Tag Archives: israel

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel

Jerusalem is and will always be the capital of Israel – my thoughts.

I despise the concept of Intersectionality, which at its core holds that if you believe in one thing you must believe in another. For example: If you object to the discrimination of people based on sexual preference and you support LGBT rights then you must also support the delegitimization of all Israelis as oppressors and colonialists… and support BDS.

As a student of the history of ideas, nothing could be more regressive and repressive than suggesting that if you hold one truth, you must hold another. Innovation occurs not only when new ideas are conceived but also when existing ideas are combined in novel ways. I love nothing more than when women’s rights groups include both pro choice and pro life feminists. I dream of the day when fundamentalists embrace environmentalism and global warming because, after-all, God created the world and left us humans as custodians.

Which brings me to Jerusalem, the de facto and historical capital of Israel.

Here is something that both those Jews and Israelis on the right and on the left can and should agree upon. We should savor such opportunities.

Those of us on the left (I am guilty as charged) should welcome the opportunity to join all informed Jews and Israelis in acknowledging the historical and unbroken ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem as our capital. As in… Next Year in rebuilt Jerusalem… ירושלים הבנויה (not necessarily… greater Jerusalem).

The fact that Trump has spoken this truth is actually a blessing in disguise since it sugar-coats this truth to our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the most light-handed way possible. Trump is not known for speaking the truth, so when he does speak the truth (even a broken clock is right twice a day) it is arguably easier to swallow.

We in the West, on the left and the Palestinian leadership do our Palestinian brothers and sisters no favor by reinforcing an unattainable belief that a united Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian State.

West Jerusalem was liberated by the Jewish State of Israel in the 1948 war initiated by the surrounding Arab States and supported by the indigenous Arab population (aka the Palestinians), and is not up for negotiation as long as the State of Israel exists.

There are other truths that we (Jews and Israelis on both the right and left) can and should embrace.

Notwithstanding the proclamations of another institution which has a problem with the truth (UNESCO), the Temple Mount was first and foremost…. the Ancient Hebrew’s Temple Mount. The fact that from time immemorial conquest of a foreign nation entailed the conquerer erecting their Temple on the ruins of the vanquished’ temple erases historical truth no more than does the piss of a dog marking territory previously inhabited by a prior canine.

The Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, and other historical facts are not negotiable. As far as I am concerned the Muslims are welcome to keep their mosque on the Temple Mount and maintain the status quo as long as they respect and protect the right of all religions to pray there (which, regrettably, they don’t.. another un-truth).

So does truth-telling destroy the non-existent peace process? Or should we ask whether treating our Palestinian brothers and sisters as children who cannot handle the truth destroys any chance for compromise and realism?

Does truth-telling undermine the honest-broker status of the West? Or should we ask whether propping up a Palestinian leadership which profits from and feeds it’s people ahistorical and unattainable untruths promotes conflict resolution?

I can say and ask all of the above and still believe in a Two-State Solution and mourn the injustice (as in אי צדק) of the Occupation. So much for Intersectionality…..

[Sorry for the picture, but it got your attention.]

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to the yeshiva and back – part one

Beer Yaakov

A yeshiva bachur is a young man who studies in a traditional Talmudic academy; a Yeshiva.  It is said that you can take the bachur out of the yeshiva but you can’t take the yeshiva out of the bachur.  I define myself and my relationship with Judaism in many ways. I’m post-orthodox, traditional but not halachic, evolved and evolving, but one thing I will always be; is a yeshiva bachur. Guilty as charged.

If there is one concept or disposition that I cannot shake it is Bitul Torah. Literally the nullification of Torah, but more precisely the prohibition against wasting potential Torah study time. According to no less of a source than halachipedia: “It is imperative upon a person to use his free time for Torah study. If one wastes one’s free time on useless means, one is in violation of Bitul Torah.” The very concept of time is redefined in the Yeshiva world (and it is a world unto itself) where there are texts to be studied and concepts to be argued from morning to night and every second is literally… fleeting.  The Talmud has a powerful expression to emphasis the point.

אם תעזבני יום יומים אעזבך

“If you leave Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.” [i]

This is an early allusion to the economic concept of opportunity cost.  There is always Torah to learn and it does not wait for you, it keeps moving. You cannot return to where you left off, it has already left and gone. If you miss a day of learning you have lost both the day you could have had and the day you had.  This heightened sense of time, especially as relates to study, is for me the essence of the yeshiva and that sense has never left me.

Said Professor Saul Lieberman; when his learning was interrupted by someone asking for his time “money I have, time I don’t”.  A contribution he could make, an appearance, not so much.

In the yeshiva, learning has less to do with the knowledge gained than with the act itself.  A learned scholar who does not constantly add to his knowledge is of less worth that a less intellectually endowed student who sits and learns… day and night.  When shown a very learned businessman, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the head of the yeshiva of my youth was unimpressed and quipped “If you know how to steal but don’t steal, does that make you a ganif (thief)? … If you know how to learn but don’t, does that make you a lamdin (learner)?” … not exactly.

The second most impactful characteristic of the bachur yeshiva is purity verging on naiveté.  A popular song, actually a chant, sung over and over again in a trance-like hora is from the Shabbat liturgy:

וְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶאֱמֶת

Purify our heart to serve You in truth

see

Ironically this song was also taken by the Israeli secular pioneers (halutzim) to celebrate their pure and undivided and untarnished focus on the labor (avodah) necessary to build a new land.

Listen[ii]:

The pioneers translated this purity into the simple life of the kibbutz which eschewed makeup, jewelry and bourgeois accouterments. For the yeshiva bachur it was the simple life of the monk, lehvdil.

פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ועל הארץ תישן וחיי צער תחיה ובתורה אתה עמל

אם אתה עשה כן, אשריך וטוב לך, אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא

Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, “fortunate are you, and good is to you” (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come.[iii]

Which brings me to my return to the yeshiva, part one.

I was near Beer Yaakov on a recent visit to Israel so I decided to return… return to the yeshiva of my youth.

As a nineteen year old, I went to Yeshiva Beer Yaakov at the advice of my cousin Aviezer Wolfson, a businessman, scholar and composer. Aviezer had studied at the yeshiva and my grandfather, Charles Wolfson and his brothers had financed the buildings and sefer Torahs at the Yeshiva.  The main attraction was the Mashgiach Ruchni (spiritual guide), Harav Shlomo Wolbe who was considered when he passed away, the last of the great Mussarniks. Rav Wolbe was a card carrying Haredi who was raised in a secular home and graduated from the university of Berlin in 1933.  He ended up (it’s a long story) at the Meir Yeshiva as a student of Rav Yerucham Levovitz a student of the Alter of Kelm a disciple of Rav Yisroel Salanter the founder of the Mussar Movement. Learning under Rav Wolbe, especially in small, by invitation only, vaadim, was a unique privilege and opportunity to be directly connected through him to Rav Yisrael Salanter, this founder of a  lesser known but unique movement that coincided with the emergence of Hasidism and the haskalah. Rav Wolbe took one student every year to study Chumash with Rashi every morning.  In my second year at the yeshiva, I was that student.

Lieberman and Wolbe

Prof. Saul Lieberman and Rav Shlomo Wolbe

Lieberman Wolbe and Stern

don’t ask.. I don’t remember what we were discussing…

Liberman Wolbe and Sterns

Rav Wolbe, Geoffrey (Shlomo), Orna, Jane and Chaya

Wolbe and SternHere are previously unpublished photos of Rav Wolbe at my Sheva Barachot with Professor Saul Lieberman (who was mesader kiddushin at my wedding).

Wolbe speaking

 

 

 

 
It took me a while to find the Yeshiva.  In my day, it was isolated amongst orange groves and it’s students emerged from their isolation only once in every six shabbats to return to the civilized world.  Now it is pluck in the middle of the urban sprawl of a bustling city of Beer Yaakov, necessitating a privacy curtain (those Halutzim had built well…).

prviacy curtains

Even with all the privacy, I could already tell from the signage that the Yeshiva had fallen….  on hard times.  I couldn’t get over the fact that my isolated yeshiva was now in the middle of a city. There used to be orange groves there now it was a major thoroughfare.

panorama

Once I made my way past the privacy curtains I saw the students gathered around a printed notice on the door to the study hall.  I made my way in and read with disbelief that the yeshiva had been without electricity since the beginning of the month and the administration was pleased to announce that they had finally negotiaated a payment plan with the electric company.

According to matzav.com (The Jewish world at your fingertips)

no electricty

Here’s the notice posted the day of my visit on May 23rd:

notice

The notice thanks the students for their savlanut (patience and endurance) and thanks God for helping to craft a deal with the power authority.  That said, there are strict regulations, punishable with fines for misusing electricity for private air conditioning in the dorms.

Here’s a picture of the aforementioned generator, which in my day was used every Shabbat so that the yeshiva was not powered by electricity produced by Jews on the Sabbath.

generator

The yeshiva baring my Uncles name was in disrepair.

Isaac

 

But inside, I was just in time for the afternoon service.  When I pray now, I am usually one of the last to finish…  but here at my roots, I was amongst the first.  At Beer Yaakov, on a simple everyday afternoon mincha service no prayer is finished before its time… prayers are savored like a fine wine, not gobbled like fast-food. I guess that stayed with me.

beit medrash

My  visit to Beer Yaakov that day was spontaneous and I was not dressed in the uniform white shirt and black pants.  I had no jacket and only my LoBa Kippah, which I turned inside out (ונהפכו).  I felt very comfortable and no one either approached me to say Shalom Alechem nor did they stare at me…. I was just another guy coming in, probably to say kaddish. I started walking around the “campus” and a student approached.  “I studied here” I said… under “Rav Wolbe” I added.  Now there was interest.  Now I was a link.  Students gathered as I described how it was and asked to see and describe the dining room and dorm as I remembered them.  “Where is Rav Wolbe’s house” I asked.  To my shock, the home were we gathered late at night for a vaad was now condemned.

Rv Wolbe's house

It  was sad, but maybe fitting.  The master had passed and so had an era.  The student who showed me around had the purity and simplicity that I had remembered and the food in the dining room was as sparse as I remember it…. and the Torah was being studied with only bread and water and apparently no electricity.  For me and the students, Rav Wolbe’s wisdom still echoes in the hall.  It was time for me to go.

There is much written in the agadata (non legal texts of the Talmud) about a grove (pardes) and a destroyed edifice (chorvah).  On my return to the Yeshiva of my youth I found a pardes that is no more and a chorvah that contains much of my core.  I left the Yeshiva that day.  Needless to say, the yeshiva remains in me.

———————–

[i] Sifrei on Deut. 11:22, Yerushalmi Ber. 9:5, Midrash Shmuel 1 as quoted in Rashi Deuteronomy 11:13 Similar is [the meaning of]“And it will be, if you forget” (אִם שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח) (Deut. 8:19): If you have begun to forget [the Torah you have learned], eventually you will forget all of it, for so it is written in the Megillah 1: “If you leave Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.”

[ii]Vitaher Libeynu (And Purify Our Hearts). 5:58 – 7:25 here.

[iii] In the name of Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi Pirkei Avot 6:4

 

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a journey – russia to the promised land

Just published a book on blurb that documents my family’s amazing trip to the Soviet Union in 1974. We made the first contact by western activists with Natan Sharansky. It’s the story of one American family and the larger story of the awakening of Soviet Jews. How the voice of a few troublemakers, joined by the voice of students and housewives helped bring down the most powerful totalitarian regime…. the original spring awakening! It is a journey that changed my life.

The story of an Ame…
By Jerome Stern &…

The miracle of the Six Day War gave birth to a no less miraculous discovery by Soviet Jews of their Jewish roots.

These courageous Jews applied for, but were refused permission to emigrate to Israel and came to be known as Refuseniks.

In the early seventies Americans and Israelis came to offer support.

KGB agents would harass these activist-tourists and confiscate the educational materials and blue jeans they brought to provide cultural and financial support.

The role played by foreigners, especially Americans, in making the refusenik issue an international story, was significant.

This is the story of one American family (Jane, Jerome, Michael and Geoffrey Stern) who travel to the Former Soviet Union in July of 1974 to lend support.

A theretofore unknown activist; Anatoly Sharansky had married his wife Avital on July 3rd, put her on a plane to Israel on the 4th and joined the other Refuseniks that Shabbat outside of the Moscow Synagogue to trade stories of their recent lock-up during the Nixon state visit the previous week.

The Sterns meet Sharansky on Saturday July 6th outside of the Moscow Synagogue and their journey begins.  Along the way they meet Vladmir Slepak, Aba Taratuta, Alexander Lerner, Mark Azbel, a young Tom Lantos, and in Israel they search and find Avital on the banks of the Kineret.

This is the story of that journey:  from russia to the promised land…  with an epilogue that continues through the present.

Here’s the original audio of the interview of Natan Sharansky and Jerome Stern conducted by Ezra Bookstein in 2009 for the movie Chutzpa with Charm

Natan Sharansky and Jerome Stern 2009

Sharansky-Stern audio interview 2009

To view or download original images click here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/geoffreystern/sets/72157628188621747

Here’s how to get this book on to your iPad or iPhone:

  1. Open the link below on your iPad, iPhone or iTouch:
  2.  http://tinyurl.com/7mful49 (This is the .epub file for the book)
  3. Your ebook will be downloaded and will open in the iBooks app. If you do not have the free Apple iBooks app you’ll need to do so prior to downloading your book.Here’s an audio recording of introductory remarks by Jane Stern at reception for Joseph and Kati Mendelevich on 12/12/1981 at the home of Jane & Jerome Stern in New York City. Introductory Comments Jane SternSSSJ 1981parlor meeting and here’s an audio recording of closing remarks of Refusenik Joseph Mendelevich and  closing comments and pitch made by Jerome Stern at same reception ClosingJosephMendelovichand Jerome Stern and the story of the Stern’s “infiltrating” the Bolshoi Ballet Glen Richter-JLS comments at JosephMendelovich parlor meeting

    Jane Stern listens to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at 1981 Mendelevich reception

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