Today’s haftarah reminds me of my great grandfather, Zami Ben-Zvi – and I want to tell you why. My great-grandfather is a founder of a kibbutz in northern Israel, near the Sea of Galilee, the Kineret. It is called Kfar Ha-Nassi, the village of the President, named for Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel. Ironically, the second president of Israel had the same last name as my great-grandfather – and me – Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.
My great grandfather was a real self-starter – and independent spirit. He left Germany during the holocaust and was taken to England as part of the kindertransport. He then moved by himself, without family, to Scotland, where he met my great-grandmother Shoshana, and they together went on to Palestine.
Just to have moved to Palestine at that time and then to have set down roots and be a leader, took a lot of initiative and courage.
So what does this have to do with the haftarah? This Shabbat we read a special haftarah because tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh – it’s called Machar Hodesh. The main characters of this story are King Saul, his son Jonathan, and Jonathan’s best friend and Saul’s greatest enemy, David. But the story is most of all about Jonathan, who had to find a way to help his best friend while staying loyal to his father.
I can relate to Jonathan in many ways. For one thing, like Jonathan, I enjoy archery. But it goes a lot farther than that. We also share a desire to take initiatives and act independently where necessary. Those of you who know me know that I have lots of hobbies and interests, many of which require to be a self-starter.
For instance, I taught myself electric guitar and keyboard. I’m learning German through an app, and every time I go to a new country I’ve dabbled in the language there. I’ve learned some French and Italian – enough to get by at a local restaurant. By the way, as a public service, “Vorrei ordinare la pasta, per favore” means, “I’d like to order the pasta, please.”
In sports I wanted to build my endurance, so I decided to run cross country. I taught myself some football skills too, like how to track a ball into my hands or kick field goals.
It’s important to note that even though I teach myself a lot of things, I also have had a lot of help along the way. But as a self-starter and independent thinker, I have a real role model in my great grandfather and in Jonathan.
Jonathan was unique and very special in the Bible, but he often goes unnoticed. He trusted his instincts and helped David to escape death at the hands of Saul. At the same time, Jonathan remained loyal to his dad and fought alongside him in the battle against the Philistines.
And that battle took place on Mount Gilboa, a short distance from the Kineret, and not far from where my great grandfather still lives. Incidentally, he wasn’t able to make the trip, but he just turned 93 a few weeks ago. Yom Huledet Sameach, Sabbah! You – along with Jonathan – continue to be an inspiration to me. And since this week is Israel’s birthday too, another Yom Huledet Sameach is in order!
For my mitzvah project, my friend Micah and I organized a book drive for an organization called “Read to Grow,” which distributes books to children in need. We have collected upwards of 750 books!
I also participated in the Friendship Circle, where I volunteered to spend time with children with special needs.
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