For years, Israel was looked upon as American Jewry's "poor sister," a backwater community in the turbulent Middle East, with a poor economy and tenuous connection to the modern world.
Now, with the American economy slumping and the Israeli economy growing steady, things have taken a dramatic about-face. Suddenly, young American Jews are moving to Israel for – believe it or not – economic opportunity. With an unemployment rate of just 6%, Israel is a sanctuary where engineers, medical professionals, writers and managers are all finding success in the fields of hi-tech, academia and business.
For those not bold enough to make the move independently, many are taking advantage of the Masa program, which offers career training along with free housing and Hebrew classes.
There's another reason young American Jews are coming to Israel: to join the Israeli army. This summer, 350 adventure seekers are "making aliyah," hoping to join one of the elite IDF air force, paratrooper or intelligence units.
The idea of Jews from around the world serving in the IDF is not a new one. The Machal volunteers of 1948, many of them World War II veterans, supplied much-needed combat expertise to the fledgling army. Mickey Marcus was a U.S. Army Colonel who stepped in to help Israel in 1947 and became its first "General"; the story was immortalized in the Kirk Douglas film, "Cast a Giant Shadow."
The notion of young men coming to serve is gaining traction. Over 3,000 "lone soldiers" (i.e. immigrants without family in Israel) currently serve in the IDF.
In terms of long-term stays in Israel, perhaps the biggest group of all are those American Jews who come to Israel each year for a year-long "post-high school" yeshiva experience. Thousands of young men and women come to study, tour and bond with the land. A large percentage stay afterwards, get married and settle permanently in Israel.
Aish Jerusalem offers a wide range of study-and-touring programs, for everyone from beginner to advanced.
This is the new Israel, where the stereotype of picking oranges on a kibbutz has given way to new options: sharpening one's hi-tech skills in Tel Aviv, pouring over the Talmud in Jerusalem, or toting an M-16 in the West Bank. The opportunities are varied and waiting to welcome you.READ MORE...
We hear a lot of talk these days about "Jewish unity" – the lack of it, and the need for more.
Jewish unity was on glorious display last night at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, New Jersey. The place (more commonly used as home to the NFL Giants and Jets) was hosting the "Siyum HaShas," a celebration of the completion of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of Jewish wisdom and law that was written down in the fifth century.
In addition to the 90,000 men, women and children packed into MetLife Stadium, live feeds went out to more than 100 communities around the world, who held their own similar events. In all, it was the largest celebration of Jewish learning in the past 2,000 years.
At 2,711 pages, the Talmud is a grueling yet invigorating exercise in deciphering the terse Aramaic and Hebrew text with no vowels or punctuation. At a schedule of one page per day ("Daf Yomi"), the Talmud takes seven and a half years to complete.
Various learning tools have been developed to make the Talmud more accessible. One popular system, called Gemara Markings, uses geometric lines and shapes to visually highlight what is unfolding on the page, and to break down the flow of the Talmud into precise points. (Using this system enabled me to complete the Talmud cycle.)
Last night, I attended a Siyum HaShas near my home in Israel. The celebrant was a 20-year-old young man who was completing the cycle (yes, he began even before his bar mitzvah). His father and his grandfather studied with him at various points along the way. In today's world, with the "generation gap" so pronounced (it is said that due to technology, every two years is a "new generation"), the sight of three generations inspired and invigorated by the same material – more of a "generation flow" – was a true anomaly.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried of the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA) makes an interesting observation about how the Siyum concurs with the Olympic Games:
There's one more aspect of the Siyum HaShas that really impressed me: Immediately after reading the last page to complete the cycle, the participants immediately began again from the beginning. Judaism says that attaining life wisdom is not an endpoint destination, but rather an ongoing, lifelong process of refining one's sensitivity to the world around us and to the spiritual realms.
Why not give it a try?
Read one Aish rabbi's fascinating first-person account of his journey through the Talmud.READ MORE...
Visitor Comments: 2
I read a very moving story about residents of an upscale apartment building in Berlin who began to ask themselves the question: Did Jews used to live in this building? And what ever became of them?
They took the question seriously and conducted a mammoth worldwide hunt to find out the fate of those who inhabited their apartments – some of the 160,000 Jews who lived in Berlin prior to Hitler's rise to power.
The impetus for this project occurred when Peter Schulz, a resident of the building was viewing an exhibition on Jews before World War II. Suddenly he found himself standing in front of a photograph of two children standing on a balcony – Schulz's very own balcony.
He became obsessed with finding out the identity of those two children. After much research, he discovered that one of them, Werner Vohs, died aged 17 at Auschwitz. The girl in the photo, his sister Margot, was the only survivor among her immediate family. She lives today in Peru.
Schulz called a meeting of the other tenants and enlisted them in his project. It took three years of painstaking research to track down the former tenants, with hundreds of hours spent combing through city archives, and sending letters all over the world to gather information.
In all, they discovered that 28 residents of their building had been driven out by the Nazis. Most were murdered at Auschwitz, Theresienstadt or Treblinka.
One of the former residents, Kurt Landsberger, was 18 when he was forced to leave the building. Landsberger is now 90 years old and lives in New Jersey.
When he was located by the current residents, they invited Landsberger to come visit his old apartment. Landsberger flew to Berlin, where he received an emotional tour of the place where he grew up.
As a culmination of the project, the residents have hung a permanent plaque at the entrance of the building, listing each of the 28 names of the former Jewish residents.
Says resident Gabrielle Pfaff: "I was born in 1949 and I often asked my parents what they did under the Nazis. My parents' generation closed its eyes. I want to make sure that such a crime never happens again."READ MORE...
Visitor Comments: 7
Nicky Larkin is an Irish filmmaker who always identified as pro-Palestinian – wearing the fashionable PLO keffiyeh scarf... viewing Israel as the ogre… the whole nine yards.
Last year, Larkin received a grant to travel to Israel to make a film about the Palestinians. "My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel," he says.
Yet when he began to investigate, he realized that the facts didn't square with what he believed. He concluded: He'd been brainwashed by the media (and pro-Palestinian activists) to hate Israel.
"Any artist worth his or her salt should be ready to change their mind on receipt of fresh information," Larkin says. "I would urge all those artists who pledged to boycott Israel to spend some time there."
See this interview where the Irish filmmaker says how he "hated" Israel – until he actually bothered to investigate.READ MORE...
Visitor Comments: 16
We're now in the period of the Jewish calendar called the "Nine Days" leading up to Tisha B'Av, commemorating the repeated attempts to obliterate Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
How apt, therefore, that this week the BBC – the world's largest broadcaster – has taken aim at this very same idea.
In its high-profile Olympic Games website, BBC left out any reference to the Israeli capital – while listing "East Jerusalem" as the capital of "Palestine." (Following complaints, BBC amended the site, coldly listing Jerusalem as the "Seat of Government.")
We wrote previously in this blog about the media's proclivity for denying the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel – an honor it has held continuously for over 3,000 years.
Although clear historical facts cannot be erased in one fell swoop, the media has an incremental effect by planting seeds of doubt. London's Daily Telegraph ("Middle East Peace Process 'in Danger of Collapse,'" October 25, 2009) referred to "the Temple Mount, where the two Jewish temples of antiquity are believed to have been built," and Time magazine identified the "Dome of the Rock, where Jews believe Solomon and Herod built the First and Second Temples." Not an indisputable fact of history; just something that "Jews believe."
Jerusalem is mentioned 500 times in the Bible, though not once in the Muslim Koran. And yet, the media downplays the Jewish connection by promoting the Arabic names of holy sites. In referring to the Temple Mount, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, et al, typically cite the Muslim-Arabic name – "Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary." But did you ever see the Temple Mount referred to by its Hebrew name, "Har Habayit"? A Lexis-Nexis search of tens of thousands of mainstream news articles relating to Jerusalem revealed – aside from direct quotes – just one single reference to "Har Habayit."
Over the millennia, many wars have been fought over Jerusalem. All told, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt no less than nine times – with each conqueror further attempting to obscure the glorious Jewish past. But the Jewish people have never abandoned Jerusalem – praying in its direction thrice daily, invoking Jerusalem at every wedding ceremony, and concluding both the Passover Seder and Yom Kippur services with the yearning cry, "Next year in Jerusalem!"
And now, in an outrage of Olympic proportions, thousands of years of uncontested history are being brazenly erased on news sites everywhere.
What's a good response? Perhaps we should all stop referring to London as the capital of England, calling it instead "the seat of track and field."READ MORE...