Archive for June 2009

Why I Moved to Israel (4)

June 29, 2009

This is the fourth post in the series “Why I moved to Israel.” In this series, immigrants to Israel tells us why they came here and what makes them stay. If you haven’t seen them already, take a look at the first, second and third posts in the series.


Guest post by Becky Feinberg

Zionism has Never Tasted So Good

I used to joke that I moved here for the Milkee. America has some great food–Tex-Mex, curly fries, and Dr. Pepper to name a few–but there is nothing quite like a Milkee. That chocolate pudding with the just the right amount of whipped-cream on top–Zionism has never tasted so good.

But on a serious note, Milkee, the world’s most excellent tomatoes, and the exquisite concoction known as Shakshuka, are not a strong enough draw to pick up, pack up, and move your life to the “war-torn” Middle East. So, what was it? I like to think of it as serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

I didn’t grow up in a Zionist or overly Jewish home. In fact, three out of four parents were not Jewish. I grew up in Hebrew school and knew L’kha Dodi like the back of my hand, but Pensacola, Florida–otherwise known as the “Redneck Riviera”–was not exactly the hub of Jewish culture or learning. My search for a more Jewish life took me to the University of Florida, where I began to learn modern Hebrew, participate in Hillel and the Jewish Student Union, and learn more about Israel both from books and first-hand. My first trip to Israel, during my freshman year of college,  introduced me to a place of beauty, pain, spirituality, contradiction, and mystery. My first memory of Israel is reading Torah in the morning mist of the Dead Sea a mere 18 hours after I had landed in the country. The rest of the trip was a blur, and while I enjoyed myself, I wasn’t exactly hooked.

It would take several more trips, a lot of Israel activism, and my simple love of adventure to get me back here on aliyah.  In an experiment of sorts, after graduating college in 2003, I decided to come to Israel for a year to decide if aliyah was really an option for me. I said to myself, “If I can learn the language and feel comfortable, I’ll think about moving there.” I ended up in Arad, a mere ten kilometers from my Torah-reading experience several years before, and experienced the land of Israel through my soul and my feet for the next year. I learned Hebrew, because in Arad, it was either that or Russian. I learned about Judaism, because in Arad, it was either that or camels. I learned about how friends can become family, and how when you’re far away from home, it’s either that or nothing.

After a year, I returned to America, to my family, to my hometown. And I realized, despite the comfort that came from understanding everything around me, and the calm that came from being close to my family and friends, and path that could have been so much easier for me had I just gone to law/business/medical school,  it wasn’t my life anymore.  I came back to Israel because here I feel alive. I feel excitement, frustration, challenges, fear, anxiety, joy and so much more. Like the weather, and Israeli tempers, and yes, the matbucha, life here is hot–it has spice. There’s never a dull moment, whether you’re dancing salsa in a Tel Aviv club or at the Kotel during Kabbalat Shabbat.

While it’s hard for me to pinpoint why exactly I came here in the first place, the reasons I stayed are clear:  Israel is the soul of the Jewish people, with all of its good points and its bad. It’s a place that we must care for, cultivate, and improve, but one that gives back ten-fold to those who love it.

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Personal Account of the Holocaust Museum Shooting

June 28, 2009

Deborah E. Lipstadt, a scholar at the Holocaust Museum, was one floor below when the shooting took place in the museum. She writes about the experience on CNN. An excerpt:

I was on the level below the shooting in a classroom preparing to begin a lecture on Holocaust denial. I was going to speak about those who claim, among other things, that 6 million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis, that the gas chambers never existed, that the “Diary of Anne Frank” is a fraud, and that the survivors who claim it happened are psychopaths and liars.

They contend that the Jews have made this all up to win the sympathy of the world and to get reparations — i.e. money — from the Germans and other perpetrators. It is classic anti-Semitism.

As I was about to begin the lecture, we heard the shots. Then came the screams followed by an eerie silence. We locked the door and waited. Soon a staff member told us to exit the building at once. As we walked out of the classroom hundreds of people poured out of bathrooms, classrooms, and other areas to which they had been herded in the moments after the shooting.

Become a Fan of COJS on Facebook!

June 24, 2009

Since many of us get our information from social media sites like Facebook, the Center for Online Judaic Studies now has a Facebook page. If you become a fan, you will receive updates on news, featured articles and videos, as well as links to new content on the COJS website. The updates will appear in your Facebook feed, so this is a great way to find out what’s going on in the world of Judaic Studies with no effort whatsoever. Of course, you can also suggest this page to your Facebook friends so they can benefit too. Also, feel free to comment, discuss and leave your feedback on the page. This is what social media is all about.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Why I Moved to Israel (3)

June 22, 2009

Read the first and second posts in the series for other personal accounts of aliyah and the reasons behind it.

Guest Post by Noah Roth

Most Zionists can be neatly wrapped up and placed into one of two camps- religious Zionists, and political Zionists.

I consider myself both.

And a third category I call practical Zionism.

I suppose I should tip my cap to my parents who raised me to be a Zionist, by which I mean that they taught me Israel was important in hopes that I would live in New York City and send money for someone else to make aliyah. In fact, they sent me to Bnai Akiva and a Zionist summer camp staffed by all of the people who *didn’t* make Aliyah in the previous generation, so you can imagine their shock when my family actually got on a plane.

I grew up in a home that was Modern orthodox (That was capital “M,” small “o” for anyone who was keeping score), and attended day schools that made great hey of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Yet it always seemed to me, as a not yet Orthodox kid (honestly, how much religious choice does a 15 year old have anyway), that it read more like a collective “על חטא”, or atonement,  for living in America. That they should choose Israel or America, not celebrate an apologetic Yom Ha’Atzmaut in New York or Chicago.

Fast forward a few years.

I made the decision to become Orthodox (as opposed to doing what my parents told me) on a trip to Israel with NCSY at the age of 15. It was a rational decision, not an emotional one. Long before, I had decided that the brand of Modern orthodoxy (notice the capitalization again) which I saw in my parents’ home was hypocritical. I spent a few years doing nothing religious, at least when my parents were not around, and then came to the conclusion, that the response to religious hypocrisy is religious consistency, not religious abstinence.

The rational underpinning of that decision will help you understand why I am a religious Zionist. God gave us the land of Israel. He commanded us to conquer and inhabit it. 3 times a day (5 if you count the chazzan’s repition) we say “ותחזינה ענינו בשובך לציון”, that our eyes should merit to see your return to Zion. “Your” in this context means God, not your neighbor from Teaneck.

One of my rabbis once told me that hypocrisy is good. No human is perfect, so it is better to aspire to an ideal and fall short, than to deny the ideal entirely, and have nothing to aspire to at all. I guess in that context I can understand those Yimei Ha’Atzmaut in America.

My political Zionism springs from another place entirely. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, The blood libels, the Elders of Zion, the Holocaust, the list goes on and on.

Since Israel’s military victory in 1967, Jews in America, and indeed around the world, have felt a sense of a safety and identity as Jews that was previously unprecedented in Jewish history since temple times. For the first time in a 2000 year exile, Jews have a place to call home, and sense of security when they are away from home.

In fact, America is the last bastion of diaspora Jewry. Sure there are still Jews in England and France, Turkey and Syria, but none outside of New York, Chicago, LA, and Miami, believe that their grandchildren will be both Jews and living outside of Israel.

I met my wife in Israel, on the eighth night of Chanukah, during our year of study following high school. We met in the Sbarro’s restaurant on the corner of King George and Yaffo streets in Jerusalem. It was destroyed in a terror attack 3 days before our second wedding anniversary. Our fourth child will be born in Israel around Rosh Hashanah, each a unique answer to 2000 years of oppression- in a way never possible before 1948.

My sons will defend Jews around the world, and my daughters will serve them. I will stay home and worry, and maybe cry a little bit. But I will never be prouder.

My mother-in-law is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She lived in Israel for 10 years, when it was a different time and a different place. She moved to America to give her kids a chance at something better. It’s hard for her to understand that I took her grandkids back to Israel for the same reason.

Which leads me to practical Zionism.

I consider myself Dati Leumi, or national religious. This is a brand of observance which is both modern and orthodox, but does not correlate to American Modern orthodoxy.

In theory, Modern orthodoxy and the National Religious movement should be identical theologies of Torah observance in the modern world. In practice, though, they are quite different.

Man, by his very nature, seeks to maximize reward while minimizing the cost of attaining that reward. This is not a uniquely Jewish concept. Most Christians view their religion as a form of identity, but in many ways their core morals deviate from the teachings of the Church. This is most true in regards to sexual mores of Christians. It’s not that they behave against their beliefs, they simply hold core beliefs at odds with the Church. Conservative Jewish theology holds no resemblance to the behavior of Conservative Jews. You get to have all of the pleasure and none of the guilt.

In that context, you can understand the reference to Capital Modern lowercase orthodoxy: a movement dedicated in theological terms to the integration of absolute observance of Torah law with professional and academic integration into the modern world. In reality, modernity simply becomes the crutch, the excuse for everything not observed. Those in America who truly live up to the integration of these ideas recognize that there is no community of peers in America and come to Israel to find a home- out of religious conviction *AND* communal convenience.

Here in Israel, a vibrant community thrives of dedicated, observant Jews, who do not compromise their Orthodoxy to integrate into the modern world, who study Torah, observe meticulously, and maintain their moral compass without hiding from the modern world.

As a parent in America, I would have 2 choices.  I could choose to send my children to an M.o. “yeshiva” school, where I could support the school’s official ideology, though in practice, they would learn torah from Haredim, and Secular studies from Atheists, and have a peer group that did not conform to our beliefs. Or I could choose to send them to a Haredi school, and ask them to listen to my religious advice, not their teachers.

Forcing children to choose between their teachers and their peers is never a fair decision, but here in Israel, I don’t have to. The Dati Leumi movement is authentic and prevalent. I can choose to send my kids to an institution which will embody our way of life in philosophy, practice, and community.

I work until late at night. I miss a few, but not too many of the comforts of what I used to call home. But what I get in return, far outweighs any of the sacrifices I made to get here.

Views on the US-Israel Relationship

June 18, 2009

A lot has been said recently about the relationship between the US and Israel as a result of President Obama’s speech in Cairo.

On Tuesday, Gil Troy posted an article on the History News Network which analyzes the Cairo speech. He says that Obama likes to be “even-handed” when dealing with controversial issues. In his speech, he criticized Israel and then he criticized the Palestinians, just as he tried to be even-handed in his pre-election speech about the black-white divide in the US. According to Troy, the main theme of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech in Bar-Ilan University on Sunday was that Palestinian suffering cannot be equated with Jewish suffering.

Another perspective on the US-Israel relationship is the Senate speech of NJ Senator Robert Menendez in which he talks both about Israel’s history and about the ways in which the US benefits from a good relationship with Israel.

Watch it here:

Sultan’s Pool Aqueduct

June 17, 2009

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of the aqueduct which brought water to the Sultan’s Pool and to the Temple Mount. More information can be found on the COJS website.

Yemenite Jews to Monsey But Not to Satmer?

June 17, 2009

The controversy about the rescue of 113 Jews from Yemen to Monsey, NY continues. The Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization claimed they should be brought to Israel and certainly not to the anti-Zionist Satmer community in Monsey.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Yisroel Schulman, a New York attorney who is involved in the resettlement, says the Yemenite Jews will not be absorbed into the Satmer community. They will be given a choice of schools for their children and will be able to choose which segment of Monsey’s diverse Jewish community they wish to identify with.

The Jewish Agency is not convinced. The Yemenite Jews who have immigrated to the US in the past have almost all been absorbed into the Satmer community. The Jews who are about to be rescued chose to go to the US because they have relatives and friends in the Satmer community in Monsey, so chances are this is the community they will join. Additionally, according to a statement released by the Jewish Agency, “we believe Israel is the preferred destination for Jews leaving countries of distress.”