REMARKABLE WOMEN

Mea culpa! Women’s History Month which was celebrated during March, has come and gone and I did not know. Nostra culpa! As American Jews, we have dropped the ball. Rabbis and Jewish educators alike, should have seized this opportunity to bring to light the contributions of Jewish women – there are so many from which to choose – who contributed more to our people, than could possibly be imagined. Borrowing the adage “better late than never,” below are three remarkable women, well deserving of study during (Jewish) Women’s History Month.

Fifty-two years ago, 42-year-old Shmulik Rosen composed one of the numerous songs that came to the fore, as a result of the many miraculous victories of the Six Day War. Entitled Rachel  (in Hebrew it is known as “Re’i Rachel, Re’i), Mr. Rosen implores our matriarch Rachel (our patriarch Jacob’s true love) to  see how her children have returned to her, in that Rachel is buried in Bethlehem. Shmuel Rosen’s sentiments are well founded. Our rabbinic sages tell us that during the destruction of the First Temple,  Rachel appeared before HaShem and said “Do I have more compassion than You, Hashem? Should a person have more compassion than Hashem? Yaakov worked for me for many years and at the end, my sister stood under the Chuppah and married my husband. And I remained quiet. Am I to have more compassion that You?”  Moved by Rachel’s words and won over by her logic, Hashem said to Rachel, “It is right what you say and because of you and the signs you gave your sister, I will return Am Yisroel or the Jewish nation to the Holy Land.” And so, HaShem did. Not just to Israel, but also to Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Among the many loose-leaf binders on the shelf in my office, there is one that contains a course that I developed in the mid-eighties for High School students. Given my background in Yiddish, I transformed a small text called “T’chines” into an entire course in liturgy. T’chines is a compilation of prayers expressly for women. Unlike the prayers found in the siddur, T’chines reflect the history of the era, the sociology of the shtetl, and the psychology of the self-image of the typical Jewish mother and housewife of the time. It is widely believed that T’chines may very well have been authored by Sarah Bas Tovim, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th century in the Podolia region of Ukraine. T’chines are neither a translation nor a feminization of the prayers found in the siddur. In addition to dealing with specific topics such as a request for the well-being of family members, appeals for meaningful celebrations of festivals and pleas prior to the immersion into the mikvah, T’chines reflect thoughts and feelings that come not only from the heart, but from the soul as well.  If Sarah bas Tovim did in fact author T’chines, she ought to be held in the highest esteem for affording the often-overlooked Eastern European woman, the ability to connect with HaShem in a most human and humane way.

“She’s the only man in the government,” remarked a frustrated David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. Ben Gurion was referring to Golda Meir, who two decades later would go on to become Israel’s first female Prime Minister, following the untimely death of Levi Eshkol. After asking Eliezer Kaplan, Israel’s newly appointed Finance Minister how much money could be raised for the newborn but bankrupt Jewish State, if he, Kaplan were to embark on a whistle stop tour of the United States, Ben Gurion decided to send Golda instead. Meir boarded one of the first flights out of what was soon to become known as Lod and headed for the United States, where she raised $50,000,000 – over seven times the amount projected by Eliezer Kaplan! Thanks to Golda Meir’s efforts, Israel was now able to purchase desperately needed arms in Europe, enabling the nascent country to fight for its very survival. And that was only the beginning of her astounding service to the Jewish State.

Three remarkable women. The first successfully pleaded her people’s case. The second successfully connected the masses with their heritage. The third did everything in her power for her people’s safety and security. If only these same three concerns were on the minds of those seeking to be elected Prime Minister, next Tuesday in Israel!

Yet another remarkable, never to be equaled, Chili Cook-Off this past Sunday! Tiferet does it again! A big Yasher Koach to all who made it happen!

JFK AND ISRAEL

Last week marked the centenary of J.F.K., the 35th president of the United States. Because of his life being cut short by an assassin, because we choose to remember his 1,037 days as president as a twentieth century Camelot, it behooves us to take a look at his life in relationship to Israel.

While so many American Jews of today’s generation have come to expect our President to involve himself in the Middle East, particularly by standing behind Israel as well as attempting to initiate some sort of peace plan, it ought to be kept in mind that similar efforts have been in place for well over half a century.

J.F.K. launched two (unsuccessful) initiatives aimed at brokering peace between Israel and its neighbors; this was before Arab claims over east Jerusalem, the West Bank and “refugees redux.” J.F. K. sent personal letters to the heads of all the Arab governments, offering the services of the United States as an “honest broker” to help them establish peaceful relations between themselves and the then-nascent Jewish State.  J.F.K. also dispatched emissaries to seek a solution to “one of the key obstacles to peace,” the refugee problem.

Jewish attachment to the “shmatte business” (literally rag business, but also covers the clothing trade and the textile industry) served Israel well. Back in the late 1950s, Israel began to construct a nuclear power plant in Dimona, a city south of Be’er Sheva. It was one of Israel’s “best kept” secrets, known to all including the American government. (Yes, Americans spy on Israel and vice versa.) When confronted by the (outgoing) Eisenhower administration, Israel explained that the site was a textile plant. The Kennedy administration was neither mollified nor amused. Instead, Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion was denied an invitation to the White House (J.F.K. met with Ben Gurion at the Waldorf Astoria) in May 1961.  The Kennedy administration was not prepared to turn a blind eye. In a personal letter dated May 18, 1963, J.F.K. issued the following ultimatum: “Either Israel allows American inspectors to visit the site, or Israel finds itself totally isolated politically.” Within a month, David Ben Gurion resigned from the position of leadership; within half a year, J.F.K. was felled by an assassin. To be sure, the United States would continue to pressure Israel, but with a new Prime Minister (Levi Eshkol) and a new president, “the times, they were a-changin’.”

Most American Jews believe that L.B.J. was the first president to sell arms to Israel. While L.B.J. was truly magnanimous in seeing to it that Prime Minister Eshkol was able to check off all items on the “shopping list” when he visited the United States in January 1968, it was J.F.K. who agreed to sell Israel Hawk surface-to-air missiles in August 1962. Dismissing advice from the State Department that the sale of Hawks might trigger an arms race in the Middle East, the President followed the recommendation of the Department of Defense, that selling the Hawk missiles to Israel would offset recent deliveries to Arab states by the Soviet Union.

The Hebrew word Yad is a homonym. In addition to the well-known meaning “hand,” yad also means memorial. (I will give them… yad vashem – a memorial and a name far greater than sons or daughters could give. Isaiah 56:5.) On July 4th 1966, Yad Kennedy, the Kennedy Memorial in the shape of a felled tree, was dedicated in memory of the slain president. My impression is that Yad Kennedy is typically not on the itinerary of most American tourists to Israel. But it should be – especially this year. I can think of no better way of recognizing the centenary of the birth of this nation’s 35th president.