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      What a Country!
      by Shalom Pollack
      As a veteran tour guide, I have the opportunity to observe many sides of our beloved country. shalompollacktours,co,il

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      Nissan 9, 5774, 4/9/2014

      "Too Jewish" in Jerusalem

      I know it is not hard news, but it happened to me just yesterday.

      I  carefully thought out my preparations  for  the  experience I  was  planning for my tourists on the Temple Mount.

       I went  to the Mikva (ritual immersion) early that morning. and  made sure to wear non leather shoes as  Halacha( Jewish law) instructs.

      Then I prepared my back pack and  the contents of my pockets making sure there was nothing  that could incriminate me at the security check before  entering the site.  My Tzitzit (ritual fringes) were well tucked into my pants. I wore  a hat and hid my kippa in a secret compartment (I can't disclose where - who knows who might be reading this  article..).

      As we approached the security check I was confident that I would pass by as easily as the other non Jewish visitors. I recognized Motti the Israeli police officer who has won a reputation for his keen sense of smell. He can detect a Jew a mile away. He looked me over and I thought I  passed when I was discovered.  All my fault. I forgot an obvious  thing!  I totally had forgotten about the small  prayer, composed by the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu on behalf of Jonathan Pollard. I was caught red handed!. He demanded to know if I knew what this is! I said "yes,a prayer for our brother Jonanthan Pollard". He frowned and declared  that it is forbidden material and was being confiscated . I could pick it up  later. I was warned not to pray or make  any trouble..

      I asked my self how these Jews could allow themselves to be used as kapos - in the  very heart of  what is most holy to our people. How do they sleep at night? What do they tell their families when they come home from another days work ?

      How shamed and shocked I felt, as the long line of visitors filed by.   I  was being  questioned  and threatened by Motti wondering  if they realized  that I just did not succeed in passing  for one of  them!

      Fifteen minutes later I was allowed to join my rather shaken tourists on the Mount. But the best was yet to come.

      As we proceeded, I heard a chanting din  coming from another part of the mountain. It sounded much like  the chanting of Arab rioters that I have heard  so often in the media.  

      Coming towards me was an elderly bearded man dressed in  classic ultra Orthodox attire. He was accompanied by a few young boys - also not trying to hide their Jewish appearance but had the distinct look  of fear in their eyes after running the gauntlet of threats and taunts by an Arab crowd moments before..

      I greeted him warmly  and he responded  as one greeting a stranger on a desert island. He  and his little group were shadowed by  two police men making sure that they do not move their lips in prayer and thus arouse the sensibilities and ire of the Arabs.( I wondered how the Arab boys playing soccer on the holy site did not upset their sensibilities...) Our meeting was immediately reported by the nervous police escort as the walkie talkies came alive.

      After we parted and proceeded alone, I realized that we were being watched not only by the police but a  large group  of  "Arab youth" who had  marked us by our association with the bearded Jew.

      It was now our turn. They dogged us with chants of "Allah hu Albar"! ( God is Great ) The yelling of their God's name  spurred them on to increasing taunts  threats and  bumping us.

      The police were not there to stop this. Of course, they were not praying to  the God of Israel.

      Once cleared of this threat , we proceeded alone. I was suddenly  ashamed of myself. The elderly Jewish man and children did not try to hide their identity or fool Motty at the gate. They under went  the humiliations as Jews not hiding in the shadows of a false identity - certainly not in Jerusalem, not on the holiest site in the world! 

      I removed my hat  and placed my kippa on my head. I let my tzitsit out to fly  like a Jewish flag.

      The response was not  long in coming. It was  interesting to watch the reaction of the Arab men, women and small children. The hate in their eyes. The curses on their lips and the spit out of their mouths.

      My tourists were not Jewish. After this experience they said they were so very pleased to stand with the Jewish people in this clearest of choices to be  made. They felt they had the opportunity to stand with good vs evil on this day.

      No, this was not  a news worthy item any more but for me and my tourists an unforgettable one


      Adar 2, 5774, 2/2/2014

      Through the eyes of strangers

      As a veteran tour  guide, most of my clients come to me  via  recommendation. I  never knows when a request will come and who I  might be guiding.

      Today I guided a lovely young man from San Fransisco.  I knew that he  was from the US but his name,, Abhay Puskoor, threw me  a bit - . it sounded like  an Indian  name, and I was right.

      His parents  are from India and he is, i guess an Indian - American, part of the great  melting pot, here for a business meeting  with an Israeli high tech start up company in Petach Tikva.  He  wanted to tour the old city for a day and  left the planning to me. I wondered  how" my" Jerusalem would  be received by this first time  visitor - to a very different world than his.

      We took a cab up to Mt of Olives where we stopped first at the entrance of a building, home to  a number of young idealistic  Jewish families  - in a sort of  enclave in the midst of the hostile Arab neighborhood of Atur. The families have  a huge Israel flying from their roof - letting all know that the area is no longer "Judenrein".

      We also  passed the large  "Orot" housing  complex near by, which will be home, please God to many more Jewish families. Down the road is the "Ma'ale Hazetim" neighborhood with   another hundred and fifty  families. It is just amazing, how the demographic  landscpe is changing before my eyes.

      Rule of thumb: Where Jews live, others will feel free to visit.

      Even before we took in the famous  breath taking view  of the Temple Mount, and surrounding areas. he was moved by the idealism, faith and guts of these spirited young Jews. We were to meet more of them when we toured the "City of David". There we passed a little Jewish boy running by,, payot  and tzizit flying in the wind. He owned the place. He was no stranger in the oldest part of Jerusalem, despite its majority hostile Arab population. He was not aware that his presence upset the world's leaders and media. He doesn't know who Obama or  Kerry are. He won't know much about the NBA  or Hollywood stars. His parents chose to raise him  where our kings and prophets walked. He knows them intimately. There is no doubt in my mind that tommorow's leaders will be these youngsters. 

      I did not have to beat around the bush about  the"challanges" of having  lots od Muslims  as our neighbors. His parents told him all about their experiences with them in  the "old country"..I did not have to be too "politically correct" with him. When I told him that in opinion polls, Europeans list Israel along with Iran North, Korea and Pakisatn as the least popular countries in the world, he exploded, "Pakistan is  a crazy country!"

      Indeed, the prophesies about the entire world coming up against Jerusalem is unfolding before us. If Israel is put in the  same catagory as Pakistan by the "enlghtened world", my guest understood that something is very wrong with this picture. He began to take a deep interest in the Jewish faith and history. He was  amazed that Israel is at once a high tech power, a food exporter, disease curer.. and at the same time the repository of the Bible and its echoes. In short, the miracle of Israel stared him in the face. He  could not get over the intertwining of the vast incredible contrasts in one small country

      I told him that I suspect that hi very "practical"s high tech Israeli colleagues  in Petach Tikva might  not share my views about the sanctity of the land and its Torah/God connection. He thought that was likely and would like to  ask them how indeed do they feel about their connection to the land. I would ove to be there when he does.

      Often times it is through the eyes of total strangers that one gains  a sharper focus on  what one has. I may have taught him alot today , but he has given me  a renewed appreciaition of God's Hand at work in our little miraculous land. 

      What a country!

      Shalom Pollack lives in Jerusalem where he is a tour guide and writer.


      Kislev 18, 5774, 11/21/2013

      Only Muslims welcome

      I know it is  not a new subject and has lots of good Jews  rather upset, but the situation in the heart of our nation smacked me in the face  again today.

       I guidied a mom and her twelve year old son in the Old City, making the connection betwen our land and us.I  suggested that we take a peek at the Ttemple Mount  from outside the "Cotton Gate"

      And  so we approached the steps leading up to the  gate  and a  peek onto the holy  mount. As I suspected , the police stationed there  did their job just as I have  seen before.

      It was clear to them that the three people approaching  were Jews, worse  the  religious kind..For the Isaeli  police , we were a  looming and very  red flag. We might provoke the peace by our mere presence too close to our holy mount. The Temple Mount is   a rallying cry for  Muslism in their challange to Jewish legitimacy any where  in the land of Israel.

      Police the world over, seek one thing  quiet and calm( and an early and full pension). It should be achieved by enforcing  the law and not ignoriing it. No need to rehash the leagal arguments and court decisions ackowledging the rights of Jewish worship on the  mount.

      The police are permitted to use  discretion when allowing  (all Muslims, any time , any gate) and non Muslims (religious Jews) to enter.

      Today, this twisted eality hit my tourists in the face full force. She  could not believe that in Israel's Jewish democracy,  principals  of equality and Jewish rights and  pride seem to vanish in the  wind.

      The police man moved to block our way very quickly. Poor guy, he seemed lke he  was burdened with preventing the next Muslim riot or perhaps it is his superiors who are following an established albeit not officially acknowledged policy. Juden Raus! Jews get out of the  way and keep the Jew haters happy and quiet - on our holiest place on earth.

      Absurd , we all agree. However it was the simple adament  "why" that my tourist kept asking of the cop that  threw him off and reminded me of how far  we have yet to go in  this period of redemption. The cop saw that she was not budging  and so he turned to me in Hebrew and  said , you are the guide, explioan it to her"

      I told him I would first have to understand it myself. At this point our young defender of national humiiation was trying to  avoid  all eye contact with the three fellow Jews who perhaps reminding him  how low he has fallen What  one  choosed to do  to "make a living".Humiliating his peopl and serving the interest of our  enemy means a   pay check. I wondered if they just  get used to the job of supporting  Does he enjoy getting out of bed f or another day of humiliating his  own people. I always wonder  about waht t hat does to a Jewish soul.

      It is ironic that most likely,his parents or granparents fled to Israel from Arab persecution to live as free and proud  Jews in our homeland. And what does the  Sabra son of these true and proud Jews do? What has the Jewish government  done to these Jewish souls? To our collective Jewish soul?

      I was reminded today.


      Kislev 7, 5774, 11/10/2013

      Ladders to Heaven

      This past Shabbat I took part in what I  sense  is a growing  trend , "Shabbat  of the Torah portion Vayishlach" in Bet El.

      Bet El took the idea from its sister bibical  site and pioneer community - Hevron, where tens of thousands gather each year on the "Shabbat of the Torah portion Caye Sarah" commemorating the purchase of that famous site by Abraham.

      It was in Bet El that our patriarch, Jacob, on the run from his vengeful brother Eisav, lied down to sleep placing a stone under his head. That is where  he had the famous dream of ladders and angels. When he awoke,   he received God's promise for his safety while in exile and a guranteee of the Land of Israel for his descendents.

      As a tour guide, I encourage my guests to visit these sites, cradles of our history, faith and pride.

      Part of the Shabbat program included a tour of the archeological remains uncovered near the place where Jacob slept. Not bad. Where  were you on Shabbat ? Oh , I visited the place where Jacob  was visited by God.  How many centuries was this just a page in our Bible? Today it is an accessable and integral  part of our renewed home land and renewed people.

      Ah, the people of Bet El.. True sos of Israel/Jacob

      I was hosted by an amazng family, early pioneers of  the renewed Jewish presence in this ancient site.

      If Jacob protected himself from the wild animals of the night  by surrounding him self with stones, his children today  also live within fences  as the dangers lurk just beyond - where  the houses of Ramallah and  terror  loom.

       My hosts were  a poster family  for the miracle of Israel's  rebrth. He, light complexioned , from LA.  She, very dark from India. Their seven  beautiful  - (none  resembling their dad ) either in elite amy units or preparing themselves to  serve the  people of Israel - the leaders of tommorow no doubt.  At the table, we were discussing a particular incident in the Bible. Their eight year old son helped us with the source we were looking for. They truly  live their Bible form a very early age. Yes, these are the one's who stand in the  way of  peace in the Mid East and perhaps the whole world. Just ask Obama   and  Kerry..

      Did you know that the Temple of Yeroban Ben Navot was found  near the site  of Jacob''s dream .Makes snse. Yeroban  broke away  from the Kingdom of Judah  and set up his own competing temple next  to the holy and popular site. With the golden calf in Bet El on his southern border, he challanged the authority of Jerusalem. Those temple remains  have been found!

        It is no surprise that  the Christians and Muslims have buit their shrines next to the site where Jacob slept.And because it was holy to so many, they all  left the lone  oak tree nesr by  standing  - for over one tousand years - the oldest in Israel!

      First and Second temple period burial caves , and wine vats  and oil vats are icing on the cake.

      Actually the cherry on the cake are the amazing pioneers who have returned to this hallowed ground after two  thousand years. This is more than proof of the past, this is prophesy, this is the fututrre today.

      On the bus from Jerusalem  to Bet El, the driver , who was a local resident took a personal interest in the passangers who needed to get off at a particualr address. Jolly, patient , he was the calling card of the spirit of the destination and final port.

      He took good care of me and let me off where he believed I needed. As I alighted from the bus I was greeted by a stranger (turns out he lived   a few blocks from me in Brooklyn before we both came home to Israel). He saw that I was looking about , seeking direction. He asked me  for the name of my  hosts  - and said hop in to his car. Next thing I knew I was in the lap of the most gracious hosts.

      After shabbat dinner ( it was really  a pity to  have to swallow the food ..) . I went to the synagoge for study. Upon leaving - I got lost.. Lukily ,three local girls were chatting and i told them I was lost . What do you think they did? Of course, like our Matriarchs... showered me with kindness and accompanied me back to my hosts  safe and sound.  These are the settlers,  threats to peace!  Remember the Bizzarro world comics? This is it  The world is topsy turvey. But do you know what? This too is  a prophesy. The prophet said " In the time of redemption, good will be called bad and bad will be called good"

      I have indeed  experinced the good  -   and the bad? A mere  stone's throw from the fence of Bet El ,   and God's promise to Jacob.

      Worth a visit

      What a country!


      Kislev 3, 5774, 11/6/2013

      Our cup of hopes

      It is  far too often that I consider "putting pen to paper" when experiencing frustration with those running our beloved country. We all know how many  of those opportunities knock on our doors. don't we?

      However, as a  veteran tour guide,. I am blessed with the opportunity to see  lots of our land and its special people .I would like to share some encouraging observations from the field.

      It gives me pleasure to acknowledge and spread the exciteent  that is happening in the earliest biblical parts of our land. These days almost every Jewish tourist makes it down the hill to the "City of David". It is interesting that many non Jewish groups do not visit  what is basically a wholly Jewish/Old Testament site in the heart of Jerusalem.  The  Evangelical and "Old  Testament" connected  sects however, are wild about the place. They can not get enough of the Bible coing up around their feet. I often wish that some of our own  would feel as connected to our Biblical roots... but  I wlll leave that  for another time.

      Yes, one of my favorite spots is indeed the "City of David" just down the hill from the Kotel Gate or Dung Gate. It is steep walking all the way down...and up, up , up.. but it is worth every kvetch!

      My purpose is not  to describe the details of a tour at this  special site but to share some thoughts about the visit.

      First of all, it is the only site in Israel which is an on going, intensive dig and yet hosts thousands of visitors daily. I am certain that when the feverish infrastructure developement is completed, this will be the number one site  to visit in Israel - even for "the less Zionist" Christian sects. It will simply be too famous and popular to miss.

      It is one of the few sites  that every IDF soldier visits during the course of their service to the country. It is breath taking to see themroaming the ground where their ancestors stood and  defended Jerusalem.  Really, what is cooler than conjuring up the spirits of ancient Jewish warriors accompanying our current young men  and women defenders.with  and a gap of only three thousand years!

      Ther are two big dramas  developing in that place at the  same time.One is the on going excavations all over the place. It seems that the archeologists simply can  not announce an official end to "the dig" because of the treasures that keep popping out of the ancient soil. Names that we identify from the Book of Samuel and Kings have been found, Do you know how unique and  ming blowing that is? The figures we know literally jump out of the ground   where they lived and won their place in the Big Book. The scribe that saved Jeremiah from the pit  and the pit it self was found! That ancient water cistern was probably the one that King Zedkiyahu  had Jeremiah thrown into  to perish, The court was not happy about the rebuke and warnings of this amazing man of God. I stood down in that pit and read the words of Jeremih,  Does it get better!?

      An entire parking lot disappeared in favor of more digging. To look down deep under that old parking lot and to watch the excavations is better then the original time machine movie.

      I can  go on about the site but perhaps another time.

      I want to return to the second  drama unfolding in tis ancient ground - this one way above the surface.

      The first place i stop with my tourists is next to a wall with about ninety mail boxes. These  serve the  Jewish community of the "City of David". Imagine your address - the City of David"! Well lots of beautiful , brave Jews have proudly made it their home.

      I remember when tis was not even a dream.

      The story of how this began is  a whopper but , not for now. I always  say that there is  a rule of thumb about touring in Isrtael - where Jews live, other Jews  will feel free to visit. Think  of how true this is. When I began guiding over thirty years ago, I would take visitors to this site... There was very little resembelence to what it is today. Then, I would  quickly and quietly pass through a  narrow, dirty alley in an all Arab  neighborhood to steal a quick look at the famous "Canannite Wall" uncovered in the early nineteenth century  by British archeologists. It  is a very impressive wall with great stories from David on. And  today? You would have to have been there then to understand the comparison and  how excited I am.

      The beauty and extent of the site does not compare to the pure "nachat" I get when I meet the beautiful  Jewish children walking happily and confidently through  their nighorhood as if it was just any  other. These children are being raised in the city and spirit of the greatest Jews in our history

        I am certain that  they and hundreds of tousands like them in similiar redeemed Biblical areas  will lead our country when the generation of  ("We are tired of winning"- Ehud Olmert or "If I were an Arab , I too would  be a terrorist" - Ehud Barak)  failed "leaders" finally  leave us. Yes, visit  the city of David where the half cup that is filled - is simply brimming over into the past and future.

      What a country!


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