Am Israel Khai / עם ישראל חי


My Dad -

He was the tallest man I knew of, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. It wasn’t always very easy to talk with him, but when we did, and when I needed him, he was there for me completely, without any hesitation. He loved the garden, loved his wife, loved his children, and he loved his work. He was an urban planner that conceptualized a perfect society and implemented his and other’s ideas to build environments to sustain a perfect population of residents. And it worked, right up until the time when his job ended, 10 years before his forced retirement … due to corporate takeover. The American dream, of building from scratch a perfect world, a society that worked together for the needs of all its members, became sullied. Fear of not having enough and greed began to shake my father’s foundation of hard work and faith.

My father grew up in a working class family, his birth father having left him and his mother when my father was only five years old. His stepfather married my grandmother and raised my father in East Los Angeles in a house that he built with his own hands. My dad wanted his children to have everything that he never had. He wanted his children to get to play outdoors, instead of working in the hot sun. He wanted his children to grow up to get an education, something that would ensure their survival in the world, and that would ensure a more perfect society. My father wanted to give his children the opportunity to have the American dream, as he had learned to build in his own life. Then when my mother was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and began to retreat into her own delusions, my father’s perfect American dream began its path to ruin. My father died at the age of 62, too close to the same age as I am now, from a brain tumor.

My Path - 

When I was 17 or 18 years old, I found myself walking alone on the beach one day, something I did often. I walked in the hills behind my childhood home for miles, and I walked between towns along the beach, climbing over jagged cliffs and across active blowholes from the ocean, and I trekked across pristine sands of untouched beaches. I spent much of my time thinking about the world I understood, and a world I hadn’t yet learned to begin to comprehend. My father was not a religious man, but had a sense of a world that worked, maybe even perfectly, where people of many faiths and of many beliefs could come together and embrace each other’s desire to connect with something greater than only themselves, not just alone in the dark.

Walking down the beach that day, I wandered into the shade of a small sandstone cave along the bluff overhanging the beach below it. I had been thinking about the nature of the Universe, and how it made no sense to me unless there was some reason for its existence. My father’s teaching about a world that respected its members, societies where people of many faiths and cultures got along was logical to me, but it made no sense why there was so much trauma and catastrophe, so much hatred and violence in the world. And, it made no sense to me that I could feel so separate from the world as well, while walking in footsteps I created along the way. There had to be a Creator, the world made no sense to me if there wasn’t, and I could have no purpose in the world without having faith. I reflected upon what my father had taught me, how we were all one and just needed to learn together how to get along. We needed to learn how to worship a Creator, and how to respect one another’s ways and efforts to connect. And, I reflected upon how, from a very young age, I felt like I could connect to something greater than myself, beyond my skin, somehow.

That day, in a little beach cave while watching the Pacific Ocean cough and spit along its shore, I made a deal with the Universe. I asked for hints along the path of my life towards truth and understanding. I wanted to know why I felt so separate from the world, and … I also wanted to know why I could hear voices and ideas floating along just waiting to land, waiting for someone to collect them. In return, I told the Universe that I would listen to what I heard and try to follow the path that seemed to be laid out before me. I decided to put my ego, something I always felt had gotten in the way of inner peace, into the backseat of my life and then smiled from ear to ear, with tears streaming down my cheeks, as a wondrous road forward began to unfold.

Son of Abraham - 

I knew that I was an artist from a very young age. I won a contest in third grade for the best artwork in the class, and decided right then I was an artist, even though I had no idea what that was. My father was proud I had won the class contest, but ultimately was not very pleased with my choice, especially as I got older and my choice became embedded within my own identity. I learned more as I grew as an artist and while still in high school I began to explore voraciously. I learned that the voice I kept hearing was actually much closer to inspiration than to madness, and I stopped at nothing to learn everything I could, whether in the arts or in the world of science. My curiosity became satiated only by learning, by growing my mind, by becoming a better person with regards to the perception of my own identity. My original question, however, of finding truth and understanding, was ever illusive. In collage I focused on the physical sciences, astronomy, geography, geology, etc. But while in university I began to focus on the humanities. History and cultural studies took over. And I met my future wife, but didn’t know it until after a few months into our relationship.

I studied world history, western history, modern history, and religious studies. I learned about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, other eastern faiths. But nestled into it all was Judaism, which kept popping up in small ways all throughout my studies. I kept asking myself about the origins of humankind. I kept wondering why so many people in the world had so many problems with each other, and why so many people in the world had a problem with a tiny nation of Jews that was scattered around the globe, a people that had contributed so much to human civilization and was undervalued at best, demonized at worst. My future wife was even Jewish, even though she was culturally so more so than intellectually. We went to see Shoah, by Claude Lanzmann, 8 hours of witness testimonies detailing the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. I learned how to celebrate Jewish holidays, and how make a Passover Seder, and I asked my future wife to marry me after the forth cup of wine, just she and I sitting together in a tiny kitchen. And then I began to study Judaism. One year later I became Doron, son of Abraham, in a ceremonial circumcision and ritual bath with my future wife and both my parents in attendance. I had another spiritual father, and I was a Jew.

The Eleventh Man and Israel - 

20 years later, after a life of raising young children, working in multiple fields, and making art all the while, I began to ask more questions. I couldn’t understand why some Jews had problems with other Jews. The Jewish faith I learned about, and one that I lived, was about spreading light to the nations, it was about learning and growing, and about getting along with each other. Why then, I had to ask myself, did some Jews seem to hate other Jews; and also, why did the world seem to hate all the Jews?! These were questions that had been burning behind the eyelids of living my life since I became a Jew, 20 years before. So, you know me, I decided to find out. I joined an orthodox congregation in town, prayed with them, learned with them, and I even sat on their board, even though I wasn’t considered Jewish, by them. I was always the eleventh man in the minyan (a quorum of 10 Jewish men), but I kept seeking answers to my questions.

Then the voices started to whisper to me again, but not just about art. We had traveled to Israel for my eldest son’s barmitzvah and while there, as a family, we decided to live in Israel instead of the US. We all felt it, that Israel was the eternal homeland of the Jews, and that we belonged there. We also had family in Israel, and had for many years. We sold our businesses, learned as much Hebrew as we could in a year, packed what we wanted to take, gave the rest away to our synagogue to sell at a yard sale, and moved. We made Aliyah to Israel! Then two weeks after we landed the Second Lebanon War broke out. It galvanized us. We were in Israel to stay, so after some time adjusting to our new lives, I began my studies again. A year later, after learning everything I could put my hands on, and after answering questions posed by a religious court, another ceremonial circumcision and ritual bath, I was born again into the Jewish Nation. I was finally a member of Israel the people, a member of Israel the country, and I was now the 10th member of an Orthodox Jewish minyan.

Taking Back Zion - 

When I first moved to Israel I stayed for a short time in Jerusalem’s old city. I became used to driving there, down the one way roads, between buildings so old and tight together that it seemed impossible to pass through with a car. My favorite spot to do so, however, was the Zion Gate. It was very difficult to pass through the gate without stopping and repositioning the vehicle to clear the turn, and I only accomplished it once. If you got enough of an arc in your turn, and maximized the angle once inside the gate, you could make it around the turn and out the other side. But mostly I had to stop and pivot the car to get through. Once on the other side of the gate, bullet holes still pocked the surface of the stone, left as a reminder of fierce battles that had occurred to free the ancient Jewish stronghold from Arab occupiers.

There’s a story I learned about Mount Zion and the Independence War. A soldier named Ira Rappaport was fighting with his platoon, for their lives, as the Jordanian military advanced on their position. They found themselves surrounded by hundreds of Jordanian soldiers and had only 25 bullets left between them. The men knew they were hopelessly outnumbered, and agreed to take out as many enemy combatants as they could, down to the last bullet. As the small platoon was about to make their last stand, with the Jordanian Muslims about to overrun them, something inexplicable happened. The Jordanian soldiers all dropped their weapons and then suddenly ran away, yelling “Ibrahim, Ibrahim!”

Many years later, Ira, the soldier who witnessed this enigmatic event, happened to meet a Jordanian soldier who had fought against him at Mount Zion that day. According to the ex-Jordanian soldier, his entire division, each a Muslim, had witnessed a vision of Ibrahim (Abraham) defending the Jews in the sky above the Israeli platoon. The Muslim army had no choice but to drop their weapons and flee.

Shabbat and Simkhat Torah - 

On Friday, Oct. 6th, I had a strange day. It was the last day of the Sukkot holiday, and I felt depressed all day long. It didn’t matter what I did to alleviate it. In the studio I was busy on many new artworks, drawings, and paintings, but I couldn’t get past a few strokes of my brush before putting it back down. I had visited my grandson that week, a new soul in our world only a few weeks old, and while there I felt good, but on Friday I just couldn’t shake a feeling of dread, of impending depression and doom. At the end of the day I decided to go on a quick bike ride before Shabbat and Simkhat Torah, both together on the following day, but it didn’t seem to help like it usually did to change my energy. I put on my tefilin in the morning, did my exercise routine, and even studied Torah briefly, but nothing helped.

It wasn’t until the following morning that I understood what had happened. I’ve spent my life learning to tune my mind and spirit into the waves of the Universe, to gather inspiration for what to learn next, what to create in the studio, and how to plot my path into the future to best utilize the time I have here on our planet. On Saturday morning my life changed, seemingly forever. Starting with a jolt of fear and rage, my depression disappeared into a fog of war. My mind became dull and purely reactive. Every new atrocity committed that I learned of would push me deeper into the toxic cloud surrounding my mind. I tried to stay busy during the following week, and it was good to have my daughter in law and grandson visit us in the north to get out of the downpour of missiles trashing homes and lives in the south. But, every time a new atrocity was reported, family, friend’s, and neighbor’s children witnessing first-hand murder, rape, infanticide…  pure evil genocide that is beyond words to describe, I would float back to the darkness, and am writing to you now from this place, a pit of fiery acid burning my gut, and squeezing my soul.  

Family - 

My son was drafted to the north. My nephews are serving in the south. My friends’ children are deployed throughout the tiny country I call home, and are counting the dead and mutilated victims, and reporting these heinous war crimes to the bereaved families, and to the world. My son sat with his newborn infant son the day he left to protect civilians up north. He held him close, and the bond between them seemed to grow beyond words I can find right now. He had trouble leaving his wife and son, but at least my wife and I were able to host them away from the missiles reigning down in the south. Once he got to his field position in the north, my son began to realize things he and his unit were missing, having had to leave in a hurry like they did. My nephews in the south also required things to help them manage the horrors they were uncovering.

My daughter in law found a place that was open still to buy my son a watch. He needs one because he’s a medic and must time procedures as he attempts to save a life. I quickly rushed to the store, where I found that the salesman had waited for me before closing. The streets are mostly empty, especially in those first few days when terrorists were still running around shooting people at random, into crowds of civilians. He handed me the watch he had pulled out from behind the counter, told me that he was giving me the watch as inexpensive as he could, and then insisted on giving me a pack of prayers to pass out to soldiers for their protection, which I did.

My wife watched the baby while my daughter in law and I drove north to deliver the watch and some extra equipment for my son’s unit. She brought Lassie, their dog, to help give him strength if we were able to meet with him. We were, and I showed him some pictures of his grandmother, who’s 98 years old, with his 4 week old son on her lap. My son's eyes lit up when he saw the pictures. He gave his wife a huge hug, played a second with Lassie, and after talking for a couple minutes with her, we all ducked behind the car in the dirt for a siren. Something sinister and deadly that was flying overhead had been detected. My son had to get back to his unit, so my daughter in law and I got back in the car to drive home; we had to stop once on the way for another siren, waited on our bellies on the side of the road, then we stopped for an ambulance to cross our path, and then our internet giving us directions stopped working, on both of our phones. We know, only now, that they can jam GPS from Lebanon. We got a little lost with Ways telling us to go the wrong way, but found our way eventually when we got far enough south to recognize landmarks. It was a difficult adventure for us both, but it was worth it to have strengthened my son, her husband. We could both see the energy in him become clear and powerful.

The family we have, living here in Israel and overseas, has been trying to help as much as they can to get the things we need to protect our homes and children. Everyone in the entire country is doing the same. My family in the US is also trying to help, donating aid and supporting online against the rampant amount of false news and faked propaganda spewing out of Gaza and elsewhere by terrorists and their sympathizers. We watch here, helpless, as demonstrations are breaking out across the globe in support of these violent war criminal’s actions, calling them freedom fighters and victims themselves. The world is upside down, what is good is painted as bad, and what is evil is even being hailed as good.

Tefilin and Prayer - 

On Friday morning, one week after the terrorist attack that took the lives of way over 1,000 innocent people, and the rape and capture of over 200 others, I put on my tefilin to pray. I covered my head with my tallit, as I always do in order to collect my thoughts in a womblike environment, and I began to tap into the Universe. In the past, my thoughts have gone to my wife, my daughter in laws, my children, my entire family, member by member, and most recently my newborn grandson. On Friday morning my thoughts flew immediately to the victims and hostages being held in appalling conditions, babies locked in bird cages, some beheaded we now think, hostages that had been violently raped, bleeding from the violations they were forced to endure while others looked on in horror. My thoughts went to their captors, evil men that have been brainwashed since birth, for generations. Then my thoughts traveled into the heavens to consult with my spiritual father, Abraham. Tears began to stream down my face as I asked my father to appear above the victims and their captors, to call out to them to stop, and to understand the truth of what they were doing to these innocent human beings. These were atrocities, this was pure evil. Maybe Ibrahim heard me. So far all I’ve heard back from the Universe is of more dead, students from the school where I teach… family friends, foreign nationals, holocaust survivors. 

Please reach out to help, we need resources, we need to know that we are not alone, and our children, on the frontline, need their life force strengthened right now to battle this evil spreading across our planet. 

We are together, we are alive, Am Israel Khai! 

Here are a few resources should you be able to help:

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