Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Yom Kippur Musings

"The basic assumption in our work is to prepare in the best possible fashion, so that we may stand quietly on the day of judgment, when it comes, in the knowledge that we did everything we could in the time that we had."
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu (killed in action, Entebbe, July 4, 1976)

Although this quote is in reference to the short time in which Yoni & Sayeret Matkal had to prepare for Operation Thunderbolt (a mere 48 hrs), I find it to be very meaningful for the upcoming two days of the Jewish calendar (Yom Kippur beings at sundown on October 1st). "Our work" to me is our life, and during our life, we "prepare in the best possible fashion" to make the most of our life; Be it by strengthening the family ties, or by developing lasting friendships, or by going to university to set up our future, or by following our dreams to appease our hearts, or by following our religion in order to find our spiritual fulfillment. We do all of the above to prepare for the current, and for the future.

And so every year, we "stand quietly on the day of judgment" as Yom Kippur approaches. All that we have done passes by Hashem while we deprive our bodies of food & water. We pray and silently ask for forgiveness, hoping Hashem passes a positive judgment & stamps our name in the Book of Life for one more year. In this short period of 25 hrs, our prayers (of the day & the past year) hopefully signal to Hashem that "we did everything we could in the time that we had" to warrant that place for next year.

On that note, Gmar Chatima Tova to you all. May you and your loved ones be inscribed in the Book of Life for years to come, and may Israel be blessed with many years of peace and prosperity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Life As A Male

Thought I'd share this classic:

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Real Enemy

As I checked my few e-mails on Sunday night after Rosh Ha'Shanna had ended, I came across an e-mail from a good friend of mine from high school. I'd like to share one part of his e-mail:

I've recently started dating someone I like very much, and the only setback is that she isn't Jewish. While I don't care, and she isn't religious by any means, my parents seem to have difficulty grasping the concept of my appreciating someone who isn't a member of the Tribe. We can't help who we fall for, I suppose, so I make no apologies for whom I've chosen to care for at this time. Just thought I'd share that with you

What my friend is talking about here are in my opinion the greatest threats to the existence of the Jewish people: Intermarriage & Assimilation. While I responded to him being as tactful as possible as I'm sure he knows my 'real' stance on this, I'd like to make two quick points:

1. Intermarriage & Assimilation, the silent killers, have 'killed' more Jews than Hitler's final solution, more Jews than Stalin's paranoia, more Jews than the pogroms, more Jews than Ferdinand and Isabella's inquisition and the list can go on & on ... Scary point, eh?
2. We can't help who we fall for as my friend says, but if we put ourselves in the right crowd, we can make sure we don't fall for people who'll deprive our future generation of the one thing that has defined us throughout our existence.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What a Goal!!!

Liverpool won 2-0 last night against Newcastle ... forget the score though, just watch this 60 yard Xabi Alonso wonder goal ...

Come on you Reds!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A hypocritical Mufti? Naaaaaaaaah

While skimming today's Jerusalem Post, I came across one article which aroused my interest. In 'Mufti of Jerusalem urges halt to Palestinian attacks on churches', Muhammed Hussein (The Mufti of Jerusalem) declared:
We condemn any attack on churches, because it is an attack on the places of worship of others, protected clearly by Islam

Interesting Mr. Mufti - I'm glad your faith condemns it but tell me, why are these attacks seemingly encouraged within Muslim communities? Do you remember the Lebanese civil war and the non-stop attacks on Christian holy sites? The desecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002? The list of Churches attacked just recently because of the Pope's comments? Perhaps a worldwide condemnation by leading Islamic figures would go a long way to remove the doubt from your rather lame statement. I trust the Mufti also remembers last year's events after Israel's Disengagement from (G)Aza ... If he doesn't, maybe these pictures will at least jar your memory ...

I guess Jewish places of worship don't count even though they're clearly protected by Islam because they're places of worship?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

Yup, I’m finally back. The 23 days are finally over, and I’m glad to be a civilian yet again. While I really enjoyed spending time with the lads and the various daily experiences, it was time to get back to the routine of life: the 9-5 job, the evenings to relax, a good night’s sleep and so on. Despite the growing desire to finish up this stint, the last few days presented some good learning experiences for me. On Sunday, we were given a chance to ‘practice’ urban warfare on a paintball course. I’ve always been scared to try paintball – the idea of getting shot at & hit for ‘fun’ wasn’t something I was too eager to experience. However, despite my worries, I gave it a shot. The practice runs were a good chance to put into action the routines we drilled in July. I really enjoyed the ‘wet’ runs and actually did really well: quite a few clean hits and amazingly, I didn’t get hit once. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait till the next time to get hit! That night, I participated in my first mission to arrest a wanted fugitive. The GSS (General Security Services, also known as the Shabak) had all the information on this man, except for what apartment he inhabited in the 3 story building he lived in. The task of securing the GSS agent and the ‘main team’ from above was left to me and Daniel, a 34 year old Italian who immigrated to Israel some 16 years ago. Basically, he would cover me on the stairs as I would sprint up and make sure the next stairwell was clear of any menace. Before the first sprint, I felt my heart pounding against the 12 kg bulletproof vest – all of a sudden, it wasn’t that heavy. As I approached the stairwell, I can only remember my mind being literally blank and just being at ease with the task at hand - I knew what had to be done. Once I made that first dash and pointed my M-16 upwards, my heartbeat slowly started to ease up and any worries I had about hoping my reflexes would be fast enough if I encountered a terrorist subsided. 25 minutes later, we had our man and whisked him away. 25 minutes that felt like an eternity but at eternity's end, we all went ‘home’ unscathed after a successful operation.

During this stint in the reserves, I finished Menachem Begin’s ‘The Revolt’, a first hand account of the Irgun by its commander-in-chief. The book was extremely interesting, and easy to read. I’ve always been fascinated by the Irgun and how important of a role the organization played in destroying the British desire to occupy a land they didn’t belong in. Begin’s amazing narrative covers the whole period from his imprisonment in Siberia through to the country’s declaration of independence. He delves into the Irgun’s war on the British (the daring raids on the British army depots, the King David Hotel bombing, the Acre Jail break etc), the tragic betrayal of Jews by the Jewish Agency & Haganah (the ‘Season’, the Altalena Affair – I need to mention though that Ben Gurion was deliberately misled and hence allowed the Yitzchak Rabin led forces to destroy the ship, the kidnapping of Y. Stern etc.), and the amazing destruction of the Arab & British forces in Jaffa, which ensured Tel Aviv would be safe from potential invasions during the Independence War. What amazes me about Begin was his handling of the period of self-delusion and self-hatred of the elitist Jewish Agency and Haganah leadership. He refused to even contemplate retribution, despite non-stop betrayal of his organization – be it to the British or to the yishuv itself. His love for the Jewish people and desire to stay focused on the goal (the eradication of British rule in Israel) allowed him to deal with the severe blows of seeing a people who’ve been destroyed time after time by not only their enemies, but also by their self hatred, potentially go down the same track yet again. Begin’s book gives a much needed first hand account of events that have sadly only been narrated by the people who held power till he became prime minister in 1977.

When I made aliyah, my parents rightfully warned me that Israel wasn’t the Israel I was dreaming about. The Israel I was obviously yearning for was the one that Begin so elegantly strove for: An Israel where Jews were proud to stand up for their undeniable right to live on this land, where brothers stood united on all fronts, and were were driven by a deep love for the Jewish faith and the values it tought (and still teaches). While this Israel did in fact shows signs of developing despite the elitist attitude of its leadership, I really wonder how much differently Israel would have been had Begin been given a chance to run the country his leadership helped bring into existence. I’d just like to quote one part of his famous May 14th, 1948 speech (I wish we still had leaders who cared so much like this man obviously did):
Citizens of the Hebrew State, soldiers of Israel, we are in the midst of battles. Difficult days lie ahead of us … We cannot buy peace from our enemies with appeasement. There is only one kind of ‘peace’ that can be bought – the peace of the graveyard, the peace of Treblinki. Be brave of spirit and ready for more trials. We shall withstand them. The Lord of Hosts will help us; he will sustain the bravery of the Hebrew Youth … And you, brothers of our fighting family, do you remember how we started? With what we started? You were alone and persecuted, rejected, despised and numbered with transgressors. But you fought on with deep faith and did not retreat; you were tortured but did not surrender; you were cast into prison but you did not yield; you were exiled from your country but your spirit was not crushed; you were driven to the gallows but went forth with a song. You have written a glorious page in history ...

And as Begin ended his book, so I will end my entry with the following tribue to the wonderful boys and girls of the IZ”L, the Irgun Zvah Leumi … “Their Life was a struggle; their death heroism; their sacrifice sacred; the memory eternal”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Facing Reality and Flies

About 2 months ago, 18 year old Eliyahu Osheri was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. He was driven to Ramallah through Merkam Hayim, a road that connects Ramallah to the Arab villages that surround Northern Jerusalem. A bullet to his head, plus the kidnapping of 3 soldiers in a period of a week, would force Ehud Olmert's government into war (I'll leave the disastrous handling of the war for now) on our Northern front with Hezbollah and on the Southwestern front with Hamas militants in (G)Aza. Due to the large call up of reservists during the war and the movement of the sadirnikim (soldiers still in mandatory service) to the Northern front, my battalion was called up for 23 days of service in the region between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Although it meant disengaging from our lives, 90% of our battalion arrived on the 29th of August for 2 days of training before our movement up to the outskirts of Jerusalem to man the week old Merkam Hayim checkpoint, to do missions in the various Arab villages and to patrol the area with armored hummers.

My first experiences at an IDF checkpoint were definitely eye openers for me. With regards to us soldiers, we were uncomfortable from the start with this assignment. Hurriedly set up, the checkpoint left us with very little ability to truly protect one another; we understood we were basically sitting ducks. We even had Israeli Arabs warning us of how dangerous of a situation we were putting ourselves in. However, after a Channel 10 report on the checkpoint, the army started moving quickly and the ensuing changes gave us a slightly safer feeling as we went on about our business (sadly, there was no protection against the constant kamikaze fly attacks at day or mosquito attacks at night!). 'Our business' entailed being on the lookout for potential terrorists, hence resulting in the checking of all traffic coming from Ramallah while trying to ensure the steady movement of traffic in and out of the checkpoint. I now better understand the harsh objections to checkpoints by Palestinians and worldwide organizations; it makes life incredibly uncomfortable - especially when we have warnings for potential suicide bombers. However, if it's a decision between the Palestinians' comfort or the safety of my people, I will choose my people's safety every time (like any other person would too I feel). I tried being as respectful and friendly as possible with all the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs I was constantly interacting with, however, even I have my limits. As the days progressed, I felt my fuse shortening and with the constant 'prodding' by insolent drivers, our weapons were raised often. It's not something easy for me to do, to point a loaded M-16 into a human being's face. I don't like the idea of being responsible to decide who lives and who dies. That's a job for the Almighty, not me. But sadly this job requires that and while shots were fired by us during the 2 weeks at the checkpoint, no one was injured or killed by our bullets.

The two weeks at the checkpoint definitely had some moments that stick out. When one Israeli Arab didn't stop at the checkpoint, I went to talk to him and tried to explain to him the 'rules of the game'. Before I could even finish my sentence, the man blurted out, "I'm sorry soldier, it's not my fault, it's just that I'm a donkey". As I smiled and assured him that he in fact was not a donkey, I sent him on his way home. The various discussions with Arabs with foreign passports (American, Brazilian, Jordanian etc) were always interesting - with only the discussions with the UN being more 'fun'. Anyone who knows me knows how much I dislike the UN - and my talks with their various representatives only served to strengthen my dislike. Always overtaking the line, these 'law abiding' UN officials seem to always try and take advantage of Israeli soldiers who cannot really communicate in English on their level. I guess this was not their lucky week! Every time a car with the UN logo came up to be checked, I gladly approached and discussed the issues at hand with the shocked officials; it's not as easy to 'control' a situation when your main advantage is nullified! Despite their hypocrisy and reasoning for overtaking (in my opinion, blatant lies), in the end, after rather well-mannered conversations - I admit it, I had to control myself sometimes when they threw out typical UN political arguments - they always went to the back of the line realizing they really weren't going to get anywhere by arguing. After two weeks of check point duty, we started doing armored hummer patrols around the area, which I enjoyed. Once I return to base tomorrow, we will be doing various missions within the neighboring villages before being released G-d willing on the 20th of September, just in time for Rosh Ha'Shanna, the Jewish New Year!

Taking a break from the laughs and 'good times' on base with the lads, a lot of the serious talk revolved around miluim (Reserve Duty) and our thoughts on the matter. People seem to underestimate the difficulty us reservists have when we disengage from our jobs & families (Expecting fathers left their wives to come serve - 3 babies were born within 2 days in our battalion last week, trips abroad were canceled - to the US & China, final exams were missed etc), and drop everything to protect our birthright. With only around 100,000 active reservists in Israel, most of us voiced serious concerns about the direction our society is taking. Unlike the Israel of yest-a-year, only major operations and wars bring about a mass showing of reservists. Nowadays, the youth of our country would rather be on Kochav Nolad (Israel's version of American Idol) or do anything possible to find a way out of a combat position, or the army itself. Gone are the days when names like Raziel, Netanyahu & Barak were the names we honored and looked up to ... Something must be done within our society to re-instill the passion and desire to serve this country after the required tour of duty ends, even when it's not 'good timing'. A few discussed the idea of a 'tax break' for those who serve every year - something that would only improve the high motivation I found within my battalion (soldiers who openly complained about not being in Lebanon). Often times, it feels as if Israeli society looks at us as 'friarim' (Hebrew for suckers) - but if a sucker means someone who eagerly defends his country while others take their freedoms for granted, then so be it ...