Articles by Sam Finkel

Two Days in Jerusalem


“…Who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time…who by sword…and who by stoning….” (Nesana Tokef)

The prayer Nesana Tokef is one of the reasons the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Days of Awe. The days are awesome, all right. Life is, too. But sometimes that truth flits briefly across our consciousness and disappears…for the moment.

Here in Yerushalayim, the High Holidays came and went. Yes, there was the Iran deal, and Putin was sticking his fingers into the Syrian imbroglio, but otherwise, it was business as usual in Jerusalem. Stands were set up outside the GRA Shul in Shaarei Chesed for the arba minim, they were selling prefab sukkas on the corner of Keren Kayemet and Usishkin Streets, and the weather on the first night of Yom Tov was fantastic – as opposed to the rain we got on the first night last year.

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Hiking the Alps Body and Soul

swiss alps

Waiting for my traveling companion just outside Passport Control at Ben Gurion airport seemed to take forever. What’s with him?

I was feeling guilty about leaving Israel, but the unprecedented heat wave and claustrophobia were taking their toll on my health. I needed to get out of the pressure cooker for a while and decided to escape to the verdant coolness of Switzerland.

By the time my friend exited with his problematic American passport, we had only minutes to reach the boarding gate. In due haste, we arrived, only to see people boarding a Turkish Airlines jet to Istanbul. I wouldn’t go to Turkey if you paid me. “Didn’t you hear?” said the lady at the counter. “It was announced several times that the El Al flight to Geneva was moved to the gate on the floor below us.”

 I hoped that the sweating and grunting and near miss were not a harbinger of things to come.

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Why would anyone in his right mind choose to go to Finland, of all places, in the dead of the winter? A normal person would want to escape the cold by flying south of the equator to South Africa or Australia to bask in the summer’s sun.

For me, it was the Northern Lights that did it.

The ad looked too good to be true: “Experience a once-in-a-lifetime winter adventure…. Cross the Arctic Circle, visit the famous Ice Hotel, explore the forest on dog sledges, experience the Northern Lights – and much more. And this was a kosher tour for Orthodox Jews!

From the time I was a boy of eight or nine, I have been enchanted by pictures of the mysterious greenish-yellowish glow that filled the skies far, far away, above the Arctic Circle. And now this ad depicted those heavenly colors filling the sky, over a canopy of pure white snow blanketing the tall pine trees and the open meadows.

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Israel Diary


July 24

Sarah, an Ethiopian mom, and Shimon, her youngest son, are driving with me to Petach Tikva. Sarah is pretty religious as far as the Ethiopian women are concerned. She even covers her hair. But her children, influenced by the street and disturbed by their father’s abusive behavior, have left religious observance, one by one. Shimon, an eighth grader, has one foot out the door. He wants to leave his Bnei Akiva middle school – he has been playing hooky for a few weeks already – and go to a secular school.

We arrived at the AMIT dormitory school in Petach Tikva, a religious, coed school set in a beautifully landscaped garden enclosed with walls – a village in itself. There are many counselors, and most of the youth come from troubled or disadvantaged homes. This is Sarah’s last hope for her son to remain religious. A school any more religious would be totally unacceptable to her son. He seemed positive about the place, for now.

While the kid is taking some tests, the siren goes off. People stream from different buildings towards the central school shelter. Right before I enter, I see the exhaust trail of a Gazan missile overhead. Suddenly, a second exhaust trail going almost vertically intercepts the missile. The two trails suddenly spiral downwards. Two minutes later – a BOOM. We go into the shelter and wait; ten minutes later, we are told it is okay to leave. The missile remnants landed nearby, in Rosh Ha’ayin.

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Whatever WheelBee Will Be


Hundreds of thousands of people from the charedi community gathered in Jerusalem late Sunday afternoon in one of the largest demonstrations in Israel’s history, to protest against a reform of the conscription law that would draft ultra-Orthodox men into the army or compulsory national service.

The huge crowd of people congregated from under the Bridge of Strings at the city entrance, stretching past the Jerusalem International Convention Center and down Shazar Avenue, branching off along large sections of Jaffa Road, Yirmiyahu Street, Sarei Yisrael Avenue, and other major thoroughfares.

                                                                  from the Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2014

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The Story Behind the Man with the Big Smile

The Man with The Big Smile

Wherever I see him, either davening at the Gra shul in Shaarei Chesed or walking home, he has a smile permanently affixed to his face. He is of medium height and slightly hunched over, with a tripod walking cane for support, and I had never even bothered to learn his name until someone pointed out to me that Mordechai Ansbacher, 86 years old, was one of the key witnesses in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. A search on the internet shows a handsome, dynamic looking man with a black kippa taking the stand at that famous trial, which kept thousands of people in Israel glued to their radios for weeks. He survived the Theresienstadt ghetto, the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, and the War of Independence, where he fought to protect Jerusalem within three years of being liberated from the camps. He was also one of the founders of Yad Vashem and the author of 100 articles on Jewish art and Ashkenazic Jewry in the Encyclopedia Judaica. Quite a resume for such an unassuming man.

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