Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jan Gaines' Letter from Netanya: Jerusalem Day

Dear Friends,

  Today I cried. Several times. Well, not exactly cried. More of a tearing up. Because tonight and tomorrow is Yom Yerushaliam.  The day Jerusalem was unified in the Six Day War.  The day Israeli paratroopers fought their way through the Lion's Gate into the Old City and then to the Western Wall. The day Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew that historic Shofar to commemorate the return of the Jewish People to its historic place.

 But it was also a special occasion for our beloved rabbi emeritus here in Netanya, Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum. Today he celebrated his first real Bar Mitzvah.  His 13 year old bar mitzvah was celebrated alone in Slovakia, during WW2 where he and his parents were in hiding in different locations. He was in his family home. He took out 13 glasses, found some slibovitz, poured a little in each glass and toasted himself by himself.  After the war, as an 18 year old, he traveled to Israel on the famous Exodus, sheperding a group of 9 and 10 year old Holocaust survivors. 

  Rabbi Birnbaum and his wife later made Aliyah from the U.S. with 3 sons. Those sons are grown and have produced 10 grandchildren.  Their youngest son, Danny, was just written up in The Jerusalem Report as the CEO of Soda Stream, where in 2 years he turned the company around. Danny also davens, along with his wife who is an Israeli folk singer, and their 4 children. They gave us rousing interpretations of Ashrei, L'Dor v'Dor, Ein Kehloheinu and more,.

  That was the first tearing up for me. The family Birnbaum is a beautiful unit, grandparents and grandchildren singing together in celebration of bar mitzvah and 82nd birthday of Zaide. They personify committment, love of the land, and joy at being here together. They epitomize what Israel is all about.

  Rabbi Birnbaum spoke of the meaning of Jerusalem to the Jewish people.  No other people in any land has maintained a historic connection to one place for 3000 years, as the Jewish people. And he repeated the vow of IDF commander Itzak Rabin who declared that "Jerusalem is ours forever."

   That was my second tearing up.

   In the afternoon I turned on a TV channel called MEZZO from Europe which is the music and arts channel for Israel.

They were showing Claudio Abbado conducting Mahler's Symphony No 2, the "Ressurection Symphony". When he came to the final movement, I teared up for the 3rd time and stayed that way with goose bumps as the choir, soloists and orchestra gave an astounding performance.       

Could the MEZZO producers have deliberately scheduled that symphony for today, erev Yom Yerushalaim?  Could they have known that this symphony was peformed in celebration of the unification of Jerusalem, just days after the capture of the Old City.  Could they have remembered that it was Leonard Bernstein conducting the Israeli Philharmonic who created the same goose bumps in the audience as they celebrated the "Resurrection" of Jerusalem? Even at 45 years ago it still resonates in my memory, just from seeing the video and listening to recordings.

   And finally, how does it all come together, on this special Shabbat full of so much history and memory?

   My neighbor, a 59 year old "secular" Israeli, who kisses his mezzuzah every time he leaves his apartment but who hardly ever goes to synagogue, was discussing with me a coincidental item about our building. I said to him, "Nati, I don't believe there are any coincidences in this country. I think this is a place where there are small miracles every day."

  "Not every day, Jan" he said.  Not every day, EVERY HOUR. "

   And so it is. The enormity of the miracle of this re-created land, of its extraordinary people, is a small and large miracle happening every day.

  Jan Gaines

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