Tonight, in honor of Parshat Shoftim, we'll be studying (among other things) this text, from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch of 19th century Germany:

"Note that even now [in Deut. 16], when the text clearly refers to the time when Israel has already completed its occupation [conquering] of the Land, Scripture still uses the term take possession, with reference to the political security that Israel will gain if it will honor and promote justice.  From this we learn a momentous truth: Israel’s possession of the Land can be called into question at any time, and the Jewish state must take possession of the Land ever anew through the full realization of justice."

To what extent does Hirsch's suggestion, that justice is a pre-requisite for a strong and vital Israel, apply to the modern State of Israel today?

I, for one, think it is hugely relevant.  In a day and age when Israel wields significant power over the Palestinians...a power that is at times over-used, or some would say abused...can the value of tzedek - of justice or righteousness - guide us in how we relate to the (Arab) 'other'?  Equally important: what is the best, and most just, way for us (American Jews) to have this conversation with Israel and her leaders?

Everyone should take the time to check out The New York Times' great conversation piece about whether or not American support for Israel has hurt our credibility on the international stage.  (I find the question ironic since I know there are so many who think that the Obama Administration - and by extension America - could be doing much more to support Israel.)

Discuss away!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on either, or both, of these important questions.  Shabbat Shalom!
My grandparents, Harriet and Stan Landsberg, with me, my sister, and five of their great-grandchildren, in November of 2011.
Everybody has a past.  A part of their history that is separate from the world they inhabit today...but which deeply informs who they are as people.  The past shapes our values.  And the past is where our most cherished relationships were born.

Harriet and Stan Landsberg are my maternal grandparents, presently of South Florida, and formerly of Jersey City, NJ.  But they came from THE BRONX.  (As to where their parents came from, see my earlier posting.)

When I was a kid, the Bronx was a mysterious place that was constantly mentioned in stories and family history.  But it was never a place that I saw firsthand.  (There was an occasional visit to the Bronx Zoo during my childhood, but no one ever explained to me....or at least I don't remember if they did...that my grandparents used to live a few blocks away!)

In my everyday life, the only proof of a family connection to the Bronx was my mom's New Yawk accent.

A few weeks ago, shortly after our arrival in Westchester, after going up and down the Major Deegan a few times, and after studying the map, I finally realized that we were practically living right next door to the place where my family had laid its roots.

So: a quick phone call was placed to Grandma and Granpda.  They, of course, had total recall of all of their old exact addresses...and so, Amy and I made plans to trek out to that mysterious place that I have been hearing about for the last three decades.
It blows my mind that from my grandparents' final home in the Bronx to Scarsdale Synagogue, it is a mere 9.8 miles!  Isn't it strange to think that such a small distance separates us today from such a different world?  (There are ethical and social justice dimensions to that question, but we'll have to leave that for another day.)

So: down the Bronx River Parkway we 592 Beck Street, near the intersection with Avenue St. John (exactly as my grandmother had described it!).  This is where my grandmother lived for the first nine years of her life!
A close up of the front door of 592 Beck.
A wider shot of the rowhouses.
Beck was a quiet street on the day that we visited, and felt pleasantly distant from the noise and activity that marked the other Bronx neighborhoods that we visited afterward.

From there, we headed to northeast to 945 East 180th Street, where my grandmother lived from the age of nine until she married my grandfather in the early 1940s.  This is the neighborhood that abuts the Bronx Zoo.
The unexpected view of the zoo from our car on our way to 180th Street.
Unfortunately, we were saddened to discover, upon arriving, that 945 East 180th no longer stands.   It appears that developers must have knocked the building down at some point to make way for a modern-looking apartment building to the left of where 945 once stood.
This is building 947.
This is the modern construction I mentioned. I am presuming that 945 once stood in the gap to this building's right?
Vidalia Park, which is on the other side of East 180th, directly across from where 945 once stood. According to the NYC Parks Department, the park was dedicated in December of 2001.
From East 180th, we headed around the corner to 2109 Daly Avenue, where my grandfather lived.  City life is can live a block and a half from someone, and then wind up spending the rest of your life with them!

Unfortunately, it looks like Daly Ave. was a "victim" of development just like East 180th.  There's no 2109 anymore - just 2105.
2105 Daly
The gap between the buildings: where 2109 once stood?
From there, we headed west to 1631 Grand Avenue.  This is where my grandfather's parents were living during and immediately after World War II.  After my grandparents got married, they lived with my grandfather's parents at 1631 Grand.  This is also the location where my Aunt Barbara was born.  (We were happy that this building was still standing!)
The front door of 1631 Grand.
1631 Grand: the view from across the street.
From there it was about four miles to the northeast for the last official stop on our 3307 Hull Ave.  My grandparents moved here when my aunt was two.  The highlight of this stop: this is where my mother was born.  My grandmother, who pleasantly tolerates my occasional complaining about the stresses of modern parenthood, went to great lengths to remind us that the storage area where they had to keep my mother's stroller was three floors below their apartment (no elevator), and that she had to shlep down there every time they wanted to go out.
The front door of 3307 Hull with its distinctive arch.
I wondered which window belonged to my family.
It's a good thing that 3307 Hull was the last stop on our tour, because at this point my kids (who do love their Gigi and Papa very much) were getting itchy.  We made a beeline for Van Cortlandt Park so the kids could run around and play.  (The park, about 10 blocks west of 3307 Hull, is even larger than Central Park.  Though, interestingly enough, it is New York City's fourth largest park - not the biggest!)  Did my mother ever play there as a kid?  I'll have to find out...