Jews with Views – Tu BiShvat Edition 5783
Which modern Israeli most inspires you?
BY RABBI ZVI ENGEL
The modern Israeli who most inspires me may seem a strange choice for an Orthodox rabbi: an Israeli rock star named Aviv Gefen. As a young man, he openly mocked religious Jews and those who settle the Land in fulfillment of a Divine charge. To many people in the religious community, his soul seemed all but dead. And yet, as we remember every year on Tu BiShvat with the rebirth of trees in Eretz Yisrael, what looks lifeless can suddenly come back to life.
During the pandemic, a caustic remark by a friend celebrating the mortality rate in a religious town shocked Gefen, causing him to rethink his hostility. He did not begin laying tefillin or keeping Shabbat, but he did begin a teshuvah process, expressing love for Jews he once vilified. Gefen publicly admitted that he was guilty of baseless hatred and sought to make amends. At a Chabad in Ramat Aviv, he passionately praised Jewish peoplehood, extolling those who learn Torah and calling for a reconciliation between all sectors of Israeli society. In Beit El, a few weeks after Tisha B’Av, he publicly apologized for his once intemperate words about Religious Zionist Jews.
Gefen expressed his feelings of kinship by releasing a single called Batzoret, “Drought”, recorded as a duet with Avraham Fried. The song emphasizes the need for solidarity in the face of challenge and worry, envisioning dry, parched land giving way to reanimated life. “How beautiful to see the grapevine flowering in the wasteland.”
Rav Soloveitchik once said that faith in the coming of mashiach depends upon our faith in Knesset Yisrael, in its ability to do teshuvah. May Aviv Gefen reinvigorate this faith in all of us!
Rabbi Zvi Engel is Rabbi of Congregation Or Torah in Skokie, Illinois, and First Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America.
BY TZIPI SCHLISSEL
The person who inspires me the most is not famous, and he never served in a public position.
He was a modest man who was נֶחְבָּא אֶל הַכֵּלִים, “hiding among the baggage”, like Shaul HaMelech. He carried himself like a simple person, but the values he lived by are a beacon for me in everything I do.
My father, Rabbi Shlomo Raanan hy”d, was the grandson of the first chief rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l. He studied in yeshiva, engaged in Torah research, and was filled with a great love for the Land of Israel and all Jews. When he moved to Chevron, the city of our fathers, he was happy. When people asked him why he chose to live in a dilapidated trailer in Chevron, he would explain that he was living in the place where King David’s palace might have stood before he reigned in Jerusalem!
On the eve of Rosh Chodesh Elul in 1998, a terrorist climbed through the window and brutally murdered my father with a knife in his own home.
The terrorist murdered my father’s body, but not his spirit, for we moved to Chevron and built a community in his memory. The Torah study that is heard every day in the very place where my father was murdered continues his path – the path paved by his grandfather, who saw the redemption in the return of Zion and the return of the people of Israel to their Land.
Tzipi Schlissel, a resident of Chevron, is a guide at the museum in Beit Hadassah in Chevron and the author of Hebron Breaks The Silence: Personal, Historic and Political Documentation.
BY RABBI BENTZI MANN
A few years ago, a school principal asked me to take part in a mentoring project his school was running. It sounded like a great cause, and soon after, I was paired with an amazing student, Or Chadash Peretz. I very soon realized that Or Chadash – “Or Cha” – was the son of Major Eliraz Peretz hy”d, who was killed during an army operation in the Gaza Strip. This also meant he was the grandson of Miriam Peretz.
I had the opportunity to meet Miriam at an event a few years later and mentioned my connection to her grandson. Her warmth, appreciation and gratitude blew me away. I experienced first hand the greatness that so many in Israel and around the world have begun to appreciate. It is no wonder that Miriam was awarded the Israel Prize and honored with lighting a torch at Israel’s official Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony.
While her authenticity and charisma are evident, it is Miriam’s life story of resilience and hope in the face of tragedy that make her such an inspiration. Her childhood was not easy – after making Aliyah with parents who could neither read nor write, she grew up in immigrant absorption camps – but nothing could have prepared her for the tragedies to follow. After losing her husband and two of her sons, she had every reason to give up on her faith. Instead, she chose to become a source of inspiration to all of Israel. May Hashem continue to give her strength!
Rabbi Bentzi Mann is the Director of the Schools Department at World Mizrachi.
BY DR. SHAENA ABRAMOWITZ
I was 38 years old, and blessed to have finally found my soulmate after many years of searching. I was navigating the first delicate stages of our marriage while settling a remote mountaintop on the southeastern tip of Judea with only one other family in a two kilometer radius.
It was exactly then that Hashem had me meet Miriam Fuld. Two weeks after Ari, hy”d, her husband of nearly 25 years, was murdered, Miriam brought her family to our home on the Arugot Farm for a day of healing and connecting.
Miriam did not choose her plight of pain, devastation and loss. She did, however, choose her response. Rather than succumb to grief and self-pity, Miriam valiantly picked up the torch and continued spreading Ari’s light to the nation he so dearly loved.
Miriam told me that Ari was the ideologue and she was the mom. But over the last four years, Miriam has courageously worn both crowns with dignity and grace, continuing to be the loving matriarch of her beautiful growing family as well as spearheading the Ari Fuld Project and continuing her late husband’s holy work.
When my days are challengingly long, juggling a homestead life, a revolving door of visitors, two Judean babies, and the many physical and existential threats to our home, I think of Miriam’s dignity and poise, and her steadfastness in her mission.
Sometimes we choose hardships, and sometimes they choose us. However they come, our response is what matters most. Thank you Miriam for being an example of resilience and grace, to me and all of the women who are working for our Land and our people.
Dr. Shaena Abramowitz is an experienced educator who lives on the Arugot Farm in Judea with her husband, Ari, and children, Dvash and Shilo.
BY RABBI DANIEL KAPLAN
When I walked into the Gush beit midrash for the first time on a grade 10 Israel program, I had no intention of going to yeshiva after high school. But when I was introduced to Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l everything changed. I was in awe!
It was surreal to personally meet a man who survived the atrocities of the Holocaust with unwavering faith in Hashem, a Torah giant leading a Hesder Yeshiva in Gush Etzion. Rav Amital was a man of vision, integrity and courage. He reminded me of Rabbi Akiva; even in difficult times, he was hopeful and optimistic about the future of Am Yisrael.
In his eulogy for Rav Amital, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein said: “As the Kaddish deals not with death but with life, so too his was a Torah of life. In the depths of his soul, Rav Amital continuously felt the impact of the Holocaust, and this prodded him to make sure that here in Eretz Yisrael he would serve G-d in an atmosphere of life, rather than in a climate of death.”
His path was one of life and joy, a way of serving G-d that resonated with me. And so yes – after high school, I returned and studied in the Gush and had the privilege of soaking up Rav Amital’s Torah and way of life. I still get goosebumps when thinking of his sichot and powerful davening on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And when I’m struggling during difficult times, I take one of his books off the shelf and find myself infused with his hope and joy. I will be forever grateful to have been his student.
Rabbi Daniel Kaplan is Rabbi and Executive Director of Mizrachi South Africa.