My annual July pilgrimage to Israel, the land where our people came to be and where I had the privilege to grow up, proved again to be a rewarding experience.
It was an opportunity to reconnect with family, friends, sites and food, practice almost exclusively my native Hebrew tongue and observe the on-going evolution of a language miraculously revived by the revolutionary Zionist movement. Interestingly and of concern is the increased entry into Hebrew usage of English words, challenging the “purity” of a language that has always had outside influence. What a joy to buy and read from a very flourishing Hebrew literature that is proof that we remain the People of the Book!
With the upheavals in Syria and Egypt, and Iran’s continued insistence in spite of sanctions to acquire a nuclear capability, though with an even more dangerous president because of his moderate cover, the Middle East has become highly combustible. How remarkable that Israel has managed to retain its splendid stability, vibrant democracy and robust society under most trying circumstances. I rejoiced when wounded Syrian civilians were treated in Israel and I only wish that the international community would do far more to stem the slaughter of the more than 100,000 innocent lives. How frustrating and painful particularly for Jews to face such a scenario!
Certainly, the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians due to the herculean efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli concessions of the release of many Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands, is important. Obviously major obstacles remain, not the least is the division among the Palestinians with Hamas objecting to the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to even recognize Israel. The overriding issue for Israel is how to preserve a Jewish and democratic state.
The Israeli government approved a new law that already passed the first Knesset vote to insure that the ultra-Orthodox youth serve in the military, sharing the burden with the rest of society, with some strong opposition from the insular community which makes life very difficult for those of its own who currently serve in the IDF.
The 19th Maccabean games, “the Jewish Olympics,” brought to Israel thousands of competing Jews from 178 countries in a display of Jewish unity and diversity that was so touching to watch!
I managed somehow to leave my overly loving 90-year-old mom, a remarkable Polish survivor, to join a bus load of Israeli tourists for a special week of extensive travel in Sicily, the largest Island in the Middle East, which is an autonomous part of Italy only two and one-half hours by plane from Ben-Gurion International Airport. Sicily is Israel’s size with a population of about five million people. Though currently only a few Jews live there, the Jewish presence in Sicily goes back to the Second Temple period. The Middle Ages witnessed in Sicily a high degree of Jewish culture and learning. Some notable names are those of Anatoli b. Joseph, Elijah Kohen, Samuel Masnut, Jacob Sikili, Aaron Abulrabi, and Joseph Saragossi. Some 37,000 Jews were forced to leave Sicily following the edict of expulsion of May 31, 1492. Being in Sicily on the 9th of Av was a moving statement that in spite of all we had to endure we are still here, proud Jews with both a sovereign Jewish state and an influential American Jewish community. Am Yisrael Chai!
I particularly find hope for the future in the vitality and joy of the young ones, so deeply moved by the Israeli children I encountered who naturally speak in the language of our Biblical prophets as free Jews.
by Rabbi Israel Zoberman
—Rabbi Israel Zoberman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim.