Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Light in the Darkness

A wonderful piece from AISH on a personal account of kindness bestowed upon 600 weary Israeli soldiers during last year's Lebanon War:

A year has passed but First Lieutenant M. has not forgotten the Second Lebanon War or his visit to Migdal Ohr.

"I remember the two weeks of near face-to-face combat, the confused orders and insufficient combat gear, the intense hunger, physical and emotional exhaustion and toughest of all, the self-imposed silence and disassociation with our surroundings. 'Now is not the right time to complain, but when it is over,' we thought to ourselves, 'when the air raid sirens stop and we are out of these fatigues, we can talk and the truth will be known.'"

When the news came that we were receiving a day off, our hearts soared. We suffered so much stress and hardship. Where would we go? How should we take full advantage of this gift?

Rumors begin to circulate that we were going to some school in Migdal Ha'Emek. "This must be a joke! Who ordered ten busses to bring us to some yeshiva with some Rabbi who is just going to try and brainwash us?"

Then a few of the guys remembered. "Rabbi Grossman, that's the Disco Rabbi right? The guys all give him great respect." But what do they know? He is still some rabbi.

Tired and emotionally drained, we got off the busses and stood face to face with an old-world looking Jew, complete with a white beard, side locks and long jacket. "So here it comes," I thought, "the push to put on tefillin or to say prayers together. Some day off."

"Boys," the rabbi's words thundered, "I suggest that first thing you do is take a dip in the pool and freshen up. In the meantime, we will make you something to eat."

In amazing simplicity Rabbi Grossman heard in passing that the brigade was looking for a home for a day, and he immediately volunteered his campus. "What's the problem? 600 soldiers? They should all come, of course we have room!"

With the echoes of war from the battlefield still in our ears, it seemed like a mirage or hallucination. Soft music came from everywhere and flowing water and greenery surrounded us. Within minutes the tables were set with cold refreshing watermelon, cakes, and beverages, followed by cheeses, fresh vegetables, and soft rolls.

Then we heard, "Out of the pool, get dressed and eat something." We saw piles of new undergarments. 600 new undershirts and underwear appeared as if out of nowhere, laid out on tables for our choosing.

Rabbi Grossman sat with us and laughed, "Have a good time boys! Have a great time! This evening, I will put on the most spectacular performance you have ever seen."

I am not a religious person by any means, but I can't help but envision the first Jew, Avraham, standing and personally serving his guests perfectly naturally and without the slightest hint of condescension. He respected each individual and cared for all their needs. Like Avraham, Rabbi Grossman saw in this an obvious act of kindness, a mission of a mitzvah that had fallen into his hands. As the evening continued we learned quickly that this was the essence of who Rabbi Grossman is and what he is all about. He loves everyone and accepts everyone as they are with all his heart and soul.

"Tell me friends," Rabbi Grossman said, "I heard you are lacking different pieces of equipment. Do me a favor. Here is a pencil and paper, just write down everything you are missing and leave the paper on the table."

That night, we enjoyed the entertainment and afterwards, slept in soft beds and air-conditioned rooms. Like in a fairytale, we awoke in the morning and could not believe our eyes. Mounds of gear which we so desperately needed had arrived at Migdal Ohr. Attached was a small note from Rabbi Grossman, "To my dear solders, from all my heart!"

Rabbi Grossman had personally raised over $60,000 worth of equipment from friends literally overnight! The essential equipment included ceramic bulletproof vests, helmets, canteens, knee pads, backpack water canteens, night vision goggles, toothbrushes, socks and more.

A few months before the war began Rabbi Grossman had been offered a new Torah scroll for the main Midgal Ohr study hall by a generous friend of his in France. For some reason Rabbi Grossman requested to postpone the event until an unspecified later date. Rabbi Grossman immediately made arrangements and in an early evening ceremony, we participated in the completion of writing the Torah. While the scroll was carefully laid on the table next to a special pen and ink, Rabbi Grossman addressed the soldiers.

"My holy ones! I am going to bestow upon you the merit of a holy mitzvah, which can be considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Each one of you will complete a letter in the Torah scroll. While you are executing this holy task, each one of you should pray the prayer of his heart and request from God that the merit of the letter he has completed will protect him in battle. Holy sparks will emanate from these sacred letters and disperse around you, creating a protective shield which will keep you safe and bring you home safely."

Those moments were the most exciting and emotional ones of my life. Shaking from the intensity of the immeasurable experience, still not believing, we held the edges of the Torah scroll while we felt our hearts beat rapidly. There was complete silence all around. One after the other, we dipped the quill in the ink and completed a letter in the Torah scroll.

A bystander would have seen a breathtaking scene of incredible elation and spiritual exuberance. The world seemed as if shrouded in silence. The strings of our hearts felt strummed and the tears flowed freely down our cheeks.

After the completion of the Torah, the ceremony continued. Leading the procession was a decorated car with multi-colored lights strung all over it and with a crown of lights spinning around on its roof. Following the car, bearers of a decorated canopy marched while people danced around it. Under the canopy, others held the Torah scroll, which was clothed in white and crimson with a silver crown at its top.

600 soldiers and thousands of the town residents marched and danced in the procession, a loudspeaker accompanying them, playing traditional Jewish music.

As the ceremony came to a close Rabbi Grossman approached every soldier and kissed him while placing a half-shekel coin in his hand and said "Messengers of a mitzvah are not harmed." Rabbi Grossman concluded, "When you return, God willing, healthy and unharmed, you will fulfill this mission I am placing upon you, and you will donate this money to charity."

A moment before they returned to Lebanon Rabbi Grossman told us, "In the merit that you said Shema and put on tefillin, wrote a letter in the Torah, and are messengers of a mitzvah, I promise you, that you will all return safe and sound. None of you will be wounded or killed."

Rabbi Grossman told the soldiers that the first place they must come back to -- before they go home -- is Migdal Ohr. "We will thank God together and from there we will say goodbye," he said. "Think of this as an emergency call-up. Do you accept?" the Rabbi asked and the commanding officer replied in the affirmative.

The night came. Twelve busses made their way atop the Galilee Mountains. Heavy darkness engulfed us, yet behind, in the growing distance, a bright flame pierced the night sky. In the midst of war and violence, we found love and unending human compassion at Migdal Ohr in the welcoming arms of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman.


Two weeks later around midnight, Rabbi Grossman received a phone call. "Rabbi, your blessing has come true!" exclaimed the commander over the phone. "Everyone is safe and we are on our way to you. We will be there by two in the morning." Rabbi Grossman immediately contacted the kitchen staff and asked them to prepare a meal while he worked to organize a band.

At 2:30 a.m. the soldiers disembarked from the busses, each one carrying 60 kilo of equipment on his back. The band started playing music and the soldiers approached Rabbi Grossman, each one lovingly received with a hug and a kiss. This continued for two hours. "I felt as I had never felt before," recalls Rabbi Grossman. "Each one told me his personal miracle."

After the warm reception, the soldiers recited a prayer of thanksgiving said by someone whose life has been saved, and together with Rabbi Grossman, they sang and danced until daybreak. "To this day," says Rabbi Grossman, "we maintain contact with each soldier and have
become one family."

Rabbi Grossman is a recipient of the "Award of Recognition" for his Actions on Behalf of Soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Second Lebanon War.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dedicated to England, Australia and New Zealand

Good Luck in 2011

South African Rugby
World Champions 1995 & 2007

Well Done Springboks!


Friday, October 19, 2007

The week that was

This past week (Sunday through Thursday), I spent time learning more of my trade in IDT's London office. Unlike the trip I made there last November, this trip was more about continuing to develop myself within IDT's Telecom business. Just like the last time, I enjoyed London's delicious, readily available & copious supply of lamb while continually enjoying the wonderful manners on constant display throughout London. The trip bought back many good memories from the last time I was in London, with one in particular continually playing in my head. It was then my girlfriend (now the wife) met my parents for the first time. She had come over from Switzerland for a few hours to meet my parents, my sister and the extended family ... Besides it being a lovely time, it was there we both basically knew it was game, set and match.

I really had a good time during this 'long' four day trip. It was great to meet up with my cousins (Joc and Simone), and also catch up with some friends from Israel. I also had the pleasure of catching up with a good mate from Carmel College who I hadn't seen since 1994. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, we had re-kindled our friendship and after seeing photos I had posted on the site, he recognized me at a restaurant and we laughed about years gone by with his expecting wife. Besides that, I enjoyed being back in the London office and talking face to face with people I work with on a daily basis.

London's IDT office has many Saffers (An affectionate name for South Africans living in London) and I was always discussing the upcoming Rugby World Cup final (South Africa vs England on Saturday night) with them. I will be watching the game with fellow South Africans, hoping that our Boks bring back the title we last won in 1995.

Come on BOKS!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Muhammad al-Dura Lie

The above image sent shock waves throughout the world. In the photo, Jamal Al-Dura cradles his 12 year old son, Muhammad Al-Dura, as blood thirsty Israeli soldiers fired to kill the two. That's at least what Talal Abu-Rahma, the cameraman, and France 2 wanted us to believe. Soon after the footage was shown however, questions (see below) started swirling around the supposed murder. On September 30th 2007, seven years after the horrific lie that provoked unseen bloodshed, Israel finally denied responsibility:

"The creation of the myth of Muhammad al-Dura has caused great damage to the State of Israel. This is an explicit blood libel against the state. And just as blood libels in the old days have led to pogroms, this one has also caused damage and dozens of dead. It turns out that the events could not have occurred as they were described by the network's reporter Charles Enderlin, since they contradict the laws of physics… Furthermore, it was not even possible to hit them (the boy and his father) in the place they were hiding according to the report."
Government Press Office director Daniel Seaman

The Controversy:

1. In a documentary on Germany's ARD Channel, Esther Shapiro interviewed Abu-Rahma. Rahma changed his stories regarding the bullet recovery, before claiming, "We have some secrets for ourselves ... We cannot give anything ... everything" (See the interviews in the clip below). Furthermore, Shapiro discovered that before ballistics could be done on the bullet holes behind the Al-Duras, the wall was destroyed.

2. France 2's footage only showed 59 seconds of 27 minutes of raw footage. During these long 59 seconds, Muhammad's death is not shown. The question must be asked, why only 59 seconds? In October 2004, three senior French journalists (Daniel Leconte, a former France 2 employee, Dennis Jeambar, the editor-in-chief of L'Express, and Luc Rosenzweig, a former editor-in-chief of Le Monde) viewed the 27 minutes of footage. Both Jeambar and Leconte said the scene didn't seem staged, but the 'agony' described by France 2 TV reporter Charles Enderlin did not exist. They both also noted that throughout the 27 minutes of footage, there was no scene of Muhammad's death.

4. The aforementioned Leconte would go even further in another interview, where he bluntly said, "The only ones who could hit the child were the Palestinians from their position. If they had been Israeli bullets, they would be very strange bullets because they would have needed to go around the corner"

5. On CBS's renowned '60 minutes', Yosef Duriel concurred with Leconte's views: "Al-Dura's death was staged with the aim of producing an image which would become a symbol and besmirch Israel's reputation around the world. Actors in the staged incident included Palestinian gunmen, a French television cameraman (who received "production instructions"), and the father Jamal al Dura ("who apparently didn't understand that the act would end in the murder of his son"). Duriel mentioned that the father can be seen gesturing to the photographer in the film."

The Aftermath

There is no way to undo the damage that Enderlin and Abu-Rahma did with their lies. The lives that were lost on both sides due to the furor this caused will never be restored. However, a few steps are being taken against the two starting with Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center, which is demanding that the Israeli press credentials of the pair be revoked. France 2's reputation and integrity was challenged by Philippe Karsenty, who called the original broadcast a fake. Although France 2 successfully sued Karsenty for libel (despite the public prosecutor recommending the court rule in his favor), the French judges in the case requested France 2 finally show the withheld 27 minute broadcast. Hopefully when the broadcast is screened next month, more of the truth will be revealed.

For more on the staging of Al-Dura's murder:

"The al-Dura incident wasn't the only media report to inflame passions against Israel in recent years, but it was the one with the highest profile. Moreover, if, as Karsenty and others have claimed persuasively, the al-Dura incident is part of the insidious trend in which Western media outlets allow themselves to be manipulated by dishonest and politically motivated sources, then France 2 must be held accountable."
Natan Sharansky, Jerusalem Post

Friday, October 05, 2007

'Good People in the Middle of the Way'

In the Israel of yesta-year, Israelis seemed to be willing to drop everything and help their fellow citizens out. The attitude, that most likely grew during the pioneers' building of the country on back breaking labor and brotherhood, was so 'common' that Israel's most famous songwriter, Neomi Shemer, wrote the famous song 'Good People in the Middle of the Way' (אנשים טובים באמצע הדרך). Fast forward to Israel 2007 and the attitude has sadly changed. Although still present within a lot of people in our country, Israel has slowly become like every other country - Helping others has become what friarim (Hebrew for suckers) do. Israel's leading rapper, Subliminal, honestly updated Shemer's chorus in one of his songs, 'But now there are no more good people in the middle of the way'. It's obviously not that bad but the point was made ... Us has become Me ... Which leads me to today's story ...

As we had Talya's mother's car, the wife & I decided we'd do an early shopping run this morning. As we both buckled in, the engine failed to start. We got out of the car and I started signalling drivers to stop so that I could ask them if they had cables and if they did, if they could help us re-start the car. A few disinterested drivers pretended not tos ee me, and a few others like us, had no cables. One did but was rushing home to his wife and baby - we didn't want him to stop. A few minutes later, a driver stopped for us. Reversing his car on a one way street, he was soon honked at by a Yemenite driver, "It's a one way street achi (Hebrew for 'my brother')." He responded, "I know, but I want to help them with their car." Within a few moments, both men were helping us. After the cables were connected, Talya tried with no success to start the car. By this time, a few cars approached our roadblock and suprisingly, no honking! One of the drives even popped out of his car to talk to his good friend, the driver who had originally stopped for us. The Yemenite man then decided to try his luck with the car and jumped in. Within moments, it started and he smiled, "You see, all it needed was a Yemenite's touch." With the car's battery re-charged, both men returned to their cars and proceeded on their ways with wishes of 'Shabbat Shalom'. At least there are still some 'good people along the way'.