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To My Beloved Son

General Doron's Eulogy for His Son, Eran

August 29, 2009 9:45 PM

Chana's Note: Last week , I wrote about an incredible individual and war hero, General Doron Almog. His dedication to his severely handicapped son, Eran brought him to establish the village of Aleh Negev Nachalat Eran for Eran and others like him. Doron had hoped that his son would live out his life contentedly in this village, but his hopes came to an abrupt end when Eran died at the age of 23. Below is the touching eulogy, of this special father, expressing the depth of true love to his departed son.

To our beloved son Eran,

I so much wanted to see you smile and frolic in the open spaces of the village we built. I dreamed of teaching you to ride a horse, running with you through the yellow-green expanses of the Negev, riding together on a jeep, seeing you enjoy the burgers Savta (Grandma) Margalit prepared for you, swimming together in the pool, hugging you, kissing you and seeing your blue eyes light up with a small smile of pleasure.

I must have asked for too much. You, who never in your life complained, who never called me Abba [Daddy] – your silent shout burned within me like a torch. I wanted to create for you a beautiful world, challenging, yet surrounded and protected with the warmth of true love.

We all know, Eran, that you were the strength that built Aleh Negev. I was just your emissary, my beloved son.

When you were born we called you Eran, after my brother Eran who never returned from that war. After my brother Eran, who lay bleeding on the battlefield for a week before he was rescued. And I swore that I would never ever leave you, my beloved son, to bleed alone on the battlefield.

We wanted you to be brave and smart, sensitive, amusing and successful, like my brother Eran who never returned from the war. We had dreams and expectations that were shattered.

You had other plans. From that terrible war that took my brother, Eran, you brought us to another war, a difficult and cruel battle that we had never before experienced. You led us down paths that we had never trod. You taught us the most powerful lesson of our lives. A lesson in which we were like grasshoppers. And in this lesson you placed in front of us a challenge that seemed to reach the sky. We came to this lesson with the measure we were used to – the ruler of achievement. You established a new measure – the ruler of sensitivity.

My beloved son, Eran, you were the greatest professor of my life. You were the teacher and educator who taught me, daily, a new lesson that no other person besides you could have taught. You placed in front of me the greatest challenge of my life. You urged me to change the world's standards. To raise the banner of sensitivity and love on behalf of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society, on behalf of children like you whose voices will never be heard. I wanted to be the best student in your classroom. To receive from you at the end of each lesson just a small smile of pleasure. That smile was the compass that guided me ever further.

And now you have left us. You were so young, only twenty-three-years old. And I must continue to navigate my life according to your unwritten will, through a stormy ocean of pain and tears, holding on tightly to the magnificent compass you built during the twenty-three-years of your life. That compass is what guided us to fulfill the dream you sought to create on behalf of disabled children and adults, to forge a new path within a society of achievement, a society that places so much value on the banner of personal success and forgets sometimes that there are so many people like you who cannot join in this race. The elderly and the sick, the disabled and the handicapped, who, in their mute silence, wave your banner – the banner of human sensitivity.

And you wanted to teach us to look the painful truth in the eye, without shame, without guilt, without hypocrisy and without phoniness. You wanted to teach us that loving without a commitment to uncompromised giving is not love. You wanted to teach us that the lofty ideal of "love your friend as you love yourself" is a hollow phrase if we do not translate it into backbreaking, exhausting and challenging action on behalf of children and people like you.

With your silent shout you asked me each day: "Abba [Daddy], do you remember? Within your daily pursuit of new achievements, do you remember that your value as a human being is not measured only by material realizations that glorify the ego, but also by the measure of sensitivity that you demonstrate toward those who have no ego at all?"

You placed in front of us a very lofty challenge, my dear son. A challenge that most of the time we found very difficult to cope with. You established the challenge of human and social sensitivity on behalf of the silent voices of people like you.

Your will and bequest are clear to me, my beloved son. To always remember that the chain of humanity is measured by its weakest link, and that this link can be the source of our greatest strength if we continue to navigate our way with the magnificent compass you entrusted in our hands. You made me promise to be strong for you. Today, I understand that you meant that I be strong in fulfilling your bequest. Today, I know that I will have to be twice as strong to continue the journey.

May you rest in peace, my beloved son,

A pure angel,

A special spirit.

I will never stop longing for one more hug,

For one more look from your beautiful eyes,

For one more smile.

I miss you so much, my beloved son.

With all my love forever,

Your Abba,

Doron Almog

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Inspired by the General

August 23, 2009

One of the inspiring individuals that I met in my recent Switzerland trip was General Doron Almog.

On the outside the general appears to be the great war hero and strategic general that he was—smart, in control, decisive with a somewhat tough exterior. But on the inside, once the general began talking, emerged a story of what makes the Jewish heart so special.

Chassidic teachings explain the meaning of "bittul"--the ability to do what is right by transcending self-concerns. General Doron Almog's life personifies this commitment.

The article I wrote about him is featured this week in our "Jewish Life" section — click here here to read.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Is Diversity Positive?

August 16, 2009

One of the nice things about traveling is the ability to experience the different flavors and textures of Jewish life in all kinds of communities.

And so, on a recent trip out of town, I found myself sitting one afternoon at a café with three friends.

This particular neighborhood with a bustling Jewish population has always amazed me, it being a mixture of so many paradoxes and dichotomies. It was an interesting mix of new and old, modern and traditional, big city cosmopolitanism at the same time as small, old shtetl village style.

True to the neighborhood's mosaic, its residents too, though all considering themselves part of this "community," run an interesting gamut of religious commitment and diversity.

And so, over the course of lunch with my friends, natives of the neighborhood, our discussion turned to diversity—its advantages and detriments.

Meira, with her conservative outlook on life, was the first to express her feelings. "I find the diversity in our community problematic. I wish our neighborhood was less diverse. I want my children to attend schools with children from families who have the same value system as mine does. As much as I love this community, I feel it is very confusing to young children to be exposed to so many choices."

It didn't surprise me that Yaakova, who usually has a unique perspective and more open views, disagreed. "It's the diversity that I love about this community. The fact that no one needs to squeeze themselves into a rigid box, that 'everything goes,' that people can choose to express their personal choices and live according to their personal standards—that's what I find so compelling, unique and positive."

I expected Naomi, who usually is very opinionated, to follow along Meira's line of thinking. But she declined to participate in the discussion, wanting instead to get on with our lunch and afternoon plans.

I digested the opinions of my friends. It occurred to me that they were both correct. Diversity can be a boon or a drawback—depending on its cause.

"I think diversity is great for a community," I suggested. "But diversity can only work if there is a definite set of ideals and values that people aspire to, irrespective of what they are personally ready to commit to in their own lifestyles. These ideals need to be clear. But if diversity is simply the default because there is a lack of a value system, it leads to confusion and a lack of clarity."

At this point our tuna melts and veggie wraps were being served and instead of our philosophical ruminations, we all got busy with more practical and relevant matters—the delicious diversity found on our plates.

So, what's your opinion?

When is diversity positive? When does it break the barriers of bland, gray sameness and add flavor to a community? And when does it break down the morals or values of a community and create confusion?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Words Whispered on a Dark Russian Night

August 9, 2009

From the moment that our eyes met and locked on Friday, at the first lecture that I gave at the retreat organized by the EJSN (European Jewish Study Network) in Davos, Switzerland, I sensed that we would be speaking more throughout the weekend.

Evelyn's eyes were intelligent, deep. They were eyes that had seen and experienced many of life's journeys. If eyes are the mirror to the soul, Evelyn's soul was yearning, searching.

As if on cue, immediately after my lecture Evelyn approached me. She confided that she was becoming more religious, but it was difficult. "I am all on my own," she said in a subdued voice. "Sometimes everyone in my family just doesn't understand. It isn't easy."

There are things that need time to emerge. It was clear that Evelyn had begun to open up, but she wasn't ready to share more. Not just yet…

"When I was a young child," Evelyn began over Sunday lunch, "for a long time I lived with my grandparents in the former Soviet Union. They had a one bedroom apartment and every evening they would pull out their extra bed and set it up for me in the salon.

"My grandfather was religious—as religious as one could be in communist Russia." Evelyn sighs.

"I have one very clear memory of my childhood experience. My grandfather owned a coveted transistor radio, which of course in communist Russia was illegal. In the dark of the night, he would surreptitiously take it out. He would put his ear to it and listen to the Israeli station. His eyes would sparkle just from hearing Hebrew words, from hearing words spoken by Jewish people living far away, in our promised homeland.

"This nightly routine was his lifeblood; it fueled his spiritual longing and encouraged him to continue on.

"Every night at exactly 12:00, his eyes would light up and he would become very excited. He would wake me, saying, 'Shtei uf, Chavale!' Wake up, Chavale! He always called me that, Chavale, my Jewish name, whenever we were alone, and strangers weren't within earshot. He'd repeat, louder, 'Shtei uf, Chavale, Shtei uf! Wake up, Chavale, wake up! We're about to listen to broadcasts from our brothers and sisters in our homeland!'

"Those words became my grandfather's mantra. He said this to me decades ago, when I was but a little girl. But the words, expressed with such tender love, became seared into my very soul, 'Shtei uf, Chavale!'"

Evelyn takes a break from her story and the waiters come by to serve the next course. She takes these moments to collect her thoughts and calm her emotions.

"Years later, I was reunited with my parents, in Europe. My parents, though, were very different from my grandparents. They were completely secular, oblivious to anything smacking of Judaism. In their home, there was no love or sentimental warmth towards religion. Other than memories from my grandparents' home, I grew up completely unaware of Jewish traditions."

Evelyn sips her water and takes a deep breath.

"And then, as they tend to do, the years went by quickly. I married a wonderful man and before I knew it, I had a daughter who was turning bat-mitzvah.

"Something inside of me awakened. It whispered to me relentlessly. I wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion in my daughter's life. And I wanted to do it completely properly.

"By a set of events of Divine providence, I was put into contact with a Kabbalistic sage, Rabbi Ashlag, who was visiting from Israel. I asked him for his suggestions. Before responding, he asked to see my ketubah (marriage contract).

"The rabbi took one look at my ketubah, pointed to where it says my name, daughter of my father, and declared, 'This man is not your father.'

"I was in a state of utter shock and emotional disarray. I left his study, returned home and discussed the whole matter with my husband.

"After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, my husband informed me that he had found out this information a few years ago, but had seen no point in causing me distress. But it was true—the man to whom my mother was married was not my birth father. She had divorced my birth father in Russia, left the country and remarried. It finally dawned on me why I had stayed for those childhood years under the care of my grandparents, far away from my own parents.

"I returned to the rabbi. He arranged for a scribe to rewrite my ketubah and presented it to me before witnesses. He then gave me further instructions on how to celebrate my daughter's bat mitzvah.

"It was a beautiful event. But more than that, her becoming of age where she was now obligated in mitzvot opened up something deep within me. A new doorway of spiritual yearning and exploration had been awakened. I don't know how to explain it other than that my soul was aflame. It was pulling me. Yearning. Parched and craving spiritual irrigation.

"I began learning more. I became more and more connected with Torah, with Chabad, with mitzvot. At the same time," Evelyn takes a meaningful pause here, "a chasm developed between my husband and I. Don't get me wrong, Chana, he is a very nice man, and we're still very good friends. But eventually we grew so apart that we divorced. We each needed the space to go our own way.

"A few years ago, I again spoke with the Kabbalist rabbi. I said to him, 'Tell me, when you fixed my ketubah, did you change something in my marriage? It seems from that point on, it deteriorated.' He answered me, 'I did not make any changes in your marriage. The change was in you. Your name now reflected who you really are and gave you the freedom to connect to your essence."

Chava/Evelyn paused once again, for a few minutes. We were both deep in thought, digesting the import of her words.

"So, Chana, here I find myself now. At this beautiful weekend retreat, learning and growing. I'm committed to listening to my real inner self, to finding my soul. My children are now grown with children of their own. I am committed, too, to ensure that they too receive a Jewish education. I need to provide them with the education that I never had.

"And you know, my mother, too, is changing. She is older now, and lives in an apartment above mine. Slowly, slowly, I am introducing her, too, to the Jewish life of her parents. It is a slow, painstaking journey. But every Friday evening, she now comes down to my home and we light Shabbat candles together.

"Chana, I can't say that my journey is without bumps, or that it is easy. But I can say that I feel connected to a part of me that was dormant. I have awakened to be what I always wanted."

Chava continues, but her words are now said in almost a hushed whisper, with great emotion.

"Chana, I want to tell you that I believe that the words of my grandfather—those special words that I heard nightly as a young child, in the dark of his Russian apartment—those words have been the driving force throughout my life. He left me with an eternal message, a motto to get through life. I can still hear him saying it to me, in his tender, inspiring voice. 'Chavale, wake up! Stop sleeping through life. For a Jew, there is always eternal hope and faith, but you must wake yourself up.'

Chava is smiling now, those deep eyes are glistening. "And so, today, I try to live by his legacy—Shtei uf Chavale, shtei uf!"

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Everyone Has a Story

August 2, 2009

When I was invited a few weeks ago to lecture at a European retreat in Davos, Switzerland, that was hosted in the same luxury venue where the world economic leaders (including former president Bill Clinton) had met for their own economic summit a few years ago, I knew there was no way I'd refuse. The resort weekend was organized by Rabbi Sholom Liberow, director of the European Jewish Study Network (EJSN) and his wonderful wife, Leah. Aside from their sterling care and exceptional attention to details—both material and spiritual—the setting on the postcard picturesque Swiss Alps couldn't have been more awesome.

But truly, for me, there was an additional incentive to attend.

My father was born in Switzerland where, for many years, my grandfather served as chief rabbi in the city of Basil. Switzerland became a haven of refuge for my father's family during the perilous Holocaust years and one of the very few islands of normalcy in a sea raging with anti-Semitic hatred, persecution and death for European Jewry.

For me, in a tiny way, being a part of this program was almost a way of somehow paying back a debt of gratitude to my father's homeland.

A retreat weekend is always interesting, full of meaningful programs, and saturated with learning and spiritual growth. But for me, the most inspirational part of these weekends is meeting so many different people, from all over the world—in this case, from places as diverse as London, California, Tel Aviv, Italy, Amsterdam, Ranana, and Brussels.

Somehow the anonymity of a diverse group of strangers coming together from far and near, old and young, opens the channels of communication, awakens sleeping hearts and forges new bonds. Personal life stories begin flowing freely just as the choice wines at each meal.

Somehow, it's easier to open up to and share with someone who lives in another country, who in all likelihood you won't be meeting up with again sometime soon. And so, in hushed private conversations in corners of sumptuous rooms, or in open gregarious table talk over a Shabbat luncheon, you learn incredible stories about people's lives.

What never fails to impress me from these conversations is how extraordinarily special our people is. If you seek, you will discover that everyone has a story.

A story of heroism and bravery. A story of courage and faith. A story of inconceivable kindness. Or a story of return. But always a story with a rich and vibrant history.

Whether the story occurred to a parent, a bubby or zaidy, or a great-grandparent, our people's history is rich and replete with meaning.

History and present life choices intersect seamlessly as a beloved parent, bubby, or zaidy becomes instrumental in forging us into who we have become.

I hope to share some of these stories in the upcoming weeks. But here's a little story of how I was reminded of my own grandfather right on the Swiss Alps, in his homeland—in Davos, Switzerland.

One of my lectures over the weekend was on "relationships." I was more than a little taken aback when I noticed that one of the participants was a very elderly, married gentleman who could probably have lectured me on relationships! (There was another concurrent, more relevant workshop but he chose instead to attend mine).

The puzzle was solved, however, when he approached me gratefully after my talk.

"I knew your grandfather very well," he said, delighted. "Your grandfather was my rabbi and my teacher." He paused. "I still remember him well. It gives me great pleasure to hear his granddaughter lecturing."

I have often met people who knew or learned from my grandparents. But to meet someone there, in Switzerland, who knew them from so long ago, at a period in their lives when they were just beginning to build their family and when my own father was just a young boy, seemed particularly special. I wanted to ask him so much about my father's family, but in his typically reserved Swiss manner, he wasn't very forthcoming.

He shared only one bit of wisdom before the weekend was over. "Do not be so modest," he admonished me during one of the meals. "Remember who you come from. Walk upright, with great pride."

I think of his words. And I think it is a message that must reverberate within each of us. We each hold the treasured keys to a rich history. We each have a bubby or zaidy—or a bubby and zaidy's bubby or zaidy—in whom we can, and must, take pride.

Search deeply and you will uncover your own personal saga of courage and heroism. Cherish the stories and lessons from your past. Take pride in your personal stories and allow them to forge you into the person you wish to become.

And, at all times, remember from where you have come.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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