Monday, April 23, 2012

My Tribute to Israel's Fallen

Tomorrow night begins Yom HaZikaron, or Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers. Unlike in the US, Memorial Day here is what it should be: a somber, reflective day when we collectively remember the Israeli men and women who paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The day also commemorates the hundreds of innocent civilians who were murdered in terrorist attacks on our country's soil.

The current period in the Israeli calendar is as difficult and emotional as there is all year. There's the high of celebrating Pesach, the holiday of freedom and redemption followed just six days later by Yom HaZikaron L'Shoah v'L'Gvura, Holocaust Memorial Day. A week later follows Yom HaZikaron, which gives way the very next day to Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day.

Of course this is not a coincidence. While Independence Day is celebrated on the Hebrew date that David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence in 1948, the decision to commemorate Memorial Day the day before reflects the acknowledgement that the Jewish people suffered greatly for the establishment of our own country, and unfortunately, continues to do so to defend it. Just about every single Israeli is either the descendant of a Holocaust survivor, has lost a family member in a war or terrorist attack or knows someone who has.

I am fortunate to not personally know the effect this kind of loss has on a family: all eight of my great-grandparents left Europe just after the turn of the 20th century, and all four of my grandparents were born in North America. I did have the opportunity of being at Yad VaShem last week for the national memorial ceremony attended by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. The touching ceremony included a special honor for six survivors who each lit a torch to symbolize one million of the 6 million Jews murdered. As each survivor was spotlighted, a 4 minute video played to tell their story, the story of their community in Europe, what happened to it and to their families, and finally, how they survived and made it to Israel. As sad and tragic as each of their stories was, it also gave hope, that after experiencing the single worst atrocity ever committed on this planet, each of these people could come to Israel and contribute to the building of a Jewish State. That, I believe is what is most powerful about these Israeli High Holidays, and why they must lead up to our Independence Day.

Far too often, we get caught up in the minutia of daily life: all the little things we each have to do that day, that week. It's not often enough we get to stop and think about what it all means. For a country that elicits such impassioned responses, both positive and negative, domestically as well as internationally, it's not only healthy, but imperative, that we step back and internalize all that that this country stands for, regardless of our differences of opinion on policy and politics. The creation of Israel has forever changed Jewish life all over the world and has finally made the Jewish people a people with a home.

Thus my tribute to Israel's fallen is simply my presence: that while the horrors of the Shoah are unimaginable for anyone who did not suffer through it, and while we mourn the thousands of men and women who have given their lives to create and defend the State of Israel, the pain, trauma and loss is not in vain. We have built here in our historic homeland, a country and a society that those living here even 100 years ago could not have dreamed of. I give thanks to them each and every day by living here and by being a part of the country they helped create.

אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה
בנימין זאב הרצל –

"If you will it, it is no dream"
- Theodor Herzl

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jerusalem...Something Good Is Happening Here

Happy April to all - and yes it's been exactly a month since my last post, so excuse the silence but let's get to it.

One of the many reasons I chose to make aliyah to Jerusalem is the vibrant and growing young adult culture. Across Israel, cities and towns are losing their young adults to "the center" - that is Tel Aviv and its surrounding suburbs. The beaches and nightlife are of course major factors, but the primary reason is that Tel Aviv is the country's economic center, so people move there for work. It's a phenomenon that the Boston-Haifa Connection Young Leaders is working to change in Haifa and promotes culture and opportunities for young adults to stay in Haifa past graduation from the University of Haifa or the Technion.

Jerusalem, for all its wonders, faces many challenges and divisions - between Jewish and Arab, Haredi and non-Haredi, and the haves and the have-nots, among others. Our capital city has gone through some tough times in recent years - with all-too-frequent suicide bombings during the Second Palestinian Intifada/Terror War of 2000-04, coupled with divisive city politics. However, Yerushalmim, or Jerusalemites, are proud of their city and the past few years have given rise to several grassroots organizations that are determined to create space for young adults to thrive and prosper in a pluralistic and open city.

Last night, I attended the opening meeting in a series called "Mifgashim B'Yerushalayim/Meetings in Jerusalem", organized by The Jerusalem Challenge, a think tank that seeks to connect the various young adult groups to see where they intersect, and how to continue developing this kind of social activism.

The event was a panel discussion featuring two social entrepreneurs who have done quite a lot in this regard, Kobi Frig, the creator of the Balabasta Festival in the Shuk; and Elyashev Ish-Shalom, owner of the Salon Shabazi, a local pub/cafe in Nachlaot that got its name because the couches on the inside are supposed to make up for the fact that apartments in Nachlaot are so small many people don't even have living rooms to put their couches. They discussed some of the challenges they faced getting their initiatives off the ground, while noting how much more lively the city feels today than it did just three or four years ago. Far too often people lament that Jerusalem is boring or that the conflicts weight too heavy, but the truth is that inspiring people like the two that spoke last.
After the event, I went with a couple of others to Salon Shabazi where we chatted with Ish-Shalom a little more and enjoyed a beer at the outside tables.

The Municipality has seized on this cultural renaissance, using the tagline "Jerusalem: Something Good Is Happening Here"(I've also seen "Something Special Happens Here"), and it's true. Just last week, I went to a music festival held outdoors in the Old City. Over the course of three nights, the city hosted dozens of musicians who performed for free on stages throughout the Old City, from the open plaza just inside Jaffa Gate to the Open and Closed Cardo. It was one of those "Only in Jerusalem" events that gets me excited to be part of the action now.

And a bit belatedly, I am posting a portion of a blog entry I wrote for the Boston-Haifa Connection about the recent Jerusalem Marathon. Follow the link at the bottom for the rest of the article.

More Than A Marathon

As we turn the calendar from March to April, welcoming Spring by preparing for Pesach, it’s also an indication that one of Massachusetts’ greatest traditions is only weeks away, the 116th running of the Boston Marathon. While Boston is the oldest and most elite marathon in the world, a city whose history dwarfs even Boston’s attracted attention – and runners – for its recent competition.
created at: 2012-03-26The 2nd Annual Jerusalem Marathon brought thousands of runners, Israelis and tourists alike, to Israel’s capital city on March 15th. And following the Boston-Haifa Connection Steering Committee meetings, which OTZMAnik Billie Hirsch blogged so beautifully about, several past and present BHC members connected to Israel in a new way by participating in different parts of the Jerusalem Marathon: Continue reading the full post here.