Beyond the Cusp

May 3, 2017

Israel Just Turned Sixty-Nine

 

The renewed State of Israel just turned sixty-nine in the usual emotionally roller-coaster ride. In Israel there is an unique lead in to celebrating the rebirth of the nation state for the Israelite People, also known in modern time as the Jews (more on that in a bit). A little while before the celebratory day we commemorate the remembrance of those lost in the Holocaust. Then the day immediately before Independence day we commemorate all those who have fallen in our defensive struggle to remain a thriving and wonderful nation, but we might be a tad bit biased as citizens living in Israel and very happy with our choice to make Aliyah. Memorial Day includes the soldiers and civilians including Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, Baha’I, other racial and religious peoples who are represented in the society which is Israel and, of course, the Jews. Memorial Day also includes all of the above who have died or suffered debilitating and life altering injuries due to terrorism. Needless to point out, this is a very solemn day filled with tears and sorrow until sundown. That is when a transformation takes place that unless witnessed is impossible to envision. Sundown on the Jewish calendar marks the start of the next day, Independence Day and some of the highest spirits and joyous occasions in all of Israel. People dance in the streets, sing joyously, some pray, some chant their prayer aloud in the street, others soak it all in and are filled with a satisfaction and a warm glowing joy. Then there are of course speeches by politicians (something we unfortunately cannot prevent as they will talk, that is their job, to talk us into submission), singing (this is great usually even if in Hebrew and you do not yet speak Hebrew), dancing both with and without singing, music and in the midst of all this they launch a good half an hour or more of fireworks, and all this is in the town center of one of the smaller cities in Israel. If one wished to sit atop one of the twenty or thirty story building’s roofs, then they could gather in the little fact that the suburbs, other downtown neighborhoods, the neighboring Kibbutzim and all over the area there would be other fireworks and the sky would light up in sparkling explosions and bright sprinkles of joy in almost every direction one would look, well, except west as the Mediterranean Sea is west of our town.

 

Well, time for a short bit of history and why Israelite became to be known as Jews. If one were to take the refounding of the State for the Israelite People with Jerusalem as their Capital City, then Israel in approximately three-thousand-one-hundred-fifty-years old. That is because somewhere between 1,000 BCE and 1150 BCE King David took an elite group from his army and entered Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) in the middle of the night and took care of the majority of the night guard, took over the main gates and opened them to allow the rest of the Israelite army to enter Yerushalayim. From that day forward, Yerushalayim became the Capital City of Israel and the Israelite People such that wherever they would reside they prayed facing Yerushalayim. Many of their services, especially the Passover Haggadah, end with the final phrase of, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” History would note that King David’s son, King Solomon would build the Temple to Hashem allowing for a place for Hashem’s presence on Earth to settle. The Ark of the Covenant rested within the Holy of Holies, the central chamber within a chamber within the Temple. Only the Cohen Gadol (Heb. כהן גדול) was permitted to enter and then only on Yom Kippur when he was to atone and account for the people’s sins and the state of Israelite society and its reverence towards Torah. The Cohen Gadol would have a strong narrow rope capable of dragging his remains from the chamber attached to his ankle in case the recounting went badly. There are many accountings of attributes, the positions the Cherubim would face atop the Ark of the Covenant and other strict rules on how the Cohen Gadol was to prepare for entering the Holy of Holies. Let it rest that we are quite glad that we could never qualify for the position.

 

There was the instance when during a war the Israelites lost the Ark of the Covenant allowing the Ark to be captured in a battle they lost because they took the Ark of the Covenant without having been instructed by Hashem to do so. Things went quite badly for whatever city it was harbored. City after city would pass it off to save themselves and finally they begged the Israelites to take the accursed item back and never to allow it in their lands again. The Israelites took the Ark of the Covenant back with great joy and great care in handling the Ark. The Temple was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians and the Ark of the Covenant was nowhere to be found and has remained in hiding ever since. Also between the building of the First Temple and the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Yerushalayim and the Temple when Solomon dies the nations split into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom held ten tribes plus their priests and was named Israel and the southern nations was called Judea as it was made up of Juda and Benyamin, two tribes and Juda was the larger of the two. Judea also controlled Yerushalayim. The Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and never were they heard from until recently since the formation of the State of Israel, where these tribes emerge from around the globe and have proven genetic links to the Nation of Israel and the Israelite People. They were, and oft still are, referred to as the ten lost tribes of Israel. The Southern Nation continued until the Roman dispersion and their people were referred to as Judeans, which over time shortened and shortened until Judean became Jude and finally simply became Jew.

 

While in captivity, the Babylonians demanded our Priests sing songs for them so they wrote the Song of Babylon, which includes a very strong reference to the special place Yerushalayim plays in the lives of the Israelites. The Song of Babylon is also known as Psalms – Chapter 137 and those special lines are below.

Sing for us of the song of Zion.
How shall we sing the song of the Lord on foreign soil?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill (lose its cunning and strength)
May my tongue cling to my palate (roof of my mouth), if I do not remember you,
if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.
Remember, O Lord, for the sons of Edom, the day of Jerusalem, those who say,
“Raze it, raze it, down to its foundation!”

Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great who received the title of Great because he allowed the Israelites to return home to rebuild their Temple and worship Hashem. Truth be told, just as in Egypt with the Exodus, far less than half the Jews took the offer to return and reclaim their lands and make them productive. Many claim that both times the number was merely ten percent, we like to believe we could get at least double if not two and a half times as many, a full quarter of the Israelites. But many remained throughout the Persian Empire. Things went well until a descendent of one of the Israelites old enemies came back to haunt them. His name was Haman and he was the Visor (top advisor) to King Achashverosh. King Achashverosh called for his wife, Queen Vashti and her reply was, “No.” This angered King Achashverosh so he had her removed from her position as the Queen by beheading her. King Achashverosh held a contest to choose a new wife; a Jewess named Esther won and became Queen of Persia. Haman persuaded King Achashverosh that the Jews were a threat to his throne and had a Royal Order sent to all the regions that the Jews be killed on a set day. Esther’s Uncle Mordechai told her of these plans and asked her to intervene with the King, which at first she shrank from the task, but was persuaded to act. King Achashverosh could not repeal his first order so he issued a new order demanding that the Jews fight back and let the true people persevere. Haman and his sons hanged on the very gallows they had built to use on the Jews and on that fateful day the Jews won out and more anti-Semites died that day than any other day in history.

 

After this, there was a brief period of calm and then came the Greeks and Alexander who found circumcision to be abhorrent as they worshiped the human form and thought people to be born with perfection and it was an anathema to them to cut or change the body in any manner. Many Jews could not accept their making circumcision illegal and circumcision was simple to discern and once detected they faced sentencing to death. This caused them to live hidden in the caves of the Judean Hills away from the prying eyes of the Greek soldiers and officials. The Jews survived the Greeks despite many Jews being tempted and turning to following the Greek worship of idols. These were called Hellenized Jews and were very similar in many ways to the American and European Jews who have slowly over the years turned from their religion and now act as if they were gentiles in all manners except for attending church, but then many Europeans and a fair number of Americans, mostly leftists, also do not attend church. Then the Romans came replacing the Greeks and not much changed until the Jews managed to win their freedom briefly from the Romans who returned in force, defeated the Jews, and passed new restrictive laws in the hope it would break their will and force them to be Roman. Apparently, they were not familiar with Torah where the Israelites are often referred to as a stiff-necked people and stubborn beyond measure. The Jews managed the impossible and threw off Roman Rule a second time, Rome sent several legions, and this defeat was definitive. They dispersed much of the Jewish population to the far corners of their empire and everywhere in between with the hope that this dispersion would be the end of the Jewish People. Rome understood that a people without any connection to land became weak-willed and soon lost any mutual ties and became estranged and their being a nation terminated. The Jews were different because they were not tied to the land as much as they were tied to Torah, and the Romans could not take Torah away from the Jews, they had it memorized along with commentary, customs, celebrations and every iota which was within. This was the precious heritage that they passed on generation-to-generation and what kept the Jewish People defined as a people. It is Torah, which also is found in some traceable form that most of these tribes being discovered still observe to this day. They continue to observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and hold the Seder for Passover and every other tradition plus a few new ones commemorating great miracles in their lives.

 

Timeline of Ancient Israelites from Abraham to the Roman Conquest

 

All of this brings us to the pertinent question, did Israel just turn sixty-nine as it was born in 1948, or was this the celebration of Israel turning somewhere around three-thousand-two-hundred-fifty years old from the anointing of the first King of Israel, King Saul? But that leaves out Moses which brings us to this being the three-thousand-four-hundred plus years old and even this is incomplete as the very first Israelite to live in the land of Israel was Abraham and from his founding of the start of a family, a religion, the following of Hashem and the rules he would teach to Moses all placed within Torah along with the History of a people. So the origin of the Israelite People and the Jewish religion begins with our Patriarchs and Matriarchs named Abraham, Izaak, and Jacob along with Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. This makes this birthday approximately the four-thousand-seventeenth birthday as Abraham was estimated to have arrived in Canaan somewhere around 2000 BCE. The timeline above places Abraham appearance to be 2166 BCE, which makes our final approximation four-thousand-one-hundred-eighty-three years old, so have a happy, healthy and wonderful 4183rd birthday Nation of Israel. As we are writing this on Independence Day afternoon, we need to go to a picnic because in Israel we celebrate Independence Day much as it is everywhere, we go to morning religious services and a Bar-B-Q in the afternoon where there is lots of Kosher meat and no ice cream, it’s that meat and milk thing, so, good-bye for now.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

May 11, 2016

Israel Remembrance and Independence Day

 

Today is Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron), and tomorrow is Israeli Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut). On the Gregorian calendar it will be on Sunday, May 15, but on our Hebrew calendar it is tomorrow. There will be fireworks and celebratory activities all across this small but vital nation and the vitality will definitely be on display for all to see. But that independence came at a price which must be respected and have its day which is why we have Remembrance Day, or Memorial Day, one day before, today. Today we mourn all those lost to anti-Semitic terrorism, anti-Zionist terrorism and anti-Israel terrorism which have a shared root directly related to Independence Day and a more historic foundation, for some possibly remembrance also goes back in their hearts ever further than the official definitions. Officially we are remembering all those lost to terrorist strikes, all our soldiers lost in the battles and wars we have been forced to fight to continue to even have a nation, the six million souls lost in the Holocaust and for me the souls lost to the wars fought as recorded in the Bible and to all the pogroms, cleansings and other atrocities all but impossible to imagine from both sides of the great history of the Jewish People. Most people are familiar with only the modern anti-Semitic history of Europe and Russia and are unfamiliar with the similar history for those Jews who resided amongst the Arab world as well as Spain where when the Muslims were pushed back across Gibraltar and back into Northern Africa that the Jews too were cleansed from Spanish lands despite that the Jews were often victims alongside the Christians when there was persecution in Muslim lands against the non-Muslims. And then there was the particularly troublesome part in the Holy Lands.

 

The conquest of the Holy Lands by Islam, then the Crusaders, then Islam, then more Crusaders and finally Islam, took its toll on the Jews still residing in our homeland but powerless to free it of either curse. Both were a curse as when the Muslims attacked, the Jews were slaughtered right along with the Christians; and when the Crusaders attacked, the Jews were slaughtered right along with the Muslims. The one constant was whoever was trying to conquer the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular, the Jews were always on the wrong side as far as the attackers were concerned and often we were also seen as part of the enemy to whoever was defending against the attack; so the killing of Jews wholesale was always the outcome. These Jews I also remember because their only sin was to be living in our natural and ancient homeland. We had been thriving in this homeland when these forces of religious intolerance were still sacrificing their own to idols, before the Roman Empire, before Alexander the Great, before Darius and Cyrus and the Persians and before the Babylonians and Phoenicians and were only preceded by the Egyptians of that era, a different group than today’s Egyptians, the Minoans and the Hittites, Moabites and other peoples who existence has disappeared into the dust and only records stand in edifices still baffling modern engineers and archeologists. All the fallen throughout Jewish history should be remembered even if they also have their own holiday as they also were defenders of these lands.

 

 

Sculpture Dedicated to Soldiers Depicting Fallen Soldier

Sculpture Dedicated to Soldiers Depicting Fallen Soldiers

 

 

One might ask why dampen our spirits one day before our celebrating the wondrous miracle of the reestablishment of our ancient land into the modern world? The answer is so that we never forget and Never Again has additional meanings. And not to fret, the greatest transition in a national mood can be witnessed tonight as Jews across Israel go from somber remembrance to unbridled joy in a matter of seconds. We have had a history which has prepared us well for such shifts in our national mood. Remember Haman from the Megillah of Esther where we went from condemned to all be murdered across the Persian Empire in a single day and were instead decreed we would be permitted to defend ourselves without punishment from the King and we triumphed and survived by the thinnest wisp of smoke once again. We had faced similar threats before and would again and again as we are again today as most of the Islamic world has sworn to destroy us starting with our “partners for peace” the Arab Palestinians and Hamas, Hezballah, Islamic State and Iran and those are just for starters. Do not get us going down this road because it is not a road for great worry, we have faced these odds before and we are still here, and I do mean here as in right here in our ancient homelands where we belong no matter what the United Nations or the community of nations and a special shout down to the European Union and all the rest in Europe who support whoever is fighting against Israel despite our posing them no threat. We have survived threats just as severe before and we will very likely face others just as dire in the future. When your peoples have survived for over three-thousand-years you have some history and you have faced threats to end your existence and survived and thus are confidant, rightfully so, that you will continue to do so.

 

There are stories of rulers from France to Russia to the tips of Africa where they asked their wise men and advisors to define or explain such concepts as eternity, the Creator and a whole list of other things which defy definition as they imply that which is limitless and will last throughout the ages even well beyond their empire or other human measure of time and the answer given was always the Jews. Mark Twain once wrote, “The Eternal Jew” which reads:


If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.

His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him.

He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, and no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind.
All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

 

His commentary is a good place to leave these thoughts. Today in Synagogue we will all say prayers of remembrance and tomorrow we will quote prayers which are triumphant, one of the rare moments we do so. Then again, after three-thousand-years we have good reason to celebrate the fact we are still here to attend services but first to the memory of all who made our continued existence their worthy sacrifice and to Hashem who has walked with them whether they knew so or not. And perhaps that is the thread that binds the Jew to their heritage and gives them their spark, Hashem and His Torah which has been the glue that binds every Jew to his brothers and sisters no matter their path through the ages. Our thanks to our soldiers, our defenders and a remembrance to those from amongst our midst, the great sacrifices that were made and to our future; and may it serve Hashem well, with pride and humility, another opposing set of ideals we Jews have learned to hold simultaneously, or are at least still mastering.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

May 26, 2014

Today is Memorial Day in the United States

Believe it or not, this day for remembering the soldiers, sailors, airmen and others who served in the United States military should be celebrated over much of the planet. The odds are that if your nation was threatened by the Axis Powers in World War II or were under the oppressive rule of the Soviet Union or if you live somewhere which has you hoping for a warrior on a steed of war to ride over the horizon and save you from some horrid oppressions, well, the odds are the ones who arrive to save you past, present and future will be wearing the uniforms of the United States military. This is not to be construed as a blanket affirmation of the correctness of United States policies but is a testament to the individual men and women who put their lives on the line wherever in the world they are sent and who give everything they can for the people in whatever nation they are stationed. This is a testament to these individuals who, although not exactly perfect, are some of the finest and most generous people serving the policies of their government often with a kindness and softness unexpected from combatants. These are the men and women who are too often taken for granted or even scorned as they make herculean efforts to provide protection while also attending to the little things and the ideals which are a part of virtually every service member though not a required part of their required duties. It is seen in their giving a child the chocolate from their rations or carrying wounded civilians in a land that a week earlier they might not have been able to find on a globe but whose people are now job one.

 

Despite their training in combat sciences the United States military personnel often pull additional duty as brick layers, carpenters, roofers, dry wall hangers and whatever construction job is called for to build the first school, first clinic, first hospital or first structure for just about any function one can imagine that the villagers in some remote location have ever seen, let alone ever expected to have one in their own little hamlet. They often have to wear different hats such as medic, friend, teacher, counselor, trainer electrician, telephone installer, repairman and, of course, protector in some of the most remote places on the planet. The United States military can be tasked to go anywhere on Earth and arrive after hours of travel without rest and hit the ground running be their task to provide protection, serve as members of search and rescue personnel, construct a bridge, bring aid and comfort or just about any other thankless task and do so professionally. Will they sometimes gripe about the long hours, sure, who wouldn’t. No matter what, they are prepared to do whatever it takes to make the lives of the people safer and richer for having had them present. Most of what these service men and women do in selfless service is never lauded or written up in the daily news as their meritorious works are considered commonplace and nothing of note, unless you are the recipient of their deeds. What does make the news is any time they commit an error or make a decision with poor judgment as these are noteworthy exceptions to their dedicated and consistently well intentioned performance often under the worst of conditions. No matter the requirements of the deployment or where they may find themselves, the men and women of the United States military exemplify professionalism and often are scorned not because of their actions but because of preconceived notions or ill will towards their government, the government they must defend regardless of their personal political or other views as that is what a professional soldier does. So, this Memorial Day how about if you should see one of the service members you smile and just tell them “thank you” and see if that doesn’t bring a smile to their faces as well.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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