Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Substantial flames for living bones

Do you feel "sharavi\שרבי - wilderness hot weather and damp"? The season gets hot; heat and short-breathing, then cooling down for some hours or few days. Sharav in Hebrew is orange - I already put that in a blog, and its equivalent in Arabic, Hamsin (= 50) that is yellow. It can be light, it can be dark. The desert wind can inundate and destroy "with much dryness" whatever surface or town. Thus, it is possible to envision Jonah's preaching to the inhabitants of Nineveh that covered themselves with sacks of dust and ashes. It is like a mourning sand that overruns any kind of existing place, like the penance sign in the Book of Job, Jonah, Latin Roman rite Wednesday Ash Service.

These days, the weather was so windy from Arabia, with sand. Some people could hardly breathe and it could also be heard at the radio: the speakers seemed to cough. I often come back to this recurrent experience/ I often have to conduct a burial service in the Negev, in particular, near Beer Sheva because the new big cemeteries are located rather far away from the city. It looks like a doomsday hour with withering splashes of orange/yellow dark sand in some thrilling dusk scenery. And there lie all these bones that should be called to revive in the World-to-Come....

Granpa Avraham Avinu was there, not that far, just some thousands years ago, 5 days - as yesterday according to the compute of the Torah Psalms/Tehillim (90:4). A Jew is a soul who has a divine resource to overlap years, centuries, minutes, seconds, ages into short instants of fire, light, flashes, thunderstormy instants. Then, on the other hand, the same soul can, by a divine gift, show the density of events in three or four dimensioned universal sequences. It usually can only reach its density in a profound humbleness. There are the “anawim\ענוים-עניים – humble, poor” of the civilization of Jewishness, that are exalted in the “poor in spirit, for theirs are the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20).

The reading portion of the week is Emor\אמור (“say to them, tell them” = the sons of Aaron) in Vayikra-ויקרא / Leviticus 21:1-24:23. It deals with the very special part of the Kedushah\קדושה or action of sanctifying themselves and the people carried by the priests, the kohanim\כהנים – offering-slaughterers. We have seen that the whole of the Book of the Levites (Vayikra - Leviticus) is dedicated to sanctity or holiness. There is a profound sense of “Torat Kedushah\תורת קדושה - Law of Sanctifying deeds” among the Jewish people, albeit built up on the reality that common things, situations can be enhanced by worshiping the One God.

Daily tasks and life seem ordinary and anonymous; still our names are written in heaven. We may burden under the yoke of inhuman treatments at work, suffer of family ruptures, social iniquities, failures in educational systems and historic atrocities – it is still possible for some souls and basically most human beings to be shaken and brought to some level of conscience. It might then be brought to God’s altar – mizbeach\מזבח in heaven who receives the tears of the Most High for whoever divorces (Gittin 111a), which means that love does exist – more than separation - and can be sanctifying in our midst.

A bit too pious… The problem with faith is that our words are like schizophrenic moans or folk song la-la-la’s, i.e. too sweet to be true. In the reading portion of this week, we are proposed to reflect upon what it means to be a “kohen\כהן – a priest”. The “Torat kohanim \ תורת כהנים – Law of the Priest/priesthood” is totally unique. Good, there are some moral laws governing their marriage that excludes any woman who not a virgin, is blemish or a harlot (ishah zonah\אשה זונה), a divorcee. On the other hand, Jews are rarely questioned about how somebody is really to be considered as a kohen? Is it obvious? Definitely not for a great part of the Jewish communities comprehended as a whole and diversified body. There is more: the Orthodox Communities do recognize the full empowerment of the kohanim to act as the priestly successors of those from old. But, as often developed in the Jewish tradition from Talmud Avoda Zara (3-5), a priest has to bring forth the evidence that he acts and behaves as a worshipper of the Most High.

The authenticity of the kohen/priestly extract cannot really be proven at the present and only be presumed in certain families. Whatever ADN or blood research, it is meaningful that the Jewish tradition has always obliged to check the piety and faith of their kohanim who are per se “confirmed” as such on the day of their bar-mitzvah. Let’s say that it is not systematic. The Torat Kohanim/Priestly Law implicitly presupposes that the dignity requires being real and not fake. Interestingly, priests had a rather bad reputation; they were told to have neither culture nor education in the fields of Judaism. Prohibitions against their marriage with whores are significant. “Kadesh\קדש” means “separate, cut off, sanctify as “The firstborn in the desert were consecrated” (Berachot 4b).”Kidesh\קדש” = “to sanctify the name of the Lord, to manifest fidelity to religion, faith (Sota 10b); or to “sanctify the Shabbat”(Pessahim 105a). Or, to “betroth, marry thus consecrate a woman by penetrating her “makom\מקום – place of living/birthing”; therefore “a man cannot betroth a woman before having seen her” (Kiddushin 2:1).

But “Ikadesh - אקדש ” may both mean “to sanctify a woman, betroth her” or “to be condemned”. “Kadesh” also means “to reject” even if “K’deshah - קדשא – being a prostitute – can “in some cases be a minor crime” (Sifre 1). Pagan cults and temples made use of “dedicated prostitutes” and this why the Jewish worship cannot be linked to any sort of such impurity. And indeed, piety may sometimes drive some people to sinful acts or to commit themselves with such situations. This is why the “reviving” activities of Prophets Elijah and Elisha in the two Books of the Kings as regards women are to be viewed as a full part of prophecy. Between “assur\אסור-prohibited “and “mutar\מותר – permitted”, “yattir yattir\יתיר'יתיר – you want to release, may it be given to you to release” is a substantial element of “delivery, freedom, release” included in the ancient letters of ordination of the rabbis and the spirit of the “zevach todah\זבח תודה – thanksgiving sacrifice of the heart”.

The last part of the reading imposes a right refunding of the victim in cases of prejudices. “shever tachat shever\שבר תחת שבר, ayn tachat ayin, shen tachat shen\עין תחת עין שן תחת שן – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him” (Lev. 24:20). This law should be explained extensively, at length. It is a simple and basic law of righteousness, balance applicable in cash rather than injuries. It also takes into account the spiritual value of damages. Verses 15, 17 and 18 are at the heart of the common, evident, compulsory “Torat Kedushah\תורת קדושה – Law of Sanctity, Torat Kohanim\תורת כהנים – Law of priesthood” that governs the Jewish innate people.

It is said: “Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name HaShem/Lord, he shall be put to death; “kol haedah kager ka’ezrach\כל העדה כגר כאזרח – the whole community as stranger or citizen”. Let’s take a breath! Because there we see the depth of human responsibility and why it is incumbent on a Jewish soul to apply it with respect to priesthood. A kohen is born to sacrifice what is due to God. It is actually suspended. It does not mean it disappeared.

But, if anyone “yikallal\יקלל – blasphemes” and pronounces the Name of the Lord as to destroy Him, both strangers and citizens (Israelites) will put him to death. We would say that such a attitude has caused in the course of history horrible and heinous, abomination crimes and lit stakes or bonfires as “fires of bones, but that were still alive”. Thus, we should be careful with such apparently avenging laws that hide a lot of wisdom.

On the other hand, they systematically make no difference between “strangers and citizens” as full member of the whole community. This is a point that we hardly can embody on a voluntarily basis at the present. Ergo, if anyone kills any human being, he shall be put to death. This is linked, in this context, with the Ten Paroles as applied within the Law of Priesthood. Death penalty is also on hold, but this does not cancel the fact the the “whole community” remains the full entity of “strangers and citizens”.

The expression is often found in Paul of Tarsus (Epistle to the Ephesians). It means that we are all equal, more than equal. We have the duty to make “one” where killings, hatred, evil and deceitful tongue would seem easier to apply in some cases. We may abuse at times of our rights as citizens (strikes, prolonged paid unemployment, medical care, gratuities). The stranger, foreigner who is dwelling with us has the same rights and obligations, provided a full respect of God, humanity and others. Moreover, whoever kills an animal is bound to restitute it. Verse Vayikra 24:22 repeats: “Mishpat echad yehyeh lachem\משפט אחד יהיה לכם – you shall have one standard (law) / kager ka’ezrach\ כגר וכאזרח – for stranger and citizen alike; ki Ani HaShem Elo’heichem\כי ה' אלקיכם – for I the Lord am your God”. Not easy to say and substantiate in such a multi-fractured society as the Jewish communities and the State of Israel. There might be defects, errors. Still, we are called to cope with this commandment that is a commonplace element of basic Jewish priestly regard upon every living soul.

Such a small exiguous territory that thus opens up on width and suddenly turn off, immures and cages in minds and grey cells. On Tuesday 12th of May, there will be the great merry feast of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai which falls on the 33rd (LaG) be’Omer\ל"ג בעומר (of the computing of the Omer), i.e. the 18 Iyyar. It is also the remembrance day of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students that either perished in the war with Bar Kochba against the Romans (idolatry toward a false messiah) and/or were involved in such a lack of understand and acceptance of each other that it came to the borders of idolatry and tongue murder.

Since the second century, the Jews have venerated the author of the Zohar\ספר זוהר (The Book of Splendor). It is a day of joy in the time between Pesach and Shavuot. Children are often oyfgesher’nt\אויפגעשערנט (hair cut) for the first time as R. Shimon was a famous nazir/nazirite-נזיר (consecrated). A time of eating, drinking wine at the tomb of the Rabbi who was a torch for the enlightenment of the Jewish Mysticism.

The Zohar and the Kabbalah are not the “cheap” wide-spread so-called Jewish magical books denied by some denominations that should firstly be given the opportunity to understand the roots of a vast movement connected with the Chassidic groups of Eastern Europe.

On forthcoming May 17th, the Eastern Orthodox Church reads the Gospel of the Samaritan woman who discussed very freely with Jesus at Jacob’s well located at Sychar in Samaria (John 4:4-42). Women play a significant role in the Christian Paschal season. Samaritans and Jews would not have spoken to each other at that time, especially and man and a woman. At the present, Ukrainian young women became Samaritan faithful members of the community in order to energizing it. And the discussion goes about where to worship God. In Jerusalem in the Temple or Mount Garizim (where the Samaritans did celebrate the sacrifice of Pesach)? Jesus recounts her life and does not condemn her because of her past five husbands while she is not married to the sixth one she has now(this may be an allusion to all levels of divine covenants)… She got intrigued.

Indeed, Jesus never condemned any woman. True! how peculiar to encounter across times and places! Bonfires that shall bring light of hope, remedies, health, comfort in Meron, at the tomb of R. Shimon Bar Yochai. Flames that were withering out of the altar to remind that there is no stranger no citizen in the Edah\עדה – the whole community of God, but the perceptible service and respect for any being. Just as we could be there, two days ago, to join the Samaritan feast of Pesach. A whole humanity composed of substantial flames for the living.

av aleksandr [ Winogradsky Frenkel]

May 6/April 22, 2009 – 30 le’Omer 5769 - כ"ז לעומר וי"ב דאייר תשס"ט

Iyyar 5769

Ups and downs. Hot one day and then cooler or significantly cooler, which means that it is still damp. This Monday, the day is called "adom\אדום - red " because of the color of the desert wind swiftly drifting from Arabia and that is hot, causes coughing and discomfort in breathing.

Jerusalem changes, with new constructions showing in most parts of the city. Digging in and out, paving new networks for buses and the " rechevet\רכבת - the train". In a dozen of years, maybe sooner, maybe later - the city of Jerusalem will have totally reshaped the accessibility to the numerous new and recent quarters of the Jewish part as also the Old City and certainly East-Jerusalem. When reaching Kikar Tzahal (Square) at the cross-roads between the Western and the Old City, on the way to Damascus Gate or down to Dung Gate, the Mount of Olives, Abu Dis or toward Talpiot, Bethlehem. From Kanyon Malchah supermarket, the train hurries up toward Tel Aviv with connections to Ashdod and the Southern coast, then again from Tel Aviv up to the North, Akko. The old Jerusalem Central Station is empty... But the tramway is to be built and there are holes everywhere, with rails runing along the main streets of the city.

In the 80s, It traveled 10 hours in old wagons from the central railway station at Akko, very so slowly - top slow-slow… with long stops in Haifa, down the valley and up again to Jerusalem. Departure at 4 a.m. We could feed the pigeons tiptoeing along the rails. The people were very simple workers, pupils – the little Israel. Humble travelers conveyed in wooden wagons. The price was something like a farthing in Lirot. Delicious sandwiches were sold. The train driver would stop in the middle of a field and talk with a friend or drink a cup of coffee handed by some family on the way.

There are new bus stations coming up from the ground everywhere in the country. I love traveling like that to Beer Sheva or Ashdod. Buses are the live circuit system that connects most of the towns and villages of the country. It is considered as a “national service” in the sense that for defense, security reasons any point of the state must be at reach quickly. It also allows a real physical mobility and flexibility of the citizens of all ages. On the way to the South, the ancient British railways run through the desert, developing the industry of an area that is the cradle and the future of Eretz Israel. New routes allow togain speed. Along the Jordan River, roads allow to attain the North but the way back swings along the coast.

There are States or countries that are basically small or broken down in “areas, land, regions, laender, cantons, provinces”. Will Galilee soon be culturally connected with the Negev? D. Ben Gurion had the dream of Israel having her capital in Mamshit (Greek “Mampsit - Memphis”), the ancient Nabatean city with the famous synagogue of Ma’on and the Byzantine church. From there, rabbis were sent to Yavne. The Byzantine monks participated in the Church synods, later in the first councils. Look at a map of the cities. They are all interconnected by strong networks that trace back to the presence of all sorts of invaders, passers-by or settlers from Greece, Persia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Turkey, Arabia, Ethiopia, Syria, Lebanon, Caucasus. How interesting that the same road circuits have been developed and sophisticated and could of course be used to gather fractured regions and towns into one unique entity of diverse cultures. The railway infrastructures were created by the British to envision a general development of the Middle-East from Caucasus and Turkey down to Akaba. The power of intelligence, cleverness, capacities, “price of excellence” can ruin nations, people and States.

From the Nabatean scripts to Hebrew writing charts, Greek, Latin, Persian, all kinds of Semitic tongues have been used in Eretz Israel to convey God’s best wishes to the whole humankind. Judaism has been proclaimed in Canaanite Hebrew, then Aramaic; the early Church had Greek that is still a living tongue in the Old City of Jerusalem and some other areas. The first writings in Georgian appeared in Jerusalem as well as some Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian Gheez. Arabic showed up from the 6th century Qur’an
linguistic masterpiece and the language was used by Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Then, Turkish penetrated for centuries. All these regions have been split by ruler convinced that they are right, righteous, best. And it broke down as a profound spiritual disease. There is the famous Jerusalem syndrome about religious craziness and deviances. This is a dramatic consequence of all sects splitting clutching to this divine earth.

There are some professions that are definitely linked to a lot of peps and phosphorescent brains. Sadly enough, we are not evidently little grey cells. Brain-storming ideas often correspond to the abuse of drugs, narcotics. It is possible to put in some sort of parallel perspective, two contradictory trends: the strong drift to assemble and unify which goes along the recurrent desire to destroy or injure a body (state, people). The Jewish tradition is very sensitive to the fact that empires are called to collapse as described in Prophet Daniel’s vision of the four beasts (Daniel 7:2-28) corresponding to the fall of the Roman Empire, detailed in its emperor (Apocalypse 13:13:1-10); Modern Judaism is fond of updating Daniel’s beasts and show that the disappearance of present-day empires and rulers as the mighty Greek, Persian institution of old. Today, the beasts were the Nazi and communist empires… Well, who will be next? Revolving rises and falls are a part of the dynamic historic process of the Chinese which, only start their expansion at the present. On the one hand, Daniel’s “cheywa – beast” in Aramaic corresponds to “behemah/behemot\בהמות – beast, (d)evil” which has to be considered in a tactical way. Look! Without this rampant and steadfast hatred that swallows all the parties in the presence of all kinds of foreign Churches, groups, associations, Jews and Arabs would do marvels. They did save the heritage of the Greek and Latin Antiquity.

It would sound possible to join know-how and skills. This could change the Near and Middle-East into a honey-milky green fertile region. Techniques, competences could work beautifully. Jerusalem-Amman axe, high-speed trains, hospitals, air space. Indeed, things change slowly, not only slowly, but it is using some Volapuk double-speech and suspicion. We are a young region and thus behave as crippled old deaf and mute creatures from the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Hebrew and Aramaic “necheh\נכה” means “paralyzed, crippled”. It consists of a progressive reduction of forces and muscles that makes people “lame”; sociologically speaking, this means “that peace is disturbed as the side rib – tzela\צלע’ (the one of Eve, her shadowy side) that is required for balance and right” (Yalkut Deut. 933). The word is absolutely not connected with “nachon\נכון - firm, ready” that comes from “kun\כון – to go into a special direction, cf. Berachot 60a). To begin with, “necheh\נכה” encompasses all these abilities of full and firm development. Out of a sudden or step by step, capacities are lessened (“Hikkah\חכה” = injured, knocked down). Interestingly, there is an indivisible connection between physical and mental injuries: “All weapons strike in their place, but calumny (lashon remiyah\לשון רמיה) strikes at a distance” (Y. Peah1, 18a). The Talmud insists on the fact that a “woman who has been attacked in words is similar to any young girl that would have lost her hymen by accidental lesion or deceitful words.” (Ketubot 7, 10).

There is a move to crippling down and “necheh\נכה – nachyata\נכיתא” also has a financial meaning: “reduction of a debt against a landed security by deducting every year a stipulated amount for usufruct (Bava Metziah 67b). Land and agricultural products are thus considered as “removable” limbs of some geographic body. This move can somehow be compared to the “tzimtzum\צימצום – hiding process of God’s Presence” or His presupposed “Eclipse” during the time of the Shoah (absence of God’s name in the Hebrew Scroll of Esther).

There might be some other explanation, linked to what is veiled and thus present but require a lot of insightful humility. “When the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai, they pressed (tzimtzam\צמצם) themselves – against one another in reverence – like a bride opening one part of her garments and holding another part together.” (Shir R. 4,10). Over 7000 years (Megiddo, Jericho), the local inhabitants have been quaking, jerking over visible remainders. The subsequent historic strata show like lame-brained piles of earth and stones while people would rather avoid conversing, or would be extremely shy. Memory backgrounds are scattered as each group retains their elevator-shafts of specific mentalities and ways of interpretation.

As the “matzav\מצב – situation (of war)” is prolonging over a seventh year, we may have the impression to cripple down. Iyar comes from Akkadian “iyyaru” that refers to some pagan feast of flower blossoming, in particular small roses, like the “shoshanim\שושנים” of the Song of Songs”. In the history of Judaism, Iyar recalls the restoration of the Walls of Jerusalem, destroyed by Nabuchadnezzar (7 Iyar 355 bce). In the meantime, the Jewish community will celebrate “Pesach sheni\פסח שני – Second Passover”, the second possibility to commemorate Passover with unleavened and leavened bread (14 Iyar / 05/8), a sign of God’s compassion for those who were “absent” mentally and physically to the roasted lamb feast… This week, different “ta’anit/tunes\תענית – fasts” call to full response-conversion/teshuvah to God (Ta’anit sheni kamma\תענית שני קמא, chamishi, sheni Bathra\חמישי-שני בתרא) there is also the meaningful 18 Iyar “LaG -33th of the Omer computing”, en route to Shavuot. This reminds that R. Akiva’s disciples perished because of their “lack of respect to each other”. The same day, there is the joyous festival of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, that drifts crowds to his grave in Meron as “a joyful thanksgiving day for all remedies and hopes”.

On May 13th, the Eastern Orthodox Church will celebrate the Mid-feast of Pentecost. The Church recalls that she is born from the Resurrection and expects the Spirit and the coming of the Messiah. During the time that runs from Easter to Pentecost (the Giving of the Holy Spirit), the Orthodox faithful do not invoke the Holy Spirit. It is also a time of longing after full breathing. The prayer is chanted again on Pentecost. It is indeed one of the most beautiful petitions to God’s gifts. Like the “Prayer of the Lord – Our Father/Avinu-אבינו”, it is definitely local. “…Spirit of sanctity, present in all place (cf. Makom\מקום) and fulfilling everything (cf. “mechayeh\מחיה”), come and abide in us (cf. “Shechinah\שכינה”).

The way we are facing our physical diseases, disabilities, civilization mental and economical bankruptcies should not veil that we are continuously involved in a building process, as the above railway connections. The problem is then to act with much respect to each other, to “aliens” and to share God’s Presence, at least with patience.

Av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

May 4/April 21, 2009 – 25 le’Omer 5769 - י' דאייר תשסט - כ"ה לעומר - 10 deIyyar 5769

"I am Jerusalem"

Today, at 6 p.m., there was an interesting lecture given by a friend I often meet in ecumenical encounters where we together try to witness to the reality of living faith in Jerusalem. Dr. John Tleel is a well-known personality in Jerusalem: a retired dentist, a man of reflection and faith, he had written many years ago a first version of his book "I am Jerusalem". He just published a new revised version of the book that now includes a lot of very interesting and historical documents. I had the opportunity some weeks ago to write a short article in my Le Monde blog (Abbaa).

Tonight, on this 26th of April 2009, the meeting had a different aspect and appearance. The lecture was taking place at the Swedish Center at Jaffa Gate that often organizes specific meetings centered on East-Jerusalem and Palestinian matters. They also have special meetings with Israeli and Armenian artists who are somehow positioned on the verge of the Jewish society. Per se, it allows a real freedom of speech and sharing ideas. Some people were missing tonight. Indeed, some friends of Dr. J. Tleel do live outside of Jerusalem and some email was read in his honor; an admirer living in Gaza could not come but assured him of his deep respect and friendship. Others were also missing, but the people who had come were certainly true friends if not "faith companions" of Dr. John Tleel.

H.B. Theophilos III, patriarch of Jerusalem also arrived and sat quietly. Dr. Tleel and the patriarch have known each other since the young boy and future primate of the Eastern Orthodox Church arrived from Greece. He was Patriarch Benediktos' deacon, which underscores a historical link over the past 40 years of turbulent events.

John Tleel has the courage to state that "he is Jerusalem" and had been for several generations, since the time his ancestors arrived in the Holy Land. He speaks perfect Greek, Arabic, French, English and some Hebrew and reminded his long path along the century: from the British Mandate and the end of the Ottoman empire to Jordanian rule over half of Jerusalem, then 1967 and the coming of the Israelis in East-Jerusalem. The atmosphere was rather "pro-Palestinian", say "pro-Arab". At times, I am definitely not sure it makes any sense to consider that a group or people back this or that other part of the inhabitants whether Jews, Arabs, Palestinians or Israelis. Things are often not said, not clear or too sharply clear-cut and this is always too much.

As a matter of fact, John Tleel is hurt, wounded; he suffers from all these events he had to go through. There is much more than any kind of partisanship. It makes it more real and sensitive. He sees the failures that passed through his life and focused on two powerful events that we truly should meditate: the visit of Pope Paul VI in January 1964 and met "on the mount of Olives, the place of peace par excellence" Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople with the assistance of late Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem who lived up there. It has been for him and all the inhabitants a tremendously strong and great venue, unique because of the theological and spiritual consequences that opened up the road to something that only shows up with much hesitation at the present.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI also returned the incorruptible relics of the major Holy Land Saint and initiator of the "Jerusalem Typikon", Mar Sabbas, a Cappadocian Greek who had firstly been a monk in Jerusalem, then had been sent to the desert of Judea by St. Euthymos. He thus created there a magnificent monastery in 483; in 2002, we celebrated the 1500 anniversary of the unique monastery located down in the southern part of the country, under the Palestinian Authority. It had a tragic history as most of the Christians in the Holy Land. The Persians assassinated the monks on May 16, 619. They were later replaced by the Muslim Arabs. Nonetheless, the return of the incorruptible body of the Saint in 1965 was considered as an immense sign towards the huge history of faith shared by the local Eastern Orthodox Church. Mar Sabbas was carried from the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis to the desert where he had lived and the great monastery. It is truly wonderful that John Tleel as an "authentic "I am Jerusalem" man could mention the two events. They were the most significant and real signs of hope in the "earth-quaking" region of Palestine, Eretz and the Middle-East.

As he was lecturing, Jaffa Gate got full of Jewish people, all generations gathering in to walk to the Western Wall. It is the "Remembrance day for those who fell for the State of Israel". It tracks back to the year 1860, when the Jews of the Old City were murdered by the Ottoman rulers. The following day will be the Independence Day of the State of Israel. At the present, Dr. John Tleel is a "permitted resident" in the city where he has spent all his life. As he was speaking, the question could be pictured by looking at our audience and the crowds down the road at Jaffa Gate. The Patriarch of Jerusalem accompanied a long-term friend who has been faithful to the Rum-Orthodox Church, both in its Greek and Arab context, teachings and traditions. A Syrian-Orthodox friend whose destiny is also so peculiar took the pictures while a Swedish pastor, a Palestinian assistant and mostly Scandinavian and Arab guests were listening to history.

There is a very special atmosphere in Jerusalem. It is unique. So many people would pretend to say "I am Jerusalem" without any insights into the life-long experience of a man of faith. John Tleel mentioned all the footsteps of Jesus' life that climbed to Jerusalem since his childhood and died there, was buried, resurrected ans ascended to heaven, calling all humankind to hope a victory over death. This is his testimony along a tragic century that broke the apparently regular order of the Ottomans.

In Jerusalem, we pass through walls and still remain invisible or opaque to each other. Down the street tonight, any Jew would say "I am Jerusalem", because of 3000 years of fidelity to King David. The same who came from Bethlehem.

Dr. Tleel's book is available at the Franscican Bookshop at Jaffa Gate (Jaffa Gate). Whatever opinion or concern, the book is real; it speaks with emotions and detailed facts, private and societal events. At this point, it is far more interesting than any usual guide.
Dr. John Tleel (left)

Free, self-ruled, independent? There may be more

It is somehow funny and amazing to enter the Old City of Jerusalem through Sha'ar Yaffo - שער יפו/Jaffa Gate. Israeli visitors on festive days use to immediately rush to buy some "beiigele" sold by young Arabs with a perfect Yiddish pronunciation. The bread is rather local and not that "beigele-like". This is a promoting deal and a sort of coming back of the Jews to the walls of the Old City from which they had been expelled and killed in 1860. Captain Dreyfus was arrested quite later, in October 1894 and convicted of treason. This marks the "gentleman's agreement" date of the start of the war for the existence of a free State of the Jews. The victims that perished for the State of Israel are counted since that year, i.e. 24,293 killed till now. Jews have always resided in the Old City and the famous Hurvah synagogue that is almost rebuilt, had been destroyed on 18 be’Iyar 5708, just after the Independence declaration of Israel.

This Independence Day may interrogate in many different ways. It is a recurrent and slow-slow mental process to envision the dream of a free Jewish state; then, to wake up and hurry to constant wars and, in the end... how does this state appear to be independent? Who is independent? Where are the barriers, the borders, regions and their connections? Shall we eat the traditional big meat "mangal" - an Arabic word that at least sounds "acculturating" a "bbq = barbecue" for the West, the "shashliki=шашлики" for the former Soviets and the Oriental Jews. Interestingly, koshrut is more and more a problem for a certain segment of the population who would like to feel free to have pig-pork sausages. The question was of course the same some 60 years ago.

The state was anxiously declared by David Ben Gurion, an exceptional politician heading a group of prodigious, mammoth-like strong-minded co-fighters. We miss them. We miss this spirit of width, breadth, depth, insights shaking any mental and stubborn barriers. Are we 61 years-old? Or 89, if counting from 1860? Are we in 2009 or 5769? Should we start counting from the arrival of the Inquisition survivors and the false messiah Shabtai Zvi? Or refer to Rabbi Luria and his Shulchan Aruch\שולחן ערוך accepted by all Jews? It paved the spiritual way to some sort of pre-ingathering process of the exiled? Should we wait till the First Aliyah (1880) caused by the pogroms in the tsarist Empire? Today, “geyus\גיוס – mobilization” apparently does not encompass the same tenacity and toughness in building something that only Jews can set up. There might be friendly moves among the nations, individuals heroes. But the situation has roughly been the same over the past 4,000 years. The Nations of the world are quick at giving advices, making statements and continuously give the impression of putting something of Judaism into suspicion. It is absolutely amazing and weird to discover the ignorance of the Jewish reality and thus the arrogance to explain who they are. This state and region has something more and seemingly “too much”, beyond all standards.

In the prospect of the Feast of Sukkot / Booths, and as the weekly readings remind us of the Mishkan\משכן – Tabernacle in the wilderness, we maybe going through a special tekufah/ תקופה /period of updated ma’abarot\מעברות experience after 60 years of Independence. Religious people might get into booths. The early Israeli transit tents for newcomers, the ma’abarot, were certainly good in 5708-1948, there are times when they naturally show up again as a cultural requirement for the Jewish multifaceted nation that tries to define its identity. We are indeed in a desert and too often behave wildly. We read the Shir HaShirim\שיר השירים: “Solomon had sixty queens, eighty concubines and damsels without number.” (Song 6:8). He forgot the “unique dove” (God’s oneness) and erred into dizziness. On the other hand, some decades of independence do not allow any anticipation of a future that remains in our hands as firstly also in God’s hands. “Rebekah went to consult the Lord and He said: “Two nations are in your womb, two people are quarreling while still in you… Isaac was sixty years old when Esau and Jacob were born.” (Bereishit 25:23-24). Oh, we love this verse! It would explain anything, everything, except who we are indeed.

But, entering the 61st year of the existence of the State of Israel, it maybe useful to consider that Israel/Jacob’s father was only sixty and that we may not have reached the real point of Jacob’s wrestling in the night. We can be egotistic, condescending, arrogant, quarreling eggheads or self-centered aesthetes. The Jews are also a of humble and simple lifestyle who know how to bow to enter today’s ma’abarot (newcomers’ transit homes) where everything is tumultuous and still quietly on-going.

The philosopher Eliezer Schweid suggested a reasonable and very Israeli absorption system explanation for why we use a hammer and knock the head of our fellow people on the Independence Day. He described it as a sign of “anonymity” in a country where each ego is altogether a state, a government, a region… or the world. It has nothing to do with the present rather “prudent “condition of anonymity” that allows people to hide from others and gossip with some evil tongue. True, anonymity means that each person is drifted to firstly clutch and accept first to the unity of the Jewish society. This is a major problem as regards all those who, inside Israeli society, show more aggressiveness toward the Hebrew community. It is diversified. Druses, Bedouins, Gypsies, Cherkesses and Georgians; according to the statistics, an increasing number Arabs (Christian and others) serve in the Israeli Army which maybe confusing and dangerous, but still in conformity with the law that should be respected. Few independent countries of the world would accept to include soldiers that could turn to enemies. This is definitely a point on the Yom HaZikkaron\יום הזיכרון / Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims Remembrance Day, in particular after the contested Lebanon war II.

Independence Day, in Israel, is also special because of the annual Bible Quiz, first organized in 1958. It means something very special. There are whizzes that come from all over the world for this competition. Thus, Israel is more, much wider than the country that has to be determined with righteousness and for the good of every inhabitant. Yom HaAtzma’ut\יום העצמאות is rooted in the creation of the state in the grafting of the Jewish identity, spiritual background and the Scripture. The Torah is then the reality of the Klal Israel (whole community of Israel). A curious occurrence for the remnant of the Tribes whose priests were not allowed to own any properties nor lands, but served God in the Temple with perpetual reference to this Eretz Israel.

This year, Israel Independence Day falls just a few days after the Memorial Day of the Armenian Massacres also called “genocide” (April 24). At the present, Israeli is facing some hardships to develop sincere and confident relationships with the Christian world and most of the Churches. It is again a problem of mutual mirroring problems. It is a challenging task to overcome the awful, abominable, hideous attitude of most of the Churches towards the Jews throughout history. Some Christians also underwent very similar murders of their souls and bodies, especially in the Near and Middle-East.

The Yom HaAtzma’ut\יום העצמאות could evolve into an official Jewish religious feast, celebrated everywhere by the Jews. It is indeed the spiritual homeland for any Jew in a way that defies all kinds of usual patterns or historical development. Without pretence of will to usurp the rights of any person that was either born or brought to this very special central point of the earth. This suddenly questions the ordinary and faithful Christians about who they are or have to be in this scrolling up movement that should lead to redemption achievement. The Israeli Independence day is not only a commemoration with barbecue/mangal (cake, milk, orange juice were proposed in 1951), hammer and other entertainments. The TaNaKh quiz shows that God’s Word extends His tent of peace through the learning and teaching of the Scripture that has been shared over centuries in every part of the planet.

The State of Israel has been recognized by the Nations of the world, as this has been always a rule for the Jewish tradition to comply with God’s will. Some people compare the United Nations decision in 1947 to some sort of Cyrus’ decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:23… in order to rebuild the Temple). In 1947, secular representatives of the Nations, in a difficult international context, agreed to something else: they divided an area. No doubt that nobody could think – not even the Jews and till now some Israelis – that there would be ma’abarot along sixty years in views to welcome the newcomers to such an extent. But this stunned not only the world. It developed suspicion between Jews and Christians– because of the mutual distance based on estrangement, negative feelings and experience. History can just be hell.

Opacity and claims to neglect or to manage history in place of the Jews would not encourage them to enter the realm of the way some honest Christians would be likely to start a dialogue that tiptoes ahead with skepticism. At this point, all attempts for Israel to be recognized to the full and her real identity by the Churches resemble to mirages in daytime dreams. This is a part of the permanent stuttering and hesitant monologue whose words can hardly be heard by both parties, with the exception of a very few people of good will. Irrational contests or disputes are dangerous and must be handled with prudence, wisdom. It is maybe paradoxical, but the Churches had scarcely been contradicted by the Jews over the past 1500 years. When Jesus was born, he was not the citizen of any sort of Jewish State. Still, he was born as a subject to the Law (Galatians 4:4). Beside all the political issues that can exist as a consequence of local backgrounds, the Independence Day of Israel cannot, at the moment, be viewed as a “new grafting” of the olive-tree into a modern state (Romans, ch. 9-11). The spiritual aspect is only observed by some messianic or prophetic Christian movements. They often abandon their views when they get into close contact with Judaism as a stable community or they expect the ingathering of the Jews as a suppository element that should hasten the coming of the Messiah and their own salvation.

Again, it will take a lot of time and honest, free outspoken discussions. Theological disputes are like matches that can put fire to fireworks, stakes or “candles of life”. At the present, Israel has, in some hidden way, a very spiritual, mystic function that grows as years pass. This was unforeseen by the Orthodox, Catholic and other Churches and their heads. It underscores that, according to the Gospel, the interfaith dialogue is at the heart of the coming years, without vain or unrealistic dreams.

In Hebrew, “Atzma’ut\עצמאות – independence” comes from “atzmi\עצמי – self/personal”; “sherut atzmi\שרות עצמי = self-service”. It is linked to “atzam\עצם – to close, press, especially the eyes; to acquire, possess”. And “etzem\עצם – bone” (because bones are solid and strong). “Hit’aztem\התעצם – to be headstrong, stubborn in an agreement; to fortify”. Bones are never self-sufficient. Maybe, even if Hebrew, the word is not the sole or precise word to speak of “independence”. A bone needs “moach\מוח – marrow and wit” and “ruach\רוח –spirit”. This is why the best way to talk about such a day as having also some theological elements to discover is the vision of the “anonymous bones that move together and raise to be revivified” in Ezekiel 37. It allows overcoming any political attempt to reduce the resurrection to humane actions.

The State of Israel is much larger than the country itself. At the present, the borders are not clearly defined - not to speak of the opposition the bigger part of all the nations of the world. Israelis and Jews also feel that the present borders are temporary. There might be other pullouts as it happened for Gaza. It is difficult to clearly draw a coherent map: right now, the regions seem to be separated by cultural and economical ways of handling the situation locally. Galilee, The Center (Merkaz\מרכז), Darom\דרום-Negev are linked by their State identity. The West Bank and in some way Jordan could be introduced into a multi-ethnic body that would be very meaningful and show exceptional dynamic capacities in the Middle-East.

This is why the 1860 year is so important for the "launching" of the possible State of the Jews. By that time, Eliezer Ben Yehudah was only 10 years old but Hebrew was slightly spoken in Jerusalem and in the country and it had always been a colloquial medium. This is much ignored. It also means that the many Jews who did not resolve their own identity quest about being Jews in Eretz and/or abroad in the dispersion or both are still left with their interrogation. Israel allows any Jew who has an ID card to vote in the country even if they left the Eretz a long time ago. Israel exists and it is the KERNEL PLACE for all the Jews. They might think it is not necessary to live here because the State is existent.

Some newcomers had no other choice than to make their aliyah to Israel. Those who were in some jail in Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union brought new skills and brains to reinvigorate the chromatic aspect of the country. North American United State and Canada citizens, French and Anglo's are less pressured to come to Israel. Curiously, as in the former Soviet Union all these possible newcomers would be at pains to show clear evidence of their relation to the Jewish community as full members of the Orthodox Jewish Halachah (religious in force). A lot of official "ketubot" (marriage certificates) did disappear in the storm of the Shoah.

Other newcomers are systematically sought and brought to Israel. This move that deals to Falasha's and tribes from India, Assam, South America show how deeply Judaism is rooted in a process of getting abck people who are supposedly lost or got converted. The Chabad is very active in the Ukraine, claiming that the local Christian missionaries have obliged Jewish inhabitants to convert in the course of the past two centuries. It is clear that the connections did exist at a very peculiar level between the Jews and the Christians who developed rather parallel spiritual schools of teachings (Hesychasm and Chassidism). The point is that Judaism has a special universal character that should be discovered by the non-Jews. It should even be a prerequisite to normal relationships between the communities.

Other Jews would never accept to become Israelis for various reasons. To begin with, the Israeli citizenship was considered as a sort of "lumpenproleriat" stand and document. As years and decades passed, the State became real and many people would be very proud of being accepted as citizens and participate in the development and protection of the country. Others would refuse for religious convictions, considering that times have not come yet or that the messiah did not bring the redemption in person. This means that the country is in the process of growth. Time passes and the emergence of a specific Israeli culture and civilization does not limit or rebuke new comers to arrive. Israeli law is also very interesting: one may spend years in the country without becoming a citizen, even as a Jew. It also means that the "aliyah" is linked to a very unique decision of getting firmly home and participate in the enhancement of the essential body of Judaism in the present.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 27/14, 2009 – 18 le’Omer 5769 - 3 deIyar 5769 - י"ח לעומר - ג' דאייר תשס"ט