Friday, November 7, 2008

Abraham and Lot

Parshah Lech-Lecha
Chapter 13
1. And Abram came up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his, and Lot with him, to the south. 3. And he went on his journeys, from the south and until Beth el, until the place where his tent had been previously, between Beth el and between Ai.
7. And there was a quarrel between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and between the herdsmen of Lot's cattle, and the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land. 8. And Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no quarrel between me and between you and between my herdsmen and between your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9. Is not all the land before you? Please part from me; if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left." 10. And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan, that it was entirely watered; before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar.

Throughout Jewish history in the Holy Land, geography has played a crucial role. And so it is with the separation between Abraham our forefather, the very first Jew, and his nephew Lot. To appreciate the significance of this event, knowledge of the geography of the area where this event took place is necessary.

Here we have Abraham and Lot standing together as Abraham says to Lot "Please let there be no quarrel between me and between you…". Where exactly was this conversation taking place? The Torah tells us; "between Beth el and between Ai". The Torah is not an AAA triptik. If the Torah deems it important for us to know the specific location of an event, it is in order to teach us a lesson.

Abraham travelled together with his family from Egypt, from the south, up into the central mountain range of the then land of Cannan. Both Abraham and Lot have herds of cattle. Abraham is especially careful to keep his herds off the property of others. Abraham needs to make some type of arrangement with Lot to keep their herds separate from each other.

And here we come to the central question. Was it the intention of Abraham to completely separate from Lot? Let's not forget, eventually it will be a descendant of Lot, Ruth the Moabite, who will convert to Judaism and from her lineage King David and ultimately Moshiach will be born from.

In fact, by understanding the geography of the area, we can see how it was actually not Abraham's intention to have Lot completely separate from him.

Abraham uses an interesting phrase while addressing Lot; " if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left".

To where is left? To where exactly is right? Abraham and Lot are standing on a mountain hilltop near Beth el. And what does the Torah tell us? "And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan".

In ancient times, maps were drawn with the direction east being the primary direction, the direction from whence the sun rose. In Hebrew, the word "kedem", sometimes used for the word east, can be translated as moving forward. (Hence the connection between the phrase "to orient oneself" and the "Orient", located in the east.)

Abraham and Lot are standing on the mountain range facing eastward, in the direction of the Jordan Valley. Abraham is not looking to completely disassociate himself from Lot. Abraham himself states; "We are kinsmen".

What Abraham is suggesting is for Lot to stay in the mountains with him, either going north or south. But the key is that Abraham wants Lot to stay in the mountains. Why? Because the Jordan Valley below is "like the land of Egypt".

Abraham and Lot had come from Mesopotamia, a land flowing with the waters of the Euphrates. In Egypt, watered flowed freely through the Nile. It was only here in this land, up in the mountains of the land of Cannan, where a person had to depend and pray for rain.

The nation which would come forth from Abraham would be very different from the peoples Abraham had lived with before. Because here in the Holy Land, In the land of Israel, a Jew knows that one is completely dependant upon G-d. Our daily prayers for rain are a crucial element of our prayers to G-d, an expression of our faith. That is what makes the Jewish nation different.

Lot chose differently; "And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan, that it was entirely watered; before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,…". Lot was attracted to the Jordan Valley before him, a place which reminded him of home, a place "entirely watered". And in fact, instead of heading north or south as Uncle Abraham had suggested, Lot heads east, to the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we know what happens there ultimately.

Abraham on the other hand is blessed by G-d and heads south, to the area of Hebron, in the mountains.

Today you can head north on route 60 from Jerusalem to modern day Beth el and enjoy the beautiful views from the lookout situated within their community. Or take road 457 just after the turnoff for Psagot to road 458 north and enjoy the spectacular lookout facing the Jordan Valley located in Kochav Hashachar.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Travelling South

Well, first the bad news. It doesn't look like we'll be visiting the ancient site of Sukkot this year. Archaeologists suspect that the location known as Deir Alla, east of the Jordan River, is in fact the location of Biblical Sukkot. This is where Yaakov Avinu on his return from Padan-aram after his meeting with Esav, built a house for himself and made sukkot (booths) for his cattle A series of excavations made its most dramatic discovery there in 1967 when an ink wall inscription relating a hitherto-unknown prophecy of Balaam was discovered.
And so I figured instead of visiting Sukkot, I'd visit the area of Kadesh Barnea down in the Negev. It was from Kadesh that the 12 spies were sent to survey the Land of Canaan. Forty years later, the tribes of Israel were a second time gathered together at Kadesh. At that time, Miriam died and was buried. Following Miriam's death, the Israelites complained to Moshe Rabeinu about the lack of water.
Moshe subsequently sent envoys to the King of Edom from Kadesh, asking for permission to let the Israelites pass through his terrain. The Edomite king denied this request.
The modern day settlement of Kadesh Barnea, also known as Nitzanei Sinai, was founded in 1980. It is located near Nitzana on the border with Egypt.
In Kadesh Barnea itself there's a wonderful family attraction; The House of Honey. You can learn all about the process of making honey and enjoy some tastings as well. Phone ahead: 08 655-8992, 052 899-1807, 052 392-7085.
In addition, be sure to visit the Kadesh Barnea Winery, a Negev Desert winery established in 1999. 052 267-2552.
Nearby is Tomato-picking in Kemehin. In the hothouse, you can hear an explanation about tomato-growing and pick some for home or for a picnic. 08 655-1524, 052 8450201.
In Nitzana, be sure to visit the solar park. The giant exhibits at the solar park protrude from the desert like colorful amusement-park rides. Here you'll find a classroom covered with wing-like panels that convert the solar energy into electricity; nets that collect the night dew; an enormous installation that focuses the intensity of the sun's rays; and other structures that demonstrate to children and adults the ecological and economical use of the main resource with which this area is blessed in abundance: sunlight. The visit also includes a guided tour of a garbage-collection center for recycling, and a small archaeological museum. Nitzana Youth Village, 08-656 1468/35,
For a more detailed listing of events in the Negev, visit

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mount Bental


Mount Bental, an inactive volcano, is located in the Golan Heights on route 98, nearby to Kibbutz Merom Hagolan. A short but steep drive brings one to the parking lot and a brief stroll leads to the summit. On the summit there are remnants of the Six Day War - with bunkers and trenches, and a free recorded vocal explanation relating to the ’67 war.

The expansive panoramic view at the summit provides an excellent observation point overlooking valleys and parts of the Golan and Hermon, spreading from Israel into Syria. A clear view is offered of both the new and old towns of Kuneitra – located on the Syrian side of the border. Clearly visible is the disengagement strip that exists along the Syrian-Israeli border – which is controlled and patrolled by UNDOF – the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force. As the name suggests, it is a purely observational force.

The border between Israel and Syria reflects the sensitivity of their political relations. In spite of periods of heightened tension, this border still represents Israel’s quietest border with its neighbors – in terms of border related incidents since the Yom Kippur War, 1973.

Mt Bental, provides a very good site to recall the events of the Six Day War, especially the last two days that precipitated in the capture of the Golan and Mt Hermon, The conflict between Israel and Syria had its antecedents following the War of Independence, 1948, and primarily relating to the establishment of DMZ’s –demilitarized zones along their mutual borders, and issues related to development of agricultural areas, and water-related resources. Numerous international incidents had taken place on both sides, generally followed by Syrian artillery barrages on Israeli civilian settlements or Israeli air responses or Israeli naval activity on the Kinneret.

An audacious breakthrough by Israeli infantry into Syria’s most fortified position on the Golan Heights, at Tel Fajar, sent shockwaves through the Syrian Army and almost overnight resulted in the routing of the Syrian presence along the Golan.
Kuneitra was the largest Syrian town in the Golan Heights until 1967, and had represented a strategic position for the Syrian Army command, serving as the Syrian administrative capital of the Golan.

During the Yom Kippur War, Kuneitra was recaptured by the Syrian troops, and later retaken by the Israeli counterattack. Following the 1974-5 cease fire agreement, Kuneitra was returned to Syria conditional on a prisoner exchange. Initially the Syrians maintained they would rebuild the old Kuneitra, and repopulate it. Instead, they developed a new town nearby, Kuneitra Jdeide, and maintained the old Kuneitra as a ghost town for propaganda purposes to demonstrate how Israel had wreaked havoc and destruction upon the town.

To reach the site, drive along Route 98, until Kibbutz El Rom, turn east at the sign and continue another 3km, following the signs and following the left curving road. Park your vehicle near the cluster of trees and enter the memorial.

Today, the site hosts the memorial for fallen members of the armored corps from the 77th Brigade. The memorial is called Oz 77 – from the Hebrew word for “strength”. On the eastern corner of the grove of trees, looking out towards the battle-ground, is a free vocal recording of the events of the battle.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To Become A Taxi Driver

I am a licensed tour guide. For two years I studied the history of the Land of Israel. I studied Archaeology. I studied the Bible. Religions. Zionism. Geomorphology. I traveled the length and breadth of the country. And I was tested. Written exams. Oral exams. And finally in the end, the ministry of tourism gave me the coveted license to be a tour guide in Israel.

Now you might think that after all that I could just go out and start guiding. Well, yes and no. From the perspective of the law, whenever a guide picks up a tourist and transports them to a sight, the money exchanged is looked at as taxi fare. That's correct. As far as the law is concerned, the tour guide in that instance is simply a glorified taxi driver.

And so in Israel, if you want to guide and transport your visitor as well, you need to also have in your possession a taxi drivers license. For us tour guides, it's called an "eshkol" (cluster - hence the cluster of grapes the ministry of tourism uses as their emblem.) And so begins my odyssey of acquiring such a license so that I can join the honored ranks of taxi drivers here in the Holy Land.

OK. So of course there's the typical bureaucratic runaround you would expect at the Drivers License bureau. Fine. But after all that your informed that you will have to first undergo an intensive physical and psychological exam prior to being allowed to enter the taxi driver course. A few months go by and you receive a letter in the mail informing you to show up at some examination center in Tel Aviv in one week where you will be tested.

In addition to the physical exam you are also asked to take a 400 question psychological exam, as well as a half hour interview with a psychologist. A few weeks after the exam you are informed of the results. Then the fun begins.

As you would expect, there is going to be a driving test. But before that happens, you have a few weeks of classes and exams to get through. Time, money, and three weeks of not being able to work. Oh! Did I mention that this is all in Hebrew, not exactly my mother tongue. One advantage I had from the get go was that I was not taking the course with the typical riff-raff. Instead a course was organized (that's a whole story unto itself!) just for licensed tour guides. Which meant practically that we were exempt from studying "familiarity with the land" which is a huge chunk of the course, and we were exempt from studying the English language.

So what does a taxi driver need to know in Israel before he/she can be licensed by the ministry of transportation? Well first, we were tested in our proficiency of the Hebrew language. Interestingly enough, we were told that the reason that all the exams are in Hebrew is since we are becoming "public servants" of sort, we need to be proficient in the language of the country. OK. That makes sense. But then why are there exams available in Arabic and Russian?

So we all passed our entry exam. First came the class on knowing all the laws applicable to driving a public vehicle in Israel (taxis, buses). You need an %87 to pass. I passed. Our teacher, from Tel Aviv, spontaneously decided to share with us during class that although he was not observant, since his parents died last year he does not miss minyan and even attends a class in Talmud. Then we studied defensive driving. Passed that too. Fire Emergencies. Passed. That was our Friday afternoon class. Just what we want to be doing on a Friday afternoon.

Then came the big one. For an entire week we took a crash (not a pun) course in understanding the workings of a motorized vehicle. In Hebrew, we learned how a diesel engine works. A gasoline engine. Brake systems, steering systems, electric systems, gear systems, cooling systems, etc. etc. etc. Did I mention that this was all in Hebrew? I can hardly tell you the names of all of a vehicles parts in English! Oy vey! And just because I need to transport a tourist from the hotel to visit Masada? I'm not going to fix the car if there's a problem with it. I'm taking it to the mechanic. No matter. The law requires that I be familiar with the entire workings of a vehicle. Fortunately the teacher of this class has been teaching for 40 years and did a great job teaching us lay persons. Our teacher's 22 year old son was killed in Gaza in 2003 during an attempt to arrest terrorists there.

Another part of the course required us to become knowledgeable with Israel's labor laws and how the entire labor and government system works, including all its courts. As tour guides, we are legally looked at as freelancers, and so most of the labor laws do not even apply to us. But I'm so happy now to know that my bus or taxi driver Ahmed knows that the President of Israel is elected by the Knesset every 7 years and that he knows the process of how the Budget is passed by the Knesset each year. Now I'll have something to converse with him about!

And almost last but not least, first aid. Technically, I should have been exempt from this part of the course since I am already in possession of a valid Israeli First Aid certificate which I received during my tour guide course. Notice I used the word "should". When we presented our certificates, they were deemed unacceptable because only the month and year of the course were written on the certificate, not the exact day of the month. And so after much trouble (and money)we were able to acquire written documentation (faxes not acceptable) to the exact date we took the course. The cherry on the pie was finally finally receiving a response from the ministry of transportation after we had already completed the first aid course (again). Our request for an exemption was declined. Lovely. We all did perfectly well on the first aid exams.

In a few weeks I will be taking my driving exam (again). I was bold and took the exam with a mini bus using a stick shift. Mistake. Especially when I didn't stop at the yield sign when the examiner told me to do so. It was a language thing. All in all, at least I got the opportunity to become friends with a bunch of other guides. And my level of respect for bus and taxi drivers? Well, I'll let you respond to that one.

PS Yes. Finally, finally, after 3 driving tests I finally passed. They even asked me to parallel park. In all my lessons, nobody ever bothered to see if I could even put the van into reverse! My knee is killing me from using the gear pedal. And would you believe it? My new license still restricts me to an automatic vehicle only. Go figure! Is it worth another trip down to the drivers license bureau? Time will tell.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Golan Heights

Nestled among the Kibbutzim and Moshavim of the Golan Heights is the town of Katzrin. With a total population size of some 7,000 people, almost half of the Jewish population of the Golan Heights resides here. Katzrin is the administrative center of the Golan.

When the Six-Day War ended archaeologists performed surveys of various archaeological sites on the Golan. While touring the Bedouin village of Katzrin, the archaeologist Shemaryahu Gutman came upon an ornate doorway made of basalt stone. He discovered that this was the entrance to the synagogue which had functioned 1500 years ago. The name of this town from that time is unknown.

In order to give us an idea of what a house looked like and what the layout of the town was like during Talmudic times, archaeologists performed an elaborate restoration of the ruins of the town. Similar plans are on the drawing board for Um El Kanatir. Here we can see how the town was planned. We see streets, a synagogue, a square in front of the synagogue, and an olive press.

Given that the town is located on the western side of the Golan, grazing and farmland is present. The main industry in this region seems to have been the manufacturing of olive oil. One olive press per town indicates that enough olive oil is produced just for local use. Three to five presses indicates that the townspeople are producing for export.

Olive oil had many uses in antiquity: it was used for nutrition, lighting fuel, medicinal purposes and for lubricating the body. The sages recount the following: Olive oil is beneficial for the health. Thus it is told of Rabbi Chanina aged eighty, who could stand on one leg, remove his shoe and put it back on. Rabbi Chanina said: hot water with oil anointed upon me by my mother at childhood has upheld me during my years of old age. (Talmud Bavli chullin 24b.)

Olive oil is produced in two phases. At first the olive are crushed inside a basin by a large crushing stone resembling a wheel. The wheel was usually pulled by an animal or by people. The first round, the crushing takes about 30 minutes. The crushed olives are transferred to the olive press, immediately nearby. The olives are first put in straw baskets, (kefifot.) There is an Aramaic term, “ladur bikfifah echat” which means “dwelling in a crowded fashion in one area (one basket).”

You put these straw baskets one on top of the next until you have like a sandwich of these akals (Arabic), or baskets. Then you start to take the press and turn it by going around. You would get all the liquids going into the canals and draining into a hole. You pick the oil off of the top and the water goes out the bottom. The liquid of the olive contains both oil and water.

On display as well is an accurate representation of the homes from the Mishnaic time period. All the tools are modeled on actual tools found at the site. One of the most fascinating features of these homes is the roofs. The roof is built with branches placed on top of Oak, cypress and cedar beams. Soil is placed on the branches, mixed with water, and then used to seal the holes in the roof. This keeps out rain and snow. In the summertime, when the mud dries and cracks, it needs to be repaired.

A maagela is a roof roller and was used to fix leaky roofs. Choni the Meagel, the name of the very popular Talmudic figure, is usually translated as Choni the Circle Maker. If you pronounce the word maagal as meagel, you don’t have Choni the circle maker but Choni the roof roller. In the tractate taanit, there are quite a few aggadot about how Choni would pray for rain for his community when there was a drought. More rain, more roof rolling required! This house also has a small kitchen and store room, with no room for animals.

What did they use for food storage? It wasn’t cool here. They placed food up high where kids and mice couldn’t reach it and was covered with a sheet. The floor was made of stone and then covered with a kind of plaster. That’s why you couldn’t sweep the floors because you’d make holes in the grout. Later on it was replaced with tiles.

Outside the house is a ladder. A story about Rabbi Joshua (ben Hannaniah), who hosted a man, gave him food and drink, and then gave him a bed located in the loft. He removed the ladder leading up to the loft. What did this man do?
He awoke in the middle of the night and stole tools and jewelry. When
he tried to descend down the ladder, he fell from the roof and broke his
collarbone. In the morning Rabbi Joshua awoke and found him lying there.

The purpose of bringing this story here at Katzrin is to teach us about the way homes were constructed and how space was used. Apparently, space was maximized by allowing family members to sleep down below and up above. .

The synagogue is clearly a communal building. It occupies the center of the town and its two rows of pillars, with decorative capitals, give it both height and a sense of grandeur. It faces Jerusalem and inside there are menorot carved on the stones.

We have said that when we find a synagogue it means we have found a town, not a village and towns have between 1000-5000 people. On the Golan and beyond the border of the Golan into Syria of today we have ruins of about forty ancient Jewish synagogues. Multiply that by only 1000 and we have 40,000 Jews, at a minimum who were living in this area in Mishnaic times. It seems that the synagogue ceased functioning in 749 CE after a massive earthquake.

They found an inscription in the Golan, “this is the bet midrash of Rabbi Eliezer Akkapar.” They found this in Daburiya above the Jalabun, 3 kilometer from Katzrin. One assumes that a beit midrash existed in Katzrin, but it has not been discovered. It is possible that the synagogue structure simultaneously served both purposes of prayer and study, obviating the need to build a separate structure.

There is the big Tabor oak tree by the synagogue. The tree is estimated to be some 600 years old. Some years ago, I attended my cousin's wedding here. The chupah was set up in the ruins of the ancient synagogue. It was a beautiful and moving experience.

The park is open daily, from 9-4. There is an admission fee. For more information call 04 696-1412 or email

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is the first all-Jewish city in modern times. Originally named Ahuzat Bayit, it was founded by 60 families in 1909 as a Jewish neighborhood near Jaffa. In 1910, the name was changed to Tel Aviv, meaning "hill of spring." The name was taken from Ezekiel 3:15, "...and I came to the exiles at Tel Aviv," and from a reference in Herzl's novel Altneuland, in which he foresaw the future Jewish state
as a socialist utopia.

In 1909 the founders of Tel Aviv are living in Ahuzat Bayit and they want to found the most modern city in the world. Keep in mind that there were only 60 families to carry out this enterprise. The idea actually started in 1906, but in 1909 they had a lottery and they really started to build. They decided to flatten the land in an empty dry river bed to be able to build on it. They filled the area with sand from the beach, using wheelbarrows. They didn’t want to use Arab labor. The main street of the city was Herzl St., which was the widest street.

Independence Hall Museum (old home of Dizengoff, built in 1909)

It is a very plain building, but was the place of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv lived here with his wife, Zina. It was in this c house that the independence of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. Exhibits here detail Israel's declaration of independence. The first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, made the proclamation at 4pm on May 14, 1948 in the main hall, eight hours before the British mandate over the region was due to end, in the presence of the members of the Vaad Leumi (Jewish National Council), as well as the leaders of the Jewish community. After David Ben-Gurion read the declaration of independence, Rabbi Fischman (Maimon), recited the Shehecheyanu blessing, and the Declaration of Independence was signed.

You can see a picture of the 66 families that founded Tel Aviv, from Jaffa. A guide will tell you about how the original families chose lots, by using white and gray sea shells. Names were put on one set of sea shells, and the lot numbers were put on the other. Jews were not allowed to buy land from the Ottoman Empire, but after 3 years they managed to buy 40 acres of sand dunes just north of Jaffa. The first neighborhood was called Ahuzat Bayit. Dizengoff received lot number 43. There is a 14-minute film about the founding of Israel to the present time.

After the film a guide will take you to the main hall and talk about the day that the Declaration was signed. In the main hall of the house, visitors can hear a recording of Ben-Gurion reading the Charter for the new State. The next morning Arab armies were invading and the Egyptian Air Force was bombing Tel Aviv. There are actually two museums in this building; the Dizengoff Museum and the Beit Ha Tanach –
The Bible Museum.
Opening Hours are Sunday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
16 Rothschild Blvd., Tel Aviv (03) 510-6426, (03) 517-3942

If you are planning a trip to Tel Aviv, be sure to visit the Nachalat Benyamin - Art & Craft Fair. Tel Aviv’s Nachalat Benjamin Street comes alive with an Art & Craft Fair that features the works of roughly 220 artists, twice a week. Called Nachalat Benyamin in Hebrew, it is adjacent to shuk Ha’Carmel. In Tel Aviv’s early days this was the longest street in the city.
The setting is one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods. First established as the Nachalat Benyamin Association, it initially comprised 40 members. Unlike the residents of Achuzat Bait, most of whom were from the upper classes, most of the new association’s members were tradesmen, clerks and shopkeepers who wanted to create a neighborhood similar to Achuzat Bait.
They managed to purchase 5 acres which were divided into 35 plots (smaller than those of Achuzat Bait). The houses that were erected consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and a porch. Construction began in 1911 and by 1912 there were 23 houses. When construction was completed the new residents realized that they did not have the means to establish the necessary infrastructure for their new neighborhood. Therefore, a partial consolidation of Nachalat Benyamin and Tel Aviv took place in 1911; the full consolidation was completed in 1912.
Since 1987 the street (which has many textile shops) has been home to the Art & Craft Fair. Whether you’re looking to treat yourself to a gift, need one for your hosts in Israel, or friends back home, this is great place to shop. Prices are extremely reasonable and the variety is such that there is literally ‘something for everyone’.
Hours: The Art & Craft Fair at Nachalat Benyamin is held on Tuesday and Friday – from 10:00 AM – to 5:00 PM, year round. The Fair does not take place in cases of heavy rain or winds. 03/516-2037.
Another market you'll surely want to visit is Shuk HaCarmel located in the middle of the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv.
If second-hand clothing and shoes are your thing, then the first stalls you see when you enter the market offer fashions reminiscent of the 1980s. Further along the market towards the bus station is the epicentre of HaCarmel - the food market.

And as long as we are in Tel Aviv, we might as well make a stop in Jaffa. Jaffa is the oldest and perhaps most famous of the ports along the Israel’s coast. From Jaffa port, the prophet Yonah set sail for Tarshish, running away when G-d commanded him to preach in the wicked city of Nineveh.
King Hiram of Tyre sent wood for the First Temple on a raft to Jaffa. and when wood was needed for the Second Temple it, too, arrived by way of Jaffa. The old city of Jaffa is filled with much Jewish history.
And if you came to hunt for a bargain, you came to the right place; the Jaffa flea Market located east of the clock tower at the foot of Old Jaffa.
You can weave your way through a mixed array of treasures and junk. Merchandise varies, but copper, brass, old Persian tiles, and jewelry are always to be found, as well as Judaica items, old family photo albums, and tons of used jeans and mildewed clothing from India. Bargaining is the order of the day; feel free to indulge in lengthy haggling. Even if there is a little language problem, you can get a lot understood with your hands. It's great fun even if you don't buy anything.
The flea market is open Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm and on Friday from 10am to 2pm.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Five Years

Five years ago we made Aliyah and became Israeli citizens. Eleven of us. Five years ago. That's over three thousand loads of laundry. During that time we've made four weddings, (two in the USA and two in Israel), we've had two daughters born to us in Israel, and three grandsons. I've had four different jobs and my son Mendel helped bring home one bronze medal for the National Israel Little League Baseball team. And we missed one funeral; my mother-in-law's, ob"m.

We made one Bar-Mitzvah, and I attended one "triple" funeral in the middle of the night. My son Yaakov spent two years in the army, and I spent two years studying to be a tour guide. Our car has traveled 160,000 kilometers and our children have spent hundreds of days in the hospital. We have spent over 300,000 sheqels on food, 135,000 for a car and have participated in two different Kupat Cholim. My Hebrew vocabulary has increased ten-fold but I will always be "an American" in the eyes of Israelis and an immigrant in the eyes of my younger children. We have made countless friends.

Three of my children, two of them married, presently live in the USA. Two of my fourteen siblings live here in Israel, and one other is planning to make Aliyah soon. None of my children have graduated from High School in Israel. Over 1,000 people live in my community of Mitzpeh Yericho. Over 30 children are in my daughter's pre-school class. Barely ten are in my fifth grader's. The typical summer temperature here during the heat of the day is in the high 90's. But it's a dry heat.

During our five years here, we've had our fair share of ups and downs. Our children have been enrolled in ten different educational institutions and different governmental agencies have been on strike at least a dozen times. A two week mail strike just ended. There have been a couple of earthquakes and I've gotten one speeding ticket. Terrorist attacks were more frequent when we first moved here and we've had one war since making Aliyah. I've guided hundreds of tourists to hundreds of locations all over the country; families, Birthright groups and Christian Pilgrims. We've reached out for help many, many times and have thankfully received it. During my five years here I climbed Masada's Snake path once.

My love affair with Israel began when I was 30 on my first ever trip here. And now, 20 years later, I love it here more than ever. When we vacationed in Mitzpeh Yericho seven years ago during the summer of August 2001, I made reservations for a family dinner at the newly opened restaurant in the community. We were expecting over 30 people for dinner.

I arrived at the restaurant promptly at 8PM as pre-arranged. The place was closed down shut, pitch black. I tracked down the owner who was living at the time in a trailer. His wife opened the door after I knocked on it. He came to the door where I excitedly explained to him the situation of 30 very hungry people with no place to eat and wondered as to what had happened to my reservations!

He calmly explained that he had been to Jerusalem that day and had decided not to open up the restaurant that day. He was tired. Reservations or not. '' יהיה בסדר '' (rough translation: It'll all work out) was all he could say to me as he closed his door and bid me goodbye.

What to do!? As I was walking back to my bungalow to inform the starving mob of the latest, I bumped into Oklahoma Joe who was out walking his dog. Oklahoma was living next door to our bungalow. I wished him a good evening and told him of my predicament.

No problem, he said. In no time at all, Oklahoma had food grilling on his BBQ and we all enjoyed a great dinner. It was just as the restaurant owner had said. In the end it all worked out. He really knew it would. And now I was beginning to learn that as well.

The rest is history. After that summer in Israel, we all decided to place our fate together with the Land of Israel. And we moved to none other than Mitzpeh Yericho in the Judean Desert.

And the guy who owned the restaurant? They don't live in the trailer anymore. They live right next door to us and our families are the very best of friends. We've become one family.

That's what it's like to make one's home here.

יהיה בסדר.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jerusalem Trail

The Israel National Trail ("Shvil Yisrael") was officially marked in 1991. One of its purposes is to give Israelis a way to experience the entire breadth of Israel firsthand. It is a hiking trail that crosses the entire country from Tel Dan in the north to Eilat in the south. The trail is close to 600 miles from beginning to end and would take over a month to finish if hiked continuously. It is marked with three stripes painted on rocks along the way (white, blue and orange). The route is divided into 12 sections. A Trans-Israel bike trail is also presently in the works.
That's the good news. Unfortunately, this wonderful trail bypasses the city of Jerusalem. And so, just last year, The New Jerusalem Trail was officially inaugurated. It connects the Trans-Israel Trail with Jerusalem and is marked with the special symbolic Lion that appears on Jerusalem’s city emblem.

The first time I hiked this trail was during the annual late-night hike my Yishuv takes on Yom Yerushalayim. Since then I've had the good fortune of guiding many people along this trail, including my wife and children just this past Pesach. We had loads of fun.

The trail begins (or ends!) at the entrance to the Emek Tzurim National Park (free admission) on the Mount of Olives, between Hebrew University and Beit Orot. The park was only opened in the year 2000. Enjoy the Mount Scopus lookout. It's about a 10 minute walk down into the Kidron Valley.

During Pesach, we stopped off at the recovery center of Temple Mount remains. This is a wonderful project involving sifting through the dirt which was carted off the Temple Mount some years ago. You can spend an hour or two (or more if you want) assisting the archaeologists as they make their fantastic finds. We discovered an ancient coin while we were there. It's really a lot of fun. Contact the City of David at *6033 for more information.

The trail continues into the Kidron Valley, up to the Orson Hyde Park and then down towards Derech Hashiloah where the Mount Olives information center is located. From there it's just a short walk to Absalom's Tomb and then onward to the Pool of Siloam in the City of David. From there I walked up to the kotel, but you can continue on into the Ben-Hinnom Valley, the ancient border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, up to the Cinamateque Bridge.

Plans are underway for the trail to continue on up to Armon Hanatziv into Shvil Yisrael into the Judean Hills. For more information, contact National Parks at *3639.

And for you techies, The City of David offers a self-guided tour of the Jerusalem trail with your own mp3, cell phone or PDA. Simply go to and choose the Jerusalem Trail tour. Download the complete tour files and transfer the files to your device. Each track is a station on the tour.

Enjoy a safe and wonderful summer. Be sure to always bring along plenty of water on your hikes.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mayanot 16 ... Follow Me!

Some two years ago, just before the outbreak of the Lebanon War Part II, while still in the midst of my tour guide course, I was employed by Oranim College to put together itineraries for Birthright groups. It also involved spending time and doing some traveling with the incoming groups. It was my first hands-on introduction to Birthright.
Taglit (as it is referred to in Israel)-Birthright Israel provides a free 10-day educational trip to Israel, for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 who have not visited Israel before on an organized trip.
"Taglit-Birthright Israel's founders created the program to send young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people."
"Founded in 2000 by Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt in cooperation with the Israeli government, private philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish communities around the world, the Birthright Israel program has, since its founding, received, and spent, over $200 million on its trips. As of Summer 2008, over 160,000 individuals from fifty-two different countries have participated since the trips began. 70% of trip participants come from the United States."
Yes, the trip is free and for the most part, that is the key to the success of Birthright's recruiting efforts. Still, over 160,000 participants is quite an impressive number. Many of those who take advantage of the gift, and actually make the trip, overcome personal safety concerns and quite often pressure from friends and family not to take the chance.
The war in Lebanon II actually broke out smack in the middle of a Hillel Birthright trip I was accompanying. The group was from California. Of course we were on the Northern border of Israel on the very same day the war began. As you might imagine, security is always a very serious concern on any Birthright trip, with many precautions taken, such as providing a 24 hours per day armed guard. Try to imagine what happens if a war should break out. Security is increased, as is the concerns of parents back in the States worrying about their child traveling around Israel often for their very first time.
We were enjoying a fun-filled water-hike in the Jordan River that first day of the war. Most of us were still unaware of what was transpiring only a few miles away from us. The sound of distant tank-fire is not necessarily uncommon background noise in this part of Israel. Nearby army bases are often involved in different training drills. Except that this time, unbeknownst to us, the continuous booming we heard was not a drill.
The next day, we changed our plans of traveling to Safed. Safed had alread been hit by kayatusha missiles. It was decided that, without question, it would be safe to stay over Shabbat in Tiberias. What ever happens in Tiberias?
Needless to say, Tiberias was hit during Shabbat by a kayatusha missile which fell in the general area of our hotel. After a real Israeli experience of spending a few hours in the hotel's bomb shelter, the group was evacuated to Tel Aviv. The trip then continued on as scheduled. The hotel management in Tiberias was non too happy with us.
Thankfully, my Birthright trip which just concluded this past week was not as dramatic. Thank G-d, we are celebrating Israel's 60th birthday and the tourists are coming.
This was my first opportunity to actually serve as the official tour guide of a Birthright group. The experience was indescribable, one which I will never forget.
Birthright involves many partners. In addition to all those who provide the financial means to make it all happen, there are the many different and diverse groups involved in recruiting, planning and implementing the trips.
"Trip Organizers are organizations, institutions and establishments who are approved by Taglit-Birthright Israel to operate trips. Trip Organizers are responsible for recruitment, determining eligibility, interviews, deposits, itinerary, staffing, security, insurance, lodging and meals on the trips." Hillel, NCSY and Mayanot are three of the many trip organizers. Each of these groups often has different representatives in the USA and Israel.
The Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, located in Jerusalem, attracts young Jews from around the world who wish to explore Jewish learning and experience Israel. Mayanot Israel has teamed up with many Campus Chabad Houses to do Birthright recruitment.
For the campus Chabad House Rabbi who accompanies a group to Israel, this is a wonderful opportunity to further their own outreach activities. The idea of Birthright is that the 10-day trip should also serve as the beginning of a long –lasting relationship with Israel and Judaism, specifically for those who might otherwise not have one. In this area, Mayanot has enjoyed great success. Besides, their trips are loads of fun. I should know. I just led one.
One final technical note. Each trip organizer needs to hook up with one of the many vendors here in Israel who actually put these trips together. For this past trip with Mayanot, and my next, I was employed by Israel Experience Educational Tourism Services Ltd., a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Like I said, a lot of partners are involved in putting this all together. The company specializes in providing organized trips to Israel for teens, university students and adults from all over the world.

The group I led was made up mostly of students from the University of Colorado of Boulder, Colorado. I was paired up with Nadia, a recent immigrant from New Zealand who served as the hands on logistics person for the trip. She was great. So was our driver, Benney who could sing as well, and Tal, our armed guard. There were two busloads, accompanied by their Chabad House Rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Wilhem, originally from England. He celebrated his 30th birthday during the trip. I led Bus # 16.

After their morning arrival, we headed off to Caesarea to enjoy breakfast and our welcoming ceremony on the beach. From there it was off to do wine tasting in Zikhron Yaakov and then on to our hotel.

The ten days flew by. Kayaking, hiking, mini-jeeping, Tel Aviv, Rabin Square, Friday night at the kotel (and a 2 hour walk back to our hotel!), Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, Camel riding, biking in the Negev, Masada, the Dead Sea, and much, much, much more. Most important though were the relationships forged. After 10 days, the students even became accustomed to all of our countdowns, my "Joisey" accent and my constant refrain as I guided of "Mayanot 16 … follow me!"

Any Birthright trip involves required stops, such as a visit to the Kotel and to Yad Vashem. But the one thing that in my opinion has possibly the greatest impact upon all the participants is the "mifgashim".

For five days, eight soldiers, not in uniform, the same age as these students, join and very much become part of the group. They room with the students and are spread out throughout the bus and the dining area whenever we eat. They become part and parcel of the group, including the late night programs. For the American students, it is their opportunity to have a real "in your face" experience with an Israeli. It's often much different than the impression they had from watching CNN.

Any visit to Mount Herzl and to the military cemetery can be very moving. But it takes on a whole different perspective when the person your age who you just became good friends with suddenly stands at the gravesite of a friend of his or hers who died recently in battle. Like I said. A whole new perspective.

The trip ended with very moving goodbyes from all. The impact of the past 10 days upon the students, myself included, was quite tangible. When I told them that for now on I would feel that I have more than just 12 children, I meant it. And with Facebook, we could all continue with what just started.

I was away from home for 10 days. My wife Ella did a great job holding down the fort, but it's not easy. For Shabbat she was able to join me in the hotel with a few of our kids for the day. That was nice. It's a very, very, very exhausting 10 days. Not much sleep. There is more money to be made guiding individuals and families, but the opportunity to impact individuals who more often than not have absolutely no connection, not in the least, to Israel or Judaism, is an opportunity I treasure to experience. As I've often been heard to state, that "a good teacher gains more from his students than the students from him". And I mean it.

I gotta' go pack. My next Mayanot Birthright group arrives in two days at 2AM. And then it's up to the Golan for some fun, kayaking on the Jordan and later in the trip it's on to Jerusalem for Yom Yerushalayim. I can hardly wait!

To sign up on a Birthright trip to Israel, go online to for more details.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


During the summer of 2003, soon after we had made aliyah, my wife Ella and I were looking for a short day trip during the day while the kids were in day camp. Almost by accident we stumbled upon what many say is one of Israel's most interesting archeological sights, the burial place of Herod, King of the Jews, Herodium. From the southern outskirts of Yerushalayim you can clearly see the volcano-shaped mountain of Herodium.

Herod the Great was born in 72 B.C.E., almost 100 years before the destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdash. He was raised in the court of the Chashmonaim and was appointed governor of the Galilee. He was appointed by the Roman Empire in 40 B.C.E. to become the king of Judaea and ruled for 36 years. His greatest accomplishment was the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Yerushalayim. The Kotel which we so venerate today is from the remains of that building project some 2,000 years ago.

While still governor of the Galilee, in the middle of one night, Herod assembled his close family and his bodyguards to escape death from Antigonus of the Chashmonaim. Close to where Herodium would be constructed, Antigonus caught up to Herod. Herod was victorious. The chariot of Herod's mother overturned and Herod feared for her life. In the end, she survived. The combination of these two episodes made a great impression on Herod. Twenty years after these events, he built Herodium where he wished to be eventually buried, in that very same location.

There are a number of things to see in Herodium. First are the remains of the magnificent Mountain Palace-Fortress constructed by Herod within the crater of the man-made volcano-like mountain. There are also the remains of Lower Herodium and its large swimming pool. Only in the past few months has the much sought after tomb of King Herod been discovered. Archaeologists are busy digging and studying the sight.

Before the destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdash, Herodium was occupied by Jewish rebels who used Herodium as a base to attack the Roman army. The flames from the destruction of the Temple on Har Habayit could be observed by the Rebels standing on Herodium. In commemoration, Herodium today is utilized on Tisha B'Av for the community reading of Eicha.

On Herodium, you can also visit one of the world's oldest synagogues, constructed during the time of the Second Bais Hamikdash by the Jewish rebels, as well as a mikvah.

More than 60 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Herodium was again used by Jewish rebels against the Romans, this time by the fighters of Bar Kochva. You can walk through the vast network of tunnels dug by these rebels deep into the mountain and water cisterns originally built by Herod. The kids will have a great time exploring around.

You can combine a visit to Herodium with a visit to the many interesting sights in Gush Etzion and the Hills of Hebron. When I first visited Herodium in 2003, the drive from Jerusalem was over 30 minutes, driving past Efrat. Only recently was a new connection opened between Har Choma in Jerusalem and Herodium, drastically cutting down your drive time. Bring plenty of water, good walking shoes and a cap when visiting Herodium. Like all National parks, Herodium closes at 4PM in the winter, 5PM in the summer.

The City of David

Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, The Holy City where the 3rd Temple will be rebuilt speedily in our days, the city of gold where both Temples once stood. The "old" city, the kotel, the Western Wall tunnel. When touring in Yerushalayim, there is so much to see, both from ancient and modern times.

The truth be told, the City of David, one of Jerusalem's most popular tourist sights, the place "where it all started", is a place you will probably want to visit with the assistance of a guide in order to appreciate what you are looking at. The good news is that pre-arranging for a guide is quite simple and can be done by contacting the City of David National Park. Of course that will mean an additional expense, but an expense I believe to be well worthwhile.

So where to begin? If you have the opportunity, my suggestion is to start at the 'tayelet', the Haase promenade in East Talpiyot which overlooks Abu Tur, facing north towards 'Har Habayit'. From this vantage point you can appreciate the idea of Avraham Avinu, while traveling together with his beloved son Yitzchak, looking afar at Har HaMoriah up ahead, and the place of the 'Akeida'. And if the sun is shining at the right angle when you visit, you can also discern the outline of the hill jutting out just south of Har Habayit where Dovid HaMelech established his capital 3,000 years ago.

The area is small (12 acres) when compared to the size of modern day Jerusalem, but what it lacks in size it definitely makes up for in the immense amount of history which is compacted into one of the world's most excavated places.

One of the many beauties of visiting the City of David is that they are always uncovering and discovering more and more of the ancient city's past. Before beginning your tour, enjoy the view of the Old City walls (actually, not that old when compared to the City of David itself!) and of the Mount of Olives. You can also arrange to view a 20 minute film. Definitely set aside some serious time, 2-3 hours, if you plan to visit this sight. Whether you end up spending more or less time here is up to you.

What will you see here? Remnants of what may have been King David's palace. Remains of the "stronghold of Zion" captured by King David from the Jebusites. Remains from the time of the First Temple. The different water systems of ancient Jerusalem, all emanating from the Gihon Spring where King Solomon was anointed king and from where water was also used for the services in the nearby Temple.

The highlight of the trip through this ancient city is a walk through the water tunnel constructed by King Hezekiah over 2500 years ago. If you decide to take this route, come prepared! (The kids will love it). It's about a 40 minute walk and the water is about 70 cm deep. You will need a flashlight and proper shoes for walking through the water.

After leaving the tunnel, you can visit the Shiloach pool and learn about all the recent discoveries in this area dating back to the times of both the second and first Bais Hamikdash.

The City of David website is very informative; or you can call *6033 for more information.

Pesach Guide 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008


November 10, 2002
Rothman Honors Accomplishments Of Top
Bergen & Hudson County Rabbi
Pays Tribute To Rabbi Mordecai and Ellie Weiss As They Prepare To Move To Israel

Woodcliff Lake, NJ - Speaking at the Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County’s Silver Anniversary Dinner, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ9) tonight recognized that organization’s Executive Director, Rabbi Mordecai Weiss and his wife Ellie, for their more than 20 years of service to the Jewish community in Bergen and Hudson Counties. The Weiss’ plan to make “aliyah” (Hebrew for permanently moving to Israel) next July along with all of their 10 children and one grandson.

“Whether it is through his work at Chabad Outreach Centers across Northern New Jersey, or through his work with adult education programs, youth activities, college outreach, chaplaincy at hospitals, nursing homes, and even the county jail, Rabbi Mordecai Weiss has worked tirelessly to strengthen the Bergen and Hudson County communities,” Rothman said. “Countless men, women, and children in Northern New Jersey have felt a stronger connection to their community as a result of the outstanding efforts of Rabbi Mordecai and Ellie Weiss. The entire community is very grateful for their efforts.”

Prior to becoming Executive Director in 1989, Rabbi Weiss served as the Activities Director for the organization. As an active member of the community, Rabbi Weiss serves as the Chaplain of the Teaneck Ambulance Corps, Chaplain of the Teaneck Fire Department, Chaplain of the Bergen County Jail, and as an Emergency Medical Technician, where he served as a Captain of the Ambulance Corps. He is also a member of the Teaneck Clergy Council as well as a member of the Teaneck Advisory Board on Community Relations.

“From the very first time I met with Rabbi Mordecai Weiss and his wife Ellie, it was clear to me that they were remarkable human beings and outstanding members of the Jewish community and the Northern New Jersey community as a whole,” Rothman said. “Rabbi Mordecai Weiss and Ellie Weiss have used their position as leaders of this community to touch countless lives. I wish them and all of their children the very best with their lives in Israel.”

Rothman also used the forum to reiterate his steadfast support for the State of Israel, which he considers American’s number one ally and strategic partner in the Middle East. When they move to Israel in July, Rabbi Weiss and his wife will join their daughter, Tova Bracha, and her husband Ari, and their son, Nachum Aharon, who already live there. The Weiss’ nine other children - Avrohom Moshe, Charna, Yaakov Yoel, Chaya Mushka, Levi Yitzchok, Bas-Sheva, Menachem Mendel, Shimon Sholom, and Chana Malka - will also move to Israel. The Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County serves the Jewish communities of Bergen and Hudson Counties.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I'm an Author!

Yes, it's true. Yours truly is an author. For the past four years plus I have been sending out emails regularly describing our experiences of acclimating in Israel. Based on those emails, I have authored a book which will be published in the Spring of 2009 by Simcha publishing. Here is what they wrote about my book after reviewing it:"I've read about half a dozen aliyah "diaries" over the last few years and I can say unequivocably that yours is one of the best I've ever read."

Here are some of the other approbations received so far;
“I think Rabbi Mordechai Weiss is one of the finest men I know and has devoted his entire life to the welfare of the Jewish people. He has showed the way in so many areas by both being a devoted communal leader and also in having many wonderful children and thereby demonstrating the beautiful cohesiveness’s of a large Jewish family. A few years ago he decided to make aliyah and moved his entire family to Israel. We have missed him here in the States but have had the next best alternative by having him communicating with us with regular written updates which I enjoy reading and always look forward to their arrival.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Weiss's letters from Israel are a lilting, loving, insightful record of his growing family's decision to leave Teaneck, New Jersey and embrace life in Israel. From day one, his "dispatches" from a new life have entertained, enlightened and charmed those left behind. His warmth, whimsy and underlying spiritual committment to an ideal have allowed those of us lucky enough to be on his email list, to share in this grand adventure.
If you've ever puzzled about the question of Israel's future, or pondered what pioneer spirit is really all about, or you simply have a warm spot in your heart for home, and hearth and family, do yourself a favor and read this lovely book.
Cathy Cash Spellman, author of Paint the Wind,
So Many Partings, Bless the Child

More to come!

Friday, February 29, 2008

In Praise of

I want you to know that I stopped everything I was doing at my law office to respond to your email immediately. That is how much I love Rabbi Weiss as a tour guide.
He really made our trip. We had been to Israel before the trip that we used him, and decided at the last minute that at least for one of the days that we were in Jerusalem that we should have a tour guide. We contacted him, and he Thank G-d was available, and he did something that I had never experienced with tour guides and that is to really understand the type of things that we had previously seen, what we wanted to see, what we were hoping to get out of the experience, and then he sat down to work, and crafted a very unique itinerary for us on some out of the way places that we never would have known about, or seen. It was amazing. Then on the trip, he was so pleasant and funny and personable, and really know his stuff. He is a true mentch. How many times can you get a rabbi that is a tour guide? He loves his job, and it really comes out. He really wants to make sure you have a great time, and appreciate Israel. I am very honored that he is using me as a reference. Go with him, you will not regret it.
Please forward any additional questions to me, and also, let me know how the trip was after you go with him.
All the best.
Brian Lebensburger

We really appreciate all you did and for making our trip so enjoyable. Please feel free to use our name as a reference.
Leah and Harvey Paretzky

He’s a wonderful fun human being and bright, informed and interesting. We’ve known him for 20+ years. We toured with him primarily around Jerusalem. I’ve been to Israel almost 20 times and he still taught me a lot and kept my interest (and I’m a tough customer!).

Yoni and I had a wonderful time with you.
Shana Tova !
Michael Kram

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of Jerusalem and Jewish history with the AACI February Pilot Trip group on Friday. It was an excellent way for us to finish off the day and begin Shabbat -- inspirational and interesting.
Wishing you all the best, and look forward to seeing you again.

I am now back home. I just wanted to write you to thank you for the wonderful and memorable day that you gave my family. Your help in choosing the sites to visit and your expertise were quite impressive. It was PERFECT for my family and their interests.I would be MORE than happy to talk to anyone that calls or emails me and I will gladly give you a glowing reference! The day with you was the highlight of the trip! Thank you for making our trip so much fun!
Best Regards,
C. Montrose
Chicago, IL

All five of us concur that we had a great time with you. We truly appreciate your efforts and valued your comraderie. Also please thank your wife for her warm welcome and the opportunity to meet at least some of your family.
A warm handshake,

Thank you very much for the tour you gave us. It was excellent. My girls have been to Israel a few times and at Masada 2 or 3 times and they both said that your tour was the best. You showed and taught a lot more than they experienced before.

Just wanted to say thank you. The family had a wonderful time yesterday and spoke super highly of you. They said they would recommend you in a second to anyone else.
so thank you!!!!

I had the most amazing time in Israel. I can definitely say that it left a huge impact on me that has changed my outlook on life.. So thank you so much. It definitely surpassed my expectations.

Got home safe and am back in the real world working. Thanks for everything. I had the best time ever and really learned a lot about myself.

I wanted to thank you again for a great trip, its something I will always remember.
I hope to stay in touch,

I wanted to tell you how pleased we all were while with you in Israel. The girls really had a great time and learned a lot. Looking forward to returning again in the near future.
Best regards,
Stephen Sugar

You made our trip very special.
Suzette Diamond

We wanted to thank you again for everything and want you to know that the kids said the best time they had in Israel was when they were touring with you. Thank you for helping to make the trip for us meaningful and fun.
All the best
Heather and Isaac Hagler

many many thanks for all you've been able to show us and teach us...pesach and was truly a fullfilling day for both of us.........all the best to your family.......and you will be highly recommended on teaneckshuls..........till we surely will meet again........shabbat shalom.....
bob and evelyn

We had a GREAT time while we were with you in Israel. Thank you again for being our guide while we were there. Right from the get go of meeting you on that first Monday morning it confirmed our feelings that we made a great decision in taking Gingy's recommendation to use you as our guide. We have mentioned your name to a few friends already. Whether something comes of it or not - who knows. Only time will tell. Definitely feel free to use our name as a reference. Thanks again for being our guide.
We have many great memories of our ten days in Israel with lots of pictures to keep it fresh. All three of our children really enjoyed seeing Israel with you. Whether it was the first, second or even third time seeing a site they still learned something new.
As for Giselle and me - we're doing well also. We had a great time with you and look forward to our next trip to Israel.
Steve and Giselle Lander
Cleveland, Ohio

Thanks for helping us make our trip to Israel so great! We had an amazing
time & hope to be back soon!
Allison & Elliott

Larry and I are continuing to relive our Israel experience. It was great having you for a guide.
Betty Goldblatt

Thanks again for an amazing time in was a truly life changing experience!
Ashley Sokol

Thank you again for the wonderful experience! You have changed my life forever. I will see you soon : )
Andrea Lederman

Thank you for showing us the state of Israel. It is so beautiful. I really miss everyone from our trip. Thank you for going above and beyond and welcoming us into your lovely home.
Josie Rosenbaum

We had fun, I learned a lot from you, and thanks for inviting us all for Hanukah, it was very nice. See you soon.
Robert Sedaghatpour

Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, you really made our experience that much better . Hope to see you soon. Shalom.
Alberto Corkidi

Thanks again for taking us on a wonderful trip. Going on birthright was a truly life changing experience for me and I have tried to bring some of it with me in my life at home. And thanks again for welcoming us into you home. It was a great part of the trip to have Chanukah with your family.
Thanks again!
Sincerely, Brandy Graff

Thank you so much for your guiding us. Everyone had a great time.
The Sheffey Family

I just wanted to thank you once again for the most wonderful trip. I learned a lot, even though it was my fourth time.. the kids
had a great time and BH many kids (much more that usual) are signing
up for classes and coming for Shabbos. This was really one of my most
"eidel" groups. Thank you for you dedicated "avoida".
Yasher koach for everything and much hatzlocho in the Holy Land!
Rabbi Eli Gurevitz
Chabad on Campus
Serving the Tri-Co Community and beyond
670 Dayton Road
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
p. 610.525.8672 e.
Where every Jew is family

A road map can guide you around Israel, But a real guide can teach and educate you as to what you are seeing as you drive around Israel.If you want to learn and gain insights as to where you are, then no one is better than Mordechai Weiss. We loved our visit and your willingness to share your knowledge and views of what you observed in Israel. As regular visitors to Israel,and committed Jews, we wanted to gain some insights as to what was occurring today and where you thought Israel was going in the future.You did that with care and diplomacy, we all gained knowledge by listening to your commentary We loved our experiences with you. Thanks again.
Peter and Susan Kolben
Wayne, NJ

Rabbi Mordechai Weiss was my group's guide for 1 1/2 weeks. He was outstanding. Not only was he totally knowledgeable of all aspects of Jewish and Christian culture and history, but his pleasant, enthusiastic demeanor made our short stay in Israel even more meaningful. We were very fortunate to have him as our guide and I would recommend him to others wholeheartedly.
Dr. Ed Friedland

I recently returned from a trip to Israel together with a family from my community. We used Rabbi Mordechai Weiss as our tour guide, and I would highly recommend using him. We were a group of 14 people ranging from 1 years old to 80 years old and he did an amazing job both in planning appropriate places to visit as well as in keeping everyone’s interest throughout the trip. Mordechai was a pleasure to deal with, and as I was, the family I was with was extremely impressed with his knowledge, warmth and mentchlichkeit.
Rabbi Mendy Lewis
Old Tappan, New Jersey

We can not thank you enough for making our Jerusalem family trip a once-in-a-lifetime event!
Your insight and passion coupled with your vast knowledge and unmatched enthusiasm, made the tour experience deeply personal and meaningful for each member of our intrepid (and disparate) group!

I have already recommended you, and Melissa and I will tirelessly sing your praises to any and all who will listen. My mother thought you were compassionate, brilliant and kind, and Henry will certainly have many flattering stories to tell!

Melissa and I will always remember how you "were there" for Michaela when she developed her medical emergency, and how you handled my mother's mobility needs with a gentle and calm patience. We all thank you deeply for leading us, educating us and generally putting up with us!

Please share this humble note with any and all interested individuals. Todah rabah!
Sincerely yours,
Bruce R. Kastin, MD

I just wanted to thank you again on behalf of the Muhlrad- Schuster gang for showing us such a wonderful time, for your kindness, and for sharing your vast knowledge of the Holy Land with us . The trip was exceptional and we will never forget how we were able to see so much of the country in such a short time. All our friends and family who have inquired about our trip are surprised about how much we accomplished. We hope it won’t be long until our next visit and we will certainly keep in touch. Thank you again!
Rachel Shuster

We just got home and it's 5:20 AM Israeli time and I am exhausted, but I had to thank you for such a wonderful trip. I couldn't ask for a better guide. Not only were you incredibly knowledgeable on the cultural, religious, historical, political and geographic aspects of Israel, but your easy going temperament was delightful to be with.
I know the Pollners and the Schwartz's share my sentiments as well.
I will definitely recommend you to my friends as well as to my travel agent.
Israel is such a unique place and we will cherish our memories of our time spent there with you.
Thank you so much again for all you shared with us. I'll forward you some photos of all of us with you when they are ready.
Sandi & Mitchell

The politics, history, religion, & culture of Israel are unequaled. The places we saw, the people we met not to mention the food and the night life are without equal. For us, our own personal Rabbi brought it together in a way that made it even bigger and better. I wanted to thank you for the wonderful experience you gave us. We loved every minute of it. I will value my Kippa and my nourished membership in the Jewish community. I look forward to my next visit to Israel and my next visit with Mordechai.


To be continued ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I did it!

Not that I'm one to make excuses (usually), but I realize that it's been awhile since I've sent out a nice long juicy e-mail. I met a birdwatcher this past Sunday up in the Hula valley. She was keeping an eye on the 25,000 cranes who are there hanging out there until they make their way up north in a few weeks. She claims that neither animals nor humans are lazy (just smart!). Anyway, that would mean that my lack of communication would not be due to any laziness on my part. Yeah.

I guess the craziness began between Sukot and Chanukah. It was the usual stuff, plus dealing with our infant Menucha Rachel's whooping cough, making preparations for our son Mendel's Bar Mitzvah, when our community was struck with the tragic death of 4 of our children in a car accident, three of them 12 years old. In our entire community of 300 families, their were only 17 seventh graders to begin with. Now there are 14. I would like to say that it hit our family especially hard because of our closeness to the familie's who lost their children and because these were our son's very best friends, but everyone in our small close-knit community feels that way. Mendel's Bar Mitzvah, just one month after the deaths, was a rollercoaster of emotions. Ellie started to bawl like a baby when one of the mothers entered Shul during Mendel's Bar Mitzvah speach. What can I say? No words can describe the deep, deep pain we are all suffering as a result of this tragedy.

Ellie's father came from the States for the bar mitzvah, and then stayed on for our daughter's wedding. My mother flew in from Iowa and Moishy flew in as well for a too brief visit. Moishy needed to cut his trip short. His mother-in-law Neema Zazon of blessed memory, a very, very special person, passed away after battling cancer for years only a few hours after Moishy returned from his visit to Israel.

Enough with the bad news! The newlyweds are doing great. They are living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. Our children Yaakov and Mazal are expecting their first this summer. (That was another story. Mazal required surgery last month, during the Jerusalem snow storm. Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem all is thank G-d well. But it was a scary moment for us all). The kids are doing fine in school. Bat Sheva successfully completed her first 3 bagruyot. These are the SAT like exams all High School students are required to take in order to graduate. Only 18 more to go! Mendel is having a difficult time. Both the school and the community are providing special help for him and for the entire 7th grade class from Mitzpeh Yericho.

Two years ago, especially with the encouragement of my father-in-law, I started a tour guide course in order to receive a license from the Ministry of Tourism. It is a difficult course, hundreds of classroom hours studying history, archeaology, religions, geomorphology, etc. in addition to visiting hundreds of sights around the country for in-depth studying. The truth is, I loved it! It was a great course with really great lecturers, the best people in these fields and a real learning oppurtunity. Our class of 25 students, made up of old and young, religious and secular, Jewish and not Jewish, congealed into a close-knit group of very good and close friends. It was a wonderful experience, albeit challenging. Besides all the exams and material that had to be digested and internalized, there was also the issue of time, and about making a living until the course would end. Here and there I did some unofficial guiding and some part jobs. But two years is a long time, and we thankfully received much assistance from our friends. And so with the final exams from the Ministry of Tourism looming, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The written exam, a very intense five hour exam, went well. I scored 94.5 the second highest mark in the course. In January, I took the even more difficult oral exam, and to the surprise of all, least of all myself, I failed. For almost one hour you are questioned by 4 examiners on everything under the sun. Crusader sights along the coast. Napoleon's invasion of 1799. Pagan Temple remains in Jerusalem. Instructions for entering the Dead Sea. In addition, you are required to present a 10 minute performance that you could give at a sight in Israel. I chose the Northern Palace of King Herod on Masada. Anyway, I flopped. My presentation was boring, and my answers were too bullet point; not enough depth.

If you fail the exam, you can retake it in 6 months. Absolutely no exceptions. Six months! I tossed and turned in my bed all night. My course director assured me that he would spend time with me to prepare for the next exam. In the meanwhile, I would lose out on the business I was hoping to generate before the summer.

The final set of exams in January were postponed due to the snow storm. On Tuesday February 12 (my birthday) my course director called to inform me that for his first time ever, he successfully appealed my exam and I could come back to take the oral exam again on the rescheduled day. For the exam, I dressed up as King Herod and performed for 10 minutes describing the Temple King Herod built. It wasn't boring. They loved it. The exam went great. I even knew abouut Muhammed's whisker which is kept in the Al-Jazzar Mosque in Akko. So now I am finally licensed. Full steam ahead!

More good news. Ever since making aliyah almost five years ago, with the encouragement of my good friend Adam Brown, I have sent out these regularly sent emails as a way to stay in touch with our close friends. Some of the fans of these emails have even suggested that I put it all together for a book. Easier said than done, but I found a co-publisher . The book is scheduled for distribution in the Spring of 2009. Among the nice things they wrote after reviewing my manuscript was; "I’ve read about half a dozen aliyah “diaries” over the last few years and I can say unequivocably that yours is one of the best I’ve ever read."

They will also handle all the marketing, which is crucial. The exposure should also be great for my tour guiding enterprise.

I am looking for a sponsor to dedicate book. Are you interested?

That's it for now. All our love. Please visit soon!