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08/01/2019 10:20:03 AM


Installment #12

Couldn't resist photographing the sign on a car near our apartment as I went to meet with two young former Charlotteans (and former bar/bat mitzvah students who have made Aliyah, Rebecca Gerger & Nathan Berger, both 29) for coffee. Each of them caught me up on their lives. They both recently became engaged - Nathan to an Israeli and Rebecca to an Israeli, originally from Moldova. We reminisced about the "good old days" in Charlotte. They knew that I had retired, but did not know that Rabbi Ezring was about to retire. Rebecca remarked how strange it would be on her next visit to look upon the Bimah & see two unfamiliar faces!

On our last evening, Linda & I had a light dinner at the apartment. I had one more mission to make: My dad's (of blessed memory) yahrzeit is tonight & tomorrow, but Linda & I have a 5:30 AM departure, so I attended a Ma'ariv service at the Great Synagogue & said Kaddish. Any prayer recited in Israel is "like a local call to God!"

Our taxi came to take us to the airport at 2 AM. At the airport, SURPRISE, we were visited by (a THIN!) David Ben-Gurion himself to see us off!


I will close with two additional experiences I had: one negative, one positive.

First, the negative: Our final experience with Israelis came after we had already left Israel. We flew from Tel Aviv to Madrid. The plane taxied to the arrival gate, five or at most, 10 minutes late. Linda was on the aisle seat, so she, along with many others, stood up to retrieve our things from the overhead compartment. The plane door had not yet even been opened. Nobody was pushing or shoving anyone else, just standing in the aisle...until along come two Israeli fellows who had been several rows behind us. They were pushing their way through the line, saying that they had a flight to catch in half an hour. Linda did not like the idea that they were assuming that merely saying "SLICHA" entitled them to push to the front of the line, especially considering that many OTHER people in the line ALSO had connecting flights to catch, including us. She stood her ground, and before I (still seated at the window) could say or do anything to defuse the situation, they simply forcefully shoved her aside & moved past her. Israelis like these give Israelis in general the reputation for being pushy & rude. Ever since, I have been replaying the scene over & over in my head, thinking of things that I could have/should have said at the time, had I been quick enough.

Now the positive experience: It was Sunday, our last full day in Israel. I was walking back from the cemetery to our apartment, along Tel Aviv's quiet back streets. (Yes, Tel Aviv HAS some quiet back streets!) Two children were walking towards me, A boy who looked about five years old, and a girl a little younger. They had bought ice cream and were eating it on the way home, while talking animatedly.

How many of US would allow our kids at that age (in 2019) to walk alone in a big city? Their parents were obviously cultivating independent children, but even more important, their parents felt that Tel Aviv - and maybe all Israel - is a safe place for children. And I believe they are correct!

On our last morning in Israel, before leaving our Air BNB, Linda & I did an inventory, going through all the rooms to make sure we were leaving nothing behind.

Now I am sitting down to contemplate the SPIRITUAL inventory of just what I AM leaving behind:

  • The modern miracle that is the State of Israel, which welcomed its people back after almost 2,000 years of their homelessness.
  • The miracle of the resurrection of the Hebrew language, for 2,000 years used exclusively as the language of prayer, now the language of teens on the street, disk jockeys on the radio, doctors, lawyers and, to paraphrase the remark of David Ben Gurion, spoken by Jewish policemen when they arrest Jewish prostitutes....who ALSO speak Hebrew! (....uh...So I've been told!)

Don't get me wrong: I love, and am proud of, my American identity & heritage. But there is just a feeling I get in my soul every time I return to Israel, which I just don't get when I visit Washington or New York. Each visit to Washington, or to NY is just that, a visit. But each return to Israel is a Homecoming.

I am leaving behind all that and more:

  • The central bus station in Jerusalem, with its Biblical inscription on its wall; Sha'alu shlom Yerushalayim...(The actual inscription is in Hebrew letters, of course!)
  • A city of between 500-1,000 synagogues, depending on whom you ask;
  • The only country in the region where Jews, Christians & Moslems all serve in the government (Knesset);
  • A country that welcomes any and all Jews to "return" & become citizens.

I know I'll be back, but it can't be soon enough. Meanwhile, I'll just keep thinking of the lines from Psalm 122:

My feet were standing at your gates, Jerusalem; Jerusalem the rebuilt!....
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May those who love you prosper.
May there be peace within your walls, tranquility in your homes.

Shalom. Peace.
L'hitra'ot. See you again.


07/24/2019 09:07:52 PM


Installment #11

Our last full day in Israel did not begin well, and it started with a taxi ride to the Yitzhak Rabin Center/Museum. Just as Linda had had a stressful experience upon arriving in Israel, I had an equally stressful one at the Museum. We had only been there about five minutes, when I reached for my cell phone to take a photo, & discovered it was not on my belt; and I knew I had brought it with me from our apartment. It must have fallen off my belt in the taxi. And of course, we had not paid attention to what cab company it was, or the driver's name. Furthermore--and quite unusual for us---we had not even gotten a receipt. I told the receptionist at the front desk of our dilemma, and she shook her head saying, "You know how many taxis there are in Tel Aviv???"

Linda, God bless her, saved the day by using HER phone, she called MY phone. The taxi driver picked it up and, long story short, brought it back to the Museum, for which I rewarded him handsomely.

The Rabin Center was worth much more than the price of admission. Through artifacts and numerous audio-visuals, it told the story of the rise of the State of Israel and of Rabin's life and work. Early on, we noticed (& photographed) a thank you to Jimmy Hoffa & his family for their generous support of Israel and the Rabin Center. We also took a picture of Rabin's Nobel Prize. 

In the 1970’s, Rabin took an incognito trip to Morocco. In order not to be recognized, he donned a wig. Would YOU have recognized him?  ==>

A large part of the Center dealt with the atmosphere of hate & violent opposition to the Oslo Accords which led to Rabin's assassination, including the portrayal of Rabin as a Nazi. I recommend a visit to anyone visiting Israel!

We took a taxi to the Carmel market, & decided to get some FALAFEL. We went into a place, and ordered a FALAFEL plate. The guy gave us each several FALAFEL balls, we helped ourselves to the "fixin's," and paid 100 shekels, about $30. I remember when FALAFEL with all the trimmings was a fraction of that, but I'm revealing my age!

Then, while Linda entered the Carmel Market, I walked to the old cemetery on Trumpeldor Street, where some of Israel's most distinguished citizens rest; including Chaim Nachman Bialik, early Israel's poet laureate, Achad Ha'Am, a great writer & cultural---as opposed to political---Zionist, & Arik Einstein, a beloved actor & singer who passed away just recently.

I also paid my respects at the grave of my great-grandfather, Simcha Bunem Roochvarg, who left his family, including my then-teenage grandfather in Russia, made Aliya at the turn of the 20th century and was interred in this cemetery in 1910. His son, my grandfather, the first Elias Roochvarg, came to America in 1906 - which is why I am American and not Israeli. 

07/17/2019 02:51:32 PM


Installment #10

On April 27, my last Shabbat in Israel, I got up somewhat early to attend services at the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv. (As I said last Saturday, if learning about this grand edifice, down on its luck, doesn't interest you, then you can skip the next five paragraphs.)


THE VENUE: This synagogue was completed in 1926, & renovated in 1970, so it is within sight of its 100th anniversary. But it has fallen on hard times. Many Orthodox Jews have left this neighborhood, and though the Sanctuary, with a large balcony, seats about 1,000, I would guess that we had about 30 this morning. It has a large dome, and stained glass windows depicting synagogues destroyed during the Holocaust. The walls of the Sanctuary badly needed a paint job, and about a quarter of the bulbs in the chandeliers needed replacement. Surprisingly, the quotation above the ark is the rather warlike

קומה אדוני ויפוצו איביך, ‏וינוסו משנאיך מפניך

Arise, Lord, and scatter Your enemies, and may those who hate You flee before You.



THE SERVICE: Services started at 8:30 and went till 10:30 am. I arrived at about 8:45. I had not packed a jacket or tie for this trip, so in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, where most of the men WERE wearing jackets & ties, I felt a bit underdressed. Not here. I saw only one man wearing a jacket, and he wore it as part of his Hassidic garb, not as a fashion statement. Most of the other men, like me, were wearing button-down shirts, open at the collar.. There were even a few young men wearing T-shirts!


There was no Choir, and no professional HAZZAN. (Hence the brevity, compared with her sister congregation in Jerusalem) The Shacharit was DAVENED by a young man (from Chicago, as he later told me). He had a lovely voice, and led the service in a straightforward, unembellished style.


In the Torah Service, the Kohein who had the first Aliyah also CHANTED his Torah portion. Likewise, the Levi who had Aliyah #2. I was thinking that if all those with ALIYOT do their own Torah chanting, that is a remarkable custom when I was suddenly tapped on the shoulder. Would I like the 3rd ALIYAH? My first thought was, WOW! A guest whom they've never seen before, and they're offering me an ALIYAH! How welcoming! Then I thought, but am I expected to chant the Torah portion as well as the blessing? I timidly asked, and was reassured, "Oh that's just the Yemenite custom. Just the blessings will be fine." So at the appropriate moment, I went up to the Bimah & recited my before-and-after blessings. Then, the GABBAI recited the Mi Shebeyrach, wishing me & my family health, happiness & long life. The text he used incorporated a phrase about making a contribution to the shul, & as he chanted, he handed me a self-addressed envelope for that very be used AFTER Shabbat, of course!


There was no sermon. During the Mussaf Service, the young man who had led Shacharit was in the back of the Sanctuary setting up the Kiddush, a modest affair, with plastic shot glasses of wine, some matza (Since yesterday was the last day of the Chag, Orthodox Jews here won't taste their first bread till tonight.), some macaroons & some cheese. And whom should I run into at the Kiddush table but another one of the volunteers with whom I had served for three weeks, whose husband had been one of my roommates! Small world!


So in the afternoon, I went for another walk. I discovered a fascinating store. You can see the likeness of JFK, Joan Crawford, a famous painting by Van Gogh, all on....SOCKS! It was a socks store. You can probably get your bubbe or zeyde's picture on a pair, if you want!  Then I passed a real estate agency, with signs in the window of apartments for sale, for between 2.8-6.8 million shekels ($773,290-$1.9 million). Any takers? If so, keep buying those lottery tickets!


The restaurant where Linda & I had dinner was built around a tree. Undeterred, the owners used it for various electrical fixtures. Israeli ingenuity!


Lastly, here is a photograph of the garden in front of Kikar HaTarbut, Culture Square.







07/11/2019 12:23:14 PM


Installment #9

I went for a stroll this AM, just to further acquaint myself with the neighborhood. Saw lots of streets named for famous Jews, like Rothschild. The man has an appropriately opulent boulevard in his memory, considering his generosity to the pre-state residents; a wide, tree-lined thoroughfare with a wide median in the middle with bikes lanes, flowers, children's playgrounds, and lots of room to just spread a blanket & relax!

Others named for Jews I had never heard of, and quite a few named for distinguished non-Jews, like King Cyrus, who allowed the Jews to return to Zion after their first exile, & Allenby, who secured Palestine for the UK in the First World War (& who famously got off his horse to enter the Jaffa Gate on foot, as a sign of humility). There are also a good number of streets named for Americans. (See photo of the intersection of Lincoln & Wilson streets---though the men's LIVES never intersected.)

I followed Rothschild as far as Kikar HaTarbut (Culture Square), which has the Habimah---Israel's national---theater, as well as the Bronfman Symphony Hall.

But at one point I stopped in my tracks: one of my Jewish music idols is Yoel Engel (1868-1927), distinguished Russian composer, music journalist, & ethnomusicologist. At the height of his career, in 1924, he chose to emigrate to Palestine. He is considered the "father of Israeli music" because of his work in developing Music curricula, concerts, & other music programs in Palestine in the late 1920's. To acknowledge his contribution to national culture, the Israeli government, shortly after his death, established the Engel Prize, given annually to an Israeli who has made a great contribution to Israeli music. And there, a few blocks from our apartment, I found Yoel Engel Street. The sign was about 10 feet high, so I couldn't read the small print, but I believe it is the street where he lived.

I also noticed on my walk, one of the ways in which TA is a much more cosmopolitan city than Jerusalem: Although it is the 7th day of Passover, a national holiday, MANY cafe's were not only OPEN, but crowded with people. And some stores were open as well. An open store on a festival in Jerusalem is rare indeed

So Linda & I made our reservation Thursday for Thursday & Friday nite dinners in two different fancy hotel-connected restaurants. One had an unusual orange juice ad.

A surprising thing (to me) that they both did was that after the meal, they put on the table a fancy little cup of....toothpicks! I have never associated toothpicks with fine dining. Never saw folks picking at their teeth in the nicer restaurants I've dined in before. Maybe it's a British thing. (No photo of anyone picking their teeth. Sorry!)








07/02/2019 11:33:41 AM


Installment #8

On April 24, we checked out of our Jerusalem hotel after breakfast. We took a taxi to the Central Train station (at the same intersection as the Central Bus Station). The train station, opened in 2017, is named in memory of Itzchak Navon (1921-2015), Israel's 5th, & 1st Sephardic, President. There was one entrance to the terminal, and instead of having people line up single file, as folks must do at other airports & train stations, it was the stereotypical Israeli "BALAGAN" (chaos), with hundreds of people, many with babies in strollers, all pushing towards the entrance, with a couple of soldiers trying mightily to keep order.

Once we got through that, we descended to the actual platform by 3 consecutive escalators, all amazingly long & steep. We found out, to our surprise, that the train from Jerusalem does not go directly to Tel Aviv: you have to get off at the airport & change trains. Kind of a surprise that there is no non-stop service between Israel's 2 largest cities. Soon we arrived at our lovely Airbnb in the center of Tel Aviv.

Two hours later, we were picked up by a cousin to take us to one more family gathering---after all, the cousins had seen ME, but this was their first time in seven years to see Linda. Spent a lovely few hours with 3-generations of cousins, between the ages of 2 and 75. And naturally, there was plenty of food.

In the Diaspora, Passover is observed for 8 days, with the last two being full festivals. In Israel, it is only observed for 7 days, with the last day being a full festival. Because this evening is Erev Chag (the evening of the last day), most restaurants are closed. There are a few, however, that are open, but dinner reservations must be made in advance. So while Linda went to the Carmel Market, an outdoor SHUK of fruits, vegetables, spices, etc., I spent the morning going to two restaurants in our area, each connected with a (rather posh) hotel, & making our dinner reservations.

After lunch, I met with Yossi Zucker, a gent who is the proprietor of OR-TAV, a large (the largest?) Israeli music publisher. After we discussed the current situation of Israeli music publication (struggling), he took me on a walking tour of the nearby neighborhood of Nachlat Binyamin. Like Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, it is a several-blocks-long, pedestrians-only, thoroughfare with shops, street buskers, reflexologists, glass name it! While we were there, there were four strolling French Horn players playing classical & Israeli music! There were of course cafes and street murals, and many old buildings that have recently been refurbished, or are currently being refurbished.


Tel Aviv was established in 1909, so this coming July will mark its 110th Anniversary. MAZAL TOV!

Then I met with Zach Weinstein, a former Charlottean who has made Aliyah, who took me on another walking tour, this time of the historical Neve Tzedek neighborhood. We passed an equestrian statue of Me'ir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv's founder & 1st mayor. In Hebrew, "Al tidag" means don't worry. We passed the office whose company apparently chose that as its name.

The Shalom Tower, when completed in 1965, was not only ISRAEL's first skyscraper, but was for years the tallest building in the Middle East. So I took a photo.

Each year, there are more and more cars in Israel. The streets are just not wide enough for the growing numbers. I took a photo of a line of parked cars: the cars are parked incredibly tightly together. There were about six inches between each of these cars! Six inches!! I don’t know how they do it.

As we were getting ready for bed, we did a few minutes of "channel surfing". On one station we watched a minute of JUDGE JUDY, dubbed in Russian, with Hebrew subtitles! Can't watch THAT in Charlotte!!


06/27/2019 09:51:40 AM


Installment #7

There is to be a big Cantorial concert here in Jerusalem Wednesday night, April 24, at the fabled Jerusalem Theater, featuring three of the world's outstanding Cantors; Colin Shachat (whom I met on Shabbat), Yaakov Stark (perhaps the only up-and-coming HAZZAN in the world who is also a member of the Satmar community - worth looking up), and Netanel Herstik (who sang in a concert with his father at Temple Israel some fifteen years ago.) Herstik is now the HAZZAN of the Orthodox congregation in East Hampton, Long Island. (Temple Israel heard him before he became a "star".)

Knowing that Linda & I would no longer be in Jerusalem Wednesday night, Raymond invited us to attend a rehearsal with the HAZZANIM this AM, accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony. While the orchestra was being rehearsed, I asked my distinguished colleagues if I might photograph them, and they happily agreed. (Yes, if you look closely, Cantor Stark, the one in the middle, has PEYOS, "sidelocks" of hair, a testament to his Hassidic affiliation.) If the concert goes as well as the rehearsal, it will be a great success!

After the rehearsal, Linda headed back to the hotel, while I set myself the ambitious (for me) goal of walking down to the Haas Promenade, the walkway in the Talpiyot suburb that affords an unobstructed panorama of Jerusalem from the south (click here). The walk, about two miles, mostly downhill, took about half an hour. One thing visitors who have been there before cannot fail to notice, is the tremendous amount of new building. At one time, 40 years ago, there was a restriction on how tall new buildings in Jerusalem could be. But that restriction has either been eliminated, or rolled back.


Then of course I had the even greater challenge of walking BACK, this time mostly UP hill! I could have taken a bus, or even a taxi for that matter, but I "toughed it out" and walked. Something about the air of Jerusalem (maybe it's the carbon monoxide!) gave me the energy.

For our last evening in Jerusalem, we invited Raymond & his wife Suzanne to be OUR guests for dinner. We went to the Mamilla Center (for the last time) and ate at a restaurant which had Passover versions of bread, croutons, pizza & pies!

  As I started to begin packing for our move to Tel Aviv, I found the Israeli Army kippah which I had taken during my
It matches the Israeli Army uniforms...and was made in CHINA!

06/20/2019 10:47:50 AM


Installment #6

Raymond (see last week's entry) is the arranger of music for the Choir of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue where, in the 70's, I occasionally sang. So I decided to attend services there this AM. Services started at 8:00, & ended at 11:45 (And you think OUR services are long???).

(If you're not interested in a description of services at one of Israel's biggest synagogues, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs.)

The VENUE: The building was completed in 1982. The Sanctuary seats 1,400. There is beautiful stained glass over the ark, & more in the back of the Sanctuary. The ark itself is probably the single most imposing feature; probably about 15 feet wide, it contains two rows of Torah scrolls, with about ten scrolls on each row. Twenty Torahs that I could see! There may have been more, obscured by the ark curtain. (Photo by Tania Nagar)

The SERVICE: The HAZZAN did a full Amidah repetition in both Shacharit & Mussaf, the choir of about 10 men participated in the service throughout. They stood on the Bimah between the HAZZAN and the ark, with their conductor standing right in front of the ark, facing the HAZZAN, which means he actually has his back to the ark. The HALLEL (Psalms 113-118, recited every day of Passover), between choral renditions, cantorial flights of fantasy, and congregational murmurings, lasted half an hour for which the congregation was expected to remain standing! Because it was the first day of Passover, the Song of Songs was added to the service and speedily chanted from a parchment scroll. And as in all Orthodox congregations, twice during services, KOHANIM mounted the Bimah to bless the congregation. There was no sermon, at which I was surprised...but not disappointed.

Sunday we started out by taking a photo of the view from our hotel window. Not awesome, but nice.

Then we walked to the Old City. For some reason, there was an incredibly long line of pedestrians waiting to get into the Jaffa gate. Got a good shot of Linda in front of the Tower of David.

Instead of following the crowd to the Kotel (Western Wall), we continued straight to the SHUK (also spelled SHOUK), on a mission. We had to buy gifts for the "kids" and for a few others as well (Christian and Jewish). After we checked some prices, without actually ENTERING one store, we entered another. The salesman was friendly but persistent, and half an hour later, we left the store with more merchandise than we had intended to buy. And while Linda & I were consulting ("Do we REALLY want/need this item?"), the salesman talked to another customer in German & another in French!!

Leaving the Jaffa Gate, took a photo looking towards the King David Hotel. Many of the buildings look almost new. Then I proceeded to Jaffa Rd. Since 2011, cars & trucks have been banned from what used to be Jerusalem's busiest thoroughfare. It is now for pedestrians and light rail only. Turned off Jaffa Rd to go to another busy---though narrower---thoroughfare, Ben Yehuda Street. As always, it was bustling with people of all ages & nationalities.

Although most Israeli cities & towns have a major street named for him, many American Jews have no idea who he was. A contemporary of Theodor Herzl, Eliezer Ben Yehuda (born Eliezer Perlman, 1858-1922) did for the Hebrew language what Herzl did for the land of Israel. Against furious opposition both from secularists (who insisted that the Jewish people already HAVE a language: Yiddish) and the very religious, who felt that the use of Hebrew, the language of the prophets, for mundane matters was a desecration, he spearheaded its revival as a living language, which it had not been since Biblcal times.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, that at a meeting with Herzl, Ben Yehuda told Herzl of his plan to revive the long-dead Hebrew language. According to the story, Herzl remarked, "And they call ME crazy!"

As you know, he eventually succeeded gloriously, though posthumously. Hence all the streets in his memory. There is no other example of a language so long unspoken (except in prayer) being so completely revived and modernized. BTW, the ultra-Orthodox to this day speak Yiddish in their daily lives, reserving Hebrew for prayer & study.

After dinner, we walked back to Ben Yehuda to purchase a new Tallit bag for Linda. It was fairly late in the evening, & many of the JUDAICA shops were closed. We went into an open one, and were fortunate in that the merchant had about 50 for us to choose from. We were VERY surprised when he asked, "Is it for a man or a woman?"A more Orthodox merchant, say, one in Mea She'arim, would never consider selling a Tallit, Tallit bag or ANY such ritual object to a woman, and might have even asked us to leave. Before the question, I was expecting to tell him we were buying it for a friend. But that fiction was made unnecessary by the man's question.

This time, there was a bit of negotiating, and we think we got a good price, though I'm sure the merchant didn't lose money. After the purchase, the man shared with us a midrash about Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses Our Teacher. A teacher as well as merchant.

06/12/2019 05:07:25 PM


Installment #5

On our 1st full day in Jerusalem, we had a sumptuous breakfast at our modest hotel. Then went next door to the YMCA, with its iconic (some say phallic) tower, designed by the same architect who designed the Empire State Building, & dedicated in 1933 by Field Marshall Allenby.  
A quote from his dedication speech is in front of the YMCA.

We took the elevator to the top, where there is a wonderful view in every direction except East, where the view of the Old City is mostly obstructed by the imposing & almost-as-tall King David Hotel across the street. If you look carefully over the roof of the King David, slightly left of center, you can just make out the top of the golden Dome of the Rock. 

Linda took the elevator down, I took the 216 steps which, in some parts, are extremely narrow, almost like those of a medieval bell tower. There IS in fact a carillon 3/4 of the way up the tower.

After that, on our way to the supermarket for some food for the room, we passed the new---and controversial---American Embassy. After Linda took a photo of me in front of the door, a security person came out to request that we please NOT photograph the door. So here's the photo, but please don't share it with anyone!

It always amuses me when I see English words spelled out in Hebrew letters, so I had to take this photo of 2 bottles of Ginger Ale, spelled in Hebrew.


Seventh Day Adventists get their name from the fact that, although they are Christians, they celebrate the Sabbath on Saturdays. Passed their Jerusalem headquarters, so I took a photo.


Tonight we attended the Seder of friends, Raymond & Suzanne Goldstein. Raymond was my best friend when I lived in Jerusalem in the 1970's, and is a first-rate musician and scholar of Jewish music. Synagogue choirs all over the world have performed his compositions & arrangements. He performed just two or three years ago at Temple Israel, accompanying me in one of the CANTOR & FRIENDS concerts.

I don't know whether this is a difference between Israeli & American practice or between Orthodox & non-Orthodox: In America, most synagogues seem to cancel services on the 1st night of Passover, so as not to be competing with peoples' Seders. In Israel, that is not the case. Raymond & I walked a few blocks from his house to a building where there is one congregation on the ground floor, another on the 2nd floor, & still another on the 3rd! Raymond took me to the one in the middle, where they conducted the Mincha service, followed by a brief "SHI'UR" (class), followed by Kabbalat Shabbat & Ma'ariv. Then we returned to Ray's house for an excellent Seder of the best kind, filled with lively discussion, lots of singing & laughter, and of course excellent food. The only problem was that because of the services we attended, we did not get back to Raymond's home till about 8:15, so the Seder did not start till about 8:30! A much later start than we are used to. And between reciting 90% of the Haggadah, the aforementioned lively discussion, and a leisurely dinner, we did not leave until around 12:40 am! And then we had a 30-minute walk back to our hotel! But on the way, we passed lots of other folks who were walking home from Seders THEY had attended. We all greeted each other with "Shabbat Shalom, Chag Samei'ach". It was very HEIMISH! And despite the lateness of the hour, we felt absolutely safe.


I got a lesson today in current Israeli banking practices: As many of you know who have visited Israel in the past, if you need to change dollars into shekels, you used to go into a bank. I thought that was still the case. (I have not been in Israel in seven years.) So this morning, I went to the bank across the street from our hotel, (BANK LEUMI) and was told that they only do "private banking." So I went to a different bank, BANK HAPOALIM, and was told that they only exchange money for their account-holders. (This may be what the lady at the first bank was talking about.) Then I went to a third bank, and finally realized that this tourist-unfriendliness was universal! The only useful information I got from the third bank, was that if I were to go to one of the ubiquitous little booths where money is exchanged, they actually charge a smaller commission than the banks charge their members! So an hour after I left the hotel, I finally changed my dollars to shekels.

06/05/2019 04:49:39 PM


Installment #4

One of our evening educational programs was about Entebbe. There was a certain irony about our 24 year old MADRICHA, the only person in the room who did NOT live through it, teaching us seniors about Entebbe, but we found that she was very well-prepared. I thought I knew everything worth knowing about Entebbe, but I learned one new shocking fact: When Idi Amin found out that Kenya had allowed Israel to use its airbase, he ordered his forces to kill on sight any Kenyan in Uganda, and about 300 Kenyans were murdered, while thousands made a mad dash back to Kenya. So over 100 Jewish lives were saved, but 300 Kenyan lives were lost.

I occasionally attended afternoon services at the base. They usually made the necessary 10 adult males, but one day, their luck faltered. At 1:15 pm, there were just six. So some of the guys scattered to bring more, others used their phones. I asked one of the regulars, "So if we fail to make ten, do you still do the parts of the service that are permissible w/out a minyan, or do you just leave?" I loved his answer: "We pray for a minyan, then we pray WITH a minyan, so ultimately, you get the benefit of having prayed twice!" Then he added confidently, "We'll make a minyan." And by about 1:25, they did.

By the end of three weeks of volunteering, we were all feeling kind of sleep deprived even though my roommates & I usually turn out the light between 9 & 9:30 pm, and don't wake up till 6:30 am. Between their frequent trips to answer nature's call, and the thin mattress, we did NOT get anywhere near nine hours of sleep.

And then one night, something happened that deprived me dramatically of some sleep (Background: My roommates and I had decided to keep our door unlocked for two reasons; my roommates’ need---and occasionally my own---to go to the bathroom, and the fact that we felt totally safe on a military base.) At 12:30 pm one night, while my two roomies were sound asleep, our door opened, and a total stranger with a flashlight came in & shined his flashlight from one side to the other, apparently looking for something. As he approached my bed, I sat up and asked who he was. I wish I had been more proficient in Hebrew, so I could have asked, "who the Hell are you?!?" but I didn't know how to put it that way. He explained that he was with the Military Police, and would be spending the night with us. Still somewhat anxious, but unable to think of a response, I turned over but could not get back to sleep for quite a while. He climbed into the upper bunk bed across from mine.

I can't think of any place I have ever slept with the door unlocked before (other than summer camp), and for a few moments I thought that may have been a fatal mistake. When I told our MADRICHOT the story the next morning, they explained that sometimes, when a soldier away from his base completes a task at night, instead of returning to his own base, he may go to the nearest base, find an available bed & sleep there. I suggested it would be a good idea in the future to tell volunteers of that possibility in advance, so they wouldn't be quite as alarmed as I was by the intruder. You wouldn’t want to give an elderly volunteer a heart attack!

Ours is the second door from the barracks entrance, the first door is the other (guy) volunteers'. I asked one of them why he supposed the soldier didn't enter THEIR door. "Because we keep ours locked, silly!"

Tonight was our last night, so the evening activity included pizza and (non-alcoholic) drinks. A Russian volunteer asked if there was a special Israeli way to eat pizza. I couldn't resist: "Right to left!"

After saying farewell to the base, I went to Jerusalem. After checking in and dropping my suitcase off at the hotel, I walked back up to the bustling center called Mamila, and whom should I meet but Ellen & Andy Wysmuller! She was for many years (maybe still is?) a teacher at the Charlotte Jewish Preschool. They were in Israel for the bar mitzvah of a grandchild. Running into fellow Charlotteans my first hour in Jerusalem was pretty amazing!


05/30/2019 08:57:38 AM


Installment #3

I have not mentioned that although our MADRICHOT speak excellent English, the soldier who gives us our daily instructions does not. Since I have the distinction of being the most Hebrew proficient among these 12 volunteers, I acted as Translator. Between what I understand (I don't know any of the Hebrew names for tools, probably 'cause I don't use them much in ANY language!) and some pantomime, we had no major snafus.

On Thursday morning, April 11, we went to Jerusalem to visit the new (opened on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem - 2017) Government Memorial Hall to Casualties of Israel's Wars, on Mt. Herzl, adjoining the military cemetery. It is so new that they have not yet put together a brochure in English, only Hebrew.

It is all underground. The above-ground architecture, the bell-shaped roof of the hall, is quite remarkable. Civilian as well as military casualties are memorialized. At the entrance stands and eternal flame. The mezuzah at the entrance was once at one of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem when the city was reunified.

Sundays through Thursdays
at 11 AM, there is a brief memorial service, and the names are read of those casualties whose yahrzeit (death anniversary) occurs on that day. Thursdays, the list includes those whose yahrzeit is that Friday and Shabbat. In addition, photographs, parents' names, and date & age at death of as many of them as possible are electronically displayed. This morning, several family members of at least one of the departed were present and in fact, though the Yizkor prayer was recited by a military Rabbi, & the Eil Malei Rachamim was sung by a military Hazzan, the Kaddish prayer was recited by a family member. The Memorial Service concluded with the singing of Hatikvah.

Quotations from Jeremiah are inscribed throughout the hall, but the quotation at the exit is from the conclusion of a magnificent poem by the late Israeli poet Natan Alterman. The poem is called THE SILVER CHARGER, and basically makes the point that this wonderful state of Israel we now have, was given to us “on a silver charger” by the whole generation of young men and women who died in its defense. The last line is, "And the rest will be told by Israel's future generations." A perfect thought as one is leaving this place.

The bus took us back to the train station in Tel Aviv, where, before heading out to my relatives, I met with Danny Cohen, 32, son of Tami & Andy of Charlotte. Danny made Aliyah several years ago. He is a conscientious objector, so he did an alternative form of National Service, rather than the Israeli army. He is now a teacher. His study of Eastern religious disciplines has taught him how to channel such powerful emotions as anger. I guess that is helpful in Israel, where some Israelis have a reputation, sometimes earned, of being impatient and even aggressive.

On the following Friday evening, I decided to pray at the MIZRACHI (non-AshkenaIc & non-Sephardic) synagogue near the house of my Israeli cousins. I arrived a few minutes before Shabbat services began, and took a photo. The sanctuary is really lovely, with fancy crystal chandeliers. I was welcomed by one of the congregants who spoke no English, but gave me a prayer book, and showed me exactly where they were. Perhaps because they don't get many strangers, he asked me if everything was all right, if I needed any help of any sort. I thanked him profusely for asking, and said that I was just fine.

The Mincha (afternoon) service was led by a congregant, who remained at his seat. For this, as well as the Kabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming the Sabbath) & Ma'ariv (Evening) Services to come, every word was recited; not one word was skipped. Furthermore, there was no professional Cantor leading any service: every word of every prayer was recited in unison by the whole congregation in a special, sing-songy kind of Nusach, which I eventually was able not only to FOLLOW (which in itself is an achievement, because they zip through everything lightening-fast!), but sing along! Almost none of the melodies were familiar to me, but the music was very repetitive, which made participation easier.... As long as you could keep up!




We continued with Kabbalat Shabbat. Ironically, for the most famous prayer of Kabbalat Shabbat, the Lecha Dodi, they lustily sang a familiar Ashkenazic, Hasidic melody. Between that and the evening service, the man whom I presumed to be the congregation president, gave the announcements.

There was then a ritual that I did not quite understand at the time: the president seemed to be auctioning something off. I asked later, and was told that they auction off certain honors for the intermediate days of Passover, to help the synagogue make money. It's a custom that was very common in the synagogues of the lower Eastside, but is rarely encountered nowadays…among Ashkenazim!

A lovely experience altogether, followed by a lovely walk home & a tasty meal with my cousins.

Cantor Roochvarg's Israel Trip Blog

05/22/2019 06:03:36 PM


Installment #2

Cousin Hillel took me to Sde Boker, the home of David BenGurion after he retired from being (Israel's first) Prime Minister. Nearby is a campus of the University of Beer Sheva, now called Ben Gurion Univ., at which one of their areas of study is Desert Studies". Makes sense! We are surrounded by Midbar Tzin, the Wilderness of Tzin, where the Children of Israel wandered on their way to the Promised Land. Ben Gurion went in the opposite direction: He lived most of his life in the Promised. Land, but retired to the Wilderness---by choice; he was fascinated by the desert & the challenges it posed.


One of the most recognizable things about him was his hair (not unlike Larry of the 3 Stooges!), so to the right is a photo of him getting it "trimmed" the same guy (the caption tells us) who shears the sheep!!


There is also an iconic photo of him standing on his  head at the beach. I did not see that photo, but saw an interesting variation; he is standing on his head at the beach, but with a cell phone in his hand! And his trunks say SPEEDO (right)! Two great anachronisms.


Each of the four walls of his study is lined, almost floor to ceiling, with books. They used to say of him that some politicians take bribes, others accept expensive gifts of travel, etc. You want to please Ben Gurion? Give him a good BOOK!


A few miles away from his hut is his & his wife's final resting place, in the middle of a plateau in the desert with a magnificent view all around. Hillel says B-G had excellent taste in choosing that spot, for its natural beauty.


After our first weekend, we had been told to meet in front of the Tel Aviv station at 8:45. We were all there by 8:50, and the bus left 9:40! Welcome to Israel!


On Monday, April 8th, at flag raising there were several onlookers whom I had not seen before. Maybe they were just joining us. It was explained to us that there is an Israeli organization which finds people with special needs to volunteer on army bases! It was also explained that the Israeli army has been gradually including adults on the Autism spectrum, not as volunteers, but actually as soldiers. As the father of a special needs adult, that makes me very proud. Our MADRICHA said that in so many places special needs folks are ignored & excluded, but no longer in Israel. Way to go, Israel!! I wonder how many Arab armies are similarly inclusive!




One day I was given a different task than usual: painting some of the industrial shelving. Not having done this sort of painting since summer camp, I forgot that industrial paint is NOT water soluble, so when we finished, I walked back to the barracks, & discovered that soap---even when applied vigorously---removes almost none of the paint. Oh well, It's been a LEARNING experience...and not just about Israel!

Tonight's evening activity, in preparation for a trip we will be making to Remembrance Hall on Mt. Herzl, was a talk about love & loss: the sacrifices so many families here have made & continue to make for the state. We were taught about one of the thousands of young Israeli victims, a 23-year old soldier (the same age as two of my own children) on guard duty named Hadas Malka, an instructor in the training program, who was fatally stabbed 2 years ago while fending off a terrorist. She was from an observant family, & was slain on a Friday afternoon. A knock on her parents' door the next day forever shattered their Sabbath peace. A friend of the victim composed a song in her memory, which our MADRICHA played a recording of. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

We were taught about Yom HaZaikaron, the day before Israel Independence Day, when a siren sounds, at which, if you are driving---even on the highway---you get out of your car and remain at silent attention till the siren stops. And, of course, WHATEVER you are doing, you stop & contemplate the sacrifices this country has made to survive. I already knew about Yom HaZikaron because I have participated in its observance in Charlotte. I think that among the thousands of graves in the military cemetery, the average age is 18 or 19. A whole generation lost!





Cantor Roochvarg's Israel Trip Blog

05/14/2019 04:49:45 PM


Installment #1

I cannot think of a nicer Retirement gift than the one Temple Israel gave me & Linda: a trip to Israel. I had heard from friends that the experience they had as volunteers there was very worthwhile, so I applied for and was accepted into a 3-week program with the organization SAR-EL, which recruits volunteers from all over the world to do civilian jobs on Israeli army bases.

Linda is still working, so she could not take as much time off as I, so she will join me after the three weeks. We will spend most of Passover in Jerusalem and a few days in Tel Aviv before returning home. I planned the trip so that I would have a couple of days in Israel with family to overcome jet lag before I started my volunteer work.

I am "stationed" at Anatot (birthplace of Jeremiah), in the West Bank, maybe 20 minutes from Jerusalem. There are 12 of us volunteers on this base, i.e., 4 couples & 4 individuals. I thought I was the youngest volunteer---at least on THIS base, but in the pre-lights-out chat with my new roomies, I discovered that one is 82, one is 77, and the 3rd is 66---three years my junior (tho he looks older). I saw a few younger volunteers at the airport, going to other bases.

The barracks are Spartan.

Breakfasts on site generally include eggs---hard boiled or scrambled, vegetables as at every meal, bread (tho no toast option), yogurt & cottage cheese, bran flakes, hot water, but the only coffee was instant. They had chocolate milk, which comes in BAGS! Lunch, the main meal here, consists of choice of meat or fish---could have had both, but had fish, plus lots of choices of veggies. Beverage options included water plus a concentrated Apple flavored water enhancer! There was also coffee & tea. Dinners are dairy, and overall a more modest affair.

This is our typical daily schedule:

7:30 - Breakfast
8:30 - Flag raising ceremony

9-11:30 - Work
11:45-12:30 - Lunch
1-4:15 - Back to work
5:30-6:30-  Dinner
6:30 - Evening activity

Our job usually was counting “stuff” like helmets, Kevlar vests, canteens, etc., loading them into boxes, and sorting & putting duffle bags on industrial shelving. The duffles weighed about 30 pounds, & some had to be put on high shelves. I was the tallest one in my group, so it was hard work! Two of my roomies & I did about 50 duffle bags in a day. Richard & Stan, the 82 year old & 77 year old respectively, are amazing in their stamina! They didn't rest till the job was done. I think it was more physically rigorous labor than I have done in years---if you don't count bringing up from the basement all the Passover boxes! The sorting was particularly important: If a soldier gets a helmet with a broken strap, or a canteen whose cap does not close properly, s/he is at a disadvantage. Our doing these tedious jobs frees up the soldiers for other work.


The evening activities are primarily educational presentations & discussions. One night the topic was Ethiopians, & the challenges they faced in making Aliyah. Another evening activity was a discussion of three major dilemmas that face/have faced Israel:

1. The ban on public transportation on Shabbat,
2. whether or not Israel should negotiate with terrorists, specifically for the release of hostages, and

3. the exemption from military service of many ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

The discussions were all animated, and well moderated by the MADRICHOT to avoid argument.

We get weekends off (i.e., from Thursday after lunch thru Saturday night). A bus takes us from the base to the train station in Tel Aviv. I took the train to Lehavim, where I have cousins. On the train, I sat opposite a young mother with her three or four-year-old child. She, like me, had just gotten on the train. We had traveled about three minutes to the next stop, still in Tel Aviv, when the child asked his mother, "Imma, higahnu?" Mommy, are we there yet?Of course that phrase brought back memories of hearing the same question innumerable times when my children, now in their 20s, were his age. Every second, somewhere in the world, some child is asking his/her parents that question! And Israel is no exception.


Fri, February 28 2020 3 Adar 5780