Monday, October 21, 2013

Teaching Jewish Girls in the Shtetl!

Greiding, Ukraine c. 1900
Binyoumin Kreplach and the class of girls
The girl, top row second from the left is my grandmother Rissel the Ruta (the readhead!) and this picture was taken in Gorodok/Horodok, Ukraine where she was born around 1888. The teacher's name was Binyoumin Kreplach who gained this name having once expressed his yearning for yesterday's kreplach one Yom Kippur afternoon. Small town's don't easily let you live these things down. It seems this didn't spoil the shidduch because the little boy to the left of Mr. Kreplach is his son.

Rissel Schwartz
official ID photo
My grandmother Rissel Schwartz left the shtetl for Odessa where she lived with cousins and studied in a Gymnasium which as I understand was a secondary school, like a high school. I guess she must have learned enough from Binyoumin to hold her own in the school.  She was there during the revolution but immigrated along with her brother to the United States around 1922.

I would love to have asked her questions about her childhood and education but unfortunately she passed away a few months before I was born and I am named for her.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Aliya Today

It's that time of year again. Nefesh B'Nefesh  has the Internet buzzing with live broadcasts of olim arriving early in the morning at Ben Gurion airport to the cheers of bleary eyed veterans who come there to meet them. Everyone is smiling and crying tears of joy.
Around our virtual campfire (Facebook) folks who came here pre-NBN reminisce about what it was  like 'before'. NBN has only been around for the last decade and has certainly revolutionized the immigration process. Many of the arrangements that took weeks of running around and filling out forms at different venues are now done at the airport or at central meeting places where the newbies are helped with opening bank accounts and signing up for health insurance, all of which make the process smoother, I'm sure.
Deep down under it all, all of us who choose Israel as our home arrive with an uplifting feeling of pride in the country mixed with a certain fear that we and the country will not live up to our expectations. Like every relationship we will become more realistic as we  go along. But those first impressions, those first heady days, those patting ourselves on the shoulder moments, those 'this is actually happening' feelings, they help us in our new role as immigrants.

My own first hours in Israel were just a few weeks after the Six Day War (which has become ancient history it seems).  My most vivid memory is of going with my friends to Tel Aviv where just about every balcony had an Israeli flag hanging out. The flags were in honor of the liberation of Jerusalem and in celebration of the survival of the State of Israel when just a few weeks before many had not been certain that this Zionist experiment would live out its second decade. That euphoria is sort of like the laughter after  a particularly scary roller coaster ride, you know the kind where you ride a loop that has you completely upside down and you doubt your sanity. When it's over your laughing from relief. Only this danger was real. And then it was miraculously over. (Or so we thought.)
Thank you Facebook friends for that trip down memory lane and thank you NBN for bringing home so many more American Jews.
 And to our new citizens:
!ברוכים הבאים

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Road to the 19th Knesset

Fellow Jerusalmite Esser Agorot has posted Haveil Havalim #382 - The Dual Elections Edition  in honor of the interest generated by the US elections and the Israel elections to be held Tuesday, January 22, 2013.
In Israel voters go behind a partition and choose a piece of paper with the letters of the party they wish to vote for and put that in an official envelope which they were given.  When all the votes are counted the seats in the Knesset are divided among the parties proportionally.  If your party received 10% of the votes then you would get 12 Knesset seats.
But how do you know which 12 party members get the seats?  Each party submits a list of 120 names of would-be Knesset members.  Then in the order they are on that list, they take seats in the Knesset so in our example names 1-12 on the list become Knesset members.  If one of these 12 should happen to resign (or falls as in \bottles of beer on the wall') then the 13th name takes her place.  So the order on the lists submitted to the election board really matters.
The Likud party has primaries and anyone who becomes a member of the party can vote (after 16 months membership).  My favorite candidate on the Likud's list is Tzipi Hotovely.  At age 33 she is finishing up her first term in the Knesset with an impressive record as the Chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women as well as  some other important committee membership.  She is firmly planted in the nationalist wing of the party of the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  She is an eloquent proponent of many important family issues as well an advocate for strengthening Jewish  settlements all over the country.
This week I answered a call to help out in her office as the primaries in the Likud are November 22.  I got there and joined a group of young people in stuffing envelopes (!) with flyers extolling her achievements in the 18th Knesset to be sent out to Likud members who will be voting in the primaries.
That brought back memories of the last time I stuffed envelopes in an election campaign.  It was 1966 and Bobby Kennedy was running for Senator from New York.  I went to a midtown New York City office with some friends and we were put to work stuffing envelopes with campaign material.
It was in that same election that I spent a Friday afternoon with some high school friends accompanying the candidate from one department store parking lot to another supermarket parking lot where he took to the platform and made a short speech to the cheering crowd and shook hands with anyone willing to step up.  Our 'job' was to go on the bus and arrive at each venue before Kennedy and hand out campaign material and lead the cheering when he showed up.  We were a very enthusiastic group of teenagers and did our job with gusto.
I was having a good time and thinking how nifty democracy is.  Then someone from the campaign came on the bus and said that since we had done such a great job we were all invited to have a fish dinner with Kennedy his staff at a nearby restaurant.  Remember it was 1966 and Kennedy was a Catholic and it was Friday.  It would be very exciting and really something to remember.  But it was Friday and I had to get home to light Shabbat candles with my mother.   It was a sunny breezy fall afternoon and I remember as if it were this morning the thought that went through my head a I got off the bus and headed in the opposite direction to my family and home.  No matter how integrated I might feel, in the end I would always be an outsider.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Peripheral Vision

This coin was found at the archaeological dig at Gamla in the Golan Heights,  often called the Massada of the north. The coin says "For the redemption of Jerusalem the (H)oly". It is from the Great Revolt against the Romans in the first century CE. The coin is one of six found at Gamla and it is said that they were cast there in Gamla as well. Its message is not lost on us. Even though these Jews were carrying on their battle in far away Gamla the aim of the revolt and the purpose of the battle was not merely survival but 'the redemption of Jerusalem'. Jerusalem's survival requires Jewish settlement in the rest of Land of Israel.

I won't be giving away any secret if I tell you that Jerusalem is my favorite place in the world. I spent some very happy years here. David and I were married overlooking the Old City. It is with great joy and an enormous sense of gratitude to God that we make our home here once again. I am certain that those of us who live here and all of us who bear witness to the miracle of the State of Israel with the united city of Jerusalem as its capital are aware of the magnitude of that privilege.

Since arriving in Jerusalem I have been having a wonderful time discovering what's changed and rediscovering the familiar in the city I used to call home. There are so many possibilities for learning and cultural events and so many new things to see and do. I don't think I'll ever be bored again. And of course if your want a centrally located place to get together with friends from all over the country Jerusalem would be a great choice. That happened last week. A Facebook group of ladies who coffee klatch virtually, which my good friend Batya Medad -- who has been my friend since before the Internet was even a gleam in Al Gore's eye -- added me to it. We got together for what we call F2F (Face to Face) right here in Jerusalem. It was a lovely day for connecting and connect we did. I think everyone knew someone in the group 'from real life' but no one knew everyone. The conversation flowed as we got to know each other and learned about the challenges and victories of life. Sharon Doubler Katz, described it nicely as did Rachel  and Ruti.

Three of my new friends live in or near Netivot and they shared their feelings about living and raising children under fire. Yes, while I enjoy my new life here in Jerusalem my friends in Netivot are exposed to this day in and day out: Take fifteen seconds to watch the clip below. Go ahead, but first turn down the volume, especially if you're reading this at work or there are children asleep in your house.
Now read what my friend Miriam says. And another gave her take on Batya's blog under the name Netivotgirl. Another woman, mother of 7 children all under 15, told of children afraid to go to sleep and younger ones not sleeping through the night because of the booms. 

It's important for all of us to keep in mind that while we are safe at night others in the south don't know if they will sleep through the night. It's important for us to keep these people in our thoughts and prayers. AND it's important to remind our leaders that this is not a situation we should get used to living with. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

First Day of School

This morning I began my studies at Matan, an institute for Torah studies, founded by Rabbanit Malka Bina in 1988. Rabbanit Bina is one of the pioneers of learning and teaching Torah to women, breaking ground by learning Talmud and teaching women to learn. Matan has a rich and varied schedule for both full time serious advanced students as well as part time students like Batya and me. There are dozens of classes given four days a week, both in English and Hebrew.  

Today I went to two classes. The first class I chose is a class in Talmud. tractate 'Brachot'. I have attended classes in Talmud before which were informal and we worked as a group along with the teacher to understand the materiel. So, it isn't like I've never see a page before. But in this class we are expected to do a bit more on our own in pairs. I was fortunate to be sitting next a very nice woman and we were able to figure out the work. Then our teacher, a relatively young (everything is relative) man, Rav Yitzhak Bazak, pulled it all together and we had an interesting discussion which included some practical conclusions and left me with as we say in Hebrew 'a taste for more'. I am so fortunate to be able to do this!

The second class is a comparison of several of the prophets and an exploration of the types of prophecy in Judaism given by a really gifted teacher Yael Schlossberg. I heard several of her lectures in the two weeks in September  when Matan held lectures by their scholars as well as others in preparation for the High Holidays and I was sold. She managed to create an intimate learning atmosphere, encourage participation and say everything she wanted in her allotted time in a packed auditorium with what I would estimate was about 150 women. 

I am looking forward to a fruitful and interesting year of learning. 

Jerusalem is the center of the world!

Saturday, October 13, 2012


A lot of water has flowed in the Jordan since the last time I wrote. That would give me an excuse to continue not writing, since there's no way I can make up for all the events I didn't post about. I am therefore faced with either giving up blogging altogether (continuing not to blog) or picking up and moving on.  I have chosen to move on, take the bull by the horns, get back in the saddle, batten down the hatches and full speed ahead and go at it once again.
*I would have written "New Beginnings" but David tells me that this is an oxymoron as all beginnings must be new and I don't like being called a moron, oxy or otherwise. 

Two major bits of news you may have missed if you are not my friend in real life or on FaceBook: 

The birth of Eitan Harari on 21 Iyyar 5772 in Sroka Hospital Be'er Sheva. Eytan is the long awaited brother of Tamar. He is named in honor of my father Abraham Rich. The connection is from the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur service where we ask God to listen to pleas of our father Abraham - the first to advocate for God's mercy on sinners - to intercede for us with the Almighty. The words in Hebrew:  עוד יזכר לנו אהבת איתן אדוננו are translated (in my Birnbaum siddur) "O Lord, remember still the love of faithful Abraham". But in the Hebrew, Abraham is not named but instead called Eitan which can be translated as steadfast or strong or firm or sound or secure, you get the idea. It is, of course, our wish that our Eitan grow into the kind of man who will do justice to his namesakes, both my personal father and the father of our nation.

We moved to Jerusalem!

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