The streets in Jerusalem are alive and pumping with activity. Shops like Zara, H&M, Renuar, and Castro are busy swiping plastic, hundreds of shekels at a time, from a fascinating cross-section of people who seem to be out shopping at every opportunity.
The restaurants and cafés are bustling, and I had made a mental note to write a column of where to dine in Israel as soon as I’d digested all the information, so to speak. The more upscale, or shall we say costly, the restaurant, the longer you have to wait to be seated. There was one night when we had our fill with fine dining and instead sought out a good old-fashioned falafel place that would satiate the two of us for the night for about 25 shekel. We were directed to Uzi’s Falafel up a very steep hill somewhere above Geula. My wife thought the falafel was fantastic. I thought it was just okay, but that was good enough on a night like that.
Now I am back home in my customary environment and I am able to put these sentences together without trying to figure out, due to the seven-hour time differential, whether my copy editors are sleeping or awake back in New York. I have to add that there is a certain thrill and even comfort to waking at 5 a.m. in Jerusalem on Thursday and grabbing for my iPad with the knowledge that it is 10 p.m. in New York and I can look at the final pages of the paper with a more discerning eye before we go to press.
Upon reflection now, as I am still battling jetlag and have been awake for some hours during the night, I can say that I came back from Israel a few days ago rather torn and even conflicted to an extent. As you might have expected, there was a pall cast on the moods of not just all Israelis, but of all Jews and decent people the world over on the matter of the kidnapping and murder of the trio known simply as the three boys.
One day last week we were caught in the middle of a riot by teenage Jews at the bottom of Jaffa Road, not far from the Damascus Gate. I videoed some of it on my phone and it looks pretty gruesome and violent. Being stuck in the middle of the riot seemed calmer and even more orderly in contrast to the photos and video I took. The pictures—some displayed here—make it look more like Iraq or Syria rather than central Jerusalem.
At one point we were standing next to a blue-shirted police commander and asked him why his officers were being so rough with what looked like young kids, pulling and dragging them into police wagons. His response was that this was not by any stretch of the imagination your typical Israeli youth. He referred to them as “street kids,” as being “no good,” and as “scum.” He added that these are not kids who are in school or who serve in the IDF; they are just young teens looking for some kind of action and eventually trouble. Now it seems they may have found it with the announcement of the arrests this week of six young Jews—some minors—for the murder of an Arab teen last week.
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Despite the usual crisis that Israel features, this time away was especially difficult. Publishing a weekly newspaper with, thankfully, an excellent international reputation has afforded me the opportunity to meet some fascinating people. One of the men I met about a dozen years ago was Menashe Sopher of Telz-Stone just outside of Jerusalem. Menashe ran a busy transportation company. I had not heard about Menashe being hospitalized and his petirah until about a week before our departure to Israel, when I usually e‑mail him about our flight schedule and when to pick us up from the airport. Often Menashe would come himself to the airport so that we could discuss the business and his plans going forward as we navigated our way to Israel’s capital.
But this time when I e‑mailed him just three weeks ago, I did not get my usual immediate response. So I e‑mailed again, saying that I had not heard from him in a while and I was wondering what was going on. A few minutes later, I received a reply e‑mail, “This is Mrs. Sopher.” I didn’t know what that meant or how to respond, so I just asked her when it would be convenient to talk. She responded that she was busy with the seminary and yeshiva students leaving back to the States, which seemed to me that she really didn’t want to talk.
We finally did speak when I was in Israel, and she said of this e‑mail exchange that she didn’t believe that I had known about Menashe passing away, and indeed, I did not.
Menashe Sopher was a serious, level-headed person whom I genuinely enjoyed engaging with. There were times when I was in Israel that he wanted to meet to talk about expanding his airport pickup business, but I wasn’t sure when I would be getting back to the apartment in Jerusalem. That didn’t matter, because when I arrived, Menashe was sometimes sitting on the steps inside the building just waiting. He confided in me a number of years ago that he was battling an unusual type of cancer but was having success with experimental treatments; the treatments entailed administering apricot seeds in some form, which has been demonstrated to shrink tumors. Menashe was one of the people I have spoken to who believed that a cure for cancer existed but that the medical industry was not interested in finding a cure primarily because the pursuit of the cure was much more lucrative than anything else.
He once told me that although his cancer was in the area of his stomach and intestines, the doctors treating him in Israel discovered that he was responding positively to medication usually prescribed to patients with brain cancer. However, he said, since he did not have cancer of the brain, his insurance company in Israel refused to pay for the treatment.
This past Chanukah, we met in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem and he described to me how he had recruited investors to buy more buses and expand the business. Frankly, he looked as good as at any other time that we had met, but he related to me that he was having issues digesting food and had been prescribed a specific diet. In the end, one of his drivers told me last week, it was the eating and digestion problem that put him in the hospital and led to his passing. All I can say at this point is that he was quite an extraordinary person, always sincere and hardworking despite the obstacles and difficulties. He is sorely missed and I pray and wish for the very best for his family.
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As I believe most readers of this column know, my father is buried in Bet Shemesh. I usually go to visit his kever soon after I arrive in Israel and at least one additional time before I depart. This year, we had the painful experience of returning to the cemetery in Bet Shemesh for the levayah of Mrs. Zehava Goldwasser of Miami Beach, Florida. She was a young woman with a beautiful family, and with her husband, Norman, they were anchors of the Miami Beach community.
Together they worked hard to organize one of the most sought-after and popular Pesach getaway programs, usually held in the South Florida area. Through their communal and kiruv efforts, along with their large network of people from around the world who trust them and join them for Pesach, they are known far and wide.
Zehava took ill this year shortly after Pesach, and medically it was a quick downhill spiral. When we heard through mutual friends that the interment would be in Bet Shemesh while we were there in Israel, we knew instantly that we had to attend to pay a kavod acharon, or final earthly respect, to a remarkable woman and her family.
What can I say other than that after 25 years of being drawn to the Eretz HaChaim cemetery in Bet Shemesh for personal reasons, I was now there to try, by our mere presence, to comfort another family. I observed how they arrived from the airport seemingly broken and exhausted from the long trek but also how G‑d energizes people under the most challenging and grim circumstances with a strength and fortitude that can only come from Above.
As the family stepped out of the car that brought them over from Ben-Gurion Airport, I looked over their shoulders at the sight behind them. They could not notice it at this point, but it was a majestic view of the exhilarating Judean Mountains that loom large in the distance. If I could have said anything it would have been to repeat the words my father related to me about his choosing to be buried in Bet Shemesh. “You are going to love the view,” he used to say. It was a sight that as a lover of Zion and Israel he became enamored with and desired to share with us for eternity.
These days when I am there visiting I cannot help but stare at and absorb the sight of those mountains and then replay in my mind his words about the importance of this place to him and now to us. May the Goldwasser family be comforted in their loss and may Zehava’s memory be a blessing for all.
Later that same day, we were in Nof Ayalon to see Rachel Frenkel and later that night the world learned about the murder of the three boys, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. The next day, on Tuesday, it was time for their funeral in Modiin.
The portion of the Torah that shares the news of the passing of Yaakov Avinu is interestingly called “Vayechi,” “And he lived.” Also earlier in the same sefer, the parashah that discusses the passing of our matriarch Sarah is named “Chayei Sarah,” or “the life of Sarah.” Eretz Yisrael is the land of the living, but it seems enveloped at times in so much pain and suffering, as has been the case of late. Nevertheless, we experience these losses with an innate sense of hope and faith that sometime in the near future, the pain and suffering will make sense and our G‑d Al‑mighty will turn it all around and bring us joy, as the Psalmist wrote, that is commensurate with the pain we have suffered. For now, though, where is that hope, where is that relief and long-awaited joy? My belief is that it is there somewhere over those magnificent hills and beautiful mountains of Judea that my dad urged me to keep an eye on. v
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