Why I’m Moving My Family to Israel

I can tell that some friends and relatives think my decision to move my family to Israel for a year is, well, questionable. “So you’re really going to do this?” one friend asked over coffee, eyes widening.

My father suggested that we†might consider somewhere in the country less “tense” than Jerusalem —Tel Aviv, perhaps?

Other than that I’m transplanting my family — uprooting my young children from the familiar comforts of their home and dropping them into a new culture and language — what concerns my loved ones about the move is, of course, the security situation in Israel. And while I understand their worries, and†to some extent share them, I’ve mostly been able to shrug them off.

Until last month, that is. My husband and I skipped Thanksgiving turkey and instead spent a few days in Jerusalem, planning our upcoming move for his sabbatical year. We arrived amid a surge of violence in Israel, and I worried I might find a country fraught with tension, people looking over their shoulder at every turn. But it was the same country I remembered from my summers as a teenager —the same open-hearted people, the same buzzing energy, the same golden light.

A couple days into our trip, over breakfast at our hotel, I opened the newspaper and read that there had been a stabbing at the Mahane Yedudah market the day before. Two Palestinian teenage girls had chased market-goers with scissors, and one of them stabbed a Palestinian man she mistook for an Israeli. Just the other day, a man from Hebron plowed his car into a group of civilians waiting at a bus stop, injuring 14 people, including an 18-month-old whose leg had to be amputated.

That last detail rattled me the most. It’s one thing to take risks as an individual but another thing to do so as a parent. Was I really going to take my two young children to live in a city where things like this happen?

The answer is yes. Instead of worrying about these what-ifs, I’m trying to focus on the reasons we’re choosing to live in Israel. Over the years, my husband and I developed a deep love for the country. For my husband, living on a kibbutz for a year during high school was a formative experience. For me, it was summers spent teaching English to children in underprivileged Israeli communities. We want to instill that connection to Israel in our children while they’re still young. We also want them to delight, as we do, in Israeli culture: the language, the food and, above all, the people. Yes, the people —who are always in your business, always giving you their opinions, but in the warmest possible way.

Since returning from our Thanksgiving trip, I’ve found that my once blurry images of our lives in Israel are starting to come into focus.

I like the way they look: my kids, tanned from all that time in the sun, licking ice cream cones from the shop on the corner; my husband and I enjoying a leisurely hour together at the neighborhood café on Friday morning before picking the kids up from school. I know there will be hard times too, probably even scary times. But we’ll get through them, just like
Israelis do.

Unparalleled Race

In case you haven’t noticed — or alternatively, you’ve noticed too much and have tuned out the endless headlines and reports over who said what and who insulted whom — the presidential election season, that quadrennial bacchanalia of wall-to-wall coverage, jingoistic slogans, sleazy ads and fever-pitched rallies, is firmly upon us.

Dear readers, welcome to 2016.

With just over a month to go before Republicans and Democrats pick their favorites in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, the JT is kicking off the election year with a look at how Marylanders, who, despite the fact the state’s primaries aren’t until April 26 are heavily invested as campaign donors and volunteers, are sizing up the race.

This promises to be an election for the record books, with a caustic businessman atop the GOP heap despite all predictions to the contrary and a former first lady beating out a Democratic field that includes a self-described socialist with a lower-case “s.” And yet, it seems that all anyone’s been hearing lately is the parsing of Yiddishized quasi-insults and the ravings of caricatured candidates speaking in 60-second sound bites, not detailed analyses of serious policy proposals.

That’s unfortunate, and the JT is committed to doing its part to help educate anyone willing to read. We’re not going to be able to digest an entire race in a single article, but over the course of the next 10 months, we’re going to devote a lot of energy to explaining why what the candidates are saying is important — to Baltimoreans and to Jews.

As it turns out, Jewish Marylanders have a lot riding on this election. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, has a lot of friends in the community, for instance, but he hasn’t gotten the type of traction that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish “democratic socialist” who is calling for a $15 national minimum wage and vows to declare war on Wall Street, has in rallying the left wing of the party. And then there’s Hillary Clinton, the popular former secretary of state and first lady who seems poised to become the first woman ever elected president.

On the Republican side, even though Donald Trump — who enjoys the backing of Pikesville resident and Baltimore County Republican Central Committee member Ruth Goetz — seems to have sucked up all the air with his tough-on-immigration stances and stream-of-consciousness delivery, polling data suggests that if bottom-tier candidates drop out in the next couple of weeks, potential voters may coalesce around an alternative. Who would that be? Dr. Ben Carson, the former Hopkins neurosurgeon who wowed audiences with a National Prayer Breakfast speech that took aim at the president sitting right beside him? Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the rising establishment star who as the son of Cuban immigrants might bring Hispanic voters back into the Republican fold? Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents who brings a certain policy gravitas to governing? Or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative firebrand who speaks eloquently of constitutional principles?

This race, in shattering so many preconceived notions before the ball dropped over Times Square, has already made predicting its outcome a fool’s errand. So I’m not going to handicap it. But this much is for sure: With an economic recovery fighting tooth and nail to cement itself, an international arena repolarizing around emergent loci of power and a growing population questioning what it really means to be an American, this may well be the most important election in this generation’s history.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Help for Renters

Much has been written in the past few weeks about the deficiencies and inequity with the rent court process in Baltimore City, (“Repairing a Broken System,” Dec. 18). The Public Justice Center report, and the media coverage that followed, reveal many important obstacles in the current rent court system. Unfortunately, these reports neglected to mention a very critical service, uniquely available in Maryland, to both tenants and landlords. Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., (BNI), where I serve as executive director, provides an impartial hotline and counseling service to over 5,000 City tenants and landlords annually and thousands more statewide.

This program provides guidance, information and referrals, free of charge, to those facing eviction and other critical issues related to the landlord/tenant relationship.Our guidance frequently resolves and prevents disputes that might otherwise result in evictions. Hundreds of inquiries are received from residents who were advised by the court to call us. Others come to us on the recommendation of elected officials and government agencies.

Our three counselors field hundreds of inquiries daily. Unfortunately, due to funding constraints, our capacity is limited, and many who call must wait on hold while others obtain information from our website and recorded messages.

The Public Justice Center study found that, in contrast to the counseling and hotline response to Maryland’s foreclosure crisis, there has been a comparative lack of funding available to meet the needs of tenants. By way of example of this disparity, over 40 percent of Baltimore residents are renters, yet funding and services for rental assistance and eviction prevention is a fraction of the funding provided to promote and incentivize homeownership and foreclosure prevention. As noted in the JT, Jews United For Justice plans to seek a legislative response to assist tenants and create a more equitable rent court process.

BNI has been working for housing justice since 1959. We support these efforts and expect that BNI will be included in opportunities to reduce evictions and provide needed services to promote rental housing stability in Baltimore and throughout Maryland.

Call to Action

Whereas I am most appreciative of the coverage the JT gave the situation facing the Baltimore Jewish Community regarding the status of our cemeteries (“Honoring Those Who Came Before Us,” Dec. 18), I’d like to share a few observations.

When I came across the desecration of the German Hill cemetery I was in shock, and it was clearly a huge vandalizing of one of our holy eternal resting places. Such vicious vandalism went unreported to the media, and as I put so much time, effort and energy into bringing the whole situation to our communal attention, I think one article on the topic is insufficient and was contrary to my recommendations. I realize that the Jewish Times is in the business to sell its magazine; however, it also serves the community, and I would like to have seen an article on this topic.

Alarmed and concerned and in reaching out to various community businesses and people involved in the death-and-burial process, I was completely ignored, other than when I approached my cousin, Howard Gartner, who’s a volunteer with Associated Jewish Charities and who’s close with Mark Smolarz of The Associated. Having spent a huge amount of time reviewing major topics involved with our cemeteries and potential long-term solutions and sharing them with both Howard and Mark, we have made huge progress together.

Whether you address the progress and/or overall solutions we will be initiating, I would like you to know that we will be working closely with The Associated, the Jewish Cemetery Association and others to address all of these concerns.

Thank you for bringing to light this major issue we are facing. It’s a difficult topic for many to address; it touches on vanity and ultimately our own mortality. May we all merit healthy, happy and successful lives together and strive to protect and preservice the sanctity of our eternal resting places in Baltimore, which can no longer be left off our list of important projects.

Unparalleled Race

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

In case you haven’t noticed — or alternatively, you’ve noticed too much and have tuned out the endless headlines and reports over who said what and who insulted whom — the presidential election season, that quadrennial bacchanalia of wall-to-wall coverage, jingoistic slogans, sleazy ads and fever-pitched rallies, is firmly upon us.

Dear readers, welcome to 2016.

With just over a month to go before Republicans and Democrats pick their favorites in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, the JT is kicking off the election year with a look at how Marylanders, who, despite the fact the state’s primaries aren’t until April 26 are heavily  invested as campaign donors and  volunteers, are sizing up the race.

This promises to be an election for the record books, with a caustic businessman atop the GOP heap despite all predictions to the contrary and a  former first lady beating out a Democratic field that includes a self-described socialist with a lower-case “s.” And yet, it seems that all anyone’s been hearing lately is the parsing of Yiddishized quasi-insults and the ravings of caricatured candidates speaking in 60-second sound bites, not detailed analyses of serious policy proposals.

That’s unfortunate, and the JT is committed to doing its part to help educate anyone willing to read. We’re not going to be able to digest an  entire race in a single article, but over the course of the next 10 months, we’re going to devote a lot of energy to explaining why what the candidates are saying is important — to Baltimoreans and to Jews.

As it turns out, Jewish Marylanders have a lot riding on this election. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, has a lot of friends in the community, for  instance, but he hasn’t gotten the type of traction that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish “democratic socialist” who is calling for a $15  national minimum wage and vows to declare war on Wall Street, has in  rallying the left wing of the party. And then there’s Hillary Clinton, the popular former secretary of state and first lady who seems poised to become the first woman ever elected president.

On the Republican side, even though Donald Trump — who enjoys the backing of Pikesville resident and Baltimore County Republican Central Committee member Ruth Goetz — seems to have sucked up all the air with his tough-on-immigration stances and stream-of-consciousness delivery, polling data suggests that if bottom-tier candidates drop out in the next couple of weeks, potential voters may coalesce around an alternative. Who would that be? Dr. Ben Carson, the former Hopkins neurosurgeon who wowed audiences with a National Prayer Breakfast speech that took aim at the president sitting right beside him? Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the rising establishment star who as the son of Cuban immigrants might bring Hispanic voters back into the Republican fold? Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents who brings a certain policy gravitas to governing? Or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative firebrand who speaks eloquently of constitutional principles?

This race, in shattering so many preconceived notions before the ball dropped over Times Square, has already made predicting its outcome a fool’s errand. So I’m not going to handicap it. But this much is for sure: With an economic recovery fighting tooth and nail to cement itself, an international arena repolarizing around emergent loci of power and a growing population questioning what it really means to be an American, this may well be the most important election in this generation’s history.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The Yoke’s On Us Parshat Vayechi

112114_jewishview-Rabbi-WeinrebWe all have received blessings at one time or another. We have certainly received compliments. Over the course of time, we learn that sometimes the compliments are clearly flattering. But occasionally, ambiguous statements are made to us, leaving us confused and unable to determine with certainty whether we are being complimented or insulted.

There are statements that leave us with no such doubts. Suppose someone called you a “donkey.” Would you think he was flattering you? What if, as if to remove any shadow of doubt, he went further and asserted that you are a “thick-boned donkey?” I wager that you would come out fighting.

In this week’s Torah portion, our forefather Jacob calls one of his sons, Issachar, just that — a “thick-boned donkey.” Surprisingly, not only does Issachar not take umbrage at his father’s description, but he remains quite convinced that his father is not just complimenting him but is blessing him.

Our Sages take things even further. For them, Jacob’s calling his son a donkey is his way of expressing a prophetic prediction: Issachar’s descendants will have a prestigious role in Jewish history. They will become our people’s supreme Torah authorities.

Why would a loving father, foretelling a glorious future for his son Issachar, choose such a bizarre metaphor to describe him? Admittedly, Jacob compares some of his other sons to a variety of animals. But those sons were no doubt quite pleased to be designated “majestic lions” (Judah), or “lovely fawns” (Naphtali).

Even Dan and Benjamin could, albeit perhaps grudgingly, come to terms with being likened to “a serpent by the road” or “a ravenous wolf.” But “a large boned donkey?” Issachar could not be blamed for finding that overly offensive.

Our commentators insist that Issachar found Jacob’s choice of the term “donkey” inoffensive. Indeed, they consider it an apt metaphor for Issachar’s special qualities. To understand this, we must study the full text of words of the blessing that Jacob granted to Issachar: “Issachar is a thick-boned donkey, crouching down between the sheepfolds. For he saw a resting place that was good, and the land that it was pleasant; he bent his shoulder to the burden, and became a toiling serf.” (Gen. 49:14-15)

Jacob knew all of his sons quite well. He discerned their unique strengths and did not suppress his criticisms of their weaknesses. He insightfully recognized Issachar’s special qualities: While Issachar intuitively realized he didn’t have the leadership talents of Judah or the reckless courage of Simon and Levi, he was an idealist who set strong goals for himself, even in his early youth and he understood that in order to achieve those goals, he would have to persevere tenaciously over the course of long years; he was willing, even eager, to do so. He accepted the yoke of hard work and the burden of sustained effort.

Knowing Issachar well, Jacob chose to compare his characteristics to those of the donkey. With this comparison, he was both blessing Issachar with success, and he was complimenting him for his willingness to bear any burden and to even toil as a lowly serf in order to attain his lofty goals: a “resting place” and a “pleasant land.”

Just as Jacob chose the metaphor “donkey” to best capture Issachar’s diligence, so did he select the term menucha (resting place) to symbolize Torah and the world of rest that it engenders. And so did he use the phrase “pleasant land” to refer to the land that Jacob so cherished, the Land of Israel.

Intellectual mastery of Torah and remaining loyal to its ideals is a formidable challenge. Such mastery and such loyalty demand kabbalat ol malchut shamayim vekabbalat ol mitzvoth, an acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and an “acceptance of the yoke of the mitzvot.” For Jacob, Issachar’s stubborn willingness to submit to those yokes was best captured by the image of the “thick-boned donkey.”

Steadfast commitment is not only a prerequisite for a life of religious menucha, of Torah. It is also required in order to possess the Holy Land, cultivate it, and protect it. Both Torah and the Land require that same stubborn commitment. The donkey willing to submit to its burden is also the perfect symbol for a people committed to building and defending Eretz Yisrael.

The Targum (or Aramaic) translation of the Bible, written by the ancient sage Onkelos, treats the last phrases of the verses quoted above in a dramatic and almost shocking manner. The words “he bent his shoulders to the burden and became a toiling serf” are rendered by Onkelos as follows: “He will vanquish the lands of the nations, defeat their inhabitants, and those that survive will serve him and pay him tribute.”

Thus, the “thick-boned donkey” conjures up diverse images for our Sages.

The best known view sees Issachar bent under the burden of Torah study until he finally becomes the model Talmudic sage. The Midrash sees the donkey as akin to the early Zionist chalutz (pioneer), who persists in his mission of settling the arid desert, causing it to flower, and protecting it from marauders. For Onkelos, the donkey is the symbol of the Jewish soldier, stubbornly holding on to every inch of the hotly contested battlefield.

Among my favorite twentieth century rabbinic writers was a man named Elimelech Bar-Shaul, a former rabbi of Rehovot, who passed away exactly 50 years ago. In a collection of his sermons entitled “Min HaBe’er,” he agrees that the stubbornness of the “thick-boned donkey” is needed for achieving both Torah prowess and sovereignty over the Land of Israel. But he goes further and writes:

“Just as Torah study must be refreshed and renewed constantly, so does our appreciation of the Land of Israel require renewal. Torah cannot be taken for granted; neither can the Holy Land. We must continuously deepen our love for the Land of Israel, just as our Torah study must always strive for greater depth. Each morning, we must be newly impressed by Torah, and with every dawn, we must appreciate our land anew.”

Rabbi Bar-Shaul coined a phrase that has remained with me ever since I first encountered it soon after his premature demise: He wrote, “The Rabbis speak of the ol Torah, the yoke of Torah. There is also an ol Eretz Yisrael, the yoke of the Land of Israel.”

Issachar is the archetype of the one who bears both the burden of Torah and the burden of the Land of Israel. He submits to both yokes. It might be difficult for the rest of us to feel comfortable with the title “thick-boned donkey.”

But we must at least understand that this title is a symbol of our stubborn submission to the twin yokes of Torah and Israel.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union.

Correction

> In “Honoring Those Who Came Before Us” (Dec. 18), Mikro Kodesh Beth Israel Cemetery is owned by Mikro Kodesh Beth Israel Cemetery Incorporated. The JT regrets the error.

Syrians to Mexico, Then to U.S. Citizenship

Regarding the Dec. 4 Your Say letter, “Heed These Words of Freedom,” I would like to offer some comments to letter-writers Delegates Sandy Rosenberg and Shelly Hettleman. You are both right. “The fight is not against Muslims or Islam.” The fight is against America by fanatical Muslims who have interpreted parts of their religion, giving them a rationale for killing all infidels (non-Muslims). Thus, we have ISIS, al-Qaeda, etc.

The government does not have the ability to vet 10,000 Syrians as proven by the Boston bombing and the San Bernardino shootings. Several U.S. security agencies, including Jim Colby, head of the FBI, have stated that they cannot assure complete vetting of the refugees.

The vetting problem can be solved, however, by sending the Syrians to Mexico, where they can enter the U.S. as typical illegal aliens, thus assuring their eventual citizenship.

Poll Question Screams Bias

Your political bias was astoundingly crystal in the manner in which you asked the question in the Dec. 18 Poll of the Week: “Do you believe Donald Trump’ s comments about Muslims traveling to and living in the United States disqualify him as a credible contender for the White House?” What presidential hopeful Trump called for was a “temporary cessation” of non-U.S. citizen Muslim visitors and immigrants until the vetting process can be clarified. Muslim U.S. citizens were not referenced or
inferred in any way.

The manner in which you asked the question is like asking, “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Why not ask, “In your opinion, is a temporary cessation of Muslim immigration and tourism from certain specific nations warranted until the vetting process can be resolved?” and not invoke Donald Trump? That is the appropriate question — not one that specifically undermines a presidential candidate of whom you disapprove. The vast majority of Americans agree that a temporary cessation would be wise at this time.  Do U.S. Jews agree with the rest of the nation?

As one of a growing number of Conservative Jews in Maryland, I am continually amazed by your glaring political bias. It would be amusing if the stakes were not so high, and sociopolitical repercussions were not so critical.

Please try to ask your questions more fairly.

Time to Reflect on Country’s Good

JT editor-in-chief Joshua Runyan’s Dec. 18 Opening Thoughts (“Reverse the Neglect”) brought tears to my eyes. It made me step back and remove myself from the mire and vitriol of the politics we are observing in our blessed country. It gave me pause to remove myself from the fear that outside forces have thrust upon us.

We need to take a deep breath and realize that although I worry about the future for my grandchildren, what we have in this country cannot ever be diminished in its value. Runyan so beautifully expressed this in his analysis of the White House. Indeed, it is not a palace but a house. “Its grandeur emanates from its history.”

Thank you for giving me the chance to remember just what my country means to me.