Thursday, June 5, 2008

Aliyah\עליה - upwards

The Oriental ancient and Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate this night the Ascension of the Lord, His Analepsis/taking up to heaven and to the right of the Father. We left the proper time of Pascha yesterday, in particular in accordance with the Christian Orthodox tradition. In Jerusalem, the celebration is very peculiar: the feast is rooted in the incarnation of the Lord in Bethlehem and therefore Ascension was a great Church event in the first centuries of the Early Church in the town of the taking flesh of the Savior.

Today, Jesus' taking up is precisely the accomplishment of his body and physical existence in the world. After His resurrection, jesus could move here and there in the territory of Eretz Canaan and did not leave Jerusalem to intervene in the life of His disciples.

The event is very shortly described in the Gospel of Saint Mark 16:14-19). This is something that we should be aware of: even (11) only eleven disciples were present when Jesus came and, as in Matthew, told them to heal the sick and baptize all the Nations and then then Lord appears seating at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
The Gospel of Saint Luke (24:50-51)compacts the event into one verse; on the other hand, the Acts of the Apostles (1:9-12) explain how Jesus will then send the Comforter. Interestingly, the Eastern Orthodox Church stops reciting the "Basileu Ouranie\Heavenly King to the Holy Spirit that will be said at Pentecost.

The first element -perceptible in Jesus' answer to Maria Magdalene (John 20:17), is that Jesus does not belong to any human being, soul, individual, group of collectivity, race, nation. As some Biblical "characters", he ascends to heaven - though the scenery is not really described - as Enoch, Elijah. Taking flesh is infusing into resurrection and the second coming.

How peculiar that this year, June 4th is the chosen by the Jewish Agency to promote the "aliyah process, i.e. the ascent or climbing back home to Israel. It is the only language and country where the citizens mount up to God (aliyah), as one reads the texts of Bible (parashyiot) having gone up to the pulpit. Ol hashamayim is "the yoke of heaven or Mitzvot" that is not a burden and even light as also reported in the Gospel (Matthew 11:30). The Christian Orthodox then understands that during Great Lent, the Liturgy of the Presanctified includes the evening prayer with the "shrey haamaalot - the psalms of ascent to Jerusalem\שירי המעלות " (Tehillim 120-134, as for the day of Shabbat).

Thus, Ascension is the feast for healthy and diet faith. True, usually all living beings are trapped in some conflicting situations that trap them. We could think it is the case in Jerusalem today, this year or since 1967 and even long before. But it has been the main problem over the past 3 000 years, and what about the past two thousand years! The Temple mount as the Ascension Church are in hands of Muslems though Islam did not exist by the time of Jesus. And, beside the problem of some keys, how many Christians understand that, without the insightful argument of patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulcher would also not be in Christian "hands". Nobody can own, possess thus be dispossessed of the One God.

Life can be a burden and age, sickness, the crippling fading of our look leads us to earth from where we were taken. We can be successful. Our goal is to leave this world like stiff bones and without any good. Historical events are "revolving". They astound us because they take back up and seem to thrown away without anything left.

It is urgent at the present for the Christians who live in the Holy Land to pray for the the consequence of the Ascension in the Christian Creed. The second part of the Creed is that the Lord ascended to heaven and God sent the Spirit. We are in the time of the hope, expectation of the second coming of the Lord. The Lord comes and then there is no first or last, middle-classed. We are called to go upwards - not only forwards.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Yom yom: Days are also feasts

So Yom Yerushalayim\יום ירושלים is getting away for this 41st Day. Tons of youths, holding flags, singing, dancing, came up to the City of David. T-shirts everywhere: green (very smiling and joyous, friendly), yellow and grey or blue (very sweet). Some other with very serious, penetrated faces looking toward the Migdal David up to the Har HaZetim and venerating the qevarim\קברים/tombs of the Prophets paving the way to Moshiach or the Messiah.

The problem that nobody really wants to understand, in our spiritual troubled situation, is that Judaism is real and not a fancy.

Well, 41 years ago, people of all origins were making their way to some sandy Western Wall/הכותל המערבי . They were waiting for hours to get to the stone that showed the sanctifying possibility to come again and freely to the place of the Presence. I knew a Polish priest - and a friend of the Arab Christians - who also sobbed at the Wall. He felt the sudden "weirdness making sense" that brought a tiny group of soldiers to take over the heart site of any Jewish soul, heart, memory; and most of all the core element of their future and spiritual insights for the coming centuries.

How strange that this year this Yom Yerushalayim fell on the Feast day of the "issapostoloi Konstantinos kai Helena - the saints Constantine and Helena, equal to the Apostles". In 325, Helena found the True Cross at the place of the Holy Sepulcher and decided to build the Church of the Anastasis there. Her son, Constantine, became, after political twisting power games the one emperor of the then united Roman Empire. As the "megas/great" Christian emperor, he canceled the edict that prohibited Christianity and allowed the Christians to practice freely. His attitude prepared the creation of the Roman Empire and the Germanic one for the early times of Christianity before Islam had appeared. Interestingly, as unerlined by Eusebios of Caesarea in the biography,the Christian emperor was baptized by an Aryanizing bishop (strong elements of negation of Jesus' divinity and an heresy condemned by the Churches). Still, he was and is really the model of the Christian ruler and man of the modern style of exerting power for his time.

Saint Helena, his mother, might have been a simple concubine. Christian life and destiny are baffling for our more than 1500 years of State Christianity with peculiar wedlock bonds. Constantinos was baptized some days before he passed away, which was usual for people who wanted to avoid any sin after having washed their soul and body in the Resurrected. Today, people confess before being baptized... and feel so but so and so pathetically sinful that they are at pains with their feeling released and delivered from evil by their baptism. Strange swirling of spiritual attitudes and uncertainty of some believers. Very Holy Land, by the way.

The whole of the Scriptures undercores how it is possible not to rule in a despotic way, but exert power with loyalty and morals. David, of Bethlehem, was the forgotten candidate to kingship (2 Samuel 7:5; 1 Chronicles 17:1). The young shepherd was out in the fields. Helena has surely to face humiliation as a woman and the mother of the Roman emperor.

Spiritually speaking there is a common struggle for true and pure faith in God with David and Constantine and Helena. The two ruler drifted aside tempted by sin and too much forces. With regards to Jerusalem King David was not allowed to build the Temple because of his transgressions. Helena, renowned for her humbleness, found the Cross and built the Holy Sepulcher. Constantine got baptized on his death bed in controversial conditions. But, the point is that the three persons are "kedoshim - holy, saints". And none of them, in the history of Israel and the Gentiles, then Christianity, could ever have ecompassed to the full the consequence of the power they exerted beyond total awareness.

A very special day for me: 41 years ago, we rushed here, convinced that the State of Israel was about to sink in the Great Sea. Sixty years ago, Ben Gurion's anxiety at the eve of the UN vote introduced a time of creation. I spent the day between Uri Lupoliansky, the mayor of Jerusalem and the Moskovitz prize for Zionism given to Moshe Moshkovitz, the founder of Ephrata - Gush Etzion, survivor from the first settlement there, born in Slovakia. It was at the Ir David\עיר דוד - the City of David. Hundreds of youths were present in the area close to the Western Wall. And there I was sitting next to "Moshko", a man of profound humbleness and dedicated faith. The work implemented by Gen. Peker and the R. Fendel of Sderot are definitely significant for the Israeli society, whether applauded or criticized.

Moshe Moshkovitz belongs to these "aney Israel - עניי ישראל - the poor of Israel", visionary, creative, never stepping down from a goal that leads us far beyond what we are, at this point, at this very day in the development of Israel. When he showed me all of Gush Etzion some time again, this was the same miracle that transcends politics, coherence, normality. From there Abraham and David rose to Jerusalem because of appointed times that even defy righteousness. The problems is that justice is at the heart of all events and that we dare not forget it or harm anybody.

Facing the Har HaZetim - הר הזיתים Mount of Olives - and the kevarim\קברים of the saints, the prayer was intense. As it is also intense in the Holy Sepulcher with the whole world and tons of Easterners coming daily. People crying to God, screaming at or ignoring each others. On the way back I met again the mayor walking around with his wife.

The whole thing had made my day, because my task is definitely not to add any division or contradiction, but to show a real ahavat hinam - אהבת חינם (free-gratis, priceless love) - in a context that is governed by this love, disguised and hidden by interest, power, age-long ignorance.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yerushalayim: the two Jerusalem cities

(Stamp for Jerusalem 5768 and those used a few days before the Independence of a state called "medinat HaYehudim - מדינת היהודים ".

How many are we? How numerous or small-numbered shall we be in the coming decade, then let's imagine and scientifically suggest some figures in terms of human inhabitants of Jerusalem and the State of Israel in some fifty years, a century? Is it really wise to reduce human beings into statistics. It is definitely interesting and a society must be able with modern hi-tech and research methods to make some forecasts, anticipations. This means that this part of the work is sound for groups of people who live in the same state. It is more than urgent and consequential interrogation for the Israeli society because of the apparent absence of stable and internationally recognized borders. In our case, we have even more and - once again – we are a bit "too much too more". To begin with, there are the Jews, whose number is so much beyond any mastermind egghead quiz. Whatever institution concerned, Sochnut (Jewish Agency), Rabbinate, Supreme Court, Civil Law, International Law, Halachah / anti-Halachah movements, religious, reform, conservative figures can either rise or fall, but basically anyone would or should be able to show some link with the State of the Jews. Then, the society also includes the Arabs, i.e. the Israeli Arabs who live in the present border of the State of Israel, or those who reside in the Territories under control of the Palestinian Authority - mainly Muslim with a significant number of Arab Christians. This means that the Arab world - this is almost ignored or not taken into account abroad - has a substantial heritage that combines Christians and Muslims - as also Jews - in the sphere of the Arab civilization. The map may also include the Kingdom of Jordan, some parts of South Lebanon, the Golan Heights and some regions of Syria. Roughly from a Great Israel back to the partition in 1917 and 1947, the Jews do rely upon history as the local Arabs and other nations (Bedouins, Druses) have memorized till now, with specific historic marks developed through centuries. Then, there are the Christians for whom Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey - and all of the Middle-East were the cradle of a faith that spread from Jerusalem till the ends of the world. The Christians maintained the local traditional Churches (Greek/Rum Orthodox - "Rom" referring to its birth link with the Roman Empire, the Armenians, Syrians Orthodox, Coptic, Ethiopian) that could endure until today. Some Churches disappeared as the Nestorians or are not numerous as the Georgians who had properties and their original culture in Jerusalem. Some Other Churches, in particular the Western ones, came as invaders/crusaders or to proselytize the then-weakening local Churches. At the present, Jews and Arabs can hardly consider enhancing and strengthening their Semitic roots. Mutual ignorance about Judaism and Christianity does not help creating a favorable context of true communication, exchange and confidence. The old habit of the wolfed-down discussions turn to hasty chitchats locally. I still believe that we are at the dawn of an immense historic process for the whole region. Jews must focus on the purity of the Mitzvot and their openness. Christians have to get flexible and disconnect faith from any possession. Jesus said: “Foxes have dens and birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matthew 8:24). This is negative toward nobody because it concerns everyone in this small piece of Land.

These days we are shravi/desert wind humid hot in Jerusalem. Forty years ago, the sky was heavy with storms and lightning flashes covered the Holy City at the eve of a blitzkrieg. Six days and in some incredible fiction remake of the Bible D-Days? Or forty years, as now, that leave all the participants still dazzling around. The same situation as when “forty years a generation provoked me: “am toei levav hem – they are a senseless people/ vehem lo yad’u drachay – they would not know My Ways” (Tehillim 95:10). Thus, they erred dizzily in the wilderness, as blinded not finding the way-out. This is a very typical and standard spiritual turbulence and loss of orientation. All kinds of opinions have been said about this kind of war that reached its peak at Jerusalem. Was it a (temporary) invasion? A war capture? A tantamount historic reversal or a spiritual achievement? Blessings or traps? Forty years are far too short to give any valuable appreciation of such a war. The point is Jerusalem on the one hand. We still ignore or fake to ignore Ben Gurion’s vision about the South, the Negev and Mamshit becoming the capital of Israel

Yerusalayim shlemah o me’uchedetJerusalem as a whole or united City”? “Yerushalyim habnuyahJerusalem as rebuilt?” Yerushalayim is a dual, showing twofold aspects; there is the Jerusalem from above (heavenly) and the Jerusalem from below (earthly) that are totally connected into one body. “I saw the new Jerusalem” (Apocalypse 3:12), corresponds to this dual reality (that only appears in Greek too: Ierousalim/Ierousalimon). Indeed, there are events that shape lifetimes in different ways.

A Yiddish poet wrote: “Mayn nit di velt is a hefker – don’t think the world is a jungle/ bashaf’n makhen a veg mit foyst’n un neyg’l – created so that one has to open the way with fists and nails”. These words had been a sort of natural lullaby in my life, first told as a normal fairy tale account by my nanny, a simple Warsaw Ghetto survivor, the mother of a famous philosopher who had abandoned her. She was convinced that the world was something else than any “hefker”. The Yiddish word is Hebrew and Aramaic: “situation of lawlessness = jungle” in the sense that “a slave prefers the dissolute life with a slave” (Gittin 13a) rather than to correct his path and build up a family or something with decency. Mishmash requires mishmash. In the Talmud, the word means more: “declaring free, renunciation of ownership”: “Renunciation of ownership is valid in favor of the poor” (Eduyot 4,3). The phrase and the word “hefker”, with its different meanings, can explain the path of some Jews of my generation. Born to a 48 years-old tsarist pogroms and Shoah survivor, on the first anniversary of the State of Israel, I was educated by a generation of fighters and tradition-keepers that were rescued several times by all kinds of miracles. This is normal stuff for Jews in seemingly abnormal circumstances. And here I am, in Jerusalem + 40 years. It is the same as the Soviet newcomers who declare that they came last to the Wall 2,000 years ago… Politically, you can’t buy such a dream that comes true.

As many of my friends, the Six Day War sealed my life. We rushed to the Israeli Embassy to volunteer. It was not very realistic for most of us. But this spontaneous reaction just clicked and shaped the rest of our life. Not because of the danger and this was also the point when I look backwards. God does not play games or gamble our lives. We were taught that and were convinced that Israel could be in danger. Still, we suddenly felt we had our homeland here and nowhere else. The turn came with the Kotel – Western Wall. The Temple Mount as the heart of the Jewishness came later. After June 28, 1967, a rabbinical committee explored the possibility to offer the Pesach/Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount. But the real shock was to be at the Kotel - Western Wall with millions of people “crying joyously”, a humane flood. The moment was “eschatological”, prophetically opening new gates. Many non-Jews were there in those days. Chassidim and the world of the Mitzvot spekulierten iber lebensmerkvirdikaytn ( speculated over life specificities)…

While sitting at the top of the Temple Mount, Moshe Dayan explained to the stunned Waqf (Muslim religious) leaders that they would keep the Mount because the Jews are not allowed to walk there, not knowing the exact place of the Devir (Holy of Holies). It was the first time in history that a victorious general returned a conquest to their “enemy”. I do believe that the Temple Mount only starts to show again in Jewish historic conscience. It shall slowly face the Christian realm and history. For the moment, stiffness prevails and there is a profound work of taming each others that has to be done.

Progressively, along the past 30 years, the Temple Mount gained more and more sacrificial importance because what was offered there is at the core of the Jewish identity, memory and call as a nation dedicated to sanctity and priesthood as we read this right now in the weekly portions. From that day, I knew I had reached our home. Because what happened goes far beyond any pull-out/pull-in. Righteousness towards the local Arabs and other nationalities also constitutes a major faith concern. I daily live among people who constantly have suffered from expulsions, destruction of their properties. In this sense the word “hefker” should not become a sign of “lawlessness” though the tragic aspect of the region is that obsession for rights and legacy can churn to sour and stinky disorder, confusion and capture. This why we belong to a generation that, undoubtedly, saw a sort of unbelievable miracle (for Judaism as a whole); it obliges acting with justice. The Arabs and also the Christian Churches got a baffling knocking out shock. Since everything has always been temporary in the region, they may think that it may end sooner or later. Some Jews would even suggest that indeed Israel may disappear.

But 40 years for Jerusalem is undoubtedly too short. Who would dare think that God would not allow any Jew and co-relative returning to Zion from all the nations, cultures of the world in order to get totally ignorant of the immense heritages that developed in Eretz Israel over the past 2,000 years!! This is the kind of chutzpah/arrogance that we show too often.

A terrible shock happened on Iyyar 28, 5727 (06/07/67 – May 25, Julian Eastern calendar). Entering the Old City of Jerusalem and reaching the Western Wall, Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, another sort of brainstorming quake shook the inhabitants: for the first time in the history, all Christian Churches were de facto then de jure placed under the rules and regulations of the State of the Jews. This was not even thinkable in any possible way. It is not a political view. Most Israelis, visitors, Shabbat tourists or pilgrims slowly forget how life and the Holy Sites where forty years ago when they come to the Old City.

Still today, as the Shekel gets high…, the Arab shopkeepers do think “Jordanian Dinar”. But the Israeli soldiers also arrived to the Holy Sepulcher, i.e. the most sacred and holy place of the Christian world: the Anastasis (Gr.: Place of Resurrection). This means that Jesus of Nazareth has his tomb and “central Temple” there. The Christian Churches had developed some skills in coping with the previous Ottoman, British, Jordanian “rulers”. Jewish law was and remains a huge question because of theological and historical backgrounds. It means that the Anastasis powerfully challenges and interrogates the faithful coming from all nations; it is also placed under Israeli, thus Jewish care. Some policemen/women may be Christian, Arab, whatever, this situation is still unexplained for local Christians. And vice versa, Jews would at time be reluctant at discovering what a part of related origins is. Patience, openness, studies should unlock fears or reservations. Otherwise we may pay the price of ignorant relationships based on power

This is why we are only at the dawn of times we cannot clearly envision. There was much more than six days and the oneness of the City of Peaces in June1967/ Iyyar 5727. Dawn of “estranged” ways in confessing God whose faithful can accept to open up and can slowly be proposed to remove the blurred images of who they and others are. Abraham Avinu was welcoming anybody “bechom hayom – in the heat of the day” and this is the privilege of faith to the sore and difficult breath of these shravi / wilderness desert wind into a long journey encounter move.

UleTziyon yeamar – indeed, it shall be said of Zion / ish ve’ish yulad ba – every man was born there” (Tehillim 87:5).

Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

Facebook contact: Av Aleksandr

June 1, 2008 – 42 le’Omer 5768 (28 Iyyar, 5768)