We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
Rabbi Benjy Owen is Head of School, Margolin Hebrew Academy/Finestone Yeshiva of the South
I am writing this article from Yerushalayim, ir hakodesh, my home base to visit our alumni who are studying in Eretz Yisrael for the year and to visit the programs in which they are studying. I am so proud of our students – they are making such a positive impact!
Israel is an unbelievable country and Yerushalayim is a very special city. The land itself is beautiful. So far, my visits have taken me from Haifa, the northern part of the country, to Kibbutz Yavneh on the southern coastline of the country. In this two-hour drive, one sees the landscape change from verdant green to urban center to industry to sand and then to beautiful agricultural fields – all seen without leaving the freeway. In travelling from the southern coast to Yerushalayim, the land turned dry again. Despite this drier climate, the land appears to be very productive – I even saw the world-famous Barkan Winery.
Each time that I come to Yerushalayim, I am entranced by the energy of the city and I am taken by how deeply embedded the values of learning, chesed, and growth are in the city’s residents. It is a truly unique place. What other city has a pushka in a covered bus stop? As a visitor, I see that the depth of these values has influenced me even during my short stay in the city.
I have been working lately on producing a Torah essay. During this trip, I have had the great fortune of visiting wonderful libraries and I have been able to consult a few relevant volumes that I had not previously seen. However, there is one recently published volume of a set which I have been wanting to consult during my trip and which I have wanted to add to my own personal library.
As I had ninety minutes free between my afternoon appointment and my dinner with the Cooper Yeshiva Alumni, I decided to try to hunt down this volume. Where else to go for Jewish books but the neighborhoods of Geula and Me’a Shearim. I hurried down Rechov King George and up Rechov Strauss and down again towards Kikkar Shabbat – the intersection separating Geula and Me’a Shearim. Seventy-five minutes left.
I took a right and make my first stop – The Israel flagship store of Feldheim Publishing. The shop is sizable and there were a lot of customers. Walking up and down the aisles, I saw some very interesting sets, volumes and books, but alas, my volume was nowhere to be found. Next stop is deeper into Me’a Shearim – Manny’s. Forty-five minutes left. I went right to the spot where it should be, but there, on the shelf, was another volume of the same set – not the volume that I wanted to purchase. I approached the manager and asked, in Hebrew, if they carried the other volumes of the set. Yes, he responded, but they are out of stock. Somewhat dejected, I returned the volume to the shelf. Thirty minutes left.
With the little bit of time to spare, I decided to peruse some of the many other books that they did have in stock. After looking around for a little bit, there in the far end of one corner of the store was – not my volume – but another volume which looked relevant to the topic that I have been working on and that I had not been familiar with. I opened the book and found, to my great surprise, a discussion on the very topic that I have been studying. I was overjoyed! I bought the book and continued my search. After stops at another three stores, I ran out of time and went to meet the students for a wonderful dinner.
On my walk from Ge’ula to the restaurant, I considered the experience of finding this book. Was it Divine Intervention? Given my limits in the world of prophecy, I moved on to other lines of consideration and I thought about two statements from our Rabbis. The first – b’derech she’adam rotze lelech molichin oto – a person is led in the way in which he or she wants to go. The second – l’fum tze’ara agra – according to the effort is the reward. I had started on a path and put in effort to locate the volume and I found a treasure that I never expected to find.
This story would never have been possible without the influence and environment of Yerushalayim. In another city, I likely would never have begun my quest to find this sefer. In Yerushalayim, I was pushed by its core values of learning and growth to advance my studies in a way that I could not have expected. This existence and power of this city and this country are an unbelievable bracha from Hashem and I am blessed to be here.
This is My Israel Story.