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

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.

Holocaust Memorial Day

bds or the bibleThis years opening remarks at Yad Vashem by Reuven Rivlin, president of the State of Israel carries great importance. He mentioned several times in his speech the idea how humanity was created in the image of God; how our relationship between people should be marked with sensitivity that when we look at each other we are in fact looking at God. It seems that God hoped for a society where we would raise people up on a pedestal and cherish life. Somehow this ideal has been lost. In university I was taught over and over again the value of science and that religion was the opium of society. But where does science tell us how one should interact with other people that is so lofty as mentioned in the Bible? And with all the achievements that universities have realized, why are people mistreated and denies the most basic values as life itself?

Hitler explained that he was motivated to obliterate the Jewish people “because they cursed civilization with a conscience.” But in truth God gave us the Five Books of Moses to be a model of this ideal of sensitivity and respect between people and serve as messenger for others.

Israel today is one of the most dynamic societies in the world. Far from perfect, constantly threatened by hate and war, plagues with problems like all other countries, we still manage to thrive. So what’s the secret? Perhaps its our growing ability to work with others and respect difference. If you live in Israel, you can’t avoid Russians, Yemenites, French, Ethiopians, religious, secular and more. We have learned to respect and cherish life together.

It seems to me that the B.D.S. movement is not so much about boycotting the Jewish nation, peace, human rights or the Palestinian cause but rather the boycott, divestment and sanctions against the ideals God hoped for civilization.

May the memory of those murdered by the German Nazis find eternal rest in the Garden of Eden. Amen.

Click on the picture or this link to see this outstanding video.

 

 

Standing Up For Our Soldiers

I remember many years ago on Memorial Day a radio host asked the following question to its listeners, “Who are the real heroes? The soldiers of today or the soldiers who fought in previous wars?” There seemed to be an agreement that the soldiers of today were the real heroes. The rational was simple. Back in the day, it was clear to all who the enemy was. He had a country, flag and uniform. You didn’t have to think. Israel was on one side and the enemy on the other. But in the early 1980’s things changed. The enemy didn’t have a uniform, country or flag. Governments like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria trained militant groups to fight their cause. It was cheaper and more effective. Targets moved from military to civilian. Israel also set a precedent by signing the Oslo agreement with a terrorist organization; namely by turning the PLO into a potential partner for peace. In a single moment terrorists became politicians with a legitimate cause. The PLO began inviting NGO’s and film crews to bring the plight of Palestines to the attention of the world. In turn, our soldiers required a new type of advanced training to deal with groups of militants who fought with cameras.

Three weeks ago our soldiers were faced with a far greater threat. Our Prime Minister and Defense Minister called into question the integrity of our soldiers after a video appeared on YOUTUBE by an organization whose activities are under investigation by police showing a soldier shooting a terrorist lying on the ground. Even before an investigation was launched, our Prime Minister was already Facebooking his friends about the video.

My concern is that our soldiers are being tried similar to terrorists. Because our legislation has not evolved, terrorists are even using Israeli law to their advantage by suing soldiers who cause them bodily harm. The danger is obvious and undermines the armies’ ability to fulfill its mandate. Our 18 year old high school graduates are required to act in accordance with standard military rules of engagement. Unfortunately because commanders are under political influence, rules of engagement have become blurred. New inductees now meet regularly with lawyers and advocacy groups that try to encourage soldiers to keep their heads high and that even if the government and army turns on them for carrying out their duties, lawyers will do their best to keep them out of prison. Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Yaalon sweeping support of B’tselem accusations have many soldiers terrified. Maybe B’tselem will finally get a real donation from Hassan Rouhani and not his usual monthly donation of 36 dollars.

Casse Croute Tunisien

tunissignIt’s hard to imagine that some people look for an excuse to travel to Ramle. Believe it or not, I’m one of those as well. Years ago my in-laws took me to the open market (shuk) by the bus station to get some fresh vegetables and meat. It’s an old style market, a cross culture of old Israel. It’s a nice feeling. After a while they suggested we stop and get a bite to eat. Off to the side in one of the alley ways, stands a small
inconspicuous little restaurant. I knew I was in the right place. I sensed I was among people who knew where to find great food prepared by great people.
Haim Bokobza and family brought the Tunisian sandwich (Casse-croute Tunisien) from Tunis to Ramle. In an interview he mentions that he’s kept the recipe just like he was taught by his mother. In each bite you taste the culture and love as if you were transported back to North Africa. Each person that comes in feels suddenly special as if Haim and family are preparing special for him or her. You sense that everything they make is fresh, made from the finest spicetunissanwichs in order that each bite sizzles in flavor. To my surprise, the sandwich is made up of basic ingredients. Cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, tuna and some type of roll. Most people prefer with the Tunisian harissa spice on top for the real authentic taste. But even without, its just as good.
Five years ago I was transferred to a new division in the army as part of my reserve duties. I was quite concerned until they told me that my new base was a five minute walk from the old Ramle market. At that moment my comrades in arms could only wonder why I had a smile. But some secrets are worth divulging.

Click her to read and view a clip by Ynet.

Thanks to Jonathan Gold of the L.A Times for the inspiration to write about my favorite restaurants.

Betting on Dinosaurs

This is a follow up to a previous post, What U.K. Women Need to Know…

The student union of University College London, the UK capital’s largest higher-education institution voted to officially adopt the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign 14-4 against Israel.

The question I have for potential students  around the world who are looking for a under graduate and graduate program with the goal of becoming a productive member of society is, Would you choose a university that has a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel?

Its quite amazing how often Israel makes the front page of most newspapers, disproportionate to any other country around the world since 1948. It’s also amazing that the number of Nobel Prize winners, the number of R&D labs by Fortune 500 companies that invest in Israel is also disproportionate.

bds lucSomething is going on Israel. Each under graduate and graduate student needs to look carefully to try and understand why only Israel is being boycotted? Thomas Friedman in 2008 wrote an article ‘People vs. Dinosaurs’ where he wrote, “Question: What do America’s premier investor, Warren Buffett, and Iran’s toxic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have in common? Answer: They’ve both made a bet about Israel’s future.”

The reason for Israel’s growing success is because it uses its greatest asset – people, men and women. Its not a perfect country but it is certainly civil. Unlike the rest of the Middle East and most of Asia where women are taken out of the equation altogether, Israel is willing to vote for a women Prime Minister and anyone else that will advance our country.

As Warren Buffett wrote last week in his shareholders letter for 2015, “Under CEO Mark Donegan, PCC has become the world’s premier supplier of aerospace components…  Mark’s accomplishments remind me of the magic regularly performed by Jacob Harpaz at IMC, our remarkable Israeli manufacturer of cutting tools. The two men transform very ordinary raw materials into extraordinary products that are used by major manufacturers worldwide. Each is the da Vinci of his craft.”

Think twice before you choose a university. You could be betting on dinosaurs and not your future!