GRAPEVINE: Celebrating 70

Over 200 Bnei Menashe immigrants arrived in Israel from India just a few days before Passover.

NURIT HAOKIP and her 18-month-old daughter Revital celebrate at Ben-Gurion Airport after making aliya this week from India. (photo credit: LAURA BEN-DAVID/SHAVEI ISRAEL)
NURIT HAOKIP and her 18-month-old daughter Revital celebrate at Ben-Gurion Airport after making aliya this week from India.
The big contest this year is how to find the most unique, attractive and entertaining way in which to celebrate Israel’s 70th year of statehood and independence. Rabbi Reuven Taragin, who is Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel has put together a group of 70 speakers including himself who will be visiting major synagogues across America to talk on a plethora of Israel related subjects. Well over half the speakers are rabbis, and of the female speakers, several are the spouses of rabbis.
One male speaker in constant demand, who has spoken in every English language country and in every state of America including Hawaii, is The Jerusalem Post’s political correspondent and analyst Gil Hoffman, who has passed through Ben-Gurion Airport so many times that it’s almost like a home away from home. Prior to the Independence “exodus,” there will be a reception at the Knesset on April 9 in honor of the speakers.
EVERY INDEPENDENCE Day, since entering into office, President Reuven Rivlin has chosen a well-known Hebrew song as the foundation for a video chorus, with submissions from people from all over the country. The combined Internet effort was relayed on television from the Independence Day ceremony at the President’s Residence, and the families of the 120 outstanding soldiers traditionally honored on that day as well as veteran commanders of the wars of Israel, all joined in. This is community singing at its most enthusiastic. For this year, the president would rather have a live chorus, which will be recorded on April 9 at the Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv. The production is being organized by Koolulum in conjunction with the Social Equality Ministry. The doors open at 5.30 p.m. but the recording session will begin at 8 p.m.
The song chosen by the president is Naomi Shemer’s “Al Kol Eleh” (For all these) which like so many of her songs is hymnal in its quality. Rivlin is hoping that 12,000 Israelis will participate in the recording, which initially will be a special arrangement by Koolulam together with singer Shlomi Shabat.
A very candid promo with Rivlin can be seen here.
Sometimes the song is called by its opening words “Al hadvash v’al ha’oketz” (For the honey and the sting) and essentially it is a song about the basic things in life – both precious and painful with the prayer that God should safeguard them.
There are several YouTube versions of the song, so people who want to participate, but may not be familiar with the tune or the lyrics can learn it. Shemer wrote it shortly after the Yom Kippur War, and it became immensely popular after Yossi Banai sang it as the close of one of his shows. It was subsequently taken up as a hymn of sorts by the people who were evacuated from Yamit in 1982.
MORE THAN 200 Bnei Menashe immigrants who arrived in Israel from India just a few days before Passover, will have experienced their first Seder in Israel on Friday night. Not all of them were old enough to appreciate the enormity of the occasion. Eighteen-month-old Revital Haokip was somewhat overwhelmed by the attention she received when she arrived with the group at Ben-Gurion Airport, and the Seder a few nights later, was equally unfamiliar to her. The Bnei Menashe are believed to be descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel and practice a form of Judaism, but require conversion after they come to Israel under the auspices of Jerusalem-based Shavei Zion, which is dedicated to bringing lost Jews back to Judaism and back to the Jewish world.
Revital her older sister Emunah, and their parents Yoel and Nurit, together with the rest of the Bnei Menashe group on their flight were taken to Shavei Israel’s absorption center in Kfar Hasidim, where they will all undergo a halachically acceptable conversion process after which there will be a wedding ceremony in which all the married women will be dressed in bridal gowns and will remarry their husbands in accordance with the Law of Moses and of Israel. Over the past 15 years, Shavei Israel has brought more than 3,000 Bnei Menashe to Israel, as well as other lost Jews from different parts of the world whose ancestors may have married out or converted, but who maintained various Jewish traditions for which they had no explanation, but handed down from one generation to the next.
Shavei Israel plans to bring all of the remaining 7,000 Bnei Menashe to Israel. Most of those already living in Israel live in the Galilee.
Revital’s father said that he was so happy that he didn’t know how to put his emotions into words. Aside from realizing his dream to live in Israel, he was reunited with his parents and siblings whom he had not seen in three years and of course they had never previously met with Revital who had not yet been born when they left India. There were many tears of joy in the arrivals area of the airport.
“We waited for this moment for years,” said Yoel Haokip. “Now, instead of saying Next Year in Jerusalem, we are this year in Jerusalem.”
Shavei Israel has discovered such lost Jews in Spain, Portugal, South America, Russia, and Poland. In the latter case, they were mostly second and third generation Holocaust survivors whose parents and grandparents had hidden their Jewish identities in order to protect their progeny from antisemitism. They were known as the “Hidden Jews” of Poland.
ALTHOUGH THEY do not, for the most part, do military or civilian National Service, this does not mean that haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and Arabs shirk their obligations to their communities. Many from each sector are engaged in various social welfare projects, mostly within their own communities to also in nationwide organizations such as ZAKA, Yad Sarah, Ezer Mizion and United Hatzalah Last month, 34 haredi women graduated a United Hatzalah EMT course and joined the Women’s Unit of the organization. The newly trained EMTs will be tasked with providing emergency medical care as first responders to women in the haredi communities of Jerusalem and surrounding area.
Gitty Beer, director of United Hatzalah Women’s Unit, described the new recruits as an “amazing group “who will be responding to all types of emergency medical calls, but their primary task will be to provide the much-needed response to particularly delicate calls in which women are involved and require an extra element of care and sensitivity to an already traumatic medical emergency.
“We’ve found that having women respond to the medical needs other women allows the patients to feel more comfortable and gives them a greater sense of ease during their medical ordeal,” she said. “The patient feels more comfortable with a woman treating her, and feels that the EMT understands her a little better than would a male responder.”
Beer, who has been running United Hatzalah Women’s Unit for almost two years now added: “This idea of the comfort of the patient is something that holds especially true within the haredi community.”
The Women’s Unit numbers some 150 volunteers who serve the communities of Jerusalem, Betar Illit, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in Illit and Bnei Brak. The Unit is looking to expand to other communities and welcomes additional volunteers.
At the graduation ceremony, Ephraim Feldman, the chapter head of United Hatzalah in Bnei Brak spoke about the Unit’s effectiveness in his city.
“We have members of the organization’s Women’s Unit here who respond to emergencies when other women in the community are suffering,” he said. “Medical emergencies in our community are very sensitive issues and people do not want to broadcast that it is happening. Therefore, members of this unit often respond to emergencies without lights and sirens, and even without wearing vests outside in the streets. They arrive, take their medical kits with them and treat the patient with the highest level of care with respect for both for the patient’s medical condition as well as their privacy.”
Feldman emphasized that the project has met with general approval from even the most stringently observant religious sectors: “The Rabbis of the city are very much in favor of this project and the Women’s Unit in general and they are aware of how effective it is in safeguarding the privacy of the patients.”
Overall, United Hatzalah has close to 500 female volunteers in various projects across the country, especially in cities with large haredi populations.
Aside from that, United Hatzalah in general, has amongst its volunteers Muslim and Christian Arabs, Druse and Circassians, who work not only in their own communities, but respond to emergency calls wherever they may be, and work in harmony with other volunteers from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Israel Fire and Rescue Department Commissioner Dedi Simchi recently visited United Hatzalah headquarters to learn about how the two organizations can help each other. “I see it as an important goal that among the firefighters there should be EMTs who can provide an emergency medical response to fellow firefighters and other injured persons during emergency situations should the need arise,” he said. “This is already the case in many countries throughout the world and would be especially helpful in difficult emergency situations.”
Simchi was accompanied by other high ranking members of the Fire and Rescue Department who took the time to meet with United Hatzalah officials, and the representatives of the two organizations agreed upon a series of projects on which they could work together.
President and founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer said: “Firefighters are working shoulder to shoulder in the field with the life-saving volunteers of United Hatzalah, and the mutual interest between the two is that of saving lives and maintaining the dignity of life. Partnerships between these two agencies will result in maximizing the professional rescuing potential that permeates and epitomizes the professional firefighters and male and female volunteers alike in both organizations.”
Simchi added: “United Hatzalah is an integral part of the lifesaving first response organizations in Israel. I have instructed my teams from all levels to expand and solidify their partnerships in the field between our two service organizations. You are doing incredible work,” he told those from United Hatzalah. In expressing the traditional good wishes for Passover, Simchi said that he hoped this year’s holiday would prove to be safe for everyone.