Jerusalem Reunification From the Eyes of a Child

Western Wall, Jerusalem, June, 1967

Western Wall

-Written by Eli Yaron

I witnessed the reunification of Jerusalem firsthand. I was a nine-year-old boy when this modern-day miracle unfolded during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Three weeks before the war, I was enjoying the Yom Hatzmaut (Independence Day) celebrations, which included the IDF parade during the day, and the yearly Israeli song festival in the evening. The parade took place in Jerusalem that year. However, because the occupying Jordanians had restricted the access of Jews within the walls of the ancient part of the city, the parade had to be held in the newer part. Due to the cease-fire agreements with Jordan, the parade was limited to marching troops and jeeps. Although the air force flyby and the columns of tanks were not allowed, the parade was still a show of force.

Singer Shuly Nathan with her guitar on stage

Singer Shuly Nathan

The song festival included 12 songs that competed for first prize. I recall my family sitting around the radio listening to the songs. Then, it was announced that the mayor, Teddy Koleck, had asked for a special song, that was not part of the contest, to be written about Jerusalem. A young singer whom none of us had ever heard before, Shuli Nathan, started singing “Avir Harim Tzalul K’Yaytin” (Mountain Air That Is Pure as Wine), written by Naomi Shemer. We were mesmerized. My mother came in from the kitchen, and when the refrain of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) was sung for the first time, I saw her wiping a tear. On the radio, we could hear the crowd singing the refrain, followed by a brief silence and then applause that seemed to last forever. My father simply said, “Hayinu Kecholmim (as if we are dreaming).”

Most Israelis do not recall which song won the 1967 song festival contest. But all those who listened to the broadcast recall vividly that at the end of the evening, Shuli Nathan came on stage again to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” with the audience joining her and choking back tears.

The next morning, the 7 a.m. news started with Nasser, the president of Egypt, demanding the removal of the UN peace-keeping forces between Israel and Egypt. The UN forces vacated their position on the border, and the Egyptian army took their place. In response, Israel mobilized those in military reserve units. Within a few days, our neighborhood changed — only children, young women, and the elderly were left. School continued as usual, and the only difference in my life was that my parents were working long hours. My father was working around the clock at ZIM, the Israeli shipping line. He came home every third or fourth day for a quick shower and meal, before going right back. My mother was working full-time at a friend’s hardware store, as he was called to reserve duty as well.

A few days later, two major events took place. On the foreign affairs front, Nasser announced he was closing the Tiran Straits to Israeli ships. And on the home front, our cleaning lady, a widow who lived in downtown Haifa in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood, came crying to my mother. Our cleaning lady said that her Arab neighbor told her, “Wait until we win. We are going to kill your children first, and then we will kill you!” My mother told her not to worry about a thing, because that would never happen. Tuning in to the Arab radio stations that broadcasted in Hebrew, we repeatedly heard the same message: “We will slaughter you and throw your bodies into the Mediterranean Sea, as none of you will remain alive at the end of the war.” [Read more…]

Film Screening & Discussion: Wrestling Jerusalem

The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is an occasion to both celebrate and to reflect on how we move forward. As a result of this victory, Jews were once again — after 2,000 years — able to pray at the Western Wall, their most holy site. However, the Six-Day war also left Israel in control over millions of Palestinians, while stalled efforts at peace have caused trauma and suffering on both sides.

In light of this anniversary and the complex issues that surround it, we invite you to join us for a screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Wrestling Jerusalem,” starring writer-actor Aaron Davidian. The movie takes viewers on a multi-dimensional journey into the heart of the Middle East, and the intersection of politics, identity and spiritual yearning. Davidman, the sole actor, gives voice to 17 different characters on all sides of the existential divide — moving between male and female, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Arab — modeling what it takes to bear witness through the eyes of the other. Following the film, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), will moderate a discussion with the actor.

Ticket Prices
$36 (adult)
$18 (student with ID)

Get your tickets here.

Jerusalem Facts for the Democratic National Convention

The Democratic and Republican parties will meet soon in Philadelphia and Cleveland and adopt their party platforms. They will address questions about Jerusalem.

Before they make this important decision, it is important to make sure they have the facts straight. StandWithUs has created this educational fact sheet about Jerusalem to distribute to members of the platform committee as well as to other convention delegates and key policymakers:
[Read more…]

The Kotel Compromise- A win or pyrrhic victory?

kotel-black-and-white-0The Kotel is a special place. As a remnant of the Temple, we have gravitated to it to feel a special closeness to our history, to a Divine place, the home for the Almighty that we built. We feel a deep emotional and often mystical connection that draws us into the space. Otherwise it is nothing more than a large brick wall.

I recall arriving in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school in Israel. I got off the plane, hopped into the sherut to Jerusalem dropped off the bags and then headed to the Wall. It was late. I had traveled for what seemed like days and although exhausted, I was compelled to go to the Wall. The emotions welled up from deep inside. I stood in the plaza gazing upon this place. With the kind of intense reverence and awe that happens rarely, I slowly approached the Wall. It was powerful. The thing that happened to me was an extraordinary moment, an encounter between my history, my people, my God and me. But the Kotel is not the sole place of my Judaism. The Makom or place of my Judaism extends beyond time and space and includes the idea of a Jewish people. This vision of Judaism however is compromised by the very compromise announced to create separate spaces for different kinds of Jews to pray.solitary wall prayer

The arrangement for the space at the Wall has in many ways undermined what the space itself means for Judaism. Each denomination of Judaism now has a place it can call its own. The Wall of the Temple has been segregated, sliced and diced so each sect has an area where it can feel comfortable. The gain of a place for egalitarian Jews at the wall however is also the loss of the symbol of the Wall for us all as a place of unity; for these partitions are along the fault lines of Ashkenazic observances segregating us from each other instead creating a place accessible to everyone. The remnant of where God dwelled amidst the Jewish people has become a place of division and discord within God’s people.

1891amonthinpalestineandsyria We have all seen the photographs of the wall at the turn of the century. Men and women were there together. The Wall was a private space to connect individually in a public place. How you practiced or the community with which you identified did not matter. In the early post-1967 days that sense of Klal Yisrael permitted a similar experience. It was fleeting, and sadly, it has devolved into staking territory in a turf war. Although liberal Judaism may have won something important in getting a place at the wall to pray, we must regretfully acknowledge that in this agreement something else important continues to elude us, namely the unity of the Jewish people.

Perhaps we should re-focus the issue as one regarding the kind of ceremony and ritual that are generally permitted in this public private space. The kinds of rituals that permit us to be together could be more important in the grand scheme of things than the particular observances that create schisms among us. In my experience I was solitary but in communion with Am Yisrael. Under our current circumstances an experience at the Wall might require we visit both areas, one to be among those who share our beliefs and practice and the other to be with another part of our people, to taste their experience and ponder the ideas of the Judaism values that guides us all and strive to create a Judaism that connects us all.

Inquirer Headlines Go Easy on Terrorists

— by Sean Durns

The following “letter to the editor” was sent to The Philadelphia inquirer, but went unpublished.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted an AP story entitled "American killed in Palestinian attack was peace activist" with the vague title "US Educator Dies in Israel."

The Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted an AP story entitled “American killed in Palestinian attack was peace activist” with the vague title “US Educator Dies in Israel.”

Recent Inquirer headlines U.S. Educator Dies in Israel and Israelis Kill 3 Palestinians have the potential to mislead readers by not accurately reflecting the news articles beneath.

The first article itself makes clear that American-born Israeli educator Richard Lakin did not just “die” in Israel; he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Lakin’s son told The New York Times his 73-year old father was the victim of Palestinian “incitement and hate.” Yet, the headline could lead readers to mistakenly infer that Lakin just happen to pass away.

Similarly, Israelis did not just happen to “kill 3 Palestinians” without justification as readers might infer from the headline. Again, as the article beneath the headline notes, three Palestinian Arab terrorists were killed by Israeli security forces after attacking Israelis, both civilian and soldiers, with knives. The headline fails to convey essential facts regarding both the chronology and causation leading to the death of the terrorists.

Space restrictions can make headline writing challenging. However, precise terminology and chronology must be used to prevent readers from drawing false inferences. We trust that in the future Inquirer headlines on contentious issues such as these will accurately represent the stories they summarize.

Israeli Family Copes With Wave of Terror

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Matzav is Hebrew for “situation,” which is what we call it during times of unrest.

Last year, during the matzav I would sing with the kids in my daycare the song by Naomi Shemer based on the saying by Rebbi Nachman from Breslov:

All the world is a very narrow bridge. But the main thing is to not be afraid.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

But how can one not be afraid when terrorists are running around the country killing people? I think what the song really means is to not let the fear take control.

I survived the first Gulf War with SCUD missiles landing in the backyard of my kibbutz, the first intifada, and the second intifada when every time we heard sirens my friends’ then-five-year-old child would ask, “Ima, where is the pigua?” (Pigua is Hebrew for “terror attack.”)

I have heard bombs go off. I have felt bombs go off. I have lost people I knew and cared about. I have survived these times of unrest without letting the fear take over, without locking myself inside. I kept going out and living my life as if there was no matzav, but with a bit more vigilance, always looking around.

Last week was my daughter Leora’s birthday. She has hit the double digits. Her party was based on the Israeli version of the show, “The Amazing Race.” We did “The Race for Leora”: The kids paired up and had to run around the neighborhood fulfilling different tasks to get the next clue.

Everything changed Tuesday. There was a shooting and stabbing attack in Armon HaNatziv, the next neighborhood, on a bus that I sometimes take. I know people who witnessed it and kids in the kindergarten and school right across the street from the attack. Before, all the rock throwing (more like cinder-blocks and rocks the size and weight of bowling balls and larger) and Molotov cocktails being hurdled in Armon HaNatziv seemed so far away. This attack seemed so close.

For the moment, Leora is not allowed to be outside by herself, and I do my best to find rides to and from places. I imagine once the shock of Tuesday wears off and if there is no other attack near the neighborhood, I will relax a bit.

The matzav is also causing an internal conflict. Before the second intifada Jews would regularly go into the Arab villages to do business, buy things, have a cup a coffee, and socialize with the residents. Close relationships were formed. Jews and Arabs would attend each others’ celebrations. During the second intifada, the Jewish Israelis felt betrayed by people they considered friends when they would praise the terrorist attacks and celebrate them in the villages. Since then, the relationships never recovered.

Tuesday, after the attack in the neighborhood, a parent with a child in Leora’s youth movement and I were discussing how to get the kids to and from the activity, since neither one of us wanted our kids to walk. Usually, I encourage Leora to walk, but yesterday was not a usual day. I suggested that I pick them up in a cab, since I do not have a car, but we both wanted to make sure it was a safe company. That meant no Arab driver. Many of the terrorists, as well as cab drivers, come for the neighboring village. I used the same cab company for years until I found out that they did not hire Arab drivers. I did not want to be part of the racism. But now, my main concern is my daughter’s safety. With the celebrations in the villages after each attack, I just cannot trust them with the most precious thing in my life.

The same day I went food shopping. I always bring a book to read while waiting in line. That night it was a good thing it was a very thick book, because I was in line for 50 minutes. Almost half of the registers were closed. When I asked why, I was told that the girls were afraid to come to work, or their parents were afraid to let them.

It is one of the most inexpensive store chains and known for equal hiring of minorities. Last summer the owner was called to fire his Arab workers after three Jewish teens were butchered by Arabs. He rightfully refused. But after the attack carried out by the Arab worker of a phone company and the celebrations in the villages, people feel that they cannot even trust their co-workers. On the positive side, during the troubled times, Israelis are much kinder to each other. No one pushed or shoved or yelled while waiting on line, which is very unusual for the supermarket here. People stood patiently, having conversations with other customers.

When I finally got home, I saw an e-mail from my daughter’s school. They got the water company to stop the work they are doing on the pipes across from the school. Parents and school staff were concerned because some of the workers were Arab. A few years ago the “tractorists,” Arab workers who took the tractors they were working with to run over people, made people suspicious of all Arab workers. And the cleaning company the school uses is to come in only after the kids have left. I have very mixed feelings about this. I do not want the situation to affect honest people’s livelihood. I do not want my daughter or any of the other kids to be suspicious of all Arabs. Part of me feels like I should speak up. But my need to keep my daughter safe is stronger.

Here we are again, dealing with it the best we can. What can I do? I have ordered pepper spray and signed up for a class to learn self-defense against knife attacks. I hope to God I will not need these. Meanwhile, some dark humor and chocolate get me through the matzav.

Special Prayer: Shabbat of Unity With the People of Israel

— by Rabbi David Wolpe

We invite people around the world to recite this kavannah in unity with the State of Israel this Shabbat, October 17, 2015.

El Maleh Rachamim — Compassionate God,
We pray not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred.
Not to destroy sinners but to lessen sin.
Our prayers are not for a perfect world but a better one
Where parents are not bereaved by the savagery of sudden attacks
Or children orphaned by blades glinting in a noonday sun.
Help us dear God, to have the courage to remain strong, to stand fast.
Spread your light on the dark hearts of the slayers
And your comfort to the bereaved hearts of families of the slain.
Let calm return Your city Jerusalem, and to Israel, Your blessed land.
We grieve with those wounded in body and spirit,
Pray for the fortitude of our sisters and brothers,
And ask you to awaken the world to our struggle and help us bring peace.

Israeli Cooking Book, From Philadelphia With Love

Philadelphia’s own Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook just published their first book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

Solomonov and Cook hope to familiarize Americans with some of their restaurant Zahav’s famous dishes. If you loved Jerusalem-born, London-based Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book Jerusalem as much as I did, then this book will be a treat.

The spices and techniques of Israel’s myriad ethnic groups are reflected in the book’s recipes. Familiar Eastern European Ashkenazi foods such as rugalech, kugels and latkes are presented along with more exotic foods such as kibbe and fillo cigars from the Levant. All of these recipes have been adapted to ingredients that are easily accessible to the American cook. Below is a recipe for Zahav’s Ottoman-inspired eggplant salad.

Photo by Sofia Gk https://www.flickr.com/photos/sofiagk/

Photo by Sofia Gk.

Zahav’s Twice Cooked Eggplant Salad

  •  2 eggplants
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  1. Slice the eggplants.
  2. Sprinkle with salt.
  3. Allow the eggplants to rest for 30 minutes in a colander.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  5. Fry the eggplant slices over medium heat, until almost charred on both sides.
  6. Place the eggplant in a bowl.
  7. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pan.
  8. Stir in the onion, pepper, coriander, and paprika.
  9. When the vegetables are soft, add the blackened eggplant and sherry vinegar to the pot.
  10. Stir for a few minutes.
  11. Remove the pot from the heat.
  12. Squeeze the lemon into the eggplant.
  13. Sprinkle the minced parsley into the pot.
  14. Stir and serve at any temperature.