I just returned from an extraordinary trip to Israel with the Rabbinical Council of California and it reminded me of something from my youth. Growing up, I always took what I was taught at face value. As I get older, I realize that things are not as black and white as people would have us believe and therefore I’ve been tempted to create a “Reality Dictionary”.
For example, we were all taught only liquids evaporate however, anyone with children knows that even solids (ex; game pieces, socks etc) evaporate as well!
Science would have us believe that volume and mass are clearly defined measures, however, if you give a small amount of juice to a child, when it spills, it manages to stain the high chair, floor, your new outfit, and make the child sopping wet. Where did all the liquid come from? No one knows but that is where my reality dictionary comes in. Webster would say that volume is the amount of space occupied by a three-dimensional figure as measured in cubic units. My reality dictionary says volume is tied to the circumstances we are in. For example, if a child needs a drink when you are trying to get him to go to sleep, one gallon of water is not sufficient! It shrinks to a ½ oz and the child howls “I’m still thirsty”, and if it spills on the floor 1 oz turns into 3 quarts etc.
What does all this have to do with my trip to Israel? My trip to Israel disproved many accepted definitions we are given and assumptions we often hear, which allowed me to add to my “reality dictionary”.
Silence – Webster defines it as the absence of sound. However, at the Kosel (The Western Wall) one minute before sunrise one hears a pot-pourri of different voices of men and women in prayer – Israeli, American, Chassidic, Lithuanian, Sefardic. Then, at the exact moment of sunrise there is total silence, as all Jews begin their own silent prayer of devotion. This is not the silence of being devoid of something, but rather a powerful uplifting silence that symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people in their service of the Almighty.
Cracks in a wall – are usually something we are not too happy about, but in the Kosel, cracks are used for support as Jews pray and open their hearts to the Almighty. The cracks are also places that small pieces of paper with their personal requests to Hashem can be put.
Religious Strife – While in the political arena this may be an issue in Israel, for the “man on the street” it is a different story. When asking many secular people “Ma Nishma?” (What’s new?), they inevitably respond “Baruch Hashem!” (Blessed be the Almighty!) Zaka, an unbelievable organization of volunteer Orthodox Jews that cares for the proper burial of all people during an emergency, is now also the first response team to any terrorist act or accident and gives first-aid to all Jews regardless of affiliation or background.
Soul – Science tells us that the existence of a soul cannot be verified. However, in Israel it can be felt and seen in different ways. When we pray at holy sights like Kever Rachel (The Tomb of Rachel), one can sense something transcendent is going on for one is in the presence of the Mother of the Jewish people. As we pray and cry there to the Almighty and for Rachel to be a divine advocate for her children during these troubled times our words have greater feeling and potency.
Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell clearly have soul power. They took the terrible tragedy, pain, and darkness of the brutal murder of their 13-year-old son by terrorists and turned it into healing and light. The Koby Mandell Foundation provides summer camps, respite, encouragement and community to all families of terrorist victims regardless of their religious observance or background. In Israel you become aware that there are Holy Souls you can actually see!
Occupied Territories – Implies it was someone else’s land that we are “occupying”. In fact there never was a Palestinian country that “owned it”. Besides, many parts of the West Bank were not taken away from anyone – some were purchased, and others had Jews living on them from before 1948!
Settlers – The press would like us to believe that the settlers are extremist and are as dangerous as “extremist” Palestinians (I’m still waiting to meet the “moderate” Palestinians). In fact most “settlers” are articulate, cultured, normal people who want to live in peace even with their Arab neighbors. In fact, some have lived in peace with them until this recent Intifada where the Arabs can’t continue the relationship because they will be labeled “collaborators” which is a death sentence. (Over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed by Palestinians for “ collaborating”!). You may disagree with the “settlers” if you like, but to believe they are like the caricature that the press paints them as, would not be fair, accurate or the reality.
“Settlement” – Ramshackle, austere etc. In reality, many “settlements” have paved roads with beautiful homes with lawns, schools, basketball courts, synagogues and shopping.
I wonder if the real reason the Palestinians want us out is that we are a thorn in their side because we show them what hard work and a democratic government can accomplish as opposed to what the Arab lifestyle and corrupt, tyrannical government has given its people!
Education – We firmly believe that quality education can only take place in large, well-equipped, quiet classrooms with licensed teachers. A school we visited which was part of the Shuvu network of schools for non-religious Russian immigrant elementary school children proved this to be false. The school was small in size but big in heart. The dedication of it’s Orthodox staff to teach their students excellence in both Judaic and secular subjects while incorporating an appreciation of the beauty of our heritage and the land of Israel was awe inspiring. It truly brought tears to our eyes (and is also bringing tears to the well equipped, large, secular school next door that is losing students to this small, cramped, but special school).
Library – Our vision of a library is a quiet place with many books – well the library of the Mirer Yeshiva in Jerusalem is filled with books, but is far from quiet. Hundreds of college age students are crowded together, study aloud, discuss and argue about the intricacies of the Talmud and Jewish Law with fire and joy. What a sight and sound!
One of the daily lecturers there, with hundreds of students in his class, has limited space in his lecture hall, so initially when students join his class, they listen to his insightful talk through speakers in a different room. Over several months they move to hear the lecture on the steps and then eventually as room becomes available they can move into the lecture hall! This is education at it’s best and this is living and dynamic Torah study!
Visual Aids – Webster says – Charts, maps, models or films that chiefly appeal to vision, but in Israel they are much more. You can see, feel, walk and hear the study and stories of the Torah and Talmud!
Majestic, Grandeur – Think palaces, archways and towers. But the majesty and grandeur of the great old Rabbis we met were not in their very simple apartments or lifestyles but in their personal greatness, humility and Torah knowledge.
Israel – CNN would like us to believe Israel is a war torn country, but in fact, it is a vibrant, safe, functioning, beautiful land. While as Jews, our pain for the injured and killed is immense, the real danger confronting Israel is economic. Tourism is dramatically down, which is having a terrible impact on the economy in general and individual businesses specifically.
Trip – Something you take for pleasure or business – In the reality dictionary – A trip to Israel is pleasurable, but also instructive and inspiring! It can help you find the reality about many things, and maybe even about yourself.
Please take a unique trip to the Holy Land of our illustrious history and help our fellow Jews in their time of need and call me with your additions to my “Reality Dictionary”.
Avrohom Czapnik is the Director of the Jewish Learning Exchange and can be reached at 323-857-0923 or firstname.lastname@example.org