We’re Family After All

I had never been to their community or synagogue but somehow I felt I had something to loose. I felt a sense of cognitive dissonance and a chance meeting with a Rabbi I trusted set things right. I told him I was invited to a family wedding in a conservative community and I felt uncomfortable going because it would somehow infringe on my religious views and practices. The Rabbi assured me that ‘attending a family celebration was a good idea and not to be missed. Family is family!’ I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have come to realize that the basic problem was a lack of knowledge.

First, despite differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews there is common ground. The Bible is still important and viewed as a guide to life; there is a strong need for social involvement or what many call Tikkun Olam and there is a genuine love for the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks tells the story that someone returning from a Hillel Conference in the U.S. notices that their were four separate prayer services according to denomination but they all prayed the same style (nusach) -Carlebach.

Although there might have been a reasons for the split between the Orthodox and Reform communities in the 1800’s today it seems that we have more in common and our paths are on a collision course. The conservative synagogue I visited was full of energy, people who were curious and interested, a community on a self discovery journey between themselves and their Jewish heritage. Only the ten commandments were etched in stone. Perhaps this is the message we have to reaffirm. We are all on a journey on how to serve God and the Torah is our guide. If Chassidut was about approaching God from a different angle then Reform to me was about stepping back and refocusing and not about a disconnect. All these movements are important because they give focus. Its ironic that while the Temple stood in Jerusalem, there were no chairs. Everyone was moving, interacting and discovering. Everyone served God but not necessarily the same way. Perhaps now is the opportunity to hear the other side. We don’t have to pray together but we can hear and get to know.  Its ironic that we wouldn’t think of talking to the other side on our own initiative but travel to another part of the world and visit a Chabad House and all of a sudden we spend Shabbat talking with Jews who are complete strangers. If their was “a time to rend; then now is the time to sew” as King Solomon mentions in the Book of Ecclesiastes. After all, family is family!

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The Power of Ones

In honor of the upcoming event, ‘Breakthrough Leadership – the Life of Baruch Tegegne z”l’ at the Beit Hatfutsot, Museum of the Jewish People, I would like to share some personal thought.

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Machane Yehuda Shuk Jerusalem

In the early 90’s I was a teenager sitting in synagogue Saturday morning when a black mother and daughter entered the women’s gallery while and a few moments later a black father and twin boys entered the men’s section. I watched my mother quickly go over to say hello and signaled me to do the same to the father. This chance meeting led to an ongoing relationship between the Ethiopian Jewish community and our family. My mother invited them for lunch and we quickly discovered that there were hundreds of Jewish Ethiopian families brought by the JIAS to live in Montreal, Canada and money was earmarked for their integration into the Jewish community. As I sat and listened to my mother discuss with many of the families we discovered that the Jewish community as a whole did very little to welcome them in. My mom used whatever free time she had available to help ameliorate the situation. In time the community made effort to open up. As time progressed we came to know many of the families and in many ways they became like family.

One of the people that I came to know was Baruch. He was a quiet, somewhat mysterious and well dressed. When he talked about the past, there was always mention of well known leaders, heads of state, his personal trek from Ethiopia to Israel by foot and social protests. As I continue to study the history of Nelson Mandela and apartheid, black civil rights movement and the American Civil War I am slowly beginning to understand the unique role that Baruch played in helping Ethiopian Jewry achieve recognition in modern Israel.

baruch tegene protestIn the 1990’s blacks had rights and the Ethiopian community integrated fully into the broader Montreal community which is known as “Canada’s Cultural Capital”. But Baruch’s story is a bit different.  In the 70’s Baruch was a lone voice in Jerusalem advocating black rights at a time of apartheid in South Africa and social unrest in America. Baruch’s early years in Israel was at a time when there were no more than a few hundred Ethiopian people in all of Israel. Yet Baruch’s kind demeanor and sweet voice found the ear of a few individuals who saw a moral responsibility to fulfill our nations Law of Return granting every Jew in the world the right to settle in Israel. It was the lone decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi who ruled following the Radbaz, that the Beta Israel were from the Tribe of Dan and confirmed the Jewish identity of the community. The Israeli government knew of the Ethiopian desire to immigrate since the early 1960’s but little was done. Again it was individuals like Dr. Graenum Berger who founded the American Association for Ethiopian Jews in the early 1970’s who kept the issue alive and relevant. Although Baruch, Dr. Berger, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and my mom witnessed the great miracles during Operation Moses and Solomon, the struggle continues today for social equality. May we merit in our days to respect and elevate the individual as John F. Kennedy once said, ‘Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.’ יהי זכרו ברוך

A Circle To Close..A Center To Build – A brief look at Baruch’s activities in Israel in the last years of his life.

Investing In The Future

At the opening of the OurCrowd Summit 2017, Mayor Nir Barkat described Jerusalem as the city that unifies people and history. You can walk through the Old City of Jerusalem and see the age old traditions of the three religions while shopping at the modern Mamilla outdoor mall. You can see archeology dating back to King David while at the same time visit some of the most innovative high-tech parks in the world. King David referred to Jerusalem as the great unifier. (Psalms 122:3)

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Jon Medved CEO OurCrowd, me, Ron Halpern COO mPrest

Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd and host of the event is doing just that.  He is turning this city into a hub that helps people come together to solve some very complicated problems whether in health, security, agriculture, transportation or media.  He repeatedly used three words to describe OurCrowd’s success; ecosystem, collaboration and future. It brought to mind a comment my father said to me when,  as a kid 25 years ago I joined him on an early Sunday morning to visit a trade show at Palais des Congres de Montreal. When I asked him what his job was he told me that he had to predict what the future held twenty years from now so that he could implement policies today that would insure that his company was competitive and up to date.

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Me and my wife Esther

Indeed I discovered that big name companies and century old institutions were not counting on name alone to carry them into the future. Bayer, Honda, DuPont, John Hopkins University and more were on the hunt for talented individuals and companies that could help guide them into the future and address challenges as they occur. The success of OurCrowd was that it knew too well that big companies face hurdles each day and startups were solving them with ingenious creativity. The chance of both parties meeting presented a great challenge. The idea of creating an ecosystem where people, multinational corporations, startups and potential investors come together on a joint platform presents a special opportunity. One recent example this year was Super Bowl 51 where 111 million football fans enjoyed the greatest upset in football history with technology developed between multinational Intel and start up freeD based in Tel Aviv Israel.

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ReWalk Founder & CEO Dr. Amit Gofer and myself

In that I discovered that the best way to take on the future is through collaboration. The future is here as the summit was entitled, was happening as members of 80 countries including Singapore, Korea, Canada, USA, Israel and Italy collaborated on advancing common good. The success of this summit set in motion enormous potential for all those involved. The some 6000 participants at the summit were eager to meet, exchange ideas and find common value. As a first time attendee, I found myself walking into a world of possibility that reaches far beyond my tiny country Israel.

Here are the picks of starts ups we found to be the most promising:
1) BriefCam 2) MedAware 3) engie 4) BrainQ 5)  MUV Interactive 6) VocalZoom

Let us know what you think: focusisrael@mail.com

Please share!

The 4th Sovereignty Conference

This week I attended the 4th Sovereignty Conference at the Crown Plaza in Jerusalem. It’s ironic that the conference addressed the issue of sovereignty in the Land of Israel with a focus on Judea and Samaria. For 69 years since the creation of the State of Israel its own citizens still debate the pros and cons of secure borders. Even after the Regulation Law was passed in the Knesset this week legalizing 4,000 homes in Judea and Samaria, many have turned their eyes to the Supreme Court in hopes that it can be overturned. And until recently, the official policy of our government was denying its own sovereignty. Jerusalem is in question, the return of the Golan Heights will be discussed in final negotiations with the Syrian government, we dismantled Aza and continued to chip away at Judea and Samaria. And make no mistake; Yesh Din, B’tselem, Peace Now and their many associates view their success in Amona and Givat Zev as only the beginning and the Regulation Law as only a minor obstacle.

Then one needs to ask how it is possible that some want sovereignty now while others are either unsure, prefer it at a future date or not at all. Why would anyone want certain citizens to be denied basic rights that the rest enjoy?

To understand this we need to look at the various stages the Jewish people have gone through in the last century. Theodore Herzl said in Basel Switzerland during the first Zionist Conference held in 1897, “At Basel I founded the Jewish State…Perhaps in 5 years, and certainly in 50 everyone will know it”. Herzl and his peers were dreamers. They had a dream and works to see its fruition. Fifty years later out of the ashes of the Holocaust, David Ben-Gurion declared Statehood in May of 1948. Now that the dream was realized, there immediate responsibility was to build. We were responsible to build roads, hospitals, schools, an army, housing, agriculture and more. For the next fifty years we developed the most advance country in history.  But now that the country is built and the dream actualized how are we to characterize the next fifty years? I would like to suggest that the next fifty years will be devoted to creating an identity. What is the spirit of the country and people? The underlining principle is discovering who we really are as a nation. It is the people that define whether a country is great and greatness means moral responsibility towards one another. In many ways this is the greatest challenge of all and the potential reward or missed opportunity will determine the future of Israel as a State. Each one of us at some point will require introspection and a look at the long term picture and how we fit. For the first time we will have to learn to live together like a family including religious, secular, old, young, men and women from all four corners of the world. If we can realize our common destiny then sovereignty will answer itself. In order to achieve these lofty end goals we will have to address more basic issues along the way like educating the public on why sovereignty is important and necessary for all citizens and its short and long term benefits.

Last Day In The Army

I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts about my army experience in the I.D.F over the last 13 years and what I have gained.

It’s 3:00 AM and most of us just want to crawl up into a corner and sleep. A minute later a flash on the screen indicating another attack in the heart of Jerusalem causes everyone to shake off the sleep and swing into action. An attack usually means some type of missile landing in a populated area. This has been the routine over the last four days of the Home Front Command’s main office in Jerusalem. We are currently responsible for 1.5 million citizens in times of emergency. Our main focus is to provide recommendations to the heads of the army and city hall so they can make effective decisions in any type of crisis regarding civilian population.

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My first week in boot camp 2002

Today will be the last time I participate in a city wide exercise designed to test the readiness of the Home Front Command in Jerusalem. It’s been a long four days with no sleep, egg and tuna sandwiches and dealing with army bureaucracy. I wanted to write a few words about my experience in the I.D.F as my military adventure comes to an end.
During my thirteen years I learned a bit of car mechanics, did guard duty in the Shomron, Galilee and Hebron area and finished my time as a logistics specialist in the Home Front Command coordinating evacuations in times of emergency. Although I joined the I.D.F at the age of 26 doing three months of basic training I still did about a month a year of reserve duty. It’s fair to say that I was more of a tourist than a soldier, an observer more than hands on. I feel as well as my superiors that I was able to contribute in ensuring a stronger I.D.F.

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Final words at the end of my army service 2017

But my final comments are more of what I think of the army as a whole and the people I leave behind. Like most armies, the average age is 21 years old but the level of maturity and concern reflects the age of 55. Everyone cares and make great effort to be the best. There are no saints, only people who make mistakes and try to do better the next time around. We all come from different backgrounds yet we become a very effective team to solve very complex problems. Respect for human life, morality and sensitivity were the hallmarks of those around me. Each soldier knew the value of life and understood the fine balance that when necessary we also need to fight and kill. I had the opportunity to see and learn about our fragile security situation especially in the North on the Golan Heights. I had a rare chance to learn about the DARPA laser-guided correction system designed to help scouts become better sharp shooters.

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Training exercise; new immigrants from Canada, Mexico, Russia, France, Belgium, Cuba and Poland

I participated in a form between the I.D.F and AM General, the designers of the famous Humvee. The army also gave me the chance to break away from the routine of family and work and travel a bit around Israel. Most importantly, I used the time to dialogue with soldiers about current events, Judaism and every other issue imaginable. For most of them, it was the first time they talked with someone wearing a kippah. I was able to slightly break down the walks built by the media. One example was the chance to take the regional director of the Shinui Party to a Friday night meal to the home of an ultra-orthodox family that was originally from Chomedy.

I have tremendous admiration for the soldiers who fulfill their compulsory service and the complicated challenges they face. God bless their safe return!

 

Not Obama’s Problem

There are two stories that have sparked my attention in recent weeks. But my decision to write a new post was a result of the overall condemnation of  the Obama administration for absenting from a U.N vote that would demand Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”
The first  story which received almost no attention in Israel is the Levy Report that addresses the legal status of the communities in Judea and Samaria that was ironically initiated by Binyamin Netanyahu and shelved days before the U.N vote. The second and more urgent story is a community called Amona.

The Levy Report was designed to address what policy the government of Israel should adopt regarding communities in Judea and Samaria. The report concludes briefly, “that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not an occupation and that the Isrun-general-assemblyaeli settlements are legal under international law. It recommends the legalization of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts by the state and provides proposals for new guidelines for settlement construction”(Wikipedia). Currently the Israeli citizens that live in those communities are required to pay tax, work and serve in the army. But these communities have done much more. They are model citizens, proactive, who believe in good for all. They contribute to the benefit of the whole nation in every aspect and Amona is one such community. As an off shoot of Ofra, it was built with the help of the Israeli government. Amona is made up of families that wanted a less urban feel. What bothers me is that Israeli citizens who live in Judea and Samaria are treated like second class citizens. They don’t get the same benefits from Bituach Leumi, get second rate service by Bezeq, Israel electric, Egged and the list goes on. When someone buys a fridge in Netanya, the charge to delivered in 180 NIS. If it needs to be delivered to Avnei Chefetz which is the same distance but over the green line, 500 NIS. Soldiers who are injured do not receive any benefits as seen in the story of Yehuda Yitzhak HaYisraeli. Amona is another tragic story where the government led by Netanyahu and the Supreme Court of Israel vote daily to destroy Amona at all cost.

But all of sudden the Israeli government and Jewish loby groups are up in arms because the U.S. absented from a vote in the United Nations. Every major Jewish lobby group in the world is all of a sudden finding purpose and self worth. The Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu votes every day against (not absenting) its Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria and shall we not forget Gush Katif.
I like Obama because he gave health care to millions of American citizen who would otherwise die or suffer bankruptcy without coverage. And he fought to remove guns from the streets of America. That’s called doing good work for Americans. Maybe its time that the Israeli government start by taking care of its own and stop blaming others for absenting.

True Greatness

The first time I heard the expression “the greatest woman of our time” and the “Sarah Imanu of our generation” was at the funeral for Henny Machlis. I was blessed to spend two years with the family when I was a student her in Israel. Harav Mordechai Machlis was my afternoon teacher at B.M.T and every other evening and most Shabbats I spent with the family in their home in Maalot Dafna. In those days all the kids were at home and I had the chance to spend lots of time with Henny and the kids. And since making aliya in 2000, I try at every opportunity to visit. But what made her the greatest woman of our generation?

I recently read a book about the Roosevelt’s called ‘No Ordinary Time’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin where Eleanor is described in a similar fashion. She was a trailblazer in every area of humanity. A champion of human rights and dignity for Jews, Japanese, blaeleanor-rooseveltcks and women. She was the first and only first lady to hold a regular press conference at the White House for women only and wrote a regular column throughout her life. She encouraged the government to hire women in factories and provide daycare and health care during the war years. At a time when the world needed salvation, she was the ray of light for millions upon millions of people. But the best description comes at the end of the book where  it was jokingly said during the war years President Roosevelt would pray daily, “Dear God, please make Eleanor a little tired”(pg. 629). But that was the true mark of greatest. She had the ability to push the president, his cabinet, the government, the nation and the people to the world forward in a way that changed the course of history for good.

The book ‘Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup’ by Sara Yoheved Rigler describes Henny as a woman with unending energy and goodness. Unlike Eleanor who used her position to do good, Henny established and created the moment  and position. No one told her to open her home to tens of thousands of people, to nourish the body and soul, to make aliya, build a family that aspires to give, help the poor, lonely and sick. Henny had the ability to channel all that she was given from her parents, teachers and eventually her husemunah-with-loveband and do the impossible. Henny together with her husband and children succeeded in providing light and warmth to thousands of people. After reading the book on Henny’s life I attended a wedding where the bride mentioned that the groom wears goggles when he cuts onions. Who would have thought that the tears from onions have purpose and proactive energy. Henny would tell those helping to prepare Shabbat meals  to use those tears to pray for the sick, for a match, for a better future.

The list of great women continues to grow. But the list of women who seized the opportunity to elevate a whole generation of people is few. Those of us who had the opportunity to peel potatoes and onions Thursday night, watch Henny interact with family and guests, those of us who learns from her gleams of Torah thought understand she was indeed the greatest of our time.