Israel Beneath The Surface Journal Entries
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 1
Our journey began even before we got on the plane. Three members of our group helped make a minyan for minchah for a fellow traveler who was saying kaddish. Soon after, the besieged Air Canada representative announced that it was time for boarding.
We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport a little after 10:30 on Tuesday morning. 10 Temple members who had already arrived soon joined the twelve passengers on our mission flight. We were met by our guide Muki with whom we are again privileged to travel. Cell phones in hand and connected to the internet, we left the airport. We headed north immediately and, in the area of Zichron Ya’akov, we stood in bright sunshine on the beach to recite kaddish. We remembered family members long passed and Temple family members who recently died as we linked past and present, Toronto and Israel. We joined together in a sweet shehecheyanu before stopping for lunch and a moment for the “shopping prone,” as Muki likes to call them. On we went to Kibbutz Nachsholim, which is not only our first overnight accommodations, but it is also the site of the ancient city of Dor. We learned about the 4000 years of continuous habitation in the location where we will spend only two nights. Despite the “Hebrish” of the local guide Yisrael and our own jetlag, we learned much. This area, being a natural harbour, was the site of an ancient city. Archeological discoveries here include sunken ships and ancient anchors, which make this location very popular with Israeli divers. After decades of consistent excavation, they have only scratched the surface. They have located the ruins of the many cities of Dor, each built on top of the other. They also found thousand of small shells. These shells are not like those on the beach in Florida. Rather, they represent an ancient pigment and dye industry that produced purple and blue. The purple was royal purple, but the blue was yet more special. When the Torah commands fringes in the last paragraph of the Sh’ma, it also requires that one thread be blue. For century after century, no blue thread was used for the secret source of the dye was lost. This ancient secret was found again beneath the shores of this beach, a stone’s throw from where we made shehecheyanu. In the last few decades, blue threads have begun to reappear, thanks to these small shellfish and the determined scholarship of the Israeli people.
We checked in and freshened up before dinner at the guest house. It was very exciting to go through the program with Muki after dinner! It is hard to imagine the wonderful adventures that lie ahead of us!
Rabbi Michael Dolgin
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 2
Zichron was an important word for us on our first full day in Israel. We spent the day in Zichron Yaacov, a town named in memory of Jacob, the father of Baron Rothschild, who was so instrumental in the help he gave to the founders of this early settlement of the First Aliyah, the first wave of settlers to Israel in the late 1800’s. Zichron means memory, and today we began to acquaint ourselves with the collective memory of modern Israelis by learning the story of the Aharonsons, one of the first families of Zichron Yaacov. It is an inspiring story of a family whose six children dedicated themselves to developing the agriculture in this swampy, mosquito-infested patch of land they were determined to settle in Palestine. Even more impressively, they helped to rid their adopted home of the Turks by setting up a spy network, NILI, to aid the British during the first World War. Aharon Aharonson and his friend Avsholom (the very name is significant of rebellion) were metaphors for the debate about whether this new wave of settlers were continuing European Jewish tradition or rebelling against it, because they were doers, not passive repositories of our tradition. They wanted to activate their heritage by producing their own food and being self-sustaining, by no longer putting food on the table by being middlemen, as Jews traditionally were in European culture. Together with Aharon’s sister Sara, they were responsible for setting up and maintaining a fairly sophisticated spy network that eventually cost each of them their lives in different ways, and Sara’s story impressed me particularly. The moral fibre and bravery of this woman, who was tortured by the Turks and instead of giving them the information they wanted, managed to shoot herself instead, was a dramatic story that our guide, Muki, tells us is part of the collective memory of every Israeli schoolchild. A sobering trip to the cemetery in Zichron Yaacov was a visual reminder of the countless children who died of malaria during the early days of the settlement. Rabbi Dolgin reminded us that the sacrifice of these young lives contributed to the building of Israel as much as the pioneers who survived and eventually made the land flourish. Tonight, we will return to Zichron Yaacov to enjoy the fruits of the industry that the early settlers worked so hard to establish — a thriving winery. (Muki tells us there are 106 independent wineries in Israel now). Eventually the crops that these settlers learned to raise were the ones that were indigenous to the region: olives, grapes, and “mother wheat”, which Aharon Aharonson discovered. But I should also note that we began our day by tefillot on the shores of the Mediterranean, on the grounds of the kibbutz where we are staying. And as the waves echoed on the shore just behind us, and the sun warmed our faces, and we turned toward Jerusalem, I was, for one quiet moment, bathed in the realization of what a great privilege it was for me — for all of us — to be standing exactly where we were, on a sparkling beach in Eretz Yisrael.
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 3
This morning, we said goodbye to the crashing surf of the Mediterranean and to Kibbutz Nachsholim and set out for Tzfat. This city, known normally for its spiritual power and artistic creativity, was a site of many rockets during the war this past summer. So, before breathing in the spirit of Tzfat, we tended to its physical needs. In partnership with Livnot U’lehibanot (to build and be rebuilt), we went to the Meron and Canaan Absorption centres in Tzfat to assist in the repair of their bomb shelters. As we entered the campus, we saw a communal room, hit by 5 Hizbullah rockets during the summer. The building has been repaired before our arrival. We were broken into teams and charged with repainting the miklatim, the bomb shelters for the facility of some 1000 new immigrants, who have come from Ethiopia. Our task was to make the shelters look less lived-in. Often, we were covering up the doodles of children. Hopefully, time can help heal the marks that paint cannot.
After our act of tikkun olam, we had the privilege of meeting the director of the absorption centre, a wonderful druze woman with a smile that brightens the room. She manages to smile despite running a complex facility and coordinating an extensive staff to bring people from one culture into another and into a religion not her own! She was proud to play her part in that process as an Israeli and we were proud to have the chance to meet her. They currently have two commerical washing machines available for the 800-1000 people who live there who need to use them (and learn to use them!). In Tzfat, we expanded our free time to support the local economy. That also allowed time for Muki to provide a tour of some of the phenomenal, historical synagogues and for four of the men to go to the Ha’Ari public men’s mikveh. Fed by a mountain spring, it was both invigorating and refrigerating!
Parcels in hand, we continued on to Tiberias. Our dinner was across the Sea of Galilee at Kibbut Ein Gev. Half way across the Kinneret, the boat stopped so that we could daven Ma’ariv, the evening service, under the stars. Valerie Whitefield led a memorable service and Rochelle Kuchar led a reading as well. We had a wonderful, enormous fish dinner and set back out for the hotel. While we were full and more, this first day only whet our appetite for the next few days in Israel’s north
Rabbi Michael Dolgin
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 4
Today we met Y’hudit, and she showed us her hands. Those swollen, calloused and work-roughened hands spoke eloquently of the Israeli pioneers—their ideals, their vision, their determination to “make a new Jew” during the Second and Third Aliyot periods of Israel’s history. Y’hudit mesmerized each and every one of us as she spoke simply and powerfully — and proudly – in the Kinneret Courtyard, the location of one of the first settlements in Tiberias, where we spent the day. Her hands, her generation’s hands, were the instruments and tools that built modern Israel. Those who chose to go off to university to broaden their minds were considered egotistical, for the hands, the work, the labour for the good of the country, was considered the most valuable element of a person’s existence to her and her compatriots.
We learned of Aaron David Gordon, the “fountain of living water, a fountain of truth” who made the Kinneret Courtyard a spiritual centre for all the new arrivals. By the light of a small lamp in his little room, the Kinneret Courtyard became the real “university”, a place of intellectual fervor and the birthplace of Histadrut, the newspaper D’var, and a commitment to the Hebrew language as the language of Israel. The role and recognition of women as labourers became a priority to women such as Chana Meisels, for she feared that “alienating women from their heritage would drive them to the cities and their efforts would fail.” Most striking to me was her recognition of the need for “good Hebrew mothers” but, as with all formerly accepted beliefs and values, broken down and redefined in terms of the new “religion of labour”, mothers “connected naturally to the villages and farms.”
So a new generation of Jews was molded with the intent of wiping away the habits of the Diaspora. Y’hudit told us that children were forbidden to cry . . . they were told to bite the insides of their cheeks to manage pain. And she somewhat apologetically explained to us the Israeli “character”. Israelis, in her opinion, were taught to be arrogant and impolite, because politeness was hypocritical. Moreover, the Ashkenazi settlers were less than tolerant of the “cultured” Sephardim, who arrived sometime later. And perhaps, she conceded, the settlers did not welcome new immigrants as they should have. After all, they were “nebbishes”, who weren’t demonstrating the physical strength and intestinal fortitude to face up to the miserable conditions under which they had to live in this harsh, untamed land. Still, she considered statehood in 1948 an incredible miracle, and after all this time continues to feel it remarkable that under Ben Gurion, 1,100,000 immigrants were absorbed with virtually no infrastructure to sustain them. Quite an astonishing undertaking to contemplate compared to the thought and care and facilities we witnessed the day before at the absorption centre in Tzfat.
We had heard a first-hand account from a left-wing Jew that “It’s all about the work!”, a deep religiosity and no mention of God! And so as we entered the Kinneret Cemetery, it was not surprising when Muki pointed out the layout of graves clearly distinguishing the “thinkers” – Gordon, Moshe Hess, Borochov, Serkin – and the “doers’. We heard the dramatic story of sisters Rachel and Shoshanna Blaustein, the former a poet whose words have been put to melodies and are a part of each Israeli’s neshama. Geoff Gooderham, a choir member, touchingly noted later that day how emotional he felt being at the grave of the woman who created “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”, a song central to his Jewish musical experience.
So much to feel, so much to think about and there was more – lunch at beautiful Beit Gavriel a study session with Rabbi Dolgin, and we returned to the hotel to prepare mentally for Shabbat, to find our personal space in our Jewish space. During a memorable service overlooking the Kinneret as the sun set, Rabbi Dolgin commented on how it was becoming more and more challenging to follow in the prayer books. Suddenly, the lights on the property magically came on, and we continued sharing our thoughts. The words we read at the beginning of the day brought me full circle – “At night the chaverim would gather together and talk as if we were a small family. The feeling of brotherhood pervaded us all”. Our small Temple Sinai was replicating that gathering as we began our first Shabbat in Tiberius.
Marsha Zinberg and Bunni Bresver
Israel Beneath the Surface—Shabbat
Of our last few missions since 2000, this was the first time we celebrated Shabbat outside Jerusalem. To explain a Temple Sinai Shabbat in Israel in journal form is too difficult a task. For full understanding, you have to be here! However, here are a number of personal remembrances that reflect the power and meaning of this past shabbat we were privileged to have together!
Rabbi Michael Dolgin
Celebrating our first Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael, I was struck and overwhelmed, on two occasions, by the realization that here, in Israel, there is a special kind of organic integration between our Shabbat service, our unique surroundings, and ourselves. At our incredible erev Shabbat service, on the grassy waterfront by the shore of the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), we turned to face behind us for the last verse of L’cha Dodi. It wasn’t the back of the shul we saw when welcoming the Sabbath Queen, but the twinkling lights of Tzvat, high up on a distant hill, where in fact the very song “L’cha Dodi” had been composed! The next morning, as we chanted Torah using a simple tree twig as a yad and a symbolic scroll that had originated from David Ben Gurion personally, we were literally at one with our natural surroundings. Around us, families picnicked out among the yellow crocuses, we breathed the beautiful, clean fall air and took in the incredible view down across the Upper Galilee right on into Lebanon. Shabbat will never be the same.
Before we started our first Shabbat dinner in Israel, we did the Shabbat prayers and HaMotzi. Our Temple group was seated in an isolated corner of the dining room. The room also bustled with other families and guests having their Shabbat dinners. I was astonished during our singing of the prayers how little attention we drew to ourselves. Other families just “carried on” and we were just “one of the crowd”. Had we prayed publicly in a Toronto restaurant, many more eyebrows would certainly have been raised!! How wonderful it felt to be in a land of Jewish majority — to be able to pray publicly and confidently in our own homeland.
Shabbat on Mount Meron can only be described as my perfect Shabbat! Wrapped in all of nature’s splendour, t’fillah and Torah came alive. Davening in Jewish public space with old and new friends from Temple and chanting Torah has been an experience I will have with me always.
Shabbat on Mount Meron was a confirmation that there are worlds within worlds. We were part of many families and singles who hiked on the mountain. Leaving behind such tourist activities as taking photos, we were able to focus on reflection and spirituality and use our own “restart software” to better appreciate the time we spent together. We were part of and yet separate from the many around us. The d’var Torah of the day was just being there. The sanctuary was the sky above while we were being watched over by the IDF base at the mountain’s top. Our world on Mount Meron was a spiritual one surrounded by the ordinary one of a restful Shabbat.
An awesome day. A day with one of those special Israel moments. Rabbi Dolgin brought a small Torah packaged in a cardboard box, which I offered to carry, assisting him as he was carrying several items. We hiked Mt. Meron toward a suitable location to start our service. The area was unusually crowded as many Israeli families were out to view the crocuses, which were in bloom. At our first stop, a special moment that can only happen here in Israel occurred for me. We were singing Adon Olam to the tune of HaTikvah. I was suddenly struck by the realization that I was holding a Torah while singing a song I had learned in cheder (where I rebelled) to the tune of the Israeli national anthem of which I’m so proud. I clutched the Torah closer and for the rest of the hike cared for the Torah as I would a beloved child. It was a special moment to have my husband Geoff lead us in the singing of “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabba” composed by Ben Steinberg specially for this Temple mission. At the end of our hike, Rabbi Dolgin shared that this symbolic Torah had one been in the possession of David Ben Gurion. How meaningful for me, as chair of our Israel Committee, to have carried a Torah from Ben Gurion throughout the entire hike.
I began Shabbat preoccupied by the image of hands-Y’hudit’s work-worn hands, and the monuments in the cemetery in Tiberias, which in Hebrew are also know by the term yad. And then, as we began our hike on Mt. Meron, Lorne Bernstein thoughtfully picked a number of straight twigs for those of us reading Torah on the mountain to use as a yad to follow the scripture. That twig, that yad, will be a memento of my most unusual and significant chanting of a portion, in the presence of my Temple family. Finally, just after Shabbat ended, we focussed again on Israeli hands. These hands belonged to pianist Yitzchak Tavier, who performed for us in his mountaintop aerie, where one can see from the Golan to the Mediterranean. His fingers barely touched the keys, and though the music was classical, the Shabbat was uniquely Israeli and unforgettable.
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 6
This full and fulfilling day commenced with a visit to the grave of Rambam (Moses Maimonides) in Tiberias. Rabbi Dolgin taught about the challenge of sanctifying God’s name as described in the the Mishneh Torah. We reflected back on the sacrifices of the chalutzim in the first and second aliyah and anticipated difficult discussion at Yad VaShem later in the week. Soon we travelled a short distance, but many centuries later, to see the modernity of Haifa, one of the most beautiful cities in Israel and perhaps in the world. In Haifa, we learned how Jews and Arabs co-exist with respect for each other’s religious and cultural traditions. Sadly, we also saw the first hand evidence of the trauma brought about by Hizbullah indiscriminate rocket attacks. The rockets had been filled with literally thousands of steel ball-bearings. When the rockets exploded, these metal balls pierced everything within range—concrete, metal, flesh. The rockets killed Arabs and Jews alike. While most of the physical damage has been repaired, the psychological damage will take years to repair for young and old.
We concluded our visit to Haifa with a short but rewarding prayer service in the late afternoon on the beach. We were only steps away from the endless waves of the Mediterranean. At the end of our t’fillot, the shimmering sun began to set on the horizon. It was a truly fitting conclusion.
We arrived in Tel Aviv for a few hours rest. Many of us spent the evening at Moadon HaYekev, a unique night club in a winery in Rishon L’Tzion. Large groups normally attend and our evening was no exception. Our Temple Sinai group, tour operators from the former Soviet Union, a trade mission from Nigeria and a unit of some forty Israeli soldiers shared the evening. The evening includes live entertainment, a man and woman leading the singing of traditional Israeli songs. Before we knew it, we were sharing in the Rishon L’Tzion tradition of singing and dancing on top of the tables! Having touched the pain of this past summer in the morning, it was wonderful to participate in a truly Israeli celebration at night!
Lawrie Lander and Rabbi Michael Dolgin
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 7
On paper, our itinerary for Day 7 looked far from extraordinary. We were to begin with a walking tour of Neve Tzedek, which is a newly trendy area in Tel Aviv that really began the modern city in 1909, when settlers decided to build a new settlement area north of Yaffo. After that, we were slated to visit Independence Hall, where Israel declared its statehood in 1948. I’m sure many of us have been to Washington and Ottawa and visited buildings of similar historic interest. But as we took our seats in what was essentially a bunker below ground level (for of course, Israel was beseiged by seven Arab nations at the time) and Itzchak, our guide at the hall, began to bring the moment to life for us, we quickly realized this was not a dry visit to commemorate a historic moment at all. He explained Ben Gurion’s vision, and how the event was hastily planned and then moved so as not to interfere with Shabbat. Invitations were issued only twenty-four hours in advance, and guests were asked to keep the event a secret. (Right!) We sat in front of the desk where the declaration was signed, and Yitzchak first translated Ben Gurion’s words for us, and then played us a recording of the declaration in Ben Gurion’s voice, which was followed by the first- ever performance of Hatikvah by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. We all stood for Hatikvah, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the group!
Then it was on to Rabin Square, where again, a visit to a site was powerfully brought to life for us. Muki took us through the events of that tragic day moment by moment, illustrating the security failure that resulted in the loss of Prime Minister Rabin’s life. The sidewalk is marked with bronze indicators of where Rabin stood in relation to the assassin and the security guards, and just steps from those markers, a memorial sits on the sidewalk: it is pieces of broken rock indicative of an earthquake, to symbolize the horrible upheaval, destruction and blight on the soul of Israel because the Prime Minister’s life was taken by an Israeli citizen.
We travelled that afternoon to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, the site of the pluralistic Yaacov Herzog Center for Jewish Studies. We spent several hours there, and first studied with Avraham Shtayn, who lectured on the nature of prayer (and revolutionized the thinking of some members of the group on the subject). After vigorous discussions in the washroom during the break, we studied with Noach Chayot, whose completely different teaching style had us break into groups, where we approached the subject of prayer through text study. There was much discussion, and when we returned to our hotel in Tel Aviv that evening, Rabbi Dolgin followed the events of the day by leading a very different, and mostly silent tefillot for all who cared to pray on a balcony overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean. For many of us, the nature of prayer has now slightly changed, with opportunities for a more meaningful and personal relationship with our faith, and ourselves.
Israel Beneath the Surface—Day 8
We set out from Tel Aviv and made our way to the city of Ramle. Ramle is a mixed Israeli city with a majority of Jews and sizeable minorities of Christian and Moslem Arabs. While Ramle was already an important site in the Moslem world in the 8th century, we came to see today’s reality. As diaspora Jews accustomed to being a minority, this was an opportunity to see what similarities or echoes we might find in the Arab minority experience here in Israel. During a brief time in the Ramle shuk, we were reminded that tourists rarely come to this city. I spoke to a 50 year old woman who was born in Ramle, who was surprised that we had come. She stopped other locals as they went by to point us out. We had come for a different reason than the Jerusalem woman with whom I spoke, who said she had come because “the people are nicer and the prices are better.” At the great Omariy mosque, we met our guide, Rabbi Michael Klein-Katz. Even before we took off our shoes and entered the building, he knew most of our names and our mother tongues.
The mosque was first built as a crusader church. We sat on the carpeted floor, learned verses from the Qur’an, and heard Jamil the mu’azeen chant the Moslem call to prayer. We continued on to the Emmanuel Anglican Episcopal church where we met with Rev. Samuil Fanous. He and his family have roots in N’vei Shalom, a village created to sow the seeds of peace between Jews and Arabs. While he has had experiences of alienation, he spelled out his response for us — L O V E. It was easy to sense the depth of his commitment. We felt a kinship with this caring, committed man who is a minority within a minority within a minority. I hope such an experience is not a prerequisite for understanding and accepting the “other.”
We stopped for lunch at Maharja, a restaurant reflecting the 1300 Indian Jewish families in Ramle. We shared a meal with Moses, the president of one of the three Ramle synagogues and Solomon Jhirad, who made aliyah 36 years ago from Mumbai. His brother Sion instead went to Toronto where he is a member of our congregation. We recited birkat hamazon in this Jewish vegetarian Indian restaurant before walking back to the bus.
We continued to the Clore Arab community centre in the depressed neighbourhood of Joarish. In this run-down area, we saw an amazing new facility and its even-more-amazing director. Mikhael Fanous is the brother of Rev. Samuil Fanous. He told us that when a terrorist attack takes place, he feels more Israeli than Palestinian. When there is an IDF attack in Gaza, he feels more Palestinian than Israeli. He has lived in Ramle, Beit Jala and California. In his spare time he has created shared Jew/Arab centres and a new mixed pre-school. He represented the reality of this day and of Israeli society: conflicted but committed, fractured yet connected, living with violence while hoping and working for peace.
After we checked in to our hotel in Jerusalem, Muki gave us a security briefing before dinner. His expertise was obvious in a short but intense presentation. We talked about the war this past summer. He challenged us to understand without simplifying. We had much food for thought to share over a delicious dinner at the hotel.
Rabbi Michael Dolgin
Israel Beneath the Surface-Day 9
We began our day with a tour of The Supreme Court of Israel, a structure donated by The Rothschild Foundation to Israel in honour of James Rothschild and his father, Baron Edmund de Rothschild. It is a building of which Israelis are justifiably proud, and was the result of an architectural competition held in 1986. We were a little disappointed that a program that had been arranged for us there could not be held, because certain government workers were on strike that day, but Muki, as usual, was a fountain of information. Every element of the building, it seemed, was symbolic in one way or another, from the entrance, which resembles an old Jerusalem street, to the lines and circles concept: lines, being straightforward, represent law, and circles, which are more intricate, represent justice. Muki was at pains to point out to us a group of Muslim Arab children on a school trip to visit the Supreme Court of their country. It was a validation of all we have been learningon this trip about how the minorities’ rights and values are often not well transmitted in the press we all read at home.
Following our Supreme Court visit, we were dropped at Lion’s Gate at the entrance to the old city. Muki gave those who wanted it a quick tour, as well as some directions for negotiating the shuk. The next two hours were spent at the Cardo, the Wall, or wherever individuals wished to visit. Then it was back on the bus for an understanding of some of the political and diplomatic complexities of the last few years, including a “security tour”. We were briefed on the security fence we have heard so much about. Going to neighbourhoods such as Har Homa and Gilo – standing on a hill to look out and visually understand the implications and the necessity for the fence – was eye-opening. It became clear how the fence could actually help to stop suicide bombers from casually walking up a hill to stand at a bus stop and board a bus in an Israeli neighbourhood. We could look out and see Bethlehem, with its checkpoint, just below us in the distance, and understand from the complex and interconnected layouts of Israeli and Arab towns what it means when getting from point A to B means going the long way around to avoid going through the West Bank, if it seems necessary on any particular day.
That evening, we were free to explore Ben Yehuda or Emek Rafaim, the German Colony. Many of us managed to assist the Israeli economy and came back to the hotel with treasures!
Israel Beneath the Surface – Day 11
The sun is shining for the 10th day in a row and the sky is clear as we drive through Jerusalem, away from the traffic-filled streets, through a forest of trees. While the external environment remains beautiful, everything suddenly changes. The building before us is not made of the ever-present white Jerusalem stone, but of stark grey basalt, which is not indigenous to Israel and makes a clear statement – the history represented by this museum stands out and doesn’t belong here. The story of the New Yad Vashem begins.
We enter a prism-like triangular structure that penetrates the mountain, and start the zigzag descent beginning with actual footage of Jewish life in Europe before 1933. We move through exhibits illustrating the gradual and systematic removal of the rights of Jews, the establishment of the more than 1,000 ghettos, and the sickening efficiency with which the Nazis followed each occupation with the immediate killing of the Jewish population by four individual cadres of Einsatzgruppen sweeping across Europe. Each time we exit a chapter of the history, we can see light at the end of the building, a hopeful sign, almost as if we are coming up for air, only to enter an even darker phase of the story. We continue our descent, stopping to hear some of the ninety personal video accounts from survivors that add layers and layers of understanding to what is becoming an almost unmanageable level of emotion. One man talks of learning that he must think and act like an animal in order to survive after witnessing the horrific death of his father from typhoid in the camps. He acknowledges making a regrettable moral decision to steal someone else’s cap in order not to be killed, all the while realizing that another would be shot in his place. Then he recounted hearing the shot the next morning and knowing why. A woman with tremendous sadness in her eyes relates carrying her sister each day on her shoulders to prevent her from being killed during a death march, but ultimately losing her. Another woman who survives and marries in a displaced persons’ camp can anticipate the impending birth of her first child only with dread, admitting she has heard enough screaming babies and cannot bear to hear another. Thankfully the birth of her son brings great joy and an opportunity to tell her story in years to come.
Muki pointed out that in the early years, survivors did not tell their stories to others – no one could understand, and there was always a sense of shame. “Like sheep to the slaughter” is a phrase we have all heard. They kept their stories private until the trial of Eichmann, when they provided evidence, and the pattern began to change, so their children and grandchildren know and we know. Miriam Pearlman and Rochelle Kuchar shared their mothers’ stories of survival with the group.
The new Yad Vashem is not a testimonial to heroes in the traditional sense, but to all – the new definition of memory in Israeli society. As Muki stated, it is not 6,000,000, but rather 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, six million times, six million choices, six million stories. Each story helps us come closer to understanding a piece of history that is not understandable. He also reminded us that the stories we heard are the exceptions – millions were lost with those who did not survive.
It became clear that no one has the right to judge the actions of others in such situations. If the choice is life or death – we can choose life. If the choice is death or death – we can choose how to die. And some chose to fight, and die heroically, as did the young fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto.
When we exited the final exhibit, a dramatic view of Jerusalem came into view, sunshine, blue sky, trees. Following lunch we began the route to Mount Herzl, stopping for an afternoon prayer service at a monument honouring soldiers who had survived the camps–the last remaining members of their families – only to lose their lives in the War of Independence. The mourners’ prayer at that particular place held even greater meaning and relevance.
Muki led us to the graves of Herzl, Rabin, and the multi-layered terraces of graves for the soldiers who have died defending Israel. We stopped at the monument honouring victims of violence, where some names had particular significance to our group.
A day of witnessing, a day of learning, a day of memory, a day of redefining “hero.”
For those interested in hearing the testimonies of survivors first-hand, www.yadvashem.org.
Israel Beneath the Surface – Days 12 and 13
The last two days of our Israel Beneath the Surface Mission were spent in Modi’in and Jerusalem. On Friday, we saw how the city of Modi’in and its 60,000 inhabitants will likely grow to more than three times that number in the near future. True to its slogan, Modi’in is truly Israel’s “City of the Future.” Our sister Reform (Progressive) Congregation Yozma hopes to be a significant part of that future. We went to Yozma’s offices and met some of their most active members. We returned with a dvd that documents their commitment to b’nei mitzvah for students with special needs and their efforts to support Israel’s northern communities during last summer’s conflict.
We were joined by Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon as we headed to Beit Eden, a residential facility for children facing developmental, cognitive, and/or social challenges. We were honoured to be part of Yozma’s weekly efforts to bring join and community to Beit Eden. Thanks to the support of our Temple’s Israel Special Projects Fund, we were able to share a pizza party, music and dancing with the residents. They gave us at least as much joy as we brought to them.
We returned to Modi’in in the evening for Kabbalat Shabbat services followed by a community Shabbat dinner. Through prayer, food, and conversation, we created strong links with members of the community. It was wonderful to see that the majority of the members participating are Israeli-born. After dinner, we were treated to a concert by Yozma’s three-person band. Having visited Yozma many times in the last nine years, it was wonderful to see how much the community has grown and developed.
In the morning we set off for the Old City in Jerusalem for our Shabbat morning service. After becoming a community during the last two weeks, this t’fillah had a very special power to it. It’s closing moments symbolized much about our mission. Joined by two Roman Catholic Sisters of Sion, we sang Ein Keiloheinu as the mu’azzin called out in Arabic for Muslims to come to pray. If you want to understand more about that morning or any aspect of the trip, speak to one of the participants or, even better, be part of Temple Sinai’s next mission to Israel.
After an afternoon break, we stood together arm-in-arm overlooking the walls of the Old City for Havdalah. Before we could say goodbye to one another or Israel or to our guide Muki and our driver David, we shared memories and reflections on an incredible journey. Even after the long flight home, a part of us will always be there. Even after a few days at home, it is clear that a part of Israel (Beneath the Surface) will always be with us.
Rabbi Michael Dolgin