Tuesday, 26 August 2008

A Night to Remember

An evening out is always special, but on the 17th of August 2008, I had the opportunity to see a one-of-a-kind, one-time-only concert at a unique site--an occasion to mark and remember. I was given a pair of tickets to Mashiv Haruach (From Safed to Jerusalem--A Concert of Jewish Soul Music) held at the Valley of the Communities,Yad Vashem, on 17 August 2008. My friend came from Haifa for the occasion, and together we set off for the unknown. Of course we were so early it was embarassing (forgot about Israeli time!), but it gave us an opportunity to wander around and explore the amazing location chosen for the evening's entertainment. We had not seen this area of Yad Vashem, and we were impressed! The sun was just setting, creating the most beautiful backdrop imaginable! As we stared into the entrance with the sunset's golden glow on the amazing rock-structure, I once again felt the awesome thrill of living in Israel. The concert site, was the "Valley of the Communities", a massive 2.5 acre monument literally dug out of natural bedrock which look like the huge stones surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem and the Kotel.
The Valley was

excavated out of the earth--nothing was built above ground! Over 5000 names of communities are engraved on the stone walls in the Valley of the Communities, the idea being to allow future generations to be able to identify with these memories and find their roots. Each name recalls a Jewish community which existed for hundreds of years; for the inhabitants, each community constituted an entire world. Today, in most cases, nothing remains but the name. The names of the communities are engraved on the 107 walls which resembles the geographic arrangement of the map of Europe and North Africa.

The audience had chairs and cushion seats arranged along the rocks in a semi-circle facing the stage. There were even some seats located in little alcoves carved into the rock face.

On either side of the stage the huge stones were engraved from bottom to top, and illuminated with a soft blue light. It was beautiful and practical--the back stage and entry and exit points for the performers were between these rocks!

We sat there waiting

expectantly, when suddenly there was a faint, soft sound of music, but we were unable to see anything on the stage...finally, in the center aisle we noticed a lone clarinetist. Maestro Giora Friedman began his premier perfermance, and the Jerusalem String Ensemble conducted by Prof. Ilan Schul, gently joined in. Drawing the audience into his performance, he slowly made his way to the stage where he stood on the bottom step, motioning for everyone to joint in. With the audience humming and softly singing to his "Prayer" improvisation he mounted the steps--the concert had begun!

Of the highlights
we were treated to, one of my favorites was Hila Ofek's Harp Solo, Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shomer. Of course, like all concerts there are the intros, bows, and general speech-making--no exceptions here. What was so enjoyable was the diverse blend of musicians--young and old, secular and religious, male and female--all very talented and clearly all loved what they were doing.

As the concert progressed the musicians from either side of the stage came and went along with the performers. Of particular note was a young clarinetist--wow did he have talent. Not to take away from the opening act, but this young man was amazing!

MC, Benny Hendel delighted the audience with an impromtu solo!

Guests from abroad added to the delight of the evening. From Paris, Prof. Philippe Cuper gave a beautiful solo with only a pianist to accompany him. Next from Spain came Maestro Raul Jaurena who played a Klezmer Tango on th Bandoneon, an instrument that I hadn't known the correct name for, but which we used to refer to as a "squeeze-box", kind of like an accordian, but without keys--just buttons on both sides. We were treated to a rousing performance and the audience was clearly loving it!

Throughout the evening the audience clapped in time, hummed, and generally enjoyed themselves. Sitting in the warm evening air, amongst the old stones, with the stars overhead creating a fantasy-like scenario, we were all drawn together in a single moment in time. The finale brought all the musicians back, and once again the audience were drawn into the performance singing and swaying. I had a good time and really felt priviledged to be there--it was truly a night to remember!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Nefesh B'Nefesh JBlogger Convention

On 20 August, 2008 Nefesh B'Nefesh hosted the First International Jewish Bloggers Convention in Jerusalem. Regardless of what the nay-sayers were posting prior to the conference, I think that everyone in attendance came away with something positive and those who black-listed it missed a great opportunity. Although the Nefesh B'Nefesh agenda was to improve their already successful approach to Aliyah, they acomplished much more by bringing together for the first time a huge number of Jewish Bloggers from every area of religious and secular society.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Sun Microsystems, Office Depot, Israel Mall, and Web Ads those in attendance were treated to a great buffet, and nifty black document bags.

There was an interesting talk about the government's quest for "branding". While everyone seemed to agree that this was a good idea, the three facets that were proposed--Passion, Ingenuity, Fusion--did not get the audience excited. In fact I saw more people groaning and giving a negative head-shake to the idea. What is needed is a brand that will be "Israeli" and not European or North American, otherwise it is just going to be another highly expensive document to sit in government file cabinets.

This conference was well attended both in person and via internet. The attending bloggers have already posted well-written articles--recommeded reading for all. I went out of curiosity and admit that I was pleasantly surprised and very happy that I was there. It was uplifting to see all the Jewish blogs and the variety of opinions and subjects that were covered. Of special interest was the appearance of Benjamin Netanyahu--a good writer, and a fascinating speaker--he fielded questions and gave an inpromptu insite to our Jewish History. Israel truly needs more people of his caliber to represent us on the world stage.

The entire conference was filmed and is available on the Nefesh B'Nefesh site at: http://www.nbn.org.il/bloggers/. I highly recommend taking the time to watch. Below are a few snaps of my own, but the good pictures on on the Nefesh B'Nefesh site at: http://www.nbn.org.il/gal2/.

Poster for Convention

Blogger-Panel for 1st Segment

Blogger-Panel for 2nd Segment

Benjamin Netanyahu in an exchange with panel-members

Blogroll prior to start of Conference

Benjamin Netanyahu

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Coming Back Slowly

It has been a long, difficult year--but it is drawing to a close and with the help of Hashem the next one will be better. As we enter into the days before Tisha B'Av we let go of things that we do purely for enjoyment. There are different minhags for various levels of observance.

For the night and day of Tisha B'Av (sundown on 09 August to nightfall 10 August, 2008), we abstain from eating and drinking, bathing, the wearing of leather footwear, and marital relations. It is customary to sit on the floor or on a low seat until after mid-day. Torah study is restricted to laws of mourning, passages describing the destruction of the Temple, and the like. The tefillin are worn only during the afternoon Minchah prayers. You should consult a Halachic authority for more specific guidance. There are many sites with full information for observance of the fast and special rules, such as Chabad or Aish, but you are best served by speaking with your local Rabbi.

In Jerusalem there are many places that offer study classes during the fast day. On Motsaei Shabbos (09 August) there will be the traditional walk around the walls of the old city. Unfortunately what should be an evening of commemoration and mourning is being turned into a circus, thanks to the xians. Their total lack of knowledge and respect is an affront. For them Tisha B'Av has no meaning, and their loud, lewd presence is a reminder that after all, they are only idolaters.

May we see the coming of Meshiach soon, so that the idolaters may be removed from Hashem's Holy Land.

Israel, Jerusalem, Judaism, Zionism, Middle East, Aliyah, Conversion, and everything else that pops up