Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Do You Miss Being a Shul Rabbi?"

I have been asked this question probably hundreds of times. I figure that I can deal with it here, as well!

The answer (like any good "Jewish" answer) is "yes" and "no." Let me start off with one premise: I absolutely loved serving my community (and beyond) in Chicago in my capacity as a Rav. Without a doubt it was the most fulfilling 10 years of my adult life. I was afforded the opportunity to be involved in so many areas that most people do not have such an opportunity. There was never one single day where I would wake up and think that I was sorry to be in the profession I was in. Yes, it had its good days and its not-so-good days, without a doubt. Seeing deep-rooted problems and having to deal with them, both on an individual level and on a community level was, at times, debilitating. But that was far overshadowed by the involvement in so many good things in peoples' lives!
So, what do I miss about the position? I guess I would have to say that I miss the involvement in peoples' lives for weddings, smachot, (lo alenu) funerals, and day-to-day discussions/decisions. I truly love being involved in the lives of others. (That is not to say that I am no longer involved in peoples' me that 7000 miles has not changed that completely! It is just different...So, I would say that that is one aspect I miss.

As far as everything else that went with the position of Rav...well, there are parts I miss and parts I do not miss. I do not miss the writing of a weekly Derasha/Seudah Shlisheet derasha/preparing a class in Navi/preparing a class in history/preparing a Mishne Berurah class etc. etc. each week. Don't get me wrong: I TRULY enjoyed giving those shiurim!! However, any shiurim or talks I give (and I have already given some here and plan--BE"H--to give more) are on a volunteer basis when I want to do them. There is a different feeling when doing it in a volunteer capacity. This also now affords me more time for personal learning, a rare commodity in the rabbinate.

At the same time though, I do indeed feel VERY connected to my new community here in Mitzpe Nevo and have already been involved with several families for different purposes. I guess that the rabbinical aspect of last ten years will always be a part of me...and that is fine with me. I am so personally grateful to my community in Chicago, and Congregation KJBS in particular for all the opportunities they gave me to grow as a rabbi and as a Jew (not that those two are mutually exclusive!). Yes, people still have stayed in touch and yes, people still write me with their questions...and I am more than happy to answer. In a sense, it is the best of both worlds. I still have some involvement in something I love doing and I am doing it in the land I love so dearly.

I don't know if that fully answers the question in the title of this posting. But I think that the answer may still be a "work in progress." More to come at a later date.

Monday, January 25, 2010

School, Shul Meetings and A Visit to the Gush

One of the things I promised myself when we made Aliya was that I would still try my best to remain active in various organizations as I felt it is important to be involved and have a say in matters of public interest.

So, it was quite interesting to attend my first school meeting (having joined Vaad Horim--Parent Committee) of my daughters High School, Ulpana Zvia. I sat in the room with about 20 other parents who represented the parent body of students from grades 7-12. While I found some of the discussions no different from other school meetings I had attended in the States, there indeed were issues that were unique to Israel and our community in particular. I enjoyed discussions that revolved around uniforms, school funding, priorities in school projects, the quality of the lunches and many more issues. Parents were TRULY interested in working along with the school. Occasionally, I would smile to myself thinking that I heard some of these very same issues in Chicago school meetings over the years. But, I felt happy to be there to be involved once again.

And then, after Shabbat, I attended my first Shul meeting in over 10 years as an observer and not as the rabbi of the shul. How strange a feeling! If someone had been watching me during the proceedings, they may have thought I was a little "off," as I kept smiling to myself. Here I was on the heels of the school meeting, now sitting in a Shul meeting and, once again, I was hearing things raised that I have heard over many years of Shul meetings! I sat there and smiled to myself as I observed...but I will say that we, the members, dealt with issues quite seriously and the annual budget was handled very professionally.

Yesterday, Sunday, I visited in the Gush at the Midrasha and then in the community of Migdal Oz. I have no idea why I had a certain mental picture of the area that was SOOOOO wrong! It sits right in the middle of so many other yishuvim: Efrat, Neve Daniel, Rosh Tzurim and others. the view is magnificent and the beauty of the area is stunning. It is hard to be in this area and not think back to the events of pre-State Israel and the troubles, massacres, battles and more and the STRENGTH of those who rebuilt their lives in the Gush after devastating blows. My dear friend Kenny took me all around with an eye on the security of the area. We also stopped in the "reffet" (barn) and I watched the milking of hundreds of cows. What an amazingly interesting day!

(As I write this the rain is pouring down again. This is wonderful news, and we continue to get this much needed rain. May we be blessed with more but without the tragic consequences of last week!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rain and Siyum

RAIN! It is not only is POURING. And it is a great day...we so desperately need the rain in Israel that when it began last night, you could almost hear every household cheering. I actually overheard a child (8 years old?) at the bus stop saying, "Baruch Hashem, our tefillot were answered!" While it can be inconvenient to get around, it is overshadowed by the SEVERE need for this water. The downside of course is that the roads are slick and there are many areas that have flash flooding. Sadly, one person has died in a flash flood and as I write this there is a truck with 3 passengers stuck in a flood with the IDF trying to extricate them. Reports on line are talking about a large rise in the water level in the Southern reservoirs greater than they have been in years. I am still waiting to hear about what the rain is doing to the Kineret. All I can say is that here we see with our eyes the power of the Tefillot and what it really means when we say "Mashiv Haruach...."

Last night was the 35th (!) yahrzeit of my wife's father, Louis Shoichet, z"l. As we have done for the last many years, I made a Siyum on the night of the yahrzeit in our home. What made this extra special was that it was the first Siyum (on Yevamot) that I made in our home in Israel. It was special to invite some neighbors/friends and have them participate in this learning of Torah. It just FELT right...

Ok...back to looking out the window at the rain. It is a beautiful sight...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts and Musings

Some miscellaneous musings of the past few days:

The other night I was sitting at home after dinner and was thinking about our zechut of living here in Israel. Besides many of the obvious benefits of living here, one thing that I felt was an extra special privilege is living in a location that was located where it is...near Yerushalayim (without the prices of Yerushalayim!). I turned to Andy and said that I was going into Yerushalayim to daven Maariv at the Kotel. In reply to her query as to WHY I would just "pop in" to Yerushalayim like that, I replied: "Just because I can...." And that is the truth! From around the "corner" (it can't really be called a corner if the road is a curve) from where I live I can see Yerushalayim (I am looking at Yerushalayim every time I am davening). When I say Shemona Esray and daven that Hashem should return His Shechina (Divine Presence) to His home, and every time I ask for Yerushalayim to be re-built, I am looking at the very city I am davening for.

So, when I just felt "moved" to hop on a bus and daven at the Kotel, I did of the perks/benefits of being here.
When I entered the Old City through Sha'ar Yafo (Jaffa Gate), I was surprised to see what greeted! While it looks like a major archeological dig just inside the gate, it is nothing but infrastructure work being done for the next 18 months ("18 months" the Jerusalem Light Rail is right on schedule for completion Summer 2007!) . It surprised me, since I generally enter from a different location and did not realize that this was happening. I looked around and laughed to myself. In Chicago, the old joke is that there are two seasons in Chicago: Winter and Construction. Well, here it seems that there is just one season: CONSTRUCTION. Almost everywhere you walk in the City there is some form of construction...some, like the Light Rail, has caused MAJOR problems for merchants, while other work is just annoying to drivers.

While reading the paper today, I counted no less than 13 (!!) stories about Moslems and various issues dealing with terrorism. Either they are murdering people or they are planning murder or they are causing security issues or declaring Holy War on those who use the name "Allah" and are non-Moslem. The world does not seem ready to use racial profiling to protect itself as Israel has done for many years. It is racial profiling that has (B"H) saved hundreds of lives in Israel. I sit here stupified as to why the world won't use this form of protective measure to watch over its citizens. Instead, being P.C.(and not affording the proper protection to its citizens)
is more important than offending one BILLION of the world's population.

And while I am at it, I would ask another question: If indeed Islam is the "peace loving" religion that it professes, why are the VAST majority of terror issues in the world Moslem-related and why in the world do those Moslems who want no part of this violent life-style NEVER stand up en masse to declare an end to this madness!?! (Actually a rhetorical question. I know excatly why they won't!) Yes, here and there you here of an Imam who will declare the actions of those perpetrating all these actions as being against their religion...but that is the problem: it is indeed once in a while and not a daily outcry.

Bottom line: Yisrael B'tach Ba'shem...אין לנו על מי להשען אלא על אבינו שבשמים !!!!!

May we all see the day where indeed the ENTIRE WORLD will declare: Hashem Echad U'shmo Echad!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Two Special Events

It is rather incomprehensible that with all of the trips I made to Israel before making Aliya, and that with all of the groups I accompanied, I never--not even once--drove a car for a single kilometer in this country! The funny thing also is that when people would call me for DRIVING directions to come visit us...I could barely help them other than in general terms...BUS ROUTES? No problem at all! But that changed yesterday. I had a need to go to the Tel Aviv area and bring a number of items, and it would just have been MUCH easier with a car than with a bus. Enter a MAGNIFICENT neighbor who offered their car for me to use. (THANK YOU YONI AND SHIRA!!!!) I got in the car, put the gear shift into reverse..then into drive...and POOF...I was off. Let alone it was the first time behind the wheel of a car in 6 months. It was my VERY FIRST TIME driving in Israel. I was proud of myself that I navigated the highways and byways of our beautiful country. I tended to stay in the right lane and let people pass me, being a bit meek at first. However, by the return trip, I was right there with the rest of them, feeling very confident travelling the roads. It was indeed a very freeing experience. (I had this desire to pull over at every bus stop so it would feel like a regular commute, but that feeling soon passed!) Maybe one day we will get a car, but for now, I am more than content not spending money on: gasoline, insurance, upkeep, licenses, the car itself etc etc. (Someone did a non-scientific study and determined that a person can go EVERYWHERE by cab--we don't--that they need to go, and still come out ahead instead of purchasing a car! However, we WILL need to convert our American licenses to Israeli ones, one day...that will be an adventure all its own!

Second special event: TODAY, JANUARY 7, 2010 IS EXACTLY SIX MONTHS SINCE WE MADE ALIYA! It seems like we have been here for YEARS and that we have been a part of this life for a much longer time. When I think back to the first few days after seems like a LIFETIME ago! It is hard to put into words how integrated we feel after such a short time. All I can say is Baruch Hashem, the experience thus far has been great and may it continue like this for 120 years...then we can re-negotiate!

I guess that the Israeli government wanted to help us celebrate our six-month anniversary. I was sitting outside (in the sunny 80 degree weather!) working when all of a sudden I heard a VERY low flying airplane. I looked up to see a one-seater-cropduster flying RIGHT overhead! He was "dusting" the areas of trees and vegetation on the surrounding valleys/wadis. This event brought out a lot of people onto their balconies to see what was going on. What a strange sight indeed. (It kind of felt like being at the Chicago Air and Water Show...but no water, and it was January instead of June/July) So, we saw hundreds of sheep in the wadi when we first moved in, and now 6 months later, we had this other special greeting. Life continues to be quite exciting, BH!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's Freezing!!

I am not referring to the temperatures though! While a significant portion of North America finds itself in a deep freeze, we, here in Israel, are in the midst of a different freeze...but this one is more of an existential threat, of sorts!

As many of you know, the Netanyahu government has instituted a freeze on any new construction in Yehuda and the Shomron. (If you just asked yourself "where is that," we have more serious issues on our hands!) After speaking to a few people in the USA, it has become apparent that the impact of this building freeze is NOT clear to many outside of Israel. So, allow me to explain in my plain and simple terms why this is a disastrous move.

1. Any individual in Yehuda and Shomron (Yosh) who was planning to build but had not yet laid down a foundation is not allowed to build for the next 10 months (now about 9). If he had laid out tens of thousands of dollars/Shekalim or if he had hired and paid an architect, or if equipment was already even brought to the site...tough luck! That money will do no good for the next 9 months.

2. And if you are one of those unlucky contractors whose heavy equipment is on the scene and not stand to have it confiscated by the government. If you have laid out tens of thousands of dollars/Shekel for materials..tough luck!

3. You're an Arab and need work (because Israel is a country where Arabs come into JEWISH areas for "parnassa" and Jews go into ARAB areas and get arrested [or worse c"v]). Well, you too are out of luck...soon, you will have no work.

4. Your family is growing BH and you need to add that extra room...the sun is a bit hot on you so you want to build a pergola/ need to enclose that back porch because the wind, dust, flies or any other issue is bothering you: TOUGH LUCK CHARLIE! The government feels that adding on to your home or any other of these activities is an impediment to peace and no-can-do!

5. You are the USA government: What the Israeli government is doing is...well, ok...but nowhere near enough to appease the Arabs nor good enough, since East Jerusalem (!!) is not on the "freeze" list.

6. You are the Arab World...Well, enough said right there! Unless all building ceases in Yehuda and Shomron, Jerusalem (all of it), and any other location that they decide this week needs to be "frozen," Israel has done NOTHING.

So, let's recap this catasrophe: We can't build; homeowners are out millions of of shekel; contractors are out millions of shekel; the Arab workers will be joining the uneployment line; the United States government basically has yawned in reaction; the Arab world is wholly unsatisfied with this action, calling it a stunt.

In no uncertain, terms this move is a DISASTER on SO many levels. It has also led to a huge rift in Yehuda and Shomron with authorities coming in to cities to tear down anything they deem illegal.

This is tearing at the very fabric of this country.


At the end of the ten-month-freeze...then what??!! Will the Israeli government deem it a "success" and keep it in force (c"v); will they admit that it was a failure (if so, do that NOW and get it over with so we can get back to building); or will it once again just be another item to check off on a list, along with the expulsion from Gush Katif etc etc.

If I didn't have 100% Emunah in Hashem, I would be going crazy...