(see Part I here)
On Monday evening I walked with a few friends north along the beach promenade into Yafo (Jaffa). We peeked into a couple of interesting stores and took a gander at a suspended tree, heard chazaras hashatz for minchah from a small shul, and returned to the hotel. We saw the end of sunset over the water; it was beautiful. I never get to see sunset, since minchah/maariv is always at the same time; it was a beautiful sight. (I had davened minchah earlier, and I davened maariv later.)
Seeing the Mediterranean is a special thrill for me. I grew up and attended elementary school right by the Atlantic, and I really miss the ocean in Allentown, but beyond that it's the Mediterranean – so crucial to Torah, so essential to our history. And I was able to make the berachah, Asher asah es haYam haGadol. It was very moving.
While we're on the nature topic – the flowers here are also striking. My favorite is bougainvillea, for both beauty and nostalgia. Yeshivat Kerem b'Yavneh, where I studied for two years after high school, has huge, beautiful bougainvillea. And our guide, Rachela, taught me something: What we usually think of as the bougainvillea flower is actually a leaf!
Dinner was at Le Relais Jaffa, and was excellent. I think there must be a rule about every mission having a meal in a tent; I'm pretty sure each mission I've attended has eaten at least one meal that way.
GoDaven.com is a great resource; courtesy of that site and mapa.co.il, a couple of us went to shacharis at a Belz beis medrash (study hall) a little over a mile (1.8 km) from the hotel. People talk about the secular character of Tel Aviv, but we walked along R' Yitzchak Elchanan and R' Shmuel Mohliver, past R' Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, and along R' Shafar and R' Mazeh.
The graffiti was disturbing, particularly the fact that so much of it was in English. Our guide says it doesn't bother her, which I find interesting.
I love Birchas Kohanim, always feeling great kavvanah (focus), and this morning was no exception; it was wonderful.
We did debunk one myth: I had always heard that the Belzer chassidim daven shmoneh esreih (the amidah) quickly to avoid losing kavvanah, but this was not true of the chassidim with whom we davened. It wasn't very long, but it sure wasn't rapid-fire.
We then went to Beit ZOA to hear Aluf Benn. I was disappointed that I didn't get a chance to look around, since my Cousin Jacques (about whom I posted last week) was president and my grandfather Moses Torczyner was very involved – but Aluf Benn was fantastic.
It is cliche but true that many UJC speakers tend toward the dovish, and it is certainly true that Benn, as editor of HaAretz, is to the left, but his presentation was balanced, and, more to the point, fantastic – a shrewd analysis of the American and Israeli elections and likely results and impacts for the Middle East. It was extremely lucid and appealing for neophytes as well as knowledgeable people, and he balanced it with views both left and right without discernible bias. I had a chance to ask him a couple of questions re: Gilad Shalit (Benn does not see him being freed soon, because of the extreme demands Hamas is making for his release), and re: any long-term fallout from the Acco riots (Benn doesn't see that happening).
We then went to Kikar Rabin. Today is the 13th anniversary of his assassination by Yigal Amir, adding to the relevance of the visit. I was no fan of Rabin before November 1995, but I vividly recall that night, when I was driving back from my leining job in Massapequa, and I turned on the radio and heard about the assassination. I remember crying in shock, and fearing the split I was certain this would create among Jews in Israel and everywhere.
In ensuing days the shock grew as I found out that it was Yigal Amir, whom I knew in Kerem b'Yavneh, and next to whom I sat for a time in Rav Silver's shiur. He was just a normal, quiet guy in yeshiva. He participated in the Purim shpiel the year after my Shanah Bet year, acting as a marathoner who took a short cut across a field and sank in the mud. He was a normal guy, and the yeshiva was certainly no hotbed of political activity; like anything that would take away from learning, politics were never on the agenda. But he read stuff or heard stuff, and decided to take matters into his own hands.
Thirteen years later, in my view, history shows that Rabin's Oslo accords were indeed wrong, that Israel has no sincere partner for peace, that concessions like those of Oslo only embolden our enemies. Witness the results of Disengagement. But to murder Rabin...
This afternoon was Bet heTefutzot, which I love for the concept of it, and the Palmach Museum, which was incredible. More on this later... we're doing Daf again soon.