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A Delightful Encounter

The Baha'i i in Haifa Israel

The Baha’i World Center is located in Haifa, and the glorious Baha’i Gardens that surround the Shrine with its golden dome are a major addition to the natural beauty of the city. The Gardens are maintained by a group of young volunteers, Baha’i who come from all over the world to perform a year or more of service at the Center, often before beginning university. They and other volunteers are housed in a number of residential buildings that Baha’i owns around Haifa, or in apartments owned by the Center in other buildings.

One of these, generally occupied by older volunteers who give longer periods of service and take on more administrative tasks, is in my building. I recently said goodbye to one, who had become a good friend, and was returning to New Zealand after four years here. Now we keep in touch online.

Recently I met another Baha'i, Renata, and her delightful toddler, Flavio. She and her husband came as volunteers, but now she stays home with the boy. Every Tuesday morning, she and other young mothers meet on a shaded stretch of lawn between our two buildings. They come with their babies and pre-schoolers for a big play date and Mommy get-together. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, they meet in each other’s’ homes.

The morning I met them, there was Renata, who is from Brazil, a young woman from Sri Lanka, one from one of the Caribbean islands, and several from English-speaking countries. These families are all Baha’i volunteers, and I discovered how supportive the community is for them and all people like I had to leave before the singing started, but I must come back soon and stay longer. I wonder if they sing “The Wheels on the Bus”. If so, I’ll join them.

This story was written and coedited with my friend Zelda Dvoretzky. She was born in New Jersey and grew up in New York. She earned degrees from City College of New York and the University of Michigan, after which she wrote copy for the electronic and print media, and worked in public relations, editing and teaching. She retired to Haifa in 1997, is a member of Haifa Writers, Israel, an organization of writers of poetry in English, and the Haifa Chamber Choir. Zelda stays busy learning Hebrew, teaching English, and keeping in touch with grandchildren, family and friends in Texas, California, and, of course, Haifa.

Posted by eshugerman 05:16 Tagged israel haifa baha'i Comments (0)

Sukkot Chabad

life in Israel

We are home. The Jewish people have returned to our ancient homeland after a two thousand year exile. We have learned a tragic lesson from our bitter history. It is only when we are a free and safe people in Eretz (the land of) Israel that can we can truly enjoy and celebrate our faith. The journey became thousands of years ago in the Sinai Desert.

For forty years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai Desert, following the Exodus from Egypt, we were sheltered by a cover of miraculous "clouds of glory" shielding us from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. We remember G-d's kindness and reaffirmation of our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkah--a hut of temporary construction. It has a roof covering of branches and can be located anywhere that we choose. For the seven days and nights of the holiday we eat all our meals in the sukkah and otherwise regard it as our home. Some celebrants choose to sleep in the temporary dwelling.

Sukkot is also called The Time of Our Joy. There is a special joy that pervades the festival which includes a nightly Water-Drawing Celebrations, reminiscent of the evening-to-dawn festivities held in the Holy Temple Jerusalem housed our most revered sites three thousand years before the rebirth of the Jewish homeland in 1948. People fill the synagogues and streets with song, music and dance until the wee hours of the morning.

I celebrated Sukkot this year at the main Orthodox Synagogue in my community. The Sukkah was built by our local Chabad community, but visitors came from all streams of Judaism. There were also a few visiting European Christians who stopped by to share in our joy. We ate Hummus and Pita, Burekas, Falafel, and drank a bit of Vodka. There was a lot of singing, dancing and kids running about. Our group of roughly fifty celebrants included old friends and a few new ones. My favorite visitors were the Rabbi Levey’s six children aged one to eleven years old.

This is my seventh year in Haifa. As an Oleh Chadash or new immigrant to Haifa, many challenges exist to succeeding in building a new life. There is the need to learn a new language, understand a different culture, make new friends and find employment. However, the joys of celebrating my faith in this wonderful city have make it all worthwhile.

Posted by eshugerman 01:11 Tagged israel haifa oleh chabad sukkot chadash Comments (0)

Chabad "Open Shul" on Yom Kippur.

life in Haifa Israel.

The sun began to set, and the Neilah or closing Yom Kippur service drew to a close. Rabbi Levi Tzeitlin's voice grew stronger and more eloquent with each sentence that he spoke. This was due in part to the inherent emotions inspired by our prayers during the Jewish Day of Atonement. There was also a palpable sense of excitement aroused by looking at the throng of more than forty congregants from several streams of Judaism and many personal backgrounds. We joined together to celebrate the most solemn religious event of the Jewish year. Yom Kippur is the last of the ten days of penitence that begin with Rosh HaShanna or The Jewish New Year.

We were holding our first annual "Open Shul," a makeshift, yet comfortable, Bet Knesset or Synagogue. The public was welcome to attend a free prayer service In the Dan Panorama Center. It is an upscale hotel and shopping mail located in the Mercaz or center neighborhood of Haifa. The services were appreciated by all those who attended. We had received permission to proceed just a week before Yom Kippur. Our Rabbi Levy, with the help of his valued assistant Zecharya Gonsher, scrambled around Haifa to secure an Aron Kodesh, Torah, prayer books, and everything else that we needed including refreshments to break the fast. Fasting is expected during this solemn holiday. We try to atone for the sins of the past year and commit to do better for the coming one.

I believe that due to the open atmosphere, and vibrant personalities of both staff members, that we received positive feedback and many thanks from those who attended. Chabad which is a large Hasidic movement is known for its hospitality, expertise, optimism and emphasis on Jewish spiritual growth.

In addition, Gonsher, who heads the "English Speakers of Chabad Panorama" branch, was able to give instructions and inspirational words to the number of Anglos or English speakers who attended. In an area lacking English language spiritual programs many of those attending expressed gratitude for this thoughtful act.

The successful program plans upcoming services which include a number of Shabbatot, upcoming holiday celebrations (including a Sukkot gathering), and other educational events throughout the year. The goal is to serve the vibrant and exciting English speaking population in The Carmel Center. I live in the community and enjoy the convenience of walking to activities. Many of my friends new and old share the same point of view.

"When the country shuts down and everyone goes to vacation on Chag Sukkot, an exhausted Rabbi Levi and I could easily convince ourselves to do the same...." says Gonsher, "However, after seeing the appreciation and satisfaction of our make-shift congregants, well, it gives us the inspiration and strength to push forward and have another event in the Sukkah. We look forward to expanding our services and programs exponentially, and hope you all can be in touch. Chag Sameach!"

For needs, assistance, and anything Jewish, please feel free to contact the Chabad Panorama, Panorama Center, Sderot HaNasi 109, Carmel Center, Haifa. Rabbi Levi Tzeitlin (chabadp2@gmail.com), 077-411-2770, and for English Speakers, Zecharya Gonsher (ChabadPanorama@gmail.com), 058-5454-770. On Facebook: English Speakers Chabad Panorama.

Posted by eshugerman 10:13 Tagged israel haifa prayer judaism spirituality yom kippur chabad sukkot Comments (0)

The Hula Lake Park in Israel

Bird Sanctuary in Israel

Travel is wonderful in Israel. Many historical sites and other points of interest are within two hours drive of my new home. Local travelers can visit Jerusalem, The Galilee, and Nazareth in the same day! Israel has many outdoors activities including a national hiking trail, Zoological centers, and numerous local paths to enjoy in this balmy Mediterranean climate.

Public transportation is more than adequate and fairly low cost, Rental cars are available at competitive rates. However, Israelis are not known for their courtesy on the roads and finding parking can be a nightmare in much of the country. I therefore do not own a car and truly appreciate the bus and train systems.

My friends and I often visits Israel's most northern cities located near the border of Lebanon. The Hula Lake Park, Israel's bird sanctuary and observation center is in the region. It takes us two hours to reach the nation's most northern towns of Metulla and Kiryat Shmona from our homes in Haifa. .

The trip is along winding mountain highways. The view is grand, but I was surprised at the relative lack of vegetation.. Kiryat Shmone is the largest town in this region. Nature tours and light industry sustain this community of roughly twenty-five thousand residents. Metulla is the other major city in the area. It is known as a wealthy town popular as a tourist destination, especially for Israeli schoolchildren during summer vacation. Both communities have some nice cafes and access to hiking and historical sites. Sadly, both towns have been victimized by terrorism due to their proximity to the border with Lebanon. This area is among the most heavily guarded in the world. It is eerie to enjoy the natural beauty of the region surrounded by the overwhelming military presence. Fortunately for me, I have a friend Irma who is a licensed guide. We often tour Israel with a group of friends primarily from South Africa.

The two towns are also close to Hula Lake Park, a nature reserve and bird sanctuary. BBC Wildlife Magazine, the world's best-selling natural history and environmental magazine, has named Israel’s Hula Lake Park one of the most outstanding wildlife sites. . It has become a major stopover for migrating birds flying from Europe to Africa and back, and also a major bird watching site. Over 500 Million Birds A Year Cannot Be Wrong! Twice a year, no less than 390 species of birds pass through the area; water fowl, birds of prey and songbirds. You can also see water buffaloes and wildcats, enjoy the unique flora and fauna, and participate in tagging birds. park.You can see the birds there, as they migrate from Europe to Africa and back, as well as the water buffaloes and wildcats grazing and playing, You can also enjoy the lush flora, the unique indigenous fauna and participate in ringing birds.

About 35,000 cranes arrive in the autumn months, and about 15,000 of them stay for the winter. The multitude of cranes attracts many visitors, and to assist these visitors, KKL-JNF constructed lookouts on a man made hill at the edge of the lake, which view the field where the cranes feed. The observatory, which is made of wooden planks, was designed in conjunction with bird watching professionals and has windows that offer panoramas of the lake and of the feeding field.

“A paradise for migrating birds” and “an experience of a lifetime” are some of the ways people have described the natural wonders of the Hula Valley, where 500 million birds of different sorts and species stopover on their flights between Europe and Africa. The main migrating season is in the fall, when pelicans, herons, storks and cranes arrive in huge flocks, along with birds of prey and other winged species.

So as not to upset the ecological balance, private motor vehicles are not allowed in the Hula Lake Park. Entrance is free of charge, and you may walk around for free. You may alternatively enjoy your visit on a bicycle, in a golf cart or on the Mystery Wagon, for a fee. The Mystery Wagon is a camouflaged wagon drawn by a tractor, which allows for maximum proximity to the birds. My friends and I choose to take the guided tour on the The Mystery Wagon. I would estimate that one hundred of us rode the wagon which included wooden benches for seating and was motorized, The guided tour took about an hour and done in Hebrew. Our guide did speak sufficient English to answer questions from those who did not understand Hebrew. Many of my fellow passengers were Israeli but some were American, French, Russian, and South American.

At the Visitors Center, one may rent bicycles and golf carts. Entrance with your own bicycle is permitted on weekends and holidays, with advance notice at least one day prior to the weekend or holiday. There was a small but nice cafe and plenty of gifts for sale. This is wonderful place to visit for all especially lovers of nature!

Posted by eshugerman 04:46 Tagged wildlife nature bird israel sanctuary hula Comments (0)

Are We Afraid to Live in Israel?

War in Syria

Are We Afraid to Live in Israel?

The question that I get asked the most often from friends, family, and visitors is "Are We Afraid to Live in Israel!"

Today is Thursday and therefore massage day. My massage therapist, Jonah Taylor and her husband are immigrants to Israel from Colorado. It is September 2013 and once again the region is "heating up." Jonah and I discussed our respective views about living under the constant threat of war and terrorism. This is Jonah's perspective on the emotions associated with this life in a war engulfed region:

All of you keeping up with the news are aware of what’s going on in Syria - of the instability there. When I lived in Colorado, I was a member of the Multi-Lingual International Club. I knew a woman named Strasia. She was from Syria. She seemed rather friendly until I mentioned my love for Israel. She distanced herself from me after that. She is now back in Syria. I sincerely hope that all is well. The conflicts in this region are felt all around the world.
Since the recent revolt in Egypt and the turmoil in Syria things seems to be changing in Haifa and throughout the country. You can feel a constant sense of fear and foreboding. Things are occurring that promote concern. Yesterday the Israeli government tested the air raid system. People here and throughout the country are rushing to buy gas masks. The Israeli Defense Forces called up thousands of reservists.

Please watch this video:

Maybe they test sirens once a year one way or the other. According to my husband David, for many years in Chicago the city tested the air raid sirens every Tuesday at noon. No one paid attention. The USSR needed to be sure to attack Chicago on a Tuesday at noon. In Atlanta they test tornado sirens on a weekly basis. Since we’ve been here, the first test of the air raid siren was yesterday.

Our view of the Mediterranean allows us to see northward toward Syria and Lebanon. A lot of times we hear fighter planes zooming overhead, but can rarely see the planes. We have been told that Israeli jets bombed arms depots in Syria three times in the recent weeks.

We try to listen to both the English and Hebrew news. The leaders of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah have threatened to attack Israel if Syria is punished by The United States and other nations for the atrocity of murdering their own citizens with chemical weapons. The citizens of Israel have lived under constant threat of conflict and destruction since the rebirth of the nation in 1948.

Anyway, my husband David told me to always be aware. Israel is officially in a heightened state of alert. David managed to frighten the devil out of me. Obviously, I knew that something like this could happen even before we moved to Israel. It is one thing to understand something in the abstract and another to experience it firsthand. David said whatever Syria or Lebanon or Hezbollah does to Israel, that they will suffer worse damage. It is a small comfort indeed!

I, and most Israelis, feel the same way as Jonah. The constant threat of annihilation has most people in this small and brave nation in a constant state of tension and readiness.

Am I (Earl) and others afraid to live in Israel? Yes, of course the constant fear of destruction is always there and a part of life in this beleaguered nation. Yet, the joys of building our Jewish homeland are worth it to many of us and life does indeed go on.

Posted by eshugerman 23:22 Tagged israel war lebanon haifa syria Comments (0)

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