Keeping it positive, Positively Israel

JNF’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) is proud to announce that it will be hosting its largest Spring Semester session in its 43 year history with 61 students attending the 4 month, full semester.  The Spring sessions will total 314 students, including Day School and Communal partners. Never have so many students registered for a single semester (Fall or Spring!).  How wonderful it is that such a statement can be made today with all the focus on negative messaging and headlines found in main stream media.

At a time uncertainty, there is a success story inspiring the lives of people across the globe – it is Israel.

Here at AMHSI we do just that; we empower our students, our next generation, to discover their own entry point to the beautiful and inspiring, complex narrative of our people joining past, present, and future.   It is through the study of our narrative that we uncover our people’s shear resilience and perspective on life.  Innate to the Jewish DNA, we have been raised to see life and our world filled with infinite potential, with opportunity – and not tragedy.  Existing with one foot in “the world as it is” while the other in “the world as it should be” frees us from the distractions of our material world allowing us to dream of, and aspire towards, a better world.

This approach to positive perspectives leads to positive outcomes.  It’s having a winning attitude that drives us to be bold and innovative, dedicated and inspired to dream.  The same can be said for successful sports teams, corporations, and causes.   Zionism, for example, is a successful cause, perhaps the most successful in organized human history; after all, the movement ended 2,000 years of wandering reuniting a people with their homeland.

For over 100 years the Zionist manifestation has been supported by a multitude of organizations, led by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and through the JNF’s purpose driven mission we celebrate Israel’s accomplishments with an eye towards what tomorrow could bring if only we dare to dream.  JNF’s highlighted Positively Israel campaign is just an example of all there is to celebrate, and with a click of a button you too can discover all that Israel does to make our world better.

The Alexander Muss High School in Israel’s role is anchored in its pedagogical approach to teen immersion and the academic study of history.  With a proven track record servicing over 24,000 alumni throughout its 43 years of existence – AMHSI is making a tremendous impact.  As pioneer of the High School in Israel semester abroad market, AMHSI continues to dream big, planning an even greater global impact bringing Jewish youth from around the world, ensuring our next generation’s collective link to Jewish continuity and Israel connectivity.

We are a resilient people; our next generation must know this.  As JNF-AMHSI continues to get the good word out there, we look forward to celebrating and welcoming our largest session in history.  To our students, families, friends and supporters, the message is clear – Am Yisrael Chai.

For more information please visit our website: www.amhsi.org or contact info@amhsi.org

Who is a righteous person, a tsadik?

So who is a righteous person, a tsadik? Is one born a righteous person? Or does one evolve to become – a righteous person? Was it Noah? Abraham? Two weeks ago we read about Noah, and that he was a righteous man – within his generation; well what does that tell us about Noah? After all, didn’t God destroy that generation, ‘that world’, for it was evil? So then how righteous was Noah in comparison to that society? I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but with some logic we can arrive to some conclusions. In this last week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha – go forth for your self – Abram leaves his homeland, leaves his birthplace and leaves his father’s home.  He goes against all that he was brought up on, turns his back on his past, on his own father, the traditions and values he was brought up on, the gods of his ancestors and decides he knows better.  Sounds like quite the rebel.  What would you have to say were your son/daughter to do the same? “Mom, Dad, I disagree with everything you’ve taught me; I’m outta here!” And then there’s his treatment of his own family: 1. During a visit to Egypt he asks his wife, then named Sarai (later changes to SaraH), to introduce him to the Egyptians as her brother so as not to endanger his life for Sarai was very attractive and Abram didn’t want to be perceived as a threat to anyone who wanted her, so he lied to save himself!  Not the most righteous, eh? 2. and then there’s his treatment of his concubine Hagar and their son – Ishmael, sending them off to the wilderness in order to appease Sarai (when she in fact offered Hagar to Abram for Sarai bore no children – at the time)? His own flesh and blood, sent away.  In this week’s Torah portion, VeYera, we arrive to a new Abram, now known as AbraHam. Abraham seeks to please others.  The portion begins with him sitting at the entrance of his tent in the middle of the desert – in great pain, having had his Brit Milah, covenantal circumcision, at the end of the previous scene; he was 99 yrs old.  As he has his ‘sit down’ with God, bearing the pain, and who knows what they were discussing, Abraham sees three ‘individuals’ walking in the distance, coming his way. He puts his one-on-one with God on pause (who does that?!) and quickly jumps up to welcome these three strangers into this home.  He asks Sarah to cook up a storm, washes these strangers’ feet and provides them shelter from the desert wilderness – what a mentch!  The sages teach us that ‘Hachnasat Orchim’, welcoming guests, is one of the greatest of all Mitzvoth – one that even God is willing to be ‘second’ to in importance. So who is a righteous person? Is one born a righteous person? Or with time, does one evolve to become – a righteous person, a better person? I don’t know, but I do think that these biblical characters are human, just like you and I, and we have what to learn from them. It is never too late to be a mentch, a tsadik, a righteous person.  Let us live and learn! Shavua tov – wishing all a wonderful and productive week. Love & Light from Israel.

There is a time for everything, now is the time to stay alive

There is no doubt that we, here in Israel, need to go through some process of cheshbon nefesh, self-reflection, reconnecting with our principals for humanity and seeing the sanctity of life in all that we do. We can discuss politics, society and the educational system – all of which require serious thought & consideration. My personal feeling is that now, at this very moment, is not the time to have this conversation; I’m afraid that opinions, good will & desire to be part of Tikun Israel, healing Israel, will be misinterpreted & brushed off by readers who are simultaneously reassuring their children, hugging them while sitting in a bomb shelter. The past several weeks have been intense, stressful and heartbreaking. So much hate, too much death, victims so young, so innocent. We here in Israel find ourselves surrounded by horror, by hate and evil intentions on all borders – & within. This can cause any population to live in stress and anxiety – all of which leads to an entirely different perspective, a dramatically different reality from others living in other parts of the world, especially the US. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m looking for perspective. Yesterday I hid under a bridge from incoming rockets while coming home from work. What was anyone else’s commute home like? Last night my kids woke up every hour of the night in fear and anticipation of a siren; they have already internalized the reaction to sirens so much so that they anticipate it, frightened by the sound of a motorcycle or ambulance. This morning, instead of saying goodbye and wishing him a great day, I sat in a bomb shelter with one of my kids and his class mates because 4 rockets were shot from Gaza to our vicinity. There were 15 6 yr olds sitting there, scared out of their minds as they listen to the eerie sirens and heard the booms; I pray that no child, not any of yours or anyone else’s, experience this. No need for compassion, just understanding and perspective. Would love to continue the conversation, dissect all that needs to be fixed, it’s part of why I live here, but I’d rather do this, and have the ability to think clearly, when I’m not anticipating the sirens. I’m not thinking of tomorrow, just want to make it through the day.  Praying for peace and quiet for our region, for all children – on both sides – won’t you join me?

Seeds of diplomacy: The Children of Israel then and now

This week’s Torah portion, the beginning of the book of Exodus (Shmot – שמות) describes the realities in Egypt as the Israelites multiply and their presence becomes of national interest, or rather disinterest. In it there is a verse that spells the beginning of the end: ויקם מלך חדש על מצרים אשר לא ידע את יוסף /
“And their rose a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph.” Why did this new king not know Joseph? Maybe b/c there was no long term planning. Maybe because the Israelite community rest assured that Joseph was their savior from the famine of Canaan, they did nothing to nurture their collective relationship with the host government/kingdom as they grew and felt part of the larger Egyptian society. This verse is a defining moment for the Children of Israel. The seeds for a collective lobbying effort were planted thereby impacting our relations with host countries from time immemorial. Sure there are different opinions on law and practice, different interpretations to our sacred text, but these differences cannot overshadow the need for a collective agenda impacting our shared destiny. When I read this verse: “And their rose a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph”, I think to myself – year after year: uh oh, this isn’t good… For the Children of Israel it was expected, for one way or another they were going to return to their homeland. Today, now that we are back home, we must think about diplomacy and the collective Jewish voice differently. We don’t necessarily need host countries as we much as we needed a return to Zion, however we do need to maintain positive relations with the international community, for the sake of our people living around the world, and for the sake of Zion’s presence as a nation among nations. Never underestimate the power of ignorance. Then it was a new king of Egypt that did not know Joseph, now it could be a new president of ______ that does not know the Jews. Jewish memory is saturated with lessons to learn from, all we need to do is take a peek and the answers are right under our noses. “Know from where you came and (you’ll know) where you are going…” Book of Ethics 3:1

The Gd of Abraham: What would you do if Gd showed up at your front door?

This week we read about Abraham preferring to greet strangers over his 1:1 w/ Gd. Its quite perplexing & here is the scenario: the previous portion (Lech Lecha) ends with Abraham entering the covenant (circumcision) @ 99 yrs of age. Abe, sitting there in the heat of the desert, in great pain, and Gd shows up! Rashi explains that Gd is coming to do a well visit – bikur cholim…

וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְדוָד, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. ב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה

“And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth”

Seriously? Abraham gives Gd his back and runs to greet these strangers, bowing before them, and all. There is something important to learn here in that the Gd of Abraham expected him to do just that, that is to greet strangers, bring them into his tent and provide them food, drink, and shelter from the wilderness. I’m not suggesting that we go out there and bring absolute strangers into our home, but I am suggesting, and Jewish tradition reflects this value of “Hachnasat Orchim”, that we make every effort to welcome guests into our home – those in need and those who need not. Its these kinds of interactions that enable us to create and be a part of community, a life that is more meaningful, built on relationships that extend beyond our own four walls and into the world beyond.

Israel, part III – what’s it gonna be?

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!  As if we haven’t been around this block before. Remember destruction and forced exile? Remember the rivers of Babylon? I do and I ain’t goin back. Unfortunately it’s not up to me alone; I need all of you to get along too. Continue reading

"…אם לא עכשיו, אימתיי?!"

“הוא (הלל) היה אומר, אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימתיי?”
אם אתם מסכימים שהגיע הזמן לתקן את עצמנו – שתפו עם אחרים! תיקון ישראל. מדי פעם אנו מתעסקים באיזושהי רמה של תיקון. זה קרה עם משה רבנו אשר הוביל את בני ישראל מעבדות לחרות, ולאחר אלפי שנים דרך תשובתו של הרצל בשאלת היהודים (הציונות המודרנית), ומה קורה עכשיו – ממש ברגע זה? Continue reading

Why does Tikun Israel precede Tikun Olam?

I was recently asked at a talk that I gave why I emphasize the need for Tikun Israel to precede Tikun Olam. Here is part of my answer to the question: “Rav Salantar taught – first one fixes his house, then his community, then the world, and so on… I am extremely proud of the work Jewish organizations and movements have committed towards healing the world – Tikun Olam. Continue reading

A Case of Mistaken Identity II

Not quite. It turns out that many Jews regardless of their citizenship identify with the People of Israel/Jewish Peoplehood. For some the relationship is prompted by threats against Jews and the state of Israel generating a tremendous amount of talk-back and interest. The recent attack on Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, the rise of anti-Semitism and terror attacks on Jews in France, the IOC’s denial of a minute of silence in memory of the murdered Israeli athletes in Munich 1972 –all of these events and others like them raise the ire of Jews worldwide from individuals to communities, from federations to governments. Continue reading