Posts on the topic of "Land of Israel"
Neil Armstrong passed away this week at age 82 – a global iconic hero who became the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those immortal words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
What many don't know is that Armstrong was a lover of Zion. Thomas Friedman's book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, describes a visit that Armstrong made to Israel after his trip to the moon. He was taken on a tour of Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov.
"I have to tell you," Armstrong remarked while walking near the Temple Mount. "I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon."
Truly immortal words.
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Back from an amazing week in the Golan Heights, in Israel's northeast corner. Some random thoughts:
• I always thought that Hawaii had the ultimate weather, but the Golan was indescribably great: 80 during the day, 70 at night, with a cooling breeze all the time.
• The town where we stayed – Ramat Magshimim – is just a few miles from the Syrian border. So I took a 40 km bike ride from the Syrian border to Lake Kinneret. Exhilarating!
• One aspect of Israeli life that I've always treasured is the relative safety of day-to-day life. I can send my 7-year-old alone to the grocery store, and have my teenage daughter walk home after midnight, without fear of anything weird happening. Our stay in the Golan was even more carefree; we marveled at how nothing gets locked up – not bikes, not homes, not even the Holy Ark containing the expensive Torah scrolls.
• This area of the Golan was overrun by Syrian invaders on the first day of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It's a good thing Israel didn't cave into all the pressure and hand the Golan over to Syria's Assad regime. Imagine how worthless that piece of paper would be right now.
• The family whose home we rented was totally hospitable and treated us like kings – offering full use of everything from toys, games and books, to bikes and washing machine. They fulfilled the number one rule of a good host: Making us feel at home!
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Back what seems like a lifetime ago, I was making the transition from working in the field of entertainment to working for Jewish causes. The first job I got was as an American liaison for Yitzhak Shamir during his tenure as Israeli Prime Minister (the two of us, pictured here).
Shamir had moved to Israel in 1935, leaving behind his family who were all murdered in the Holocaust. His father had succeeded in escaping from a German death train, only to return to his Polish village where he was promptly beaten to death by childhood friends.
These events greatly informed Shamir's political views, and in the 1940s he became a leader of the Stern Gang whose goal was to drive the British colonialists out of Israel, thus paving the way for Jewish independence.
Yet while Shamir was a firm ideologue, his greatness lay in his ability to be a pragmatist at the same time. Though he was committed to Jewish settlement throughout the Land of Israel, he attended the 1991 Madrid Conference becoming the first Israeli Prime Minister to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians.
On one hand, Shamir was very forthright in Israel's right to defend itself, while on the other hand during the 1991 Gulf War he took the difficult strategic measure of not striking back when Saddam Hussein was hurling scud missiles onto Tel Aviv.
It is these two sides – tough yet compromising – that enabled him to serve so ably.
When he first came to Israel, he changed his family name to Shamir, which is, according to Talmudic lore (Gittin 68b), the name of a worm which can cut through stone. It was used to produce the blocks of the Holy Temple, since metal cutting implements were not appropriate in a place devoted to peace.
To me this sums up Yitzhak Shamir: Firmly devoted to peace, yet stronger than iron and not afraid to use it when necessary.
Yitzhak Shamir has died at age 96, and is being buried today in Jerusalem. He was not a politician who sought glory, fame or riches; he served with modesty and unswerving devotion. May his memory be for a blessing.
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Sometimes the Jewish and Muslim perspectives appear to be an unbridgeable gap.
That's why I really love this video. It explains, calmly and rationally, the depth of the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
What makes this video unique is that it comes from a native Arabic speaker. That gives it special credibility, as a direct appeal to Muslims for understanding and respect as the path to peace.
For more background, see Rabbi Ken Spiro's excellent article, "Jerusalem: Jewish and Muslim Claims to the Holy City."
At the bottom of the YouTube player is a 'CC' button – make sure that is clicked to see the subtitles.
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Today marks the 45th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem. Israel designated Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, yet most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv due to ongoing political debate with the Palestinians. This has given rise to an unprecedented situation whereby a sovereign state – Israel – is denied the diplomatic right to choose the location of its capital city.
The U.S. Congress sought to reverse this travesty with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate. The act states that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999."
Since then, a parade of U.S. presidents have promised to uphold this pledge. But since the congressional act allows the President to implement a waiver at six-month intervals, that's exactly what has happened every six months since 1995.
This has created a situation whereby politicians, the media, and the world at large routinely ignore the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Last month, the Washington Post printed this ditty:
Similarly, the Wall Street Journal has referred to Israel's capital as Tel Aviv, noting the "strains between Washington and Tel Aviv" ("U.S., Israel Spar in Public, But Defense Ties are Strong," May 4, 2010), while CNN referred to "an explosion in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv" ("Blast in Israeli Capital," January 22, 2006).
This one really takes the prize: The London Guardian correctly referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital - but then printed this retraction/correction:
I'm not sure what can be done about all this, but one young man has taken the fight to court, and just last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American citizens born in Jerusalem can list their birthplace as "Israel."
Even Republican candidate Ron Paul, long known as a critic of Israel, made this recent statement:
In the meantime, with or without "international approval," the city that King David designated as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people is 45 years unified, 3,000-plus years Jewish, and still going strong. Check out this cool panorama view of modern Jerusalem.
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The legacy of King David got a big boost this week when archaeologists announced the discovery of a fortified Jewish city from the time of David 3,000 years ago.
The site, Khirbet Qeiyafa, lies about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, adjacent to the Valley of Ella where the Jews encamped when David slew Goliath. Archaeologists discovered the remains of 99 dwellings in this fortified city whose walls once stood 20 feet high.
Archaeologists are certain this was a Jewish city, given that the people who lived there obeyed the Torah prohibitions against eating pig and making graven images. Diggers found none of the idolatrous figurines common at other sites, and ― though the site contains thousands of bones of sheep, goats and cattle ― there are no pig bones, suggesting adherence to kosher regulations.
Professor Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who led the excavation, explained that these findings stand as proof against those who claim that David was either a mythological figure or a small-time village leader. This Jewish city 20 miles from Jerusalem constitute the best proof yet of the existence of a regional Jewish monarchy during the time of David.
Related reading: Archeology and the Bible
Perhaps you’ve seen the cartoon depicting a biblical character complaining to Moses for having “led us for 40 years in the desert to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!”
This is no longer the case. Incredibly, Israel is now on the verge of energy independence – due to three recent developments:
- the discovery of huge deposits – trillions of cubit feet – of natural gas in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of northern Israel, enough to supply all of Israel’s needs into the foreseeable future
- the discovery of onshore oil fields
- the near-completion of Better Place’s nationwide electric car infrastructure
Now here’s the really cool part.
Back in 1993, when Tovia Luskin began searching for oil, the prevailing wisdom was still stuck on that biblical cartoon. Luskin, a Russian-born geologist who is very religious, was intrigued by a passage in the Torah stating that Jacob (Israel) will “suck oil out of the flinty rock” (Deut. 32:13).
In the next chapter, Moses blesses the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim with “the best of the ancient mountains, and the sweetness of the eternal hills” (Deut. 33:15).
Using information provided by the medieval commentator Rashi, Luskin saw these verses as hinting to geological structural traps, associated with petroleum reservoirs.
So Luskin did what any smart businessman and believing Jew would do: He surveyed the tribal area allocated to Menashe and performed a geological evaluation. This led him to the spot now known as the Meged field, containing hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.
“It confirmed the story in the Bible,” Luskin told the Times of Israel. “I have worked on oil fields in Australia, Indonesia and Canada, and I have never seen a structure so likely to contain oil as the Meged field.”
Luskin’s plans for the future include building a university in Israel to train engineers in oil and gas exploration and energy management. “If a solution to the energy crisis is to be found, it will be here,” Luskin says, adding that “the world needs the Jewish brain.”
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Passover marks the birth of the Jewish nation 3,300 years ago ― the Exodus from Egypt ― which left millions of Jews as refugees. Yet we persevered, innovated, and built a flourishing new home in the land of Israel. It was, by all estimates, the most successful refugee settlement enterprise in human history.
This got me thinking about events 60 years ago, when 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes in countries like Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and ― ironically ― Egypt. They made their way to Israel, where they were successfully resettled, and today form the core of the modern State of Israel.
Now the Israeli government is reiterating a demand that the Arab League acknowledge responsibility for expelling these Jews from Arab countries and turning them into refugees.
Over the years, the media has been incredibly near-sighted in promoting only the Palestinian half of the refugee story. For example, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed declaring that "All refugees have the right to return… that cannot be negotiated away." And when the 2011 WikiLeaks diplomatic cables showed that peace negotiations had achieved progress in solving the Palestinian refugee issue, the London Guardian reacted not with joy, but rather by castigating Palestinian leaders for not adopting a sufficiently hard-line stance. (See here and here.)
So as we celebrate the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, it's a good time to reflect on the modern refugee issue. Here's an excellent backgrounder from Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:
Last year, Aish.com posted an article about Geoff & Jenny Isaacs who – through the magic of Internet and some diligent genealogical research, was able to reunite the branches of a family that had lost contact for more than 100 years.
Geoff, a researcher living in New Zealand. had discovered (at age 63!) that he had been adopted. He found out that his paternal grandfather was Jewish, and may have descended from Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
But "finding family" was only the first part of this amazing story. The second part was Geoff's reconnecting with his Jewish heritage. Here’s how it happened:
Geoff and his wife, Jenny, who had no Jewish roots, began to read voraciously about Judaism and Israel. In August 2009, they visited Israel and reunited with their cousins. When they returned to New Zealand, they began to look for ways to connect with the local Jewish community – not an easy task, since their metropolitan area had zero Jews. But they did make contact with a synagogue in Auckland, changed back to the original family name, and were encouraged by the rabbi to study.
Throughout the year, they moved further toward Jewish observance – cleaning their house for Passover, and plunging into the online courses offered on JewishPathways.com.
They rolled full steam ahead, and in February 2011, they stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion airport as new immigrants. Geoff & Jenny settled in the northern mystical town of Tzfat, jumped into Hebrew ulpan, and continued their Jewish studies. They were determined to convert to Judaism.
On January 30, 2012, Geoff & Jenny Isaacs dunked in the mikveh, returning to the heritage of Geoff's father.
That wasn't quite the end though. Geoff & Jenny then needed to have a Jewish wedding ceremony. The rabbi who had overseen their conversion was so moved that he contacted Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, which sent a reporter and photographer to cover the event. The Israeli cousins came to celebrate, along with other relatives from Europe and the U.S.
This story is truly incredible. Geoff & Jenny didn't wait for spirituality to strike them through osmosis, nor did they assume that events would spiritually uplift them. Granted, God had performed a miracle by reconnecting Geoff with his long-lost cousins. But then they took that spark and turned it into something transformational.
In a world where so many people are searching for spirituality, that's a powerful lesson. Each of us can grow if we just read the signs the Almighty is sending us, and take the step.
with thanks to Laurie Rappeport
Whitney Houston, the pop sensation who died on Saturday, was many things to many people. She was one of the first black women to achieve international superstardom, and raised awareness of two issues that she experienced personally: domestic violence and drug addiction.
Another side of Houston is less known: in 2003, she visited the Jewish state for what she called a "spiritual retreat."
Houston met with Israel's Prime Minister, and spent time with the controversial Black Hebrews, a group of nearly 2,000 black Americans who moved to Israel in the 1960s and believe they are descendants of the ten lost tribes.
For her "crime" of having visited Israel, anti-Israel activists conducted an unrelenting smear campaign against Houston. Yet Whitney's support held tight, in contrast to the chorus of musicians (Elvis Costello, the Pixies, Gil Scott-Heron, Carlos Santana, to name a few) who have succumbed to pressures and cancelled tour stops in Israel.
Houston will long be remembered as a friend of the Jewish state. While in Israel, she said: "I've never felt like this in any other country. I feel at home."
with thanks to Yvette Alt Miller