Tag Archives: Zionism

A “Current Events” Message From 1925

One of my greatest loves is old books. Over the years, I have collected a nice amount of old books on various Jewish topics, though I haven’t had a chance to read all of them yet. Last week I came across one which, upon picking it up, realized was waiting for the events of this past week to occasion itself upon me. It has profoundly affected my perspective on the events we are living through these days.

In 1925, Leonard Stein – of London England – felt the need to write “an objective account of the Zionist Movement”. The book, simply named “Zionism”, includes 7 chapters covering topics such as “The Origins of Zionism”, “The Jews in Palestine 1880-1914” and “The Balfour Declaration”. It is a short but fascinating read, as it provides a portrait of Zionism in its infancy –  before world world 2, before the Holocaust and before the establishment of The State of Israel.

In reading through the book I found 2 of his themes extremely relevant and important for gaining perspective on what is unfolding in Israel these past few weeks. I’d like to share them with you, as I feel that both points are sorely missing from the general conversation, especially outside Israel.

Point 1 – What is at the center of it?

Already in the Balfour Declaration, immediately after stating that “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object”, it goes on to state “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Similarly, as early as in May 1917, Dr. Chaim Weizmann made the following statements:

“One of the important problems to be considered… is the delicate question of the Holy Places… We trust to the fairness and justice of the nations… that they will see to it that the arrangements made are fair and satisfactory to everyone”

On a different occasion he stated: “(The Jews) wished to interfere in no way with the Holy Places to which the hearts of Muslims and Christians turned with reverence”. In 1922, when the British mandate was to be approved by The League of Nations, the declaration included:

“The Secretary of State believes that a policy upon these lines, coupled with the maintenance of the fullest religious liberty in Palestine and with scrupulous regard for the rights of each community with reference too its Holy Places… and that upon this basis may be built up the spirit of co-operation upon which the future progree and prosperity of the Holy Land must largely depend”

The body of the original mandate expounds on this point:

“All responsibility in connection with the Holy places and religious buildings… including securing free access to the Holy Places, religious buildings and sites and the free exercise of worship… is assumed by the mandatory… and provided also that nothing in this mandate shall be construed as conferring upon the Mandatory authority to interfere with the fabric or the management of purely Muslim sacred shrines, the immunities of which are guaranteed”. A special commission shall be appointed… to define and determine the rights and claims relating to the different religious communities in Palestine”

In a statement submitted to The League of nations, it is stated that

“(the Jews) have from the outset recognized the Christian and Muslim Holy Places as sacrosanct and inviolable. They indignantly repudiate the injurious and wholly unfounded suggestion that they desire to trespass upon them or to claim any voice in questions relating to their maintenance or their custody”.

These are just a few examples, among many others, that demonstrate the degree to which the questions of the Holy Sites was at the center of attention – and contention – from the very beginning of Zionism.  It seems that the deepest fear – nationally and internationally – had to do with the status of the Holy Places.

It would seem that it has always been, to some degree, about the Holy Places and what they symbolize – the right to both the land of God and possibly even the right to God himself. We seem to be witnessing the boiling over of an issue which, for many, many years, we skirted under the rug. It began to resurface following the six day war but has become an increasingly hot issue in the past 10 years. It seems we can no longer hide from taking a stand on what Har HaBayit means to us, not only as a futuristic concept, but what it means to us here and now. We are just now realizing that, at least for the Arabs, it has been at the heart of the conflict this entire time and the dots are now being connected between the Temple Mount to every other area of the country. The longer we wait to take our own stance on what Har HaBayit means to our national identity and to Modern Zionism, the more ground we will lose and the greater the price we may be forced to pay, as we seem to – finally – have reached the heart of the problem. I can’t say I have the answer to the question I am posing – “What does, or should, Har HaBayit mean to The State of Israel?” but am just identifying that we find ourselves now forced to form an answer. Evidently, Hashem feels we are ready for it.

 

Point 2 – Historical Perspective and Optimism

In his final chapter, titled “Zionist Aims and Prospects”, Stein attempts to lay out future directions for the Zionist Movement:

At the census of October 1922 there were only 83,794 Jews in Palestine as compared with 673,388 non-Jews, of whom the overwhelming majority may be classified as Arabs… nor do the immigration returns of the past few years point to the early or even the eventual establishment of a Jewish majority… from the facts at present available there is only one inference to be drawn. Palestine will find room in course of time for some hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants; it will become a country in which the Jews form a much larger percentage of the population than in any other part of the world but there is little likelihood of its absorbing them in such numbers as will make them an actual majority…

…Nevertheless, Palestine stands out as the one country in the world in which Jewish immigrants have in principle an assured right of entry under an international guarantee. But this is not all. Palestine is much more than one among other conceivable places of refuge. Palestine is not merely a country: it is an idea. The Jews… see in Palestine the symbol for their will to live. It is in Palestine that the Jews see their opportunity of making their distinctive contribution to the common stock. Here is a derelict country in which everything remains to be done. Let the Jews rebuild it; let them reclaim its wastes; let them develop its neglected resources; let them make it a model of a healthy and well ordered society; let them give it a place of its own in the world of thought and learning. Then, indeed, they will have triumphantly vindicated themselves as a constructive force.

Thus what the Jews are doing in Palestine is to translate spiritual values into terms of economic reconstruction. And in another profound sense the Jews, in redeeming Palestine, are redeeming themselves. Palestine stands, in their eyes, not only for self respect, but for self expression. It is not merely a derelict country waiting to be restored: it has a magic of its own. In Palestine, just because it is Palestine, Jewish life has a distinctive quality and is keyed too a higher pitch.

During the past 30 years, the devoted labors and the lavish expenditure of the Jewish Colonization Association have enabled about 30,000 Jews to settle on the land in Argentina and Brazil. So far as it goes, this is a valuable piece of work. But the 30,000 colonists have created nothing beyond their farms. They have not made the smallest impression upon the Jewish world at large; nor has anyone ever suggested that “from Mauricio shall go forth the Law the Word of the Lord from Entre-Rios”.

Very different, as has been seen, are the results and the prospects of Jewish colonization in Palestine. The contrast is illuminating. The Zionists are under no illusion in believing that in Palestine, and in Palestine alone, it is possible to build up a many sided and self relient Jewish society which shall be a true reflection of the Jewish genius and a living embodiment of Jewish ideals”.

O, how wrong he was about his first prediction and how correct he was about the second one! How wrong he was that “there is little likelihood of… making them an actual majority”. From a marginal minority in the land we have become not only the decisive majority but the also the full sovereign.  And how right he was that “in redeeming Palestine we are redeeming ourselves” and that we have “translated spiritual values into terms of economic reconstruction” and “made a distinctive contribution to the common stock”! These words of inspiration form 90 years ago, serve as a reminder of everything that has been achieved in the past 90 years; how far we have come and to what degree the dreams of our forefathers are being realized in front of our eyes.

I share these words not only as a way of staying optimistic in the trying times we are in but in order to put into perspective the lives and deaths of the murdered. All of the hopes reflected in the above passages, which have been realized in the past century did so through people like Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, Rabbi Nechemia Lavi and Aharon Benita. Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin were murdered as representatives of the continued Jewish efforts of settling the Land of Israel. Rabbi Nechemia Lavi was murdered as a representative of renewing Torah study – Torat Eretz Yisrael – in the wellspring of Jewish inspiration. Aharon Benita was murdered as a representative of protecting the land and people of Israel. Many others have been injured – as representatives – for reinforcing our connection to the old city through Tfila, or as our representatives for going to the the store or mall, all of which strengthen the connection of Am Yisrael to the land, people and destiny of Israel. And they were not just representatives, they were our representatives. They were representing us when they were doing all these great deeds and they were representing us when they were murdered.

We mourn the loss of the individuals. We mourn the lives cut short. We mourn for the widowed and orphaned. We mourn for our own great loss. But, we must not mourn them as victims of random acts of hate and antisemitism. We must mourn them as soldiers on the field of battle; the great battle of the return to our homeland, the return to ourselves as Hashem’s people. Just as we mourn the horrific death Rabbi Akiva but, at the same time, allowed it to instill within us perseverance, faith and even inspiration – so too we should do in our current mourning.

They were all soldiers in the great awakening of the Spirit of Israel which has already achieved so much and cannot be stopped כי ה’ דבר, because God has spoken!

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It’s time to rethink Slichot!

I’ve always found Slichot (Penitential Prayers) difficult for a variety of reasons: the poetic (and archaic) language of the Piyutim, the speed in which they are usually said, the rote recitation of something intended to be contemplative and even the challenging hours of when they are traditionally said. I’ve always felt there was a bit of a charade going on during Slichot, with a false sense of piety replacing the individual self reflection which the Slichot are meant to express and evoke.

This year, my uneasiness with the Slichot – as it is commonly practiced – has become even greater after deciding to take a closer look at the Piyutim. Though the most important component of Slichot is the recitation of “the 13 attributes of mercy” the Piyutim have come to play an important role as well. Written primarily between the 11th and 14th century, the Piyutim focus on sin and confession, remorse and punishment as well as hope for forgiveness and redemption. Many of them combine ‘scenes’ from Tanach, Misdrah as well as references to historical events. Seemingly, these are perfect features to be focusing on as interludes between the 13 attributes, as they confront us with a picture of ourselves – as individuals and a community – and what is lacking. Even if the language and rhyming are difficult to understand, one can still hopefully get the general idea. And even if one doesn’t, I believe there is (or can be) value in the ceremony for the sake of the ceremony – continuing a long standing tradition, and the feeling of additional spiritual effort as individuals and a community.

Until I started reading the Piyutim and not just saying them in a mantra-like fashion. Just a few, of many, examples (the translations are my own): On the first night we say: “מאז ועד עתה אנו נידחים נהרגים נשחטים ונטבחים. שורדנו מתי מעט בין קוצים כסוחים, עיננו כלות בלי מצוא רווחים”-“And from then until now we are dispersed, murdered, slaughtered, and butchered. In small numbers we have survived among dead thorns (the nations) our eyes yearn without finding any relief”.

On the second night we say: זעם כרגע ועתה להיפוך זרי קודש עתה לשיפוך חביבת רע כקרן הפוך חשובה עזובה כקורעת בפוך – “A moments anger is now reversed (to longstanding anger) holly crowns are now spilled (the crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship are now desecrated). A beloved friend (Am Yisrael) like a ‘vessel of beauty’, now considered as one who is deserted and ‘rips their clothes’ (as a prostitute)”.

On the third night: “כל היום עליך הרוגים לכפרה אין אנו משיגים” – “the entire day we are killed on you(r name because) we have not achieved atonement”. The following Piyut states: “פחודים הם מכל צרות ממחרפיהם ומלוחציהם” – “they are afraid of all calamities, of those who curse and oppress them”.1919 June Brit Jews march vs Polish pogroms

On the fourth night: “איה כל נפלאותיך הגדולות והנוראות אשר ספרו לנו אבותנו ה’ צבאות”  – “where are all your great and terrible wonders(!) which our forefathers told us about Hashem of Hosts”. A few stanzas later: “מעת לעת צרתי מרובה” – “from day to day our plight increases”.

On the fifth night: “איויתיך קיויתיך מארץ מרחקים” – “I yearn and hope for you from a distant land”. In the following Piyut: “והם שחים ומושפלים עד מאד מהר יקדמונו רחמיך כי דלונו מאד” – “and they are exceedingly lowly and disgraced, may your mercy come hastily because we are dwindled (and cannot bare the hardship of exile)”.

On the sixth night: “ארכו הימים ודבר חזון ארמון נוטש וחדל פרזון” – “Lengthened are the days (of exile) and (lack of fulfillment of) words of redemption. The palace-deserted (Beit Hamikdash) and open cities (of Israel) – have ceased”.

On the seventh day: “מתי תחיינו ומתהומות תעלנו” – “When will you revive us and bring us up (to the land) from the depths (of exile”.

On Erev Rosh Hashana: “העיר הקודש והמחוזות היו לחרפה ולביזות וכל מחמדיה טבועות וגנוזות ואין שיור רק התורה הזאת” – “The holy city and its suburbs have been disgraced, all its treasures sunk and hidden and there is nothing left but this Torah”.

The common thread to all these quotes (and there are many more) is this: how can they possibly be uttered in today’s day and age? how are they not the gravest of insults and show of ungratefulness towards Hashem, who has – in this generation -brought us back to the Land of Israel, to sovereignty, to military and economic self sufficiency, to the flourishing of agriculture, Torah scholarship and technological advances? in short – to redemption? These statements are not being said in past tense. They are being said in the same fashion in which they were written – as a reflection of the current state of the Jewish People. As if nothing has changed. Is there a greater חוצפה כלפי שמיא than that? How can the denial of Hashem’s Chessed be expected to serve as a tool of self reflection and repentance? How can one hope to get close to Hashem through ingratitude?

סמל מדינת ישראל=ויקיפדיה---

Of course it is important to always remember the hardships we experiences and their causes. Of course not everything has been rectified but – on Pesach, would we consider for even a second saying עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים (we were slaves in Egypt) without adding ויוציאנו ה’ אלוהנו משם ביד חזקה (and Hashem our God took us out of there with a strong arm)? Would we fathom to only discuss the terrible slavery without the redemption that followed? We are not talking about formal Tfilot and prayers which have strict rules and warnings about change (although I most definitely do not recite the traditional version of נחם on Tisha B’av but that is a topic for a separate post), rather on Piyutim, which are not the central part of Slichot which in itself does not have nearly the status of formal Tfila (even if it is fashioned after its model).

The are 2 possibilities I can think of for how people can continue saying these Piyutim, or at least sentences of these sort in the Piyutim:

Option 1 – People don’t pay attention, or mean, what they say in Tfila, let alone in Slichot.

Option 2 – People choose (knowingly or not) to stay in a state of perpetual trauma. A psychosis, in which ghosts of the past are conjured into their perception reality. (Why would people do this? is it an escape mechanism for not having to deal with the truth and the obligations that would bring with it? is it an emotional inability to process the truth with its challenge of the familiar? maybe a topic for a different post).

Either way – neither of these possibilities bode well for us as we enter The Days of Awe, days which require sincerity towards ourselves and sincerity towards Hashem, days, during which we spend hours in Tfila, speaking to Hashem and to ourselves about what is true and what is false about our past, present and future.

 

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A Zionist Paradigm Shift in Parashat VaYera – Stop Talking "Security", Start Talking "Destiny"!

Sometimes, when reading the Parsha, a political message jumps right out at you. At the end of Parashat Shmot, Moshe relays the people’s complaint to Hashem and accuses Him- “why have you done evil to this people?” i.e. from the time I came to Pharaoh… he did evil… you did not rescue your people!”

Hashem’s answer at the beginning of Parashat VaYera has an interesting effect. Moshe who, up to this point, was reluctant has no more doubts whereas the Jewish People who, originally, had no problem believing in Moshe’s mission suddenly “did not heed Moshe because of… hard work.” What changed?

The first time Hashem explains Moshe’s mission, he states the following as the reason for the redemption: “I have seen the affliction of my people… I shall rescue them… bring them to a good land…” (Shmot 3:7) But the second time, after Moshe complains about worsening conditions, Hashem clarifies, adding an important component: “I established my covenant with them (the Avot) to give them the land of Canaan… and also I heard the groan of Israel…”. Meaning, originally everyone was led to believe that the Redemption was just about salvation from hardship. That’s why the people listened so easily at first.

Now, when Hashem reveals the real goal of the Redemption – the fulfillment of a divine destiny of The Jewish People in The Land of Israel – they lose their wind, as it was too lofty a goal to grasp due to their hardships.

The message is this:

  1. Redemption is a mixture of both yearning for safety and a deeper call to a divine destiny
  2. The former (plight) will capture people’s attention and imagination more so than the latter (destiny)
  3. Exclusively physical salvation will “run out”, forcing an emergence of a deeper understanding of Redemption

I believe this paradigm shift holds the key to understanding practically all of Jewish History in the past 120 years, especially our struggle with the Arabs since Israel’s establishment. I leave you to draw the many, many parallels and conclusions but will sum up – “We Are Being Forced to Stop Talking Security and Start Talking Divine Destiny”! (I actually think the shift has already begun. Join in!)

Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigm Shifter
What do you see?
Now – Paradigm Shift!

 

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Why we named our daughter Aliyah Channa (plus a Chanukah story)

This past Tuesday, the 6th day of Chanukah and the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tevet, our daughter was born. We named her עלייה חנה (Aliyah Channa).
Channa, is for both Nitza’s and my maternal grandmothers who shared that name.
Regarding the name Aliyah, it is almost self explanatory: The Hebrew word ‘Aliyah’ means ‘to ascend’ and has come to refer to the act of immigrating to Israel (though it first appears in that context already in the Mishna in Ktubot). The idea behind this term is that when one immigrates to Israel they are not merely relocating geographically, rather are ascending from a lower state of being to a higher one.
As we have done with our other children, we attempt to capture within our children’s names the state of being we are in during the period of pregnancy and birth. With Matanel – gratitude to Hashem for having a child, with Edden – the return to Jerusalem and a Shabbat birth and with Ma’oz – the grounding of having our own home in Israel.
Anyone who knows Nitza and me, knows the degree to which we are dedicated to the promotion of Aliyah as a foundational aspect of being Jewish. This has been our raison d’etre of sorts for coming to Toronto and has underscored our work here. Be it by familiarizing people with Israel with anecdotes over a Shabbat meal, encouraging trips, answering questions, Israel Guidance and actively assisting people through their Aliyah process.
That is why we called our daughter Aliyah; to express our belief in the centrality of Aliyah to being Jewish as well as to solidify our own commitment of once again ascending back home to Israel.

I’d like to share with you the words (more or less) I shared with my High school Yeshiva students immediately following the naming.
“One of my strongest childhood memories is the Chanukah I spent in the hospital when I was 9. Due to frequent tonsillitis, I was scheduled to have my tonsils removed. Unfortunately, the procedure was to to take place during Chanukah at Bikur Cholim Hospital.
I say unfortunately as doing the surgery on Chanukah would mean missing out on several Chanukah activities (and foods) but more significantly, due to the hospital itself. Bikur Cholim Hospital, located smack in downtown Jerusalem, was an small, old and outdated hospital. At the time, the hospital had only 2 wards – infants and adults.
After the surgery I was sent to the adults ward for recovery. When I woke from the anesthesia I discovered that the ‘adult ward’ was a large hall filled with 25 beds, surrounding the perimeter the room. After a few more moments of looking around the room more carefully I realized two additional facts. The first was that I was the only child in the room. The second was that I was the only Jewish patient in the room. More specifically, the only non-Arab patient in the room.
Approximately a week earlier, the first Intifada had broken out. Though I doubt I fully understood what that meant at the time, I was non the less nervous and a bit scared of the situation I found myself in; being the only child in a room filled with 20 adult, Arab, patients. Luckily, my mother was right there beside me the whole time which definitely helped.
That evening, the rest of my family came to visit and, being Chanukah, brought a Chanukiya with them. We lit the candles, sang HaNerot HaLalu and Ma’oz Tzur just like any other Chanukah night. We weren’t trying to make a spectacle of it but weren’t trying to hide what we were doing, either. Everyone in the room was looking at us, or at least it felt that way. I remember that even at the time, at the age of 9, I thought it was ‘cool’ that we were lighting Chanukah candles under those circumstances. I remember looking around the room, wondering what the Arab patients were thinking while we sang about how, throughout history we’ve defeated the enemies of the Jewish People. I remember feeling proud and defiant as though to say – ‘we’re lighting Chanukah candles and there’s nothing you can do about it!’.
In retrospect, I realize that memory encapsulates and expresses so well the unique role living in Israel plays in the life of a Jew. What is special about that night was that there was nothing special about it. It took me years to even realize it is a story worth telling. My parents are the farthest thing from the type who makes public displays of principal in order to make a point.
What was amazing about that night is that it was obvious we were going to light candles. It was obvious to us, it was obvious to the hospital staff and it was obvious to the Arab patients. Torah and Judaism are the default in Israel. You don’t have to go out of your way to feel Jewish, look Jewish, act Jewish. Judaism in Israel isn’t something that you do, separating and distinguishing you from the world that exists around you, rather, Judaism is the context within which everyone and everything already exists. It is not only the difference between being a majority and being a minority (though that is part of it as well). It is more about the difference between having all the communal mechanisms – national, municipal, cultural, etc… being framed by Jewish existence, followed by Jewish tradition and observance (even if partial).
That’s what it means to live in the land and State of Israel in this day and age. It’s the difference between being in a never ending struggle for Jewish survival and being part of the revival, rejuvenation, and flourishing of Am Yisrael and Torat Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.
May our daughter, Aliyah, be a constant reminder to us all about what is expected of us as Jews – as well as what we we stand to gain by – ascending to Israel!”

“I’M ALIYAH. HOW ABOUT YOU?”

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Are you a Refrigerator Zionist?

“Refrigerator Zionism” is an approach which likens Zionism to purchasing a refrigerator. A refrigerator is an appliance which certainly possesses pragmatic and instrumental value and their invention may even spark Halachic discussion (e.g. may it be opened on Shabbat?) But by no means does the possession of a refrigerator penetrate to ones inner religious experience or impact his beliefs. There is no difference between a Judaism with a refrigerator and a Judaism without a refrigerator. To some people, Zionism is no different – there is no difference in their observance, beliefs or religious experience with or without the existence of the State of Israel.  
On the other hand, one may view the coming into being of the State of Israel as similar to that of having a child; not merely a technical addition to our religious lives, rather the development of a new facet of our identity that impacts on a profound level. With the birth of a child, a parent defines himself differently, fundamentally changing the way he evaluates himself and his surroundings. 
So too should we relate to the State of Israel as redefining our religious identity and experience: We are home. We are together. Our fate as a people is once again in our own hands, we can define for ourselves our relationship with the world and with history. We are better able to discover our capabilities and realize our full potential. In this sense The State of Israel is the child of the Jewish people.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize, that those voices in the Jewish and Halachic community that relate to the State of Israel as no more than a mere instrument have value as well; they serve as a constant reminder that though we have come a significant way in the redemptive process, there is still much to amend, to perfect and to strive for.
In the meantime, let us be joyous and thankful for the gift of life given to us and inspired and motivated towards its continued growth. (250+87)
חג עצמאות שמח!!
                        

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