I was all set with another post… and then something happened. Something profound… Something heartbreaking and powerful… and then it transformed into something beautiful… Something that will stay with me for the rest of my life… All of it. For in both beauty and pain do we discover the truth and become complete. Knowledge and understanding come from seeing both sides.
But first, let me take you back.
A few weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Idan Raichel at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at CSULA. It was just him at a grand piano, and occasionally on an electric keyboard, and once on a guitar… No Idan Raichel Project, which I definitely need to see and is basically a World Music Collective… but just him on the Piano Songs Tour.
He is amazing… Powerful… Moving…
There was a young woman behind me who knew every lyric to every song… and would sing along on EVERY song. It was a mix of “wow, that’s cool” and, yes I’ll admit it, annoyance. Or maybe I was just jealous that she spoke fluent Hebrew and I did not. But she did not sing too loudly, so it was all good.
The highlight of the evening, and I cannot recall which song it was (maybe “Mon Amor” or “Bo’i”), was when a huge portion of the audience sang along… in Hebrew!
Obviously I am used to this in Shul, but to hear it for a pop song… in a concert setting… was so unique and remarkable. For me, it was unusual… unexpected. It gave me the chills. Idan’s music is inclusive and stunning… and to hear a concert hall full of voices coming together and singing is always an amazing thing… but the sound of Hebrew really hit me. It was primal, and a visceral part of me… It was soulful and coming straight from the soul… and the heart and the gut. Wow. I turned and looked around at the audience… I was part of something special.
Even though I could not sing along… I was part of it… Part of The Sounds Of Hebrew.
On Sunday night I was invited to a reception for Henry and Susie Oster at the home of Tony and Jennifer Principe. Their utterly remarkable son Drew took it upon himself to send Henry, a Holocaust survivor that Yad Vashem had even lost track of, to Israel. You see Henry is 89 years old… and has NEVER been to Israel. He also has a relative there… his last surviving one, I believe, that he has never met. Another wow.
Drew started to arrange for donations… which lead to Chabad of North Ranch, Rabbis Moshe Bryski and Shlomo Bistritzky and also Jeff Singer, a friend who I went to Israel with. Jeff was obviously moved and presented this to the JMI guys (my brothers from my Israel trip through AISH)… and as a result of all of this, the donations started rolling in.
One light… so many lives touched… so much good done. One act CAN change the world. It truly is a domino effect of lights and love.
Well I thought it was simply a reception… a chance to meet Henry in person… But as I walked in the front door, arriving late and coming straight from the West Side… Drew was describing how the whole thing came about. To see a teenager with that big of a heart and the motivation to actually do something was incredible.
And then Henry spoke… and spoke… and spoke… giving us chilling details and specifics of his life, first in Germany, than in Poland in the Ghetto, and then in the camps. Things I had never heard before. The tears flowed and did not stop. The entire room was mesmerized in shared heartbreak and grief. This is what other human beings did to each other… what they created.
Science and engineering, not to improve mankind, but to eliminate it.
You must read Henry’s book, The Kindness Of The Hangman… for Henry’s story is unfathomable… He described watching his father lean on a wall in their apartment in the ghetto and simply pass away from starvation… He described in vivid detail the sound and bite of the German Shepherds that were used to torment and kill the Jews. He expressed sadness at the continued violence in the world, even here in the US, on TV and in video games.
I can only imagine the horrific feelings and emotions he has today… as we watch yet another senseless attack on innocent lives and the murder and maiming of women and children… and whoever else got caught up in the terror in Manchester.
To survive what he did, and still see such destruction of life… such brutality and hate and violence… so intense that someone would actually use themselves… their own bodies as a weapon.
But then came the beauty… the realization and recognition that life itself is beautiful… something to cherish and hold onto… something to fight for with every ounce of being and energy we may have.
Rabbi Ron Li-Paz (Valley Outreach Synagogue), who will be part of the trip, presented Henry with a Talit that he will take to the Kotel when he is finally Bar Mitzvahed. He asked that we all come up, and touch a piece of the Talit while we held it over Henry and Susie. It surrounded them, as did we… enveloped them… protected them… Then Ron sang a prayer… in Hebrew.
The Sounds Of Hebrew.
It was… magnificent… and moving… and the sounds of every letter resonated in my chest… fighting their way through tears and sobs. It is with these very letters that Hashem created the world… and hearing them strung together into words of prayer… a song of prayer… made that so clear. Hebrew has such immense power… and in this chant it all made sense.
We all ended with a hearty Amen… and all left with images of sight and sound that we will never forget.
It took me over 40 years to truly hear it… to truly feel it… to truly make sense of its value and purpose and power… but it is now so clear… So much a part of who I am and who I want to be… and what I want to share with the world… Let us all celebrate and share… The Sounds Of Hebrew.
PS – If you would like to support this special Mitzvah, please click on the link below and note the honor is for Henry Oster/Drew Principe to make sure your donation is directed to this Mitzvah!
I am just now beginning to learn this language, and I love it! I am sure you know so much more about Hebrew than I do, but I wanted to share this with you – something I found out a year ago or so.
The ancient Hebrew letters are both pictographic and phonetic. So, for instance, the letter aleph used to look like the head of an ox, and it denotes strength. The letter beyt used to look like a tent, and it denotes house or home. So the words built from those letters, such as father and tent post, actually have meanings that are derived by the letters themselves. Father is “strength of the home” and a tent post is “strength of the house.”
Anyway, I was just wanting to ask someone who knows more than I do and see if all of the ancient Hebrew words have meanings that come from the letters that spell them. Do you think it’s coincidence, or is the ancient Hebrew so perfect that it can be something so amazing like that? Something that no other language can claim, and something that could not possibly have evolved. If all of the old words are like that, then the written language had to be created that way, right? It is a miracle, isn’t it?
It is miraculous and astounding and your study of Hebrew will lead you into so much more.
And to quote a Rabbi friend, “There are no coincidences… it is G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Studying the letters… their shapes and meanings… Studying the language and realizing the roots of each Hebrew word helps define it… and then getting into the Gematria… the numerical value of each letter and word will take you even further. Keep going! Thanks for such a thoughtful and inspiring comment.
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