Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

5 Generations and 2 Abrahams (Toldot/Offspring)

And these are the offspring of Isaac son of Abraham. (Genesis 25:19)

The sixth portion of Genesis, Toldot/Offspring, is read from the Torah scroll on this Shabbat (Nov. 14, 2015).  It relates to the five generations of my wife Miriam’s family photographed together in Israel and to the attribute of compassion exhibited by two Abrahams – the patriarch and my father.


The photo above shows Anna at 100 surrounded by her daughter Miriam, her granddaughter Iyrit, her great-granddaughter Inbal, and her great-great grandson Eliad. My amazing mother-in-law Anna gave a piano concert to a packed auditorium at 100 and was blessed to live to 102 physically and mentally active.  She was very angry at the Israeli motor vehicle bureau when they would not renew her driver’s license when she was 98.  She drove her red Volvo through the fast-moving traffic on the freeways from her home in Herzliya to Petah Tikva to visit Miriam and her sister Channa.

See how my wife Miriam and I linked this Torah portion to our life with photographs and Torah tweets.

Below is one of the 52 posts of the Torah Tweets blogart project that we created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage five years ago. During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted six photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  All the photographs can be seen at


Toldot/Offspring (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

And these are the offspring of Isaac son of Abraham. (Genesis 25:19)

Refrigerator Genealogy: Mel photographed our youngest grandchildren and great-grandson for this blogart project and for updating our refrigerator album.

Our offspring celebrated Shabbat Toldot at our home in Petah Tikva:

Our son Ron, Miri and their six children Or, Yahel, Shirel, Meitav, Tagel and Razel came up from Yeroham in the Negev.

Our son Moshe Yehuda, Carmit and their daughter Elianne came from Kfar Saba. (Update 2015: Elianne, named for Miriam’s mothr, has four brothers , Avraham, named for my father, Navad and Ariel.)

Our daughter Iyrit came with her daughter Inbal and Moshe from across the street with their son Eliad, our great-grandson. (Update 2015: Eliad has a sister Tehila Yaffa, named for my mother.)

Our refrigerator genealogy begins with wedding pictures of our parents:  Abraham and Jeanne Alexenberg in New York and Leo and Anna Benjamin in Suriname.

The photo sequence begins with Ron, a rabbi, scientist and educator, making havdalah to mark the end of Shabbat.

It is followed by photos of Meitav, Tagel, and Razel with Elianne and Eliad in our home.

Our son Ari and his wife Julie live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where their children Elan and Yalia grew up. (Update 2015: When our granddaughter Talia turned 18 and her friend went off to college, she moved to Israel.  She joined the Israel Defense Froces and became a shooting instructor in the Golani combat unit.  She’s now a student at Bar-Ilan University.)

From generation to generation, they will dwell in the Land of Israel where the wilderness will rejoice over them, the desert will be glad and blossom like a lily. (Isaiah 35:1)

Her wilderness will be made like Eden and her desert like a Divine garden; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music. (Isaiah, 51:3)


My book, PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE,, describes how biblical personalities exemplify Divine attributers derived from the passage “Yours God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and the [foundation] of everything in heaven and earth” (Chronicles 1:29).  The patriarch Abraham exemplifies compassion (hesed).   My father Abraham demonstrates the Divine attribute of compassion in contemporary life.


Abraham, the first Hebrew, left his home and its idolatrous culture.  He opened his home to all interested in learning about his radically new way of thinking about one universal God.  His acts of loving kindness and compassion are legendary

In the first pages of my book, we meet Abraham’s kindness joining with his wife Sarah to invite strangers crossing the desert into their home, sheltering them from the sweltering sun, bathing their feet, and offering them drink and food.  As legend tells, he turns away from what he saw as the entrance to the Garden of Eden in order to host his guests.  His need to express compassion by giving and sharing with others, made him choose a barbeque over Paradise.

Abraham built an inn in the desert so he could bestow hospitality upon wayfarers.  It was open on all four sides so that everyone would feel comfortable entering and engaging in dialogue with him.  His chief aim in life was to teach the world his revolutionary ideas about God by connecting with others through loving kindness.

Although Noah was considered a righteous man in his generation who walked together with God (Genesis 6:9), Abraham was the first person to be chosen to reveal a divine message of loving kindness to all humanity.  Noah was only considered righteous in a wicked generation.  When he hears a divine voice telling him to build an ark to save himself and his family because God plans to drown everyone else in world, Noah just went ahead and built an ark without challenging God.  He accepted God’s decree without any question or protest.

Unlike Noah who walked together with God, the Bible relates that Abraham walked wholeheartedly before God (Genesis 17:1).   He took the lead and challenged God’s decision to destroy the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Perhaps there are 50 righteous people there.  How could the Judge of the entire earth not act justly?  And perhaps there are 45… or 40 .. or 30… or 20… or 10?” (Genesis 18;23-32).   Abraham had the compassionate strength to challenge God and bargain with Him as in a Middle Eastern market.


My life was blessed to have been able to see hesed being enacted daily by my father Abraham.  He was born in Woodbine, where his parents were founders of an agricultural village established in 1891 in New Jersey for Jews fleeing to freedom from the pogroms of Czarist Russia. After high school, Abraham left his birthplace and his parent’s home and moved to New York where he met my mother Jeanne, a rabbi’s daughter born in Boston.  As the Great Depression was approaching, Abraham turned down admission to university and a pro baseball contract at a time when a player’s wage was meager.  Instead of realizing his dreams, he ran a housewares store in Brooklyn to support his extended family.

Jeanne told of the days when her parents and their five children shared a single roll as their sole meal of the day.   While courting Jeanne, Abraham gave her unemployed father funds to open a Hebrew bookstore to feed his family.  After marrying Jeanne, he gave his brother-in-law, a young rabbi, money for the down payment on a building to convert to a storefront synagogue with living quarters above.  His brother-in-law named it Congregation Beth Abraham after my father.  When Jeanne’s father passed away, his wife with her two unmarried children came to live in my parent’s three-room apartment in Queens when I was seven and my sister five.

Abraham took them in with opened arms.   His compassion flowing through our crowded apartment transformed it into a welcoming home of love and tranquility.   The daily acts of giving and sharing with compassion and caring between my parents, sister, grandmother, aunt and uncle seemed to extend the walls of the small apartment we all shared.  Every word spoken in our home as I grew up was spoken with affection, thoughtfulness, and consideration.

After my father worked for forty years in his store in Brooklyn, he moved with my mother to Florida.  He joined “Operation Grandfather,” a Federal government sponsored program in which retired people volunteered to work in elementary schools teaching reading and math to disadvantaged children on a one-to-one basis.  After taking courses in child psychology and educational methodology, he worked in the program for ten years.  When I would visit Florida and walk with my father in the mall, I enjoyed seeing excited African-American children call out “Grandpa Abraham,” run into his arms and hug him tightly.

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.