My Family in Israel

I waited far too long to visit my cousin Frieda and her husband Mandy, who live a short hour and a half bus ride away. Frieda and Mandy made Aliyah years ago leaving behind friends, family, and work, including Mandy’s successful legal career. Leaving that all behind was a trade-off compared to the joyous life they found in Israel. They had a daughter who is married to a really nice guy; he works to bring religious Jews from abroad on trips to Israel. And they now have a few adorable grandchildren. Frieda and I share great grand-parents, Tauba Birnbaum and Solomon Amster, who along some of their children were killed by the Nazis. Fortunately, not all of their kids were killed and my grandmother as well as Frieda’s survived, married, and had children.

I spent the Sabbath weekend in their sandstone, Bet Shemesh home. Bet Shemesh (house of the sun) is a quickly expanding religious community between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Haredi – ultra-orthodox – communities have large families and small incomes so their communities spring up in the more affordable hinterlands. They take large swaths of undeveloped land and out of it create a thriving community. These communities are roughly divided into ex-pat regions, with an American street, a Canadian street, a British street, etc. There are no cars on Saturday and on Friday, around sunset, you see men in Shabbat finery, and women in long dresses with three or four children rushing around making final preparations for the Sabbath. The community revolves around the family, with gossip and a social calendar full of parties for brides, births, circumcisions, weddings, and a whole host of life cycle events.

At the Sholomo Carlebach concert

After three stars appeared in the sky Saturday night we celebrated the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week. Hopping in a rental car, Frieda, her daughter and son-in-law, and I drove to Jerusalem to a Shlomo Carlebach memorial concert. Shlomo Carlebach was perhaps the first bring-back-the-youth rabbi of our post WW2 world. He founded the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco’s inner Richmond in order to meet the disenchanted hippy Jews halfway. He also inspired already religious communities to adopt his tunes and styles for the prayer services. In fact, on Friday, I went with Frieda’s son-in-law to an orthodox Carlebach prayer service. The event in Jerusalem was a 20 year memorial concert for his passing and featured a diverse group of Jews in the audience.

At the Sholomo Carlebach concert

It is great to have family in Israel and my cousins are incredibly sweet and generous. They offered their place as a second home for me and I am sure I will visit again soon. My next post will be about a trip to caves from the Bar Kochba revolt, ca. 132 CE.

Written on December 4, 2014