Saturday, November 09, 2013

Jewish Identity: A Conversation (via Ariel Sharon)

Ariel Sharon is perhaps an unlikely commentator on Jewish identity, but this excerpt from his autobiography, Warrior, reveals a clear discomfort at the serious estrangement from the Jewish religion of his generation of Zionist pioneers. His concerns are decidedly relevant in today’s discussions on the nature of religion and state in Israel, and what it means to be a Jewish democracy.
What follows is an exchange between me and Avram Piha, who brought this text to my attention. Both of us have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue.

 For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Musings of an ex-Shasnik

That was the last time I voted for Shas … in any election format. As I started to explore more about how they functioned, I realized that Shas was part of the problem. Their political strength was maintained by people like me – non-Haredi Sefardi (Jews who trace their roots back to the Iberian Peninsula) and Mizrachi Jews – who vote for them because of whom they claim to represent. In retrospect, they do little to find solutions to improve the situation, constantly stoke the fires of the ethnic divides in the country, and promote a brand of Judaism that is very foreign to Sefardi and Mizrachi Jewry. I guess we all make mistakes, but year after year, I wonder if their power will lessen? What will it take to make people see the party for what it really is?

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yoni on "Special Aging of the Young"

נכנסה בי מין עצבות שאינה מרפה ממני. לא שהיא משתלטת עלי או מנחה את פעולותי, אלא שהיא בתוכי, היא קיימת, שקועה עמוק בפנים, בתוך חלל חבוי היטב. זה אינו חלל של ריקנות, אלא משהו בעל משקע כבד יותר - חלל כבד. אולי הרגשה זו אינה קיימת רק בי. לפעמים אני מרגיש בעמקותו ובזעקתו של אותו חלל גם אצל אחרים, אצל כל אותם החברים, שיצאו מן המלחמה בריאים בגופם. נדמה לי, שכולנו יצאנו פצועים, שונים, רגישים יותר, 'איכפתיים' יותר, והרבה יותר זקנים. אותה הרמוניה, שהיא אפיינית לעולמו של בחור צעיר,שוב אינה מצויה בי. אמנם אני צעיר, עדיין חזק ובוטח בעצמי וביכלתי, אלא שעם זה איני יכול להתעלם מן העובדה, שהשתלטה עלי איזו הרגשת-זקנה. לא הייתי זקן מעולם, לא במנין השנים, ולכן איני יודע אם הרגשה זו היא כאותה שבאה מחמת הגיל. אך זוהי זקנה, בכל אופן – זקנה מיוחדת של צעירים.

כשאני מנסה להסביר לעצמי מדוע זה כך, מפני-מה צמחה בי ההרגשה הזאת, אני מגיע למסקנה, שלא רק המלחמה או ההרג, או המות, והפציעות והמומים הם האשמים בדבר
על אלה אפשר להתגבר. אם אלה, יתכן, שהזמן יטשטש. הסיבה נעוצה בהרגשת חוסר אונים, שבאה בעקבות מלחמה שאין לה קץ. כי המלחמה לא נגמרה ונראה לי, שתמשך עוד ועוד. מלחמת יוני היתה רק מערכה. היא נמשכת כעת, היום, אתמול, ומחר. היא נמשכת עם כל מוקש, הריגה ורצח, עם כל פצצה שמתפטצצת בירושלים ועם כל יריה בצפון ובדרום. זהו ה"שקט" שלפני הסערה הבאה. אין לי ספק, שהמלחמה תבוא. גם אין לי ספק, שננצח בה. אבל עד מתי? להשמיד את העם הערבי לא נוכל: הם רבים מדי ובעלי תמיכה חזקה מדי. כמובן, שנמשיך להכות בהם, שוב ושוב ושוב, ותהיה לנו הצדקה מלאה להכות אותם כל פעם מכה חזקה יותר. הכרה זו נוסכת בנו שמחה, אבל זוהי שמחה מהולה בעצב. אנו צעירים, ולא נוצרנו רק למלחמות. אני מתעתד להמשיך את לימודי, ואני רוצה ומעונין בכך. אבל שוב איני יכול לראות את זה כיעוד עיקרי. אפילו יהיה זה הדבר הנכון - נכון לעצמי ונכון לישראל, לא זה הדבר החשוב- את זה אני מרגיש בתוך תוכי.  מכאן העצבות שעליה דיברתי למעלה - העצבות של אנשים צעירים, שנועדו למחלמה שאין לה קץ.

Taken from מכתבי יוני.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last Name

When I was in reserve duty a few years ago, one of my friends told me he wanted to change his last name. His last name, he told me, was Yemenite and he wanted something more Israeli. I told him that although I could understand why many Jews did it when they arrived in new countries or why the early Zionists did it on arrival to the Ottoman Empire/Mandate, I didn't think there was a need to do it then and definitely not now. If your family has committed to live on this land, then you're already as Israeli as it gets. Changing your last name won't change that. On a personal level, I feel it's insulting to your family's lineage to do so.

Yesterday, I found another perspective to this in an article remembering the late R' David Sabato:

When the family made aliyah (immigration to Israel) from Egypt, one of the sons asked Saba (grandfather in Hebrew, referring to R' David) if they can change their last name to something more Israeli. Saba answered, "Know this my son - the name does not make the man, however, the opposite is true. You and your brothers will ensure that the name Sabato will be positively mentioned in every place.

Follow Me - The Yoni Netanyahu Story

Sharing a quite excellent documentary about Yoni Netanyahu, the sole IDF casualty in the raid on Entebbe on July 4th, 1976.  The documentary is really well done, and using Yoni's friends and family, as well as his letters, goes through the major stages of his life. A must watch really.

Five things that stuck out to me:

1) It's the first time I've seen a video of him speaking.
2) The conflict Yoni had between wanting be an active part of defending Israel and devoting time to his other interests (education, family etc).
3) The extreme difficulty he had killing people.
4) This quote from Bibi: "My mother let out a terrible scream. I'll never forget that. It was actually worse than hearing about Yoni's death."
5) One of the Sayeret Matakl soldiers commented, "And then all of a sudden the guy who led the other team pulled to the left and stopped near the corner of the terminal." Then another soldier continues, "... and Yoni, he shouts 'move, move, move, move, don't stop.'" 'The guy who led the other team' is Muki Betser, the man who supposedly was important to the planning of Entebbe and integral during the raid itself.  For more on the man, click here.

Part I:

Follow Me - The Yoni Netanyahu Story Part 1 from Israel Muse on Vimeo.

Part II:

Follow Me - The Yoni Netanyahu Story Part 2 from Israel Muse on Vimeo.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'Ordinary Hero'

I had a few minutes to browse the web during lunch today. While on Facebook, I scrolled down the page of one friend and saw a tribute to a fallen soldier from the Second Lebanon War. I was curious - and clicked play. After a minute, I noticed a face. A few minutes later, I saw it again. This soldier's commander is a friend of mine, a friend I play footy with every week. We laugh and joke, and yet, behind this happy, normal person was a man who led boys to war, and had to say goodbye to one of them.

Before I saw this video, he was already a guy I respected. He just always came off as a good person, a guy who's head and heart were in the right place.

Now, I'll look at him with even more respect. When you've led boys through hell - or in his words, 'a young guy in the wrong place' - and you can still hold yourself the way he does, you are a person deserving of my respect.

I'm proud to live in a country where I feel this is the norm.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

From Baghdad with Love

I spent Sunday morning with my landlord ensuring we were leaving his apartment in good shape. When he confirmed all was ok, I handed over the keys and asked him if he had time to tell me a little bit about his life. Eli had on numerous occasions mentioned his childhood memories of Iraq, and the difficulty of being a refugee in Israel in the 1950s, but we had never had the chance to sit down and really talk about it. We both decided there was no better time than the present, so we sat down on a bench and got to it.

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Yaprak ... The Tradition Continues

One of my lil boy's favorite snacks in his packed lunch is yaprak, stuffed vine leaves. The can bought stuff is ok I guess, but obviously nothing like the delicacy I've grown up eating at my Nonna's or Mom's throughout the years. Yaprak, meaning leaf in Turkish, is a traditional dish of the Rhodesli Jews and is similar to the Greek dolmas. This past week, I decided to make the dish - yaprakes de oja de parra kon avos (vine leaves stuffed with meat, rice and fresh herbs and stewed with beans) - for Shabbat. The process itself wasn't so time consuming, and was fun to do it with the wife ... and the result?  Delicious!

The recipe:

Prep time:


Before cooking:

The final product:

Other Sephardi delicacies: Pastelicos, Burmwelos, Masapan, Reshikas, Roskas, Pepitada, Bourekitas

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Last Month in Israel … in Ladino Sayings

When I read Sarah’s “Sometimes you need Yiddish to get the job done” last week, not only did I think it was a great read, but I also thought something similar should be done in Ladino. My father’s family is from Rhodes and Southern Turkey, and the songs and sayings (not to mention food, but that will have to wait for another day) of this beautiful region’s Jewish heritage were a part of the household. Like Sarah’s piece, I’ve decided to take a few headlines from the last month and use some of the famous Ladino sayings to describe my feelings about them. Drum roll …

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

The Unlocked Door

It is told that the great magician Houdini, who was able to escape from even the most secure locks, chains, and bolts, was once challenged by the warden of a prison that he had an escape-proof cell from which even Houdini could not break free. Houdini promptly accepted the challenge, and after escorting him into the cell, the warden closed the cell door, leaving Houdini to his own ingenious devices.

Houdini took out his tiny tools that he always kept with him and began working on the lock. Although he was usually able to throw open any bolt within fifteen seconds, he now found himself frustrated. He then thought a bit, and tired a different technique. When the latter failed to open the lock, Houdini began to worry that he had finally been vanquished, and began working on the lock very feverishly, all to no avail. Exhausted and frustrated with his failure, he fell against the cell door, which swung open! The door had never been locked!

The point of the story is that even the great Houdini could not possible open a lock that was never locked in the first place.

Taken from Let Us Make Man by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bourekitas ... The Tradition Continues

Bourekitas, savoury turnovers, have been a part of my family's table for smachot (happy occasions), chagim (Jewish holidays) or unexpected treats for as long as I can remember.  As Nonna (my grandmother) and my mother have spent time with my wife and I showing us the tricks of the trade in the past, we thought it was time to make our first batch by ourselves ... and no better time than for the dairy meals of Shavout!  While we definitely need some more lessons on the shapes, they taste great ... and I guess that's what counts!  Moadim le'Simcha!

The recipe filling:

Filling done:

Recipe for dough from Nonna:

The dough:

The Bourekitas ... Yes, we know, the shapes could be better!

The final product:

Fun Fact:   According to The Book of Jewish Food (Knopf, 1996) by Claudia Roden, Iberian Jews included borekas as part of their Sabbath meals as early as the 16th century (Stella Cohen adds:  Most likely blending the Spanish empanada with the Turkish borek after the Spanish Inquistion led the to the Ottoman Empire).

Other Sephardi delicacies:  Pastelicos, Burmwelos, Masapan, Reshikas, Roskas, Pepitada

Monday, May 06, 2013

לחזור הביתה

כולם ביקשו להגיע אל הכותל המערבי. הסמח"ט כבר היה מוכן להתקדם ראשון, אך מוטה ביקש ממנו להמתין. הוא הבטיח ליורם זמוש להיות המוביל. מכיוון המדרגות המזרחיות רצו ועברו כמה חבר'ה, ואחריהם הגיע גם זמוש. הם היו מתחבקים, זועקים, נבוכים, טופחים איש לרעהו על הכתף, צוחקים, זועקים ושוב מתחבקים. זמוש בדק אם הדגל במקומו והחבורה נעלמה לכיוון הכותל. מוטה נשען על אחד הקירות וחש כאילו הגיע הביתה. אל קץ המאוויים. שמות היסטוריים התערבו בזיכרונו: הר הבית, הר המוריה, אברהם ויצחק, בית המקדש, מכבים, בר כוכבא, רומאים ויוונים. אנחנו בהר הבית, הר הבית שלנו! עיני העומדים למטה לא שבעו מראות את המראות והיו עוברות על כל אבן בקירות המסגד ומקיפות אותו מכל צד, על הפיתוחים, אבני הפסיפס, הערבסקות הצבעוניות, על השערים ובימות האבן ובאר הרחצה שבאמצעה הרחבה, בין שני המסגדים, על ראשי הירח וכדורי הזהב. כוח הסמח"ט מגיע לכותל המערבי. דגל ישראל מתנוסס על הכותל המערבי. חיבוקים, נשיקות, שתיית לחיים! צנחנים נשפכים במדרגות הצרות. הרגלים יורדות והעיניים עולות ומסתכלות מעלה. הצנחנים בוכים

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Ben Gurion on Jerusalem

ירושלים ...היא בירת האומה. היא בירת ההיסטוריה היהודית, היא בירת הרוח העברית, היא בירת נצח ישראל. היא יותר מכולם צריכה להיות דוגמה גם לארץ כולה וגם לאומה כולה, מכיוון שירושלים איננה שייכת רק לארץ, ירושלים שייכת גם לאומה, עליה להיות לדוגמה לכל בית ישראל בארצו ובתפוצות. מאחדים אותנו דברים עיקריים, מאחד אותנו קיבוץ גלויות, מאחת אותנו בניין הארץ, מאחד אותנו ביטחון הארץ, מאחדת אותנו קדושת ירושלים, עצם ירושלים צריכה להיות גורם של אחוה ושל ליכוד ושל כבוד יהודי, ועל בני ירושלים מוטלת אחריות גדולה

דוד בן גוריון

Aching in Green

Arrived at work at 9:00 o’clock and the usual routine begun.

Work. Lunch. Work some more.

The day was almost over. The phone rings.

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Baba Sali on Jerusalem

דע לך בכל פעם שאני מגיע לתפילת 'בונה ירושלים' אני מכוון בתפילתי על אחינו הרחוקים מתורה ומצוות ושואל את עצמי על מה זכו שיבנו הם דווקא את ארץ ישראל והמדינה, מי יודע מחשבותיו של ה' יתברך? אלה שמלעיגים עליהם שהם רשעים ורחוקים יזכו דווקא הם לך? ואני מכוון עליהם ומתפלל עליהם ברכת 'בונה ירושלים' על שהם אלה שזכו לבנות את ארץ ישראל וירושלים

הבבא סאלי זיע"א, מתוך הספר אתחלתא היא

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Christian, a Muslim and Me

“There’s a sign for a multi-faith prayer room,” my wife said and off I went to see if it was a fitting place for shacharit.I found the room on the 2nd floor of the 3rd terminal, and walked in.  Sitting down were a Muslim and a Christian.

I smiled as a few funny ‘a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim’ jokes popped into my head.

For more, click here for my latest piece in the Times of Israel.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2013

This past Monday was Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel.

It is the first time since I made aliyah that I wasn't in Israel to commemorate the day.

It was a weird feeling not being here - and it felt wrong.

I'd like to share two links with you that made an impact on me the day after.

The first link is a beautiful article written by Yaacov Lozowick about Eshter Golan, who passed away this past Sunday morning at the age of 89.  It's a fitting testament to the phenomenal will of the Jewish people to survive and build.

The second link is a photo eassy titled, "20 Photos That Change the Holocaust Narrative."  I've never seen most of the photos, and it was truly worth the few minutes I spent looking at them over and over again.  Here are my 'favorites' ... and if you want to see the rest, you'll just have to click on the link.

Baking Matzot while in hiding (1943)


Shabbat in Buchenwald (1945):


Liberation (Circa 1945):


Our nation, our identity, our religion ... Chai.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chag Sameach ve'Kasher!

Happy Passover to all!


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Confront the Now

The Chazon Ish gave a parable. A general fought a battle to defend his country from an enemy from the north. When he died, his son assumed his position. Years later, the country again came under attack, this time by an enemy from the south. The son dispatched the army to the north, because his father had done so. He was reprimanded, "You fool! Your father sent the army to the north because that is where the attack from. This time it is from the south, and that is where the army must go."

The Chazon Ish said, "Every generation faces new threats. We must confront the current threats and not those of previous generations if they no longer exist."

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in Angels Don't Leave Footprints.

זכות יצחק

Over the last year or so, I have been working on a birkon (Booklet containing grace after meals and songs) using the Rhodesli traditions.  The text and songs were provided graciously by Hazzan Isaac Azose, and I put together the rest (forward, brief history of Rhodes, and a picture of the memorial plaque outside the synagogue in Rhodes).  I called the birkon זכות יצחק (The virtue/right of Isaac), in honor of my great uncle Isaac Piha (who died in Auschwitz a few days before the camp's liberation) and my father, who carries the same name.

I am extremely honored that two of these birkonim are now a part of The National Library of Israel:

אישור על מסירת עותקי חובה

הפרסומ/ים הרשומ/ים מטה התקבל/ו בספרייה הלאומית כנדרש בחוק.

אנו מודים לכם על מסירת עותקי החובה ועל תרומתכם לבניין האוסף ושימור התרבות. אנו מקווים שגם בעתיד תמציאו לידינו את פרסומיכם החדשים עם הופעתם.

הפרסומים המתקבלים בספריה נרשמים בקטלוג הספרייה הלאומית ובקטלוג המאוחד של הספריות בישראל. עותקיהם מונגשים לעיון באולמות הקריאה ונשמרים לדורות.
ניתן לעיין בקטלוגים ולקרוא עוד על הספרייה ואוספיה באתר הספרייה הלאומית:

מס': 003507442

זכות יצחק : ברכת המזון וזמירות לשבת וחג., הע, 2012.


Friday, March 01, 2013

Life of Pi

Nonnou (my dad's father) died a few weeks after my 20th birthday.  On my birthday, we never got a chance to speak as we had done for many years.  As I mourned his loss, I was devastated that I never had a chance to say goodbye.  I'm sure he knew I loved, respected and looked up to him, but I wish I could have told him this myself one last time.  It's something I will always regret - I missed my last opportunity to say goodbye, to acknowledge the role he played in my life.

"I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye."
Pi Patel

The above quote stood out to me as my wife and I watched Life of Pi a few days ago.  It bought back my regret of not telling Nonnou how much I appreciated him one last time. I decided it was something I wanted to ensure didn't happen again. Gramps' (my mom's father) health has been on the decline the last few years, and though we've been corresponding regularly the last few years, I felt that it was important for me to tell him what what I wished I had told Nonnou when I had the chance (I had the opportunity to say goodbye before Granny died when I was 16).  As we talked last night, I told him how much I loved and respected him, and how I hoped I could be a good human being like he's been. He thanked me, and as the conversation winded down he told me, "I love you Avram very much, thank you again." Earlier this morning, I had a similar conversation with Nonna. Like Gramps, she was touched by what I said and thanked me. 

Trying your best to ensure mistakes you've made in the past are not repeated is part of what life is all about - part of our journey to better ourselves. I guess the Pirki Avot (4:1) adage of "Who is smart? He who learns from others" doesn't only refer to people you interact with throughout your lives, but also movie (or book) characters!

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Purim and Unity

I wanted to blog about the above subject.  However, the Geshmack Torah blog already did an excellent job, so I'll share piece:

Two of the mitzvos particular to Purim are Mishloach Manos, and Matanos L’Evyonim – giving gifts to people, and distributing charity freely. The Sfas Emes explains that the function of these mitzvos as they relate to Purim is that they increase unity and brotherhood.
Unity is the anathema of Amalek, who Haman was descended of. His complaint to Achashverosh:

יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל עָם – There is one nation, scattered and dispersed among all the regions of your kingdom, and they are different from everyone else. (3:8)

Even in exile, Jews must maintain identity, and resist assimilation. Haman points out their refusal to integrate, they remain עַם אֶחָד – one nation; this in spite of how the Purim story begins with the Jews attending Achashverosh’s party celebrating their own downfall with the parading of the sacked Temple’s artefacts. The Jews lost their identity and it paved the way for Haman’s nefarious plans to destroy them all – the moment they let their guard down.

The resolution came at the hand of Mordechai and Esther. She tells him to unite the people and impress on them the severity of their futures:

כְּנוֹס אֶת כָּל הַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם – Gather all the Jews in Shushan. Fast for me; don’t eat or drink for three days and nights. (4:16)

The threat is faced when they gather once more, when the Megila tells us that וְעָמֹד עַל נַפְשָׁם – it does not say ועמדו in the plural, that they stood for their lives, but in the singular. Their national identity had discovered. The Jewish nation had united and defended itself from attack.

It is famously expounded in Chazal that Purim also celebrates קימו מה שקיבלו כבר – the Jews had no choice to accept the Torah at Sinai, but after Purim they accepted the Torah afresh, voluntarily. A prerequisite to the Torah is unity; ויחן שם נגד ההר – The nation camped by the mountain, in the singular – not ויחנו – like one man with one heart. The Sfas Emes teaches that וְעָמֹד עַל נַפְשָׁם is directly parallel to ויחן שם נגד ההר.

Unity is fortified with acts of ואהבת לרעך כמוך – loving ones fellow as oneself. If people identify with the nation, they have a very direct connection to the Torah and Sinai. It is quite reasonable to suggest that due to this, it is taught that זה כלל גדול בתורה.

The Gemara says that Mordechai is identified as an איש יהודי. It asks that he was not from Yehuda, but from Binyamin, and answers that we do not read it יהודי, but יחידי – from the root אחד. He brought unity and identity back to Jews who had lost it, cementing their faith, culminating in a new acceptance of the Torah. All mitzvos of the day will reflect unity and friendship to some degree.

The way to fight Amalek is a constant quest for unity and understanding our identity, and the closer we get, the nearer we get ultimate truth and redemption

It is worthwhile to mention that other mitzvot or minhagim (customs) of Purim also center around unity and brotherhood:

- Megillah - we hear about the miracle of Purim together, as a community.
- Drink (the quantity is obviously a machloket!)!! - when one drinks, one often is friendlier and more willing to talk to people.
- Seudah (festive Purim meal) - spending time together with friends and family