HAPPY HEART

Typically, a visit to Israel for me consists of visiting relatives as well as taking in the sites. There were three sites I took in during this most recent trip, two of which I was totally unprepared for.

After dining at a pricey restaurant in Tel Aviv last Thursday night (not my style), rather than hail a cab, Shirah and I opted to embark on a 15 minute walk to the Arlozorov bus station to catch a bus back to Jerusalem (very much my style.) En route, we encountered a daughter pushing her elderly mother in a wheelchair. In all likelihood, the mother had sustained a stroke, given her unintelligible speech. It was however evident, that the mother had taken an immediate shine to me, in that she reached out to me with her good arm. Hand in hand,we walked for about 5 minutes, as I made small talk with the daughter. The daughter informed me that her mother’s native tongue was French. With the bus station across the street, it was time for daughter and mother to go their own way as well. Thereupon, I took the hand I had been holding, pressed it to my lips, turned to the mother and said, “Tres enchantez. Bon soir!” The smile on the mother’s face along with the smile on the daughter’s face was only equaled by the smile on my heart, knowing that I had made a difficult situation just that much better, even if it was only for a mere 5 minutes.

The bus to Jerusalem was already boarding. I handed the driver a 50 Shekel bill and said, “Two for Jerusalem.” “You’ll have to take your seats. You’re blocking the door. You can pay me later,” said the bus driver. Shirah and I took our seats and settled in for the 45 minute trip to Jerusalem. Upon arrival, I suggested to Shirah that we wait until everybody was off the bus, lest I hold anyone up as I paid the driver for the trip. “I owe you for the two of us,” I explained to the driver. “Look, I’m tired,” said the bus driver. “On your next trip to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you’ll pay double.” Never in my life had this ever happened to me before! There was no way the bus driver could have known what transpired between me and the woman in the wheel chair. Was it an immediate reward from HaShem? But haven’t I taught any number of times, that HaShem does not interfere in interpersonal behavior, whether it be good or bad? And so, rather than rather than spend the rest of the evening trying to make sense of what just happened, I decided to add yet another smile  to my heart.

Little did I realize that I would be going for a trifecta that evening. The lobby of the hotel at which we typically stay is known for the “dating scene” that takes place in the Orthodox Jewish world. Because their culture is so unique, dating amounts to a one evening event – two evenings if absolutely necessary – on “neutral territory.” Hence the hotel lobby. While waiting for the elevator, I had the opportunity  to take in one particular scene. The young man was sartorial in dress; the young lady was clad in the very best of taste. A number of empty soda bottles on the little table in front of them, testified that they were enjoying each other’s company. The smiles on their faces confirmed this. And once again, there was yet another smile on my heart.

This time however the smile was different. Aside from shepping naches, that young love was very much in bloom, I could not help but wonder if marriage were in fact to ensue from this meeting, would the opportunity present itself over the years for either of them to have a smile on the heart because of a kindness done by either of them to a compete stranger? Alternately, would there be a smile on the heart because of a kindness done to either of them by a complete stranger?

Fifty years ago, Andy Williams hit the airwaves with a song known as “Happy Heart.” For me a happy heart became a reality – three times no less – within a very short period of time in Israel. Should any one ask me “How was Israel” I might just be inclined to respond: :Heartfelt and heart filled”.

 

LET FREEDOM RING, LET THE WHITE DOVE SING

Although not intended as such, the chorus of the song “Independence Day” recorded by Martina McBride, rings just as true today, as the first time I heard it on WABC radio, a quarter of a century ago: “Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing. Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning.” With Israel celebrating seventy-one years of independence on the 9th of this month, perhaps a perusal of the above lyrics, which are admittedly taken entirely out of context, would tastefully set the tone for Israel’s upcoming celebration.

One of the most popular parks in Jerusalem, bears a decidedly American name. Although, referred to as Gan HaPa’amon or the Garden of the Bell by its residents, Liberty Bell Park serves as a reminder of the unshakable relationship that exists between these United States and Israel. Dedicated in 1976, the year of our bi-centennial, Gan HaPa’amon boasts a replica of the Liberty Bell proudly displayed in downtown Philadelphia. But Gan HaPa’amon boasts so much more. It boasts the shared ideal of liberty. Both Israel and the United States deal with minority populations in a far better fashion than most other countries in this world. And even though Israel’s democracy is based on a parliamentary system as opposed to the American presidential system, both countries are intent on letting freedom ring – not just for the rest of the world to hear, but also to  remind its citizens and leaders, that freedom is our most precious commodity, as well as our most sacred creed.

The first time the white dove was introduced to us, it was speechless. And with good reason. It had an olive branch in its mouth. Yet, even without any olive branch, I cannot help but feel that the white dove would have been speechless. After all, the white dove, had little, if anything to say. For the white dove, it was a “wait and see” situation. The white dove couldn’t possibly have presumed to know what would come forth from Noah’s ark, especially on a figurative basis. And even though it may not have been a pretty sight to behold, the white dove kept its eyes open. Many a tear may have had to fall, as the white dove witnessed both disappointment  and disaster over the centuries,  but the white dove refused to look away. And then, seventy-one years ago, this month, the white dove blinked hard. It couldn’t believe its eyes. After two thousand years of uncertainty and wandering, a Jewish homeland rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. It was then that the white dove began to sing. The white dove has been singing ever since.

“It is a nation that dwells in solitude and is not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9), said Balaam. However prescient Balaam may have been, he was not speaking from a political point of view. He couldn’t have been speaking about nations of that time, because in Balaam’s Israel, Israel did not exist as a political entity. It was seventy-one years ago, that the State of Israel emerged as a political entity. May 14th, 1948, therefore, was a day of reckoning among nations. Military analysts at the Pentagon reckoned that Israel wouldn’t last more than a month, before having to surrender to the surrounding countries with better equipped and better trained armies. Military analyst reckoned wrong. As a teenager, I asked the principal at the Jewish Day School – he had arrived from Israel a year earlier to take the position – what he reckoned Israel would do with all the land that was now theirs, after the Six Day War. He reckoned that Israel had no need for that land. He too reckoned wrong. American Presidents over the last half century have felt it their duty to come up with “peace plans.” When it came to Israel, they, along with their Secretaries of State, also reckoned. Yet, none realized, that Balaam, under HaShem’s direction, provided us with the immemorial words that Israel “is not to be reckoned among the nations.”

As freedom continues to ring, and the white dove continues to sing, let the whole world know that when it comes to Israel, there is  no reckoning. And let us join together in wishing our Jewish Homeland, continued bracha (blessing) and ongoing hatzlacha (success)!

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Whether your feelings are those trust or distrust, adulation or vilification, you must admit that politically, Israel and the United States have never been more in each other’s favor. Previous American presidents were quick to assure Israel by telling them, “we have your back,” it goes unsaid, that with the current administration in Washington, the majority of Israelis cannot help but feel that “America has their heart.” One would therefore think that this year’s AIPAC conference that met Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, should have been a piece of kugel. Think again. Yes, AIPAC can rightfully point to success story after success story, as it did at its recent gathering here in Dallas. It’s difficult not to shep naches, when you watch any number of elected American officials at various sites in Israel, proclaiming their support for Israel.  Fifty years ago, our President remarked: “We sure as hell can’t turn our backs on little Israel.” Here we are, fifty years later, watching many of our elected officials standing in line to smother Israel with hugs and kisses. I don’t feel that I would be overstating it if I said that as of now, political relations between Washington and Jerusalem are “as good as it gets.”

This past Sunday night, Shirah and I attended a wedding in Little Rock. We won the lottery when it came to the reception. We were seated with three other fabulous couples that I would have given anything, to bring back to Dallas, so they could join Tiferet. Among the topics we discussed, was that unwavering support on the part of American Jews was no longer a sure thing. The upcoming generation of American Jews, neither understands, appreciates nor realizes the importance of Israel, the way our generation does. For many of them, Israel is all too often seen as a country of Jews, rather than a Jewish country. For many of them, public criticism of Israel is their right. Broadcasting the foibles and flaws of Israel, is their way of showing their love and concern. They truly believe, that they were put on the face of this earth to “save Israel from itself.”

Should one ask them whether they would criticize their spouse in public, the way they criticize Israel in public; should someone ask them whether they are aware of countries in the world guilty of real atrocities, such as rape, murder, and mayhem taking place within their borders, and why they don’t speak out about such reprehensible behavior; should anyone ask them whether they have visited any Palestinian cities and have volunteered their time to help the very same people for which they take up the cudgel, more likely than not, they will dismiss you as a “racist,” much the same, as my generation typically called anyone who disagreed with them, a “fascist,” both meaningless terms, employed when meaningful response evades them. Aipac leadership is much aware of this;  Aipac leadership is very much concerned about this. Much to their dismay, whenever Aipac leadership looks at the upcoming generation of American Jews, Aipac leadership sees a “bad moon rising.”

Aipac leadership, together with most Jewish leadership in this country, is still reeling from the midterm election that recently took place. A recent article in the New York Times reports that “a group of freshman Democrats in the House, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashid Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has emerged as forthright critics of Israel and the United States’ policy tilt toward the Israeli government.” For the first time in a long time, tweets are circulating, that are both openly anti-Israel as well as anti-Semitic. Friends of Israel, they aren’t!

Time was, when it was politically incorrect to castigate Jews. That went out with Father Charles Edward Coughlin and his radio rants, along with the Dearborn Independent reprinting the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion. Times however are changing. Now anti-Semitism, whether explicit or robed in Anti-Israel charges, is once again kosher, glatt kosher. And that’s ugly.

The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. Despite its strong military advantage, despite the strong bonds that currently exist between American and Israeli, given the bad and the ugly that now have to be contended with, I cannot help but feel that Israel needs our strong support, now more than ever.