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"We Will Have Been Like Dreamers"

"It’s great that you’ve come to Israel when everyone is so afraid to travel here right now" said the earnest young man seated across from me in the Atara Café. "But if you really want to do something meaningful, maybe you should consider making aliyah." Not an unusual suggestion from an Israeli who’s passionate about his country and his religion, except that this blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jew was born a German Christian.

"Are you positive you have no Jewish ancestors?" I ask Nethanel von Boxberg, again. He shakes his head and patiently reassures me, "My family traces their lineage back a thousand years on my mother’s side, all the way to Charlemagne." A budding friendship with an Israeli who was living in Germany provided the catalyst for the inquisitive Nethanel to study Judaism. "I jumped into the water and didn’t realize how deep it was," he said describing his enthusiastic immersion. The more Nethanel learned about Torah, the more the computer programmer was convinced that it was "the truth."

Several extended visits to Israel culminated with his conversion in 1998 by Rav Avi’or in the Bet Din under the supervision of Rav Chaim Druckman. His parents’ reaction? "I have three brothers. One is a marketing executive, one is a doctor, and one is an artist. I am a Jew," he says simply. "Living in Eretz Israel is a mitzvah and I’m proud I can fulfill it."

Nethanel was my nephew Eric’s roommate during the year he spent in Israel. Now he has a new roommate. Listening intently to this lively exchange between myself, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who was born in Germany and this German ex-patriot is Limor, Nethanel’s beautiful new wife of two weeks who is working towards her Master’s degree at Hebrew University. Limor informs me that her family was originally from Yemen but in 1948 they were among the over 800,000 Jews who were rescued from hostile Arab lands and airlifted en masse to Israel during Operation Magic Carpet.

Mission Possible

An evening out in Jerusalem with Limor and Nethanel was not part of the official itinerary of AFSI (Americans For a Safe Israel). In November, 2002, my husband and I traveled with the group, led by Helen Freedman and Rabbi Bruce Rudolph, on a solidarity mission that included Judea, Samaria, the Golan and Gaza, not your typical tourist destinations. We were a diverse group of thirty-five who resided in states from Oregon to New York and included both couples and singles, observant as well as secular. There were several AFSI repeaters, including Virginia from Texas, a Christian who has visited Israel more than twenty times.

I became aware of the depth of the Christian support for Israel when I spoke with Carrie Burns, Director of the Great News Radio station, who had come with a group of forty-seven from Champaign, Illinois. Each member of the group which called itself "Cargo of Care," had been sponsored by thirty other people who raised the funds for them to come distribute 1000 teddy bears to children in hospitals all over Israel. "We wanted to demonstrate our love," Carrie told me. In spite of the anti-Israel newscasts "no one cancelled. Everyone was determined to make the journey."

AFSI’s first stop immediately after landing was a welcoming breakfast at the Park Hotel in Netanya, site of the infamous Passover Massacre. As we listened to Eric Cohen, manager and son of the owner, describe the horrific events, workmen were busily renovating the damaged wing of the hotel. This scene was to be repeated throughout our weeklong tour as we observed that the Israeli response to death and destruction was rebirth and renewal.

A Settlement Called Israel

Word had spread like wildfire that a busload of Americans were not only traveling through the West Bank but that we were staying at the Eshel Hashomron Hotel in Ariel, the scene of a terrorist bombing attack just the day before. One of the largest towns in Yesha (Judea, Samaria, & Gaza), Ariel is located less than 20 miles east of Tel Aviv.  Although it has a population of 20,000 and is home to one of the largest and most impressive colleges in Israel, which we toured, Ariel is still considered a "settlement" by misguided politicians who would like to see it "dismantled" in the name of peace.

When the news reached us that one of the three soldiers who died in the Ariel attack was going to be buried in his hometown of Itamar, we altered our route to attend his funeral. Era Rappaport, olive grower, vintner and our guide par excellence, recited the Tefilla Haderech, (wayfarer’s prayer) which took on special meaning as we traveled the roads of Israel.

A prayer for fallen Israeli soldiers was always included in the Yiskor service at my Brooklyn shul. Now I stood and recited the prayer along with the friends, fellow soldiers and grieving family members of twenty-two year-old Lt. Matan Zagron. The words "..may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel" never resonated with more power than here on a hilltop in Samaria.

"This is our strength. They will never defeat us," Matan’s sister said with determination in her voice as she looked out over the thousands who had gathered to mourn her brother. The devotion of the women of Israel, the mothers and daughters and sisters we encountered during our trip strengthened each one of us and we resolved to bring their message back to our family and friends in America.

We met unforgettable women like Chana Goffer who gave an impassioned talk on the grounds of Gilad Farm, an outpost established as a memorial to Gilad Zar, a terror victim. Chana described the reprehensible actions of Defense Minister Binjamin Ben Eliezer who sent 2,000 security troops on Shabbat to dismantle the farm that was built on private land legally owned by the victim’s father, Moshe Zar. Several days later we heard the good news that Ben Eliezer’s attempt to use this strategic location as a political scapegoat backfired. He was out of the Labor government and the Zar family was once again in control of their land.

Another heroine, Tahel Ellinson, a pioneer with her husband and young children in the Shimon Hatzadick community, welcomed us to her modest home which provides a crucial Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. Educator Rachel Saperstein left her home of thirty years in Jerusalem and came with her husband Moshe to Gaza to teach at Neve Dekalim, a girl’s ulpan. Also in Gaza, we were left speechless by the quiet strength of Noga Cohen who lives with her family in Kfar Darom. Mrs. Cohen’s three little children lost limbs in one of the first homicide bus bombings. "Our children want to stay here. This is their home," she said gently.

And our own Helen Freedman, whose vision, along with founder Herb Zweibon, has propelled AFSI into a powerful advocate for Israel. During our trip we were privileged to have private discussions with Ron Nachman, Mayor of Ariel, MK Michoel Kleiner, Rav Benny Alon and Moshe Feiglin of Zo Artzeinu and the Jewish Leadership faction.

We relied on photos and videos to help us retain the extraordinary experiences and exceptional people we encountered during our frenetic seven days: watching toys being manufactured in the "occupied territory"; volunteering to pack food for needy families with Yad Eliezer; touring the rooftops of the Old City with Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim; reciting Tehillim after our attempt to ascend the Temple Mount was stopped by armed guards; watching the construction of new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem with Chaim Silberstein of Beit Orot; the distressing sight of Kever Rochel hidden behind cement barricades.

Shabbos Chaya Sarah

I was named for my father’s mother who was murdered by the Nazis. Her name was Chaya Sarah so for me personally the highlight of our trip was Shabbos Chaya Sarah in Hebron. But there are no photos to capture the moment. No videos to record the emotions. Only words to describe the indescribable.

As night falls endless waves of men, women and children descend from the heights of Kiryat Arba. Thousands of us, Asians and Africans, Europeans and Americans, united by a common ancestor who has guided our footsteps over continents and across oceans, advance towards our sacred destination. Slowly we maneuver the steep, rocky paths of Hebron as soldiers hover over us, malachim in green with reassuring guns flapping behind their backs. Finally the multitude converges on the steps of the Ma’arat HaMachpelah and we soar over the threshold into the realm of our holy tzadikim.

I am standing in the towering Yitzhak Hall but the imposing chamber is dwarfed by the joyful worshippers who crowd into the enormous space. I marvel at the euphoric faces of two young women of Ethiopian descent, whose sweet voices harmonize with the "Lecha Dodi" melodies that reverberate off the surrounding walls, as we turn and bow in unison to welcome the Sabbath Queen. The ingathering of the exiles has begun.

                                                                                                

                                                                                                    

Like The Stars of The Heavens

Table of Contents

I. I Look Taller In The Jewish Press
Where’s Helen?  Faithful readers have found me in the pages of the Jewish Press Newspaper where my columns about the extraordinary achievements of giants in the field of medicine, the arts, education, politics and religion have dramatically enhanced my own modest stature.  

The Yale 5: Divinity vs. Diversity
The enforced co-ed living policy at Yale University forced observant Jewish students to choose sides, as well as floors and rooms as the P-C versus G-D controversy heated up in New Haven.

II. My Stay-at-home Mom and The First Jewish Princess
Whether she was squeezing carrot juice by hand or schlepping laundry up three flights of stairs, my mother’s devotion to the care and feeding of her family was passed down via her DNA from an admirable ancestry, the ancient feminists who continue to provide the role models that inform and guide the lives of modern Jewish women.

A Taste of Shabbos
The night the rabbi invited me to his home for dinner with his wife and their eight children I discovered that Shabbos was more than just chicken soup, an “aha” moment that led to a seismic shift in the direction of my life.

Fool Proof Parve Rugelach: The Recipe

In The Merit Of Righteous Women
Kugel and kishke rounded out an unusual Thanksgiving feast as we celebrated the heroism of the interracial group, Mothers To Mothers.

Fran Sheldon:  The World Is Her Stage
Who could have predicted that the young girl who once dreamt of a life on the stage would one day reach an audience that numbered in the millions as she anchored the Editor’s Desk at 1010 WINS Radio.

Livia Bitton-Jackson: Recipient of the Emunah Jewish Heritage Award
The award-winning author, historian and Professor of Judaic Studies, who grew up without a formal Jewish education, was thirteen years old when her comfortable life and her Judaism were forever changed the day she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. 

Sharsheret: The Missing Link
When Rochelle Shoretz found “a lump” she also discovered that the unique needs of young Jewish women with breast cancer was a neglected area in the realm of cancer support so she founded Sharsheret to provide the missing link that would unite and strengthen all Jewish women.

Molly Finkel: A Lady of Firsts
The young émigré helped found the powerful women’s organization Emunah, built the first Jewish hospital in Kansas City, Missouri and became the matriarch of a distinguished American family

Where Have You Come From and Where Are You Going?
A luxury hotel in Manhattan seemed like an incongruous setting for discussing the finer points of Halacha and yet here we were, linen napkins on our laps and poached salmon on our plates, debating our 3000 year old legacy at the beginning of the 21st century.

1V.  The Chicken Farm, the Doug-lass and the Blind Date
Luck? Fate? Destiny? Where Jews are concerned no matter what happens it’s always bashert.

The Graduate
The first child born in America to an immigrant family whose personal history was marked by pogroms, labor camps and displaced persons camps has grown up to become a man who has dedicated his life to saving lives.

The Saving Remnant
After returning back home from a voyage of discovery to my birthplace, a Benedictine monastery in Germany, I made a life altering discovery at the first International Displaced Person’s Conference in Washington, D.C.

The Jews of St. Ottilien
Like a pebble thrown into the water that creates ripples far beyond what the eye can see, two young GIs poured out their hearts in a letter to the American people that made it all the way to President Truman’s desk and continues to make waves sixty years later. 

I Did Not Forget You
A Holocaust Memorial Park grows in Brooklyn where the poignant words of Simon Wiesenthal are inscribed in stone: "I believe in God and the world to come.  When each of us comes before the six million we will be asked what we did with our lives.  One will say he became a watchmaker and another will say that he became a tailor.  But I will be able to say I did not forget you."

L’Chaim
In Atlanta we attended the wedding made possible by the actions of a courageous gentile seventy years earlier and back in Brooklyn we honored the memory of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese embassador whose heroic actions during the Holocaust were ultimately responsible for many Jewish weddings.

Miracle at Kovno
When Boys Town of Jerusalem honored the memory of Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch Consul in Lithuania during WWII whose signature on a piece of paper helped rescue a nation on the brink of extinction, his son was overwhelmed  with emotion when he finally shook hands with the survivors his father had saved.

The Heroes Among Us
Look beyond the gray, thinning hair, the wrinkled skin and the slightly stooped gait and you will discover you are in the presence of a hero, a fearless member of the Bielski partisan brigade who once took on the most evil empire and won.

Into The Arms of Strangers:  A Daughter’s Story
The discovery of a cache of her mother’s letters led Deborah Oppenheimer to create a documentary that became a loving tribute to all of the devoted Jewish mothers and fathers who made the ultimate sacrifice when they saved their children by sending them “Into The Arms of Strangers.”
 
In Tune With The Melody of Life
Jack Friedman, the cantor who retained his religion and his voice after Auschwitz, merited to celebrate an illustrious forty-five year career in the presence of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

V. The Philadelphia Story
When I put my husband through medical school, working as a jack-of-all-trades designing newspaper and magazine ads as well as writing and producing radio and television commercials,  I even hired him to do the voice over in a radio spot I created for a bank, casting him in the role of a medical student who needed a loan.  

Moses Judah Folkman, M.D. :  The Rabbi-like Doctor
Moses Judah Folkman, the little boy who aspired to be a doctor, would ultimately fulfill his father’s mandate to be a credit to his people, but like his rabbinical namesake, Dr. Folkman’s forty-year trek through the medical frontier was fraught with obstacles.

VI. Of Moose and Phish
An isolated Air Force Base in caribou country, the innovative rock band Phish and the author of a revealing book about Orthodox women.  What could they all possibly have in common? 

Ladies Who Lunch
Author Rivka Zakutinsky invites you to pull up a chair “Around Sarah’s Table” and be inspired by the women who gather each Tuesday to celebrate the ties that bind in her intimate, realistic glimpse into the diverse and complex lives of these modern ultra Orthodox women.  

The Eternal Jewish Pilot Light
One of the compelling stories in Barbara Kessel’s book, Suddenly Jewish: Jews Raised As Gentiles Discover Their Jewish Roots, is about a man who was told by the Cardinal, just as he was about to take his vows for the priesthood, that his mother was really Jewish.

The Mysterious Profession of Rochelle Krich
The author, whose Judaism informs her life and her novels, puts the medical profession under her microscope as a scandal shakes a fertility clinic in the whodunit, Fertile Ground.  

VII. Leave Brooklyn?  Fuggedaboudit.
A medical practice in Brooklyn was not my husband’s first choice, but something clicked from the moment he walked into the office of Dr. Leonard Sacharow and the result was a partnership that lasted eighteen years.

Dr. Richard Golinko: A Human Touch to the Cutting Edge
The giant stethoscope, a gift from his daughters that hangs in the office of this renowned cardiologist, is an appropriate symbol for the larger-than-life accomplishments of the man who has repaired the tiniest parts of the tiniest hearts.

The Old Stone House
Lexington and Concord are familiar names when it comes to the Revolutionary War but few people are aware that the Battle of Brooklyn was the first, largest and most crucial battle fought between the British Army and the newly formed army of the United States of America led by heroes like Colonel Solomon Bush.

VIII. The British Invade Brooklyn Again!
This time the Brits, armed with video cams and boom mikes, were conquered by a writer brandishing a pen and a rebbetzin who could wield a cleaver in the kitchen as expertly as she gave a lesson in Torah study. 

The Roots of Success
Midwood High School's thirteen semi-finalists in the nationwide Westinghouse Science Talent Search were determined to conquer disease, save the environment and cure cancer, fulfilling the hopes of generations who dared to share their dreams with them.

Angels of Mercy
Not all angels commute via their wings as Margie Halbfinger found out that fateful day her angels descended from the B-36 and came to her rescue on a stormy Brooklyn street.

Dr. Leonard Sacharow: The Gentle Giant
A small basket filled with lollipops sat on the synagogue seat of a very large man, placed there by his family in memory of a man who kept candy in his tallis bag to give to the little children on Shabbos so the Torah would taste sweet. 

IX. Converts, Baal Teshuvahs and My Mid-Life Spiritual Awakening
I have met Orthodox Jews who were brought up as devout Christians, Christians who discovered they were really Jews, and lost Jews who were gradually finding their way home, but my own mid-life spiritual awakening ultimately led me to the East, not to a secluded mountaintop but to a crowded wall.

Being And Becoming In Jerusalem
Chaya, the name I was given at birth, was eventually replaced by Helen, a name that was more appropriate for an American child.  After searching for almost fifty years, I finally found Chaya during my sojourn with Isralight in Jerusalem. 

Rabbi Asher Wade:  Following The Script of Life
When scholar, linguist and Methodist pastor Asher Wade and his German-born wife reached the conclusion that Torah Judaism fulfilled all the intellectual, academic, spiritual and emotional truths for which they had been searching, their decision to convert culminated with their aliyah to Israel.

The Ultimate Makeover
Introducing Rachel Factor, the Japanese-American actress, singer and dancer who traded in her flashy Rockette costume for a modest dress and a kosher wig and became a JAP and proud of it.

Embracing The Gifts of a Stranger
Ahuvah Gray, who describes herself as an African-American with a Jewish neshama, has amassed an impressive itinerary touching down and touching Jewish audiences from Australia to Hong Kong.

More Than The Eye Can See: Lieba’s Story
Shortly after Marcia Schwartz lost her eyesight she heard the words, “Good Shabbos,” and it was like a switch igniting a powerful light that would ultimately guide her back to the religion she had turned her back on forty years earlier.

Integrating Torah With Technology: A Success Story
Once golden on Wall Street, the day Akiva Shapiro lost it all was the beginning of the rest of his life. This is the remarkable saga of a computer mogul, totally ignorant about Judaism, who created a life and a company built on Torah values.

A Wedding In Montreal
As I watched the wedding scene unfold before me I marveled at the complex plot twists and miraculous sequence of events that ultimately reunited me with my relatives in Canada after twenty-five years. 

When I Came Home I Really Came Home
During Machon Chana’s summer torah study program for women I found myself sitting around a blazing campfire listening to a young rabbi share the spellbinding story of his transformation from a follower of the Grateful Dead to a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 

X. Israel, M.A.T.C.K.H. and 9/11
M.A.T.C.K.H., Mothers Against Teaching Children To Kill and Hate, founded by Molly Resnick, planned to hold a massive “Kids For Peace” rally on Oct. 4th in Washington, D.C. It never took place because the terrorists who had been indoctrinated to hate and kill fulfilled their mission on Sept. 11, 2001.

Terror On The 44th Floor
When you’re running for your life you can’t let flimsy designer heels stand in your way thought Agnes Ford, hurrying past several pairs of abandoned shoes as she descended the stairwell and exited Tower Two, surviving a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center for the second time in her life.

Rabbi, Wife, Twins Miraculously Survive WTC Attack To Light Menorah Of Hope
Desperately running toward their van, each clutching a child, the rabbi and his wife were overwhelmed by fear as fragments of steel rained down on them and the air became so thick with white ash they felt it was worse than the plague that had descended on Egypt.

Cookies Fresh From The Ohel 
When Levana Kirschenbaum decided to raise money for the victims of terror in Israel by recruiting an army of volunteers to help her bake and sell one million chocolate chip cookies, any ordinary mortal might have found this kind of monster-sized order daunting,  but for the master chef who began her career with a specialty bakery, raising dough came naturally. 

XI. The Refugee Boat And The Luxury Liner
For Jews, travel has always been more than just an excuse to visit the trendiest new vacation spot or hike up a mountain to be wowed by the view.  There’s always a moral to our story as well as our trip. 
 
This Is Not Your Mother’s Borsht Belt
During my summer in the Catskills I stumbled upon the ultimate Jewish melting pot, the local Wal-Mart where Jews sporting every type of head covering, skirt length and stocking configuration mingled amiably with each other among the shmattes and the potted plants.

“We Will Have Been Like Dreamers”
We boarded our bulletproof bus and set out for the first stop on our solidarity mission to Israel, the Park Hotel in Netanya, site of the Passover massacre.  Our last stop was Hebron the site the burial plot our patriarch Abraham purchased over 3000 years ago.  In between we visited the beleaguered communities in Gaza and the West Bank.  Not your typical tourist vacation. 

Jay Ipson: The Southern Gentleman With the Yiddishe Neshama
When we had decided to stop in Richmond to break up the long drive back to Brooklyn, we never suspected our spur-of-the moment decision would reunite Jay Ipson founder and director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum with his long lost relatives in Canada.  

Not Only To Cure But To Care
On the 800th anniversary of Maimonides death my husband and I traveled to Tiberius, Israel to attend The First International Maimonides Conference on Medicine and Ethics and explore the ancient teachings of one of the greatest biblical scholars, physicians and philosophers who had ever lived.

We’re Not In Brooklyn Anymore
Our first trip West was also our first encounter with a kosher bus tour, a sort of Boro Park meets the National Parks scenario with black hats and designer bags giving way to baseball caps and fanny packs as thirty-five strangers quickly shed their city slicker selves and morphed into a group of hardy adventurers.