Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A legend returns home ...


As youngsters, we all have our heroes. We all seem to find someone famous to be our inspiration, a person who's achieved what we surely will when we grow up. As a footy (soccer for you Yankee readers!) mad teenager in Carmel College, a Jewish boarding school near Oxford, my hero was none other than Robbie Fowler. I've always been a passionate Liverpool fan (Not sure why but I'm positive it's from the influnece of my grandfather and uncle). My move to Carmel finally allowed me to follow Liverpool non-stop. Be it by reading the weekly footy mags (Shoot or Match), or by reading the back page of the available papers; I was always looking to see what was happening up at Anfield. My 2 years in England coincided with the meteoric rise of a youngster from Toxteth (The 'Harlem' of Liverpool, which experienced bad riots in the early 1980s) by the name of Robbie Fowler.

Fowler broke into the first team as a 17 year old, scored 5 goals in his 3rd game and by his second season, was a shoe in for 30 goals every year. As I started playing regularly for the Carmel team, I tried to mimic him as a player (without much success I might add). The first Liverpool shirt I bought with my money would have his number (9) and name on it. The player the fans nicknamed 'God' had become a hero to us younger Liverpool fans. By the time I left England in 1994, I was able to follow Liverpool quite easily with the advent of AOL and the internet. Although I was in New York, I still eagerly followed the exploits of God and the team. Injuries took a toll on the player and in 2001, he was sold to Leeds. I was actually quoted by football365.com article after I wrote an angry e-mail slamming our manager's betrayal of one of our most loyal, passionate and talented players. I, as well as most Liverpool fans, thought this was it, it was the end of one of the most majestic striking careers in Liverpool history (171 goals in 330 games).

After Shabbat came out, I checked the headlines on various sports sites and one caught my eye, "(Phil) Thompson warns Liverpool fans not to expect the old Fowler." It confused me for a second as Fowler was now a Manchester City player and I had seen nothing on Friday afternoon signaling the potential signing. As I read the article, a huge grin covered my face. Robbie Fowler was coming home. It kinda took me back to those countless of hours in front of the tele in Carmel watching Match of Day talk about yet another Fowler goal, or the non-stop arugements about England's best natural finisher since Jimmy Greaves. Nice way to reminisce about the past, to remember years gone by. At his press conference on Monday, Fowler visibly emotional on his return to 'his true love', said 'If you pray enough for things I'm proof they can happen.' Guess the hero I grew up idolizing can still teach me a thing or two after all ...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas' vicotry and what it means

Hamas, the radical Islamic terror group, have won the Palestinian elections quite convincingly - with over 70 seats in a 132 seat government. In other words, they will most likely form the next Palestinian government, a government who will be responsible for negotiating with Israel in any peace settlement. To say that this victory is 'shocking' like some foreign newspapers are describing it is wrong. This was expected. Hamas has always been very popular in the Palestinian street due to their heavy involvement in trying to 'improve' the lives of the Palestinians - ironic considering it is their terror activities that result in Israeli retaliations.

What amazes me is that the Palestinian people have basically made a few statements by giving Hamas so much power.

  1. They want a 'terrorist organization' in charge of their well-being
  2. They support an armed resistance against Israel
  3. They could care less about foreign aid.

Forget what the Palestinians call Hamas. The fact is that a dominant majority of the world views Hamas as a terrorist organization whose sole purpose is to destroy Israel. The US has already come out with a strong statement that it will not recognize a Hamas government. The EU, while in less harsher terms, has distanced itself from Hamas saying they'll only talk to a 'peaceful' government, which is something Hamas doesn't fall under. Obviously, Israel will not talk to Hamas. Amir Peretz, the leader of the left wing Labor party, has already said talking with them is not an option. The moderate parties (like Ehud Olmert's Kadima) and the right wing parties have followed with the same lines which certainly could mean more unilateral measures, like the one that ended our presence in (G)Aza. Not only have the Palestinian people alienated their 'nation' even further by voting for Hamas, they have also stated overwhelmingly that they could care less about foreign aid from the US, the EU etc. They have obviously impressed their big brothers in Iran and Syria, but is that honestly what these people needed? After a 5 year struggle with Israel, their society lays in ruins. They had an opportunity to make a change. Israel started the ball rolling with the disengagement, and the Palestinians could have continued this by voting a 'moderate' Abu Mazen into power. But Abba Eban's famous statement somehow always finds a way of coming true, 'The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.'

Surely our prospects for a peaceful settlement with our neighbors have now all but been put on hold for quite some time. But perhaps a hint of optimism - the first Israeli government to make peace with a hostile Arab nation was Mencahem Begin's Likkud, a man and party who the world feared would lead Israel to further wars with the Arab world. So who knows, maybe Hamas will pull a 'Begin', or a 'Rabin', or an 'Arik' and accept the responsibilities of leading their nation to peace. Let's wait and see ...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

and the crowd sung what?

Since arriving in Israel almost 3 years ago, I've adopted Beitar Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) as my favorite football team in Israel. While the quality of football in Israel is still rather poor (although more players are being exported to the European leagues), the games are always fun to go to and the crowds are as passionate as it gets. What sets the Beitar crowd apart from any crowd I've ever been a part of is the chants of the crowd. Yesterday's game against Hapoel Kfar Saba included a few takes of a famous religious song that is normally sung in Yeshivot or Jewish weddings. To hear it (& sing it) sung so passionately by 6,000 fans is quite an experience. Only in Israel ...

On a side note, Beitar managed to pull out an undeserved 1-0 win thanks to a 90th minute penalty by Barak Yitzchaki.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

2006 calling June 7th, 1981

The two events that stood out for me this past year were the disengagement from (G)Aza and the continuous comments from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel. Ahmadinejad's non-stop banter about wiping Israel off the map, or about the holocaust's numbers being vastly exaggerated and how us Jews need to be in Germany or the US are normally the 'Arab talk' that I tend to ignore ... but ignoring it sadly isn't an option as Iran is well on its way to developing a nuclear arsenal. It seems that the world is actually worried too (the EU made some pretty strong statements this past week), and potential 'talks' in the UN might be on the way. But talks normally don't stop dictators (see Hitler, Saddam etc). The question is, can (or will) anyone act to prevent a nuclear Iran? Judging by history, it seems that the honor of trying to neutralize Iran's nuclear ambitions will fall on the broad shoulders of Israel.

In the late 1970s, Iraq was attempting to become a nuclear power with French assistance. Israel was gravely concerned, but with France's backing of the project, most of the world remained quiet. To Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, 'a survivor of the holocaust, Huessin was Hitler, and the Osirak reactor was a technologically advanced version of the Final Solution,' (Amos Permuletter's Begin Bombs the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor - and the 1981 Elections). With the world turning a blind eye exactly like they did during the Holocaust, Begin knew it was up to Israel to act. The groundwork for a military strike was laid out, but the obvious tremors of such an action would be huge, no matter if the mission was successful or not. Despite all these worries, the Israeli cabinet approved a military strike on Osirak. On June 7th, 1981, 16 Israeli jets left an air force base in the Sinai and within 80 seconds of arriving at the target for a night time strike, the nuclear plant at Osirak was left in ruins. As expected, Israel's daring attack was met with incredible criticism from friends and foes alike, with the US leading a chorus of condemnations and the UN passing resolution 487 strongly condemning her actions. 10 years later, when the US invaded Iraq during the Gulf War, a letter was sent to the Israeli government signed by various congressmen thanking Israel for the destruction of Osirak. Yitzchak Shamir in "Failure of Diplomacy" summarizes the event simply,
'It (deterrence) was attained by the State of Israel and its prime minister who decided, acted and created a fact that no one in this world - with the exception of our enemies - regrets.'

And so this brings us along to January 2006. Iran, with Russian assistance, is close to attaining a nuclear arsenal that could not only eradicate Israel, but also threaten various European capitals. The US has expectedly taken a strong stance, but I am fairly surprised that some European nations have made strong comments, not ruling out a military strike. But who are we kidding here? These are the Europeans after all. In other words, a potential strike is up to the US (who are really bogged down in Iraq) or Israel. With Arik Sharon currently lying in a coma, the potential leaders of this country after the March elections are either Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz or Bibi Netanyahu. In other words, 3 candidates who don't have the leadership capabilities of our stricken leader and hence, are leaving a lot of people in this country worried. When the time comes to act, will our leader have what it takes to not only make the decision but to take the heat the way Begin did in 1981? I guess only time will tell ...

Monday, January 02, 2006

How do you say Thank You?

I remember as a 5 year old growing up in Ra'anana that I always used to dread going to visit my dad's Tante Amelie and Oncle Solomon z"l. Nothing against them as people obviously, I was just little and when you're young, unless they're named Granny or Grampa or Nonnou or Nonna, old people are just not the 'in thing'. As I grew older however, my attitude towards Tante Amelie greatly changed (Oncle Solomon z"l passed away in the last 1980s - 1988 if I'm not mistaken). What brought along the change in attitude? A story. A story that effectively summed up her role in my family's existence: Life Saver.

Rhodes, the birthplace of Tante Amelie and my Nonnou Nissim z"l, had a thriving Ladino (Spanish Jewry who trace their roots back to Spain pre-the 1492 expulsion) community up until the Holocaust. As Hitler's armies swept into the Rhineland, and then the Sudetenland, and finally the 'real' invasion into Poland on Sept 1st, 1939, European Jews who actually foresaw the upcoming tragedy started looking for any possible way to escape the continent. From what I understand, Nonnou's mother, did not want Tante Amelie to take Nonnou on the boat but she nonetheless took him onto one of the boats that left Rhodes. That boat would be the last boat to leave Rhodes before the Nazis arrived. Along with the majority of the Rhodes Jewish community, his mother Miriam and one brother (Isaac) perished (while one brother, Yeshaya, survived).

Tante Amelie would proceed to move to Palestine with her husband, while Nonnou went to the Belgian Congo, eventually ending up in South Africa, where he lived until he passed away in 2000. Were it not for Tante Amelie's insistence on Nonnou being on that boat with her, the Piha line would have died in the holocaust (Oncle Yeshaya never had kids). She is the reason why I'm alive, why my dad, my little brother and I carry the Piha family name. My dad said she always looked at him as a son, and me and Eitan as grandsons. Although she wasn't the 'mother' that gave us life, she did have an extremely important role in assuring that we'd in fact be alive.

I always try to spend time with Tante Amelie when I'm in Ra'anana. Despite being 89 years old, she's still remarkably sharp and recounts stories as if they had happened just yesterday. I always bring up the same story, thanking her for what she did. I never feel as if it's enough though. How can you honestly thank a person for a deed that great? The Talmud says that if you save one life, it's as if you've saved the whole world - well I guess Tante Amelie technically saved the whole world a few times over - and for that, my family will be eternally grateful to her.