In Jerusalem, Israel, before the Rosh Hashana holiday season, the variety of items for sale seems infinite. It is a time to purchase new clothes and pots and flowering plants, and for many also a time to clean.
Entering an apartment building, we looked up to see a window cleaner at work stories above us.
Plans are made either to travel or arrange seats in synagogues to pray and hear the shofar blown.
Annual Rosh Hashana ‘raising the glass’ celebrations were held at business and government offices.
One of my favorites is the reception held at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, before the Jewish New Year.
The red carpet is laid out. The State Chief of Protocol from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Meron Reuben, greeted the arriving heads of mission for foreign diplomats.
With so many new ambassadors it is a good time for the international representatives to meet. There are 18 female ambassadors serving their countries in Israel.
The Presidential cat was on watch, a sign of a special gathering.
While waiting in the main room before the president arrived, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely had a chance to talk with ambassadors.
Of note this year in the front row, the only person in military uniform was B.G. Alaa Abu-Rukun, the new Military Secretary to the President of Israel, seated between the Ambassadors from Egypt and Jordan.
President Reuven Rivlin entered shaking hands with Ambassador from Jordan and others who stood as he passed to his seat.
The room appeared full. I missed seeing the Ambassadors from Australia and the United States.
But had the pleasure to meet the Ambassadors from Thailand and the Slovak Republic,
The head of the Diplomatic corps offered greetings during the formal program.
President Rivlin spoke as well.
Musical protege Roi Mor, diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, has perfect pitch and played two of his compositions on the piano during the event. You could barely see the top of his head as he was seated at the piano.
Then it was time to go outside and ‘raise a glass’ to toast the New Year.
Fruit platters, and of course, apples and honey round out the menu.
The presentation was much more elaborate two years ago when this event was last held.
President Rivlin put on a kippa to make a blessing on his wine and apples dipped in honey.
Last year because of time or budget, or perhaps Nechama Rivlin’s declining health, this reception did not take place.
When I went to check previous Rosh Hashana receptions, I realized that only 3 years ago, she walked in without oxygen support.
Ambassadors lingered in the Beit Hanasi garden to wish the Israeli President Shana Tova.
This is an important time for the diplomats to meet and mingle in a relaxed setting. More modest was fine. Most of those attending were new and did not remember the previous more elaborate affairs.
Important are the apples and honey for a sweet year!
As always, when the Presidential Rosh Hashana reception was over. Traffic on Jerusalem streets near Beit Hanasi slowed to a crawl, as diplomats were picked up and driven to their next appointments.
The media ignored this event, but my friend Aleksandr and I enjoyed it.
Four years ago, Aleksandr pushed me into the crowded men’s section at the President’s synagogue so I could to get my shots, we have often worked together.
So to prepare for Yom Kippur 5780 which is Wednesday next week, here are videos from past years of selihot at Beit Hanasi.
With Yitzhak Meir and my close-ups.
Traditional prayers with Chaim Israel two years ago at Beit Hanasi.
Powerful – David D’Or’s Avenu Malkeinu.
The Jerusalem Municipality is sponsoring multiple traditional Selihot, musical selihot nights and tours, and events.
Tens of thousands will fill the plaza for late-night selihot at the Kotel, Western Wall before Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Soloveichik mentioned several of the US Presidents. John Adams is to have said that he “longed to see the Jews of Judea as an independent nation.”
Harry S. Truman had a decades-long time relationship with his friend Eddie Jacobson. From their early interactions in the US Army, to their failed haberdashery business, to Jacobson going to the White House to plead with President Truman to meet with Chaim Weizmann. Many years passed before Jacobson’s relationship with Truman would play such an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.
President Abraham Lincoln wanted to visit the Holy Land but was assassinated before he could do so. However, his Secretary of State William Seward did visit the Holy Land and recounted a scene that he witnessed at the Western Wall. Seward wrote in his journal that every Friday was like Tisha B’Av with Jews standing for hours mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Those US leaders who were familiar with the Bible were influenced by it.
Soloveichik spoke for close to an hour elaborating on his theme: the Founding Fathers’ knowledge of the Hebrew Bible was important in the establishment of the new republic.
Including baseball and historical references, he thoroughly entertained the full-house audience which consisted mostly of Anglo Olim, most were familiar with the rabbi’s family and his reputation as an excellent speaker.
However, one person sitting in the next to the last row did not fit this profile. Her name is Kay Wilson. Kay is the Jewish tour guide who was hiking with her Christian friend, Kristine Luken, who was murdered by terrorists.
The two women went for a walk in December 2010, in a forest area near Beit Shemesh when they were savagely attacked.
Kay was hacked 13 times in the vicious machete attack and left for dead. Amazingly, with her hands tied, bleeding from multiple wounds, with broken bones, barely conscious and barefoot, Kay was able to travel 1200 meters to a parking lot to get help.
The night before the book launch of Proclaiming Liberty Throughout the Land, I found out that Kay wanted to meet the Rabbi and I offered to try to make it happen.
“Wow! That’s epic!! … I hope I get to meet him, I want to give him my book and thank him for (unknowingly) helping me through stuff” was her response.
“Why do you want to meet the rabbi,” I asked? “Because of something he wrote” she responded.
In February 2003, Rabbi Soloveichik published an essay, “The Virtue of Hate.” It was this piece, which was helpful to Kay in her recovery.
“I meet a lot of people from all creeds and color, and sometimes, albeit well meaning, they suggest I should forgive – for my sake, they like to say.
When I read Rabbi S’s article, it was like the room lit up. His essay not only validated my own rage towards those who tried to murder me, it helped me understand that hating evil is the only right response. Rabbi Soloveichik’s essay gave me moral clarity, to understand that “he who is cruel to the kind shall be kind to the cruel.”
As soon as the talk was over Kay and I worked our way to the front of the room.
The Rabbi and Kay met, smiled, and posed for photographs.
Kay’s message of accepting the past, choosing to see light and find good, performing random acts of kindness, and surviving, is inspiring.
In this month of Elul, the season leading up to Rosh Hashana, the New Year, I am sharing Kay Wilson’s powerful presentation at AIPAC
A drop of the terrorist’s blood on her penknife led to their capture.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh recently wrote: “The leadership, headed by President Abbas, and the government, are committed to paying the full allowances of martyrs’ & prisoners’ families and reject receiving incomplete, deducted tax funds by Israel.”
Those who attacked Kay and murdered Kristine are paid over $3000 per month, an “execution stipend” Kay calls it. Raising awareness for the “Pay for Slay” policy of the Palestinian Authority has become British-born Kay’s social media cause.
The amount paid to terrorists, convicted murders serving life sentences in prison, the “Pay for Slay” salaries have been increased. European and British governments and media are silent on this travesty.
The beginning of a new year is a time to recall the past and prepare for a better future.
Some memories might be difficult, however, hopefully, their reflection will be used for good.
Where work and words will end up is hard to predict, and their unintended effect is beyond our imagination.