Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Give Candidates a Forum at BRS?

By Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
One of the nice things about living in Palm Beach County is the impact our votes have and the difference they make.  Indeed, the entire 2000 Presidential election was likely decided by voters not only in our county, but perhaps even in our district.  Many analysts and commentators go even further in saying that due to our disproportionally high voter turnout, it is specifically the Jewish vote in Florida that makes a critical difference.

Not surprisingly, therefore, each election cycle generates interest from the candidates and their campaigns to address our community and to use BRS as a venue to address the larger Jewish community.  In the last election alone, Presidential Candidate Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Joseph Lieberman as a surrogate for Senator John McCain and Congressman Jerry Nadler as a surrogate of then Senator Barak Obama, all spoke at BRS.  In keeping with our record of opening our Shul to all candidates from both parties equally without endorsing any one of them, this Monday at 9am, Boca Raton Synagogue, in partnership with the Orthodox Union (OU) will host Presidential Candidate, Senator Rick Santorum.

Some may wonder and even challenge, shouldn't a Shul be apolitical?  Why would we provide a platform for Candidates to campaign?  While I respect this valid perspective, I humbly disagree for a few reasons.  Rav Moshe Feinstein saw voting as a halachik imperative.  He wrote that given the incredible blessing, gift and opportunity this great country provides our people, and our ability to not only practice religion, but thrive religiously, we must participate in the democratic process as a form of hakaras ha'tov, gratitude and appreciation.  One can assume that Rav Moshe would not only mandate voting, but being well informed, educated and knowledgeable about the candidates we are voting for.  And so firstly, hosting candidates for elected office provides a wonderful opportunity to address our questions, concerns and issues directly to the candidates and/or their surrogates.

Secondly, candidates for the office of President each represent the potential to hold the highest office in the land and with it yield great influence and power.  The possibility to forge a relationship and rapport with the potential President is not one that we should disregard.  By hosting an individual and providing a venue, should they be elected, we increase the possibility for our concerns and our voices to continue to be heard.

Thirdly, there is something much more fundamental that the first two essentially practical reasons.  Rashi in the last few week's parshiyos and the Ibn Ezra on this week's tell us something remarkable.   When Moshe addressed Pharaoh, he did so with great respect, reverence and deference.  This, despite the fact that Pharaoh was an evil despot who sought to annihilate, exterminate and eliminate the Jewish people and had already begun to act on his promise to do so.  According to these commentaries, Moshe continued to show honor and dignity to this man, not because he personally deserved or earned it, but rather because the position of authority and the seat that he held as Emperor demanded it.

Moshe understood something that tragically is often misunderstood today.  One can disagree with the individual while at the same time showing respect, dignity and honor to the position.  To deprecate Pharaoh and disrespect his position of authority would ultimately trickle down and create a general dismissal and disregard for all authority including that of the Almighty, from those watching him carefully, namely the Jewish people.

Therefore, in my opinion, when a person who will potentially fill the position of President and sit in the Oval Office asks to address your community, their potential position itself demands that you say yes.   As the mishna in Avos teaches, when we honor others, particularly those that deserve our honor, we are honored as a result. 

It is for this reasoning that I submit to you that Boston Bruins Goalie and MVP of last year's Stanley Cup Finals was incorrect and discourteous when he opted this week to skip a White House ceremony with President Obama to mark his team's championship season.  He wrote “I believe the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people.”   There is a time to disagree with policies and people, and there is a time to show honor and respect to the Presidency.

Whatever our personal views or party allegiances, maintaining our sense of reverence for positions of authority, regardless of who holds them, would bring dignity, grace and virtue to all of us and our children. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Mehadrin Bus in Bnei Brak

By Rabbi Lazer Brody

The 350 Mehadrin bus from Bnei Brak to Ashdod is normally jammed, but at 3 PM more than half the seats were still vacant. Four young women in slacks, obviously not from the Haredi or religious neighborhoods along the route, boarded the bus at the stop adjacent to the Coca Cola factory in Bnei Brak. Rather than moving to the rear of the bus, they sat down demonstratively in the front two rows seats on the right side of the bus. Some of the male passengers were baffled; two others decided to get off the bus. A Breslever Chassid, sitting across the young ladies on the left side of the bus, simply closed his eyes and smiled. This was not a reaction that the headline-seeking heroines were looking for, having so boldly entered the mobile Haredi lion’s den.

No one yelled at the fearless four, women’s-rights or democracy activists in their late twenties. No one even spoke to them. There was nothing to document on their cell-phone videos. What a waste! Well, at least they might be able to take a nice walk on the beach in Ashdod…
If there’s no news, then make the news! One of the young woman got out of her seat (while the three others were poised with their cell-phone video cameras, waiting to pounce on the action they hoped would come) and stood next to the Breslever, whose toothy smile would have done justice to any Crest or Colgate commercial.
“Hey, why can’t you look at me?” the young lady asked abrasively, obviously itching for a conflict.
“Do you want your husband looking at other young women?” the Breslever responded.
“I’m not married,” she said.
“I bless you that you should find your soul-mate this year!”
The activist wasn’t ready for this turn in the conversation. She needed to steer things differently. “What are you so happy about with that imbecilic grin of yours?”
“In Torah 282 of Likutei Moharan, Rebbe Nachman teaches us to appreciate our good points and to be happy with every little mitzvah we do; and in Torah 17, first part, Rebbe Nachman says that the slightest good deed that a person does makes a tremendous impression in the upper spiritual realms…”
The activist was getting more and more impatient. This was not the action she was looking for, wasting half a day on a bus ride going someplace where she didn’t need to go. “So what,” she snapped.
“You asked me why I’m smiling. I’m answering you. I never thought that riding a Mehadrin bus was a big deal; I mean, it didn’t seem to be such a great mitzvah. But if the Yetzer Hara[3] is going to such lengths to bother me on this bus ride, then it must be really significant in shamayim that men and women don’t mix. This morning, when I was learning Tosefot on Baba Kama, the Yetzer wasn’t bothering me as much as he is now. Thank You, Hashem, for giving the mitzva of riding this bus.” With eyes shut, he turned at the activist and added, “and thank you, cherished sister, for adding to my rewards in the World to Come.”
The young lady’s antagonism was melting into frustration. She was obviously the ring-leader, and her three sisters-in-arms were eagerly awaiting to see how she’d react. Their game plan (or battle plan) to wave the flag of women’s rights on the Mehadrin bus didn’t anticipate a frontal confrontation with a Breslever…
“What do you people smoke that gets you so spaced out?” she chided.
“I’ll admit that I’m high, dearest sister, but that comes from tallit, tefillin, Torah, and an hour of talking to Hashem every day.”
“What’s with this ‘dearest’ and ‘cherished sister’ garbage?”
“You see,” explained the Breslever, “your soul and mine both are a tiny part of Godliness. We have the same Father; you don’t need a PhD in genealogy from Hebrew University to know that we’re brother and sister. Besides, the Torah says so explicitly…”
“Are you the real deal or are you just putting on a good show?”
“If I invite you and your girlfriends for Shabbat…,” meanwhile removing his kosher cellphone from his shirt pocket, about to dial his wife’s number, “will you come? When you taste Shabbat and my wife’s cooking, you’ll understand how much Hashem loves you, and so do we.”
Squirming and completely off guard, the activist snarled, “You’re wife is probably an illiterate cook and bottle washer pregnant with her twelfth – what would she and I have in common?”
The Breslever chuckled, “No, my wife is only pregnant with our eighth. But you’ll like her – she has a MBA in Finance from the University of Tel Aviv. Besides, she was a sergeant in the Artillery Corps of the IDF, an army medic and a training-base instructor in first aid. She even served in Lebanon for two months…”
“What?! Don’t tell me you were in the army too?”
“Yeh, I admit it. I was a tank commander. Then I did a degree in Communication from UTA. That’s where my wife and I met…”
All the stereotypes were crumbling. The four activists were disarmed. No fight, no arguments, no protests – only an invitation for Shabbat…
The activist tried one last effort. She sat down next to the Breslever. This will surely get his goat and make him lose his cool, she thought.
He still smiled, but a tear trickled down his cheek.
“Why are you crying?” she asked, jolted by this additional surprise. Her compassion was a sign of the Jewish soul that shined from deep within her.
“I’m not really the prude that you think. But I love my wife and want her face to be the only female image in my brain. You, dear sister, are a Bat Yisroel, a Jewish daughter. Every Bat Yisroel is beautiful. Please, I wouldn’t embarrass you by getting up. But I’m not a holy man – I wish I were. You’re really testing me. You are a moral young lady; would you steal something from a pregnant woman with seven children? By making me look at you, you’d be stealing some of my affection for my wife. I’m sure that’s not your intention.”
Gently, as if walking on eggs, the young lady stood up. “I’m so sorry,” she said, showing her true delicate and considerate inner self. “I never thought of it that way. Besides, if all the Haredim were like you, things would be different. Tell me, are you the ones that go to Uman every Rosh Hashana?”
“Yes, I’m one of them.”
“Are all of you this nice? I mean, you don’t try to act like Hashem’s cop.” She surprised herself by saying “Hashem”. Since when do such words come out of an ultra-liberal libertarian feminist’s mouth?
“I only try to police myself.” The bus arrived at the Breslever’s station in Ashdod’s Rova Gimel. The Breslever got up but added, “Let us know if you’re coming for Shabbat…”


As to its veracity, here is what Lazer Brody said:
The story is actually a composite of three stories, all of which happened. The activists on the 350 bus, with the Breslever’s comment about the value of riding a mehadrin bus was one incident that occurred 2 weeks ago. A Breslever’s invitation of egalitarian activist for Shabbat and the revelation that many Haredi men and women are university graduates and army veterans was a second incident. The explanation about the rationale of shmirat eynayim to a hostile feminist was a third incident that happened to me personally in Manhattan. I turned all three into one incident to show how Rabbi Shalom Arush teaches his students to react in such a situation – ahavat Yisrael and Kiddush Hashem.
Blessings always,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lost in Jerusalem

Lost in Jerusalem

As a traveler, I am not a particularly choosy person. I will go pretty much anywhere, anytime. Wander on horseback into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan? Why not? Spend the night in a sketchy Burmese border town? Sure! Eat my way through Bridgeport, Conn.? Loved it. Once, I even spent four consecutive Sunday nights in Geneva — in midwinter — an ordeal to which no rational adventurer would willingly submit.
In fact, of all the world’s roughly 200 nations, there was only one — besides Afghanistan and Iraq (which my wife has deemed too dangerous) — that I had absolutely zero interest in ever visiting: Israel.
This surprised friends and mildly annoyed my parents, who had visited quite happily. As a Jew, especially one who travels constantly, I was expected at least to have the Jewish state on my radar, if not to be planning a pilgrimage in the very near future. Tel Aviv, they’d say, has wonderful food!
But to me, a deeply secular Jew, Israel has always felt less like a country than a politically iffy burden. For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.
Then, last fall, my friend Theodore Ross — author of the forthcoming book “Am I a Jew?” — suggested I see Jerusalem. And suddenly feeling life calling my bluff, I booked a flight. I’d spend six December days in the holiest place on the planet and, surrounded by the Old City’s 500-year-old stone walls and legions of Christians, Jews and Muslims, I would be the lone unbeliever, walking a tightrope between belonging and individualism, observing not necessarily my faith but the faithful.
The Old City itself, however, turned out to be, at least in terms of geography and architecture, exactly the kind of place where I feel comfortable. Within those 40-foot-high walls was the dense warren I’d expected, laid out with seemingly no sense of order — or perhaps an order I couldn’t yet perceive. Either way, it was a visceral pleasure to master its paths, to dart down the covered, crowded market streets, past the char-grilled lamb-kebab shop (name? “Kebab Shop,” said its chef) and then up the easily missed stairs off Habad Street to the empty roofs above the market itself, where the noise of commerce barely filtered through. I loved the feeling of worn stones slipping under my sneakers, and the astringent smell of herbs as I passed Palestinian women selling bundles of sage near Damascus Gate.
The boundary between the modern and the medieval was shaky here. Cybercafes were ensconced in cavelike nooks; market stalls sold plush rams, lions and donkeys (actually Donkey, from “Shrek”); Israeli soldiers lurked with their machine guns inside ancient fortified gates. And just as fluid — to me, if not to residents — were the lines between neighborhoods. I’d turn a corner and suddenly find myself in the new construction of the Jewish Quarter, where informational plaques spelled out the history of rebuilt synagogues. Another corner, and I’d wind up in the too-quiet Armenian Quarter, whose closed-off courtyards allegedly held networks of secret streets I’d never penetrate.
My own secret hideout became the Austrian Hospice, a huge, mid-19th-century guesthouse visited by everyone from Franz Joseph I to the musician Nick Cave and whose unassuming ground-floor walls you’d pass right by unless you knew it was there. My room, up on the second floor, was a comfortably large space with black-and-white checkerboard floors, simple wood furniture and highly functional Wi-Fi. From its windows I’d gaze out at church towers to the west and — almost close enough to touch — the golden Dome of the Rock, reflecting the raw sun at midday and the moon at midnight. Every time I turned my key in the hospice door and ascended from the street, I marveled at my luck: The place had been recommended by a German doctor, Christoph Geissler, whom I’d met in the shared taxi from Tel Aviv airport. (When I asked his specialty, he’d told me, grinning, “I am anesthetized!”)
The Old City did present one problem: I couldn’t get out of it. Not that I couldn’t find the way, but I kept getting distracted, and happily so. I’d come to this place to wander its winding streets without benefit of map or guidebook to let me know what was where, and every discovery of a world-famous landmark stopped me in my tracks. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Holy cow, it was right here, mere steps from the Kebab Shop, a vast, stern emblem of Christianity, with none of that Renaissance sentimentality that turns me off churches in Western Europe. A tumult of visitors swarmed through — Poles and Spaniards and Greeks and Ukrainians. They rubbed their scarves on the Stone of Unction where Jesus’ body was said to have been prepared for burial, and they lighted candles next to the sepulcher itself before immediately snuffing them out. Why? Tradition, they explained without elaborating.
Nearby lay the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, now my favorite church in the world. Built at the very end of the 19th century, it is impossibly elegant and spare, all pale gray stone arches, with almost no ornamentation aside from small, jagged, brightly colored stained-glass windows. Several times I returned to the church just to ogle its curves, and once to attend Sunday-morning services — in unfamiliar Arabic.
“All the languages are in God’s light,” said Rafiq, the old man who greeted me. Translation: Even if I didn’t understand the words, the meaning would filter through.
I don’t know what kind of exotic experience I expected, but when the prayers began, I was indeed transported — to the last place I’d attended Lutheran services: Decorah, Iowa. Apart from the linguistic differences, these two churches a world apart were strikingly similar: down-to-earth, ambling, devoid of theatrics. In Jerusalem the occasional flubs of the organ player, the reedy voice of the hymn-singing woman behind me and the squabbles of children in the pews were oddly comforting.
As often as I got sidetracked by things to see, I was also waylaid by human beings. Sometimes I’d just watch them, fascinated. The woman crying as she sang and prayed in Mandarin along the Via Dolorosa. The somber men carrying polished wooden crosses. The Orthodox Jews swaying at the Western Wall. The blond woman, a white scarf wrapped around her neck, who simply stopped on the street and turned her face to the sun, her eyes closed, her expression enraptured.
Some believers tried to explain themselves to me. Near the Austrian Hospice, two Muslims in long robes instructed me to ask God, not Jesus, for forgiveness.
“Beware of intermediaries!” they said.
Over in the Jewish Quarter, in the square surrounding the gorgeous domed Hurva Synagogue, I encountered Rabbi David Stern, a Californian transplant who wanted me to put on tefillin, the leather straps that some observant Jews wind around their arms during prayers. I’d done it once before, in Lithuania, and while it wasn’t for me, I told the rabbi I could be persuaded to try again.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked. “O.K., do you believe in a higher power? Because most people do.” Sorry, I said. Anyway, he explained, the tefillin creates a spiritual connection between mind and heart when you pray, and to do so in the land of my ancestors would be especially sacred. Still unpersuaded, I declined. We shook hands and I walked away, a little disappointed.
I could navigate the Old City half-drunk (more on this later), but it was becoming clear that I couldn’t find my way into the believers’ world.
Sometimes, I felt condemned to interact only with the lowest rungs of the tourism industry, the salesmen, touts, hucksters and guides — people like Joseph, a round man with bad teeth who approached me one day in the Jewish Quarter and offered, in the needling way of unlicensed tour guides everywhere, to show me the Ramban Synagogue, which I had, I said truthfully, just come from. Thinking me rude, he stormed off. I chased after him and explained, as politely as possible, that I hadn’t meant to blow him off. Joseph grumbled forgiveness, and we parted.
But a day or two later, I bumped into him again. We greeted each other with a great show of friendliness, chatted about nothing for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. When it happened the next day, too, he told me that in Jerusalem, when you encounter each other three times you buy the other person an ice cream, or he buys one for you. I was up for it — was I starting to like the guy? — but then he abruptly wandered off to look for clients.
Nebbishy, noodgy Joseph functioned as a human alarm clock, a reminder that I really needed to get out of the Old City and meet people who were neither tour guides nor fervent believers.
The transition from Old City to new was striking. Exiting through one of the 16th-century gates that still control access — touristy Jaffa Gate, busy Damascus Gate, historic Zion Gate, where Israeli soldiers entered in 1967 — I leapt forward into a distinctly modern world of crosswalks and traffic lights, 19th-century buildings and chunky apartment towers, green parks and municipal offices, falafel joints, cellphone stores and a brand-new light-rail system. Here secular society predominated, although many college types wore yarmulkes and otherwise fashion-forward girls were dressed in long skirts. Amid the frozen-yogurt parlors and focaccerias, under the bright sun, with Hebrew signage everywhere, Jerusalem could feel like a forgotten city in California populated entirely by Jews.
But as I wandered around I could sense that this image was, in many ways, a facade. I was not in California. The low beige buildings of Arab East Jerusalem covered the hills in the near distance, and on clear days I could see the sinuous, ominous wall separating Israel from the West Bank. Closer up, other differences became apparent. Sometimes only a block from Jaffa Street — one of the first neighborhoods built just outside the Old City in the 19th century, now a center of dining and night life — the streets suddenly turned Orthodox, with hardly an uncovered head in sight. One area, Mea Shearim, was festooned with signs warning visitors, in English and Hebrew, “Please do not pass through our neighborhood in immodest clothes.” My dark sweater, I was sure, was modest, but without a yarmulke, I felt like an interloper. What was I doing there anyway?
Nor were secular neighborhoods entirely angst-free. One Friday, I rode the light rail 20 minutes to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, in the western hills of Jerusalem. I’d been to other Holocaust-related sites before — the Berlin memorial, the killing pits outside Vilnius — and had not been much affected. In the dark, twisty confines of this hellaciously detailed museum, however, I was utterly unnerved, terrified that I’d come across the identity card of a long-lost relative or the photo of someone I somehow recognized. When I finally emerged from the primary hall, it was a relief. There before me was a picture-perfect valley, a white-washed village clinging to the far slope. I stared at it a long time before I could move on. Mostly, though, my time in the new city, and especially around Jaffa Street, was devoted to one thing: eating well. (Partly because the Old City, always touristy, shut down after dark.) Some meals were simple, like falafel from Moshiko, bundled into a pita with approximately 20 or 30 other ingredients — cucumbers fresh and pickled, cabbage in its many guises, the whole cleaned and chopped contents of a backyard vegetable garden. Quite often, however, I was tempted toward more ambitious offerings. My very first night, following a tip from the manager of the boutique Harmony Hotel (just off Jaffa Street), I popped into Adom, a lively restaurant in the stone-arched basement of an 1895 building, and over a couple of glasses of Israeli cabernet, I had my mind blown by a platter of seared veal sweetbreads with artichokes, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower cream. It hit every mark: lush and crusty, vegetal and tart, smooth and filling.
On the Sabbath, when most restaurants close, I found Adom’s cozy neighbor, Barood, still open — and packed except for a single seat remaining at the bar. I bellied up, ordered the excellent Palestinian “upside-down” chicken-and-rice dish, and quizzed the bartender — Shelly, who was playing great American-songbook jazz on the stereo — about local bars. I’d been to a couple already, Shoshana and the Lion’s Den, but felt out of place among their crowds of Israeli college students and skullcapped kids from Los Angeles and Baltimore. Does Jerusalem, I asked, have an underground?
“The underground is mainstream,” Shelly said, meaning that Jerusalem was so small that the funkier alternatives were instantly visible. Then she drew me a map to all the worthy bars, including Uganda, where the D.J.’s were spinning old Iggy Pop and ’80s New Wave, and Sira, whose dark, rough-stone interior and soundtrack of Radiohead and Devendra Banhart evoked memories of similar spots in Berlin, Budapest and my home, Brooklyn.
Sira instantly became my favorite nighttime destination. I could (and did) sit there for hours talking to the bartender, Yonaton, fresh from five years in the military and ready for university, and to Michael, a photographer, tech expert and alleged cousin to Abe Vigoda, and to Hannah, a Canadian immigrant with whom I discussed our complex feelings about Judaism over enough Goldstar lagers that I don’t recall precisely what those feelings were.
In the city I never thought I’d visit, I had found a place I didn’t want to leave.
But leave I did, often well after 1 a.m., late enough that the Israeli guards in the Old City would interrogate and search me on my way back to the guesthouse. As an occasional experience, the security measures were fascinating, much more thorough and intelligent than the cursory T.S.A. sweeps I’m used to. I could also sense the tension they created, and again found myself amazed at what true believers will do, and submit to, in the name of their faith. All of this, alien to me, was their normal. But my life here — the daytime angst, the nighttime revelry — was normal, too. I hadn’t been alone in those bars.
My final morning in Jerusalem I woke uneasily, struggling to recover from another night of seared goose breast and good wine. I checked Facebook and noticed my friend Pauline had swung into Jerusalem from New York; we arranged to meet for lunch at Abu Taher, a market nook home to sublime, sweet hummus. Afterward, we wandered through the Old City, looking at this and that, before deciding to leave for the new city. And on our way out of the Jewish Quarter, who should we run into but — inevitably — Joseph.
He was ebullient. We greeted each other like old friends, then I introduced him to Pauline. As he shook her hand, he leaned in and said to her, “You’re a lucky woman!”
“Oh, I’m marri — ” she started to say.
“You’re a lucky woman!” he said again, then his voice dropped to a near-whisper. “This guy” — pointing at me — “is a mensch.”
For nearly a week I’d been struggling to feel what visitors to Jerusalem — Jews, Christians and Muslims — have felt for millennia, and I’d just about given up. It was an experience for other people, not for me. But, corny as it is, at Joseph’s words my heart melted. Here I was, being seen not as a Jew or as a non-Jew, an American or a tourist, but as a mensch: a good and honorable man.
And so we went our separate ways, Pauline to the new city’s market, me to the airport, Joseph to hunt for tourists — one of whom, I hoped, would be good enough to buy him an ice cream cone.
It feels ridiculous to point out the sights in Jerusalem’s Old City: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount; heard of them? Still, certain bits of advice pertain. Security checkpoints are common, and also efficient. Lines for the Temple Mount are long, and opening hours limited for non-Muslims, so come early. Churches tend to be welcoming, though the priests and monks — Armenian, Greek, Russian, Catholic and so on — may be standoffish. Many sites are sex-segregated, or require modest dress. Tours of the Hurva Synagogue are well worth the 25-shekel (about $6.50 at 3.75 shekels to the dollar) fee. The Old City’s winding streets and mysterious stairways invite exploration and discovery. As a tourist, you should feel free to wander. This is not a dangerous place.
For atmosphere, spend nights here. I loved the Austrian Hospice (37 Via Dolorosa; 972-2-626-5800;; doubles from 57 euros, or $73 at $1.27 to the euro, per person); friends loved the Lutheran Guest House (St. Mark’s Road; 972-2-626-6888,; doubles from 39 euros). Lunches can be great, particularly at Abu Taher (16 Al-Lahamin Market; 972-2-627-7893). The Austrian Hospice also has a “kaffeehaus” that serves Viennese-style coffees and pastries. At night, all but the most touristy Old City restaurants shut; flee for the new city.
The rest of Jerusalem is almost like any other metropolis. The light rail (6.40 shekels for a 90-minute ticket) goes from the northeast to Mount Herzl, a five-minute walk to Yad Vashem (HaZikaron, 972-2-644-3400;; free entry). Taxis ply the streets and buses depart from the Central Bus Terminal and the Arab bus station, outside Damascus Gate.
The bustling Jaffa Street neighborhood, however, can easily be reached on foot from the Old City. My favorite restaurants, Adom (972-2-624-6242) and Barood (972-2-625-9081), are both located in Feingold House
(31 Jaffa Street). A minute or two away is Moshiko Falafel (5 Ben Yehuda Street; 972-50-535-6861), as are the bars Sira (4 Ben Sira Street; 972-2-623-4366) and Uganda (4 Aristobolus Street; 972-2-623-6087, The Harmony Hotel (6 Yoel Moshe Salomon Street; 972-2-621-9999;; doubles from $183) is a tidy, beautiful, well-run boutique hotel with a big breakfast buffet and daily happy hours for guests.
Farther up Jaffa Street is the sprawling Jerusalem market, a place to buy endless varieties of feta, olives and dry spices. There are plenty of shawarma and falafel stalls, but for home-style Mediterranean-Jewish cuisine centered on kubeh (dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables) take a stool at the market lunch counter Ima (972-2-538-5668;
MATT GROSS, the former Frugal Traveler, is writing a book about independent travel, to be published by Da Capo Press.

Monday, January 16, 2012

NASA vs. the Israeli's

When NASA first planned to send up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity.

To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $1.2 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 Celsius.

Confronted with the same problem, the Israelis used a pencil.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Creating an Intolerant Environment

By Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
This past Tuesday, Alan Gilbert, the Conductor of the New York Philharmonic made history, but not for something you would expect.  Conductors almost never interrupt a performance, other than truly exceptional circumstances.  Gilbert not only stopped the performance, he did something even more.  Towards the end of the Philharmonic’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, someone’s cell phone began to ring, and ring, and ring endlessly.  Before every performance in that hall, a recorded voice reminds people to turn their cell phones off, but apparently at least one patron had forgotten. 
The Conductor didn’t just pause the performance, he turned towards the corner of Avery Fisher Music Hall where the sound was coming from and with the help of the audience narrowed down the possible violators until he identified the perpetrator.  He then stared him down for what felt like a significant amount of time and refused to continue with the Symphony until the individual verbally acknowledged that his phone was now off and wouldn’t interrupt again. 
The story itself is interesting and perhaps even humorous and I thank Rabbi Moskowitz for pointing it out to me.  But it was an interview with the Conductor, Alan Gilbert, following the performance that really struck me.  Mr. Gilbert said: “It was so shocking what happened. You’re in this very far away spiritual place in the piece. It’s like being rudely awakened. All of us were stunned on the stage.”
In reading this story, I was actually moved by the intolerance of the Conductor and his protest against someone’s callousness and lack of courtesy compromising his spirituality.  Indeed, contrast what happened at the New York Philharmonic and what happens almost daily in Shul.  Three times a day we gather for a symphony not of classical music, but of prayer.  When davening, we are to get lost in a very far away spiritual place such that the sound of a ringing cell phone would rudely awaken us and bring us back down to earth.  And yet, sadly, most of us are unfazed and frankly unbothered when a cell phone goes off.  In fact, if anything, for many the ring serves as an alarm to interrupt our day dreaming and bring us back to the fact that we are actually in the middle of davening.
After interrupting the performance, the conductor apologized to the audience for stopping, saying that usually it’s best just to ignore such a disruption, but this case was simply too much and had crossed the line.  The audience then cheered and applauded clearly showing support for his intolerance of such a rude disruption. 
When a cell phone goes off in shul and nobody says anything, it is not only an indictment of the perpetrator, but of the rest of the Minyan as well.  If our davening means to us what Mahler’s Ninth Symphony means to Conductor Alan Gilbert, we must not remain indifferent and ignore such rude interruptions.  Let’s together, with great sensitivity, create an environment that does not tolerate talking or cell phones ringing during davening and through a sense of reverence and serenity find ourselves “in a far away spiritual place” in the siddur. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Talmud study is compusory in South Korean schools

The following fascinating article was translated by The Muqata from YNET.

Close to 50 million people live in South Korea, and everyone learns Gemara (Talmud) in school. 

"We tried to understand why the Jews are smart, and we came to the conclusion that it is because they study the Talmud," said the Korean ambassador to Israel. And this is how "Rav Papa" became a more well known scholar in Korea than in Israel.

It is doubtful if the Aramaic scholars, Abbaye and Rava, imagined their discussions of Jewish law in the Beit Midrash in Babylon would be taught hundreds of years later in East Asia. Yet it turns out that the laws of an "egg born on a holiday" (
"ביצה שנולדה ביום טוב"), is actually very interesting to the South Koreans, who have required that Talmud study be part of their compulsory school curriculum.

Almost every home in South Korea now contains a Korean-translated Talmud. But unlike in Israel, the Korean mothers teach the Talmud to their children.

 In a country of close to 49 million people who believe in Buddhism and Christianity, there are more people who read the Talmud-or at least own their own copy at home- than there are in the Jewish state of Israel. Much more.

"So we too will become smart"

"We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews," explains  South Korea's Ambassador to Israel, Young Sam Mah, who was recently a host on the program "Culture Today."

"Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields: literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. 

We tried to understand what is the secret of the Jewish people? How they-more than other people-are able to reach those impressive accomplishments. Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud."

"Jews study the Talmud at a young age, and it helps them, in our opinion, to develop mental capabilities. This understanding led us to teach our children as well. 

We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud Study to our school curriculum."

Young says that he himself studied the Talmud at a very young age: "It is considered very significant study," he emphasized. The result is that more Koreans have Talmud sets in their homes than do the Jews in Israel.

"I, for example, have two sets of the Talmud: the one my wife bought me, and the second was a gift from my mother."

Groupies of Jews

Koreans don't only like the Talmud because they see it as promoting genius, but because they found values that are
​​close to their hearts.

"In the Jewish tradition, family values 
​​are very, very important," explains the South Korean Ambassador.

"You see it even today in your practice of the Friday evening family meal. In my country we also focus on family values.

 The respect for adults, and respect and appreciation for the elderly, parallels the high esteem in my country for the elderly."

Another very significant issue is the respect for education. In the Jewish tradition, parents have a duty to teach their children, and they devote to it lots of attention.

 For Korean parents, their children's education is a top priority.