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!

 

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.

A Kind Word

I remember a German woman who asked at the end of Shabbat if she could call her mother in Germany. She had arrived on Friday night and was so moved that she decided to return for Shabbat lunch and seudah shlishi (third meal of Shabbat) It was urgent! Of course the Machlis family was happy to oblige. After the usual pleasantries with her mother, this woman in her mid forties asked her mother if she was Jewish? The silence that hennyfollowed told volumes. Her mother, in her late 80’s had hoped to take this secret to her grave. I’m not sure what happened to this woman. But this woman met Harav Machlis like he meets many of his guests, on his walk from his home in Maalot Dafna to the Western Wall each Shabbat morning where he leads a prayer service for the late comers and stragglers. He loves to greet visitors from abroad. He says it makes an impression. “Israel and the Jewish people are unique and people visiting should understand  that we value people.” Many times he finds this guests in the Arab market. Bnai Brith trips or families on vacation shopping in the Arab market. His sincerity and kindness speak volumes in that simple, Shalom. Most often he will invite these strangers for prayer services followed by lunch at his home. It’s that simple interaction that opens peoples eyes and minds. To get an invitation in a foreign country for lunch sparks curiosity and has led many people to follow. If that’s not enough, Jeff Siedel of the Jewish Student Center in the Old City usually has a nice group of stragglers waiting to go back with Harav Machlis to his home for lunch. Sometimes one or two and sometimes ten and
twenty. And for close to three decades, Henny was there to welcome each guest. For many people, its their first real experience to learn about Judaism, religion, God, Shabbat and even about oneself. The openness of their home and the ability to interact, learn and enjoy a sumptuous meal is unparalleled. Henny understood what a home could be. She just turned it into a small Temple where one could experience the Shabbat delight and a true closeness to God and his or her fellow human. Henny created a home that allowed true genuine spiritual growth.

May her memory be a blessing for all!

Greatest Up Close

I hope I will have the strength to write a series of posts about a family that continues to inspire so many people like myself.

It was Friday night, Shabbat Teshuvah, 1995 that myself and four other friends decided to go to the Machlis family for dinner. We all heard a lot about the Machlis experience, and Harav Machlis himself was our afternoon teacher at B.M.T. had been asking since the beginning of the semester to come for Shabbat.

Everything we were told about the Machlis experience was true. People from around the world, Jewish, non-Jewish, religious, secular, all ages, the poor, the destitute, spectators and curious and more all came together under one roof to experience Shabbat. We found a place to sit facing the kitchen. It looked the most comfortable and thought we would have a good view as the evening unfolded. But we ended up moving several times since we had to add more tables and chairs to accommodate the constant flow of people arriving. During this time, Henny was preparing food, welcoming guests and attending to her children. But we didn’t get the impression that her pregnancy was on her mind. But we were in shock. Henny was past due, expecting any moment and didn’t show any signs that she was going to slow down. It was Shabbat like usual. Henny went back and forth between the kitchen and the Shabbat table ensuring that everyone was eating and enjoying themselves. She shared words of inspiration, talked with the countless guests, all with a smile and calmness. Henny gave birth two days later.

machlishomeFor the next two years I made myself a regular at the Machlis home. Not just on Shabbat, but during the week as well.

It was in their home that I learned about myself, Shabbat, the value of people, the purpose of money, family, smiling, acts of kindness and much more. In there home, thousands of people like myself learned about life from Henny, Harav Machlis and their kids.

One night during the week Harav Machlis saw me standing at the bus stop. He stopped to ask what direction I was going. I answered that the food being served at school was not to my liking and that I was going to town to get a bite to eat. He told me to get in the car and that he was also going out for dinner. He knew a restaurant in town, the chef; the best in town. Sure enough, Henny was cooking for her kids plus one. But never did I get the feeling that I was out of line or disturbing their family life. The only real signal that I received was that they cared and enjoyed my company.

That was the first lesson I learned from Henny and Harav Machlis. It all starts with people. The highest value in life is treating people well, with respect and loving kindness.

Shiny Eyes

benjzanderI love YouTube!   Because I don’t have a TV, you miss out on a lot of conversation between friends about what was on the previous night. My wife saw this video and ended up sending it to all her friends. To date, it is the best video I’ve seen so far on YouTube.

Benjamin Zander is today a conductor in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, teacher and widely sought after speaker. His fame came quickly as he demonstrated his dedication and perseverance in the world of classical music. But it took him several decades to realize that as a conductor he really doesn’t  do anything besides waving his hands. He plays no instrument. Just stands in front of the orchestra. The question he had to struggle with was what his true purpose was as conductor?

Once he was able to answer that question, this led him to become a world renown speaker on the true purpose of a leader. Leadership or conductor is about taking a wide range of people with different backgrounds, personalities, aspirations and cultures and harness there complete talents to achieve the impossible. The leader gets his power from making other people powerful.

No one should forget that leadership is about interaction between people in all situations. As Benjamin Zander points out each word we say between people can have a transcending effect.

Check out this truly amazing talk from a very special person. Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

 

 

Looking for Leadership in Haiti

pihA good friend of mine gave me a book years ago while studying for his MBA in non-profit organizations at I.D.C. in Israel. The book is called Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World  written by Tracy Kidder. It was truly an amazing book. Since reading about Dr. Paul Farmer and associates, I’ve followed up and contributed to various projects over the  years. The amazing thing is that his quest to change the world is taking place in the most over looked place in the world, Haiti. The people of Haiti don’t just suffer from bad luck. It seems like nothing goes their way. The problems they suffer, poverty, neglect and abuse are unparalleled.

It is in this unlikely place that Dr. Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, and Jim Yong Kim thought to do the greatest good and founded Partners in Health (PIH). It’s fair to say that they have set the standard for health care around the world. But more then that, they are the face of humanity, respect and hope for all people.

Click here to see a 60 Minutes Special on P.I.H.

Thanks Danny for the book.