Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bitter Sweet

The Jerusalem Post

Pesach, Passover, is a special holiday. The redemption of our people, Am Yisrael, some 3,500 years ago. It serves as the foundation for our future, that is, the issues, such as being enslaved in Egypt, and the liberation from that bondage.

It has happened time and time again. Twice we suffered the destruction of our spiritual center, Jerusalem, were exiled from our land. And we returned. Jews lived quite comfortably in Spain for hundreds of years, only to be cruelly exiled, following a brutal inquisition. Ditto France, England and other countries. Ditto plus some, Germany of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Oppression and then triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.

So too, Hebron, something of a microcosm of Israel, the state of Israel and the history of Israel.

Moments ago, prior to beginning this article, French and Spanish journalists questioned me about our return to Beit HaShalom. Speaking about our presence in Hebron, they said, 'but this is 'palestinian' land.'

I stared at them, sort of smiling, not saying anything.

Then the statement was repeated, as a question.

"Look, where we are standing, this was bought by Jews in Hebron in 1807. The area behind us was lived on, as a Jewish neighborhood, from the middle of the 1500s by Jews who'd been exiled from Spain in 1492. And Jews lived here for hundreds of years before that. So is it 'palestinian property?' I think not, I think it is Jewish property."

'But the 'palestinians' and international NGOs claim that the building, Beit HaShalom was stolen - the papers were forged...?'

"Right, except that two Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, ruled that the building was legally purchased. If they had ruled against us, you would say they were correct. Now that they've ruled for us, you say they're wrong?!"

So it goes, on and on.

Pesach in Hebron is always special. Thousands, no, tens of thousands, flock to the city, visiting Ma'arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and other fascinating sites in the city.
Sweet. The story of redemption.

But it wasn't entirely sweet.

About an hour before the Seder, the beginning of the holiday, one of my sons called me, asking very abruptly, 'what's happening at Tarqumia?'

Tarqumia is a known checkpoint, about 10 kilometers west of Hebron.

'Don't know, why?'

'Check it - there was a terror attack. Someone was killed' Others injured.'

Bitter. Very Bitter.

I didn't know until the next day who had been killed. I found out, almost a week later that some of my friends from Hebron were at that very site, where the shooting occurred, literally minutes after the attack.

Such events are never pleasant. But on the eve of a holiday, the celebration of redemption, knowing that a few families were having a very very difficult time rejoicing, knowing that more children were added to the list of orphans, it's not a happy way to start a festival.

A big dark cloud covered the light of the sun.

We knew that the attack would influence peoples' decision to visit Hebron in the coming days. Understandably. Yet, some 25,000 people were able to overcome, letting their feet do the talking, saying, as Jews have exclaimed for thousands of years, nothing can stand in our way. This is our home, this is our land, this is our city. Here we are, to prove it.

It is quite well known that during the Passover Seder we eat Matza, a symbol of our liberation from Egypt. Perhaps it is less known, or perhaps, less understood, that we also eat bitter herbs, in remembrance of the harsh conditions we had to live under in Egypt. Not only do we eat them, but we also say a blessing over them.

It should be easily comprehended why we bless the consumption of Matza. But bitter herbs?

Except that the bitterness was part of the redemption. Only after experiencing the bitterness of slavery in Egypt could we appreciate the sweetness of liberation.

Additionally, the 'bitter herbs' of days gone by were also a preparation, for the acrimony we would continue to experience, throughout the ages. We thank G-d, that He has given us the inner strength, an almost unimaginable faith, allowing us to overcome, to overcome, to overcome.

Hadas Mizrachi, now the widow, formerly the wife of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi, a short time after the murder:

"I'll be strong for the children, because that's what Baruch would have wanted. We should also be thankful for the miracle that my children and I survived. We will stay strong and God willing, my children will grow and succeed, and that will be my victory against the terrorists," said the mother, whose condition is defined as moderate. "I have two bullet wounds and a fractured rib." [http://bit.ly/1f125Gx]

During the Seder, we eat the Matza and the Bitter Herbs separately, and then put them together, sort of a sandwich.

Oppression and redemption, Bitter and sweet. Tears of festivity, tears of mourning. Baruch Shehechianu, Blessing the good - Baruch Dayan HaEmet, Blessing the bad. Matzah and Bitter Herbs.

Such was our Passover this year, in Hebron.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


The Jerusalem Post

April 13, 2014

Tomorrow night we will mark a holiday Jews have been celebrating for some 3,500 years. That is, the miraculous exodus from Egypt, that is, the birth of the Jewish people, as a nation.  I guess that means we've been around for a long time.

On the eve of Pesach - that is, Passover, we conduct a Seder, which literally means 'order.' During this festive rite we retell the story of our beginnings, from the days of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the trials and tribulations of Jacob, and descent to Egypt. From there we repeat the sufferings of the ancient Israelites at the hands of the slave masters, the torturous Egyptians, and finally, the miraculous end, including the 'ten plagues' brought on the Egyptians, culminating with the death of all the first-born males, excepting only first-born Jews. And then, the sudden, massive, glorious, exodus from that cursed land.

The festivities include the actual recitation of the events, as well as drinking four cups of wine, eating Matzah, the  unleavened bread, and also 'bitter herbs.' Each element of the 'seder' ceremony is marked and the details are scrupulously followed by Jews around the world, year after year.

The intricacies of the holiday, and the above-described ceremony have been written about in great length. Thousands of books have been authored, each touching upon a different aspect, or approaching an idea from a 'different angle.'

I would like, for a moment, to add my own small contribution. Not that what I write hasn't been written before; I'm sure it has been, multiple times. But of course, I have my own 'take on things.'

It's fairly clear why the Exodus story is told again and again, year after year. This event is the very foundation of Jewish faith. The Ten Commandments, as given to us by G-d at Sinai, do not speak of the G-d who created heavens and earth. Rather, they begin with the G-d who took the Jews out of Egypt.  Many reasons are given for this, but one of them is very simply because, who was around to witness the creation of heaven and earth? On the other hand, millions witnessed the miracles and exodus from Egypt.

That has been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, grandparents to grandchildren, Rabbis to students, from then on, generation upon generation. We read of the events in the Torah, and keep them alive, in our minds, in our hearts  and in all facets of our lives. The best way to ensure that such a majestic, and central occasion will not ever be forgotten is if it is repeated. Just as people rarely forget the date of their birthday, so too, a people does not fail to remember its origins. And just as important, we mustn't fail to give thanks to He who gave us our life.

There is no better way to express gratitude than to repeat the event, again and again, giving credit where credit is due.

Another question asked concerns the evening ritual - the 'seder.' Why is there such a strict 'seder,' that is 'order' to everything that's done. Why can't the story be told, with each person or family expressing it as they like?

The answer to this question too, is simple.

A student once brought a beautiful painting to his art teacher.  In reply to the teacher's complements, the student claimed, "I didn't really paint this. My paint spilled on the paper, and this was the result." The teacher, of course, refused  to accept this explanation, saying, "such a work of art cannot be the result of 'chance' spilt paint."

Such is the world in which we live. Our lives, our private lives, or our national existence, cannot be 'paint spilt on a piece of paper.'  Just as the artist must plan each stroke of the brush, each shade of color, so too, our being is a work of art. A work of Divine art. As the expression says, 'there is a method to the madness.'

Our birth, with the exodus from Egypt, thousands of years ago, was methodical, beginning hundreds of years before. There was a guiding hand, every step of the way, sometimes visible, other times seemingly invisible. But each and every step was planned out, just as the artist charts his masterpiece, line by line.

This is a Divine 'seder,' a Divine order. This is why, on the eve of our national birth, when we literally relive that era, as we repeat the words of our Sages, that we must feel as if we were today actually liberated from Egypt, the 'order' is so central. All that happened was carefully thought out, planned and executed. And this is how we experience again the event, just as it was then.

Approaching these sacred days of Passover, my mood is, perhaps, overly reflective. Looking back at our birth as a nation, I also reflect upon my own personal narrative.

Presently I am marking several special life events. Exactly twenty years ago I began working with the Hebron Jewish community. In a few months it will be exactly forty years since I first came to Israel. And last week I celebrated my sixtieth birthday. Twenty, forty, sixty. And of course, I cannot leave out a number in the middle, that being the thirty-fifth anniversary of my marriage to my wonderful wife Ora.

Looking back to where I started, it really doesn't seem possible. From New Jersey to Hebron might be the kind of material science fiction is made of.  That is, until we reach Pesach - Passover, when we see that my story is nothing more than the story of the Jewish people, throughout history. After all, were did Abraham start?

My story is that of thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and millions of Jews, who have made their way back home.  We each have our own individual exodus stories, our liberation  from Galut - the Diaspora, and our return home.  Each story contains miracles, and perhaps, even plagues. But there is always a guiding hand,  and in the end, (which is actually the beginning) we make it back home.

This is what will be roaming my thoughts tomorrow night, sitting with my family - with my children and grandchildren, reflecting on my own wondrous story, while reciting the age-old words of our freedom from bondage in Egypt, of our birth as a people, an eternal people, Am Yisrael.

Happy Passover - Chag Sameach, from Hebron.