Saturday, November 18, 2017

A diaspora Jew

There's something that needs to be said about Jews in the diaspora, of which I'm one. In America, there are many Jews, mainly from the conservative or reform movements, who seem to be demanding that Israel must do certain things to keep them happy, such as recognising certain laws that are not part of Jewish halachic law, or opening up the Kotel to mixed prayer areas - even though they already exist!! Some of them even embrace anti-semities because they misguidedly say that social justice somehow means they need to criticise Israel. They say Israel is insulting them, but I think it's the opposite - it is THEY who are insulting Israel. For Israel is a Jewish country, not a religious one, but one whose principles are undoubtedly Jewish. In Israel, you can live any kind of life you like and how observant or non observant you are is totally up to you, yet it is has to be within the Jewish nature of the country. However, for those who demand that Israel must be exactly like every other country such as America or Australia or Britain are missing the point entirely. I think the vast majority of Jews in the world do not want Israel to be carbon copies of other countries. They want Shabbat to mean something special, even if they don't celebrate it. They want to hear the sirens on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoa as everyone stops to observe those special moments. They want to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut with street parties. They want the country to go quiet during Yom Kippur even if they don't fast themselves. And these are things that are unique in Israel - no other country in the world can celebrate Jewish joy so fully or reflect on Jewish sadness with such depth as they do in Israel. Israel is the centralising figure of the Jewish world - it's where we turn in prayer, where we look to for inspiration, where we beam with pride and honour. For Jews, Israel is our home, spiritual at this point, maybe physical at a later point, but it is the centre of the Jewish world. And outside Israel, our job is to support that country and that spirit and to respect how lucky we are in the world - not just the Jews in Israel, but outside Israel too, for our lives would not be our lives without Israel there to protect us. Without the shield of Israel existing for us, I shudder at what our fates could be. All we need to do is look around the world with its growing anti-semitism to realise that. But it's more than that - for Israel will always be the place where we can truly flourish as a people. And even if there are problems there, it's no different to any other country, except that it remains the place we Jews can truly call home. Our job in the diaspora is to support that vision and if we are so upset at what the Israeli government is doing, and if we can't sleep at night because we don't like the way they are going, then the only place to change that is from within, not spitting from the sidelines like some spoilt kid. The reality of today is that the Jewish population in America will diminish over the next few decades as they forget what being Jewish means, their intermarriage rates increase and they gradually forget the importance of Israel to their Jewish world. Israel remains our hope that the Jewish future will be bright and strong. It is the land of our past but more importantly, the land of our future.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A promise that will hold forever

4000 years ago, one man changed the world. He looked around him and saw a world he could not believe in. He saw a world he could not relate to. He saw a world he didn't believe in. And rather than be a part of it, he decided to stand separately. He decided to stand independently. He decided to stand alone. He believed in a single God, rather than the multitude of idols around him.

That man was Abraham and his covenant with God made him the first Jew - our original forefather. And in the same covenant, God promised him a land of milk and honey, a land in which the Jews would be able to call their own. It was a belief so strong that it caused Abraham to leave everything he ever knew and his whole life behind him and journey to a strange new land, a strange new world, and a whole new begining.

He was a simple man with a simple belief - a belief that changed everything we thought we knew.

One man.

And on that journey he began - a journey we still carry on today - he met many people and travelled to many places and had many adventures. But most importantly, he became the father of a people that still exist today. A people who still live in that same land promised 4000 years ago. A people who still believe in that promise, eventhough the world doesn't.

But Abraham was a man of the future, not the past. So he decided to purchase a cave and the surrounding land from a guy called Ephron. He paid him 400 shekels of silver in a deal, complete with witnesses and documentation. And with this purchase, he established that Hebron would belong to the Jewish people forever and ever. It was a place that he and his family would be buried, to rest forever on Jewish land.

Yesterday, UNESCO, who is supposed to safeguard the cultural and historical heritage of people, decided to declare that deal and void. They decided to erase history. They decided, rather than safeguard the cultural integrity of the Jewish people, to destroy it instead.

Or attempt to.

Because a collection of countries, many which don't even give their citizens basic human rights, don't get to decide on this. They have no authority. They have no right. They have no integrity. And they have no shame.

The UNESCO vote is not about culture or history or freedom or democracy or safeguarding anything. It has nothing to do with Hebron or Jerusalem. It has only to do with destroying the Jewish people, their rights, their history, their culture, their link to a land promised to them 4000 years earlier.

But history is an old beast, and it remembers things, long after those who have passed through it have faded away.

The dream of UNESCO, the Arab world and all those others to destroy the Jewish people will fail.

For the covenant made by Abraham is eternal and still very much intact.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Our eternal city of Jerusalem

Once more UNESCO passed an anti-Israel resolution today, rejecting Israeli sovereignty and calling it an occupying power in Jerusalem. But you know what... as angry and annoyed as we might feel, this vote doesn't really make a difference, because Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish world for so so long, so much longer than any of the countries that voted against us today. For over 3000 years since King David first proclaimed it as our capital, it has never left our hearts. It has never left our minds. It has never left our prayers. It is so ingrained in us as a people that no force on earth will be able to change that - least of all an insignificant organisation dominated by Arab dictatorships and human rights violators who contribute nothing to the world, but continued fanaticism. I was there earlier this year, walking the streets of the Old City, feeling its smooth limestone under my fingertips. I walked in small alleyways, where stories from thousands of years ago were still being told. I walked in large plazas, where the din of Jewish spiritual awakening continues to this day. I gazed with wonder as ancient synagogues rose up again, after being destroyed by the Jordanian occupying forces, who still bleat on about being the custodians of the Old City and protecting its religious institutions. I climbed rooftops and walked upon ancient buildings, taking in the kaleidoscope of colours that greeted me in the most unique view on earth. I watched tourists from a thousand places mingle among my fellow Jews, walking in awe, walking in wonder, walking in the footsteps of history in the heart of the Jewish world. How lucky I was to be there in God's own city, and how lucky I was to be in a place that had dominated the dreams and hopes and aspiration of an ancient people - my people. So resolution after resolution may pass, and condemnation after condemnation may pass too. But they are like dust blowing through the winds of time. Long after those who want to rip Jerusalem away from us are gone, she will remain standing, shimmering in the morning sun, glistening in the evening dusk, glowing under the eternal heavens. And we, the Jewish people, will be standing right alongside her.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Children of Israel are never alone

There are songs in life that speak to us - speak in ways that only music can convey. Songs that reach into our hearts and touch our souls. Songs that make us feel empowered, songs that seem to speak to us in a way that expresses our emotions with more than mere words, and songs that make us feel unique as if it was written only for you, . One of those songs that have had an effect on me is Close Every Door, from the Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat musical. In the lyrics of the song there's a passage that says: Close every door to me, Keep those I love from me Children of Israel Are never alone For I know I shall find My own peace of mind For I have been promised A land of my own Whenever I hear that, I feel the calling of my people and I feel the pride of being part of that special people. It says to me that no matter how dark the world might become, or how horrid the outlook might be, or how hopeless times may appear, we are never alone in this world, because we are part of the Jewish people. It was then with absolute disgust that I read about the Artsplash festival in Wellington, New Zealand, where someone decided to unilaterally change a line from that famous song from: Children of Israel Are never alone to Children of kindness Are never alone Sadly, this is a part of the world we live in today - a world which is trying to ethnically cleanse the Jewish people from the history books. We see it everyday. From the UN which passes resolutions saying we have no history in Jerusalem, to the Palestinians who continually preach their false narative and deny there was even a Jewish temple, to the Arab world who refuse to acknowledge the existence of a Jewish state. We even see it in music festivals and arts festivals - small events and large ones. And while it is sad to see many in the world try to erase us from it, our response should not be one of sadness but one of defiance. We must never accept what the world wants us to meekly accept. We are here, living in the same world as everyone else, but we do not exist in this world to simply vanish from it. We have not been Jews for the last 5000 years to simply not be Jews anymore. We have not had 3000 continuous years in Israel to have it erased by silly resolutions and ignorant arts festivals. Once upon a time, being a Jew might have meant to keep to yourself and to keep your head down, lest we upset a hostile population that surrounded us. And I understand that - it was about being safe above all else. But those times are gone. We are no longer a dispersed people, even though many of us live all around the world. We are a proud people with a strong country, a strong history, a strong culture, and a record of trying to do the right thing for humanity. So despite the attacks on our culture and our history and our country and everything about us, we must continue to be proud and to remember that Children of Israel are never alone, for we have been promised a land of our own.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Just War of Survival

50 years ago this week, we remember the Six Day War – a war that changed the face of the Middle East in ways that continue to reverberate to this day. In just six days, Israel decimated the entire Arab military forces and expanded her size by 3 times.

There are those who say the war was a Pyrrhic victory – a battle that Israel won, but would ultimately lead to her having more losses in the long run, due to the increased administration of territories in which a largely hostile Palestinian population exists.

It’s true that Israel faces many challenges today, including the almost insurmountable one of trying to make peace with a Palestinian leadership whose goal has never been about peace, but rather the destruction of the Jewish State.

But when we think back to that time leading up to the Six Day War, we can never forget that the victory was anything, but empty.

Israel stood alone in the world, besieged by Arab States who had openly stated their intention of wiping out the country, including the annihilation of its citizens. There may have been some demonstrations of support in Europe, and the American government was ‘sympathetic’ to their plight, but no country was prepared to lift their finger to help her. The Egyptians blockaded the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which was considered an act of war, yet America refused to respond to it, despite the assurances it gave Israel in 1956. The Egyptian leader Gamal Nasser had demanded the UN leave the Sinai, to which the UN complied meekly, proving how ineffective they were as a ‘peace’ keeping force.

Israel was abandoned, surrounded by bloodthirsty Arab regimes intent on committing another Holocaust on the Jewish people a mere 22 years after the previous one had been carried out. And now, just as then in those dark years of the 1930s and 1940s, the world was silent to the cries of Jewish anguish. No one was going to save the Jews this time, just as they didn’t save them last time.

Her people were fearful. The country was isolated. The army was outnumbered.

But unlike before, Israel was not a powerless people anymore. Backed by a population who knew what would happen if they lost, and buoyed by the support of so many Jews who flocked to the country to help, and backed by the solidarity of a people who had vowed ‘Never Again,’ they struck back and carried out one of the greatest military victories in history.

However, it was not a victory that could be classified in military terms alone, for it was a victory of life itself.  It was the victory of the enduring Jewish spirit to fight for life, no matter how bleak the prospects are and no matter how overwhelming the odds may be. It was an announcement not only to her own people, but to the world at large. The Jews were back in their ancestral land, and the era of countries and regimes being able to do with them as they please, had ended.

With the liberation of Jerusalem, it had also ended the reign of ethnic cleansing the Jordanians had carried out in the Jewish Quarter, where they had destroyed ancient Jewish synagogues, expelled the Jewish population, desecrated the graveyards, and denied access to the Western Wall in violation of the Armistice Accords of 1949 – a violation that the world also ignored.

Looking back, there is some thought that because of the war of 1967, Israel inherited more problems, problems that haunt it to this day as it strives to make peace with the Palestinians. There is no doubt that Israel faces enormous challenges today; however we can never and should never lose sight of the alternative of those six fateful days in June for the alternative could well have been catastrophic.

Israel fought a just war against Arab regimes intent on their annihilation. Their victory led not just to their continued survival, but to their ability to live and breathe in their own country. Their victory led to the freedom to be able to walk and prayer in their ancient capital – a freedom previously illegally denied to them.

We should never underestimate the power of what that means.




Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I thought he'd live forever

"The Jews' greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction! We're a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better."
Shimon Peres

I'm not going to lie and say I agreed with everything Shimon Peres said or did. In fact, I would more often than not shake my head, roll my eyes, let out a sigh, and say:  WHAT is he thinking??

And despite decisions that I think have hurt Israel, I also know that there are few people who have contributed so much to the security of the State of Israel than he.

But there's something about the man himself that always resonated with me, because he was truly a giant of Israel, a giant of the Jewish history, and really... a giant of the world. For Americans, I'd imagine it would be as if one of the founding fathers was walking among us today.

There are few people in this world who have had so much impact over so much time on so many people. Shimon Peres was one of those rare breeds who not only walked with history, but plunged his hands into it and molded it. And he never stopped molding it and changing it and crafting it to always always shape it - and try to make it better. He believed in making a better world, and never stopped believing. He was powered by dreams - dreams that never died.

Many friends came and many friends went. Many enemies rose and many enemies fell, but Shimon Peres - he was always there.

I thought he'd live forever.

The world is more empty today without him. He was a true shepherd of the Jewish people, someone who guided our young state into the world of modernity and into the world of nations.

So rest easy Shimon, your work on our little, flawed, troublesome earth is done. Lie back and take your place among the giants of Jewish history.

You deserve it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

John Williams – the soundtrack of our lives

John Williams, the music composer, received the American Film Institute lifetime award the other day, but it was an award that did not meet the criteria required.  For the criteria states that "the recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art.”  

But John Williams simply didn’t do that.  He didn’t change the movie world – he changed the entire world.

Like many people, I grew up enthralled by the movies of my youth.  I watched aliens visit our planet.  I watched impossible space battles that took place in galaxies far far away.  I watched a man in a fedora and a bullwhip unearth the greatest treasures in history.  I watched a boy wizard find his true calling.  I watched as a man, once selfish end up giving everything he owned to bestow the greatest gift of life to 1200 desperate souls.

And at each one of those experiences, John Williams was there breathing life into my turbulent feelings.  He gave sound to my silent tears, a heart-stopping beat to my nerves, a tender harmony to my quiet moments of reflection, a rousing crescendo to my triumphs, and a quiet sensitivity to my sadness.  He gave voice to my emotions.

I don’t know much about music, but whether I listen to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter or Schindler’s List, I’m not listening to the music – I’m feeling it in the deepness in my soul.   The ability of John Williams is that he doesn’t provide sound to pictures – he provides sound to feelings.  You don’t actually listen to a John Williams soundtrack – you experience it.  And you feel it on levels that you didn’t know existed.  He touches you emotionally.

From every interview I’ve ever seen with John Williams he comes across as a humble person whose joy of making music carries through to his compositions.  He’s not a superman, and yet he makes everyone feel like they can be.

Movies can truly be a phenomenal delight as they take you on impossible journeys to places far from where you are, across time and across space and across dimensions.  They thrill the mind and tease the senses of your eyes and ears, and with music they also take you on that emotional journey too.
John Williams has provided the soundtrack to our lives, because in his music the little boy you once were who sought adventure lives on. The old man reflecting on his life will continue to stare out into the distance.

But more important than anything else, he does something that society will tell you can’t be done.  He makes the impossible possible. He makes the dreams of youth live on. He makes the hope that is all too easily extinguished burn forever.

Buildings may rise stretching into the heavens before falling down to earth in piles of dust and decay. Countries may grow powerful and strong…then slowly fall away to become small and weak.  Wealth may come in waves of abundance and just as easily disappear in trickles of sparseness. But music… music lives on, because as long as people have the ability to feel with their hearts and with the souls, it will remain immortal.


John Williams, the man, may pass on one day, but his gift will live on forever inside us.