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.

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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

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.