Sunday, September 16, 2018

What do you see?

High Holy Rosh Day 1  2018  Rabbi Norbert Weinberg

What do you see?

            If any of you checked our Facebook page or gotten one of our emails, you would have seen an interesting line, “Call in 5779 with History-and Her story.” I will be humble. The credit goes to our Cantor, Stacey Morse, who decided, correctly, that our mothers were players in the big game of Judaism, not just the fathers.
            What may seem as an attempt to show that we are hip and relevant, or flip and irreverent, is actually germane to this season. It is not some attempt to force gender-equality on us from some contemporary ideology de jour. Not man-splaining it. It is integral to this very holiday season.
            We speak in terms of “Yom HaDin”, Day of Judgement, and the image of God as judge, as king, as father, all male, harsh, and cold images. We think of an Abraham, taking his son, unemotionally, up on the altar, the abstract ideologue, so wrapped in his vision, that all else fades away.
            But this is only one half of the story.
            Every element in this season is associated with Atonement, Kippurim, achieving forgiveness, Slichah, and even more so, with a plea for Rachamim. Rachamim, Mercy, or compassionate love, comes from the word, “Rechem”- the womb, the uterus, that part of the woman, as mother, as giver of life, as nurturer.
            Hence, our Torah reading of the first day deals, first, with God remembering Sarah, as he promised. It follows with the tension between two mothers, Sarah and Hagar, as to which son, Isaac or Ishmael, is to be the heir to the message of Abraham. The Haftarah focus on the anguish of Hannah, who is the love object of her husband, yet feels unfulfilled as she is barren, childless. Tomorrow, our Haftarah reading depicts a despondent mother, Rachel, moaning as she sees her children led off to slavery in a distant land. It is the Holy One who now breaks down at Rachel’s tears and declare that the Israel is his own ben yakir li”, my dear son,’yeled sha’shuim”, the child whom he has indulged and spoiled. In the Torah reading of the second Day, too, Sarah is present by her absence. The classical Jewish mother. The Midrash says that as she hears of Abraham hauling Isaac up the mountain, she dies of heartbreak. How do we know? Because in the very next paragraph, Sarah is dead. Father is abstract; mother is all too much there.
            So, this is very much a herstory, not a history.
            At this point, I am going to pivot my focus on to one mother, the one who seems to be neglected, passed over by history, in our version, a least, Hagar. Truth be told, she is central to today’s reading. She is central because in her character, we learn about seeing and sight. We understand that she is blinded by her misery and pain. In story number two, Sarah dies; in this story, Hagar is immobilized and can not see her son’s salvation.
            Sight and its counterpart, blindness, are as much a matter of our insight and outlook as it is a matter of photons striking the rods and cones in our retina.
            Blind people who can see, while sighted people are visionless, is a popular theme for many a writer.
            Many years back, there was a play and a movie; called Butterflies are Free, the story of a young man, blind from birth.
            His mother reminds him of the children's tales she composed of "Little Donny Dark" with his slogan" There are none as blind as those who will not see". While the line may sound trite and commonplace, it rings too true for us all--there are those who have no eyesight, yet know very well where they are going, and others, with 20/20 vision, who are constantly walking in to walls.
            For Rosh Hashanah, for a time in which we are to look inside ourselves, it is appropriate that our Torah reading of both days deals with being able and ready to see. 
            The first days reading deals with mother Hagar, abandoned in the desert, outcast, with her son Ishmael, who is dying of thirst. She has given up all hope, steps back at the distance of a bow’s shot because, “I cannot look at the death of my child.” God hears the child’s cry, an angel asks, typical Jewish fashion, a question, “Mah Lach Hagar?” Literally, “What’s it for you”, a kind ironic surprise, to say,” What are you worried about, what’s the matter.”Then”Al tiri”-Don’t be afraid!
            Just then, our reading says:    
 Vayifkah eyeneha-God opened her eyes and “hiney”-behold there is a well.
            Where did this well come from so mysteriously? Our Rabbis never liked the idea of miraculously appearing wells. “Hiney”-It’s here. !
            Our commentaries suggest that the well had been there all along. In her anguish, Hagar had been blind to the solution, to the well of water next to her. By putting fear aside, she was able to see what was there, all along. Water, life, and a future for her child and his progeny.
            On the second day, we read of Abraham and Isaac. This is a parallel with the Ishmael account, only here, Isaac is in danger. We know nothing of Abraham’s emotions. That is common in Biblical story-telling, and he is, unlike the mother, the macho, the stoic—doesn’t show anything. But here, too, we realize that he is blind, for we are told, with the same word as used in the story of the well, " vayar vehiney ayil aher"-Abraham sees and ,”hinei,behold there is another ram, "a ram to offer instead of his son. Did the ram just mysteriously appear?  Rather, it was there because Abraham was no longer blinded by his zeal, ready to recognize that his loyalty to God did not require the sacrifice of his beloved Isaac. Appropriately, the site is then called: Adonay Yireh"-God sees."
            So, we learn form our mothers, and from our fathers.
            Sight, ordinary eyesight, as we sense it, depends  as much on what our mind creates as what our eyes see. This is one of the classic givens of psychology.
             Sight itself is just a mass of information- light in its different frequencies strikes the retina, hits the rods and cones, and provides stimulation to the optic nerve. It is the mind which comprehends these as light and dark, colors, shapes-- it is our mind which then coordinates and interprets to produce vision.  This is true for physical vision. it also holds true for emotional and spiritual vision.
            In truth, people who are physically blind can often be aware of sights that most, with good eyesight, are blind to.
            "Better blind of eye than blind of heart (Midrash Ahikar 2.48) is how the Midrash phrased it, or" Not the eye but the heart is blind,” in the words of the poet, ibn Gabirol (Mivhar Hapninim).
             Helen Keller, deaf and blind from the age of two, who established so much of the principals used today in making the blind self-sufficient, once claimed:
            "I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light, but who see nothing in woods, sea or sky, nothing in the city street, nothing in books. What a witless masquerade is this seeing:
            It were better far to sail forever/
            In the night of blindness/
            With sense and feeling and mind
            Than to be thus content with the mere act of seeing.
They have the sunset, the morning skies, the purple of distant hills, yet their souls voyage through this enchanted world with nothing but a barren stare."
                        Hagar, lost in the wilderness, was blind to a simple well; with words of hope, she could see what was there all along. Abraham, a man of vision, could see that his ultimate sacrifice did not include his own beloved son.
             We too, like them, need to open our eyes constantly both to our physical world and to our immediate personal world. We can find a paradise or we can be blinded and find a hell--or worse--- a boredom.
             Being able to see the spiritual, the healing, the noble and the sacred is a special gift in itself. Our very religion is based on the readiness to see what others have missed. It is Moses who goes into the desert to discover the burning bush, and this is how the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning described the experience:

            Earth's crammed with heaven
            / And every common bush afire with God/
            But only he who sees, takes off his shoes/
             The rest sit around and pluck blackberries."
            This thought was echoed by the quintessential American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who put it this way," If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. If there is grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps."
            Two centuries ago, the English mystic and poet, William Blake warned against a world taken over by the cold force of reason and the wheels of industry--He presaged a world of guillotine, gas chamber and gulag. He called for a return to vision, in his words:
            To see a world in a grain of sand/
And a heaven in a wild flower/
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/
And eternity in an hour.
             The very essence of the Jewish people, our ability to exist for so many centuries, is precisely because we, as a people, as a sacred community, followed in this pattern of being willing to open our eyes to visions of the sacred.
            An ancient Midrash describes Abraham our ancestor having a vision of a castle glowing with shimmering lights. A voice comes from heaven and tells him," Can there be such a glowing, shining castle without the Lord of the castle." Thus, it is said, he saw the sanctity and holiness in the world, and recognized the existence of a divine source of this sanctity.
            There are those of us who go through life seeing the flames of divinity in every wall and corner. There rest of us see and hear nothing, only pitch black.      
            On  this Rosh Hashanah day, we need to learn, both from our mothers and our fathers, may we open our eyes like Hagar and see the wells of sustenance, may we open our eyes like Abraham and find our offerings of thanksgiving, may we see infinity and eternity, may we find cheyn vahesed- Grace and favor-- in the eyes of God and our fellow man and woman. Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Chai Times- High Holy Days Edition

August - October 2018.  Vol 6, Issue 2

High Holy Days Edition

Days of Awe

Join us for High Holy Days at Hollywood Temple Beth El.

Be part of a truly inclusive, participatory and tremendously welcoming community
Advance reservation required for security purposes at
For more information: 323-656-3150


Sunday, September 9th 2018
7:00 PM

Monday, September 10th 2018
9:00 AM

Tuesday, September 11th 2018
9:00 AM

Tuesday, September 18th 2018
7:00 PM

Wednesday, September 19th 2018
9:00 AM

Sunday, September 23rd  2018
7:00 PM

Yamim Noraim  ימים נוראים  HIGH HOLY DAYS

Messages from  Rabbi Weinberg
Message from Rabbi Rosenberg
Meet our Hazzan Stacey Morse
Membership Prices
A Spiritual Boot Camp for the High Holy Days and Beyond with noted speaker and author-Gilla Nissan
Sova Appeal

Message Rabbi Norbert Weinberg

We will soon converge at our synagogue to mark Rosh Hashanah, the New Year of 5779. The year going out has been hard and trying on us as a nation and we ask what has happened to our ideals and to our sense of common cause. Of course, as Jews, we also know that “ Ain Chadash Tachat Hashemesh”-There is nothing new under the sun, or, in common parlance,” Been there; done that.”.

According to an ancient tradition, on Rosh Hashanah God created humanity and in so doing, completed the action of Creation.

Do not imagine that it was an easy thing to create the first Adam. Do not imagine That the heavens were pleased with the whole process. Thus it is said that when God was about to create the first Adam, the angels in heaven were in an uproar.
All had been in harmony, and all has been in accord with God --up until he said, "Let us make Adam~Humanity." At this moment, dissension entered the universe.

One school demanded ,'Don't do it' and the other demanded ," Do it.
Lovingkindness said " Create him for he will be a kind and loving being.
Justice said " Create him, for he shall do justice."
Peace said," Don't create him, for he is only strife and contention."
What did God do? He threw truth to the ground ! God turned to the angels and said, " Stop your arguing!  Naasah Adam., Adam has already been created."

What a controversial creature we be that the angels in heaven themselves must disagree and that peace is ignored and the truth itself is thrown to the ground in order to make way for the human being.

In this Midrash, our Sages must have known that some two millennia after they taught, we would still be caught up in our strife and our lies, personal and public.  They understood that God must have known full well what a “brave new world” he created “that had such people in it.”

If we understand that God saw full well what his creature could do, we can also understand God’s belief in the potential of his creation, that we could lift ourselves above our strife and contention and carry out acts of lovingkindness and peace. It is that Divine faith in our potential and capability that brings us together, under one roof, in this Bet Knesset, House of Gathering. This year, we will gather ourselves, our thoughts, hopes, and aspirations together and usher in a much better 5779.


Message From Rabbi Steven Rosenberg

It’s a Wonderful New Year in the Neighborhood

 Fifty years ago, Fred Rogers had a simple but important mission: To find a way to convey positive messages to children about who they are and that their feelings matter.  Here are some of his words:
 “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like “struggle.” To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of.”
 There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
 “One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.”
 “Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends.”
 “It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love.”
 “Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”
 “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Rogers, an ordained minister, saw the new medium of   Television as an amazing tool to bring these important values to children.

So why is a rabbi talking about Mister Rogers during the High Holy Days? Because his messages were also deeply Jewish ones.

Roger’s most famous message, “I like you just the way you are,” is succinct, powerful and such an important message for today: Accept people where they are. Accept them for what they are and like them for who they are, not what you want them to be.

The Jewish tradition teaches us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It goes without saying that in order to fulfill this commandment, we must also love ourselves first. In other words, we need to like ourselves just the way we are as well.

As our community grows together at Hollywood Temple Beth El, we would be well served to learn from Mister Rogers wise words and heartfelt thoughts:
"As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has--or ever will have--something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression."

 That is what a community does at its best. Each day we should encourage each other to be the best “you.” To accept, honor and love our each other just for being themselves, with the simple words, you are welcome here and you matter just by you being you!

As this New Year approaches, let us all learn Fred Rogers’ wonderful and important words of acceptance, love, community and human dignity. Let us go forward with the understanding that the only way to build a healthy and long-lasting community are built upon the values of compassion, caring and mutual respect.

If Mister Rogers was here with us today, I am sure he would say, “You make our community special by just being you.”

I wish you and your family a sweet, happy and healthy new year.

L’Shanah Tovah,
Rabbi Steven Rosenberg
Director of Outreach and Engagement
Welcome to our Family

Hazzan Stacey Morse

Born of a brilliant hippie Democrat and a Republican “McGyver,” our new hazzan lives for harmony – in all forms.

Her family drove from New York, harmonizing all the way ... when Stacey was a toddler. Her Hebrew name, Shira, means Song. Her family’s havurah created the only synagogue in Manhattan Beach.

Our new sheliach tzibbur (messenger of the congregation) has led services and life-cycle events throughout the country, internationally, and on the high seas. Stacey even led services for our armed forces by invitation. She has created and led healing services and drum circles, harmonized for an R&B label, and been blessed to sing with Cantors Phil Baron, Ilan Davidson and Hershel Fox.

She is honored to be with HTBEL, and looks forward to davening with Rabbi Rosenberg and Rabbi Weinberg, in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions.
Stacey attended Brandeis University, CSUDH, and the Academy of Jewish Religion, studying privately with Cantor William Sharlin (z”l). (También habla y entiende el español, pero es una historia muy larga!) After receiving her Masters, Stacey taught English grammar, religion, and Hebrew to children and adults.

She has also written and edited calendars, newspapers, magazines, and even a physics journal at UCLA. She may also hold the record for the oddest jobs held while working on her theses.

Like the rest of the Morse family, Stacey has sailed and ridden motorcycles her whole life. She is a member of the Renaissance Faire, and a member of her local C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team). Most of all, she loves to hear the congregation harmonize with her.
 Come make a joyful music with Stacey Morse

For a whole month before Rosh Hashanah, we begin to build up to what is intended as the greatest communal and individual meet-up with the Eternal and Infinite.  
That month is known as “ Elul”, which is seen as an acronym for “ Ani- Ledodi V’dodi Li” ( I am for my beloved and my beloved us for me, from The Song of Songs).  We mark that season with a special Psalm and the Shofar is blown  at every weekday morning service.
Sephardic Jews go a step further, with extra prayers, Slichot, recited every day, at the crack of dawn; Ashkenazic Jews tend to take it easier, and begin the Slichot only on the Saturday night,  a week before Rosh Hashanah.
To help us get in the  mood, every Shabbat leading up to Rosh Hashanah will be dedicated to a different theme of the season. Services begin at 9:45 AM.Discussion at 11:45 AM.
Join us for Nosh and Drosh at 1 PM on Shabbat
August 11—Rosh Hashanah- The Beginning of the Year.  Where does this come from?  Why isn’t it in the Torah? What is in the Torah? What do our great sources tell us about this season
August 18—Return- Teshuvah.   Are we in charge of our fate? Is it in the cards? Is it in our DNA? A look at Jewish sources.
August 25— Music and the Holidays - Those tones that hit a primal inner-self.  The Rosh Hashanah Leitmotif and other melodies, Featuring Hazzan Stacey Morse.  Learn the melodies of the service
September 1- The poetry of the Mahzor.  What is in this magic prayerbook that we read  and do not comprehend?

 Memorial Plaque Appeal

Over the years and generations your loved ones names have been inscribed in our Temple’s Memorial Plaques.  We honour their life, love and commitment to our synagogue.

Your  help  is needed to maintain the memorial  plaques for your loved ones. To continue our service of honor to you and your loved ones, we ask for a yearly donation of $18.00 per plaque.
 For your donation HTBE will ensure
  • the inclusion of your loved one’s name in our Memorial Book for Yizkor prayer
  • turning on of yahrzeit lights for your loved one
  • turning on of lights for your loved one at all Yizkor services
  • any necessary repair and maintenance of your loved ones’ plaques
  • email or US post reminders to you of the yahrzeit of your loved one
We thank you for your continued support of Hollywood Temple Beth El.  We welcome and greatly appreciate your generosity and ask anyone who is able, to give beyond the measure stated here.


Book of Remembrance / Memorial Book

 Honour the memories of loved ones

It is the tradition of HTBE to publish our High Holy Days Remembrance and Memorial Book as a loving reminder of those we held close.  This book offers a source of comfort to those of us who grieve and   honors the life and memory of our loved ones.  It includes the names of those who remember, the ones being honored as well as the special prayers and meditations for use when observing Yahrzeit.
Prayers and meditations are written in Hebrew, English and Russian.
 Names are not automatically renewed.  To include your loved ones please submit the names of your loved ones as shown below.

Suggested Donation:  $18.00 per name
 PLEASE PRINT NAMES CLEARLY        Deadline:  September 1 2018
 Remembered By:                                  Name of loved one.                     Relationship to you

Support your community.  Become a member

High Holy Days Tickets and Membership Fees and Dues

Active Military and First Responders Free to all Services.
Please contact the office for ticket.

We strongly encourage members and guest to use a ride share service where possible

☐  Membership: One Adult Household  with children under 21- $300
Includes 1 High Holy Days tickets and Parking for High Holy Days.

☐  Membership: Two Adult Household with children under 21- $600
Includes 2 High Holy Days tickets and Parking for High Holy Days

☐  Membership: Individual Membership -  $200
Includes 1 High Holy Days tickets and Parking for High Holy Days

☐  Membership: Students- $75
Includes 1 High Holy Days tickets  -  NO Parking

☐  General Admission for High Holy Days Services only -$100.00
Includes 1 High Holy Days tickets  -  NO Parking

☐  General Admission for High Holy Days Services only - $175.
 Includes 1 High Holy Days tickets  and Parking for High Holy Days

 Book of Remembrance -  $18.00 per name
 Memorial Plaque Maintenance Donation  -  $18.00 per Name
 New Memorial Plaque - $500.00
 Sisterhood -  Membership $36.00
 Sponsor a High Holy Days Machzor* – (Minimum  Donation $36.00)
          My Donation Amount: $
Sponsor or Honouree’s name will be entered in High Holy Days Machzor

Special High Holy Days Honors

Rosh Hashana  Day 1:
  1. Cohen (Honouree Must be a Cohen.)$175.00
  2. Levi(Honouree Must be a Levi.)$175.00
  3. – 5                  125.00
Maftir            125.00
Haftarah       125.00

Yom Kippur:
  1. Cohen (Honouree Must be a Cohen.)$175.00
  2. Levi (Honouree Must be a Levi.)$2175.00
  3. – 6                  $125.00
Ark Openings/Closing -  $72
Rosh Hashana Day 1  or  Yom Kippur
                    Avinu Malkenu
                    Start of  Torah Service
                    End of Torah Service
Musaf Amidah
Aleynu (in the Amidah)

Kol Nidre       Ark Opening/Closing - $100

Hagbah 1 & 2 -  $72
Rosh Hashana Day 1  or  Yom Kippur

Gelilah 1 & 2  -  $72
Rosh Hashana Day 1  or  Yom Kippur

Annual Giving

In this coming year we appeal for your generosity in giving.  Your commitment is valued and greatly appreciated.
Donations maybe made in single lump sum or on a monthly plan.  If you are able, please consider donating at a level show below.
 Community Builder  -  $18 - $150
Listing in our recognition  booklet
High Holy Day Honour – To be determined
 Friends Circle  - $151 - $500
Carry a Torah on Kol Nidre
Above plus invitation to special appreciation event
Special HTB Donor “T” Shirt
Deborah  Society
 Leaders Nevi’im -  $501 -$3000
Above plus Invitation to special  Leaders Society  appreciation event
1 copy of High Holy Days Machzor signed by Rabbis Weinberg and Rosenberg
Dinner with the Clergy
Aliyah on High Holy Days
Benefactors  Society
 Builders Bonim -  $3001 and above
Above plus Invitation to special  Leaders Society  appreciation event
Dinner with the Clergy
Family Household High Holy Days tickets
Aliyah on Rosh Hashana Day 1 and Yom Kippur
A Spiritual Boot Camp for the High Holy Days and Beyond 
with noted speaker and author-Gilla Nissan 
 “The best way to get rid of darkness is simply to add light”( Rabbi A Steinsaltz)
A Course in Signs & Wonders -  Featuring Noted speaker and author-Gilla Nissan
With added guest appearance by vocalist Catherine Braslavsky, noted teacher of the “Return of the Sacred Voice”
Thursdays evenings, 7:30 -8:30 PM, begins August 9.
Special: 1st Session Free. Pay only if you decide to continue.
Discover your true roots and identity through the Hebrew Letters of your name with Kabalistic views on Torah and the coming New Year of 5778. What does it mean for you to be in the “Here and Now” as a Jew, with insights from the teachings of Kabbalah. This is a rare opportunity to develop practices and expand consciousness via meditation, visualization and learning to explore our inner “Neshamah”, our inner essence.

Centuries before Freud and Jung, or Dr. Phil, the wise scholars of the Kabbalah served as the first healers of the soul. Their wisdom and insights can help us build ourselves up today as well.

Gilla Nissan, author of The Hebrew Alphabet: A Universal Guide with Signs and Wonders, brings the techniques of Gurdjieff together with the teachings of Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man, through the insights of Jewish mystic wisdom, to lead us to a higher plane with meditation, visualization and guided imagery.

Series 1: Five sessions, running Thursdays, August 9-Sept 67:00-8:30PM. The month of introspection leading to the elevation of the High Holy Days. Opening session, Thursday, August 9, will feature Catherine Braslavsky on the musical sound of Alef, the silent letter.

Series 2: Five sessions. Thursdays, Sept. 20 through Oct 18 .The season of our rejoicing and reflections on the theme of happiness and joy that is the focus of Sukkoth
For more information on Gilla Nissan:
For a sample of Catherine Braslvasky’s chanting a Ladino melody:
Registration for each series is through
Fee for each series is $60 for five sessions. Minimum- Ten registrants for each series. Please call 323-656-3150 to register 


You may fully or partially sponsor an event!  All donations are welcome.   We want to keep and expand our services.  Please take part in keeping HTBE moving forward! 


HTBE Joins with  Jewish Family Services in our  ANNUAL SOVA DRIVE 

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles { SOVA depends on your donations to meet the ongoing hunger crisis in our community. Donations directly benefit the nearly 12,000 people who visit our three pantries each month – people of all ages, races and religions. Please be as generous as you can be – the need has never been greater. Listed below are our greatest needs.

Peanut Butter, Canned Tuna/Fish, Rice, Canned Meats, Canned or Dry Soup,  Whole Grain Cereal, (beef stew, chili w/meat, chicken etc.)

We also welcome other non-perishable foods, personal hygiene items and children’s books including:
Dry Beans, Dry Pasta, Dry Milk, 100% Juice, Oatmeal, Tomato Sauce , Canned Beans, Canned Vegetables,
Canned Fruit, Canned Pasta, Cooking Oil, Kosher Foods, Diapers/Wipes, Soap, Shampoo/Conditioner, Deodorant, Toothpaste, Toothbrushes
Please avoid expired, opened or perishable foods.
For more information, please visit   Or call Kathi Dawidowicz at (818) 988-7682 ext. 120.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Israel at 70 from inside

Reporting from Israel- June 2018

I .Welcome to Jerusalem
There is nothing like the Jerusalem skyline, especially form the porch of Margalit Zadok, my 94 year old mother-in-law, who was the prime reason for our visit. From here, you see the Shrine of the Book ( housing Dead Sea and Bar Cochba artifacts), the Israel Museum, the Hebrew University, and in the distance, at the center, the tower of the YMCA and the King David Hotel, where my father-in-law his antiquities and jewelry store (Remember the scene in Exodus, where Paul Newman sits with Jill St. John on the deck of the hotel, overlooking the old city? Prince William and Katherine are there right now on their Royal visit. That's the King David)

At the same time, we celebrated our grandson's Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel- right at the corner of the Western and Southern Wall, the one you don't see in the news, the one that actually faces lower levels of the original wall of Herod.
While there has been much controversy about having a women's full service section at the plaza in front of the Western Wall ( a political football in the midst of Israeli secular- traditional- Orthodox-and ultra-Orthodox entities), the south section of the wall, next to Robinson's arch, one of the ancient gateways into the Temple Mount 2000 years ago, has been in use for some time now. Political football doesn't get played when there are no media cameras around.

II. Korea Loves Israel
On our first night on the town ( Jerusalem that is) we attended a Korean festival celebrating Jerusalem and Israel's 70th Anniversary

A traditional Korean dance, accompanied by the words of the Psalms.

I think we Jews have trouble accepting being loved. We have been beaten around over so many centuries that we don't know how to digest it when someone actually appreciates or admires us. 
It turns out that Koreans love us better than we love ourselves. They also want to know the secrets of our success and a best seller in Korea is known as " the Korean Talmud". Well, it's not really a Talmud, and doesn't present the tools for good pilpul ( hot, peppery arguments),but rather a collection of some Rabbinic discussions. However, you get the gist.

II. Apartheid State?

This is the mural on top of the canopy at the Old Train Station in Jerusalem. It shows a mix of people of different faiths and nations, in a  state of devotion.
It will be hard to find a more diverse society, yet holding together. Besides the expected mix of Ashkenazic and Sefardic Jews, and Arabs, the people mix is now Asian ( heavily from the Philippines and Thailand) as well as African . The Jewish mix is becoming increasingly diverse, so that besides Jews of African origin, I have come across, for example, East Asian Hasidic children with long peyos.
Ramadan just ended, and the restaurants were full of Muslim families celebrating the end of the fast. Religious and secular Jews, religious and secular Muslims ( women with and without hijab ), while the service staff cleaning up after them were white, blond -haired European males. That did not happen in Ol' Miss, nor in Jo'berg,SA, and certainly not in III Reich.
We had a chance to drive through Israeli Arab villages, such as Um al Fahm, filled with new mosques, with high-rising spires. Under historic Islam and Christianity, the respective Mosque or Cathedral had to be higher than the place of worship of the non-believer, and certainly much higher than the synagogue of the lowly Jew. In Israel, where we, as Jews have the run of the roost and are accused of running an apartheid state, our synagogues are still small and lowly. It's OK.

Here is an example of our new ethnic mix- Afro and Euro with tzitis hanging out. There is also a hipster-Orthodox trend ( reminiscent of my Orthodox Hippy friends of yore)-- side-locks down to the chest, fashionable hair trim, trendy clothes, tzitzit with a blue thread .
In this so-called "Apartheid State", traditional Jewish, traditional Muslim, and secular of indeterminate ethnicity mix freely at the popular Malha Mall. How can you tell the Jewish women from the Muslim, especially among the trendy? Both wrap a cloth of some kind around the head; both are signs of personal modesty. The Muslim version, a fashionable scarf, covers all the hair and the neck, leaving only the face visible. The Jewish version, also a fashionable scarf, is wrapped in a high turban ( that's the new look) , covering much, but not all of the hair. On the other hand, one's idea of modesty is a matter of judgement. The Muslim women covers all the hair and neck, the arms and legs, but wears tight-tight fitting designer jeans and blouses. The Jewish woman leaves the hair, neck and arms half-way exposed, but dresses in knee-length dresses, and half-length sleeves. 

III Still People of the Book?
Open air-annual book fair at the Old Train Station in Jerusalem

Israelis are all connected to the web, on the computers, tablets and smart-phones. Despite that, they still buy and read books. Print newspapers, as opposed to on-line news, are still hot, and more papers are published and read per capita in Israel than any where else.

IV. Remember the pictures of the old Kibbutz Pioneers clearing the fields of rocks by hand?

An robotic automated plant potting assembly line

Temperature and humidity controlled hot-houses

Assembly line planting
Tom-Turkeys as big as 60 pounds.

We went to visit our friends , Heyden and Nomi , at Mei-Ami. Mei-Ami was established as a border settlement , separating the Israeli Arab city of Umm al Fahm and Jordan ( Yes, from 1948 till 1967, there was no Palestine, only a Jordan, on the West Bank). What was a barren hilltop has become a very comfortable upscale enclave , while neighboring Umm al Fahm has upscale designer clothing stores, the best doctors and nurses in the area and plenty of mosques!
Agriculture is today a high-tech industry. Each hothouse is computer controlled for temperature and humidity, and each plant is individually water. Not a drop to waste.  Israeli Jews and Arabs work side by side, together with Thai guest workers( signs are in Hebrew and Thai).

V. What's happening on the other side?

On the Syrian-Israeli cease-fire line ( just 300 feet away from me) in the Golan Heights at Kuneitra.

We drove up to the UN observation post at Mt. Bental, which looks directly into Syrian Golan and Syria proper. The UN force is appropriately called UNDOF- UN Disengagement Observation Force ; in simple English, we can look, but we don't want to get involved. For that reason, the UN had abandoned its actual positions in the demilitarized zone between Israeli and Syria; after we were there, Assad's forces went in, the UN could do nothing and Israel will probably have to push them back again).At that moment, the Syrian sides had a momentary respite form bloodshed ( fighting broke out again a few days later), so there was nothing to observe.There were two UN observers, one from Norway and one from Finland,  and since, to borrow the title of a famous World War I book, Im Westen Nichts Neues, or in English , All Quiet in the Western Front,the soldiers were quite at ease till we arrived on the scene. At that point, they made haste to open their laptop and maps, and look busy. Ofra had a very telling conversation with them:
O-Tell me, on this side, it is all green and cultivated. On that side, it is all brown and undeveloped. Why do you think that is so?
UN-Well, on the Israeli side, they have these well organized Kibbutzes, that have developed this area. On that side, those are all family owned lands.
O- But ,just because they are owned by families, don't those families care and tend for their farms just as much. They must not be very smart.
UN- I guess you are right- They are not very smart.

There, you have it from an official source at the UN.

Back in 2005 , Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza strip. They intentionally left behind very valuable, high-production greenhouses.  These residents shortly thereafter destroyed the greenhouses, voted in Hamas, and have been crying ever since. Concrete that was sent to build hospitals was used for offensive tunnels into Israel and even toy kites donated by Japan for the children of Gaza have been turned into weapons of arson to destroy nature reserves in Israel.
A friend of ours posted this picture of a kite-bomb that had landed not far from her brother. Whoever launched it had hoped some child would pick it up out of curiosity and be crippled or killed by it.

They must not be very smart!

VI. Life Goes On

A colorful procession in Moroccan festive clothes for a Bat Mitzvah

The Mahane Yehudah Market by day

Spice shop, with its spectrum of colors, smells and tastes
The same Mahane Yehudah by night, transformed into the hotspot for the young

Shalva Institute, where children with special needs get personal attention to grow and develop
Israel is one of the happiest countries on earth , by the United Nations annual international happiness assessment, #11, ahead of the US at #18. Even the wealthy Emirates, Qataris and Saudis don't have as broad a smile.The neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, keep a stiff upper lip, the "Occupied "Palestinians are sour but rank happier than "Unoccupied"  the Egyptians, Iraqis, Iranians, or Tunisians , even those Powerhouse Indians. Syrians and Yemenis are in a state of total depression.

Constant attacks, constant threats, missiles poised against them, legal charges against the prime minister, the high cost of defence, and the like. Everyone complains and protests, and then, they are happy. 

How do they do it?
This is what they sang at parties for the past 30 years:

Eyzo medinah, eyzo medinah
Eyzo medinah, meyuchedet beminah
What a country, what a country
What a country, one of a kind
The government presses, 
A country under pressure
What a country, what a country!
It continues as a lament of high prices, high taxes, corrupt officials, and concludes:
Despite the mess and the deficiencies
You're our country, for all the generations!
There is a hora dance set to this song, and everyone is happy as they sing it!

VI.The Changing Role of Women
Meet Naseeba Keesh Smara, a pioneering woman of the Druze in the village of Bukata, Golan Heights.
Naseeba runs a one-woman tourist attraction in the Druze village of Bukata-- home -made traditional Druze food served in her home for tour groups  ( she can now offer vegetarian and kosher options!).
Naseeba grew up in the main Druze city of Majd-el-Shams, which, under the Syrians, had become more-or-less secularized. She moved to the viallge of Bukata, where the residents were much more traditional in their dress and behavior, and where a " liberated" woman was out of place. Naseeba did not let that stop her- she set out to get her own driver's license, get career training, build a business, run an orchard, and get the local men and women to respect her. 
It is one of the signs of shifts occurring in the status of women throughout the Middle-East, whether Jews, Druze, Muslim or Christian.
The food is great!

VII.What makes for authentic culture
The attack against what is called " Cultural Appropriation" is an essential element of Fascism and Racism. Richard Wagner and his contemporaries decried Jewish musicians as incapable of comprehending the true soul of music.  Kipling was famous for his " East is East and West is West and N'er the Twain Shall Meet." Oswald Spengler, the great theoretician adored by Nazism, based his concept of history on the inherent incompatibility of civilizations. It is expressed in the German term, Kulturkampf, the War of Civilizations.
What is it to be a Jew, but to be the greatest appropriators of all cultures of all times, yet fashioning a distinctly Jewish mode. Babylonian-Egyptian-Canaanite-Persian-Greek-Roman-European-Islamic. 
Here it is, in music, for your enjoyment

Traditional Korean melody in honor of Israel 

Traditional Yemenite wedding song, Ayelet Chen, set to contemporary arrangement. The only traditional instrument is the empty oil can at the left. The Muslim rulers there forbade Jews from playing any musical instruments; so much for the vaunted tolerance of Islamic society..

Klezmer music, Jewish Jazz of Eastern Europe, produced styles and rhythms that shaped American music

An Ode to Vodka

A Japanese Choir from Osaka, singing a classic Chasidic melody.

Welcoming the Bat Mitzvah girl, Moroccan style

These girls had all of a half hour to learn the entire routine

Dancing on the street, Ben Yehudah Pedestrian Mall

Today's top-hit group in Israel- Static -playing in front of the Knesset

VIII. Lest We Forget
A Marker at the corner of King George and Jaffa, Jerusalem, marking the murder of civilians by Palestinian terrorists in 2001. That wave of bombings was preceded by a wave of brutal bus bombings in 1996. That was after Israel had signed an accord with the PLO  for the sake of Peace in 1993!  
The settlers of the Land of Israel suffered for many years, warfare and terror, to create a vibrant state, with the death and maiming of soldiers and civilians alike in the thousands.
My grandfather's grandfather was murdered in Safed in 1896, before the " Zionist invasion". There was a pogrom against the Jews of Hebron in 1926, before the struggle for Independence. Terror gangs invaded Israel before 1956 and before 1967, and planted bombs, hijacked buses, planes , and even ocean liners, in the years since.
 If Israelis today are reluctant to open the floodgates of Hamastan-Gaza ( which they don't occupy) and to grant full independence to the PLO-run West Bank-Palestine ( which they also, to the most part, don't 'occupy'), it is no wonder.

Shalom al Yisrael- Peace for Israel