Another Year, Another Narrative
An Annual Introspection
Something in writing my annual birthday narrative reminds me of the way of Australian Aboriginal legends. You are in a particular setting; you look around and carefully observe what is there. You are seeing what many generations before you saw. In order to explain geological features, the local tribe will tell you a story, a narrative of prehistoric, mythical gods in human form, who in the Dreamtime, inhabited this area. That indent in the rock was perhaps caused by a spear thrown by a dejected suitor. The locals explain at length the circumstance of the love affair. Here people loved, argued, fought and died. Often they only partially resolved their dispute before they, like the later Aboriginals, wandered off to another region where they could find water or fresh vegetation. And when you ask these locals, "and what happened next?", in other words was the issue resolved, they will tell you that they don't know, that if you want to know, you must go to that place and ask the local people there.
I feel somewhat the same way with these annual soundbites. Each anniversary is presented in isolation, though admittedly I think each makes an interesting read on its own; but we need to remember that I, like everyone else, am developing and changing continuously -- hopefully for the better. As an individual, my story continues to grow, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that life is a continuum.
The past year, my 62nd, was a mixture of moving forward coupled with what I felt was some stagnation. In my new year I aim to [try to] eliminate this treading water.
Don't get me wrong; in essence it was a really exciting year in which lots happened. There were many advances: photography, discovering more of the remnants of Israel and those wanting to join the tribe, understanding the inner dynamics of this concept, a deeper study of Judaism, more travel . . . . I visited new and different locations and in addition, my inner spiritual journey reached new horizons.
In our physical realm, Jill and I visited Spain -- Barcelona and Madrid -- with ten days in between these two cities in Cuba. The purpose of the Cuban visit was to meet up with a group of American photographers (who at the time were technically not allowed to legally visit, but America has its way of circumventing its own laws) under the guidance of our mentors, Joe Dimaggio and his wife JoAnne Kalish. I had been to one of Joe's workshops in the past, and apart from a personal bond that developed between us, I wanted to learn more about taking exciting photographs.
I predicted during our stay that we were visiting at the right time, that the Cuba we were seeing would and could not last much longer. Cuba has come a long way in the last few years, and we were the beneficiaries of that, but it was obvious to me that things had to change, and soon would. Within the year, Raoul Castro and Obama announced that the change was indeed beginning. As a local Cuban photographer, who travels and displays around the world, told me when I asked him why he remained in Cuba, "Don't you find Habana to be one of the most beautiful, photogenic cities in the world?" Even given my limited travel experience I could but not agree quickly enough. Cuba really is beautiful and idyllic, the people beautiful and friendly, but everything is economically backward.
A few weeks later found me (on my own) in Cameroon, visiting the nascent Jewish community, the leader of which I had been corresponding and mentoring via email for a couple of years. On the way to Cameroon I spent two short days in Istanbul. I had previously visited Turkey some twenty years ago on a business trip (which unfortunately didn't lead to anything concrete). Things have definitely changed, especially the airport which today to my eye is one of the most beautiful and modern in the world; back then it was piles of boxes of Turkish Delight; and I didn't see the 1924 nine seater Volvo taxi which on my previous stay struggled to climb the Bosphorus bridge, only to freefall down the Asian side at about 130 k.p.h.
During the summer we renovated our thirty-year old bathrooms. The job was supposed to take about three weeks -- so we thought it could be done properly in five -- but it took over three months. I admit a beyond-our-control problem was that our builder was drafted for nearly five weeks during the Gaza war; during his absence nothing was done, and the three of us lived with two half finished bathrooms. Until the completion of the work we couldn't anticipate any travel. I felt stuck; I really wanted to move around. As a result, the summer felt long, though fortunately less hot than it often is. The war though added heat in a different form, waking up daily to new fatalities and casualties. Were we told what was really going on? Were the tunnels really a surprise to a country with our level of military intelligence?
The [almost] end of the renovation brought us close the Hagim and I'm not for anointing the King in the galuth. How traditional Jews can travel outside of Israel for Pesah and Rosh haShana is beyond me.
Soon after the festivals, in late October, Jill and I flew to India and Nepal, spending a little over two weeks there with a micro group -- two other couples for most of time, but the first and last days with just one other. We travelled widely in the north of the subcontinent: Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Mumbai, Alibaug and Kathmandu -- as well as a flight to Everest. It was an amazing experience -- India is different from anywhere I've been -- and a return visit very soon is definitely high on my bucket list.
Thousands of Israelis, and others too, flock to India and Nepal each year on a spiritual search. I too looked forward to being in these countries as part of my own spiritual journey, fully aware of the dangers of falling into their well laid traps. Being au fait with Hindu meditation, I thought I was at an advantage over the other seekers. We visited the very holy Hindu cities of Varanasi and Pushkar, complexes of Hindu and Buddhist temples all around the country, some being thousands of years old. But I found more spirituality in Cameroon and Uganda than I found in the subcontinent.
The Remnants of Israel
My physical travels corresponded somewhat with my inner travel. There are very few Jews left in Cuba today. Most escaped in the late fifties to Florida and other parts. It is claimed there are 1,100 Jews on the island, most are old or intermarried. I went to the orthodox synagogue a few times. They have a minyan most mornings, largely retired folks, men and women, who come for the free breakfasts. The synagogue leader, a young man who is the ba'al tefilla and koreh as well as shohet and everything else, keeps the community going single-handedly. He is obviously sacrificing much to keep the small community afloat.
Spending shabat with the Cameroonians was a spiritual highlight in some ways similar to the minha prayer on our arrival in Putti, Uganda. My feeling of spirituality in prayers with these communities achieved a level that I only crave on a daily basis here in the Holy Land; the quiet, the inner peace, the sincerity, the song. . . .
In addition to spending time with the Jewish community, my friends and I visited two local tribes, each claiming a connection to the Jewish people or to the ancient Israelites. The claimed connection of various tribes to ancient Israel has fascinated me since, in the early eighties while studying at Yeshivat Mercaz haRav, I first came across a narrative of the whereabouts of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Of course I, I suppose like most religious Jews, was always aware of our lost Israelite brethren, who disappeared from the pages of history nearly 2,800 years ago. As a student of the Bible, I knew that they had disappeared into their oblivion many, many years before the destruction of the First Temple, from which they had become largely separated as a result of the schism amongst the twelve tribes of Israel following the death of King Solomon. The northern [Israelite] kingdom was exiled by the Assyrian Empire in two waves, physically replaced in Samaria by their Assyrian conquerors with people from other regions of the expanding empire. This was the government's policy for controlling the populations within their large realm -- a form of ethnic cleansing, or more accurately ethnic rotation. By moving people to unfamiliar regions, their reliance on central government remained strong. Incidentally macrobiotics maintain that the most healthy food to consume is that which grows in the same region you do. The Assyrians understood this at some level and sought to destabilise their vanquished.
I had no idea to where the lost tribes may have gone, nor whether they indeed still existed. Over the years I came across many theories of where they may be: Britain, American Indians, Japan, Korea . . . . It was only when I came across the writings of Rav Avihayil at the yeshiva, that I started to understand the dynamics.
Unlike the Abayudaya and the community in Cameroon with whom I was now visiting, neither of who make any claims to Jewish or Israelite roots, for the first time I had the opportunity to discover and meet two unrelated tribes: the Baleng, who claim to have left Israel as a result of persecution following the Moslem conquest of Israel, and the Bassa, who claim to have not left Egypt with Moses, but a week or so later, and in a different direction, to escape Pharaoh's wrath at losing his entire army at the Red Sea. Both these tribes found their way to Cameroon. While I find it easy to reject the Baleng claim, the Bassa have so many customs that I am able to tie to Jewish sources, that I haven't been able to dismiss them, though I do not believe their narrative.
On a totally different angle -- and this is how this game pans out -- a gentleman from neighbouring Gabon came to Yaoundé to meet me. He was the leader of a group who a few years earlier made a commitment to observe the Jewish shabath. And just that. As with other groups, with only a translation of the Old Testament as a guide, they started observing the sabbath as best they understood, I suppose something like the Karaites. Recently they reached out to the Cameroon community for assistance in understanding the concepts and more particularly, the practices involved. It later transpired that they actually wanted to practice Judaism in full, but at the stage I met their representative, they were unaware that Judaism had practices other than the unique form of the sabbath. Remember they were living a world in which there were no Jews -- in fact the closest practicing Jewish community is probably the remnant congregations in Morocco to the north or Johannesburg to the south.
My friend in Cameroon meets each Thursday for about an hour with a group of Noahides, non-Jews wishing to live by God's commandments to the children of Noah, viz. all the non-Jews of the world -- they have no desire to become Jewish (well not at this stage). When they heard I was coming, they requested to meet me, a request to which I of course acceded. I found the meeting fascinating -- I hope they did too -- and it carried on for three hours, partly because there were so many questions, but also as we were entering the house, the first tropical storm of the wet season burst upon us. I have never seen rain -- drops the size of pingpong balls -- like this, other than perhaps in Singapore during their wet season.
I have also been in contact for a couple of years with a member of the Igbo in Nigeria. I had hoped to visit them "next door" when I was in Cameroon but it didn't pan out. The Igbo or Ibo, claim to be descendants of the tribes of Israel. My correspondent writes extensively, relating various customs of his people to Jewish ones. By their estimate, they number about forty million souls, including a couple of million living in the United States, descendants of slaves kidnapped from West Africa.
Early in the year, I befriended a certain retired conservative rabbi. It was he, in 2002, who lead a group of conservative rabbis to conservatively convert the Abayudaya. Clutching at straws that may ease the reconversion of the Abayudaya, I quizzed him on his Ugandan conversion experience and whether we could "reuse", for want of a better term, his conversions in any way. I felt there could be a desecration of haShem's name when it became known that hundreds of people in one community, who thought they were Jewish and practicing authentic Judaism, now suddenly needed reconversion. He said there was nothing that could be salvaged, even admitting that at the time of the conversions he well knew that they would not be recognised as Jews in Israel under the Law of Return which, as a result of a High Court decision in the eighties, recognises conservative and reform conversions as bestowing the right of Israel citizenship. But, he added, that this interpretation only applies if the conversion is carried out by an established community synagogue/temple; as his convertors were not Africans, the conversions cannot be recognised. (I know people who converted conservatively outside of Israel so they could come here as Israeli citizens and then reconvert properly.)
This rabbi later became involved with Nigerians claiming Israelite descent. He visited them a number times, resulting in his becoming known as the Chief Rabbi of Nigeria. He said, and he told the Nigerians this, that he did not believe in their claimed descent, but if, for whatever reason, they sincerely wanted to become Jewish, then it is not important. I agree with this position, with the proviso that there is no ulterior motive involved. Ancestry is as good a catalyst as any other in bringing one to Judaism. I found an exception to this in a responsum of the last rabbi of Granada (the last Spanish city to fall to the Catholics in the reconquista) making an exception for Marranos and their progeny, allowing them to convert even if there is an obvious motive.
When I spoke to this rabbi -- it was before my Cameroon trip -- he was already long retired as a conservative pulpit rabbi. He moved away from near his former congregation so he could walk to a religious shul on shabat. We corresponded by email and we spoke via Skype. He actually looked and talked the picture of a frum yid. I thought we had a good relationship. He offered to connect me with the different Nigerian communities, in addition to the contact I already had, in order for me to be hosted there. Nigeria, unlike Cameroon, is not the kind of place you would want to walk around on your own; and over the past year it has become decidedly worse. Then suddenly he went blank on me, refusing to answer my questions, saying he had made a cut with the past and is longer interested in the whole African issue. What?! I thought to myself. You engineer the fake conversion of hundreds of people, and then you lose interest! Facebook eventually came up with the answer. He had taken a pulpit position at another conservative temple. The lure of the limelight?
This year I started to understand why there are so many claimants to Israelite and Jewish connections. The source -- it was estimated at a recent conference that there are now more non-Jews practicing Judaism around the world than there are Jews -- goes back to the colonial missionaries, who "needed" to locate the lost tribes of Israel in order to bring some members of each tribe back to the Israelite homeland as a precursor for the second coming. Hence today one finds groups all over Africa and Latin America in the main, but also in other locations, claiming Jewish and Israelite descent, either as descendants of Marranos or from the lost tribes.
The newest candidates for a lost tribe may be a group in India calling themselves the B'nei Efraim. However it seems there is no basis to their claim. A recently published paper by an Indian academic sites them as a small group of Christians, previously Hindus. They hoped that converting to Christianity would allow them to escape the horrendous Hindu caste system, of which they are on the lowest rung. But the caste system is so entrenched that their new religion provided them with no respite. The group is lead by two brothers, one of whom recently visited Israel. Seeing the standard of living here as compared to that in their village, caste-based life, they set their eyes on migrating to Israel. Possibly they chose the name B'nei Efraim following the successful acceptance of another Indian group, the B'nei Menashe. Even though what I have written here indeed seems to be the case, there is at least one American Jewish organisation willing to support their claims. The same paper casts similar aspersions on the B'nei Menashe as well.
The question you may ask, dear reader, is "so what? -- so what if they really are not descendants of the Israelites -- they want to be Jewish don't they?" But we have to draw the line somewhere. In the eighty years that David and Solomon reigned, the official policy was that converts were not to be accepted, because it had to be assumed any [potential] convert was only asking to join the Jewish nation because of its military status or wealth. However 300,000 people were converted during this period, by private courts of three people, and not the "official" high courts. The halakha re accepting converts is that there be no ulterior motive by the non-Jew, the most common in the past being the desire to marry a specific Jew or Jewess. However, we must be wary of the David and Solomon edicts as our standard of living today is far higher than most of the third world from where most wannabes come.
But it seems that for many the story of the Pashtun or Pathan tribes of Afghanistan hold the most promise of finding our brethren long lost. The Pashtun have a tradition that they are the Bani Israel, the children of Israel. Today Pashtun tribes live in Afghanistan and over its south-east border with Pakistan. There is also a diaspora in India, which appears to suffer from a couple of hundred years of disconnect from the main Pashtun centres. Various estimates put the Pashtun population at up to forty million souls. Today all the Pashtun are Moslems. Interestingly, the bulk of the Taliban is made up of Pashtun tribesmen.
One of Israel's leading rabbis believes that the time has come to "bring the Pashtun home", viz. to Israel. He approached me to become involved in his project. I have done quite a bit of research on the topic. My current thinking on the subject (of whether we may find any [remnant] of the Lost Tribes) has changed radically in the past year. This is not the forum for me to explain the bases of these thoughts -- this will come in other papers I am working on -- but my current understanding, based largely on Talmudic texts, my analysis of what the claimants are presenting as evidence and as a result of the missionary activities, is that we will not find them, ever. The late eighteenth century kabbalists' vision of finding an isolated group, far from all humanity, or from [other] Jewish life and not integrated into the surrounding [gentile] population after nearly three millennium, is now, in my humble opinion, [approaching] zero. And I believe this to be true also of the groups that have been recognised by the Israel Chief Rabbinate in the years of its existence.
Dear reader, you may find my conclusions radical and even non-acceptable. I have broad shoulders. There was a conference held in Yerushalayim in November last year, entitled Converts, Returnees and Adherents: New Ways of Joining the Jewish People. I was asked by one of the academic organisers, who had read some of my findings re the Baleng and Bassa, to submit a paper -- which I did. It was about what one should be looking for when determining if a tribe may or may not be of Israelite/Jewish origin, and I used the customs of the Bassa to illustrate my ideas. My paper was rejected for no given reason; can someone with a masters degree in engineering be taken seriously as an anthropologist? or perhaps, perish the thought for my ego, my paper was academically no good? A friend of mine, an anthropologist, an expert in the Jewish field, read my paper and thought it was sound. Ironically, my friend didn't even know about the conference, and submitted, on my urging, a paper some weeks after the closing date. That paper was accepted.
In India, in both Mumbai and Alibaug I met and visited sites of another group, who [coincidently?] also go by the name of the B'nei Israel. They claim to have been shipwrecked near Alibaug, only seven men and seven women surviving. When they were discovered by a Jew from Cochin (in the south of India -- another very interesting community) the only Jewish signs they had was the word sh'ma, not working on Saturdays, unlike the people around them, and some knowledge of which fish not to buy in the market. It took the Israel Chief Rabbinate twenty years to recognise the B'nei Israel as fully Jewish, without any conversion. Did they make the correct decision?
I visited a site outside Alibaug where the B'nei Israel claim that Eliyahu the prophet left this earthly abode, bound for heaven in a fiery chariot. Given that the bible states quite clearly where this happened -- on the other side of the Jordan, opposite Yeriho -- how do they explain this launch site on the west coast of India? There are two versions: first that on his way to heaven from the banks of the Jordan Eliyahu dropped in at Alibaug, or the second, that the point of departure was actually in Alibaug.
Much to the chagrin of some of my friends involved in the "search", I take a very scientific approach, both to our texts and traditions, to proofs or otherwise. I am well past "the warm, fuzzy feeling inside" on these issues.
I continue my research undeterred.
During the year I was instrumental in bringing two African men, both leaders of their respective communities, both family men, to the yeshiva in Efrat to intensely study Judaism, with the view first to enhance their knowledge of Judaism and second to equip them with tools to pass on their knowledge to their communities. Both men have now returned to their respective countries, Uganda and Cameroon. Altogether I think the experience was successful. They learnt a lot, met many people and saw how Judaism is practiced in large communities in the land of our forefathers. There are many things however that I would like to change before repeating the exercise. Our vision is to have a yeshiva program for Africans, to allow those who sincerely want to practice Judaism to do so with as much knowledge and support as we can provide.
Photographically my life has taken very positive turns. I came to a realisation around Pesah time that I need to rethink my approach to photography. I tried to unlearn, even forget, everything I had accumulated in the thirty-eight years since I bought my first SLR in Hong Kong on the way to yeshiva in Kiryat Arba.
A number of factors brought me to this crossroads. The first was spending a week with Joe Dimaggio in Cuba in January. I understood for the first time that you cannot -- perhaps never -- rely on your camera's light metre as the ultimate truth. You had to learn how to take this information and use it to achieve what you want. A big eye opener was when Joe taught us how to photograph Africans. The light metre is racist! You have to open up your aperture by at least a stop or the face will be lost in a sea of black. I thought about the photographs from my two trips to East Africa and how indeed the detail was lost in shadow. (My Cameroon photographs are far better in the detail.)
The concepts really came home to me when we participated in a workshop with Neil Folberg in March. Neil is a student of Ansel Adams. I watched the way Neil approached his photography; I listened to what he passed on to us from what he had learnt from Ansel. Immediately afterwards I started to devour books on Adams's photographic vision and techniques. Visualisation, seeing in the view finder not what is there in front of your eyes, but how the scene feels to you, and how to make it look that way in the final print. This again was a variation of Joe's don't accept the metre reading at face value. I read about Adams's Zone System, how it was important. But I didn't fully understand how it worked, how it was useful. Then I found a series of workshops available on the internet by a young photographer named Gavin Seims. Gavin explained meticulously how you use the Zone System to achieve the photograph -- no, the fine art -- that you want -- from before you press the shutter release of the camera, to what you do on your computer to achieve your vision, your visualisation. Adams, who was initially a concert pianist, referred to the negative as the score, while he saw the final image as the concert. No-one peruses the score, but instead comes to listen to the performance. How you achieve your final image is the work you do behind the scenes. Indeed I can now spend an hour processing a single photograph to achieve what I saw and felt. Visualisation is your key to seeing. Folberg encouraged us to first absorb a scene without holding a camera in our hands.
Some other things changed in my photography. I now only use RAW files -- yes it really matters; I started using an amazing suite of software by a new company with the unlikely name of MacPhun; I have my camera's lightmetre set to spot metering (or I may use a handheld metre); and I am now exclusively using FujiFilm mirrorless cameras because they produce a better image than the famous SLR manufacturers' stable, whose cameras I have used for thirty-eight years. The "mirrorless" Fuji viewfinder allows me to better observe what I am visualising; I now generally set my viewfinder to black and white, even when shooting for colour photographs. This allows me to more clearly see the tonality; and I now produce a bulk of my work in black and white.
While my photography moves forward I have devoted very little time to writing, limited largely to my views on the issues of "Jewish outsiders coming in". I prefer this expression to "Jews on the periphery" because the latter implies that the many wannabes are Jews, which they are not. I still find writing a expressive form different to photography. I intend to do more writing in the coming year. Maytal enrolled me in a drawing course with her teacher -- an interesting character with a story of his own, but an amazing artist and teacher. I have long dabbled with pencils, but alas I didn't stick it out. Regrettably I don't think I touched a musical instrument in the past year.
I am continuing to learn daf hayomi each day. While I opposed this practice for many years, I am now sorry that it took me this long to take it up -- I am about a third of the way along my voyage traversing the "Talmudic Sea". I am also close to completing shas mishnayoth for the third time, learning for half an hour each day between prayers. These practices are both increasing the depth of my understanding of what is required of me in this world. This year also saw my attending many other new lessons and group learning, on halakha, mundane and esoteric texts and topics. I am always looking for ways to understand how these concepts fit into the world I know, both on what I view day-to-day, on what I see on my travels, on what I read and on my scientific knowledge and method. My understanding of the world around me continues to grow, and I continue to adjust my focus based on all of these factors. I continue to meet people whose viewpoint I am able to see and incorporate into my changing worldview. Each time I travel to a new place, I feel a change in myself from the experience. I can see at least in a small way, how science, philosophy and Judaism's worldview coalesce.
Strange as it may seem, I am beginning to understand that Ansel Adams's visualisation techniques are applicable to Jewish prayer and practice. There are many situations, based both on midrash and on esoteric sources, where visualisation is a useful tool. I have long understood that transcendence is all a mind exercise. When I first leant meditation -- transcendental meditation, also know as TM, which I later understood to be missionary hinduism set to western palettes, though the methods are sound -- they promised in their advanced course to teach you levitation. Whether they did try to teach you to actually leave mother earth in a physical sense, transcending by visualisation is both feasible and is done. Care must be taken in the practice of meditation as the method has been corrupted in the years since it was first practiced by Abraham our father, and has been misused for idol worship. What constitutes idol worship is another topic I am exploring; it is important in our understanding of the world, its people and its [perceived] gods.
I may be getting here into the fine line dividing the physical and spiritual worlds, but the Talmud discusses transcendental experiences that would seem physical. For example when the Romans, during the extremely antisemitic reign of Hadrian, decreed to slaughter the ten leading rabbis of the generation as a punishment for teaching Torah, the sages decided to send Ribi Yishmael "upstairs behind the Divine curtain" to understand if this was a decree from above, or just that of a human king. He prepared himself appropriately and ascended to speak to angels of the Lord's court. He returned with the sad news that the decree was indeed Divine. I think that most people learning this passage of g'mara understand that Ribi Yishmael, in his physical presence, ascended to the realm of the angels, in a different place. The simple person may say, well of course he did; doesn't it say so; you don't think God can do such a thing? I am saying the fact that physically Ribi Yishmael's body never left his house does not mean that the communication did not occur. But it happened as a mind exercise. This is the way of all prophesy, ever, except for that of Moshe our Teacher, about whom the Torah explicitly states was different to all the other prophets.
Of course there are much lower forms of visualisation. We are asked every year at the Pesah Seder to visualise ourselves as leaving Egypt with Moshe following the ten plagues. We are required to say the shira, the song of Moshe after the defeat and demise of the entire Egyptian army at the Red Sea, each day and visualise ourselves standing there, with Moshe, singing God's praise for our safety and security. As in the case of the seder, the text itself hints at the requirement, or perhaps the desirability, of this visualisation. The Torah first describes the Jews crossing into the "sea on dry land" (Ex 12:22) and a few verses later, "the dry land in the sea" (v. 29) in other words not in the sea per se. The visualisation here is that only in my daily recall of the event after the fact, can I appreciate the true power of God's hand. At the original event I couldn't "see the wood for the trees". But with my view of all of God's miracles wrought since the Red Sea occurrence, together with my visualisation and intellectual understanding, I can be there daily, looking down as the sea closes on my enemies.
The kabbalists recite kavanoth before performing any commandment or reciting any prayer. These too are visualisations which allow the practitioner to achieve a greater closeness to the Divine.
The Sikhs understand that the universe is in the shape of a man; one of the kabala's visualisations of the many spiritual worlds is also based on a visualisation of a man. While I don't pretend to understand how the Sikh model works, I am starting to understand aspects of the kabala's model, and how it explains aspects of our world; but more importantly how to reach a level of spirituality from our lowly position.
Our tribe continues to grow. As a second generation survivor, a burden which I daily conscientiously carry, I often wonder about Jewish demographics. My grandparents had ten children; each of their parents had nine. My grandparents [posthumously] had eleven grandchildren (an additional two were murdered in Auschwitz). There is a shortage of Jews in the world. And we are daily witness to a tragic holocaust; masses are leaving the fold, many marry into oblivion; worldwide Jewish secular birthrate is on par with the European rate, well below Z.P.G. Many complain about the tragedy of the secularisation of North African Jewry in Israel -- and it is indeed a tragedy. However what is happening to their cousins, who migrated to France because "Israel was too difficult", is nothing short of a holocaust; intermarriage is rampant, reaching 90% in some places.
So I am happy to inform you that during my 62nd year, Elisha and Tanya were blessed with a new little boy, Amichai Aryeh. He's very cute and doesn't look anything like his adorable redheaded brother, Yehuda Yair. So the family should continue to grow, God willing.
Aviel completed his arduous paramedics course a couple of weeks ago, coming top of his class. Another feather in the Kuchars' cap at the I.D.F. medical training school, as seven years ago Honi topped the medics course. Aviel is now serving in a top combat unit.
The rest of the tribe continues to flourish. Thank God everyone is healthy and happy, living their own lives with little interference from their old man.
Have a great year everybody -- until we next meet by the dent in the rock on the north-west side of the northern billabong.
12th January, 2015 -- 21st Teveth, 5775
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