Did you ever have one of those days when you feel just like that hamster running so fast on his little exercise wheel without really getting anywhere? Well, that was the type of morning I had. I guess it shouldn't have come as any surprise. After all, I was visiting a government office.
Last week I had the pleasure of waiting an hour at the tax office for something I really didn't need, only to find out that I was at the wrong place and that I needed to be at a different office in Jerusalem to get the thing I really didn't need.
Today my meeting was at the Absorption Ministry, a place I hadn't visited in a quite awhile. Now I remember why. This is where new immigrants learn very, very quickly about Israeli bureaucracy.
Two weeks ago, totally out of the blue, they phoned me to tell me that I was eligible for a 1,200 sheqel grant (about $325 - a days work)to subsidize the "taxi" driving course I took last year (which I took so that I could legally drive tourists around). I was pleasantly surprised by the call. I had been told previously that I had already received my quota of grants. But hey, who was I to argue!
The only thing was that I needed to set up a meeting immediately in order to bring in all the necessary paperwork. Easy enough.
And so I arrive 15 minutes early to my 9AM appointment today. I knock on the door. No response. I wait. Fifteen minutes later the door opens and (we'll use an alias) Ms. A asks me who I am, I tell her and she tells me that this will take an hour (an hour!)and to please come into her office and wait for her. After a few moments she returns and asks me for the reason for my visit and after I respond she says she has no recall of having ever called me (she phoned me twice, once to try to change the time of the appointment), but she does remember exactly what she told me to bring. So far so good.
Then she starts going through my paperwork. Nothing is good. She doesn't like the school's letterhead where I took the course. It doesn't look professional enough. (As if the file where it will be kept for eternity really cares). She doesn't like the syllabus - not enough details. She doesn't like the copy of the school's license. In short, she doesn't like anything. When she tells me that she doesn't have all day for this, I kindly remind her that she has an hour. She needs to speak with her supervisor. I chuckle to myself and tell her that I will definitely be writing about this experience. She is not amused.
She leaves the room for a few minutes and upon her return she says says that we will try our best. I suspect that her computer's internet connection is a dial-up modem. Each individual letter she types takes about 22 seconds for the computer to register. She spends a lot of time trying to figure out the code numbers for the responses I give to her inquiries. And when she finds out that I'm a tour guide, I suddenly become her best friend and she has about 45 minutes of questions regarding different locations around the country she would like to visit.
By now a line of people has formed outside the door with people waiting to have their turn. Some poor lady comes in just to get a letter which states that she doesn't receive any assistance. My clerk explains to her that she is tied up with me.
After an hour and a half I am informed that I will need to return with my wife in order to update our checking account information. Wipeedoo! Another visit to the office! I can hardly wait.
I walk back to my car only to find out that my quick park meter has malfunctioned and so now I have a 100 sheqel parking ticket to contend with.
And five minutes later they call me from the Absorption Ministry to apologize. It seems that after all, I am not eligible for the grant and only because the regular person was out sick did I mistakenly receive the call to come in.
Well, at least now there is no need for me to return with my wife. At least for now.
Tonight (the 4th of Adar) I celebrate my 51st birthday. And so in honor of this most auspicious event, I wish my youngest brother Shmulie a very happy birthday with whom I share this occasion with.
Now I know what you're thinking. Big deal. So you share a birthday with a sibling. I mean after all, there are fifteen of you! Inevitably two of you are going to share the same birth date. So what's the big deal? OK. So it took 22 years for it to happen. Still, there are only so many days in a year to begin with.
The truth is, the odds of the two of us sharing the exact same birth date is quite low. Here I quote Wikipedia: "Because of the roughly eleven-day difference between twelve lunar months and one solar year, the year lengths of the Hebrew calendar vary in a repeating 19-year Metonic cycle of 235 lunar months, with an intercalary lunar month added according to defined rules every two or three years, for a total of 7 times per 19 years."
Simply put, the Hebrew calendar enjoys 7 leap years during every 19 year cycle, by adding an extra month at the end of the winter. (Why couldn't they have given us an extra month of summer instead? Go figure.)And so 7 times every 19 years we have an Adar I followed by an Adar II. And both my brother and I were both born in leap years, on the exact same date, 22 years apart, on the 4th of Adar I. If there are any mathematicians out there in cyberworld reading this, I would love to know what the odds are of that happening.
But here's the clincher. I am blessed to be the oldest of 15 children. (Yes. One dad with one mom - till 120. No twins. The hard way. 4 daughters, 11 sons.) Shmulie is the youngest. We are the so-to-say the "book-ends" of our family. Pretty cool - huh? I think so.
Now I'll be perfectly honest. I barely know my brother Shmulie. When he was born in Miami Beach I was already living in New York, one year away from my wedding. Shmulie will be 29 and my oldest daughter Tova will very soon be 28. I guess my relationship with Shmulie is more of an uncle - nephew one than a brother - brother one. I live in Israel, Shmulie with his family in California. It's been quite a while since we've seen each other. I'm not making excuses (or maybe I am) but that's just the reality. Facebook can do just so much.
Nevertheless, I truly believe that in addition to our connection to each other as siblings, our shared birth dates reveal a deep connection between the two of us.
I was named after my mother's grandfather who thank G-d emigrated from Hungary before WW II - before the Nazi (modern day Amalek) invasion. My Great-grandmother probably gets the credit for that decision to leave. Her husband actually preferred Hungary to the United States, but they had the foresight to see the writing on the wall and left good 'ol Hungary while you still could.
But the forbear of my name would be Mordechai of Purim fame. The very joyous holiday of Purim is celebrated this month as well, on the 14th of Adar (15th in Jerusalem). Mordechai, although from the Tribe of Benjamin, is referred to as a "Yehudi" which typically meant coming from the tribe of Judah or the area of Judea. And so what we have here is a member of the Children of Israel being called a Jew in the Tanach (the Book of Esther) for the very first time. One one hand he is a Jew living in exile, in Persia, after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians back in 586 BCE, but living just prior to the end of that 70 year exile when (thanks to his help - and Esther's) the Persian empire ultimately encourages the return of the "Jews" back to their land to rebuild the Second Temple. Cool. Most don't heed the call - not cool. As someone who only recently made aliyah, I relate.
The final verse in the Megilah (Book of Esther) which we read (twice) on Purim says it best; "For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverush - he was a great man among the Jews, and found favor with the multitude of his brethren - he sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of all his seed".
Whew! If only after 120 years I could live up to that! (Well, thanks to my parents I certainly have a multitude of brethren!)
My brother Shmulie was named after Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (b. 1834 - d. 1882) (the Rebbe Maharash) who was the 4th "Lubavitcher Rebbe" of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement, the 7th son of the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe. A most famous aphorism of his is "The world says, 'If you can't crawl under, climb over.' But I say, Lechatchilah Ariber--'At the outset, one should climb over.'" Another is "You cannot fool G-d; ultimately, you cannot fool others either. The only one you can fool is yourself. And to fool a fool is no great achievement." (Not to be confused with another famous quote of that same era "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." attributed to Abraham Lincoln 16th president of US (b. 1809 - d. 1865).
The forbear of my brother's name is one of the greats of Jewish history; "Shmuel Ha'navi" - Samuel the Prophet. Shmuel Hanavi enjoys the distinction of having anointed both the very fist King of Israel - Saul and his "successor" King David over 3,000 years ago. (The tomb of Samuel the Prophet, located just outside of Jerusalem, is one of my very favorite spots to visit in Israel).
In Jewish thought, a very important theme is the deep connection which exists between the very beginnings of something with its very end. Man/woman is the last of all creation, but only because all of creation preceding is for their sake. We have all been placed in this world with our own particular mission to fulfill during our limited years here on this earth. That is the ultimate purpose of "The Beginning" - creation.
Shmuel Hanavi and Mordechai Ha'Yehudi share a number of common factors. Women (like our own mother) played an extremely important role in their lives. Shmuel Hanavi's mother, Chana, was extremely distressed over being childess (like our own mother). Prior to Shmuel's birth, Chana dedicated her first born child to a life long service of G-d. The first 10 verses of the book of Shmuel I ch. 2 records her song of praise to G-d for answering her petition. According to the Zohar "There were two women who uttered songs and praises to the Holy One, Blessed is He, such as no man in the world ever uttered. Who were they? Devorah and Chana."
The all important woman in Mordechai's life was none other than Esther. And in the Talmud it states: "Who were the seven prophetesses? Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, A'veegayil, Huldah, and Esther."
That's common denominator number one.
Furthermore, both Mordechai and Shmuel lived in times just before the building of the Temple in Jerusalem; the first Temple "the House of David" would be built by King Solomon, David's son after the time of Shmuel and the Second Temple would be built soon after the story of Purim.
More connections can be made between the two. Both were beloved by their people; "All of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheva, knew that Shmuel was faithful as a prophet to Hashem". And the most obvious connection has to do with the Holiday of Purim itself. King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin will lose his Kingship for failing to destroy Amalek as G-d had commanded him to do so. It will be the prophet Shmuel who (albeit not in time) finishes the job meant for King Saul; beheading King Agag of Amalek. Hundreds of years later, when Amalek again rears its ugly head in the guise of Haman (progeny of Agag's final night's stand) who seeks to utterly annihilate the Jewish people, it will be our hero Mordechai (and Esther) - "Jews" from the tribe of Benjamin - who get it right this time and bring about the demise of Haman - Amalek and his family.
I guess I could continue on and discuss the significance of the nummber 22 - the amount of years which separate the birthdays of Shmulie and myself (We always recite psalm 22 just before beginning the first psalm for the 4th of the month - our birthdate) but I'll leave that for others to ponder.
And so happy birthday Shmulie. I love you. Our namesakes have given us a lot to live up to, but thank G-d we are part of a family that has provided us with the tools necessary to be successful in all of our endeavors.
On behalf of Shmulie and myself, thank you Mommy and Daddy. This is our birthdays gift to you.
THE JEWISH VOICE AND OPINION Promoting Classical Judaism December 2009 Vol. 23 • No. 3 Kislev 5770
Israel Planning Its Own National Wine Route for Tourists
Rabbi Mordechai Weiss, the former head of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County who now resides with his wife, Ellie, and their family in Mitzpe Yericho, is convinced he has the best job in the world. As a licensed Israeli tour guide, he is always meeting new people and “enjoying a great time with them.” “At the same time, I have the opportunity to see Israel as if for the very first time, through another person’s eyes,” he said. This past summer, prompted by the three-day annual wine festival at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Rabbi Weiss said his thoughts turned to visits to Israel’s wonderful wineries.
Major Industry The festival featured wines from 33 different Israeli wine¬makers. In all, Israel boasts more than 250 wineries. Together, they manufacture 33 million bottles annually. Of these, 150 are so-called boutique wineries that produce fewer than 100,000 bottles a year. Ninety percent of these smaller wineries were built in the last 15-20 years. The Israeli wine industry is a $224 million business, employing thousands of workers in the vineyards, cellars, and offices.
Throughout the Country “Our wineries are dispersed throughout the country, making it easy to put them on the itinerary,” said Rabbi Weiss, pointing out that there are wineries in the immediate area around Jerusalem as well as to the south, north, and west of the city. “Up north, in the Galilee and the Golan, the list of wineries to visit is practically endless,” he said. “But you can also tour wineries in the Judean Mountains and the Negev. Each place has its own particular wineries and all of them should prove interesting to tourists looking for something different.” Two recent additions to the wine route are the Psagot Winery just north of Jerusalem and the Adir Winery located in Dalton near Safed. Both Wineries boast great wine and beautiful new visitors centers to enjoy the wine tastings on your visit there. At the Adir Winery, an additional bonus is the opportunity to taste the goat cheese and yoghurt ice cream which they also produce on the premises of their dairy. The maturation of Israel’s wine industry in recent years has led the Tourism Ministry to consider developing an Israeli wine route, similar to the ones found in the Napa Valley in California or the Stellenbosch district in South Africa.
Good for Tourism Rabbi Weiss is convinced that promotion of such a route would be a draw for international tourists in addition to helping develop local businesses. Last month, Israeli Tour¬ism Minister Stas Misezhnikov visited the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya’acov, and came to the same conclusion reached by Rabbi Weiss. Mr. Misezhnikov said that after visiting the town and the surrounding area to learn more about the wine industry and its tourism potential, he was sufficiently impressed to call for a plan to implement the idea of a national wine route. Zichron Ya’acov is located 22 miles south of Haifa and just 15 minutes north of Caesarea. Nestled at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range, overlooking the Mediterranean, it was one of the first Jewish settlements in Palestine. It was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and named in honor of his father. Rabbi Weiss said Zichron Ya’acov, with its wineries dating back to the 19th century as well as high-tech 21st-century models, is the perfect place to open a wine route. “There are big commercial wineries like Carmel next to boutique family-owned micro-wineries,” he said.
Becoming Popular According to Rabbi Weiss, wine tours are becoming popu¬lar in Israel and he is one of the country’s tour operators who offers such tours of Israel’s wine regions to interested individuals and groups. “The differences between the various wineries and the personalities of the vintners make the tours informative and interesting. In each area, you really get a local feel, and the winemakers reflect that,” he said. In addition to offering wine tastings, many wineries offer tourists the opportunity to en¬joy superb dining. “There are all sort of wineries, ranging from rustic to high-tech modern facilities. When you combine the wine with quality food, you are in for a really great time,” said Rabbi Weiss.
Off the Beaten Track Wine tours often take visitors well off the beaten track, away from the established ho¬tel regions on the coast and in Jerusalem. That can mean finding local bed-and-breakfast options, which is when a tour guide can come in handy. “It’s also good to have a driver if the tourist intends to spend the day sipping wine,” says Rabbi Weiss. According to the Tourism Ministry, the new wine route will provide maps for bike and walking tours as well.
Not Just for Kiddush Israel’s wineries seem quite ready to accommodate a new influx of tourists bound for a national wine route. Adam Montifiore, development director for Carmel Wineries, said his company’s transformation symbolizes the change in the Israeli wine industry as a whole. Once a producer of a limited range of staple wines, used mostly for Jewish rituals and holidays, Carmel now operates five kosher wineries across the country, each with distinct features and characteristics. Aside from its two 120-year-old wineries in Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya’acov, Carmel also owns a state-of-the-art boutique winery near Arad, a five-year-old winery in the Upper Galilee, and an experimental micro-winery, also in Zichron Ya’akov. “Israel is no longer a producer of mostly sweet kosher wines just for kiddush. It is gaining a reputation for mature wines enjoyed by sophisticated drinkers. Fortunately, many of them are still kosher,” said Rabbi Weiss. In Zichron Ya’acov, Carmel recently opened a new wine culture center, an upscale ver¬sion of a winery visitor center, where guests are treated to a 90-minute wine workshop and extensive tasting, led by an Italian-trained sommelier.
5,000-Year-Old Story According to Rabbi Weiss, a wine tour can be either the main purpose of a week-long visit or a fun day-trip for a family looking to spend time outdoors. “Whichever you decide, a trip to a kosher winery is always a fun experience,” he said. For more information, Rabbi Weiss can be reached in Israel at 201-353-7946, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. “Learning about the history of Israeli kosher wine manufacturing means delving into a 5,000-year-old story. It’s an¬other way of experiencing this very special place in the world. And, besides wherever there is a developed wine culture, good food can’t be far away,” he says. S.L.R.
My very good friend Yehuda likes to tell me every so often that in order to "make it" in Israel, one needs to be extremely flexible when it comes to employment. Meaning, you can expect a couple of curves thrown at you after you make aliyah, and if you want to succeed, you better be ready to do something for a living that might not have been in your original plans.
I am fifty years old. Throughout my life I have been blessed with many great teachers, starting with my own father. In my teenage years I took it for granted that one day I too would be a teacher, just like my father. And so it was, but not as a school teacher.
My first gig as a teacher was volunteering one hour per week to teach basic Judaism to a group of elementary age children who attended public school. It was the only religious instruction they received. It was then that I learned that a good teacher gains more from his students than the students from him. Another fringe benefit of the job was that my boss introduced me to his sister-in-law, my wife to be.
Before our first year of marriage was up, we had settled down in Teaneck, New Jersey with our first child, where we would spend the next 21 years. I was hired by Chabad to serve as their Director of Educational Activities. With no building to call our own, I started giving Adult Education classes out our small two bedroom apartment along with the other community programs I organized. Eventually my boss would make aliyah and I would replace him as the Executive Director, building Teaneck's first Chabad House and opening up many more Chabad Centers around Bergen County, New Jersey. All during this time, my wife was busy at my side, raising our children, serving as the Rebbetzin and as a pre-school assistant at the local Jewish Day School. It was a great, great run.
Our oldest child made aliyah with her newlywed husband in the summer of 2000. In July of 2003 we all followed suit. The initial plan was for me to sort of continue what I was already doing and what I was pretty good at; fundraising. After two years, the dynamics at work changed and it was time for me to move on. But what to do?
It was then that I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a Tour guide course which was to be given in English. When I had taken my brother around the country he had said that I would make a great guide. And so with my father-in-law's encouragement, and financial help, I took the plunge. The up-side was that the two years of the course was one of the best times in my life; New friends, outstanding teachers. The down-side was pretty much being unemployed for two years. Ouch!
But I did it. I also took the course for the special drivers license you need to transport tourists. And so now I have the best job in the world. I am teaching again, and the Land of Israel is my textbook. I'm teaching, but I'm constantly learning. I spend my time with some of the nicest people you could ever meet. People from back home in the States, from foreign countries, College students, young kids, seniors, Jews, Gentiles, all different types of professionals. You name it.
Each morning when I leave my house, the classroom will be different. Every day is another trip. And I am thoroughly enjoying the journey.
Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Av – Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av – which catapults us into the saddest period of time on the Jewish calendar. It was on the 9th day of Av in the year 70 when the exile of the Jewish nation began with the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. All the many years of suffering, the inquisitions, the pogroms, the Holocaust, are traced back to that one single event, that one single day. It is a day marked by fasting and mourning.
If in the month of Adar, when the holiday of Purim is celebrated, we increase our joy, then in the month of Av we are to minimize our joy. In an interesting play on words we are taught that the way to minimize the effects of Av is by being joyous.
Today I experienced both. Joy and mourning.
Today I visited Jericho. Believe me, that's no small feat for an Israeli citizen. After the Six Day War in 1967 to visit Jericho was no big deal. For many it was simply the quiet Arab village one passed through when travelling north via the Jordan Valley. It was also a particularly popular location for archaeologists who have unearthed the remains of over 20 successive settlements dating back thousands and thousands of years.
It is also to the Jews that the city of Jericho is so important. It is mentioned over 70 times in the Torah. It is the key to the Land of Israel, the very first city in the land conquered by Joshua after having spent 40 years wandering in the desert with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after their enslavement in Egypt. Who isn't familiar with the story of the crumbling walls of Jericho? Both Prophets Elijah and Elisha are here, as well as King Zedekiah at the tail end of the First Temple period who is captured in the area. Hundreds of years later the Hasmoneans as well as King Herod will be here too.
Sometime between the 5th to 8th centuries the "Shalom al Yisrael" (Peace upon Israel) synagogue was constructed in Jericho. The synagogue contained a mosaic on the floor with drawings of the Ark and Menorah of the Holy Temple as well as a Shofar, Lulav and the inscription "Shalom al Yisrael". After 1967, the ancient synagogue was used regularly for prayers. Later on, a Yeshiva was developed in the place.
On May 13, 1994 Israel withdrew from Jericho. According to the Oslo Accords, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to keep free access to the synagogue and to defend it properly. In September of 2000, the building was desecrated and set fire to.
That's where I went this morning to pray. Under very heavy guard by the IDF, permission is being granted for monthly prayer visits to the "Shalom al Yisrael" synagogue in honor of Rosh Chodesh – the first day of the new month. Rosh Chodesh is a festive day. It's about renewal. Having the opportunity to pray in this ancient synagogue in this ancient city gave me great joy. It was in fact the very, very first time in my entire life that I had ever visited Jericho, let alone pray there!
But the circumstances can make one cry.
We are told that the saddest day of the year will one day be transformed into a day of celebration, that in the destruction there is already the seed of redemption. I would like to think that the place I call home today epitomizes that idea of being located somewhere between the depths of Jericho, the lowest city on earth, and the spiritual heights of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives with his family in the Judean Desert community of Mitzpe Yericho, Israel which overlooks the city of Jericho. He served as a community Rabbi in Bergen County, New Jersey for more than two decades. He is a licensed tour guide. email@example.com