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.

Baruch tegene
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.

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.

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!

Unit 8200 or Bais Yaacov

A friend recently forwarded me an episode of a program called Hello World created by Bloomberg News , that takes you on a journey that stretches across the globe to find inventors, scientists and technologists who shape our future. Each episode explores a different country and uncovers the ways in which the local culture and surroundings have influenced their approach to technology. Hello World’s segment on Israel suggested that the tech craze that has developed in Israel is being fueled by a unit of the Israel Defense Force called Unit 8200. This idea has garnered growing support  with high profile start ups like Checkpoint, NICE and ICQ, all of which were founded by alumnis of Unit 8200.

baisyaacov
Pictured here is the second graduating class of the Bais Yaacov in Lodz, Poland 1934

Yet there is a silent revolution that is fueling this high tech success story that is only now starting to garner attention.  A growing number of CEOs have acknowledge that without all the charedi women entering the workforce it would be unclear whether there would be so many successful high tech companies. The number of highly educated Charedi women entering the work force at all levels is booming. When Bais Yaacov was established, the ultra orthodox community recognized that women needed basic education just like men. But the focus was about looking inwards to the family and home. Women are now realizing that to maintain a life outside of poverty, a steady income and most often two incomes is a necessity.

Institutions like the Lustig campus, Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) campus for Haredi women located in Ramat Gan, which was established in 1998 enables Haredi women, who are seeking to improve the economic conditions of their families by earning an academic degree in areas like computer science, software engineering, MBA and accounting. Machon Tal which caters to women in the religious Zionistic community have additional programs like Bio-infomatics, Electro-optics engineering, communications systems engineering and nursing.

So what’s having a greater impact – Unit 8200 or Bais Yacov?

unit8200
Training in Unit 8200 I.D.F

The I.D.F knows that it always has to be ahead of the game regarding our enemy. No one wins in war; it’s the triumph of survival. Only those that pursue life will triumph. For that, each branch of the army deserves recognition. The ability of Unit 8200 to recruit 18 year old’s who show potential for creating innovative approaches to security is a daunting task. Bais Yacov girls by contrast are taught about drive, discipline and purpose from a very young age. Torah education in general can create a great sense of purpose. Bais Yaacov girls are taught already at a young age that the direction of the home will be decided by them. They’re not looking for fame or fortune so ego doesn’t come into play but success does. And when your company fills up with employees like that, the sky is the limit.

Our triumph to live is what inspires us to advance. Very few Israelis ever think about the threats we face even though most Israelis serve in the army. We are not oblivious to the threat of nuclear holocaust against our country. But Euro Football 2016, vacation and work take far more attention.

Although Unit 8200 is a source of pride to all Israelis, our technological ingenuity has advanced further than any nation because we cherish life, family and education. Israel is the furthest thing from a military superpower. It’s the combination and unusual ability to foster peoples talents like young soldiers and young religious women that has created national success.

When peace comes we will be the only nation to throw away our guns.

Chief Scientist Warns High Tech Success May Not Last

Inside Israel’s Secret Startup Machine

MY MY, HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED

ramle2I little more than ten years ago I spent my first Shabbat in Ramle at my in-laws. It was also my first visit to Ramle. I knew very little about Ramle besides the regular stereotypical comments people like to make. Even today when I tell people that I was in Ramle people comment, WHAT WERE YOU DOING THERE?@?! But in truth, it’s a quiet little city, with a mixed population including Arabs and Jews, a quaint outdoor market, and a population who wears flip flops and tank tops all year round to survive the brutal heat. About a year after we were married I prayed one Shabbat next door at a synagogue (shul) called Kodshe Hashoah. It was simply an old shul with a dying membership of Holocaust survivors. Every time I went back to pray at Kodshe Hashoah there were fewer people in shul.

It’s commonly known that young orthodox couples are somewhat limited where they can live. The connivance of living in big cities means better religious structure. The problem is that big cities are becoming extremely expensive and young couples can no longer afford to live in cities like Jerusalem without parental support. At the same time, cities like Beer Sheva, Ramle, Lod, Hod Hasharon, Yaffo, and many more were seeing the end of religious life. When I went to Yaffo ten years ago there was only one active shul out of 15, with 9 slated for demolition. This reality forced young religious couples to address this growing paradox.

ramle1A number of religious families came to the conclusion that even in the era of high tech, the word pioneer still carries great meaning. A group of religious Zionistic families decided to move together to Ramle and revive and invigorate the Jewish community. Eventually Kodshe Hashoah became a center of their activities. Members of the shul were only too happy to give over the keys to these pioneers.  Slowly more families moved and benefited from lower housing prices and closer proximity to major centers of commerce. Today there are 50 families and 120 children that have moved and began to change the very fabric of the city culture life. Many of them have taken positions in the community schools, day cares, army bases in the area and religious council. What’s nice about this is that it gave a new spirit to the city. Religious Zionists aren’t saints but they are guide by lofty ideals. Over the last few years, the city of Ramle has seen a cultural and societal change. Safety has improved, city schools have improved, traditional Jewish life has improved and better coexistence among the various ethnic groups. And this story isn’t limited to Ramle. The same thing is taking place in Yaffo, Lod, Bat Yam, Hod Hasharon and more. Citizens from these communities have been only too happy to welcome these pioneers. Synagogues that were once closed and slated for demolition are reopening and slowly filling up. It’s not the mere prayer service that’s making the change but the combination of seeing idealistic families who want to revitalize cities that lost their spiritual calling and perhaps something else.

Organizations like Rosh Yehudi and Shaalei Torah are leading the people towards a spiritual revolution, better economic prosperity and higher standards of education. These success stories have also been recognized by their respective municipalities as well as the government of Israel. The absorption minister has so far ear marked 50 million shekels to use these groups to help integrate new olim into Israeli society. And municipalities like Ramle are receiving more funding to improve infrastructure now that they boast better schooling and lower crime rates.

Special thanks:
Rabbi Oriah Shachor – Rav Beit Knesset Kodshe Hashoa
Naama Zarbiv – Head of the Garin in Ramle
Galit Cohen – assistant to the Mayor of Ramle.

Forbidden Fruit

sustainablelivngI recently visited a farm that had signs on the fruit trees that read, “EAT ME”. One of the girls in the group read the sign and did just that. She picked the fruit and ate it. She commented afterwards that it was sweet and refreshing.

Every morning I walk by countless fruit trees where the fruits grow beautifully and then rot because no one picks them for consumption. If that isn’t strange, we then go to the grocery store and buy those same fruit. But why?

The farm I’m referring to is called – Hava & Adam Farm: a multidisciplinary center involved in environmental and social education located near the city of Modi’in.

I feel that somehow, I like many others have been taught that you buy fruits and vegetables commercially rather then pick the fruits directly from the tree. Somehow we have been distances from our beautiful surroundings and are officially tech-urban dwellers. Nature is reserves for day trips to the country or like we did on Sunday’s in Montreal Canada, apple or strawberry picking. Or we have the farmers bring the produce to the city shuk or open market.

After visiting this farm I began to wonder: Can the high-tech city life provide sustainable living for all people? Around the world, people that lived off the land for generations are leaving everything behind in hopes of a lucky break in the city. The Chinese government estimates that close to 300 millions people will take that risk in the upcoming years which is bigger than the size of America. This imbalance in China and around the world is extremely dangerous. Smartphones can’t feed us or grow apples. The farming industry in the U.S.A is disappearing and so to all those cozy little towns along the Greyhound Bus routes that existed for generations.

Governments need to develop the high tech industry since innovation keeps the mind and body proactive. But governments need to revitalize and develop traditional industries like farming in order to ensure sustainable living for all people.

Sources

Rethinking China’s Cities, Fortune Magazine 2012 – article

Hava & Adam Farm – website

The Story of Change – 9 minute video