Steve Brizel’s Eretz Yisroel Travel-blog

Steve Brizel is in Eretz Yisroel and he has been blogging his trip in the comments to this post. We’ve collected some of the comments here, but read the whole thread for the commenting back and forth.

For many of us in Chuz L’aretz, one of the best ways of cultivating and maintaining a love of EY in a physical sense is visiting our children who are learning in yeshivos and seminaries. We visited our older daughter back in 2004 and we are leaving for EY Bezras HaShem for two weeks, this Wednesday night.

Here are a few suggestions for any first time or returning visitor who is visiting a child. First of all, if your son or daughter invites you to sit in on a shiur or chavrusa or chaburah, do so and don’t pull them out of valuable time that could be devoted to Torah learning.You will be inspired by so many young men or women devoting their time to learning Torah.

Try to take walking tours around Yerushalayim, especially the Old City. Aside from the SOY seforim sale, there simply is no more remarkable place for Tashmishei Kedushah and Seforim. Try also to take a tour up north to Tzefat. You will see Kivrei Tzadikim from every age in Jewish history. If at all possible, take a tour to Kever Rachel and Chevron. IMO, my kavanah seemed more enhanced in the shul adjacent to the Meoras HaMachpelah than the Kotel. If your son or daughter can get you access for a bracha from a Gadol, run, don’t walk. I am especially looking forward to Chanukah in Yerusahalayim where Channukah has a special beauty without the weird “competition” and “comparisons” with other faith’s holidays.

— Posted Dec 11, 1:04 PM

One more point-as one walks and drives around Yerushalayim, one cannot help but be struck at the names of the streets and compare them with street names in ChUl. Street names and neighborhoods resonate with Neviim, Tanaim, Rishonim, Acharonim and Gdolim.

— Posted Dec 11, 1:17 PM

Rather than engage in discussion re the pros and cons of living in EY and what IMO is a very tired discussion of the halachic and hashkafic issues, I think that I just will mention what I have noticed and will be doing. We are staying with friends this week and with my daughter’s brother in law and spouse next week. The weather has been gorgeous. Our friend is the director of the Center for Ohr Sameach and invited me to its Channukah party. I hope and am sure that my visit there will have the same effect there as my visit a few years ago to the Mir. We will tour the excavations at Ir David and sit in with our daughter at her classes in Michlalah with Rav Leff, Rav Hartman and R Cooperman, just to name a few of the excellent Rebbes on the staff of Michlala. I hope to make my usual stops in Geulah and Meah Shearim as well for a few sefarim as well.

Channukah here is awesome. One sees Menorahs in every apartment window and even some outside as well. There are sbiurim and concerts for men and women.

— Posted Dec 17, 12:38 PM

One more point-This morning, we took a bus from Ramot into the center of town. A Charedi man invited me to sit next to him even though the bus did not appear to be Charedi in nature.I noticed that many of the Charedi men and women either were learning Mishnayos, Tehilim , etc. It was amazing not being the only person learning on a bus. IMO, the only comparison in ChUl would be the “Chasid buses” to NYC from Monsey or a similar bus to Lakewood.

— Posted Dec 17, 12:42 PM

While the facts surrounding this post defibnitely involve our visit to EY, I think that they also could be posted under either the future of kiruv or varieties of kiruv discussions as well. I leave that decision to our capable moderators.

A few years ago, I mentioned elsewhere on the web that I received a first hand tour of the Mir in Ywerushalatyim and spent the better part of an afternoon learning bchavrusa there. I walked out resolved with a determination and a resolve that noone should ever put down a Beis Medrash, Yeshivah , etc without spending some time on the inside.As I mentioned earlier, our host is the creator and director of Ohr Sanmeach’s Center program for post collegiates.

Tonight, I attended a Chanukah party for Ohr Samaeach’s Center Program which was addressed by the RY and Mashgiach of Ohe Samaeach. I was bowled over by their Divrei Torah from the RY and Mashgiach, humbled by an inspiring Dvar Torah from one of the talmidim as well and the many post collegiates who were atternding the program from the US, Candada, UK and S Africa.( In fact, if Mark could use any connections that he has with Ohr Samaeach, IMO, R Shlomo Weiner, the Mashgiach Ruachani of Ohr Samaeach, would make a fabulous speaker for a Scholar In Residence weekend!).

Contrary to some misinformed opinions, these young men were not engaged in looking the act without seriuosly growing in Torah.I saw no evidence of glazed brainwashing or similar factless allegations that some have raised here or elsewhere. These young men were learning Perek Hamaniach in Bava Kama.Their tables consisted of sefarim that one would find in any beis medrash of any yeshiva worthy of that name. Their attire ranged from classical yeshivish to collegiate attire. FWIW, none are allowed to wear a black hat in the first year of their program simply because they are not ready for such a statement as part of their lifestyle.IMO, Ohr Samaeach has successfully tapped the market of Jewish post graduates from all sorts of backgrounds and created a program that helps realize their potential as Bnei Torah who then progress to yeshivas across the Torah spectrum.Ohr Sameach deserves a major Yasher Koach for developing this program.

The question remains whether YU’s rebuilding of the long declining JSS program as the reconstituted Mechinah program will create an option for MO post high school youth. IMO, just as Ohr Samaeach found and created an option in the Center for Post collegiates, YU could and should focus JSS/Mechinah for post high school youth who want to learn how to learn, grow in their level of observance and get a college education Based upon what I have seen and read, YU had in fact remodeled and retooled JSS and is now actively marketing the program in the manner that I have mentioned and advocated here and elsewhere.

— Posted Dec 17, 5:02 PM

Today, we spent the better part of our day touring the archaelogical dig and park of Ir David ( The City of David). For anyone who has learned Navi, especially about how David HaMelech conquered the city ( via the water tunnels) , the annointment of Shlomoh HaMelech , the defeat of Sanncherib , Churban Bayis Rishon and Mei Shilocach-I cannot recommend this site highly enough. The Nach and many Mishnayos will take on an entirely new vistas. I also learned and davened Maariv in the mini Kotel ( which is adjacent to the left of the Kotel). There can be very few events as inspiring as learning Shekalim (which deals with paying for communal karbanos) and davening as close to Har HaBayis)as possible. There is a the equivalent of a wonderfully equipped Beis Medrash with minyanim and mispallelim around the clock and an ezras nashim that overlooks the mini Kotel. Tomorrow, we will be BeEzras HaShem visiting children of friends in Kiryat Sefer, a new city whose main insdustry is Limud HaTorah and Chesed on a 24/7 basis.

— Posted Dec 18, 2:45 PM

Today, we took a long bus ride to drop off some things that we brought with us for a daughter and son in law of friends who live in Kiryat Sefer, a brand new city that consists almost exclusively of Litvishe Kolleleit and their families.( FWIW, those who think that NY bus drivers are skilled at their work simply should compare their work with that of any of the bus drivers in Yerushalayim who navigate their buaes as if they were motorcycles!) The view of the Arei Yehudah was awesome.I thought of the verses in Tehilim that describe them in such amazing terms. When you enter KS, you are struck immediately by the simple fact that every street is named after a Gadol. There are tons of baby carriages, strollers and bicycles. Watching these families exit a bus is an exercise in seeing how the midos of chesed are instilled from a very young age. There are yeshivos, chaderim, BYs and beautifully built buildings with gorgeous views of the countryside. There are stores owned by residents who run them but manage to learn two sedarim a day in the same fashion ala the CC and CI. I would highly reccomend the community, Emmanuel or Brachfeld for any kollel couple that wants to live in such a beautiful atmosphere of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus CHesed but is financially unable to afford either Bnei Brak or Yershalayim.

We then returned back to Geulah. While Linda purchased some gifts and necessities,I was able to find a minyan for Mincha and Maariv in a seforim store ( not Manny’s which had closed already for Channukah).I was asked to be the Shaliach Tzibur among a minyan that comprised Litvishe, Chasidishe and MO/RZ. I thought after my silent Shemoneh Esreh of all of the talk here about integration of BTs and I thought that noone in that minyan even raised a boo aboout my serving as the Shlaliach Tzibbur.FWIW, I thought that the kavanah during those two tefilos was simply awesome. We hope to take in a few tours and return to Geulah and Meah Shearim for some serious sefarim shopping. This Shabbos, we will be in one of our favorite neighborhoods=Bayat Vagan, the home of YU’s Gruss/Torah Shragah campus. Michlala and Yeshivas Kol Torah. I hope that we will get a chance to sample the davening around the neighorbood and attend many shiurim with our daughter on Monday.

— Posted Dec 19, 4:22 PM

At the risk of going beyond a travelogue, I will preface and close this post with two stories, with a Dvar Torah interspaced in between them.

R Berel Wein relates in this week’s Dvar Torah that his father, a Litvishe rav, visited EY in the 1920s. When he returned, he talked excitedly about the cultivation and development of EY.When he was asked whether the farmers wore kipot, he responsed that his eyes were so wet with tears because of the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to see EY being developed and cultivated by Jews that he was blinded as to whether he could see the presence or absnece of kipot.This morning, we went to the Museum of the Palmach in Tel Aviv. It is an interactive museum that depicts the training and activities of the Palmach, the shock troops of the Haganah and the predecessors to the IDF. When I saw the young men and women who died for the protection of the entire Yishuv and their butchery by the Arabs, I thought of RYBS’s words that any Jew who died in those conflicts and in any of Israel war’s died Al Kiddush HaShem. On the way home, the tour guide, a frum Jew described how R Aryeh Levin ZTL , ustilized the Goral HaGra to identify the remains of fighters who had been killed and buried in a manner whereby it was otherwise impossible to identify the names of the victims. One can read more about this in the wonderful book “A Tzaddik in Our Time”, but I was brought to tears by the description of this incident. While one can call such a museum the secular Israeli version of Tom Brokaw’s books on the generation that fought WW2, IMO, the actions of R Levin ZTL and the statements of R Wein’s father as well as the words of RYBS place what could have been a totally secular Zionist museum into a Torah context.

Back to the travelogue. We then returned to Geulah and Meah Shearim. I bought some sefarim in Manny’s, an incredible store, and davened Mincha/Maariv in the same location . We then met our daughter’s roommate and her parents for dinner. Over dinner, we agreed that we enjoyed spending money on items that we might not be so ready to pay for in the States because it was a way of supporting Acheinu Bnei Yisrael BEY-a form of Tzedakah, so to speak.

— Posted Dec 20, 5:31 PM

19 comments on “Steve Brizel’s Eretz Yisroel Travel-blog

  1. B’H, we are back. We knew that we had to scramble to get to the airport when Egged, Nesher and almost all of the cabs were shut down because of the snowstorm that hit Yerushalayim. However, our hosts found us a cab and we made it to the airport and flew back and arrived early this AM. As we shopped for a few items in Supersol, I commented to Linda that it would have been nice to have shopped at the Shefa Mall supermarket and brought back these items.

  2. Getting back on track here, Steve, I’ve enjoyed your travel log tremendously. Thanks for schlepping the rainboots for my daughter to Bayit Vegan – looks like she got them just in time, B”H.

  3. No reasonable definition of Orthodoxy could include YCT. YCT is bold about many things but not apparently bold enough to describe its beliefs, mission, and program to the outside world without obfuscation.

    I guess it’s a compliment to Orthodoxy that such poseurs want to be labelled as Orthodox.

  4. I agree with Steve. So much of what has come out of YCT’s rabbis is problematic, and YCT has not dealt with it. Rabbi Kleinberg has written that God is imperfect and that one can pray in a Reform temple at times, Rabbi Linzer has written that perhaps Halacha can be bent, one YCT rabbi has undertaken gay advocacy and encourages homosexual expression…Rather than get upset at others who note these problems and many others, YCT should do some introspection and see if it is on the derech and perhaps needs to refocus its message.

  5. Dear R Helfgott-thank you for your kind words. I hope that your rebbe RAl will continue to give shiurim at Gush, Gruss and elsewhere and enjoy a refuah shelemah. I enjoyed your work on a book of letters on RYBS.

    I have read much about YCT’s leaders, hashkafa, their view towards Mesorah and Psak the actions and views of YCT’s graduates in the field and students that have caused me much cause for concern as to their fealty to the Mesorah and that of any Gadol. I invite all readers of this blog to check out YCT’s own website and the blogs of its students before commenting here or elsewhere on this issue. Unfortunately, I stand by what I have written on that issue.

  6. DEar Steve: I found your travel log about your visit to israel and your visits to Yeshivot and rebbeim and neighborhoods very inspring.
    I have been saddened and pained, however, that you had not applied the important insight that you wrote: “I walked out resolved with a determination and a resolve that no one should ever put down a Beis Medrash, Yeshivah , etc without spending some time on the inside.” to your very harsh criticisms of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah over the years. I hope that you will put this approach into practice in the future. We welocme you to join us for some learning in our beit medrash learning in Hilchos Niddah and other areas of Torah whenever you would like to visit.
    Kol tuv and safe flight back

  7. Menachem-thanks for the offer, but unfortunately, we are are heading “back” to the US ( as opposed to “home”) tomorrow. This morning, I woke up quite early and decided to go with my wife and a friend to Kever Rachel on an armored bus with an armed guard. It was depresssing seeing the security fence that snakes around Kever Rachel. However, once inside, I decided to learn for a while until we returned to the bus. Once again, there were groups of all kinds of Jews learning Talmud, Halacha and Tehilim. A woman from Efrat gave a shiur on Tehilim 82 to the women. When we left for the bus, I thought of the words of the Ramban in his introduction to Sefer Shmos-the book of our exodus and redemption. Leaving Kever Rachel and returning to Ir HaKodesh where there is so much Kedushah , so many yeshivos, shuls and homes under construction and more people learnong Torah than in any time in Jewish history has left an indellible impression on us.

    anyone who has taken a bus or cab in Yeryushalayim knows that one can traverse centuries in less than five minutes. After leaving Kever Rachel, my wife and I then went to the newly revamed Yad Vashem. I was very dissapointed in what I saw there. I recall reading R Y Rosenblum’s columns and his critique about the absolute absence of any Torah content ( except for a shul with some Klei Kodesh). I can’t vouch for whether the Charedi communituies were invited to submit examples of spiritual resistance during the Holocaust, but IMO, Yad Vshem is flawed and resembles a theme park of the Holocaust that omits any real Torah content. I highly recommend the Holocaust museum in NYC at Battery Park which has far more Torah content than Yad Vashem. ( I leave it to others to comment on the content of the Holocaust Museum in DC and for another theme as to whether Holocaust education, etc is a proper or effective way of imparting Jewish continiuty. FWIW, I have grave doubts as to its efficacy in this regard.).

    We then ate lunch with friends in Samhedria Murchevet, another neighborhood that has become Charedi over the years and ran to the Kotel in the pelting rain for Mincha/Maariv. It was a sad way to say goodbye to Yerushaliyim until the next time that we return Bmhareh Vyameinu.

    As I close this travelogue, I realize that these are only my personal impressions. Yet, I urge anyone who can to travel to EY and soak in as much of the Kedushas HaAretz, its Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. I think that we did and we are returning, albeit with heavy hearts, as if we are leaving our home.

  8. Steve, glad you’re having such an enlightening trip. If you’ll be passing through Beit Shemesh feel free to look me up. (I can you give you, first hand, a different perspective on some of the issues you’ve discussed.)

  9. Belle-I agree with you 100%. Those who dismiss the Charedi world do not realize that it is a bustling, dynamic and multi faceted world that focuses first and foremost on Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. Those of us whose port of entry into Torah observance was from the MO side of the teshuvah revoluition can only be inspired by seeing their single handed devotion at all costs. I consider that a walking and talking Mussar Haskel for all of us.

  10. IMO, no one should ever say anything about this world unless and until they have experienced it in a manner that goes way beyond the superficial manner of a tourist.

    Exactly, Steve. Exactly.

  11. I dare say, Steve, that you now understand us “right wing” baalei teshuva, we who became frum through the Neves, Eyahts, OS, and Aish kiruv orgs, and who do not identify with MO as a “shitta”. We were inspired by the same elevated people you are inspired by. The “charedi” population in E”Y is not one-dimensional, the right wing BT schools do not “push” a way of thinking. However, they are magnetic because they live, or strive to live, with Emes.

    I am impressed by your honesty and your genuine openness to new ways of thinking or doing, even when they happen to be to the “right” of where you may be standing. I am especially impressed with your acknowledgment that the charedi are not living in the dark ages, for example, that they do use technology, only when and how they deem it appropriate. That the charedim are backward is a slur that anyone who is inside the “charedi” circles knows is ridiculous.

  12. Today, we spent the better chunk of our day going thru a day of classes at Michlala. We attended her classes on Chumash ( Parshas Vayeshev), Navi ( Melachim I) Beis HaLevi and Halacha ( the halachic day).Each class was scintillating. HerBeis Halevi teacher may be known to some readers of the NY Times Magazine as one of the Yale Five who went on from there together with her husband to Harvard LS.While her husband learns in Aish’s Kollel, she teaches at Michlala and also practices law in Jerusalem.Her Navi teacher attended Ramaz. Her husband learns in a kollel run by R C Illson Her halacha rebbe attended Gush/RIETS and Ohr HaChaim. Tomorrow, my wife will be taking an early bus to Kever Rachel. We hope to go back to the Kotel before we leave . If someone were to ask me what message what I would convey, it would be that the Charedim know exactly how and what technological means to take from contemporary society and how to reject what they deem inappropriate, even if that means that the outside world rejects and scorns at them for their POV. They may have internalized the hashkafic battle between the Chashmonaim and the Hellenists in a way that all of us could well do to learn from in some way and adopted the same as a hashkafic article of faith. The mistaken notion that Charedim are “the Jewish Amish” is exactly that-a profound mistake. IMO, no one should ever say anything about this world unless and untill they have experienced it in a manner that goes way beyond the superficial manner of a tourist.

  13. Steve,

    So glad O.S. is only servicing post-college students now. Cause that means NCSY can stop recruiting for them, since those are future high school grads who they service, not college ones! Better tell “Rabbi Dave” Felsenthal. He is clearly not aware of this. And how were the Ulpan classes? Or should I say, Ulpan class? Be careful you don’t miss it — it’s for an hour during the traditional break between 1-3.

  14. Two neighborhoods that I view ( and I am sure that I am not alone in this regard) are Geulah and Meah Shearim. I would add Mattersdorf as well to that list. When we asked directions for such a seemingly simple question as the directions to the residence of R Scheinberg or a bus line, every response was so polite , with a smile and displayed such chesed.

    Since my last post, we spent last Shabbos in Bayit Vagan, another fascinating neighorhood that is the home of Yeshivas Kol Torah, Michlala, Machon Lev, YU’s Gruss Kollel and Yeshivas Torah Shraga and Chorev as well as Seminar Yerushalayim, Darchei Binah and Afikei Torah. There is a pizza store ( Trevi) owned by a Ben Torah who learns two sedarim a day . It is a beautiful neigborhood. We finally had some rain. Our host and I spent some time going thru the relevant halachos in the Rambam and Mishnah Brurah as to whether enough rain had fallen to warrant a special bracha. The Siddurim for EY published by both ArtScroll and Feldheim include special tefilos to be inserted in case of an absence of rain and a special bracha when rain finally falls. All in all, we had a wonderful Shabbos.

    Today, we toured the Begin Museum,which is an interactive review of PM Begin’s career beginning with his birth in Brisk. In the videos showm, there is ample evidence that Begin received much of his support across the religious and Sephardic communities. We then returned to Geulah-Meah Shearim, with a pit stop for Maariv at the seforim store near Uri’s and then to a shuk within Meah Shearim on a side street-Ein Yaakov.It is an amazing look into an awe inspiring community that simply utilizes the best of modern technology ( computers and cell phones) while adamantly rejecting the worst of modern culture. There are yeshivos, chaderim, girls schools, kolellim and stores that sell all sorts of Tashmishei Kedusha and Seforim as well as household items and skilled craftsment within and on the streets branching off from the shuk. You will see young men excorting a father or grandfather to shul or returning from a seder in yeshiva as well. It is the Meah Shearim that is beyond where the tours go.

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