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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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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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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Think about Eilat this Passover

Purim  is  here, and it’s almost Springtime.  What a wonderful time for a “virtual visit” to Eilat at the Southern tip of Israel. The weather in Eilat in Spring is perfect, the sea is glittering, and the mountains such as Mt. Shlomo (named after King Solomon) are standing royally around the

coastal city of Eilat.In March 1949, a remarkable event took place right here in  Eilat. 

Today, this a courtyard on the sea in a busy, modern Eilat with a statue of a group of Israeli soldiers.  Back then, it was the location of a  British Mandate outpost. But the British had left Israel on May 15, 1948. So when the Israelis arrived in March 49, it had been abandoned. There was no one, and nothing around as far as the eye could see; just sand, mountains, and the deep blue, Red Sea.

The soldiers  were sent to mark a Jewish  presence  to ensure that  the land promised to  the Jews in the  United Nations partition plan (back on November  29, 1947), would in fact  be in Israeli hands when the armistice agreements were signed with Israel’s  neighbors.

The desert  terrain had been difficult. There were no clear maps of the area (except some arial photos taken by the British), and no modern roads. A plane  flew over the soldiers jeeps, and on one occasion had  to throw down a stone with a note attached telling them they were going  the wrong way!

When the soldiers finally arrived at the Red Sea, they were exhilarated to have arrived. This was the final movement of troops in the War of Independence. They had reached their destination. The State of Israel had been born less than a year before, and this was the final stage of establishing the borders.

What should one do at such a moment?

Well, they wanted to fly  the Israeli flag, but being a new country in the middle of a war, they didn’t have one with them, so they took some white cloth, a blue marker  and the star of David from their first aid bag,  and they made their own  flag (Israel  can be so modest). The flagpole was a bit rusty, so a group of soldiers  held the pole  while one climbed  up  to fly the flag.  He said it  was hard to climb up that pole, but 2000  years of Jewish hopes to  return to the Land of Israel lifted him up to the top.

After raising the flag, the soldiers all jumped in the Red Sea to enjoy a  swim. And they wrote a telegram: We are the first Jews since Moses to jump in the Red Sea.

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

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The Great Jews of Tzfat Welcoming us Back Home

The Tzfat Cemetery…

In Hebrew, Tzfat  means to “look  out.” What does Tzfat  look out  at? Tzfat looks out over the present, at  the grand mountains of  the Galilee which look like  waves  (galim  in Hebrew).  It looks out to the  future, according to Jewish tradition,  asking each  visitor and the Jewish people as a whole to think about where we are going. And, Tzfat looks out over the  past, to some great  people of our heritage in the ancient cemetery of Tzfat.

On our last trip to Tzfat, our ten-year-old son became  so fascinated  by the cemetery that he walked down there several times on his own. His excitement inspired me to think about it more deeply. I asked him why he was so attracted to the place, and he  said that he said couldn’t explain it. Something just drew him there. Perhaps he was fascinated by the blue paint on some of the tombstones.  Blue is a very inviting color, even for a cemetery. Blue is the color of the sea and the color  of the  sky;  it’s a  spiritual color, the color of eternity.  Or maybe, he was amazed to see names of famous 16th century Rabbis he  had  learned about in school and tours of Tzfat  such as The Ari, the well-known kabbalist; Rabbi Yosef Karo, the great writer of works of  Jewish  law; and Rabbi  Alkabetz, known for writing Lecha Dodi which just about every  Jewish  congregation in the world now sings  on Friday nights to welcome Shabbat. Our son was definitely intrigued by the famous mikvah (ritual bath) of the Ari where many have braved the freezing waters for a Tzfat experience they will always remember.

Throughout the Land of Israel, we have many of these blue-painted monuments. One  will usually see some religious-looking people stationed nearby them looking intently into their  books, whispering something, and rocking back and forth.  When  the people aren’t there, piles of used tea-light candles inform us that they have been there, and that more of  them  will be arriving soon to look in their books,  whisper something, and rock back and forth.

But visiting these places wasn’t always just for those inclined towards candle-lighting, praying and the like. In fact, visiting graves of our ancestors was one of the main ways in which travelers throughout the last  number of centuries would connect  to the history and land.  Remember that many places that visitors see as essential to their trip  to Israel only came into  existence since the State of  Israel  was  born. Some have only become accessible in the last 20 years. Who  could ever  have  conceived  of an underwater aquarium in  Eilat, the Israel Musuem, or Independence  Hall  in Tel Aviv before  the State  of Israel  was established? The  Western Wall tunnels, the  City of David,  Masada, and many ancient  synagogues  in the Galilee were covered in dirt, rubble, and weeds  until recent times. The Western Wall  plaza was only a narrow passageway until 1967 and for many of the last 2,000 years was inaccessible  to  Jews. When Jews  would want to see  meaningful sites in the Land of  Israel, they would  go  to  ancient graves.

The  poem  Tikvatanu — which  was  written in 1878 at the  time of the establishment of Petach Tikvah and which  later became the basis for the national anthem HaTikvah  –describes how “throngs of country men still pay homage at  the  graves of our fathers.”

I think that these visitors, and perhaps also our son, were just drawn to be  near their ancestors much in the same way that one would visit the cemetery of one’s  great-grandparents  when going back to one’s family’s home town…just needing to connect to the past, and needing the  past to welcome them home.

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

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