Jewish History Archives - Yoni Tours

Tisha B’Av and being a proud Jew

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On the Ninth day of the month of Av we have a day of mourning. On this day we fast, read the Megila of Eicha, and lamentations of different disasters that befell the Jewish people.

This day been observed for thousands of years. The date was picked due to the fact that both of the Jewish temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date.

The first Temple was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonian Empire, and the first Diaspora started. After 70 years, Jews were able to return to the land of Israel where they rebuilt the Temple and reinstated the Jewish Kingdom.

The second temple was Destroyed by the Roman Empire in the year 70 AD after 4 years of revolt by Jews against the Romans. This marked the beginning of the second Diaspora which we are still in today.

For thousands of years we have mourned the destruction of the Temple, and the dispersion of Jews from Israel.

Some people say that the Diaspora is over as most of the world’s Jews have returned to Israel and are in control of the land.

I believe that the Diaspora is a mindset that we are still stuck in.

This can be seen, for example, in many different policies that Israel adopts in regard to the Temple Mount.

Arabs can come and go as they please with no security checks. However, if someone Jewish wants to go up to the Temple Mount they can only at certain hours and only after a very thorough security check. Jews aren’t allowed to have anything or wear anything that ‘looks Jewish’ otherwise it will offend the Arabs. Israel doesn’t allow Jews to whisper prayers on the Temple Mount out of fear of how the Muslims would react.

After the terrorist attack on the Temple Mount last week in which Israeli Muslims smuggled guns onto the Temple Mount and killed two police officers, Israel placed metal detectors at the entrance and Muslims started to riot.

After a short period of time Israel gave in and removed the metal detectors, removing every form of Israeli control over what happens on the Temple Mount.

At the same time everyone has to go through metal detectors to get to the Kotel. The Kotel is not the holiest place for Jews, it just happens to be the closest that Jews can get to pray to the holiest place in Judaism which is the Temple mount.

I feel like all of this is result of the Diaspora mindset.

Every year I meet hundreds of young Jews from North America while guiding Birthright trips. Generally they come knowing that they are Jewish but little more than that.

After a week of learning about Judaism, Israel and Zionism they tell me that for the first time ever they are proud of being Jewish.  From many Israelis who join the trips I hear that they are proud of being Israeli but not very connected to the Jewish side.

Just like our ancestors had to spend 40 years in the desert to learn how to be a free people, I feel like we need to put work into being a people.

We need to build up on our Jewish pride and look for ways to bring all Jews together as opposed to separating into different sects.

When we can all exude pride in our heritage and religion and feel that we are unified, that will be a sign that the Diaspora is ending.

Yom Yerushalayim- Jerusalem Day

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It is Jerusalem day!

One of the more interesting holidays of the Israeli calendar. You are probably asking yourself- Why does Jerusalem get a day which receives nationwide recognition? And what exactly is Jerusalem day commemorating?

It is a day which is the result of thousands of years Jewish yearning, along with a sprinkling of relatively recent trauma from the War of Independence.

For thousands of years Jews worldwide have always prayed towards Jerusalem. During the times of the Diasporas Jews have always yearned to return to the city of Jerusalem and more specifically to Mt. Moria, the location of the destroyed Jewish temples. It was only natural that when the Jewish State of Israel would be declared that Jerusalem would be its center and capital.

During the War of Independence the Jerusalem area saw some of the most fierce fighting. The old city of Jerusalem with all of its holy sites was held under siege for over six months!!

On may 28th 1948 the Jewish forces in the Jewish quarter of the old city were taken captive by the Jordanian Legion.

At the end of the war the new city of Jerusalem was in Israeli hands and the old city of Jerusalem was part of Jordan. The Jordanians destroyed all of the abandoned Synagogues in the old city and once again the Jewish holy sites were unreachable.

This remained the state of affairs until the six day war.

On the first morning of the war, June 5th 1967, Jordanian forces moved into the Israeli parts of Jerusalem. Israel retaliated with a massive counterattack and within three days the old city and eastern Jerusalem was in Israel’s hands.

These battles over a relatively small area cost Israel a quarter of all the casualties in the war.
The reunification of Jerusalem was on the Jewish date 28th of Iyar which is when Jerusalem day is celebrated.

The reunification of Jerusalem and freedom of movement to the holy places was, to many, the recognition of ancient prophecies promising a return to Jerusalem!

On this day there are a large number of festivals and ceremonies which include: a large parade, a dance with flags throughout the old city, concerts and much more!

Of Harvesting Barley, Counting, and a Bloody Revolt against the Romans

Posted by | Archaeology, History, Holidays, Jewish History | No Comments

The period of time between the holiday of Passover and Shavuot is known as ‘Sefirat haOmer’.
The Torah orders us to count the 49 days separating the two holidays, Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot, commemorating receiving the An offering of barley was given in the Temple on each of the 49 days as this period coincides with the harvest of grains.

During the time of the Temple, the period of time between the holidays was an elongated celebration. This is very different from what happens now. Currently many traditions of mourning are kept for part of this period (from the first day until the 33rd of the 49 days).

Traditionally we learn that thousands of the students of Rabbi Akiva (circa 130 C.E.) perished from a divine plague during these 4 weeks as a punishment for acting disrespectfully towards each other.
How does this make sense? Rabbi Akiva is widely acclaimed for the statement, “ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” – love your neighbor as you would yourself. It doesn’t quite fit that specifically his students would disrespect each other to a point of receiving such a divine punishment.

Let’s take another look of what was going on at the time in the land of Israel and who the main players were.

60 years had passed since the great revolt against the Romans which had resulted in the destruction of the Temple and expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem. A widespread revolt had started. Lead by Shimon Bar Kochva, this revolt became known as the Bar Kochva revolt (132-136 C.E.). Rabbi Akiva was the main spiritual leader in Israel and supported the revolt.

A number of early successes against the Roman Empire lead to an independent Jewish territory in Judea for two years. This independence was eventually crushed by a force of more than six legions. The Roman Empire executed a swift and strong revenge against the Jews.

According to Cassius Dio (a Roman consul and historian), over 580,000 Jews were killed in the war. Those who survived were sold into slavery.

In addition to this widespread destruction, Hadrian took many steps to erase any chance of the Jews rising again. He executed many Jewish scholars, forbid the teaching and learning of Torah, and changed the name of the area of Judea and Samaria to Syria Palestina in an attempt to erase any memory of a Jewish homeland.

I suspect that the thousands of students who perished in such a short period of time where most likely fighting against the Roman legions.

Today we are still discovering secret hideouts that were used by Jewish fighters during the revolt! I recommend getting dirty and crawling/ climbing through the tunnels of the hideout in Hurvat Midras. This tunnel system in the area of Beit Guvrin shows one of the main Jewish tactics. Bar Kochva didn’t have the man-power or the weapons to take on a legion in a strait out battle. Instead, he used guerrilla tactics. After attacking Roman soldiers, the Jewish forces would escape into tunnel systems which were well hidden from sight. In the event that a Roman soldier did find the tunnel he would have to shed all of his weapons and armor to crawl in, rendering him defenseless.

As you travel to the ancient Jewish town, you can see the grains growing in the area and remember how those same grains were offered at the Temple during this period some two thousand years ago!

Holocaust survivors

Reflections on Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by | History, Jewish History | No Comments

The Siren has sounded.

It is Yom Hashoah. The day that we remember our six million brothers and sisters who were murdered for being Jewish. Across the country thousands of ceremonies are being held. most of them start with the siren that sounds across the country.

I’ve always found the sounding siren to be a strange dichotomy between a screaming loud sound that is inescapable and a complete and utter inner silence.

When the siren sounds everything comes to a stop. conversations, calls, work, traffic- everything. Time comes to a stop as we stand and remember.

As I stand in the loud silence and think of the huge dark inescapable hole left in our people as a result of the holocaust, a myriad of thoughts run through my mind.

• The stones at stones at the death camp of Treblinka. specifically the stone which is a memorial for the city of Bialystok in Poland. My great grandparents left the city before the Holocaust but almost all of their families where murdered.

• The concentration camps, extermination camps and killing sites that I saw on my trip to Poland in 2009

• The stories that I’ve read and heard

• The survivors that I knew who are no longer with us and those that I didn’t know.

• The same siren that a year ago sent me running for cover, is now telling me to stand still and remember

• The lessons that the world was supposed to learn and didn’t. Never again should apply to all nations and people. Why isn’t the world stopping the slaughters going on in Syria, Iraq, Rwanda and all of the other places where it is happening today.

• what does it mean for us. Does the fact that we are still here give us an additional task in life?

The siren stops.

Do I go back to reading the paper?

We remember. But what does that mean? Is it knowledge or a lesson?

Holocaust memorial day Israel 2015

Yoni Lightstone

Maccabees- Miracle or Strategic Brilliance

Posted by | History, Holidays, Jewish History, Uncategorized | One Comment

It’s Hannuka! As we sit spinning our driedels and eating latkes, let’s think about the miracle of this holiday, one of the two which were instituted by the Rabbis. In school, you probably learned that the Hannukah miracle was the oil lasting for eight days rather than one. But oddly enough, there is no mention of that miracle in the special prayers for the holiday.

In the prayers we say: ‘Thank you for delivering many into the hands of few’, which refers to God delivering the large Greek army into the hands of the Maccabees. But were the Hasmonian successes in battle a miracle, or the result of strategic brilliance?

The Seleucid Greek army of Antiochus IV was the largest, strongest and best trained military in the world. It isn’t possible that a couple hundred rag-tag farmers and priests managed to bring the largest force in the known world to its knees, or is it?

The power of the Seleucid army was in the phalanx, a strong formation of soldiers which was virtually unstoppable. Its only drawbacks were that it could only be utilized on level ground and it could only move forward. In that period all battles were fought at predetermined times and predetermined locations.
This was the brilliance of Judah the commander of the Maccabee forces: he was a master of guerilla warfare before it was even invented!

He understood that his forces were no match for the phalanx on an even playing field. Judah used his intimate knowledge of the mountainous land and the agility of light forces. In most of the battles he set up ambushes that caught the traveling Greek military strung out and unprepared.

As the multi-year conflict progressed, the Jewish forces preformed more intricate manoeuvres which succeeded in defeating the Seleucid army, which was already expecting ambushes. Out of the eight large battles between the sides, the Maccabees defeated the Greeks six times and won their religious and political independence, which is what we celebrate today.

Happy Hannuka!

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