Israel’s Disunity and Downfall – A Warning

Don’t get me wrong. I dread the day of our own downfall, if it ever happens. But nevertheless it is beating strongly in me to warn our Jewish world that it may come if we do not even recognize the “symptoms” of our own society that will cause it to come.

An ancient prophecy in the Torah made by Ya’akov and Moshe Rabbinu reveals how in the end of days, which would be our time, a great evil is to befall “the last generation” of Israel. Two Orthodox Jewish writers published a lengthy article five years ago that explains this prophecy and how they deciphered this from the Torah codes. In the article the writers explain what the great evil is and who causes it to come. They also talk about why G-d even allow this great evil to befall Israel, and the Jewry all over the world — it is because of the DISUNITY within Israel and the Jewish people.

You can read the whole article here. But let me share with you that I believe that Joel Gallis and Dr. Robert Wolf, the two Orthodox Jewish writers, were right.  The disunity of Israel and the Jewish people is the number one reason why every evil throughout our Jewish history was allowed to happen.

Think about it. How did 6 million Jews during the Holocaust died in the hands of only a few hundred thousand Nazi soldiers? The Jews greatly outnumbered them but the Nazis were like barking German shepherds herding frightened sheep into slaughter. Is it because they really were as dumb as sheeples (a portmanteau of “sheep” and “people”)?

If you have seen any WW2 movies about the Holocaust, you will see how groups of Jews would stand in rows for roll call in front of one Nazi officer who would bully them and choose whomever he liked to shoot in the head. One officer against 20, 30 or even 50 Jews. How can one person have victory over 50 Jews? It is because the lack of unity between the 50 Jews. Have you never heard of the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall?”

You can argue with me using psychology, as many of my friends have done in the past, and say, “In oppressed moments like this, nobody would want to work together with others and think of a plan and strategy to fight back and work it out with their inmates. It was always about surviving one day at a time.” Yes. Exactly. Every one of them had such great love for themselves and their ego that it was more important to survive and save oneself rather than laying one’s live for somebody else. Self-nullification for the sake of others was not in their dictionary. Everybody wanted to save their own ass.

This is the ultimate seed of disunity!

In the book “I was Doctor Mengele’s Assistant” by Polish Holocaust survivor Miklos Nyiszli, there was a description of how the Nazi soldiers would find the dead bodies in the gas chamber after they were gassed. The infants were always at the bottom. Then the next layer of bodies would be young children, then women or elderly people, and at the top of all the bodies were the bodies of the strongest in the group. Dr. Mengele’s assistant wrote that in panic, everybody’s survival instinct would immediately kick in. Within the 5 minutes after the gases were dropped into the chambers, people would just savagely climb up and trample on the weaker ones to save their own lives. And all that just for extending their own life for only 2 extra minutes.

Once I read of a teaching of a rabbi who said, “Those who fight to save their life will lose it. But those who give their life to others will receive it back.” He was a very wise rabbi!

Because whether you deny it or not, this spiritual law actually applies in our world. The heroic stories of Holocaust survivors that are made into movies  always show many of their acts of selflessness throughout that dark period of time. It was always these selfless people, and not others, whose lives were eventually spared by G-d. And they almost always survive against all odds.

In the Holocaust movie “Triumph of the Spirit” which was based on a true story, a Jewish boxer was hired to perform in boxing matches in order to entertain SS officers. He had to fight other Jewish boxers but against all odds, he won all 200 matches, despite the lack of food and illnesses he suffered from. The boxer, Salamo Arouch, survived Auschwitz and died in 2009.

Why did G-d actually spared this boxer and not the others that lost the matches against him? There is no Mathematical or Scientific explanation to this. All the reason that I can see is the deeper spiritual background, where the spiritual law of surviving, that the rabbi I mentioned above spoke of. For every match that he won, Arouch asked for a reward: one Auschwitz prisoner to be freed.

This was an amazing act of selflessness and self-nullification. He could have easily asked for more food or a cigarette or something nice for himself. For every act of selflessness, he was offering a hand in the spirit of unity with other prisoners. And for every life he saved, as he was treating them as his own in the spirit of unity, he opened the door even wider for his own survival.

Self-nullification or selflessness is the seed of unity. And until the modern children of Israel understand this and lives by this law, evil will always befall them from one generation to the next… as if it was a test for the one scattered Jewish soul, the nefesh Yehudi. Until each piece of soul does his part to self-nullify themselves and unite with the rest of the nefesh, Holocaust will repeat… and every time probably even worse.

Until my Jewish soul and yours finally get it.

Walking Down the Holocaust Path

I just returned from my trip to Poland, Germany and Holland, arriving there on the day when Poland was commemorating the Warsaw uprising against Nazi in World War II. I grew up in Germany and going to memorial places of the Holocaust was not the first time for me. However, returning to those places as an adult gave this trip a spiritually deeper insight.

The first morning I was in Warsaw, I woke up at dawn and did the Sacharit myself. Thank G-d for Rabbi Eliezer Cortez whom I met in Hong Kong the month before. He equipped me with a small travel Siddur which I never had. You see, in Indonesia, it is hard to find these little things that most Jews in the world have easy access to. So when people give me these things, it gives me great joy! But that morning, I felt I wanted to do the Sacharit differently. For some reason I was led to sing the mourners Kaddish in combination of the Shema. Yes, sing it. With a melody according to a song by a famous Israeli singer, Ezer Yechiel. (I have attached the Youtube video for this song below.)

When I sang it, I started weeping quietly in great grief. I recognized that the grief I felt was not really my own. Somehow I felt that it was Elohim’s. To my surprise I revealed that Elohim was still grieving and crying until today for the 6 million Jews that died in WW2. After almost 70 years since the war was over, the Holocaust was as real to Him as if it was still going on in the present.

To the world the 6 million Jews that died has become a horrible tragedy in the past. When I came to Treblinka to visit the site where the death camp had been, all I saw was memorial stones of the dead in the midst of a vast green pasture. It was quiet and peaceful. There was almost no trace of the horror that occurred decades ago. But in the eyes of Elohim, the horror is still visible there.

Everyone on earth, Jew or not, has their own baggage, suffering from all kinds of pain from the past or even the present. To some, this baggage has turned into an emotional scar that takes a long time to heal. If Elohim was human,  His emotional scar in our generation would be the Holocaust. Zechariah hanavi wrote, “Surely, the one that touches [Israel] touches the apple of His eye.” The Holocaust did not only touch His eyes. It stabbed them. This could not have been only painful but also traumatic! If Elohim really was human, this would be His emotional scar.

We tend to be angry for what has happened to our people in WW2. Even for the last 10 days of my trip on the Holocaust path, I angrily questioned, why He had allowed all this to happen. Many times we often turn our backs against Him because of this and blame Him for all the loss. But has it ever occurred to any of us that maybe… maybe Elohim has been grieving even deeper than we have? He knew all of the 6 million people that died. They were not just a number to Him. He knew each and every one of them personally. It must be hurting Him far more than it hurts us.

We chant the Kaddish when our loved ones die. But when you look at the prayer, the words are all about praising and worshiping Elohim. Would you not think that the most appropriate thing to do in such circumstances would be to lament over the dead?

Nevertheless, I do agree with all my heart that the Kaddish is a good prayer to chant while mourning. Those who are left behind by our loved ones are not the only ones who grieve. Especially when they left in such horrible conditions as in the Holocaust. Elohim grieves too. And singing the Kadish to Him while we too are hurt is a selfless act of love towards Him because we want to comfort Him despite our limitations.

Of course He may not need the comfort. After all, He is G-d! But doing so will not only heal ourselves from the pain, it will also lead our hearts to not turn our backs against Him nor blame Him, because… really… He did not kill the 6 million of our people. Hitler did. And more than we can understand, He grieves more than us, because He loved them all so much more than we could have ever loved them. If we can heartily do that and comfort His grieving heart, we will come in peace with the past. Only then can we bond again with our great big wonderful G-d.

I returned home with the faces of the victims carved deep in my heart and with His grief echoing over and over again in my soul. I will never be the same again and I refuse to be the same.  But in all this, I want to reach out to Elohim and be His friend, so if history should ever repeat (Elohim forbid!), I would remember His and my grief, and work for Him and with Him to either prevent it or give it a different, much better, ending.

Indonesia and Jews

My name is Elisheva, I am Jewish and I was born and raised in the most uncommon part of the world for Jews to live in — Indonesia, the greatest Muslim country in the world. Well, at least that is what the world thinks of her. The country is actually a republic. It just happens to have a population that is predominantly Muslim (80 percent). The government only acknowledges 5 religions and Judaism isn’t one of them.

Way before the Common Era even started, Israelis traveled to this part of the world for trading through ancient trade routes to South East Asia. I won’t be surprised if we can actually find remnants of Israel in this part of the world. In fact, recently I spoke to a Dutch pastor who regularly visits a village in West Papua who spoke a very unique dialect. “Good morning” in their language is “boker shalom” and “good night” is “laila shalom”. The Hebrew phrase for those two greetings are “boker tov” and “laila tov”. How incredible is that?

There is also a famous river going through West Papua to the eastern side of the island (Papua New Guinea) which they name “the river of Yahwe”. You can ask them what the name “Yahwe” means but villagers do not have a clue. Could it be the attempt of pronouncing the holy Tetragrammaton Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey?

Just last week, I met a Papua New Guinean lady whose family name is Sukot (tabernacle in Hebrew). There is also a clan in a remote village of West Papua (the Indonesian part of Papua) named Menorah. You can easily find these little hints in languages, names of places and surnames, that would make you wonder whether ancient Israelis have really traveled this far to our world.

During the Spanish inquisition, the Jews of Europe managed to establish trading companies which would send out ships to new worlds such as the Americas and even to the continent of Asia. These trading ships were financially backed by two Kingdoms, Holland and Britain. The leaders of the companies would put persecuted Jews and their families onto this ship with the excuse of “hiring them for trading business” in the new world and far east. And that is how they came to the Americas and the Asian world. (You can read more about this in this excellent book titled “The Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean”).

My ancestors were on one of these ships. The company that were financed by the Dutch was called VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) or the Dutch East Indian company. Later it became the first multinational corporation that issued stock. The first General Governor of VOC was a Dutch Jew, Jan Pieterszoon Coen (“Coen” is a Dutch variant of Cohen). When you dig deeper into history and the personalities of the leaders of VOC, you will find that the majority, if not all, were of Jewish descent. Many were hiding their identities.

One of them was Leendert Miero (1755-1834) who was born in present-day Ukraine. He was a security guard for a company estate in Europe and made one single mistake that led him to be punished by whipping. He swore that he will never be treated like that ever again and that he would work hard to become wealthy and not become somebody else’s slave ever again. He made his way to success after he joined VOC and migrated to Indonesia.

Like all other Jews that first arrived in Indonesia, Miero hid his Jewish identity. When the Dutch VOC announced that Jews were allowed to live free here in this land, Miero revealed his Jewishness to the public. He worked hard and became wealthy and had several estates in Dutch colonized city of Batavia.

Miero build himself a luxurious mansion near Batavia (now Jakarta) which the locals named “Pondok Gede”, literally means “Big House”. The area where I live today in Jakarta, Indonesia, is the area where the mansion was. Until today, the small town is called Pondok Gede because of Miero’s estate. Unfortunately, the Indonesian government did not preserve this historical building and allowed it to be torn down to build a mall on the land back in the 1980s. Strangely enough, the remaining Jews in Jakarta are mostly residing in this area, Pondok Gede. Without even realizing it or knowing the history of this area, they are attracted to settle down here and in its surrounding as if there was a magnet among us and this land.

The National Archive Building in Jakarta, Indonesia was one of Leendert Miero’s estate.

For a short time after Israel became a nation in 1948, there was an Anti-Semitic movement in Indonesia which led to the banning of Judaism as an acknowledged religion. Although it sounds so unfair to us Jews today, I believe that was the best decision that President Soekarno (at the time) made in order to stop the violence against Jews. It caused the remaining Jews to choose either Islam or Christianity and have it written in their national ID card. All of the sudden, Jews disappeared in paper and the Anti-Semitic attacks stopped.

I know now that this could have never been the case in Europe. A Jew who would give themselves to be baptized would never be accepted as a Christian or a Catholic. They would just be a baptized Jew. It was not so in Indonesia. When Judaism was denied, they “disappeared”, and they were able to live free ever since.

I thank Elohim for my forefather who took (what would have been) the frightening journey to a new and unknown world of Indonesia. He settled down in Cheribon (now Cirebon) and became a landlord of a sugar plantation there. He did what he had to do including hiding his and the family’s identity and never return to Europe or have the chance to be in Jerusalem. I have made it my mission to bring him back (after all, his blood is still running in my veins), first to the heart of his God and then to the land of his people, by bringing myself back to the two above.

Today, many remaining Jews of my generation are returning to the ancient path to the God of our forefathers. Judaism is still illegal here. However, we have lived among the people of Indonesia for so long now and become a part of their lives that they don’t ever see us as an enemy to be beheaded, rather like a member of their society and friends of their family. For that, I thank Elohim.

Israel at Sixty & the Importance of Religious Pluralism

I recently received an e-mail from the fine people at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel asking me if we could add them to our list of resources. A) I was totally impressed that we are even on their radar and B) while going through the links they sent me, I stumbled across this great video by Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman (son of David Hartman) in which he pauses to reflect on Israel at 60 and the need for increased religious pluralism as part of the social and spiritual fabric of the country.

Anyhow bearing in mind d’varim’ recent post about the current “Orthodox conversion” crisis in Israel and her hope that it might serve as something of a wake-up call to the more mainstream segments of the Orthodox world.

I thought I should do a quick post about the video because although it’s not specifically about the conversion issue. The people at the Hartman Shalom Institute are talking about the kind of religious diversity and pluralism in Israel, that d’varim probably has been hoping for.

At any rate it’s a really short video. Just over five minutes long and in my opinion definitely worth checking out.

Enjoy and as always please (if you watch the video) do feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on the subject. Note you will need to click the post tittle in order to see this video.

Don’t Worry. Be Israeli!

It’s rare to think of Israel in any terms other than negative ones these days. Our unenviable geographic position, our corrupt government, the almost daily rocket attacks on us, and the current water crisis all give more than ample cause for despair. But then someone like the author of this article comes along and casts an entirely different light on Israel, giving us renewed faith in ourselves and our purpose on earth.

The foundation for the author’s analysis of Israel’s happiness is twofold. He plots a chart (reproduced above) which reflects the suicide rate on the x-axis, and the birth rate on the y-axis of 35 industrial countries; as you can see, Israel is a dramatic outlier on this chart. He also focuses on Israel’s faith and values, contrasting them with those of other modern societies, including Europe, America, and the Muslim world. In all, it’s an anecdotal argument, but rings true nonetheless.  Here are some of the highlights:

Envy surrounds no country on Earth like the state of Israel, and with good reason: by objective measures, Israel is the happiest nation on Earth at the 60th anniversary of its founding. It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation. If history is made not by rational design but by the demands of the human heart, as I argued last week , the light heart of the Israelis in face of continuous danger is a singularity worthy of a closer look….

Israel’s love of life, moreover, is more than an ethnic characteristic. Those who know Jewish life through the eccentric lens of Jewish-American novelists such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, or the films of Woody Allen, imagine the Jews to be an angst-ridden race of neurotics. Secular Jews in America are no more fertile than their Gentile peers, and by all indications quite as miserable.

For one thing, Israelis are far more religious than American Jews. Two-thirds of Israelis believe in God, although only a quarter observe their religion strictly. Even Israelis averse to religion evince a different kind of secularism than we find in the secular West. They speak the language of the Bible and undergo 12 years of Bible studies in state elementary and secondary schools….

The faith of Israelis is unique. Jews sailed to Palestine as an act of faith, to build a state against enormous odds and in the face of hostile encirclement, joking, “You don’t have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps.” In 1903 Theodor Herzl, the Zionist movement’s secular founder, secured British support for a Jewish state in Uganda, but his movement shouted him down, for nothing short of the return to Zion of Biblical prophecy would requite it. In place of a modern language the Jewish settlers revived Hebrew, a liturgical language only since the 4th century BC, in a feat of linguistic volition without precedent. It may be that faith burns brighter in Israel because Israel was founded by a leap of faith.

Books, Books, Books! We’ve Got Books!

We have finally gotten around to adding a book section to JBC.org. It’s something that a few of us thought might be helpful and of interest to our readers. It still needs some work but I think it’s safe to say that we already have a decent assortment of recommended reading on a variety of “Jewish” topics. Including some great stuff on mysticism, observance and of course conversion.

We have added this feature for to two main reasons. The first being as a service to help point other JBC’s (and soon to be JBC’s) to some the books which have helped us to learn about as well as better integrate into Jewish life and community. The second reason for the book store section is as, a way to help us raise funds to offset some of the costs associated with running this site. Right now all of the costs come out of my pocket and although its not a huge amount, about $300 yearly, not counting the hundreds (probably closer to a thousand) of hours of volunteered time people put into generating content and maintaining the site. We get hundreds of hits every day and some people are spending well over 30 minutes a visit, so we know (that at least some) people find the site useful and that’s something we are all really happy about.

So basically I guess what I am suggesting is that if you are a regular (or even if you are a not so) regular reader, who has found what we are doing here to be helpful and like one or more of the books we are recommending. Why not buy it through us? It’s win/win you a get a great book (that you were probably going to anyhow, right?) and you can help support what we are doing here at JBC.org. That’s right, every book you buy via our site means the we get a small cut from Amazon and that goes towards offsetting some of the costs associated with running things here.

So please do keep that in mind and if you see a book you like, consider buying it through us, because every purchase you make helps us out a little.

And on that note Shabbat Shalom.

Pesach in Chavis World

This post is cross-posted on my personal blog. This is the second part of a two-part blog, but since it’s pretty darn long, you can read the first installment of my Pesach, which includes my first-ever experience at an Orthodox shul, by clicking HERE. And if you don’t want to read it? Well, let’s just say it was the best shul experience I’ve ever had. And now, for the post …

I’ve been trying really hard to be productive with my day, but ugh, the internet is so vast. It’s like a physical manifestation of thousands of years of d’var Torah and mishnah. There’s so much! So little time! And every shiny new object pulls me in. But I’m here to talk about the seder I went to Saturday night, at last.
I arrived at shul on Saturday a little after 7 p.m. for the evening services. The rabbi at the Orthodox shul was guaranteeing that he’d have everyone out in time for the candle lighting so the seders could start ASAP and not run into the wee, wee hours. There were friendly glances from those who’d met me the night before, and as usual the kids were running around in the cutest way possible. The davening was mesmerizing and the songs magical, and the rabbi’s sermon (which had to fill up a space of about 20 minutes for some reason about the rules of davening and the time) was interesting, discussing the Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions of blessing the wine before the second cup and so forth. The service ended, Chag Sameachs were issued, I grabbed my (free!) box of Shmurah Matzo and we headed off to the host’s apartment.

As it turns out, the host was having his first seder, with the help of his
mother and father (a rabbi from the DC area) who were visiting for the holiday. The group for the seder consisted of five men in their 40s/50s, the parents, myself, and another girl six months older than I. It was definitely an interesting (and boisterous) group of individuals. I was hopeful, excited, pumped! We got to the apartment, unloaded our matzo boxes, and after some confused shuffling and figuring out what to say, we three women lit the candles. Then, we piled into the small dining area into our assigned seats — my card said “GUEST.”

The host and his father were sharing the seder leader duties — they would be bouncing thoughts and gleanings off one another and the attendants, as well as sharing glimpses into vintage, historical haggadot. The bonus of the seder was that we had the rabbi — a man who had been in the business professionally for 36 years, and who has been teaching for 41 years, not to mention having been a chaplain in the military. This man, he knew people, important people. He had wisdom about Jimmy Carter and the present “situation” — yes, these people were Washingtonians, with grace and wisdom, not to mention stories that were a fascinating addition to the seder table. The singing was melodic and familiar, and although the haggadot didn’t have transliterations, I could follow along — I just couldn’t sing with the crowd. I hummed the melodies and listened to the atuned and seasoned Jews around me, the smiles on their faces, the community and friendship, the freedom that emanated from this group of Jews gathered in this holy and historic ritual — it made me feel alive.

We had the typical food — gefilte fish and matzo and charoset — but there were interesting tidbits to the seder table, including, instead of parsley, we had potatoes. It’s a Polish tradition, and I thought it was beautiful, not to mention helped us get through the heavy portions of the non-meal. The rabbi told us stories about The Rebbe, shared wisdom and asked us questions. I was so proud that when the rabbi’s son (the host) asked if anyone knew what Pesach meant I could share, without hesitation, that I knew what it meant. I shared my tidbit about matzo in the Middle Ages. I listened as those around me asked and answered questions — these people, they were engaged, constantly engaged, in the conversation about our history, our lineage, what it meant to be an enslaved, then free people.

We finally arrived at the meal around midnight — three hours after we had started the seder. This caused complications when it came to the afikomen, since there are rules about the latest time in which you can consume it. And who got to search for the hidden afikomen? Yes, you guessed it, me. I played it off like a chore, but in my mind I was elated. I, this Jew by Choice at a seder table with these Orthodox Jews (note: the rabbi and his wife are Conservative), got to be the child, the Jewish child I’ve always envied for knowing Hebrew and the rituals better than I. It meant the world to me, this I cannot lie about. After some searching and help from a few people, we found the afikomen, ate our dessert, and then the afikomen. There was more discussion, more politics and gleanings, more wisdom and discussion of ritual and then the night was done. It was nearly 2 a.m. and we were all exhausted, but awake and conversing, laughing. We were alive and free. We plodded down the hall, the other girl and I singing a song and arm in arm shuttling down the hallway and down the stairs and out into the night we all went. One of the men flagged me a cab and I was off toward home.

The thing is, it was the most appropriate seder experience I could have asked for. The thing about it is, Pesach is a festival of freedom. Pe, the mouth, and sach, that speaks — the mouth that speaks. Only when we are free can we speak our minds, can we speak openly and with our hearts on the tips of our tongues. And on that night, I truly understood what freedom felt like. I was free to be myself, a Jew, among these people, and it was liberating to experience such a holy, religious, meaningful and touching seder. It was nearly five hours long, but it was the most all-encompassing light inducing moment I’ve had in a long time. It reminded me of how I felt at the Chabad House in Omaha all those years ago at the simple Shabbat table with song and food and laughter and conversation. I felt enlightened and whole.

So it is, friends and passersby, that I conclude my discussion about the first night seder. I am indebted to the rabbi and his wife and their son and those who opened their minds and hearts to let me attend the seder, to share in the mitzvah with them. It’s one of those things that will rest in my mind, gather dust, and be relived each year at Pesach.

Kul tov!