What Is Hanukkah?

  

What Is Hanukkah?

On the eve of last Sunday, December 2nd Jews around the world started the celebration of Hanukkah, which lasts for eight days, by lighting a special candle holder called a hanukiah.  The holiday commemorates events which happened in 165 BC. I will not bore you with what this holiday really is, since you can read about it online; rather, I will try to share with you some of my thoughts on what it means to me, especially after our recent trip to Israel.  I do not know any other country in the world which connects its history with the current reality, as Israel does. The miracle of Hanukkah happened when one crude with clean oil burned for eight days on the holy Menorah – a candelabra, which was located inside the Second Jewish Temple. The Temple was rebuilt in 515 BCE, only to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  During our recent visit to Jerusalem, a friend took us to the site of the cemetery going back to the First Temple, which existed over 2500 years ago.  During the excavation, archeologists found a small silver scroll. Inside, were inscribed words of a special prayer, that priests blessed people over the high holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. My last name Kagan, traces me back to the priestly lineage (which goes back to the time of the Exodus from Egypt), of the “Cohanim”. As a Cohen, I am given the honor to bless the congregation in our synagogue with the same prayer, twice a year. Just imagining this connection to my ancestors doing the same, gives me the goosebumps.  Hanukkah is called the holiday of lights, but also the holiday of freedom. Some interpretations of this are the freedom of self-expression, and the freedom to express religious beliefs and practices. Most of us take this freedom for granted, but in the Land of Israel in 165 BC, a small group of Jewish rebels led by the Priest Mattathias, fought for the freedom to express themselves as Jews against the Assyrian army.

During the services in our synagogue, Rabbi Zarhy told another Hanukkah story which actually happened during our times.  In 1939, at the start of the Second World War when theGermans occupied Poland, in the city called Lodz, the wife of a local rabbi lit the Hanukkah lights, and decided to photograph it. When the print was ready, she noticed that through the window, across the street was a building of the Nazi’s headquarters.  On the back of the photograph she wrote: “Germans come and go, but the Hanukkah light will stay forever”.  The rabbi’s family managed to escape and ended up in America. Years later, the descendants discovered this old photograph, and of its remarkable story.

The Mattathias family fought for their religious freedom in their own land of Israel. They won; however, 200 years later their descendants were expelled from their homeland.  Almost two thousand years later Jews came back to reclaim the small piece of land where their journey started.  And today, the Holiday of Light from the ancient Land of Israel brings light into the nations.

P.S. The four images for this story show Hanukkah lights in various ways.  One is of Rabbi Langer with the torch in his hands is about to light the public Hanukkah in Union Square, and my two artistic renderings of the Hanukkah light.  The last image was taken when Max joined his “sister” Alona when we lit the first candle (the second one called a shamash, which translates to“servant”, is used to light the other lights).

Besides lighting the Hanukkiah, this is a time to give and to receive gifts. My book, “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers” will be loved by everyone. I guarantee that.  Please order it on Amazon.com and Encounterspublishing.com.

If you are reading this story on Friday, it is the night of the sixth light.

Happy Holidays!

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What’s In a Name?

  

What’s In a Name?

One evening we returned to our apartment in Tel Aviv in the late hours, after a walk on Rothschild Blvd.  It was past 10pm, but there were quite a few people relaxing and enjoying the warm weather. Who was Mr. Rothschild that one of the most iconic and popular boulevards, which is a commercial center with major financial institutions and technological start-ups occupying famous Bauhaus buildings, is named after him?  When we lived in Israel many years ago, I heard about Baron Rothschild, but had no idea about his contribution to Israel.

Online I found some fascinating information about the Rothschild family (which is still one of the richest in the world).  Baron Edmond James de Rothschild was born in August 1845 in France into a well-known Jewish banking family.  He received a traditional Jewish and secular education and in 1877, married his cousin. His interests were primarily in the arts.  However in 1882, Edmond cut back on his purchases of art and began to buy land in Southern Syria (Ottoman Palestine). He became a leading proponent of the Zionist Movement.  In 1924, he established the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, which acquired more than 125,000 acres of land and set up business ventures. He also played a pivotal role in Israels wine industry.

Jews and Arabs lived amiably on Rothschilds land and in 1934, the year he died, in a letter to the League of Nations he wrote, The struggle to put an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.”  Eighty-five years passed since his death, but the seeds of his and his wifes contributions bare tremendous fruit. A question pops up in my head about how it was possible to get the idea, which changed the course of history?  How was it possible in 1882 to foresee that one day there would be pogroms in Russia, rampant antisemitism in Europe; to have a place for the Jewish survivors of World War II to live?  History had many remarkable names, one of them being Baron Edmond Rothschild.

P.S. Israel is known as a start-up nation, and many high-tech companies have offices on Rothschild Boulevard in spite of high rents (like in Downtown San Francisco); they prefer to have prestigious addresses on their letterhead.  We met a lot of young people in Tel Aviv, and I was not surprised to meet some of them having a good time during the late hours, as you can see in these four images.

P.P.S. The book signing of “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers” was a success as this short video can attest. Get your own copy at Amazon.com or Encounterspublishing.com.

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The Most Important Words In Any Relationship

  

The Most Important Words
In Any Relationship

My wife Elfa likes to tell others that as the head of our family I always have the last words – “Yes, Dear”.  Actually this is not exactly, accurate.  Being a stubborn person and often thinking that I know better, sometimes I try to do things my way.  To my credit, when I realize that Elfa is actually right, I say, “My wife is always right”.  This upsets her.  “If I was right, why didn’t you listen to me?” she asks.  To this I respond, “If I would always listen to you, I would be Elfa, not Manny”.  In some occasions our children accuse their mother of being negative, only to discover that actually she was cautious (and right).  It was Mark Twain who wrote, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  Our children have passed the age twenty-one, but they are still learning the truth.

Being married for over 51 years and running a business together with Elfa for over 33 years could not happen without one quality we both possess – an attitude of gratitude. Recently Elfa related to me a conversation she had with one of her friends, who got upset after giving some business advice to her boyfriend, to which he didn’t even say “Thank you”.  Elfa’s response was, “Do you think that Manny always says “Thank you?”  Of course not.  Because of their ego, men often have to process the information before they can acknowledge that it was someone else’s idea.”

In our lives together, I would not become who I am and accomplished what I (we) have without acknowledging other people, especially my wife. Therefore, when I do say “Thank you” to her, I add “for this as well”.

P.S. Now we also express our gratitude to Max. Being sixteen months young, the puppy shares so much love and makes us laugh, that the only thing I can say is, “Thank you, and for this as well”.  These four latest images of Max just confirm my point.  I want to say the same to you, especially, if you buy “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers”.  “Thank you, and for this as well.”  You can find more images on Max and Manny Facebook page.  Please follow us.

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The Tel Aviv Story

  

The Tel Aviv Story

We are staying in an apartment on our trip to Tel Aviv, on a street named after Yohanan HaSandler. Three questions pop up in my head – Who was he to receive such an honor?  Who really cares?  And why write about this?  After all, if you would like to know this for whatever reason, just ask Siri or Alexa, and voilà, you’ll get an answer.  As another Jew whose name is Yeshua (also known as Jesus), who lived about an hour car drive from the current borders of Tel Aviv, and who lived about two thousand years ago, suggested, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). Turns out, that the name Yohanan HaSandler belonged to an important figure in the Jewish world, who lived from 100 CE to 150 CE (close to the time when the Gospel of Matthew was written). He was one of the main students of Rabbi Akiva.

My next question was why to name the street after someone who lived in the area, which is now called Israel, so many years ago? To answer my own question, I decided to read about the history of Tel Aviv online. But before that, I needed to establish a connection between this new city and the ancient world.  In the Jewish Bible, it is written that a Jewish monarchy began in 10th century BCE. The first appearance of the name “Israel” in the secular historic record is in the Egyptian source circa 1200 BCE.  Over thousands of years, the Jewish people were expelled by different conquerors, only to stubbornly return to claim what they rightfully believed was their land. You can read about this fascinating “History of the Jews and Judaism in the Land of Israel” in Wikipedia.

During the 19thcentury, the area was under the control of Ottoman Syria, and after World War I – under the British Mandate. About 10,000 Jews living in the area were called Palestinian Jews, who resided primarily in Safed, Hebron and Jerusalem.  Things changed in the late nineteenth century. Inspired by the Zionist movement, the large-scale immigration of Jews to Palestine began in 1882 and continued in 1903, where a large numbers of Jews were escaping pogroms.  Their destination was the ancient port of Jaffa.  Since it was predominantly populated by Muslims and had limited space, in 1909 a group of about 60 Jewish families decided to create the first all-Jewish city in modern times.  In 1910, it was named Tel Aviv, which means hill of spring.  It was built on the sand dunes bordering the Mediterranean Sea and was known as “White City”.  I suspect that the name of the street after a Jewish teacher who lived 1900 years earlier is the proof that in spite of all historical separations, the real connection with the core of Jewish teaching was never broken.  Today, Tel Aviv, which merged with Jaffa in 1950, has a population of about four million; it is a vibrant city, considered to be the party capitalin the Middle East with 24-hours a day of culture.

P.S. During our trip to Tel Aviv we encountered many dog lovers, as you can see in these four images. If you are a dog lover, you do not have to travel far away, just buy 42 Encounters with Dog Lovers on Amazon and Encounters Publishing.

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Returning to Tel Aviv

  

Returning to Tel Aviv

We arrived after midnight at the apartment which we rented through Airbnb, in the old part of Tel Aviv.  We visited this part of what some call Telaviva Ktana, (which translates to “small Tel Aviv”) many, many years ago.  It is owned by a French family.  It has been completely remodeled and air-conditioned.  It has tall ceilings and beautiful modern furniture, and we are staying here with our daughter for a week.  Our first trip here was in January 1972, when we immigrated to Israel from Riga, Latvia.  Four days after our arrival, on the 13thof January, I turned 25.  Many years passed since, but I see the same old buildings of what was once called “The White City”.

Upon our first arrival to Israel, we were sent to an absorption center where we had to live in a small town called Pardes Hana, about 45 minutes by bus from Tel Aviv, for 5 months to learn Hebrew. My mom’s uncle Nathan, who moved to Israel in the early 1920s, was one of the pioneers who built the young country.  His job was to install electrical power lines.  The day after our arrival to Pardes Hana, someone’s relative, who came for a visit, gave us a ride to Kiriat Ono where Nathan and his wife Guta lived, which as we discovered later, was about half an hour drive from the Tel Aviv’s central Bus Station.  Uncle Nathan along with his wife Guta and their dog Amitz lived in a small house. They had many fruit trees, including oranges and avocados.  Their fence was covered with passion fruit.  I think on the same first visit, we took a bus to what was then considered the center of Tel Aviv – on fancy Dizengoff Street.  It had (and still has) boutiques, cafés and restaurants.  For us, who have never seen something like that in Riga, this was a completely new magical world.

Soon after our arrival to Israel, Elfa got a job as a textile designer (she studied art in Riga).  Her employer was a ten minute walk away from where we were staying. We walked those streets many times, and being here now, 46 years later, feels like a déjà vu. I can now see the street from the window of the apartment we are staying in.  I stand looking out the window, and see people who live here and go about their lives, I decided to share with you my first feelings and memories.  We are going to be in Israel for two weeks, during which I am sure, I will write more stories about our travel experience.

P.S. After we ventured out on the street, we saw that many old buildings, which were built almost one hundred years ago, are being repaired or replaced with modern (some that look out of place), glass covered high-rises. These four images show some of the encounters we had in Tel Aviv.

P.P.S.
Please join me on November 17th for a “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers“ book signing.

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Where Is Israel?

  

Where Is Israel?

When you read this, we will have been visiting Israel for ten days. However, I wrote this story a week before our departure. Our trip was prompted by a family reunion. When we went to the Israeli consulate in San Francisco to renew our passports, we realized that our last trip to Israel was over ten years ago. We lived in Israel from January 1972 until August 1980, when we moved to San Francisco. In the years when my parents and sister, who were living in Israel, were alive, we visited often. However after they passed on, we started to travel to different destinations. Our last trip to Israel was with an organized group called, “In the Dust of Our Ancestors”. We visited many old places, like the cave where Samson (who according to the Bible lived in 1118-1078 BC) was hiding.

The question in the title of this story can be interpreted as a place on the world map or in world affairs. When you look on the map showing Israel and its bordering countries, you can see how small it really is. Nevertheless, it plays a very important role as the only democratic country in the area, which keeps the balance in the volatile world. Surrounded by enemies, who would rather see it be destroyed and Israelies pushed into the sea, the only Jewish state in the world, with a population of over 8.5 million, opposite to 17 Arab countries with a population of about 330 million. It is definitely a miracle how this tiny country was able to not only survive; but also to prosper and become an economic and technological driving force in the world. And this is despite the local conflicts with the Palestinians who claim that the whole land of Israel belongs to the Arabs, with Jerusalem as their capital, and the Jews have no claims to it.

Jerusalem has a very rich history. It was settled in the 4th millennium BCE making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Online I read that it was attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice. On Wikipedia I read a fascinating history of Jerusalem during the Middle Ages. I also learned on Wikipedia that “On November 8th, 1995, the 104th Congress enacted The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 as public law. The Act recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and called for Jerusalem to remain an individual city. Despite passage, the law allowed President to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law. The waiver was repeatedly renewed by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. President Donald Trump finally signed a waiver. The United States Embassy officially relocated to Jerusalem on May 14th, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.” In the next few weeks I will share with you more stories from our trip.

P.S. These four images from Jerusalem, which is considered holy by the three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, were taken in 2007. You can see the representation of all three religions. I also included a photo of a dog with the Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa mosque in the background. This is to remind you that while I am travelling, you can buy 42 Encounters with Dog Lovers on Amazon or EncountersPublishing.com.

P.P.S. In light of what happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I’d like to quote what President George Washington wrote to one of the first US synagogues – the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island – in 1790:

“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants: while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths”

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