Posts Tagged 'Israel'

Bob’s Your Uncle

A few months ago I was watching a show with Yadid and one of the characters said, “…And Bob’s your uncle”.  We were dumbstruck. What does this expression mean? As it turns out this an expression of unknown origin, that means “and there it is” or “and there you have it.” It is commonly used in England. Typically, someone says it to conclude a set of simple instructions or when a result is reached. For example: “left over right; right over left, and Bob’s your uncle – a reef knot.” The meaning is similar to that of the French expression “et voilà!”

I was thinking about this expression yesterday as it was the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.  The Balfour Declaration was a single paragraph in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. It read:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

The text of the letter was published in the press one week later, on November 9, 1917. The Balfour Declaration was later incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine. The issuance of the declaration had many long-lasting consequences.

Portrait of Arthur Balfour (1892)

But what does any of this have to do with our mystery expression? As it turns out A. J. Langguth and others have suggested that the expression “…And Bob’s your uncle” arose after Conservative Prime Minister Robert “Bob” Cecil appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1887, an act which was apparently both surprising and unpopular. In this sense, the expression also carried a hint of sarcastic envy or resentment, rather like “it’s who you know, not what you know” that gets results.

So Lord Balfour write his declaration, David Ben-Gurion declares Statehood, the Israeli army fights countless wars, and Bob’s your uncle we are blessed with the modern State of Israel.

 

 

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Looking for Noah: Prophesy for Our Times

When I stop to reflect on this last week and Noah, this weeks Torah portion, there are actually almost too many connection points. When we read :

And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with hamas- violence. And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:11-12)

It is hard reading this without thinking of the situation in Israel right now with all of the stabbings and violence. As with the generation of Noah you have to ask what would make people act this way? There is no doubt that the status quo in Israel needs to change, but this will not make it change for the better. I am afraid it will take generations to heal from this pain and corruption.

And then you get to the flood itself and it is impossible not think about issue we have with climate change. It seems hard to argue with the fact that our treatment of the world has led to a situation in which we are putting our children at risk if not ourselves.

And then we get to the dispersion of the descendants of Noah after the destruction of the Tower of Babel. There we read:

And the Lord said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. ( Genesis 11:6-9)

It is impossible for me to read this without thinking about the current global refugee crisis. Europe is terrified that it will become confounded by the sudden influx of displaced Muslim and Arabs fleeing regimes that look to build up their control and their name.

With so many parallels between the Torah portion of Noah and the headlines it is easy to read it as some sort of cautionary prophesy. I am just looking for our generation’s Noah. He or she need not be perfect, but we desperately need leadership that will save our world for the next generation.

Idolatrous Context: Eikev and Confederate Flag

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion, we revisit the Golden Calf incident.  Moshe is up on the Mountain getting the Ten Commandments  from God and when he comes down with the two Tablets he sees that the Israelites had created an idolatrous Golden Calf to worship. First he breaks the Tablets and then he grinds up the Golden Calf. What was so bad about creating this idol? No one got hurt. Also it is noteworthy that Moshe destroys both the Tablets a gift from God and the Golden Calf, but why?

I was thinking about this since Palestinian infant Ali Dawabshe was burned alive when his West Bank home was set on fire by Jewish Israelis, and  since 16-year old Israeli Shira Banki — who was stabbed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade — died of her wounds. Both serve as a painful awakening to two forces of idolatry in our community: one of brazen commitment to the West Bank and the other of homophobia. While people want to explain away both killings as crazy acts of deranged  people, we as a community need to recognize our role. Rav Benny Lau said it well in his speech at the rally in Kikar Zion, on the Motzei Shabbat following the stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride Parade:

A Jew does not stab another person! Period. All those who prayed today in synagogues across the country.All those who prayed, just today heard with their own ears the Ten Commandments. They stood and heard the commandment “Thou shall not kill”

We create a context in which these destructive and insane acts make sense. We need to take responsibility for our role as accomplices.

Earlier this summer on the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. During a prayer service, nine people were killed by a gunman. The morning after the attack, police arrested Dylann Roof who later confessed to committing the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war. Like the killers of Ali Dawabshe and Shira Banki, Roof was deranged. History was made later in the summer when South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its post on the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.

PHOTO: The confederate flag is removed in Charleston, South Carolina, July 10, 2015. The larger group needed to take responsibility for the racist context of hate they had created with that symbol. They too felt like accomplices.

In creating the Golden Calf the Israelites proved that they might do anything as a group. Their group-think created a context where many bad things could happen. It would just take one bad egg to act on the spirit of the group and anything was possible. Moshe broke the God-given Tablets to awaken the people of the logical ends of their idolatry. They could soon be accomplices in breaking “Thou shall not kill”. What will awaken us to the idolatry in our community? What flags do we need to be taking down?

My Grandfather’s Poem: A thought for Israel Independence Day

I was named for my father’s father Abram Orlow. This week I came across a poem that he published when he was 18. It is very meaningful to me in that I know very little about him. My grandfather died when my father was just thirteen. It seemed fitting to share this today for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Enjoy.

 

Awake, Arise, Thy Goluth Is No More by Abram Orlow

O Palestine! thou land of Maccabees of old,

Where once the streams with milk and honey flowed,

Canst thou see how a new and wondrous light

That drives away your tears and brings delight?

 

Seest thou thine legions as of old,

Bedecked with fighting splendor, brave and bold,

Fighting again for thine own freedom’s sake?

So of thee once again a home for a nation’s make.

 

Seest thou the hand of Powers great?

Seest thou the hand of Victory’s fate?

Once more beknighting thee and raise thee from the dust,

And crown thee ” Jewish Homeland.” as soon the nations must

 

Seest thou thy people answer Zion’s call

And flock unto thy standard, one and all?

Awake! Arise! Thy Goluth is no more!

Aye, soon thou  thou’lt be the Palestine of yore

– The Jewish World January 11, 1918

Multiple ID in Exile

With the close of VaYakel Pikkudei this week’s Torah portion we read about the completion and consecration of the Tabernacle and conclude reading the book of Exodus. We read:

So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. And Moshe was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud was present, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.(Exodus 40:33-38)

Why does the book end with this image? What is the meaning behind Moshe not being able to enter the sacred space when the cloud is present?

To understand these questions we need to look at the whole book of Exodus. The protagonist of most of the book of Exodus is a Levite who is raised in the house of the Egyptians. Moshe spent his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moshe is homeless and caught between many cultures, his charge is to bring the Israelites back home to the land of Canaan. Here we see the paradigm of Jewish history oscillating between survival and sovereignty. We struggle in the galut, exile, yearning to be at home in the Land of Israel. But, it is in the exile itself that Moshe is at home as a leader.

In our portion, at the end of Exodus, God periodically settles in their midst giving the Israelites a sense of what it will be like when they have a homeland and permanent residence for God in the Temple. Moshe’s exile from the tent of meeting when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. Ironically, Moshe, the leader, will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his/their mission. The text challenges our understanding of leadership. Is a good leader in center stage or does s/he know when s/he has to back off and let others take center stage.

The text also challenges the notions previous generations of Jews have had regarding their Jewish identity. For example a previous generation assumed that intermarriage meant leaving Jewish life behind. Today when everyone has multiple identities who you marry add complexity, but it does not necessarily mean the end of Jewish expression. We can all relate to Moshe finding a special role in exile in as much as this state of being in between things leaves room for our multiple identities.

Little Becky : Feeling at Home for the First Time

Years ago I heard a story of a girl named Becky. She grew up in a small town where she was the only Jewish child. She had many friends, but she was still a little lonely. There was part of her that yearned to be with others who shared her faith, practices, culture, and history. From her earliest days she remembered her family telling that there was a place for her to be with her people. So when she was old enough she decided to go there. She went with someone who had been there before  who took her to this special place. As her companion saw the sites signaling that they were getting close Becky echoed that person’s excitement.  By the time she got there her heart was palpitating. The minute her foot hit the ground she felt at home for the first time in a place she had never been before.

For any of us who grew up going to camp we can relate to little Becky.  Even today there is a special feeling going up to camp that reminds me of that first time I stepped off that bus so many years ago.  I was privileged to grow up in a large Jewish community attending a Jewish day school. Thinking about Becky I think about my camp friends who grew up in the coal-mining communities  in Pennsylvania. For them it was transformational to live in a vibrant Jewish community of their peers. Seeing their experiences enriched mine. I never took camp for granted and it made me love that community even more. Jewish camp is that home that we need desperately need for the next generation.

The only other place that I have had this kind of experience of homecoming to a place I had not been previously is Israel. So, it will not be surprising if you were to learn that the place she went in little Becky’s story was Israel. It might surprise you that this story is actually taken from Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. Truly years ago, it is the story of Rivka Imeynu, Rebecca our Matriarch. She left the place she grew up to come home to the land of Canaan. Echoing Abraham’s answering God’s call of Lech Lecha-  to Go, Rivka says”Ailech- I will go” (Genesis 24:58). Following in his footsteps she goes home to a place she has never been before.  It makes me think of Rainer Maria Rilke the German poet when we said,“The only journey is the one within.” We are a nation of seekers.

All Alone Together- Reflections on the Lone Soldier and Tisha B’Av

About a month ago at the start of the Gaza conflict with Hamas I was in Israel for a conference on Israel Education. As part of the conference we had some meetings at the WZO offices on Har Herzl. At the end of the day found myself with about 30 minutes on my hands before my cousin Dubi was going to pick me up. So I decided it would be a good time to go visit Mike Levin’s grave. Mike was a Philly boy turned Chayal Bodeda lone soldier in the Israeli army. Mike was the only American born Israeli soldier who died in the Second Lebanon War.  Mike was also a camper of mine from Camp Ramah in the Poconos. At the bottom of his grave the stone read, ” AN AMERICAN OLEH [immigrant] WHOSE LOVE OF G-D AND ISRAEL IS ETERNAL”. As you can see in this picture here his grave is adorned  by his many visitors who connect to Mike’s love.

image

While I was there paying my tribute to Mike and decided to take a picture of the sign indicated the section he was buried in so I could find it easier in the future (Area Deled Section 6). In so doing I noticed the empty plots near at hand. At the time it seemed sad to think that Israel needs to plan ahead for future casualties of those who would die in defense of the State. It is depressing to realize that as long as there are Jews in the world there will be antisemitism and we will need heroes to protect us.

 

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I think about Mike Levin every year on Tisha B’Av. He was most certainly one of those heroes. Now looking back at this picture I am filled with horror realizing just how many people have died this month.  How many people are now in Har Herzl?

Among them have been a number of other lone soldiers. One of these lone soldiers was Max Steinberg from Los Angeles who volunteered in the Israel Defense Forces. He was killed along with 12 other soldiers in the Gaza Strip, amidst an Israeli operation to quell rocket fire and destroy underground smuggling tunnels.  An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral at Har Herzl  on July 23.  I cannot imagine more than a few actually knew Max. Why did so many people show up?

To some degree I think the answer to this is found at the beginning of the book of Lamentations which we read on Tisha B’Av. There we read:

How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. ( Eichah 1:1-2)

Hamas clearly lost the military war, but I am not sure their goal was ever to win. Their goal seemed to be to kill Jews or get Jews to kill Palestinians.  We have yet to see the full extent of damage and harm inflicted on their  people. No one else stepped up to neutralize Hamas and liberate the Palestinian people. Israel was alone. For these demented terrorists this as a victory. In terms of the media Hamas seems to have done very well. Israel is alone and there are none among all of the nations to comfort her . Zion is the city that sits in solitary יָשְׁבָה בָדָד- – yashvah badad. Badad is the same word as Chayal Boded– a lone soldier. The nation mourns the loss of the  Chayal Boded because together we are a nation that has experienced isolation throughout history. We are all alone together. May the memories all of our heroes be for a blessing.


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