Friday, September 29, 2023

Wars of the Jews

Yom Kippur eve. At the very same hour that leftwing activists clashed with religious worshippers in Dizengoff Square, I was praying in the synagogue on my moshav. I was a secular Ashkenazi Jew standing alongside religious Sephardic residents of my community. Listening to melodies I wasn’t familiar with, I was very much out of my comfort zone, yet I felt very welcome. Isn’t this what Judaism is supposed to be like? The news from Tel Aviv suggested we are far from that.

The more I think about those events, the more I am abhorred. After the Supreme Court ruled that the Tel Aviv Municipality has the right to ban gender-segregated prayer services in public spaces, a provocateur gathered likeminded right-wingers and set up a mechitza divider of Israeli flags so that they could conduct Yom Kippur services there.

Yisrael Zaira, head of the extremist Rosh Yehudi Orthodox group, insisted on violating the court ruling to pray in public with men and women separated. Zaira has said, “When you see the secular world, you have to think of how to change it.” Instead of allowing him to freely act against the secular world, he should be arrested for his infractions.

On the other hand, leftwingers who have played a major role in the 38-week-long protests against the government, a battle to keep Israel’s democratic values that I completely support, took the law into their own hands and clashed with the religious Jews. They screamed at the worshippers, swore at them with cries of ‘Shame!’, physically assaulted them, and spouted hatred at their fellow Jews.

Left versus right. Religious versus secular. Jew versus Jew. And all this on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Two wrongs don’t make a right. In these clashes there were no winners. We are all losers.

Where is the government?

You would think that in a time of clashes in our society, there would be an adult in the room to referee between the sides and calm everything down. In normal times we would assume that this role should be played by the prime minister. But these are far from normal times. Our prime minister declared that “leftists had rioted against Jews”, implying that he doesn’t consider leftists to be Jews. By siding with the rightwing extremists he brought into his government, Netanyahu has become a rightwing extremist.

There is a government outcry now, when secular Jews attacked religious Jews, but why is the government silent when religious extremists attack Women of the Wall prayer goers at the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site? Where is the government when religious Jews attack Conversative and Reform Jews celebrating family events and prayers near the Kotel plaza?

Ask for forgiveness

We are all Jews, yet we are far from living up to what is expected of Jews.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on our calendar, when we are supposed to come together as a people and beg forgiveness for our sins. In the violent acts we have witnessed, we have sinned against our fellow Jews, our religion, and our God. We need to ask for a lot of forgiveness.

Meanwhile, on my moshav, Yom Kippur prayers went on. I was entranced by the Sephardic melodies and customs, so different from the Kol Nidre services I have attended in the past. There are many types of Jews, with different backgrounds and customs, and yet we are all one people. I felt welcome praying on my moshav. I, too, was asking forgiveness. We should all be praying.

Originally posted on the Times of Israel

Photo by Maayan Nemanov on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

"The Man Who Fell Asleep Everywhere" - short story

When I first met the elderly man, he was sitting on the supermarket floor, leaning back against the laundry detergents in the cleaning supplies aisle. Thinking he had passed out, I bent down to shake him into consciousness. But then I noticed something strange. He was snoring.

"Should I call the manager?" asked an acne-faced stock boy who appeared out of nowhere, a look of innocent inexperience in his eyes. "Or an ambulance?"

"Wait a minute. Let me see if I can wake him up."

The man on the floor opened his right eye, and his left eye followed. A smile formed on his lips. "Sorry about that," he apologized.

"I thought you had fainted!"

"Oh, no, I don't faint," he replied. "I just fall asleep. Help me to my feet."

He was about seventy, I guessed, and quite frail. He reached to the air freshener shelf for balance as he stood up. His glasses had dropped from his face, but they were held close to his chest by an eyeglass chain. His hair was thick, white, and wild. He introduced himself as Martin.

"I'll be okay," he said as he hobbled toward his shopping cart. I noticed it was empty except for a carton of slim milk, a container of low-fat goat yoghurt, an assortment of apples and oranges, and a large jar of dill pickles.

"Can I get you some water? Or maybe coffee to wake you up?" I said, holding him steady.

"Coffee would be nice," he admitted.

We abandoned our shopping carts, to the displeasure of the stock boy, and I led Martin to the coffee counter at the far side of the supermarket. "Sit here," I instructed him, pointing at a small table.

Read the rest of the story on The Bookends Review.

Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

Friday, September 22, 2023

Nodding in Hebrew

I have a confession to make. After living 50 years in Israel, my Hebrew is still not up to par. I watch the nightly newscast on television and read an article or two in the weekend newspapers, but most of my life is in English. I work in an English-speaking environment and I talk with my wife and my children in English (with my granddaughters, I do speak Hebrew). My creative writing is in English (this article, for example), and I read for pleasure in English.

Recently, I made an exception to my reading habits. I read Mrs. Lilienblum's Cloud Factory, the debut novel of the award-winning Israeli author Iddo Gefen, in Hebrew. I had previously enjoyed his short story collection, Jerusalem Beach, a book that won the $100,000 2023 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. I couldn't wait for his novel to be published in English (sometime next year?), so I read it in Hebrew, the language in which it was written.

Mrs. Lilienblum's Cloud Factory is thoroughly enjoyable, very witty, with fully developed characters and an amazing plot. I highly recommend reading it in any language.

Another confession to make. There was an occasional word or two in the book with which I was not familiar. I did understand the meaning of those words in the context of how they were used and if I chose to do so, I could simply skim those sentences without losing the essential beauty of the writing. In one case, however, I really wanted to know a word's meaning as it was used repeatedly in the text.


To nod. How could I not know the translation of such a simple word?

As I continued to read, I couldn't get that particular word out of my mind. To my surprise, it appears in every chapter of the book, sometimes more than once. In present tense, in past tense. He nodded; we nodded.




The author will have to excuse me, but possibly the word was overused? Reading in bed at night (another confession to make – I usually read on my tablet but in this case, I was actually reading a paperback), I said the word aloud every time I came across it in the book. This annoyed my wife. She is now reading the book herself, also noticing the excessive nodding taking place.

I finished reading Mrs. Lilienblum's Cloud Factory and uncharacteristically, dived right into another book in Hebrew. Eshkol Nevo's excellent new short story collection is entitled לב רעב in Hebrew, which translates as 'Hungry Heart', based on the song by Bruce Springsteen. For some reason, the first page of the book suggests that it will be published in the future in its English edition as Attachments.

To my surprise, I came across a familiar word.


In some of the stories, the word appears more than once. In different tenses, in gender feminine, or in plural. I nodded. She nodded. We nodded.

After reading two Israeli books in their native language, both of which I highly recommend, I have learned one thing about Hebrew literature. Your characters must be nodding as much as possible if you want readers to enjoy your writing.


Originally posted on The Times of Israel

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Friday, September 15, 2023

Shana Tova!

To friends and family near and far, blessings of health and happiness for the Jewish New Year. Shana Tova!

(Pictured: a pomegranate from our tree)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

"Deep Sleep" - short story

Pete was having problems sleeping at night. Insomnia ruled as he tossed and turned, his mind rehashing the day’s troubles. Endless traffic jams. Pressures in the office. The demands of his boss. The nasty looks and biting comments of his wife. The unpaid bills, the unfiled tax returns, the threats of his mother-in-law to visit.

Night after night, Pete couldn’t get the sleep he needed. He rolled back and forth, thrashing out unintentionally at his wife, interrupting her dreams and recoiling from her sharp elbowed jabs in his ribs.

She was sympathetic to his predicament, up to a point. “See a doctor,” she insisted. “He’ll write you a prescription for something.”

“I don’t want to get addicted to sleeping pills!”

Pete was willing to try anything, except for pills. He went for late night jogs; drank a glass of red wine before bedtime. He avoided his cell phone and instead read until his eyes were blurry. He listened to meditation tracks, to whales, to waves hitting the shore. His mind numbed but nothing worked. He still couldn’t sleep.

In the mornings he rolled out of bed red-eyed and struggled to his feet. Splitting headaches and aching muscles followed him to the bathroom. A cold shower did little to cleanse him of the night’s struggles. One cup of coffee, and then another one. Nothing could refresh him for the demands of the new day.

“Take care of yourself!” his wife demanded, offering no suggestions what he should try next.

“Maybe we need a new mattress,” he said.

Read the rest of the story in Meat For Tea - The Valley Review. Volume 17, Issue 3, Page 9.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Review of 'From Southerner to Settler' by Susannah Schild

I subscribe to the Hiking the Holyland newsletter because I love hiking. There are many pleasant trails, and some challenging ones, not far from my home in the Jerusalem Hills and I discovered many new ones through the colorful blog posts on the Hiking the Holyland website. Created by Susannah Schild in 2018, the site documents hikes all around the country with its mission of sharing Israel's beauty and history with the world.

Schild has just published her first book - From Southerner to Settler: Unexpected Lessons from the Land of Israel (June 2023). The book is not a hiking guide, but rather the story of Schild's aliyah and her love for family, Judaism, and Israel. With a strong emphasis on nature, the book also relates the origins of Hiking the Holyland.

The author left her home in New Orleans and moved to Israel with her husband and two small children in 2003. "We were here," she writes. "We had made it. We were home. In the place where we had vowed we would raise our children and live out our future."

Looking for a place where they could live as religious Jews, the family first settled in Ramat Beit Shemesh, but it didn't go well. Confronted with Ultra-Orthodox extremism, they left and found a warmer welcome in Neve Daniel, south of Jerusalem. In the Gush Etzion community they built their house, from the ground up, and planted a garden, something the author says gave her "a deep love for the land."

"The move to Israel was entirely worth every sacrifice that was required," she relates. "We were living the Jewish dream, quite literally. A people united as a family and a nation in the Holy Land."

Religious Judaism plays an integral, indispensable role in Schild's life, and this is repeatedly emphasized in the book. This may seem excessive to secular readers, but one can respect the openness and honesty with which she shares her convictions and faith. For the author, "the living Torah is here for all to experience, especially our children. This is what it's really like to live as a religious Jew in our homeland."

In these troubled times in Israel, the author focuses on the positive. She wonders if she can succeed in presenting to her family "the beauty of Israel, the inspiration, the camaraderie of the Jewish people, and the feeling of being at home, all bound up together and served on a silver platter."

For the author, hiking is much more than a way to enjoy the nice weather and nature. It is "an opportunity to really to get to know Israel, the physical land of our forefathers and to understand its hidden messages … a deeper understanding of our Torah, our most precious treasure."

Schild shares not only her love for hiking, but so much more. One respects her world of faith, optimism, and love for the land, as told in this very readable, personal tale of her journey from the American south to Gush Etzion.

Susannah Schild, born and raised in New Orleans, moved to Israel in 2003 with her husband and two small kids. Many years and a few children later, she discovered the quiet and inner peace that comes from being in nature. She is a The Timesof Israel blogger and lives right outside of Jerusalem in Gush Etzion. From Southerner to Settler is her first book.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.