Thursday, November 3, 2011

the 48 war for independence

We left the hotel today about 7am. Saying goodbye to Jerusalem, we headed along highway 1 towards Tel Aviv. The climate was balmy and warm. The theme for the day was tracing the amazing stories and history of the people who ushered Israel to victory in the 48 War of Independance. Our first stop was at the Ayalon Institute. This was the place that functioned in the forties as a real life kibbutz but in reality it was used as an underground bullet making factory. We went down spiral steps into the bunker that was the size of a tennis court and heard the story how these kids for two years alluded the British and made thousands of bullets for the soon to be War of Independance. we were all amazed at their story and their discipline how this clandestine operation worked successfully. just imagine a kibbutz right under the british noses hiding these teens who risked life and limb to perform this vital function to make ammunition for Israel.

then we headed over to Yafo and briefly toured the area. beautiful stores and history of arabs and jews living together and world powers like napoleon who visited YAFO on his way to Eygpt.
our next stop was Independance Hall where David ben gurion declared the state of Israel. the movies we saw and the presentation we heard were stirring and inspirational.
we stopped to have lunch and then headed off to the Palmach museum which was the museum that honored the work of this elite group of the Hagana that led many missions and gave their all to usher israel into a modern army. there we witnessed an exhibiton following the lives of one troop of palmach soldiers from their training to the battle for independance.
my sense is that our group really could grasp the modern history of the birth of israel and the miracle of how few resources they actually had to defend the state against the armies of the arabs. it truly was a miracle. finally we had dinner at a time honored middle eastern favorite restaurant in yaffo called dr. schackshukah. awesome and delicious.
tomorrow we are off to haifa and caesarea.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Catching up and leaving jerusalem

Good evening everyone. Sorry I missed a day but I just ran out of time and steam. This has been our last night in Jerusalem. I will try to cover two days worth of history. Jerusalem is all about fighting for history. Whether it is an ancient relic demonstrating our presence two millennium ago or the battle ground of Ammunition Hill in the 67 war we have learned that history is just as precious as water in the Middle East.

Yesterday we set out to visit Masada. Of course we paid homage to and purchased many products at the Ahavah factory outlet store. Mostly Russian Jewish Israelis helping us. The women will be even more beautiful and their skin soft like ancient Israelite women were because of these Dead Sea products. The mud masks alone will make us feel renewed.
We arrived at Masada and entered the visitors center where we too the gigantic tram to the top. You should know that serious historians are really at odds about what Eliezer and the Zealots really did to their own people when the Romans breached theWalls. The telling moment that the story we all grew up with is doubtful is whe the Israel tank core stopped having their induction ceremonies on Masada. (they now do it at Latrun)
Anyway we heard all kinds of theories from the tour guide knowing full well that the debate continues on this subject.
The weather was great and toured Herod's winter palace. We imagined the lifestyle that went on there and then 60 or so years later the zealots taking over the plateau. Herod had everything a monarch could use to survive including a water sisters,plenty of grains and communal building to sustain life for as long as he needed. Aside from the story recorded in the pages of Josephus about Masada, one could not help but respect the building vision of Herod even if by all accounts he was a vicious man and a murderer.
Of course we discussed the importance of the story of Masada in building the self confidence of the burgeoning new state of Israel.
Afterwards we we had lunch at the visitors center and traveled to the Dead Sea. Yes some of our folks had the courage to cover themselves with mud. They looked great. We relaxed and enjoyed the balmy weather. Lots of Russian Jews there basking in the mud.
So we finally returned to Jerusalem. A very nice day.

We left for touring Jerusalem. First we went to Hadassah Hospital at the Ein Kerem campus. Many of the women have been involved in the organization. Proudly Bet Yam members have their names listed on plaques for their tzedakah. We made a visit to the maternity ward.then we entered the synagogue and listened to a cd tour and explanation of the history of the Chagall windows and their Meaning. For a moment we gathered in a circle and recited and then chanted the prayer for healing. Very moving.
Our next stop was Ammunition Hill where learned about the battle to take all of Jerusalem. Many of us were hearing the details of this battle for the first time. The Israelis prevailed but sustained enormous casualties in those six days of June 1967. The courage and bravery of Israeli soldiers became emblazoned upon our hearts and minds.
Now we changed the mood to another miracle of history.we drove to the Israel Museum and had lunch first. fYI the museum underwent a major renovation. From that point we went outside to see the model city of ancient Israel in Temple Days outside. This was fantastic. It is a huge model that is enormous but precise to every detail. Jerusalem must have been such a spectacular city!
We the descended into th Shrine of the Book meaning the scrolls called the Dead Sea Scrolls. People were practically stunned. Just think that these texts,a little over 2000 years old has transformed biblical studies. Our presence and history repeats itself again and again. The texts were amazing not just for the age but for the quality of the message and the scribal art. I cannot say enough here about the excitement of viewing these texts.

The last stop was the Knesset the Israeli parliament. Since it is in session right now we could not enter. But we did visit the famous menorah across the street which is the national emblem of Israel.we took pictures. As we left and headed towards the bus, the school kids who were also there ran over to us. It was fantastic. They surrounded me and a few others throwing questions to about what we thought about Israel. I was speaking Hebrew and English at the same time. Wow! The children and the soldiers who were also there represented the chain of tradition
That must be preserved to protect and defend Israel.
Is that enough?
Off to Tel Aviv in the morning.
Rabbi Bloom

Monday, October 31, 2011

Women at the Wall: Jerusalem is the city of possibilities

We were out the door on the bus at 7am headed over to the southwestern motel otherwise known as Robinsonn's Arch. Two women in our congregation Judi and Kathy became bnot mitzvah and read from the Torah,co-officiated with me along with Judy B as cantor and delivered sermons on the Torah portion. It was truly a sacred moment for all of us. I am so proud of them. I cannot say enough.robinson's arch is simply an extension of the western wall. It is blocked by construction at the archaeological site so the orthodox leave it alone. This means girls and women can have their services close enough to the wall without being harassed by the religious police. The officials we worked with gave us conservative prayer books and a Torah but they asked that the women not hold the Torah even though they did not stop them from reading it. Jerusalem is a city of contradictions.
This was definitely a highlight of our trip. We were all moved from their faith and commitment. This was a life changing moment on many levels. More will come from this experience reading from the Torah and praying towards the Wall. Awesome!
We then changed the mood and went over to the tour of the Wall going in the opposite direction underground beneath the Arab quarter. Archaeology was the theme the rest of the morning. The history of these structures built in King Herod'time is overwhelming.just how far down the Walls go is mind blowing. It is a must tour. Many orthodox young adults pray along these underground walls. They probably are praying psalms but they are standing together. Very interesting.
We returned to the Jewish quarter for lunch. We visited the Burnt House excavation of a Herodion house.
Afterwards we toured special historic sites in the Jewish quarter including a visit to the long awaited reconstruction of the Hurva synagogue. Absolutely spectacular in capturing the old Jewish world of synagogue architecture in a modern setting.
Finally the group went shopping for a while.
The last event was a meeting and conversation with my wife 's cousin Dina Rand. She has lived in Samaria for over 24 years. She was fantastic as she spoke so eloquently of her views about Israel especially religious pluralism , Arab and women's issues. Dina was engaging, articulate , sensitive and humble. The group was impressed. Enough for today and tomorrow we head off to Masada.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holy sites in modern Israel.

What a day! In Jerusalem there is a burning fight not just for land but for truth and a battle for memory. Holy sites exist on all sides. No one can be neutral about Jerusalem. Anyone who claims to be objective is either a liar or a fool.
So let's begin today's journey when we met up with Amir cheesiness a retired army officer and former advisor on Arab affairs to the late mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kolleck. This man was a no nonsense military man not a diplomat. He focused his lecture to us on the Arab Israeli problem of demographics in Jerusalem. He discussed the impact of the well known security fence upon Jerusalem Jewish Arab ratio. Apparently the gap is narrowing from a 75-25percent Jewish Arab population ratio to a %67 to %33 ratio in the next few decades. In fact Arab residents who live on the other side of the fence have their yellow card pass through the checkpoints and go to work in Israel. Also the affluent ones are now buying from Israelis their expensive homes in places like the once totally Jewish French Hill section of Jerusalem. We learned many more facts on the ground never reported in the press. His outstanding talk gave us much to be concerned about regarding the demographic threat to Israel's territorial integrity.

Off we went to start the journey of the heart. We arrived at Yad V'Shem the Holocaust memorial and museum to the 6million. We received an introduction by our guide at the avenue of the righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews. Most had been to the Washington memorial museum.people commented that Yad V'Shem felt tame compared to thewashington monument. Our group was certainly affected each in their own way.We traversed the exhibition until we arrived at the end. I could see in their eyes the sadness and the heart wrenching emotions rising to the surface as we gathered together. At that point we entered the Yad VShem synagogue. They let us come in and in this beautiful wooden contemporary style with a magnificent ark from Europe.our soloist Judy Bluestone sang and Felicia Pascal read from Jewish poetry on the Shoah holocaust. We needed to express ourselves spiritually in ways where just plain talking about our feelings would not suffice.
Lunch in the cafeteria was ok and a necessary break from this vigil into the kingdom of night.Afterwards we prepared ourselves to enter the heartbreaking memorial to 1.5million children who the Nazis murdered during these years of the Shoah. We walked into a dark winding pathway where we could here a voice out of the darkness say the name and age of the child. As we heard this voice recite an endless list of names, we gazed at the lights of 5 candles refracting against the glass so that it looked like a million lights. I
Will not say anymore on this subject. Needless to say Yad V'Shem opened up many eyes and continued the learning process. I do not want to forget to mention the numbers of soldiers who came to learn about the holocaust. In fact Tamar says it is required for every soldier to visit Yad V'Shem
Next we drove to mt Herzl to visit the grave of the founder of the modern state of Israel Theodore Herzl. The exhibition and movie teaching his life were excellent. The movie traced the story of an Israeli actor preparing for the role of Theodre Herzl in a movie. Creative approach to what could have been a tedious approachbut the movie was contemporary while teaching about his life and the times he lived in that led Herzl to make a huge contribution to the history of Zionism. Not Done yet!
Our final stop was at the national military cemetary. That took many of us by surprise our guide Tamar took us to the grave of the famous and beloved Israeli war hero johnathan Yoni Netanyahu. We felt the shivers as Tamar narrated his story. There it was this respected icon of holy sites and precious memories. As tired and emotionally drained everyone was we all felt we had done the right thing by pushing ourselves to visit these graves of Israel's fallen.
A final ride back to the hotel for a respite and then we walked over through the unbelievable Mamilia street open Mall to a restaurant called coincidentally enough Herzl. You can put it on your restaurant to go visits.
We were drained emotionally from today. It was ok nevertheless.
Shalom from yerushalayim
Rabbi Bloom

One would think that was enough.