Shabbos Parshas Terumah
1 Adar 1 5774 - February 1, 2014



Voices From the Ezras Nashim

January 31, 2014

It is twenty-four days since my return from this year's sojourn in the Holyland. In truth, my mind and heart are still there.

I left south Florida on the afternoon of the seventh day of Chanukah and so was blessed with the ability to be in Israel during at least one day of the holiday. That makes three years in a row that I have been in Israel for this celebration. In Hebrew this is a chazakah or three time event that provides me with the privilege of having it repeated in perpetuity. Ken Y'he ratzon (may it be so).

Since location, location, location is the key to real estate I rented the same efficiency apartment that I had last year. While less than elegant it provides access to every bus route I need, is four blocks from the shul I daven at and most important of all allows me to walk to the Kotel (Western Wall). A few days into my stay I learned that a new learning center with a class for women had opened a few streets away. An added bonus!!

It was my intent to volunteer at both a “free restaurant” (soup kitchen) and at the center for victims of terror. Last year I volunteered at the center for victims of terror, but this was once a week and I looked forward to more involvement. On my first Sunday in Jerusalem (Sunday is Israel's Monday) I took the bus to Meir Panim. This is the free restaurant behind the Tannah HaMerchazit (Central Bus Station). Meir Panim in this location serves about 70 hot meals a day in addition to providing food for people to take home. The restaurant is open from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. As people arrive they take seats at tables and are brought a tray on which there are utensils, a cup, two slices of bread, a bowl of soup and a plate on which there are two starchy vegetables and two stewed or steamed vegetables as well as the meat of the day. Salads are on the table when they arrive. Our vegetarians are catered to as is the Jerusalem cat lady who enters meowing and who then empties her first plate into plastic bags for the local cats. Throughout the week I would find her in various locations throughout the city with a small plastic dish seeking handouts for her kitties.

Since the best laid plans are often not the ones followed my plan for twice a week at Meir Panim did not materialize. Instead I was was there five days a week. Friday and Saturday it is closed. I found that the people who come to Meir Panim evoked feelings of camaraderie and caring in me. Beside the cat lady there was Stella. She was the first to arrive each day and had been a regular for so many years that her tastes for only certain parts of the chicken were catered to. Her face would light up and she would shower the deliverer of Stella's plate with blessings. Luda would arrive with stacks of containers to take home food for her six siblings and extended family. Although she had been coming for some time, she did not sit to eat herself. We prevailed upon her to sit down because it was so cold and at least have a bowl of soup. After that she sat with people each day chatting in Russian with people who became her friends.
There was an older gentleman with a glass eye. His eye had been put out when he was a prisoner in Iran. His crime was that he was Jewish. Each day he would be waiting outside no matter how early I arrived and would take a seat in the middle of the restaurant near the wall. Invariably he would be almost the last one to leave. He had no where else to go.

The blind man was met by one of the male servers each day and guided through the steamtable contents since he was very particular about his likes and dislikes.

Rabbi Aryeh, in a long black coat his curly sidelocks falling down over his shoulders and his shoes with no laces bustles around the kitchen making sure everything is cooked and everyone served. He has special relationships with those who have been coming for a long time. The gentleman who is deaf and mute and Rabbi Aryeh have amazing “conversations.” After several weeks I seemed to understand what these were about.

Two side notes:

Beside the few volunteers at Meir Panim, Rabbi Aryeh, Louie and Achmed there were a rotating group of several sullen and often less than savory young men. After a time I learned that these were individuals who were convicted of crimes for which the sentence was six months or less. Instead of jail they were with us doing community service. About once a week an official would show up who would interview them and Rabbi Aryeh to determine if they were fulfilling their roles properly. Often time was added to their sentences for days on which they did not follow instructions.

On Shabbos afternoons (3 to be exact-one Shabbos was during the snow storm-more on this later and one I was in Tzfat) I would walk to the Kotel-more on this later too. After the Mincha service I would stand on the Plaza looking into the men's section to watch the singing, dancing and to observe the dress of the Chasids. The first time I did this I noticed a group of young boys from about 6 to 15 in all manner of religious garb come to the edge of the Plaza and arrange chairs in two long narrow rows with a chair at the end of the rows against the Plaza wall. Gradually the chairs would be filled with boys and a Rabbi would come and take the seat at the end. Books would be passed out and all would take turns reading. After the books were collected the Rabbi would pass out small candies to each boy. Before eating, each boy would take one of the candies and pass it to one of the other boys. I was charmed. Only on the third time I watched this did I see the profile of the Rabbi and realize that this was Rabbi Aryeh.

Organizations such a Meir Panim need sources of food. They receive some from restaurants and catering halls. Food that was prepared but not served is delivered or picked up. In addition an organization called Leket (to glean-as in the Torah) actually gleans in the field and also has a very large donated field that is planted with crops for distribution to 180 organizations throughout Israel. On December 25 our friend Yechiel and I rented a car and drove to the field to glean. The crop for the day was clementinas. Our group picked 500 kilos (approximately 1000 lbs). The following week some were delivered to Meir Panim. Fruit is a rare and special treat.

Ohr Meir and Bracha packs fruits, vegetables, flour, meat, fish, cakes, challah and what ever else can be obtained for victims of terror each Thursday early in the morning. The organization was founded by Liora Tedgi who as a mother of ten was on a bus in Jerusalem that was blown up by a suicide bomber. She survived and has became a driving force in providing for other victims. I found that by arriving very early I was able to pack several hundred pounds of produce (I did onions, potatoes and zuchini) before catching the bus to Meir Panim.

Once I would leave Meir Panim I would have a myriad of things that might absorb my interest. I took the train to Yad Vashem with an arm load of documents drafted by my father in 1938 trying desperately to get family members out of Germany, Austria, Hungry and Russia. None of his attempts were successful in spite of pledges of support and bank accounts established to show that the individuals would not become wards of the state. After the war only two cousins remained. My father and grandfather pledged for them and they were brought to this country. I was only able to locate one of my grandfather's sisters. She died in a concentration camp. I left Yad Vashem with the documents I arrived with and several others as well as with instructions as to how to annotate the photos and documents.

Sometimes I would leave and take the bus to the Kotel. From there I could walk home. On other occasions I would take the light rail to Machneh Yehudah (the shuk). I love walking through the shuk even if I have nothing to buy. From there I could also walk home.

I was asked what I did to keep busy in Israel and after thinking about it for some time answered that I really did not know, but that by 9:30 pm I would fall into bed and be very happy to be there.

The second week that I was in Jerusalem we had the snow storm of the century. Israel is not prepared for a heavy snow. The few flakes that usually fall vanish quickly. Four weeks after this storm there were still piles of snow although they no longer impeded traffic or pedestrians. From Thursday of that second week until the following Sunday there were no buses. I was home bound with a dead cell phone. Interesting time!!

Our friend Moshe Chaim and his friend Kim met me at Meir Panim one day and drove us to visit the farm owned and run by es-Sence. There is a shop on my street that sells es-Sence products so I was delighted to learn more about them. Shai Stone is the owner and founder of the farm and company. They grow the aromatic herbs and olives for the oils from which their products are made. The farm houses a school for autistic high school students and adults who are taught the farming and manufacturing techniques. It was fascinating.

Our plan was to go home from there, but Kim had some other ideas. We were very near Yad Vashem and Kim wanted me to see some of the exhibits that are often missed by tourists. Her father is a tour guide and she has learned much from him. Of course, this was after the snow storm and there were piles of snow and many downed trees everywhere. Kim was told the part of Yad Vashem she wanted to take us to was closed. She is tenacious and after repeating over and over “My father said I have to take her there” in fluent Hebrew the guards threw their hands into the air and raised the barricade. They were right of course somewhat further on the road was blocked by fallen trees. Nonetheless we had some amazing experiences. First Kim took us to an exhibit which was a maze of large stone boulders. On each is the name of a city that was destroyed during the Holocaust. Underneath are the names of the small towns and shtiebels that surround it. The maze can be quite frightening if you get lost in it. Kim began to narrate a story her father tells on his tours. She described the desolation of the maze and the fact that because no light gets down into the maze there is no growth. If you look up you can see plants and trees at the top, but the walls are shear and there is no way to get out. Perhaps she said we could hoist each other on our shoulders and one of us could reach the top. Maybe there was a way. At that point I happened to look around the area and my mouth dropped open. In a nook in the stone about ten feet away was a cluster of amazing blue wildflowers. A sign of life in a place that told of death. We took pictures and I wiped the tears from my eyes.

A bit later we stopped the car to look at the road and I noticed a sign that said Cave of Memory. Kim had never heard of it. The sign was over the entrance to a cave so I went to explore. Someday this will be a new exhibit at Yad Vashem. For now only about the first five feet are completed. It is a cave with a winding path on whose walls families can place plaques with the names of lost loved ones. Moshe Chaim and Kim followed me in and while they were looking at plaques I wandered through the cave. I soon came to the end of the paved portion and continued to the end of the cave. Kim was somewhere behind me and Moshe Chaim behind her. Suddenly all the lights went out. It was the end of the work day. We were stranded in the cave. I cannot say that we panicked, but we were concerned. There was not a ray of light. I called to Kim and suggested she stay put and keep calling to me until I could find her. That worked eventually and once Kim and I found each other we held hands rather tightly. Kim then realized that Moshe Chaim had a cell phone which would light up for a few seconds and maybe provide a beacon. He flashed the phone, but we could not see it. We started to find him by voice while he continued to flash the phone. After what seemed a very long time we saw the flash, but interestingly not Moshe Chaim. He was still around the bend somewhere, but between the light and his voice we eventually found each other. To me this was the lesson of the Holocaust and perhaps even of life. The way out of the maze is together even if we have to devise ways to that end that seem as though they may not work. Only together did we find our way out of the dark.

February 3, 2014

Shabbos has intervened and I realize that unless I conclude this narrative soon another Shabbos will be upon us. So..

Walking to the Kotel from my apartment causes consternation among listeners familiar with the Old City. Ask any Israeli or tourist and they will tell you that you walk down to the Kotel. That is if you do not live on Emek Rafaim (the valley of giants). Before you take take the stairs down to the Kotel you must first climb out of the valley and then up to the Old City. In 2004 I climbed to the Kotel on a Shabbos afternoon for the first time. We viewed Montefiore's windmill and then crossed over to Ma'alot Benny. Then and now I am impressed by the steepness of this path up to the Old City. I must admit that probably my greatest fear is of falling on this path and then rolling down the mountain. At the top of the path is a steep staircase that leads to the Zion Gate. Inside the gate is the Armenian Quarter. From there it is a short walk to the Jewish Quarter. Before you get to the stairs to the Kotel you pass through the Rova. This is a lovely stone courtyard outside the Churva Synagogue. Churva means ruin. Today the Churva is rebuilt and stunning, but when I saw it in 2004 it was a ruin. It received its name because of the many times it has been destroyed. This is my favorite place in the Old City. Each time I walk though the Rova I smile at the children playing games and the tourists standing in awe of the Churva. Once through this area you reach the stairs where you can descend to the Kotel.

This year I took the tour of the tunnels under the Kotel and Old City. The guide was excellent and the history lesson fascinating. It was the day before the snow storm and the city was being deluged with much needed and indeed prayed-for rain. Normally the tunnel tour finishes with an exit into the Arab shuk. As we tried to exit the rains came down with such force that it was determined we should back track through the tunnels because the entrance is inside a higher level tunnel and we could wait there until the rain subsided. After a time I decided that I would walk through the rain to the bus stop. As I entered the Kotel Plaza it was raining and I was shocked to see that there were no men in the men's section. I have often said a silent prayer that I be allowed to daven at the Wall without being pushed or feeling that I was depriving someone else of a place at the Wall. As I got to the women's section I noted there were two women at the Wall. Sometimes my prayers are not specific enough. I forgot to request sunshine. What an experience though to be at the Wall in the company of two others who did not mind the rain, but were adding their tears to the already damp environment. By the time I was ready to leave the rain had stopped and I was able to walk back into the valley.

No discussion of my time in Israel would be complete without discussion of three side trips. First was a visit to the restaurant at which our friend Ilan is the chef. Rodriquez is in the technological park and is worthy of a chef of Ilan's caliber. The food was delicious and stunning to look at. The dinner at Rodriquez was scheduled after I received an irate phone call from Ilan and his wife Jan on the first Sunday after I arrived. How could I be in Israel and not have called them? It was arranged that Yechiel, not just a friend, but a benevolent source of help and advice the entire trip, and I would be Ilan's guests on Tuesday evening. Unbeknownst to us Ilan also invited Moshe Chaim and Kim. It was a magnificent feast and I was not surprised to learn that Ilan was to be featured later in my visit demonstrating cooking for fifty other chefs.

Then there was the memorable visit with our friends Laib and Gila and their wonderful children. After gleaning we headed over to Ramat Beit Shemesh for a dinner and shmooze. The last time I saw Gila was before the birth of any of the children and inauspiciously several hours after breaking my right wrist moments before the Sabbath. When I returned from the emergency room it was Gila who helped me get ready for bed and I remember thinking that she was an angel. After watching her interact with her children I know that I was not mistaken.

Our friend Shmuel was insistent that I spend a Shabbos in Tzfat. I love Shabbos in Jerusalem and was very reluctant to take the four hour bus ride. At the same time I did want to see Shmuel and Tzfat. The bus ride in each direction was quite as awful as I thought it would be. I am not a good bus traveler. Shmuel was wonderful and so was Tzfat. I davened in four different shuls, some more to my taste than others and had dinner and lunch with two wonderful families. The Tzfat breakfast on a sunlit veranda on Friday morning was relaxing and wonderful.

The evening before my departure I attended a multi-media presentation at the OU Center. The presentation was on Chizkiyau vs. Senecherib. Chizkiyau was a very young king of Israel while Senecherib by his own statements was “King of the World—almighty ruler.” Added to the writings of these men was the narrative of the prophet Isaiah who warned Chizkiyahu against engaging in a battle with the mighty Assyrian. Chizkiyahu prepared for the siege of Jerusalem by constructing and enclosing water tunnels so that the inhabitants of the city would not have to leave to get water. The tunnel was dug from two sides in the dark. All the dirt and rubble had to be carried out so progress could continue. Eventually the two diggers met and as good fortune would have it, the tunnel met evenly. The diggers left marks inside the tunnel to show where the two sides met. In the end Senecherib conquered most of Israel, but Jerusalem did not fall. Early in the war process Isaiah warned the young king that he was not devout enough to win a battle with the Assyrians and that if he attempted it he would end up like a bird in a cage. Senecherib commemorated his victory over Israel by listing the cities he conquered. When it came to Jerusalem he could not make such a boast. Instead he wrote on his clay prism that he had rendered the young king “a bird in a cage who could not leave his own city.”

Someday, maybe more. But for now there are other things to do.

A brief note on life here in Florida. My Mother is approaching her 102nd birthday on March 11. In May we moved her to a nursing home. The good news is that it is close and I see her six days a week. The bad news is that at 101 years she is no longer ambulatory and her eyesight and hearing are both greatly diminished. She is irritated and bored. I have run out of ideas on how to provide her with stimulation and input.

Daven With Dov is approaching the beginning of its seventh year. We will celebrate this event on Shabbos HaGadol. We have been blessed with minyanim that are meaningful and our minyan men have developed a network of friendship and concern for each other. With help from HaKodesh Barachu we will hold our seventh summer learning institute.

May we be zoche (worthy) to see the coming of the Messiah and a world capable of living in peace.

Blessings to each of you.