Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Yahrtzeit of Michael Samuel 5777

This year on Tisha B’Av we mark the 16th Yahrtzeit of Michael ben Mordechai, Michael Samuel, Papa to many of us. Tisha B’Av is the most solemn, mournful day in the Jewish Calendar. It commemorates multiple disasters that befell the Jewish people, most prominently, the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as the sin of the Spies in the desert. This is a day of fasting and in great contrast to Yom Kippur, we actually go through rituals that are similar to those performed during shiva, the most intense period of mourning following the death of a parent, sibling or spouse. We sit on the floor, abstain from eating, drinking, bathing and carry on in a communal fashion that is much more solemn than Yom Kippur.

However, there is a twist to this intense mourning. We are taught that we do not say the daily Supplication or Tachanun prayer on the afternoon before Tisha B’av, a practice usually reserved for days of festivals. Why is this? What kind of festival can possibly include such mourning practices? Indeed, the explanation for skipping Tachanun is that Tisha B’Av is itself a moed, a festival. How do we learn that? In the book of Eicha read on Tisha B’av, the fifteenth verse of the first chapter includes the phrase: “Kara alay moed, lishbor bachurai”. This translates as “He has proclaimed a set time (Moed) against me to defeat my young men” which sounds anything but holiday like.

Indeed, the fact that this is the day to commemorate our physical exile from Israel and spiritual exile via the destruction of the Temple is enough to create a long-lasting spirit of defeat, of doom and of tremendous loss. In the history of the world, almost no nation has survived such a tremendous uprooting of its population and dispersal around the world. The destruction was insurmountable, and survival almost thoroughly unimaginable.

Yet, we have a slight hint of optimism derived from this very gloomy phrase. And as Tisha B’Av unfolds, we continually see the hints of light beneath the darkness of destruction. The mourning rituals are not all kept for the 25 hour fast, rather, several are lifted at mid-day. The Shabbat that follows Tisha B’av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Consolation and the 9th of Av is rapidly followed by the 15th of Av, which is the Jewish Valentine’s day. It is taught that Tisha B’av is the day that the important messianic events will take place. Moreover, every year we pray that in the Messianic world, when the world order will be restored to peace and harmony among all, Tisha B’av will revert from a day of mourning to a day of tremendous feasting.

Even more important, nearly two thousand years after the destruction of the Temple, a nation, en masse, the Jewish Nation, still sits on the floor, rends its garments and prays for an edifice and for a state of being that, despite the passage of time, is still very much alive for us only through the pages of our holy books. Perhaps that is not what the prophet Jeremiah meant when he described the day as a moed, but the experience of mourning for Yerushalayim, truly highlights the best of our national spirit and in and of itself can be truly uplifting and redemptive.

It is this type of spirit that characterized Papa and his family, whether it was the loss of his beloved mother in childhood, to working to fend for his family, to taking care of a family of 6 as the oldest male sibling, there was a sense that in spite of all odds, all would work out, as long as one would persevere. Through loss, instability, no mater what, the Samuel family collective spirit allowed the family to not only survive, but grow and prosper. Papa would never be too discouraged to forge forward, despite hardship or illness. It is no wonder he was also a passionate boater, since he clearly understood how to chart a course and navigate through both the calm serene lakes and the rapids that would appear unexpectedly.

We all saw and admired this example. However, it’s a lesson that emanates from our national history. The lessons of Tisha B’Av and the survival of our people are integrated in our DNA. We should always remember these lessons, especially as we remember the life and legacy of Mike Samuel as a tremendous example of how we should conduct ourselves as we navigate the not always smooth waters of life.   

Th-he Nishmato Tzrurah B’ Tzror Ha-Chayim; May his memory always be a blessing

Parts of this D’var Torah were inspired by a superb shiur on Tisha B’av by Rabbi Josh Blass of Yeshiva University.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Yom Yerushalayim

How do you know you are in Jerusalem? When you see a Greek Monk order Turkish Coffee from a Muslim Shopkeeper in the Jewish Quarter.

OK, I stole that joke from a comedian who performed at the World Mizrachi Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. However, it is a great representation of the ebb and flow of Jerusalem and of all of Israel today. We are in a multi-talented, multi-cultural, high- performing and highly respectful society. As you will see from the fascinating week I had here, all of these adjectives are highly evident.

This trip, for all intents and purposes, feels like a continuation of our Passover trip. Maybe it feels like that since Barbara was in Israel with baby Ora and her family until May 15th. She arrived home on Monday, and I left on Thursday May 18t;, first stop, Denver, Colorado. I was invited to the Scientific Day in honor of Erwin Gelfand, the Chairman of Pediatrics at National Jewish Health, and my mentor when we lived in Denver and I was training in Allergy and Immunology. We had a celebratory dinner on Thursday and a Scientific Program on Friday morning.  I spoke, as did another of the lab crew from the late 80’s, Harald Renz. We were among the 4 formal presentations. It was a great tribute to a terrific physician and leader in the scientific community. It was also fun to spend time at the hospital where I trained and see some old friends who had come to celebrate with Erwin. I spent Shabbat at our great friends Michelle and Isaac Teitelbaum, and was happy to see people in our old Shul (East Denver Orthodox Synagogue aka EDOS) and spent time at lunch with the Rubinovitch and Calm families.

Sunday early morning I left Denver for Toronto, en route to Israel. Nomi, Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav were there, having just dropped off Elan who was taking a group from Toronto to Israel in celebration of Jerusalem’s 50th anniversary of reunification. They flew EL Al, I flew Air Canada. We all arrived safe and sound. My purpose was to join the Premier of Quebec Phillipe Couillard and over 100 representatives of Quebec in a Science and Technology Trade mission. More about that a bit later.

The Jerusalem 50 celebrations began with a concert at the Jerusalem Conference Center, organized by the organization Elan works for, World Mizrachi (The World Religious Zionist Organization). This was actually much more than a concert; it was a major tribute to Jerusalem and to what it stands for, not just as the center of Judaism but truly the heart of our country and people. The speaker’s list was full of all-stars: The Israeli Minister of Education Naphtali Bennet; former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Rabbi Jonathan Sacks;  Gov. Mike Huckabee, of Fox News Fame; Racheli Frankel, who lost her son 3 years ago following his abduction along with two other friends by terrorists; and the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. All spoke very passionately about Israel and Jerusalem, but the most poignant line of the night came from Gov. Huckabee. He recounted that on his trip this time (he comes to Israel frequently) he went to Nablus (in the Palestinian Territory) to see Joseph’s tomb. He needed to be escorted there by an armed squadron in the dark of night. He stated that it was a tragedy that a Jew or Christian cannot go freely to holy sites; and in fact, prior to 1967, the Western Wall and the rest of the Jewish Quarter as well as Christian holy sites were off limits and often desecrated. He said this was clear justification for a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, where all religions are treated with respect and allowed full access to religious places.

In addition, there were two choirs, the chief Cantor of the IDF, a moving tribute to the recapture of Jerusalem during the 6 Day War in 1967, a tribute to the three paratroopers who were photographed with tears in their eyes at the Western Wall in 1967, with pictures of them today (as well as them being at the concert in person).  It was all extremely moving and very powerful. But, the piece de rĂ©sistance was a concert by Yaakov Shwecky which had everyone dancing in the aisles. It was a fitting start to a week of parades and celebration in and around Jerusalem! Happy 50th Anniversary!
The Quebec mission was a very special experience. There were 4 groups, a general political/economic group, and three science focused groups: Universities, Life Sciences, and Aerospace and Technology. I was in the life sciences group. We toured places like Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital,  Weitzman Institute, Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, and attended a large Biotech Conference. The Israeli institutions showed us how to be more cutting edge, efficient, and utilize technology to our advantage. The visit to Tel Hashomer inspired everyone; they are using new monitoring systems to predict patient deterioration on the wards, they are using large dataset driven tools to predict side effects and responses to medications, and are even collaborating with people at our MUHC research institute on a Data Warehouse project. Overall, there were lots of similarities, but lots of interesting angles for joint technology development and investment.

What was more interesting was the response of the delegation to Israel itself. While I was in Denver, they started off with a Shabbat Dinner at the King David. Rabbi Poupko gave them an explanation of Shabbat and entertained them and educated the group very eloquently. All the scientists I toured with were really impressed. I had many long talks with members to do some explaining of Judaism, Israeli Culture and even gave a few Hebrew lessons! Moreover, Premier Couillard, in his final address at a cocktail party at the Ambassador’s Residence in Tel Aviv, spoke about things that show the face of modern Israel today. He mentioned the Hand-in-Hand Schools that Rabbi Perton is involved in, and a hockey league with Jews, Christians, Druze and Moslems playing together. I think they were all impressed with the safety, the pace and excitement of Tel Aviv, the spirituality and history of Jerusalem and the diversity of the country. The whole concept of Start Up Nation, the high tolerance to risk and the ability to say that failure is a positive learning experience rather than a reason to give up was a recurrent theme in the Premiers’ discussions with us. This was a major Kiddush Hashem- how Israel really acts as a Light to the Nations. As the mission finished I have to say I was very proud to be a Jew and Quebecer all at the same time.
Last evening I went to Givat Shmuel and picked up Gila, Elisha and Ora to come to Netanya for Shabbat. Ariel had to really work late (till almost midnight) but was able to take a taxi here. This morning I took Elisha to the beach (forgot my phone so sorry, no pictures) but make no mistake, there is nothing quite like sand and water for a three-year-old! Shabbat will begin soon and we will have fun together in all too short a time as I return home on Sunday to prepare for Shavuot.

We wish you an amazing and inspiring Shabbat!

Barbara and Bruce

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Shabbat April 20: Welcome to Ora Tehilla

Welcome back! In the last chapter, our heroes and protagonists were preparing for Shabbat and Gila was coming home for Shabbat. First, they were three, now four! A baby girl was born with all the miracles, hopes, worries and fears about bringing a new life into the world. In this case our new little princess was born a few weeks before term and as mentioned last week was going to kept in the hospital for some feeding and growing. So as we settled into Shabbat, we looked forward to a bit of down time before what proved to be a hectic week.

A Jewish baby girl is named in synagogue during the reading of the Torah. Thus, when Ariel and arrived in synagogue for services on Friday night, I told the gabbis (people in charge of organizing key things in the services) that our son and daughter in law had just had a baby. After a hearty round of Mazel Tov’s, they said that they would give Ariel an Aliyah (he would be called to the Torah the next day) which led Ariel to thank them and say he would like to name the baby. Now, we are members of a very lovely synagogue near our home, the Young Israel of North Netanya. Please don’t get fooled by the name; the majority of the congregation are retired Anglos; the majority are British, with a few Irish, Americans and Canadians tossed into the mix. Very nice people, but young is not the operative word. In fact, they probably had not had a new baby born in a while. However, they were very happy to accommodate this request and on Shabbat morning, the world was introduced to Ora Tehilla, which means Light and Hope. I can’t do justice to the explanation Ariel and Gila provided, but suffice it to say that in many ways the name is self-explanatory. Ora has had a good week, with the hospital being a very quiet place due to Shabbat and the Passover holiday. It was sort of like being in the hospital on Christmas or New Years’ week; everything in Israel is slowed down, labs are only doing essential tests, physicians are taking time off.  Elisha has met his baby sister and was very excited. As I write this discharge planning is underway and everyone should be home early next week.
Shabbat was really nice, with our synagogue community joining in our celebration. We visited the baby in the afternoon and Elisha came to visit as well, before going to a local park. In many ways, that was the routine for much of the week; parents going to visit, hold and feed Ora, and Elisha being with Savti and Sabi and going to parks, play areas and in general getting a lot of attention. Frozen yogurt for dinner, anyone?

Saturday night, Elan and Nomi and their kids moved in with us in Netanya prior to the last day of Pesach. So, we went from a house of 5 to a house of 10. Thanks to neighbors who furnished a couple of extra mattresses, we had ample room for all!. Of course for Elisa it was a super treat to have his cousins Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav to play with. Sunday the two three year olds drove tricycles from our apartment to the city center, which is almost a km away! The two older kids roller-bladed there. It was a work-out, especially for the adults who carried a bike or two home! We prepared for the conclusion of Passover with Elan and Bruce organizing the cooking while Barbara and Nomi chased the biker-kids and roller-bladers. Somehow, dinner did get done, and everyone enjoyed Sunday night and Monday’s fare. Nadav and Elisha especially like being together; at one point they played in the playground together for over an hour without either of them checking to see if the supervising adults were around! They explored the tunnels on the playground climbing structure, chased each other around on the slides and laughed and giggled a lot!
They don’t show you this on CNN: Like most Israeli hospital, the medical staff are Jewish and Arab Muslim and Christian. They are many Arab villages around Netanya, and it has a great reputation in obstetrics, and so it is a hub for patients from all over the region, of all backgrounds and cultures. Everyone works together, and everyone is treated like a person; which is of course the way things should be.
One of the best visuals was when I was visiting Ora, one of the neonatal nurses, a Muslim girl wearing a hijab, walked to the nurses station munching on an enormous piece of hand made matzah slathered in what looked like chocolate spread. Talk about cross cultural relations! Of course, an introduction to Jewish cuisine that starts at Matzah usually does not end so well, but she looked happy.

By Wednesday early AM, Bruce was on a plane back to Montreal, and Barbara was going to stay to help settle baby Ora into her new home. She and Gila got the rooms ready and everyone is now anticipating her discharge for continued health and happiness!

Our best wishes for a peaceful Shabbat!

Barbara and Bruce

Refuah Shlema to Zysl bat Bella
Refuah Shlema to Ora Tehilla bat Gila Freda
Refuah Shlema to Noam Chaim Shmuel ben Judith

We wish Elan a very happy birthday!
We wish Joshua Samuel a very happy birthday!