Articles by Sam Finkel

Costa Rica: The Tiny Paradise

costa rica

The first time I gave thought to Costa Rica was after viewing Jurassic Park, a 1993 science-fiction adventure film about a wildlife park of cloned dinosaurs. The setting of Steven Spielberg’s movie seemed so balmy, so pristine, so lush with greenery, that it was only natural that dinosaurs could survive there. It was supposedly on an island off Costa Rica, although I found out only while writing this article that it was actually filmed in Hawaii! Wherever it was filmed, the impression created was of a paradise of totally unspoiled nature.

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Winter hit Israel, and I was catching every new virus floating in the air. I shivered from the cold and wet that seemed to penetrate the walls of my old apartment in Rechavia. One day, an email from a kosher tour company caught my eye. They were going to Costa Rica, of all places! I checked out the itinerary: volcanos, waterfalls, and parks with abundant wildlife, birds, and exotic plants. Costa Rica lies in the tropics, between 8 and 11 degrees north of the equator (about 880 miles), and I learned that the weather in January – the driest month (it rains a lot) – was in the seventies and eighties. It was tantalizing to think about taking off my heavy winter coat and walking around in short sleeves, wading through a thick jungle with screeching monkeys swinging on vines from tree to tree over my head, and watching the sun set in magnificent colors over the ocean.

Costa Rica is part of Central America. It is bounded by Nicaragua on the north and Panama on the south, and stretches between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It has four million residents, with one million living in San Jose, its capital. There are another one million illegal immigrants who fled from corrupt, war-torn Nicaragua. They do all the hard manual work in the country. Costa Rica has no army! That allows it to sponsor free compulsory education, which stabilizes the country and its democracy.

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In the Land of “The Sound of Music”


It was June of 2015. Jerusalem was hot and grimy. It was starting to feel like clammy Baltimore, and I was getting cabin fever. One Shabbos, someone who was hosting me for a meal told me that he had vacationed in the Austrian Alps one summer at a kosher hotel there. “The mountains weren’t as high as in Switzerland, but you get the feel of Switzerland – and it’s cheaper,” he said. The name of the hotel, with its predominantly chasidishe clientele, was Alpen-Karawanserai, about an hour-and-a-half by car from Salzburg.

I was a bit wary of patronizing Austria. Yes, I enjoyed the movie classic “The Sound of Music,” which was about a singing Austrian family that defied the Nazis and featured breathtaking scenes of the Austrian Alps. But I have other scenes of Austria in my head: pictures of Austrians wildly cheering Hitler after the Anschlus (German annexation of Austria) and the famous picture of the Hitler Youth forcing middle-aged Jews to scrub the streets of Vienna on their hands and knees. Austria was home to the concentration camp Mauthausen, and the Austrians are unrepentant of their past to this day. (“What? Pay the Jews reparations?”)

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While Israel Burned


Mr. Finkel, we are having some trouble with our son. He doesn’t fit in at a regular Talmud Torah any more, and he’s been influenced by some of the lower elements in our neighborhood. He’s really such a sweet kid. And he’s smart. He doesn’t dress chareidi anymore. He’s wearing jeans, he’s listening to goyishe music, and he’s hanging out. We want to save him while there’s still time. He’s turning 14.

What do you want from me? What do I know about these things? By the way, every time you talk to me, you are complaining about your husband. It makes me very uncomfortable. I hope you don’t do that in front of your children…. You do? Don’t you think that hurts them?

Have you heard of Kav La’Noar in Jerusalem? You’ve been to them already? What about the vocational school in Kfar Zeitim in the Galil? I had suggested it to you and you cancelled at the last minute … Oh, you heard that they don’t do much Torah learning up there? That it’s really meant for kids who are hanging by a thread?... I was very impressed by the place. The kids who came up with me with their moms were actually excited when they got there. It was facing Mt. Arbel near the Kinneret – stunning views. They have all kinds of therapeutic activities, including a stable of horses for the kids to ride on.… You don’t like the fact that they encourage their graduates to enroll in the army, Nachal Chareidi?… You think your kid still has the potential to learn Torah?… You’re sending him to Blumenthal in Geulah? I wish you good luck!

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In an Instant

bus accident

I read the headlines about the bus crash and felt sad for a few minutes. Why were people still getting killed on the roads, I wondered, even without any Palestinian terrorists around? And then I forgot about it. The news came up again – this time about a kallah being on that bus. I let that go, too….

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I first met Avraham Yitzchak Sperling when we were in second grade in TA. That was back in 1962, when he was called Isaac. We interacted very little in elementary school. Isaac lived in the Park Heights area, and I lived on Milford Mill Road. Isaac was on the quiet side. He was very bright and seemed bored with what was going on in the classroom, and he seemed absorbed in other things – usually out of range of the view of the teacher. One thing we had in common: Neither of us was good at sports; we were not picked during recess to be part of the baseball teams.

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I Was in Brussels Airport!

brussles airport

Sam Finkel interviewed Marsha Grant in Yerushalayim on Monday, March 28. This is her story.

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My purpose in coming to Israel was to look for an apartment. My husband and I are planning to make aliyah in the summer, and a couple of prospects looked promising. The only way to move forward would be to actually see the apartments. Having never been in Israel over Purim, I decided to book a flight leaving Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. with Brussels Air on Monday, March 21, with a one-and-a-half- hour layover in Brussels, arriving in Israel on Tuesday, March 22 – the day before Taanis Esther. I’d be ready for the fast, enjoy Purim with my grandchildren, and perhaps even close a deal on an apartment.

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Two to the Galil


Yerushalayim is really a small town, and life brings people from disparate backgrounds together. Such was the case when I met Yehoshua, a chareidi scribe (sofer stam), a few years ago. He invited me for a Shabbos a number of weeks ago, where I got to know his family a little better, including his eight children.

Three things struck my attention. The first was the poverty. The family couldn’t afford meat for their Shabbos lunch meal. The main course was vegetarian cholent and chopped eggs with onions. The second thing I noticed was how well the kids bonded and took care of one another; they seemed pretty happy. The third thing I perceived was that one of the kids, Shloimie, had rotted teeth. You couldn’t help noticing it because he had such a beautiful smile and the face of a bright and sensitive child, and the decaying teeth marred it.

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