Jewish Wroclaw, Poland

Image

Jewish Wroclaw, Poland

“All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” John Steinbeck

In 1933, 20,000 Jews lived in Wroclaw.  In November 1938, the New Synagogue was destroyed in a fire during the Kristalnacht pogroms.

Between 1941 and 1944, the majority of Jewish residents of Wrocław were transferred to death and concentration camps. A  group of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust settled in Wrocław after 1945. The communist authorities organized an assembly point for the Jews, in Wroclaw, who wanted to go to the USA or to Palestine. As a result, about 10,000 Jews were there in February 1946. The significant emigrations diminished the number of the Jews in the city. In 1968 it came to another wave of emigrations, which left only 500 Jews in the city. In the late Polish People’s Republic (PRL), the Jewish activity started disappearing. The White Stork Synagogue in Wrocław was the only synagogue in the city to survive the Holocaust.

In 1974 the Communist authorities took over the White Stork Synagogue. The Jews regained the White Stork Synagogue in 1994.

Restored in 2010 after a decade-long renovation, it now serves as a cultural center. Lauder Etz-Chaim School was established, as well as a kindergarten and the synagogue choir which is the only one in Poland. 

Chidusz is a Jewish magazine published by our Wroclaw guide Michai Bojanowski. I read it from cover to cover. There are stories about the present, the Holocaust and general news about Jewish life in Poland.

Michai is a wonderful guide who loves his country.  He is young and believes it is his responsibility to do the best for people who don’t have a voice in Poland anymore.  His passion reminds us not to forget them and not let it happen again. Young Poles today were not around during the Holocaust but many feel that they owe the truth in remembering the past to the victims.  Michai takes us through all of Wroclaw ending with the Jewish area.

Wroclaw is lucky to have such a fine representative of their city and we were lucky he was our guide.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Advertisements

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Image

The Western Wall

“Everywhere I look, I see something holy.” Terry Pratchett

We visited the Wall on our first day in Jerusalem. It is the Western Wall of the Second Temple that survived the destruction by the Romans, making it the most sacred construction for the Jewish people.The Wall is the closest place to where Jews believe the presence of God resides on earth.

Our guide Dvir, takes us to the viewing point on the roof of the Aish HaTorah building. I had seen the view before.

You can see the entire Western Wall, as well as the Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

I looked down awestruck at the presence of history.

Dvir takes us to a  private chapel in Aish Hatorah where we are left with our thoughts to write our prayers for the wall. That was incredible. I spent a long time composing each person’s prayer.

We walk through security and metal detectors and go our own ways to the wall.

Dress modestly.There is a separate side for men and women.

I find a place against the crowded wall and put my hand on it. I can feel the humans who have been there before me. Women are praying, rocking, bobbing, reading and chanting close to the wall.

The woman next to me is praying and sobbing uncontrollably. I try not to pay attention. She says something to me in Hebrew that I don’t understand. She asks me for a tissue in English. I had left my purse with Dvir and I never have tissues. I reach in my pocket and there is one thing – a tissue. I give it to her and now she is holding on to me and praying. I am forced into the present. Old and new come together.


As is the custom, I have quite a few prayers to put in the wall. Papers are stuffed and folded in every reachable crack.

The flecks of blue, yellow, and peach post-it notes, white paper with red, blue and black pen, scraps of graph paper and lined paper are all rolled into balls, wadded, curled, folded, and stuffed together in-between the rocks pressed in place by thousands of hands. I find a perfect place for each of them.

It’s hard to focus on prayer or a spiritual moment. There are so many women praying. Kids are running around.

A troop of Israeli soldiers are dancing and singing loudly.

Tourists are photographing, talking loudly and taking selfies. It is hard to feel the past.

But then I realize that women have prayed here with children running around for thousands of years just like this without the cell phone photos. I understand at that moment that I am as much a part of the history of the wall as the stones are. I feel incredible amazement at this connection.

Special thanks to Dvir Hollander, for his knowledge, insight, humor, non judgmental world view and kindness. If you are going to Jerusalem, I highly recommend hiring him – not just for the food, but for how much you will learn and experience. He has the unique ability to figure out just what you want to do and then he casually adds in what he feels you are missing. The trip was perfect. Contact him at Hollander2000@gmail.com.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

Image

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” John Lennon

Jerusalem is a symbol of three great religions but is also a city filled with hatred. The conflicts are mostly between the Muslims and the Jews but also with the Ultra Orthodox.

The Temple Mount is in the South East corner of Jerusalem’s Old City surrounded by date palms and cypress trees. It is the most holy place in the city, with major significance to all three religions.

It is thought to be Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.

For Jews, the Temple Mount was the location of the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BC to house the Ark of the Covenant (which held the Ten Commandments) It’s the most sacred site in Judaism.

For Christians, the Temple Mount is significant because the Jewish temple located here was where Jesus prayed daily and later preached with his disciples.

For Muslims, it is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The rock under the dome is where the Prophet Muhammad left Earth to visit heaven on a winged horse in the 7th Century.

The Temple Mount is a controversial and culturally significant place.

Israel took control of the Old City in 1967, but Muslims continue to manage the site.

However armed Israeli soldiers patrol inside. It’s a regular flash point for protests and violence between Jews and Arabs.

The entrance for non-Muslims is at the Mughrabi Bridge (an enclosed wooden ramp) near the Western Wall. Tourists can usually visit the Temple Mount, but there are restrictions.

It’s a religious site, so modest dress is required. (blue cover ups if you are not dressed correctly)

You must pass a security checkpoint with metal detectors, and certain religious artifacts are not allowed in (Bibles, crosses, Star of David, etc.)

There are only certain times that non-Muslims are allowed to visit.

It is quite different from the staircase in the wall that we used to go back and forth many years ago.

Tourists can walk around the plaza taking photos, but are currently not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a fire was set inside the mosque  by a Christian extremist many years ago. You are able to peek inside Al-Aqsa from a window on the side of the building.

Jews can visit the Temple Mount, but they can’t pray openly. Only Arabs are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Some Orthodox Jews feel the site is too holy to even walk on while others believe they should be allowed to pray there. The chief rabbis have posted a sign forbidding Jews to pray there.

There is definitely tension in the air, but it didn’t feel dangerous.

The world is a big place and three religions are fighting over a plaza of stone. We are supposed to respect each other’s rights and freedoms.  None of this feels God like to me.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Mea Shearim: The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

Image

Mea Shearim, The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” Jon Stewart

Walking into Mea Shearim is like walking into a shtetl (village) in pre World War Two Eastern Europe. When you walk through this community they expect you to be respectful of their way of life and dress appropriately. There are signs in English for that.

fullsizeoutput_6776

Tzedakah boxes are posted all over to give money to the poor.

fullsizeoutput_676e

For religious Jews, giving is not an option. It’s a law.

fullsizeoutput_677a

Information is controlled by the chief rabbis of the different communities. The important information passes to the public, after being filtered, and hang as Pashkvil – street posters.

There are a couple of newspapers though not everybody purchases them. There is supposedly no internet and there are signs about that also.

fullsizeoutput_6779

There was something nice about seeing the large families all together, the fresh bakery smells and hearing the language of my childhood. It was a simpler time.

Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.

For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls.

fullsizeoutput_6777

Women and girls are urged to wear modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves.

fullsizeoutput_677b

The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.

fullsizeoutput_6773

Most of the men spend their days studying Torah, living off a meager stipend, government aid and sometimes their wives salaries. Some go to work. They are exempt from paying taxes and the mandatory army service that all Israelis have to do to.

As with all closed societies, the extremists set the tone. The gulf between secular Israelis and the ultra Orthodox is getting wider. There are more similarities between the extremist Islāmic and ultra Orthodox communities. Most stay in their community only leaving to go to the Arab Market and pray at the Wall.

The Orthodox have their own unregulated school system which does not prepare their children for the modern world. Religious schools don’t teach mathematics, science, or English; only the Bible. All day, every day. The men are expected to continue that Bible study for the rest of their lives. It’s all funded by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers are… secular Israelis.

It appears that secular Israelis are moving forward to global life into the modern world and the orthodox are moving backward to a more observant God driven one.

It looks like no one understands both sides and the situation seems to be getting worse.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Christian Jerusalem

Image

Christian Jerusalem

“There’s a golden phone with a direct connection to God at the Vatican. To make a call, it costs $1,000. And there’s a similar golden phone offering the same service here in Jerusalem, where the same call costs only 25 cents.” When I asked why, he said, “It’s a local call.”Unknown

Jerusalem is complicated even for tourists. Before planning our days the tour guide asked me my religion. We were Jewish and Christian.

The Via Dolorosa is the mile long route that runs through the old city and leads to the place of the crucifixion.

At each of the fourteen stations of the cross, there is a marker or chapel. Pilgrims of all Christian denominations will take this walk which ends at the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre.

The Christian Quarter has about forty Christian sites and was built around the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre. As with other holy sites, dress modestly.

Local guides know that, among Christians interested in seeing Jesus’ tomb, most Protestants prefer the burial chamber outside the walls in the Garden Tomb, while Catholics prefer the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built upon the summit of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Because it’s holy for all kinds of Christians, who see things differently and don’t communicate very well, it’s a cluttered religious hodgepodge of various zones, each controlled by a different sect. There are chapels for Greek Orthodox, Franciscans, Coptic Christians, Armenians,etc. There are many arguments.

As you enter, the first sight is the Stone Of Unction which is the place that commemorates where Jesus was anointed before his burial. The stone is always surrounded by pilgrims from all over the world,

On the second floor is the chapel of Calvary.  The chapel is divided into two sections: the first one is where it is believed that Jesus was stripped of his clothes and nailed to the cross. In the second section, you can find the Rock of Cavalry, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. The queues can be long to touch the stone but I have to admit that even though I’m not a Christian, watching people experience this was impressive.

The Greek Orthodox priest who is monitoring lines says “ One hundred are photographing and zero are praying”.

Located under the dome is the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre which is believed to be the burial-place of Jesus. The queues are even longer here and can be a few hours.

The next day we take a taxi to the top of  the Mount Of Olives. It is easier to take a taxi to the top and walk down. There is so much history here and such a beautiful view of the city.

The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years.

Approximately 150,000 Jewish people are buried there including some of the greatest Jewish leaders, prophets, and rabbis of all time.

According to the Gospels, the Garden Of Gethsemane is situated on a slope on the Mount Of Olives.

Gethsemane means olive oil press in Hebrew

. It is here where Jesus and his disciples often went to pray and was betrayed and arrested on the night before his crucifixion.

Some of the world’s oldest olive trees dating back 2000 years are in this spot. When I was younger you could sit under them, now it is fenced in.

A number of Christian churches on the hill mark key events described in the New Testament.

It is peaceful on the Mount of Olives. A large Christian group from Indonesia is walking down near us, stopping everywhere for photos. All these conflicting religions are fighting over a place that is all about beauty and truth.

Fly safe,

JAZ

So Jewy

So Jewy

“I am a Jewish mother. My dying words will be, “Put a sweater on” Amanda Craig,

My kids think that I have become so Jewy.  What does Jewy mean anyway? Does it mean too Jewish? Jewish seem to describe birth or upbringing. Jewy sounds like more of a choice.

I wasn’t observant but I did not want to raise my children without religion. It was important to me that they knew where they came from. I wanted them to have an understanding of the beliefs and identity of their great grandparents who escaped pogroms to come here and of all the Jews who died in the concentration camps. I believe in traditions and rituals—whether it was lighting the Hanukkah candles, going to temple on the High Holy days, the rite of passage of asking the four questions at a Seder, enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, birthday parties, the Tooth Fairy or sleeping in Mom and Dad’s bed after a nightmare. These things make up much of the fabric of our childhood memories and sense of family.

I did not go to Temple every week or celebrate the Sabbath.  Secretly I wish we had done that now, more for the family to get together than real Jewish study. I learned when my children were studying for their Bar Mitzvahs that our tradition comes with all sorts of advice about how best to behave in the world. What is a person’s obligation in this chaotic world? I could have used these life lessons.

And then there is the God thing. The Ten Commandments sound pretty easy yet it seems very hard for human beings to follow them. If you do not want to follow them, then it is easier not to believe in them. Are you a person of reason or a person of faith seems to be the dialogue. Why can’t you be both?

I thought that I had done everything right in terms of creating a religious background. But one of the most cherished myths of parenting is that parents create the child. There is no guarantee that your children will absorb everything you think they will. I believe that children are born more hard-wired than one would think. The nature/nurture debate goes on.

My job is done. I did my best to raise them that a little faith is important. It is understandable that young adults feel that celebrating the Jewish holidays is hypocritical (and boring) because it no longer goes along with their beliefs. Going along with family occasions as a respect to your parents without feeling defensive is a sign of maturity. A reality of modern life is that people get to decide for themselves what to believe, and emerging adults today feel they have not just a right but an obligation to make that decision on their own.

This year the events in Charlottesville make me feel the need to be more Jewy. My obligation in this chaotic world is to increase my good deeds, study,  go to temple on the Jewish Holidays and pray for a world that has gone insane.

Fly Safe,

JAZ

We are Jews. We Bring Food. We Sit.

We are Jews. We Bring Food. We Sit.

“My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall go on living.” Pablo Neruda

I went to pick up my friend for a movie and her 30-year-old son was found dead in bed minutes before I got there.  I have to process another senseless death. There are orphans and there are widows but there are no words for parents who lose a child.

Senseless deaths always stir up the questions of faith and fate for me. I guess it must help to believe god has a plan in the face of tragedy but that saying never works for me. It helps to have a tradition – a set of rituals to go through at a time when your brain shuts down, a religious structure to follow, to get through the unthinkable.

I am very close with my friend. I knew the son that passed away – but not the other kids or shocked family members who had started to arrive. I said to my other friend who was with me. “I’m not sure that I should be here now.“ She said “We are here for a reason. We are Jews. We sit.” That is our tradition.

This is a pretty religious Jewish family and they will follow the laws strictly. Jewish people believe in a season of sorrow. We take a lot of time to mourn and heal our souls. Normal life seems over and it is a struggle to deal with the new reality. We need time. The mourning rituals are about the great value that we place on the life of each person.

I didn’t grow up understanding the Jewish traditions and the death ritual seemed bizarre to me. After a funeral service you go back to the house and laugh and tell stories about the person who passed away. Everyone is eating, deli platters and dry Jewish pastries. In fact, every Jewish event in Brooklyn, came with a deli platter. – the births, after the bar mitzvahs and the deaths. There was some weird cycle of life familiarity when I saw them bringing in the platters of corn beef, turkey, coleslaw, potato salad, pickles and lox of my childhood and family events.

It is an ancient custom for loved ones and friends to visit the mourners after the funeral.  The mourning period is called shiva and it means seven. The mourners sit and have visitors for seven days. It is a time to remember and tell the stories. They sit in my friend’s house which carries her son’s spirit so  that the memories will come more easily. It is important to do this to let the family know he will be remembered in our hearts always. Bobby  would have wanted us to be laughing. Bobby would have loved the stories.  It is emotionally and spiritually healing to have mourners and friends around for this time. If you are religious, you sit on small stools, to show that something has changed and to be close to the earth.

The first meal after the funeral is the most important. It is brought by friends and family. You must eat now to affirm life. You must eat because it signifies that you must go on.

We have a prayer that we say called the Mourner’s Kaddish. It is not in Hebrew but in Aramaic, which was the language of the people at that time. It has been said for centuries and there is some comfort in that link to the past. Praying is not easy for me, yet I have no problem saying this one since my mother passed away. I say it and talk to her at the same time. We have the same conversation each time. She says ”What are you doing in temple on such a beautiful day?”

But I also say it for other people who have died. I said it last week for the people in Charleston. I said it and thought however painful and unfair life can be, I hope their families can find a way to make their life good again. Not to forget their loss but to go on different than before.

I will say it often now for Bobby and his family, for the HUGE empty space in their hearts and for a sorrow so big it feels like it will never go away.

Fly safe Bobby

JAZ