Here I am, reporting from Israel again. Sounds like a foreign correspondent? Well maybe. It’s always great to be here, even for a short time. And when I say short, I mean VERY short, as in 3 nights. That’s a quick trip by any standards. I arrived in Israel Wednesday at noon, went directly to Haifa, where I am an invited speaker at the joint meeting of the Israeli Allergy and Clinical Immunology Society and Immunodeficiency Canada. This is the first time there has been a joint meeting between these Canadian and Israeli groups and this is hopefully not the last. We have a lot of common interests and many Israelis have trained in Canadian Hospitals, so the synergy exists between our medical communities.
Welcome to Israel-Part 1: As part of being invited, I was to be picked up by a driver. You know, one of those guy’s with the signs? For once, you can actually look for you name (although I am sure we have all travelled and half hoped there is someone holding a sign with our name to surprise us…doesn’t happen though). I am picked up by a 70ish Israel gentleman, who takes me to his van and wants to lift my suitcase. It is stuffed with things for Elisha, Ariel and Gila, so I know it’s heavy and pass. We take off and he is very chatty. Along highway 2, he asks if I want to stop for coffee. I say, no, it’s OK, let’s go to the hotel. He asks again 10 minutes later. Then he gets off in Hadera, and announces with a smile that he called ahead, and we are stopping for coffee. I look for a special café or restaurant. Nope, we drive into a residential area a few minutes from Hillel Jaffe Hospital. Then we pull up to a house. Who lives there, you ask? See, my driver grew up in Hadera, and though he now lives near Rishon, he has a friend from first grade that he always visits when he is in the neighborhood. The friend is very nice, serves coffee, we chat for 10 minutes, my driver asks his friend directions to the Dan Carmel (even though he has a GPS) then we get back on the road. Supposedly there are 15 classmates from first grade who are in close touch with each other. No wonder in retirement Zvi, the driver, decided on this vocation. Only in Israel! (everywhere else you would be mugged, robbed and left on the side of the road).
Welcome to Israel-Part 2: Haifa is extremely pretty. It is one of those jewels that people really don’t appreciate. I am staying at the Dan Carmel, where Barbara and I have stayed for conferences before. Haifa is a city built on the Mt. Carmel mountain and ending on the shore of the Mediterranean. The hotel is right on the top. The beautiful Bhai gardens are just below. From the hotel window you can see the bay, the water and the mountains in the distance (see picture!) The view is spectacular. That coupled with the sunshine and temperature in the 20’s and it’s a great escape from -14 in Montreal. Too bad I leave Saturday night.
Welcome to Israel- Part 3:the conference organized a concert Thursday night, which was actually quite cool. It featured the Shem-Tov Levi Ensemble. Shem-Tov Levi is a composer and jazz flautist who wrote many songs that were popularized in Israel by the King of Israeli Pop music, Arik Einstein, who passed away one year ago. For my Israeli colleagues, it was not only an evening of great music but of nostalgia.
The conference went very well and my talk was well received. It’s fun to network with people in the field and we discussed common projects and healthcare problems. Gila, Ariel and Elisha have come for Shabbat, so that will be special.
This past week was the Yahrtzeit (memorial anniversary) for our dear mother, grandmother and great –grandmother Mollie Samuel, Malca bat Moshe. This weekend is the Yahrtzeit of our grandfather and great-grandfather Moe Aspell (Elimelech ben Menachem Mendel). In honor of these very special people, I am including a short D’var Torah.
This week’s Torah portion is Va’Yishlach. The Torah portion chronicles Ya’acov (Jacob) and his family’s entry back into Israel. There are many important events that are described in this portion; Jacob’s tense reunion with his brother, Esav; kidnapping and rape of his daughter Dinah, the establishment of a home in the land of Israel, among others. Throughout, there is a very strong sense of the importance of family. Prior to meeting Esav, whose threat to kill Jacob caused him to leave his home over two decades before, Jacob prays that G-d will save him from his brother’s wrath. Not only does he pray, but he splits his family of 12 son’s and 4 wives into 2 camps so one can escape if the other is attacked. What is remarkable is that in his prayer, he does not only pray for personal salvation, knowing that Esav’s vendetta may be personal, but he implores “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike.” The Hebrew text mirrors the slightly awkward syntax of this verse; there is no pause or conjunction between V’Hikani (strike me down) and Eim al Banim (mothers with children). Thus, the meaning is clear. The responsibility of a father ceases to be himself once he has a family; the responsibility is now for everyone, indeed you are one with your wife and children; it is not “he will strike me and the mothers and children” but all are one inseparable unit.
The parasha highlights the birth of Binyamin and the death of Rachel in childbirth. Rachel is buried near Bethlehem, and the site is marked till today on the road to Jerusalem. Why was she not buried in the family gravesite in Hebron, Ma’arat Hamachpela? We are taught by the Prophet Jeremiah that Rachel laments over her children’s exile. The sages teach that when Israel was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jews were exiled, Rachel interceded and begged for mercy for her children, and her prayers were answered. This teaches us again the tight bond of a family. A mother’s love has no bounds; it is the most natural behavior for a mother to do everything in her power on behalf of her family.
The place where Rachel is buried is marked and visited until today. People use it as a place of inspiration in times of trouble. Interestingly, it is the only time in the Torah when it explicitly says that a monument was placed to mark a burial. This custom today is universal; to have a memorial is to be remembered for generations. As we mark the anniversary of the passing of our loved ones, we remember the powerful example that Molly Samuel set as a mother who would go to great lengths for her children and extended family. May her memory always be a blessing for us and may we hold true to her values of family and generosity.
Barbara and Bruce
Happy 3rd Birthday to Talia Bella Mazer!
We wish Nomi, Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav a Nesiah Tova as the travel to Israel, and to Elan who will join them shortly!
Refuah Shlema to Zisel Bat Bella, Yirmiyahu Shimon ben Dvorah, and Ha-Rav Haim Yechiel ben Malca.
Sincerest condolences to Nomi's father, Robert Goldberger, on the recent passing of his father Aryeh Goldberer. May his memory always be a blessing
And to my wonderful wife Barbara, I definitely wish you were not stuck in the cold so we could enjoy this wonderful shabbat together!