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.

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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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