May 10, 2011

Celebrating Israel's 63rd at Hulda Forest and Herzl House

Theodor Herzl, "Visionary of the State," look-alike in
(cardboard) signature beard and top hat
holds his Jewish State, a key text of early Zionism

In Jewish time, each day begins at sunset. So, last night, on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut [Hebrew: Independence Day], I joined Yehudit and Yisrael Liman and their two youngest grandchildren and their parents to celebrate the birth of the State of Israel sixty-three years ago, on May 14, 1948. Yehudit, who had decorated cakes with soy-yogurt to spell out the number 63, lit two candles, and recited the ancient Shehecheyanu [Hebrew: who has given us life] blessing.

Blessed are You, Adonai, sovereign of the world, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.
Talmud (Berachot 54a)

The next morning, I rode with Gwen and Lloyd Dreilinger to join Havurat Tel Aviv fellows for a traditional holiday barbecue picnic in Hulda Forest. Here, as in many of Israel's national parks, forests, and historic sites, the tour leaders are volunteers doing national service during a "gap year" between high school and compulsory army service. Working under Jewish National Fund direction, they conduct activities that teach about Zionism, nature, and environmental awareness.

In the video (Hebrew), the tour leaders explain the history of Hulda Forest and Herzl House, and impersonate Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), "Visionary of the State."

Watch the video (3:10) minutes.

For more information, visit Hulda Forest and Herzl House by Aviva Bar-Am.

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May 09, 2011

On Memorial Day in Israel, I remember Noam Mayerson, of blessed memory

Noam flanked by his younger brothers,
Yoni and Hilly, building a sukkah

In Jewish time, each day begins at sunset. Last night, on the eve of Yom Hazikaron [Hebrew: Memorial Day] a one-minute siren sounded at 8 p.m. across Israel. With this annual blast, the nation was called to stop activity and stand — to remember and honor Israel's soldiers who fell in battle and civilian victims of terror. National flags were lowered to half-mast and so began a day of personal and national meditation, reflection, and remembrance ceremonies. A second siren blast will sound at 11 a.m. this morning.

Over the course of Israel's history, 22,867 IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers have fallen in battle or died during service; the past year, 183 soldiers joined that list. Since 1950, terrorists murdered 2,443 Israeli civilians; the past year, 13 more were killed.

On August 7, 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, St. Sgt. Noam Yaakov Mayerson, was killed when Hezbollah terrorists opened fire on an IDF unit in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil. Noam, the third child of five children of my beloved cousins Gila and Chaim, was age 23.

Oh, how we all loved Noam. The son of an American-born (Dayton, Ohio) father and an Israeli-born mother, Noam grew up in Jerusalem, studied in the yeshiva high school in Mitzpe Ramon, and later attended the hesder yeshiva in Eilat. Noam and Sara Ra’anan were to have been married September 10, 2006.

Chaim, his father, on learning that his son was killed:

Noam was a G-d-fearing person. The main thing for him was fear of Heaven, love of the Jewish nation and of the Land of Israel. He wanted to work in education or the rabbinate. He was full of energy, and he had a lot of friends.

Rabbi Hillel Rotkoff, one of Noam’s teachers at the hesder yeshiva:

He was a fantastic boy – a tour guide who loved the land. He loved the history of the Jewish nation, the nation that came back to its land, and the Torah he learned here. He had great faith and internal strength. [Of Noam’s commitment to protect his homeland:] He didn’t shy away from anything. Giving his life for the land was not just a slogan for him, but a way of life. And unfortunately, he did it.

Noam Mayerson is buried in Jerusalem in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl. Besides his parents, Noam is survived by his sister, Shira, and three brothers: Yehoshua, Hillel, and Yonatan. He also leaves a large and loving family and community, including nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers, and students.

To honor Noam's life and to carry forward the work he barely started and did not merit completing, his parents, teachers, rabbis, and educators have joined in an exciting project. They intend to develop his educational vision and the experiential activities he created into a comprehensive guide to the land of Israel. A unique feature of the guide is its invitation to learners to study Torah with a hands-on or direct exploration of the physical, spiritual, and historical aspects of the land of Israel.

נעם בן גילה וחיים. יהי זכרו ברוך
Noam ben Gila vChaim. Yehi zichro baruch.
Noam, son of Gila and Chaim. May his memory be a blessing.

Update | July 2013  Darchey Noam, a comprehensive online guide (Hebrew) to the land of Israel incorporating Noam's educational vision and the experiential activities he created has been published by the nonprofit of the same name

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