Report from Israel

September 4, 2016

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I had another rewarding pilgrimage this past July to Israel—the land of my upbringing—spent with my Israeli family led by my mother Chasia (“God spares”), a 94-year-young Polish Holocaust survivor from Sarny, Ukraine who is a remarkable symbol of Jewish endurance and triumph. She is a close relative on her mother’s side to Presidents Chaim and Ezer Weizmann.

We have lived in the same condo where I was happily raised since 1955 on Mount Carmel, Haifa, following our immigration in 1949 from Germany via France. My early childhood was spent in displaced persons camps in Austria and Germany.

September 16 marks my 50th anniversary of arrival, after service in the iDF, to study in Chicago where some of my family members settled following WW II. The great city of Chicago will always be special to me for there i met and married my Jennifer 47 years ago.

Impressive indeed is Israel’s progress from those early pioneering years to its present prominent stature as a high-tech power with a robust economy creating an impressive consumer-oriented society able to offer all that the Israelis materially desire, along with an abundance of cultural life.

Still, festering internal problematic and complex issues exist. For example, a report was recently released of a committee headed by poet Erez Bitton, winner of the prestigious Israel Prize, and charged by the Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Education, Naftali Bennett, to examine grievances by Israel’s Oriental Jews.

The sensitive report points at the need to better acknowledge the full history and accomplishments of Oriental and Sephardic Jewry which has been lacking in comparison to the dominant emphasis on Ashkenazi contributions to Zionism and the Jewish people in general. Among the constructive suggestions are students’ visits to Spain and other places where non-Ashkenazi Jews flourished, and not only to the Holocaust’s sites in Poland.

Another sensitive report concerning the state of the Ethiopian community recommends the need for better integration of the Ethiopian Jews, eliminating discrimination against them in some of the schools as well as society at large.

The still young state of Israel at 68, a true Jewish miracle on the Mediterranean, continues to be saddled by major security concerns that few if any countries face. Cruel Palestinian terrorism infecting even its youth and women claims innocent lives, and the unabated danger from Hamas-ruled Gaza, which is a ticking bomb, threatens to erupt in violence again with an uncompromising enemy rebuilding its offensive capabilities aided by surprising attack tunnels, following its last defeat. While the most tragic events in Syria, for far too long, have weakened murderous Assad’s regime’s ability to endanger Israel, Syria’s power vacuum is being filled by the likes of ISIS so close to Israel’s border. Russia and Iran are the power brokers in this tumultuous region of failed states. Though the capable Hezbollah forces are preoccupied with fighting on Assad’s behalf and have suffered heavy losses, they possess more than 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

I took leave of my loving mom and two sisters to unwind for eight days in Portugal, travelling with a group of enthusiastic Israelis. An increased interest to visit Portugal is taking place since the recently established five-hour direct flights from the Ben-Gurion international Airport to Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.

It was a fascinating trip to a beautiful country that once was an empire with a rich Jewish history of promise and pain. i am related to Portuguese Jews through my paternal great–grandmother, Dena Menzis Zoberman, a direct descendant of Portuguese and Spanish Jews who settled in Zamosch, Poland. She along with her husband Rabbi Jacob Zoberman, her twin sister Esther, and other members of my family perished in the Belzech death camp.

—Dr. Israel Zoberman is the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Chaverim. 

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