Hamas War

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Good Old Days

Musings #64
August 16, 2004

The Good Old Days and
Chodesh Tov

I’m certainly old enough to mourn “the good old days” when things were “so much better.” Let’s start with dancing, and I’m not just talking about the hora. I’m referring to what was once known as “ballroom dancing.” That’s what we called it then, when people still danced as couples. Even in early “Rock ‘n’ Roll” couples were graceful, athletic and more alluring than anything seen today. I was around then, even on the dance floor, when dancers stopped holding hands and started to “twist.” And it’s no surprise that “The Twist” evolved into “The Jerk” with a serving of “Mashed Potatoes.” Now it’s much worse, “trance” when the individual dancers are oblivious to those around them, only entranced with themselves.

Jewish simcha, or wedding dances have also changed from comfortable reliably choreographed circles to each individual doing something that reminds me Martha Graham movements or the “improvisations” we did in the “Creative Modern Dance” I learned as a kid. Dancers seem to be meditating to their own tunes, rather than “l’same’ach chatan v’kallah,” “making it joyful for the bride and groom.”

Then, again, what can I expect from the products of modern education? Instead of learning to listen to the teacher and sitting facing the blackboard (ok, it’s generally green or white today) these kids sit around small tables in elementary school. They face each other with their backs to the teacher. The goal of these teaching methods is to provide individual attention, each child at his own pace. Yes, it does sound wonderful in theory, but… reading scores have been dropping ever since… and attention/concentration problems have been rising to epidemic proportions. The noise levels in those classrooms, as the pupils wait for the teacher, or ask their friends, or just play, makes concentrating worse than difficult.

The last straw, for me, was listening to one of Israel’s most veteran and professional choral groups on TV. After hearing them introduced, I looked forward to being serenaded by their well-known, beautiful harmonies. Maybe if I had been alert enough to notice that they were all clutching microphones, I wouldn’t have been so shocked. Instead of their unique, unified, blended sound being captured by a few well-placed microphones, the personal, handheld microphones amplified their individual imperfections. They sounded like a spontaneous shout-fest, rather than the well-trained and well-rehearsed group they have been for decades.

I have nothing against individualism, if it’s a personality trait, not an ideology. When people are educated to think of themselves first, the results are anarchy. When I was a gym teacher, I used to remind my students that when playing “catch,” the better one is the one who throws the ball in a way that the catcher can succeed in catching it. Ideally, the aim is to be sensitive to the abilities of others, to enable them to achieve their maximum potential.

In the days when dancing was together in a circle, the better dancers took the hands of the weaker and guided them. Today, those weaker dancers stand shyly on the sidelines, while the “stars” show off, oblivious to all others.

Jewish prayer is supposed to be in a group of at least ten men, a minyan. Individual meditation is not Jewish. We base our prayers on set texts. There is a leader who says the most important sections out loud. If someone cannot read it all, he or she can say: “Amen” following the leader’s prayer. The strong assists the weak. That is our religion, community, People.

Tonight begins the Jewish month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah. This is the month in which we must prepare ourselves for G-d’s judgement. This is the time to take stock of our lives, to repent, since none of us are perfect. And those of us who are strong must help those who are weak.

Chodesh Tov,
Batya Medad


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Post Tisha B’Av

Musings #63
August 3, 2004

Post Tisha B’Av

Among the “Minhagei Shiloh” (Shiloh customs) is gathering at the Tel of Ancient Shiloh to read Aicha (the Lamentations for the 9th of the Jewish month of Av) as the fast begins.

With that hard-boiled egg* sitting very uncomfortably in my stomach, I decided that walking a kilometer and a half (a mile) all the way down to Tel Shiloh would be a good idea. I gave myself plenty of time, especially since there really wasn’t anything to do after brushing my teeth.

The air was clean and cool, such a relief from the daytime heat. No cars passed until I was almost there, since those driving didn’t need to leave as early as I did. I live on the eastern slope of the highest hill in Shiloh. My living room is a “morning person’s dream,” with two large windows just perfect for watching the sun come up over Shvut Rachel. The Tel is geographically much lower and on the western side. So, on the Eve of Tisha B’Av I strolled westward, and the sun went down with me to the Tel.

Oranges, reds, pinks, silver and gold guided me. The rainbowed ribbon got thinner and thinner, and the silken sky got darker as I got closer to my destination. The rainbow and Shiloh, yes there’s a connection.

A rainbow appeared after the flood that G-d sent to destroy all but what Noah packed in his floating ark. The rainbow was to reaffirm what G-d commanded Noah “V’atem pru urvu shirtzu b’aretz urvu va” Bereishit, Genesis IX, 7. “And you, be fruitful and multiply, spread out in The Land, and multiply there.” With Noah, G-d had a new beginning, and from him descended Avraham and us.

Many, many generations later, after the exodus from Egypt and the death of the generation of slaves, the Jewish People had a new beginning in Shiloh. Joshua established Shiloh as the capital, religious and administrative center for Bnai Yisrael. For three hundred and sixty nine (369) years, while Bnai Yisrael “spread out,” settled the Land, the mishkan, the Ark of the Covenant rested here in Shiloh, and the Jewish People came here to worship.

Three hundred and sixty nine years is quite a long time. To get some idea, let’s compare. The United Nations is less than sixty years old. Many older people can remember its establishment. The United States is less than two hundred and thirty years old. Shiloh remained the capital over a hundred and thirty years longer. Even more amazing during those three hundred and sixty nine years, the twelve tribes continued with common traditions and educated their children in a common history. Consider that this was a time without easy communication, nor printing presses. Of course it wasn’t perfect. The time of the judges is known as one “when each man did what he thought best.” But delegations from the tribes still recognized Samuel, in Shiloh, as the person to request “a king.” Samuel ended up anointing the first two kings, Saul and David.

Preceding the nation’s transition from priests to kings, Shiloh was destroyed, burned, and the ark was captured. The devastation was legendary. Just over twenty years ago a layer of ash, the remains of that ancient fire was found at Tel Shiloh by a team of academic archeologists. It confirmed the destruction as described in the Bible.

Three thousand years after that destruction, we have returned.

Batya Medad, Shiloh
*It is traditional to end the pre-fast meal with a hard-boiled egg, like what is given to a mourner to eat immediately after the funeral.


Sunday, August 1, 2004

The Chain

Musings #62
July 26, 2004

The Chain

Yesterday I participated in the long chain of people stretching from The Temple Mount in the old, walled city of Jerusalem to Gush Katif. I stood with my friends and neighbors on the shoulder of a major Israeli highway. As far as I could see, in both directions, a colorful salad of people crowded together, spiced with lots of carrot-orange tee shirts and hats. This wasn’t a thinly, stretched out chain, people barely reaching the next closest. We were three, four, five thick frightening the police as we found ourselves spilling onto the road.

Ninety kilometers, sixty miles. That’s all the distance to Gush Katif from Jerusalem. Now is that far? Distance is one of the excuses given why we must abandon and destroy the Jewish communities of Gush Katif. In many parts of the world, such a distance is considered a reasonable commute to work.

Israel, even including all of Biblical Eretz Yisrael, is a very small country, but everything is here. You don’t have to travel far for a change in climate or topography. I remember our first winter in Shiloh, one rainy morning our daughter and her friends were waiting for the van to take them to school in Ofra, just 15 minutes south of us. It got later and later. There were no phones in our neighborhood; finally we managed to contact Ofra via a security communications device.
“Why hasn’t the van come to pick up the kids?”
“It can’t in this weather.”
“Why, not? Just a little rain.”
“What rain? There’s a snowstorm here!”

If you want warmer weather, just a couple of miles east is the Jordan Valley and completely different climate and color scheme. My husband and elder son went on a trip to Poland a few months ago; they couldn’t believe how boring the landscape was. The same topography and vegetation for hundreds of miles in all directions, nothing like home.

A number of years ago we had some very recent immigrants from Russia over for Shabbat. Friday night as we sat at the table, they looked out the window to the east and saw lights in the distance.
“What are those lights?” the old man asked?
“Some cities in Jordan,” my husband replied.
“Jordan, so close?”
“Don’t worry; it’s far, ten, maybe twenty kilometers.” My husband said reassuringly.
“In Russia, anything less than a thousand kilometers is considered close.” The old man explained.

Our whole country is smaller than what many international defense experts think is minimal for a security buffer zone.

Living in Shiloh, even just visiting, puts a very different perspective on everything. Shiloh is the center of the country. In a half hour or less, you can drive to Jerusalem or Petach Tikvah, much less to the Jordan Valley. When the media refer to “ merkaz ha’aretz” the “center of the Land” they’re actually referring to the coastal plain, which is the western strip, by the Mediterranean Sea, not any geographical center. It’s amazing how many people have no idea where Shiloh and other parts of YESHA are in relation to Tel Aviv, Beersheva and other major Israeli cities.

I have to admit that I was surprised that the chain from Jerusalem to Gush Katif was only ninety kilometers long. I had taken granted that it must be much, much more…at least a hundred and fifty. It was quite a lesson to me, too.

We have a very tiny country. Every inch, centimeter is precious. The Jewish pioneers in Gush Katif shouldn’t be ripped out of their homes. Their homes and businesses shouldn’t be destroyed. They’re no less Israeli than the kibbutzim in the Negev or the Galilee, or Tel Aviv or Rishon L’Tzion. We must be united to defend our right as Jews to all of our Land.

Our being here is part of a chain, the chain of Jewish history, from Avraham and Sarah, Moshe, Joshua, King David and thousands of years later to David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin and all of us here today. Our links are strong; we’re not breaking.

Batya Medad, Shiloh

Me, An Extremist?

Musings #61
July 21, 2004

Me, An Extremist?

Just yesterday, I saw an old friend, a frequent visitor to Israel, who claims to be proud of preserving friendships with people he doesn’t agree with, people whose politics is very different from his own. We carefully choreograph our conversations, tip-toeing over some topics, gracefully leaping over others and teasing each other like fencers who pretend that winning is effortless.

He always calls me an extremist and alleges that if I was to appear on a panel representing American Jews living in Israel, it would be hard to find enough people to balance my extreme opinions. I consider that a strange allegation, primarily because in reality I’m not an extremist. I would call myself a purist. I see things in clear, simple lines, like an engineer, not like the vague, indistinct dots of a Monet or Sisley painting.

Once I make a life-altering decision, I go forward and don’t look back. Once I understood that being Jewish and believing in G-d demanded following religious laws, mitzvot and halachot, I began doing my best to live in accordance. A natural, logical outgrowth was the realization that I must live in Israel, in the Land of Israel. All of the Land has equal importance, and the “green line” has none. For me, living in a place in which the Bible is set is most meaningful. Shiloh fits the bill.

As a religious, Torah, Orthodox Jew, I take my “orders” from G-d, not the US, UN or even Israeli politicians. It’s all very simple, though not quite simplistic. What confuses me, is that this very same old friend was so supportive and enthusiastic when he realized that I wanted to be religious, to keep Shabbat and kashrut. For me living in Eretz Yisrael is of the same importance. After just under forty years of living as a Torah Jew, I still can’t understand how some people can be so careful and conscientious about keeping Shabbat, kashrut, prayer, modesty, Taharat Hamishpacha, regular Torah learning and more, but they stubbornly stay in Chutz La’Aretz, far from Eretz Yisrael.

How does one pray three times a day to G-d, saying and comprehending the words, but refusing to live in our Land, G-d’s Land, which he gave to us and commanded us to live in? Most of the same people who taught me to follow the laws that G-d gave us live in Chutz La’Aretz. Everyone has their reasons, their excuses. Some friends feel eaten away by guilt, regret and longing that they’re not here, and that I can understand. Sometimes we lose control of our lives, and it’s very hard to grab the reins and lead ourselves in the direction we really want.

As I try to put a positive spin on what my old friend has said, I realize that it’s really a compliment. When he claims that it would be hard to find someone to counterbalance me, it’s not because I’m extreme or fanatic, it’s because, as a religious Jew, defending my life choices and positions is easier than defending his.

Batya Medad, Shiloh