A Pious Man – (Yes, They still exist)

I went to the local electronics store yesterday to pick up a new bread machine.  The owner keeps the store open in the late afternoon and early evening hours.  He learns Torah during the day and then opens the store to sell appliances to locals.

This is Ramat Bet Shemesh in 2009.  The owner of this shop is a young man, late 20’s at most.  He answers all questions and even offers extra information honestly, even when it leads you not to buy his merchandise.

So as I’m paying for the bread machine, (which he tried to talk me out of buying until we’d baked a loaf or two with a neighbor’s machine to make sure we were really going to use it), I asked him if the economy has affected his sales.  He asked me what I was refering to.  I told him about the economy and stock market in the USA and the world downturn, etc…  He had no idea what I was talking about.  No TV, no radio, no newspapers.  He doesn’t listen to or read the news.

However, he’s very knowledgeable about all his products.  He knows the appliances industry.  You want to buy a stove or a refrigerator? He’ll tell you what importer is unloading stock they couldn’t sell in France, and what products have the best repair record.  He doesn’t go by the adage that you must sit and learn Torah and do nothing else.   Part of his service to the community is to sell quality products at a fair price, and then back them with solid service should something go wrong.

He learns Torah by day and night, and sells appliances by afternoon so that he can continue learning Torah.

For a second, I thought he was kidding about not knowing the news. But then it became apparent that not only was he serious, but truly the happier one.  Quite refreshing.

Predicting the Exact Date of the Stock Market Recovery

The Stock Market, Economy, and the Jewish Blessing on the Sun.

The Jewish religion has a tradition that the sun rotates on a 28 year cycle that corresponds with the creation of the world. At the end of each 28 years, on the precise day, the sun returns to the position it first appeared at the beginning of creation 5769 years ago.

This 28 year cycle comes to completion on ?”? ????? ?’???”? which corresponds to April 8, 2009.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on this subject  Hebrew English

What does all this have to do with the world economy and stock market?

In the 20th Century, the Blessing on the Sun was made in 1925, 1953, and 1981. On January 2, 1929 the Dow Jones Index reached its peak of 307 before the crash.  It took all the way until 1953 to regain the peak after the depression of the 1930’s. The market returned to its pre-crash high in 1953 after the 28 year sun-cycle completed.   Is this the ultimate market cycle?

Is this a coincidence? What do you think?

3 Men to Take Out the Torah – Peticha in America

An old joke waiting to be told:
How many Jews does it take to open the Ark and take out the Torah? Normally, the answer is one. Ok, I’ve seen in some synagouges two. How about three?

Background:
The synagouge service on days were the Torah includes an honor called “peticha” which litterally means “opening”. The honor is bestowed on a member or guest to go an open the Ark where the Torah scrolls are kept. He then takes out one of the Torahs and hands it to the Chazan (cantor) who brings the Torah to the bimah where it is unwound and read.

Three beats one:
I was visiting a synagogue in Chicago. This is a typical modern-orthodox American model. Here, the ceremony is as important as the actual prayers. Spotted as a guest, I was asked by the gabbai to go and take out the Torah and hand it to the chazan.

I walked up to the Ark and I saw two other men standing there as well. I turned back to the gabbai and asked what gives. He said each of the men would open one of the doors of the Ark and I would then take out the Torah.

Punchline:
I said, “if you need three guys to open the Ark, how many men does it take to do Hagbah (lifting the Torah after the reading)?”

In case it wasn’t already clear, in Israel we are used to brass-tacks prayers. No time for ceremony. Just like the Israeli people. We are an open and warm people, and we don’t stand on ceremony.

Share your experiences
What have you noticed different in your experiences in the Diaspora than what you are used to in Israel? Likewise, if you are from the Diaspora, what do you notice different when you visit the Holy Land?

The Top 5 Modern Must See Israeli Movies

Israel has worked hard to shed its old image of producing cheesy ethnic insider, one or no-joke movies.

Today’s Israeli movie scene has produced some very creative, critically acclaimed on an international level. There are many dozens of quality films that have been produced in Israel in the past decade.

Highlighted here are five of the top modern movies filmed here in Israel in recent years. All of these films are must-sees.

1. The Band’s Visit – 2007 ????? ???????
IMDB Listing
This movie won Best Picture in 2007 in Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. Starring popular and acclaimed Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, (The Impossible Spy, Rambo III, Made in Israel).
Synopsis: An Egyptian Police Force band come to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center, yet end up lost in the wrong town with a similar sounding name.

Film critic Roger Ebert gave this film four stars and sums it up well:

They are in the middle of the Israeli desert, having taken the wrong bus to the wrong destination. Another bus will not come until tomorrow. “The Band’s Visit” begins with this premise, which could supply the makings of a comedy, and turns into a quiet, sympathetic film about the loneliness that surrounds us. Oh, and there is some comedy, after all.

2. Beaufort (2007) – This Oscar nominated film for Best Foreign Picture is the story of a group of Israeli soldiers stationed at an outpost prior to the withdrawal of forces from Lebanon in 2000. This movie cuts into the pathos of Israelis and their understanding about war, life in the Middle East, and obligation to country.
New York Times review aptly remarks that this is not so much a war movie as a study on human nature and inner feelings.

The men spend most of their time inside its heavily fortified walls, trundling down coffin-shaped corridors in spacesuitlike combat gear and bracing for the next round of attacks from an invisible enemy. Their lives are governed by tedium, claustrophobia and anxiety, and yet they clearly feel something like affection for the bleak, isolated place that has become their home.

Beaufort Movie Trailer

3. Ushpizin (2004)IMDB Listing Starring Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand (who are married in real life).

New York Times:

“Ushpizin” is groundbreaking on more than one count. It is a rare collaboration between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis and one of the first movies filmed in the insular Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim with ultra-Orthodox actors.

Shuli Rand won the Israeli Academy Award for Best Actor in this film. This film also has an excellent musical score, including the popular “Atah Kadosh” from Israeli Religious Rocker Adi Ran.

Adi Ran – V’ata Kadosh:

Click here to see more video clips from this movie

4. The Syrian Bride (2004) – Clara Khoury stars in this semi-political, semi-humanitarian, semi-comedic film of a young Druze woman (Arab, but not muslim) who lives in a Druze village in the outermost portion of the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border, who travels to Syria to marry a Soap Opera star there. This tragic comedy touches on the heart strings as she says goodbye for good to her family, since she will be leaving Israel for Syria, to live with her new husband, in a country that Israel is at war with. Syrian Bride was nominated for 7 Israeli Academy Awards.

5. Medurat Hashevet (Campfire) (2004) – Set in 1981 in the early days of Israeli settling (occupation) of Judea and Samaria (The West Bank). Directed by Joseph Cedar (Beaufort), drew fire from the right-wing settler movement as the film portrays them as opportunists looking for good real estate deals rather than being motivated by political and religious beliefs. The Israeli secular crowd loved this film.

From the NY Times review:

Its broader political implications within Israel notwithstanding, “Campfire” offers an outsider an intimate portrait of family members living in uncomfortably close proximity and straining against one another during a difficult period of transition. Rachel, a tough, attractive woman whose husband died of cancer a year earlier, is tugged this way and that by conflicting desires. She longs for the security and companionship of the community. But because her first marriage was unhappy, she is unwilling to settle for another husband who won’t deliver the romantic fireworks the first one didn’t provide.

Winner of 7 Israeli Academy Awards, and nominated for another 8.

Honorable Mention: Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) (2008) – Directed by Eran Riklis (Syrian Bride). This year’s most popular film. Based on a true story, a Palestinian widow cultivates a lemon tree grove next to her house. Her new next door neighbor, Israel’s Defense Minister, Israel Navon, threatens to have the tree grove uprooted because of security concerns. This is another tragic-comedy-tear jerker-veilied left-of-center-political film. The acting is very emotional, but the message is a bit over-the-top left wing borderline propaganda siding with the Palestinians.
This film was nominated for 7 awards at Israel’s Academy Awards, and won at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival.

Also See: Top 5 Israeli Movies of All Time

Sukkot in Jerusalem is Electric

The crowds, the energy, the excitement.  Those of us who are fortunate to live in Israel and live in or close enough to Jerusalem, know that this coming week of Sukkot is perhaps the best time of the year.

Narrow Alleyways in Jerusalem's Old City

Just like in ancient times when the Temples stood, throngs of Israelis visit Jerusalem from all over the country, along with Jewish tourists from the Diaspora.  The electricity in the air is truly amazing.

Sukkot is one of the three Festivals which include Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot that Jews are commanded to literally go up with their feet (“aliyat regel”) to Jerusalem.  It is a positive commandment described in the Torah that all of Israel should rise up to Jerusalem and be seen by His Temple.  Today, we are not commanded to go Jerusalem on these three festivals as the Temple no longer stands, however, it is customary, particularly for observant Jews, to visit Jerusalem at least once during the 7 day Festival (the 8th day, Simchat Torah/Shemini Hag Ha’atzeret, is actually a different holiday that G_d gave to the Jews as an extra show of His appreciation for the Chosen People.

In this photo, throngs of visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City push their way to the Western Wall on the day of the renewed ceremony  “Birkat Kohanim”, where thousands of Kohanim bless the nation as was done in ancient times.

Blessing the four species at the Western Wall
Blessing the four species at the Western Wall

A central part of the Festival of Sukkot is to take four species from the land, an Etrog, Hadas, Arava, and Lulav (Citron, Myrtle, Willow, and Palm Branch) and to make a blessing on them.  The reason is not given in the Torah, however it is a positive commandment for all of Israel.

Large Lulav and Etrog

A Very Large Lulav and Etrog

Jews are commanded on Sukkot to live 7 days in a Sukkah, which reminds us of the Children of Israel who lived forty years in sukkot (temporary dwellings) ‘booths’ in the desert on their journey from Exodus of Egypt into conquering the Land of Israel.

Today, many strictly observant Jews still abide by this commandment and dwell in their sukkot for all seven days.  Others prefer to sleep in their houses.

One of the truly amazing sites in Israel during the Sukkot holiday is to see so many sukkot attached to homes, apartments, businesses, schools, shopping malls, restaraunts, and every where else (even on the beach!).  We wish all Israel a happy and enjoyable Sukkot Holiday!

Sukkah Decorations

Sukkah Decorations

Yom Kippur – Day of Awe, Go Mobile

This is the Golden Age…Everyone’s gone mobile!

Is it Awe or the Atonement that gets us nervous?  Either way, this Thursday is the most special day of the year.  It’s the day above all others when G_d is listening and expecting you to fess up.  What better way to prepare for this day than with a visit to the holy sites in Jerusalem?

I visited the Kotel yesterday.  The Western Wall is on the top five list of the Jewish people’s holiest places.

This wall was built over 2,000 years ago towards the end of the 2nd Temple era.  It was one of the retaining walls that surrounded the Temple which sat atop what is today the Al-Aqsa Mosque (with the golden dome).

A well-known Jewish custom is to place notes to G_d in the cracks between the bricks. This man decided to go mobile and phone in his prayers 🙂

Western Wall - Jewish custom - notes to G_d are placed in the cracks.
Western Wall – Jewish custom – notes to G_d are placed in the cracks.
Mobile Prayers - phoning in to G_d
Mobile Prayers – phoning in to G_d

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov – Na Nach Nachman MeUman…

Growing up back in the USA, I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing of Rebbe Nachman or the Nachman M’Uman graffiti.  Breslov Hasidim were those guys who came around asking for donations and handed out booklets of Breslov teachings.  In Israel, you can’t go far without running across at least one of the ubiquitous Nachman slogans.

There’s a great Wiki article that discusses in detail the origins of Bresolver Hasidism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nachman_of_Breslov

(Tens of) Thousands of Breslevers and Rebbe Nachman lovers travel yearly to Ukraine to Uman, the burial place of this Tzaddik.  The Breselov Hasidim believe that there’s some magic in saying three times “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman M’Uman” as a verbal amulet for good luck.  They also make sure to spread the landscape with painted graffiti, bumper stickers, and posters with this saying.

I remember one day I was driving in Tel Aviv and saw a hillarious bumper sticker “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman Bialik”, who was the secular poet and author of the early to mid 1900’s, and is considered one of the founding “literary” founders of the State of Israel.

Here’s one of the often-seen Nachman M’Uman signs in South Tel Aviv, not too far from the beach.

Nachman M'Uman
Nachman M'Uman
Rebbe Nachman in Jerusalem
Rebbe Nachman in Jerusalem