remembering the many brave men and women who gave up their lives for this country.

11.  Eli Cohen.  History's greatest spy.

12.  A Tzedaka box in almost every store you go to.

13.  Sallah Shabati, with a starring role from Chaim Topol, is nominated for an Oscar and wins a Golden Globe award.

14.  Naomi Shemer, Israel's famous lyricist.

15.  Tal Brody and Macabbi Tel Aviv with the 1977 European Cup Championship, the first major international sports championship for Israel.  "We are on the map!"

16.  Ilan Ramon z'l, Israel's first astronaut.

17.  Gal Fridman.  Israel's first gold medal winner (2004 Atlanta Olympics).

18.  Nature ... From North to Center to South, just a stunningly beautiful country.

19.  Falafel!

20.  Miluim (IDF reserve duty).  Only the Israeli man really understands this, and his once a year, or maybe more, friends!

21.  Russian? or Amharic? or French? or Yiddish? or Spanish? or Arabic? or English? What language can't you hear while walking around?

22.  The Buses ... a window into life in IsraelI, II, III.

23.  The return of Ethiopian Jewry.  Incredible.

24.  Reuven Atar stuns France in the 92nd minute with the winner in a 3-2 classic.

25.  Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem's open air shuk.  The smells, the sounds ... It's great.

26.  Start Up Nation.  If you don't get it, read the book.  If you don't have time, read this.

27.  Yom Ha'Atzmaout (Independence Day).  Such a 180 straight after Yom Ha'Zikaron ... An explosion of happiness, time with family, a good mangal and if you're lucky, no foam!

28.  Ben Gurion's take on living in Israel, "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles."

29.  The Raid on Entebbe ... one of those miracle.  A few good articles can be read here, or here, or here.

30.  R' Ovadia Yosef, Gadol Ha'Dor.

31.  Ofra Haza, the singer with an  angel's voice.  My favorite song?  Shecharchoret (Morenika in Hebrew).

32.  The Kotel.  Are words really necessary?

33.  The Dead Sea.  Best place for a floating vacation.

34.  IDF.  The army that protects this special land.

35.  Beit Ticho.  The lovely restaurant off Jaffa Street (J-town) where I proposed to Talya.

36.  My two tzabars, Nissim and Keren.

37.  Hebrew.  Seen and spoken throughout, the language of our revival.

38.  Shwarma ... in a laffa ... for 15 NIS.

39.  Yom Kippur.  It's amazing how the whole country shuts down for Judaism's holiest day.

40.  The Weather.  Mild winters and warm summers (well, sometimes boiling hot but who's complaining?)

41.  The excitement generated by Natan Sharansky's arrival in Israel.

42.  Nachal Yehudia.  My favorite nature trail in the country.

43.  Bamba and Bissili - two great snacks

44.  Israeli folk dancing (when done well!).

45.  Having random people say 'Shabbat Shalom' to you in the street on Shabbat.

46.  The "we-ness" of this country ... If only we had it more often.

47.  Yehoram Gaon, probably my favorite Israeli singer.  His songs, be it the beautiful Zionist songs or Ladino classics, are great.

48.  Me'arat Ha'Machpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs).  Putting aside the politics of the place, it's always an incredibly powerful and spiritual experience when one visits.

49.  Subliminal, Zionist hip hop at its best.  Honorable mention to Shi 360.

50.  The national obsession with the level of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

51.  Camel Crossing signs in the Negev

52.  Gadi Ezra's letter to his fiancee, a letter she opened after he was killed in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield.  For more on Gadi and the others who fought in Jenin, A Psalm in Jenin is the book to read.

53.  People who turn up to a 7pm chuppah at 8pm are still early.

54.  Cheap Avocados!

55.  Climbing Masada in the early hours of the morning to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea.

56.  Abba Eban, one of Israel's most gifted orators.  A man who explained our position to the world with grace and humility, and always knew how to see the ironic side of the conflict, "If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions."

57.  Shoko be'sakit (Chocolate milk in a bag).  Is there anywhere else this treat is available?

58.  Travel.  Is there a country (outside the obvious ones in the Middle East) you've been to where you've not run into Israelis?  We're everywhere!  ;)

59.  Zohar Argov, the King.

60.  Seeing the Israeli flag proudly displayed on balconies, windows and cars in the weeks leading up to Yom Ha'Atzmaout.

61.  The heated and enlightening political (and religious) debates one finds himself having all the time, regardless of time and place.  I guess that's why Golda Meir told Charles De Gaulle in the 70s, "Can you imagine how difficult it is to lead a country that has three million Prime Ministers?"  Imagine Bibi always dealing with six!  :)

62.  Menachem Begin Heritage Center, the place to learn about a towering figure in Israeli history.

63.  Landing in David Ben Gurion airport ... Home.  It's a wonderful feeling.

64.  Remembering the passion and love you had for the country when you were like the dreamy eyed Olim Chadashim (new immigrants) you're talking to ... and realizing that passion and love is as strong as ever.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I remember

One of the sad stories of the Independence War (and the early years of the State) was the many soldiers who died 'alone'.  These soldiers had come from the ashes of Europe, and were the lone remaining branch of their family trees.  With their deaths, their family lines ended, and there was sadly no one to remember these unfortunate souls.  Last year, My Israel put a plan into action where Israelis would go to the graves of these soldiers and honor their tremendous sacrifice for the State of Israel.  This year, I had the privilege of being a part of this tremendous initiative.

We had 5 grave to visit at Har Herzl.  The routine at each grave was short and to the point: we read Tehillim (Psalms), said Kaddish, read the biography of the person and then said El Maleh Rachamim.  I was deeply moved by these stories.  Bustling lives in Poland, or Romania, or Czechoslovakia straight to the horrors of the Holocaust, and being left alone in this world.  They had nothing left to live for ... except the dream and hope of building Israel.  That is what pushed each one of these boys to the Mandate, and to the Army to ensure this country survived.  That's where these stories ends unfortunately.  Their blood would sadly become part of the roots that allowed this tree to grow into what it is today. 

So I had a chance to remember them ... To thank them ... To cry for them ... To pray that their sacrifices, and those of the 20,000+ Israelis who've died to make this dream a reality, will never be forgotten ... Yizkor ... May your dear memories forever be blessed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


The below as taken from Rabbi Meir Matzliah Melamed's (z'l) commentary on Pirkei Avot:

Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] described the famous solidarity of the Jews in the following parable: In a boat full of passengers, one of them began to drill a hole in the bottom that was beneath where he was seated.  The other passengers exclaimed, "What are you doing?"  He answered, "What is it to you? I am drilling in my own space." The other passengers replied, "It is true that it is in your own place, but when the water begins to enter the boat, we, too, will drown." In like manner, when a Jew does wrong, this has repercussions on all Jews.

I thought this was relevant in light of events in Israel over the past 10 days.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Monday, April 09, 2012


The word for freedom in Hebrew is חרות.

There is an interesting teaching that says that חרות is an acronym for the Four Sons that are mentioned in the Pessach seder.

ח is for חכם, the smart son
ר is for רשע, the evil son
ו is for וזה שאינו יודע לשאול, the son who doesn't know how to ask
ת is for תם, the timid son.

One way of looking at this is that all four sons are viewed as a composite. We are all deeper than we may first appear, and judging a person based on one conversation, or meeting, may leave us with misconceptions and stereotypes. Perhaps freedom is when one adjusts his ability to judge the book on more than just the cover ... I se'ed djuzgan a todo ombre a parte beuna (Judge every person favorably, Pirkei Avot א:ו).

Sunday, April 08, 2012

I cried a lot

I met an interesting woman during Seder last night. When she told me she was born in Poland, I asked her when she arrived in Israel. She arrived in the Mandate in 1936 with her parents and siblings. "Haganah or Etzel?" I asked. "Haganah, but my heart was always with the Etzel," she responded. When I asked why, she smiled and said, "My brothers were in the Etzel." Curious as always, I asked, "How did you deal with the Season?" "I cried," she said, "a lot."

A few other interesting points she made:

* One of her brothers was at the beach when the Altalena reached Kfar Vitkin, and witnessed the ship being attacked by the IDF. He saw survivors from the ship swimming to shore dealing with constant fire, not to mention grenades. It still amazes me how Israel survived this tragedy ...
* David Ben Gurion was a great leader, but he did many evil things. Those shouldn't be forgotten.
* If our education system continues to essentially gloss over the Season and Altalena, it will sadly happen again ... "Us Jews don't learn well from our past."

Thursday, April 05, 2012