A View of the World Through the Thoughts and Lens of Scott Kasper

Posts tagged “Judaism

We’re Heading Back: Israel 2012

It is with deeply mixed emotions that I write the first entry in the 2012 edition of my Journey to Israel blog. For any of you who may want to see the photos and read the thoughts that I shared two years ago, you can find it here: Israel Journey 2010

Why mixed emotions? Rachel, Matt, Ryan, Jake, my parents-in-law, and I are returning to Israel tomorrow to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my son Ryan. This is, in many respects, a Jewish parent’s dream! A little more than a year ago, as we started to plan the festivities related to this right of passage, Ryan declared that he wanted to become bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. We discussed this with him to make sure that he understood that we could not do both! He could not have this wonderful (and costly!) trip to Israel and also have a big blow out bar mitzvah like he is accustomed here in NJ. We asked him to think about it, and he did.

About 30 seconds later, Ryan declared that his preference was to return to Israel and read Torah at the Kotel, or Western Wall as you might know it.

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He read there once before. At the age of 10 he read Torah as a part of the ceremony we held in honor of the b’nai mitzvot of his brother, Matt, and cousin, Noah. He did a remarkably beautiful job reciting the small passage that he had taught himself…and apparently it made quite an impact on him and his sense of Judaism.

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So off we go. But wait…what about my parents, and my brothers, and Rachel’s siblings? What about Ryan’s 15 first cousins? What about the numerous close friends and other family members with whom we would have found great joy in celebration?

Here’s what I have come to realize. At the heart of it all, this is not about how I feel. It’s not about any of those important people in our lives who will feel disappointment in missing this occasion. It’s not about the money or the party after the service. At the core of it all, it’s about the fact that this young man feels so passionate about becoming bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, that he is willing to sacrifice those celebrations for the opportunity to bond with the deepest roots of his heritage. How could we say no?

I had a feeling this would happen! In 2010, we were in Israel for three weeks. We stayed in a small village in Northern Israel near Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret), called Yav Ne’el. We lived in a very nice rental home and used it as home base for daily excursions around the country.

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One day I realized that Ryan had been wearing a Yarmulke (kippa) each of the previous several days, and as I noticed him placing it upon his head as we prepared to leave the house for the day I told him he didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it. “I know, Dad” he told me. “But it just feels right if I do!”

So, as much as I know that those who could not join us will miss this, and as much as I will clearly miss them, how could we deny this opportunity to Ryan? It will admittedly feel odd to be at my son’s bar mitzvah service without my parents, my brothers, Rachel’s siblings and their families, and others who are truly meaningful in my life. However, I am confident that we are giving my son a gift that will remain inside of him for eternity, and do so hoping that he will pass that gift along to my grandchildren some day as well! I hope, if that happens, that I will once again return to Israel to join them.

Stay tuned over the next 9 days, and join me and my family and we continue this journey. We are all extremely excited and have been looking forward to this trip for quite some time! I’m know that there will be many thoughts and photographs to share along the way…they will range from personal, to political, to religious, and more. Upon our return, those thoughts and images will be turned into a book that I will give to Ryan so that he will have a permanent record of his Dad’s perspective on this important journey!

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A Great Miracle Happened There

Well, tonight was the last night of Chanukah…and I would be remiss if I didn’t add just a few photos and a few comments about this wonderful festival of lights. As the popular kids song goes, “one for each night, they shed a sweet light to remind us a days long ago….”

This next image is fun! It may not be a photographic masterpiece, but I must say that it’s wonderful for a few reasons.

If you haven’t figured it out, it’s a dreidel surrounded by Skittles and Reece’s pieces. So why is that so special. Well, most dreidels in the US have four Hebrew letters (Nun, Gimel, He, Shin) that begin each of the words of the sentence Nes Gadol Haya Sham, or “a great miracle happened there”. “There” refers to the Land of Israel and the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the great miracle of Chanukah took place. When we traveled to Israel this summer we bought a few dreidels and brought them home with us. Since the miracle of lights happened in Israel, it would make sense, therefore, that the letters on a dreidel purchased in Israel would symbolize that the great miracle happened “here”. The letter Peh that appears on the dreidel in the picture above is the first letter in the word “Po” which completes the sentence Nes Gadol Haya Po, or “A great miracle happened here”.

Why the Skittles and Reece’s Pieces? Well, in our house we need to be creative when it comes to certain food related traditions. Dreidel is a game that we typically play to win chocolate coins, or gelt. It’s a bit like poker…everyone antes up by placing candy coins in the middle of the table before each spin. The letter on the dreidel that lands facing up dictates the spin’s outcome:

  • Nun – get nothing
  • Gimel – wins the whole pot
  • He – wins half the pot
  • Shin (or Pe) – put one in

Imagine the piles of chocolate that the lucky dreidel spinner can walk away with!! However, when one’s kids are forced to be carbohydrate conscious it becomes easier and more fun when the loot they win in the annual dreidel competition are less than 1 carb each…fun holiday tradition that can be diabetes friendly…it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Happy Chanukah everyone!!!


Safed (Tsefat)

Okay….for those of you following this blog I will have to teach you how to pronounce this when I get home…There is no easy way for me to do so in writing, and even the Garmin said it differently each time…in any case, that’s where we went today.

Tsefat is a very old city in Northern Galilee that has grown to be a thriving center for two things….first, it is an artist colony. Second, it is a center for Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Let’s talk about each of those separately.

As we made our way toward the old city, we wandered into a bakery…OMG!!!! The smells from the fresh baked breads and pastries was out of this world. I bought a big bag of sorted rugelach for the kids to share. If you don’t know what a rugelach is, click here to read more. If you do know, or once you find out, you’ll understand why I also bought a few extra for me…chocolate and cinnamon. The only thing better than the way the pastries smelled, was the way they tasted. Packaged ruggies from Wegman’s will just never be the same again!

From there we continued wandering until we found the Artist Colony. To get there we had to descend a few steps, but once at the bottom we were faced with a variety of genres and shops from which to choose…we chose the one with the biggest sign…”Glass Blowing: Live Demonstration”.

After stopping into a few shops along the way, we finally made it to the glass blowing shop of Sheva Chaya Shaiman. She was a very pleasant young woman, originally from Denver and a graduate of Princeton University, who immediately started to show us some of her favorite water color paintings, and then began to demonstrate how she works with glass. As she transformed a rod of glass into a set of glass eye glasses, she explained the connection that her art has to the forces of nature and Judaism. While we were all impressed with her art, some felt that her attempt at teaching was a bit odd….personally I liked it, and since this is my story that’s all that matters!!!

After the demo, we wandered through the streets where some galleries were large, almost museum like, and others were simply small one room cut-outs from the wall with a roll down door that doubled as the store front when closed. Behind the door, when opened, are the tiny shops that consist of a single glass counter in which hand made crafts, jewelry and art was displayed. As we wandered some of us saw pieces of art in which we were interested, but in trying not to buy the first thing we saw, we pushed onward through the maze of shops and galleries.

After lunch, which consisted of over-priced salads, pasta and quiche (I think it was Ryan who said “why did you come to Israel to get French food for lunch?”), we made pour way back through the shops.

One of the first ones we stopped at was that of a silversmith who made hand crafted jewelry. One of the pendants he had was crafted in the shape of two hand touching. The space between the hands resembles the Hebrew letter Aleph. In Hebrew, each letter also has a numerical value, and the letter Aleph is also the number one. Therefore, these two hands joined form the letter Aleph, which is one….two combine to make one. I liked not only the artwork itself, but also the symbolism behind it. As I mentioned in previous entries, my wedding anniversary was earlier this week, so this became a perfect gift for Rachel.

The symbolic meaning behind the two hands is a simple example of Jewish mysticism, or kabbalah. To know and understand kabbalah requires a great deal of study. In recent years it has been introduced to pop culture by celebrities such as Madonna and Demi Moore. I have always been interested in this stuff, but since I don’t understand much of the mainstream aspects of the Jewish religion, I have not ventured far into the teachings of kabbalah.

That said, I did also buy myself something today….a double silver pendant with a Magen David, or Jewish star in the front behind which there is a Hebrew engraving of a song written several hundred years ago by a famous Rabbi. The song itself is supposed to inspire peace. In addition, the first letter of each line of the song combines to spell the Hebrew name of God.

Anyway – once we were done in Tsefat, we headed toward home. Along the way we stopped to let the kids take a quick swim in the Sea of Galilee. Now, here is where I will know those of you who read through the end of this long entry….this is the humorous part. When we were done swimming I brought the kids to a public changing room to get back into dry clothes….we had forgotten to bring towels. The place was nasty! Before we left the room, Jake told me he had to go the bathroom. Knowing that the stalls were even nastier than the rest of the place, I specifically asked him whether he just needed to pee, or whether he also needed to……you can fill in the blank. A few minutes later I hear a little voice say “Dad, there’s no toilet paper in here, and I really need some toilet paper!”

Ugh!!! I looked in every nasty, filthy stall in the place and there was not a single shred of paper to be found. I told him to sit right there (like he was going anyplace else) and that I would be right back. Immediately I did what any father would do in such a situation….I ran to the car to get Rachel!!! Its not that I could not have handled the situation….I would have glad sacrificed my socks, or torn my shirt into several smaller pieces to help clean up the situation. However, why do that when your wife speaks Hebrew and can ask one of the Israelis in the area whether or not they have a few pieces of TP that they would be willing to share with woefully under-prepared Americans. My plan worked….not only did one guy have some, but he had wet wipes….even better!!!!

Thus ends another day in the adventures of the Kasper’s trek through Israel….tomorrow involves hot springs and a water park…I’m sure we’ll get ourselves into some interesting predicament to report on….until then….Lila Tov (remember, that means good night).