Great film about Shofar blowers

You will be happy you took a few minutes to watch this inspiring film about men who blew the shofar at the Western Wall from 1931-48 when it was illegal under the British Mandate to do so. Many were arrested and imprisoned in the Russian compound in Jerusalem. See one of the original shofars blown at the Wall on one of my walking tours of Tel Aviv. 

Tel Aviv Walking Tour: in the footsteps of Menachem Begin

One of my walking tours in Tel Aviv/Jaffa, we visit the Etzel Museum on the beach. The Museum is dedicated to the memory of the Etzel (Irgun Tzvai Leumi) fighters who fell in the battle for  Jaffa in the War of Independence.


Menachem Begin — who later became Prime Minister of Israel — was the commander of the Etzel at the time. In his book, the Revolt, Begin explains the philosophy of  the Etzel which was to fight the British because the British Mandate government was refusing to allow Jews, including over 100,000 Holocaust survivors to enter Palestine in the 40s. “In our minds was the constant knowledge of what British policy was planning for us;  in our ears echoed the rattle of the death trains of Europe…When Descartes said, “I  think, therefore I am” he uttered a very profound  thought. But  there are times in the history of peoples when thought alone does not prove their existence. A people may “think” and yet it’s  sons, with their thoughts and in spite of them, may be  turned into a herd of slaves  – or into soap. There are times when everything in you cries out; your very self respect as a human being lies in your  resistance to evil. We fight, therefore we are!”

Begin’s tactics were different from David Ben Gurion’s approach who was more willing to work within British rule, and felt the actions of the Etzel were jeopardizing the image of Zionism and their leadership in the world. As a result, Ben Gurion undermined the Etzel by  having their members turned over to the British and even ordering firing on the boat the Altalena — with Begin and other men on board — that was bringing in urgently needed weapons to help the war effort in June 1948. Nevertheless, Begin consciously decided that the Etzel would never retaliate against Ben Gurion or the Hagana for the sake of the unity of the Jewish people.  Begin attributes this decision to the fact that he was in hiding both from the British and the Jewish leadership for 8 years. “Life in the underground enforces seclusion and seclusion makes deep thinking possible…A deep cellar in certain circumstances becomes an elevated  watch tower.”


In retrospect, we can see all the great leader’s of those days: Ben Gurion, Begin, Shamir, Golda Meir, Chaim Weizman, and many more were all part of God’s great symphony, each playing their part in establishing the State of Israel and of the Jews returning to the Land of Israel. But there’s much  to be learned from what happened in those days, and Begin’s wisdom and great character are particularly remarkable.


Join me for a walking tour of Tel Aviv. I offer 4 meaningful and fun tours of Tel Aviv and 12 great tours of Jerusalem.

© 2013, Lisa (Leah) Bowman

All Rights Reserved

From Aushwitz to the Western Wall

ImageA few weeks ago, our son Yoav returned from his class trip to Poland. All the parents were invited to greet the boys for a special ceremony at 4am. Perhaps due to the lack of sleep, or perhaps due to stress in arriving to the ceremony–there wasn’t any traffic at that time of  day, but  we encountered many difficult moments getting there including being detained by police due to car accident ahead of us–for a brief moment, I had the feeling that he, himself was saved from the Nazis in Poland. Looking around, I was so grateful and relieved to be standing with Yoav, his  friends,  and teachers at the Western Wall in the State of Israel. The boys were wearing Israeli  flags over their shoulders. I said to Yoav that it  was such a nice idea to bring all these flags to the Wall. But they


hadn’t just brought  them to Jerusalem. They wore them all the way through their visits to death  camps in Poland. I  know that many groups do this, but the idea never fully registered until that moment.  There is something so powerful about that image  that I haven’t been able to let it go for weeks.I am so inspired by the flight of Israeli fighter planes that  flew over Aushwitz in 2003. Take a moment to watch them, and hear their words as they  fly over  the camp: “We the pilots of  the Israeli airforce flying in the skies above  the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder  their  silent  cries, salute their courage  and promise to be the shield  of the Jewish People and it’s nation Israel.” We must never forget  what happened. And we must never forget to be grateful for the protection the State of Israel offers Israelis  and Jews around the world.Image

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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Israeli fighter planes fly over Aushwitz 2003

Only 60 years later, Israeli Airforce flies over Aushwitz with the message:
“We the pilots of the Israeli airforce flying in the skies above the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder their silent cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish People and it’s nation Israel.

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

Walking tours in Jerusalem:

Put Yourself into Someone Else’s Coat

Every night leading up to Jewish holidays, tour buses drop off dozens of Israelis and tourists from around the  country who have  come to Jerusalem for an inspirational holiday  tour leading up to prayers said late at night (slichot). It’s an awesome experience to walk through the alleyways of Jerusalem at night and recall some of the great people who have lived there such as Rabbi Shmuel Salant (the first Ashekanzi  Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem), Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook  (the first Chief Rabbi of the pre-State  of Israel), and Rabbi Aryeh Levin (known as the Tzaddik – saint – of Jerusalem for his care for the sick and those  imprisoned by the British Mandate).Image

Here’s one story about Rabbi Levin that  can inspire us as we enter a new year. Rabbi Aryeh lived in a neighborhood next  to Jewish market area call shuk Mahane Yehuda. There were many financially difficult years during the founding of the State, and the 50s and many people simply did not have basic necessities.  One day, a  father and  son came to consult Rabbi Aryeh. They were both holding onto a coat. The father explained. “We only have one coat for  the two  of us, and I  think I should have it. I am an old man and I’m sensitive to cold. I should  have  the coat.” The son said,  “It’s true, it’s  harder for  him to keep warm, but  my  father didn’t tell you that I’m the  one who goes out to work to support  both  of us and since I  am going outside, I need the coat.”  Rabbi Aryeh told them, “Come back tomorrow, but tomorrow, I want you to tell me why the other one should have  the  coat.”

The  following day, they returned and presented the other’s  perspective. The son said, “My  father should have the coat. He’s  suffers from the cold.” The father said,  “My son  should have the coat, he goes out and works hard to take care  of  us.”.  Just then, Rabbi  Aryeh stood up, went to  the closet, and pulled  out a coat. He gave  the coat to the father, and said, “This one is for you and give the other one  to your son.” The  father  thanked  Rabbi Aryeh and asked, “Was the coat there yesterday?  Why didn’t you give  us the coat yesterday? Why  did we have  to  come back?” Rabbi Aryeh explained, “The  coat has been in that closet for  10 years. I  never wear  it. But yesterday, when you said  that coat  was ‘mine’ and your son said the coat  was  ‘mine’, then I also  said to myself that I have a coat in the closet, but it’s mine. Today, when you said ‘the coat is his’ and he said ‘the coat is  his’  then I also  said to myself, ‘I have  a coat in the closet and it’s his.’”Image

Rabbi Aryeh lived from March  22, 1885 to March 28, 1969. A street  was  named after him in the Nachlaot neighborhood where his house can still be seen until today.

Join us for a walking tour in Jerusalem for more inspiring stories about Rabbi Levin and others.

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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Unity Government, Unity of Jerusalem

Today is Yom Yerushalyim, Jerusalem Day, the day we commemorate the re-uniting of Jerusalem in the 6 Day War in 1967. It’s a  perfect  day  for a visit to the Western Wall. In fact, this morning, the Western Wall plaza was full of people singing, dancing  together to celebrate the day.

In 1967, just after the war, all of Israel came to the  Western Wall. Puah Shteiner–an author who had been a young girl in the Old City of Jerusalem during the siege and surrender in 1948–writes:

“There are those who cry at such a meeting with the  Western Wall, but I did  not. I  did not  cry, for I knew that this was no longer  the Wailing Wall. The Wailing Wall — remnant of the destruction of our Beit  HaMikdash (Temple) — had become  a place of joy and  redemption. I opened my eyes and looked at the women nearby…Those who were  familiar with  the prayers recited  long passages  from their siddur (prayer book), while  others  simply whispered a request. Some had never in their lives uttered a formal prayer, but their hearts, their hearts spoke wordlessly.  Still others  did not  pray at all;  they simply walked up to  the Wall and silently put a note into one of the cracks in the ancient stones. From all directions  came the  sounds of prayer  – prayers in all versions, uttered in countless accents, sung to different tunes. Here  at  the Wall, the Jewish  people were one, united, whole.  (Forever My Jerusalem).

There is a remarkable connection between the unity of the Jewish people  and the unity of Jerusalem  both in modern and ancient times.

Regarding our current story, on June 1st 1967, just a few days prior to  the victory of the 6 Day  War, the government of the State of  Israel had formed a National Unity government including Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin, brining  together parties  that no one would have  anticipated  would have  come together.

We have many sources in the Tanach (Bible) about the direct connection between the unity of the Jewish people and peace and unity in Jerusalem.

Over 3,000 years ago,  when King David was about to make Jerusalem the capital,  all the tribes of Israel  came together to acknowledge David as their  king  (not just his own  tribe of Judah).  (2 Samuel 5:1-4)

The Book  of Ezra  (written over 2,500 years ago), tells us that when  the Jews returned to the Land of Israel, they each returned to various cities that they came from. But when they were  ready to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, “The people  gathered themselves together  as one man  to  Jerusalem.” (Ezra 3:1).

Interestingly, this phrase (c’ish  echad, as one  person) reminds us of the commentary on the Torah that tells us about the unity of the Jewish people when  receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai which we celebrate next week on the holiday of Shavuot.

We know the opposite is  also true.  When  the Jewish people are divided,  Jerusalem is divided and can be taken away from the Jewish people.

We know from various sources that this  is exactly what happened when the Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE and the Jewish people lost control of  the Land of Israel to the Romans.

Today,  there is much speculation about PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent move  towards a unity government. Does it mean a war with Iran is near? Is it a sign of insecurity? Is  it a political ploy?

Today, on Jerusalem Day, let’s remember that throughout Jewish history, unity of the Jewish  people has always led to strength and peace for the Jewish  people, and  may this unity  government also be a sign of good things to come.

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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Bonfires, Marshmellows and Secrets of the Torah

This Wednesday night is a Lag B’Omer, the traditional day when  we honor  the memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai by lighting bonfires (huge memorial candles), singing and dancing. The center of  the festivities is the Upper  Galilee on  Mt. Meron, where Rabbi Shimon Bar  Yochai is buried, but the celebration takes  place throughout Israel and in Jewish communities around the world.

Lag B'Omer  Bonfire

This is a perfect time for a  virtual visit to the Galilee town of Pekiin, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (also  called the Rashbi) and his son hid in a cave for 13  years. Rabbi  Shimon was a student  of Rabbi Akiva. They were some of the  key leaders of the Jewish people in the years following  the destruction of  the Temple almost 2,000 years ago. He was  known for his great  wisdom and ability  to do miracles. In those days, there was ongoing tension between the Jews  and the Romans who were  in control of the Land of Israel.  Rabbi Shimon  had spoken negatively about the Romans by  saying that all of their engineering wonders  were for their own benefit, and he was harshly condemned to death  for his  criticism. So, Rabbi  Shimon and his son went to hide. They were sustained in the cave by a carob tree which sprung up and fresh water gushed forth nearby. Until today, the cave is surrounded  by  carob  trees and there is a stream nearby.  During this time,  they learned secrets of the Torah intensely, and Rabbi Shimon wrote  the Zohar (meaning the radiance), the central  work of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

The Talmud tells us that they stayed there until Eliyahu HaNavi  (Elijah the Prophet) came to tell him  the Roman Emporer had  died,  and thus the decree against him was annulled. After twelve years they emerged from the cave, but were  no  longer able to be in normal society. They saw  people engaged in farming and their eyes burnt up the fields  which they saw as mundane.  A voice came out from heaven and said: “Have you emerged to destroy my world!” They returned to the cave for another year, in  order to reach an even  higher level of understanding being able to reconcile the existence of the everyday with the lofty.

May it be a fun Lag  B’Omer with hotdogs and marshmallows, bonfires and songs and together with this may we reach deep spirituality.

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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Memorial and Independence on the Same Day?

Tonight and tomorrow is Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day.  The memorial days leads immediately into  Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence  Day.

In the first two years of the State of Israel, the  government couldn’t decide on what  would be the appropriate day for Memorial  Day, so they were actually celebrated both on the same day.  Understandably  this was too emotionally  and technically difficult, so in 1951, the day was moved one  day back.

This  juxtaposition of the two days feels right in Israel. Let’s take a virtual visit to Independence Hall  in Tel Aviv to understand this more deeply. On May 14th, 1948, emotions were running  high. The events of that day changed  the world. Golda Meir explains in her autobiography that David Ben Gurion announced, “’…by the virtue of our historic and natural right and the resolution of  the General Assembly of the United Nations, do hereby proclaim the establishment  of  a  Jewish State  in the Land of  Israel – the State of Israel.’  The State of Israel! My eyes filled with tears and my hands shook. We had  done  it. We had brought the Jewish State into  existence…The long exile was over.”

Throughout Israel, there was  dancing and celebrating. And yet, not only was the State  declared with the understanding  that the Arab armies would likely  soon attack,  but there  was at the same time great sadness about  those who had been murdered in the Holocaust (90 percent of Israelis at that time had lost at least one relative) and many Jews had already been killed in Palestine in the years preceding the establishment of the State.

Golda was one of the people to sign the Declaration. She  comments, “All I recall about the actual signing of the proclamation is  that I was crying openly, not able  even to  wipe the  tears  from my face, and  I remember that a  man called David Tzvi Pinchas who belonged to the religious  Mizrahi Party came over to try to calm me. ‘Why do you weep so much, Golda?’  he asked  me. ‘Because it breaks my heart to think of all those who should have  been here today  and are not,’ I replied, but I still couldn’t stop crying.”

And, just as we will  do  this  year when we transition on Wednesday afternoon from Rememberance  Day to Independence Day, Golda concludes on a  high note, “After the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra played the Hatikvah, Ben Gurion  rapped  his gavel for the third time; ‘The State of Israel is established. This meeting is ended.’ We all shook hands and embraced each other. Israel  was a reality.” (My Life, Golda Meir)

May we all have a meaningful Yom HaZikaron  and a wonderful celebration for  Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Join me on a walking  tour to learn more about the State of Israel, Knesset, Supreme  Court, emblem and more:

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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Heroism at Chamber of the Holocaust

Tonight and tomorrow is Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day in Israel, which is commonly known as Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day). But, the full name of the day is significant.  The date was chosen in by a law passed in the Knesset in 1953 because it commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the single largest uprising against the Nazis during the Holocaust – which intensified just before Passover 1943.

Today is a fitting day for a virtual visit to the Chamber of the Holocaust (Martef HaShoah) on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. Martef HaShoah was the first memorial established in Israel just after the founding of  the State in 1948. This place is dark and creepy as it should be. But it contains some very inspiring artifacts that symbolize some of the different types of heroism of the Jewish  people under Nazi domination. In addition to a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and several memorials to Rabbis such as the Piaseczno Rebbe who gave inspiring talks during the Holocaust which are recorded in the book Holy Fire (Aish Kodesh), this place has some amazing original pieces: miniature tefillin that could be worn without the Nazis noticing, a shofar sounded in Bergen Belsen, a prayer book written from memory, and a Chanukah menorah made from potato skins. Each item reminds us of some of the greatest heroism of the Jews in the Holocaust. In that period of total and utter oppression, any act of expressing Jewishness was an uprising of it’s own. Any act of bringing light into a period of complete darkness was a victory.

May we take this time to honor those uprisings which were not so famous, but were tremendously heroic.

© 2011, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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Where is the first “White House” of Israel?

This  house — at 46 Ben Maimon in Rehavia, Jerusalem — was  the first official residence of the prime ministers of the State of  Israel. (Photo  by Benny Powers). Image

David Ben Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Golda Meir  lived in this  house between the  years 1949  to 1974.  They lived  here during all the major ups and downs of the  first quarter of a century of the State of Israel. Perhaps one would expect  something more grand like  the  official residence  of the leader of Denmark  in  Copenhagen, Imageor any of the official  residences of world leaders, all of which are more impressive  than this house.

Well, the  Israeli house is understated, which says something about the modesty of our founding fathers and mothers, and Israeli society in general.

The kitchen of this house became famous during Golda Meir’s time. ImageShe would invite the inner circle of Cabinet members  over for strategy meetings. She  would bake a cake, serve  tea and coffee, and they would all plan how they would  relate  to the larger  cabinet the  next day. Because they met in the kitchen, it became known as the  “Kitchen Cabinet” (or  in Hebrew, the Mitbachon) a term used in Israeli politics  since  then and including Netanyahu’s  government today.

When we look  more closely at the  architecture of this house, we can see  there’s something  unusual  about it. On the one hand, it has the plain white plaster and lack of ornamentation of the  Bauhaus style that was brought  to Israel by German  Jewish  architects  fleeing the rise of the Nazis to power in the 1930s. On  the other hand, it  has classical Roman or  Byzantine style arches.  It  seems that the architect, Benjamin Chaiken who designed this house, and Richard Kaufman, who  designed the  neighborhood  of Rehavia, were trying  to develop a new style for Jerusalem when they built this house,  blending the ancient with the modern.  ImageYou’ll notice that the wall and guard  house were not part of the original design.  (Photo  by Benny Powers).  The house was first owned  by Julius and Nechama  Jacobs. Julius  was a  clerk in the British Mandate  government and was killed in 1947 in the ongoing  skirmishes between Jews, Arabs and the British. On December 5th,1949, Ben Gurion declared that Jerusalem was the Eternal Capital of the Jewish  people, and as such  the government would move immediately to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv where  it  had been during the War of Independence. This house  was  the most logical choice  for the Prime Minister’s residence. Why? It was already in the hands of  the Jewish  Agency (it had been leased  from the Jacobs family), it was  in the  neighborhood  of the Jewish Agency and many Zionist  leaders, and it was on the corner. So, it  was easy to  just build a security wall and booth for a guard  in  order  to secure  the house for  the Prime Minister.

Paula Ben Gurion was known for being more concerned  that  the guard had a good meal than was actually guarding, so she often invited him in to eat with them. In 1974, when Yitzchak  Rabin was  elected Prime Minister, Leah Rabin  came to  see the  house. She felt  it was  in poor condition, so the Rabins  requested a different residence. The official  Prime Minister’s residence was then moved  to  a house  down the  street where Bibi  Netanyahu lives today. While this original house is not a spectacular piece of  architecture, it  is certainly an important part of the  history of the State of Israel.

P.S. So, what is happening with the house today? A few  weeks  ago, some  protestors broke  in  to the house to  continue  the summer protests regarding lack of affordable housing in Israel…but  that’s another story. There  were ideas about 10  years  ago to turn it into a museum for Levy Eshkol, but  the funds weren’t  raised.  The current plan  is  turn it  into a  beautiful apartment building which will retain some aspects of the  original house as a memorial.

© 2011, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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