I am not sure what is more remarkable—that Dr. Ruth Westheimer still has the passion and energy to be a non-stop, vocal supporter of Israel, or that a 92-year-old knows how to use Zoom so effectively to communicate her important messages.

Dr. Ruth, the world-famous sex therapist, Kindertransport survivor, and former IDF sniper, joined a webinar last Thursday, part of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ (FIDF) Engage web series. She spoke movingly about growing up in Frankfort, Germany as an only child to Orthodox parents (“wonderful childhood, very good school”).  She reports that, in 1938, “The Nazis came to the apartment, picked up my father.  My grandmother who lived with us took money from the seam of her skirt, gave the Nazi money, and said ‘take good care of my son.’  Dr. Ruth recalls that they put him in a truck.  On the way, he turned around, mustered a smile and waved.  “That’s the last I saw of my father HOWEVER, because of that, my life was saved. He went to a labor camp and sent a message that I had to go to Switzerland…by the Kindertransport.” 

I was privileged to hear Dr. Ruth speak about her Kindertransport experience in 2009 at Yale University’s Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, at the opening of “Orphans of the Holocaust,” and the opening event of the Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration.  At the time, Westheimer was co-teaching a course on “The Family and the Jewish Tradition” at Yale with the university’s (then) Jewish chaplain, Rabbi James Ponet.  I was able to briefly interview the amazing Dr. Ruth at the end of her talk and write about it for the Jewish Ledger. 

Dr. Ruth addressed many of her comments to young Israeli soldiers who might be listening.  “For the IDF, what is important for all these young people to know, is that England took in 10,000. If I had been in Holland Belgium or France, I wouldn’t be alive.”  She spoke of a longitudinal study she conducted of the children who were in the orphanage with her.  “They all made it. None committed suicide or became clinically depressed BECAUSE the early years of their lives were in an intact family with parents and grandparents and that helped them to survive.  We have to teach children that anything you do, is going to bear fruits.”  She immediately shifted to speak about her own grandchildren “I have four—mine are the best!  My grandson gave $1000 today to the FIDF in my honor!”

Much of the webinar focused on Dr. Ruth’s love and support of Israel and her service in the Haganah, the precursor to the IDF.  “From age 10 in Switzerland, I was an ardent Zionist.  I have been saying since then that Jews need a country of their own. If there was a State (then), things would have been different.  There was no place for someone like me to go.”  Dr. Ruth playfully attributes her going to Israel to the handsome shlichim (emissaries) sent to teach the orphan children about Palestine.   “I decided I needed to go, to build a country.  I never thought I wouldn’t live there my whole life there…”

During her service in the Haganah, the main paramilitary organization of the Jewish population in Mandatory Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948, Dr. Ruth was an expert sniper and grenade thrower.  She served from 1945-1948, reports that she “never killed anyone,” and reported that on her 20th birthday in 1948, her legs were severely injured due to a bombing.  She went back in to a building to get a reading book and was injured—the two women next to her were killed.

Dr. Ruth’s love and support of Israel were inspiring.  But she is perhaps best known for her long-running program years ago “Sexually Speaking.”  Just as she has transitioned to Zoom, she has adapted to Twitter; she has over 98,000 followers on Twitter @AskDrRuth. 

Dr. Ruth connected her love for Israel and her professional work when she playfully remarked, “Anybody who serves in the IDF, I can promise them, once they are finished, they will have good sex for the rest of their life.”    Dr. Ruth turned 92 this June.  We need her positivity, sense of humor, and love for Israel ad meah v’esrim—until at LEAST 120!

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It had all of the elements of a perfect Celebrate Israel Parade including happy children singing Hebrew songs and waving Israeli flags, politicians saying wonderful things about Israel, celebrities performing, and great visuals.  It was a well-coordinated, perfectly choreographed parade on a sunny Sunday in June.  And it was a great way to share good feelings about Israel.  There was only one problem—very few people knew about it.

The 2020 Virtual Celebrate Israel Parade took place in New York City at 1 pm on June 21st and was an action packed one hour celebration, with accompanying hashtags:  #CelebrateIsrael #TodahFrontlineHeroes #TogetherAtHome.

The theme of the parade, quite appropriately, was “Todah,” which, as most of us, including 3 time New York Mets and Yankees All Star outfielder Curtis Granderson knows, means “thank you.”  He was one of many New York athletes, musicians and politicians to pay tribute to Israel, and to thank all frontline workers—paramedics, restaurant, workers, car drivers, sanitation workers, deliver and grocery workers, etc. Granderson joked that he was going to try a little Hebrew and said, “Todah.” 

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York reported in a press release that they were going to postpone the parade, originally set for June 7, “in recognition of the protests occurring across the country and in memoriam of George Floyd and the many other victims of racism and hate in America” and that a Zoom gathering would “provide an opportunity for Jews and non-Jews alike to hear messages from prominent Black community leaders in New York.”

I vaguely remember seeing an email about the event, but I do not recall seeing or hearing the usual hype and excitement for the Celebrate Israel Parade.  Too bad.  When I got around to watching it on YouTube on Monday, it was AMAZING—though it only had 979 views.

Israel’s President Rivlin talks about “celebrating friendship and solidarity between Israel and New York,” there are moving renditions of Hatikvah and the Star Spangled Banner, and Governor Cuomo spoke about Israel as “Our great partner and friend with an unbreakable bond”

There was great entertainment by the Ramaz Chamber Choir (singing Shira Chadasha), David Broza (singing Yihiyeh Tov), and Soul Farm, Moshav Band, and Neshama Carlebach.

Well known athletes who “stopped by” included Pete Alonso, New York Mets First Baseman and 2019 All Star.  He praised front line workers in the US and Israel and joked, “If you are not a Mets fans, switch over!”  TIki Barber, the 3-time Pro Bowler New York Giants spoke of going to Israel twice–once as the guest of Shimon Peres and once to run the Jerusalem Marathon. He noted that he was her “to celebrate the courage and selflessness of frontline workers in the US, Israel and across the country.”  Omri Casspi the former NBA player and current Maccabi Tel Aviv player, stopped by as well.

Other politicians and dignitaries on hand included New York Mayor De Blasio, Israel’s Consul General Hon. Dani Dayan, and Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN.  And it wouldn’t be a parade without Dr. Ruth stopping by!

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Lovers of music festivals from Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo to Tel Aviv’s Expo are understandably disappointed.   The Times of Israel reported on a 5,000-person demonstration on Monday at the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament).   The large group, called “The Soul of War” was made up of people who work in every facet of the production industry and was organized to protest the government’s lack of attention to their industry.

Summer is music festival season.  It provides fun for thousands, and it is huge for the local economies.  Bonnaroo generally attracts 80,000 each year.  The Coachella Festival, which takes place in Indio, California over two weekends each April reportedly attracts 99,000 people per day and generates $704 in overall economic activity.  LockN in Arrington, VA has been attracting approximately 30,000 fan each summer since its first year in 2013.

Music festivals are great fun, but they pose all kinds of logistical challenges—accommodations, food, showers and more.  Last year, I had the privilege of attending LockN and camping with the fine folks of Jam Shalom and writing about it  in “Jam Band Judaism” for the Jerusalem Post.  This group is Sabbath observant and manages to follow Sabbath laws (eruv, Shabbat meals and prayers, no electricity)—while enjoying three days of amazing music.  The group warmly invites people in to their “Shabbos Tent.”  LockN founder organizer, Peter Shapiro, has been a great friend of this group. 

I am sure Peter and his team are going through tough times.  LockN 2020 was scheduled for this weekend and was to celebrate Phil Lesh’s 80th birthday, and feature such stars as David Crosby, Joe Russo's Almost Dead, and John Mayer.  They updated fans on the LockN site that the show will tentatively be rescheduled for Oct 2-4th.  They wrote, “We hope you are staying safe and healthy, and continuing to look out for one another. The last few weeks have been heartbreaking, and we’d like first to take a moment to thank all of the healthcare and other essential workers in our communities who are helping others to make it through these challenging times — thank you.  We know the world has changed, but one thing has been made clear — even though this pandemic has separated us physically, we are all in this together. Reflecting on how we miss being with our friends, sharing music, dancing, hugging, in celebration, helps us feel that spark of joy even while we are waiting for the world to start up again.”

If the festival does not take place, there will be lots of disappointed fans and a lot of money lost.  Yet, Shapiro, and the team at LockN and Relix Magazine are still delivering for their loyal fans.  There are still a few more hours to enjoy “Light From LOCKN,” A Livestream Weekend Celebration.   It has been taking place nearly nonstop since 10 am Friday and will continue until the final set starts tonight at 11 pm with the Trey Anastasio Band featuring Derek Trucks.   Fans have enjoyed Phil Lesh and Friends, Keller Williams, Margo Price, Steel Pulse with special guests Marcus King and Bob Weir, and so many others—and the live footage was taken from each of the years of LockN.   Fans shared favorite moments, there was great, playful footage of concert logistics and set up, and there were many public service announcements by FANS and HeadCount on such things as  the importance of getting out to vote.


Check out the show still in progress: 

I hope and pray LockN goes on as (re) scheduled October 1-4.  It could be the first time LockN and Arrington, Virginia have ever seen a sukkah!  Sleeping in a sukkah is not so different than camping out in tents with 30,000 of your closest friends!

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At 4 pm on a typical summer Friday, putting on my biking clothes to go for a ride would have been the furthest thing from my mind.   My fellow camp professionals and I would have been at our Jewish summer camps, hurrying to get everything done before Shabbat, when phones, copy machines, computers and more would come to a halt.  I would have been hurrying to finish my Weekly Update to parents, praying the internet wouldn’t go down before I pushed send.  I would be praying that each camper and staff member got his or her shower in before it the water got cold, and praying the hairdryers would not bring the power down.  We would be gathering for our Edah Circle at 5:30 pm, all dressed in our Shabbat clothes, to talk about highlights of the week, to hear a story, to sing a Shabbat song, as we waited to get “picked up” by another division to escort us to the camp wide Shabbat service.  Of course this would have all happened more than THREE hours before “real Shabbat,” but it made sense—you can’t really expect campers and staff to wait til 9 pm for dinner!

In the “real world,” we can bike for a few hours starting at 4 pm on Friday, shower without worry of the water going cold, and bring in the longest Shabbat of the year at 8:10 pm.  Davening can be quick, we can have a quiet dinner at one table–not surrounded by 800 people.   And we relax in a lawn chair for as many hours as we want on Saturday day.

Being home is fun and relaxing.  Being in camp is what so many of us live for. I feel sad for the thousands of campers and staff who won’t experience a summer of Shabbat, and friendships, and s’mores, and firsts—on the climbing tower, on a camping trip, on a horse.  I challenge everyone missing camp to find ways to bring the beauty of Shabbat in to your homes and lives each and every Shabbat this summer.  And pray that next summer, we will all return to where we belong!

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