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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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.

Walking tours in Jerusalem:


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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