Sunday, November 30, 2008

He's real, he cries & so do I

Today, Tals & I went to Misrad Ha'Pnim (Ministry of the Interior) to get Nissim's birth certificate and change the 'stub' in our identity card to update the addition. When I received the stub, and read his name, identity number & Hebrew/Gregorian date of birth and it sunk in even more. My child ...


Last night, Nissim must have spent the better part of two hours crying due to what we think was a sore tummy, or bad gases. Now I did my best to relax him but the crying just really bothers me. I know it's natural but to see him in obvious discomfort & pain and not be able to do anything just upsets me. I guess I'll have to find ways to adjust to this and my only hope is this is the worst 'discomfort & pain' he goes through in his life.


I didn't cry at the events in Mumbai. I've seen far too many of these events already in my lifetime and unfortunately, I've become rather numbed to them 'sadness' wise. I do mourn the loss of innocent life and get really angry that the 'free world' still hasn't realized what it's up against, but sadness? No, for some reason, I save my tears for other events.

A few points about the atrocities that claimed so many innocent lives in India this weekend:
  1. The Indian press doesn't need to get so touchy about Israel criticizing their rescue operation. It was planned too slowly and with little chance in surprising the terrorists, failure was unfortunately the most likely outcome. For the Indian press to start blabbering on about how Israel has a bad record in hostage-rescue operations, aside from the successful Operation Entebbe in 1976 shows complete ignorance to other rather successful hostage rescue operations (Sabena ... Savoy ... Misgav Am rescue ... Bus line 300 rescue). These operations are always tricky - and unfortunately, hostages will almost always die, but if a country wants to attempt a rescue mission, do so professionally (don't blow up the bottom floor when your commando units haven't landed on the roof, and clear all bystanders from the rescue site) and with the idea that the hostage are alive. As Lior Lotan, a former senior officer in the army's elite Sayeret Matkal unit, said, "When you're rescuing captives, you enter fast, with maximum force, and try to reach the hostages as quickly as possible, even at the price of casualties. Here, they operated much more cautiously."
  2. The lone surviving terrorist now claims that these attacks were directed specifically at Israelis due to avenge "atrocities" against the Palestinians. I'm not so sure this is true, however if it is, I think Israel needs to start taking more steps in better protecting her citizens abroad. We'll always be targets - it's part of the 'parcel' of being an Israeli and a Jew, but that doesn't mean we need to be easy game for these animals.
  3. The world still hasn't quite got what they're up against. This radical element within Islam, numbering in the millions, isn't about compromises over land or troop withdrawals from Iraq and Mars. This isn't about that, it's about an ideology that wants to dominate and rule the world no matter the cost. The sooner the world realizes it, the sooner there can be a united front to win this battle. Just because there isn't one crazy dictator with a small mustache declaring war on all of Europe doesn't mean we aren't in the middle of major war.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

All in the Name

During my son's brit milah today, the lil one finally got his name ... Nissim* David** Piha.

*The first born males on my dad's paternal side were named either Nissim or Avram after the child's grandfather. The line was always Nissim, followed by Avram, followed by Nissim etc ... It changed in 1953 when my dad was born. Just before his birth, my late Nonnou Nissim had a dream that his father requested he call his son Isaac after Nonnou's little brother, who 8 years earlier had died during the holocaust and had never had a marked grave. My father would be given Isaac's name and with my birth in 1980, the tradition would return as I'd get the name he would have had were it not for Nonnou's dream. Since high school, I've known that my first son's name would be Nissim. In fact, I mentioned it to Talya on our first date that it was something that was extremely important to me. I'm very honored to have the privilege of continuing this tradition - and hope and pray that my boy is blessed with the same loving kindness and dedication to his family and faith as my late Nonnou had.

Nissim means "miracles."

**Talya & I chose David to honor three special great grand parents - David Lieberman, David Capelouto & David Rosen.

David means "beloved." David was the second king of Israel, and is the ancestor of all future kings. (see Samuel 17:12).

For pictures of the event, please click here (Picasa Web Album) or here (Facebook Users)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The C that's really an A

It's hard to put into words exactly what I (as well as my wife obviously) went through Wednesday night through Thursday morning. So I'll do my best to describe the highs and lows in a few shorter stories


When I came home on Wednesday night after work, the apartment was empty. I called my wife and got no answer. Tried my mom, who told me she was out with the wife and that she was already in early labor, experiencing rather regular contractions. When they returned, I just smiled at my dear wife ... This was going to be the night it seemed. As we started timing and dealing with her contractions, I started going through my mind how I'd try to help my wife through this experience. With every stronger contraction, her discomfort resulted in an even stronger grasp of my two fingers (Credit to Aaron Hyman for teaching me the 'finger saving' method of 2 vs 3). By 10:30pm, we were off to the hospital.


My mind was racing. I was focused on helping Tals through this but I was getting excited. After tonight, I'd be a father. It's something I always longed for ... a family ... And now it was only hours away.


For over six hours, 'we' fought through each and every contraction. I say 'we' though I know I was but a helper, doing my best to keep her focused on her breathing and the fact that we'd get through this. After a few good hours of contractions, we were exhausted. We used every few minutes of quiet to close our eyes and sleep, only for Talya to awaken to the start of another contraction, and yet another strong clench of my fingers.


The pain was too much at one point - Talya wanted an epidural. By the time the papers had arrived to approve the epidural, Talya was close to be given the 'go ahead' for a natural birth. All hell was about to break loose.


A decreasing heartbeat got the doctors worried immediately. They tried to help the kid, but he wasn't responding at all. It continued to sink. "Emergency C Section now," the doctor barked into her cellphone. I look at Talya, she was scared. I was petrified. I turned around to get our bags to move and as I turned back, they were out of the room. I ran outside and they were gone. "Where is my wife?" I screamed. I had no idea where she was going and I wanted to be with her - we were in this together and I had to be next to her. A 23 year old Shasnik came outside. Seeing me in distress, he quickly pointed me over to the operation room. I got to the door, and the doctor said firmly, "Sorry, we'll keep you updated but you're not allowed in."


I watched the door shut, and burst into tears. I was alone, my wife was alone. I could do nothing to help her. I have never felt so scared, so useless in my life. The tears flowed down as I grabbed my 'Books of Pslams' and just held it. The 23 year old returned to me, and assured me, "You know who the Surgeon really is." I opened the book and started reciting some psalms. His mother-in-law followed shortly. "What's her name?", she asked calmly, "I'll pray for her." I looked at her and smiled, "You should be with your daughter now, she needs you too." Refusing to take no for an answer, she continued, "You are part of my nation, I will be with you too."


Alone again, I managed to calm myself down slightly. But the fear still gripped me. Please, let me see my wife again and let my kid be healthy. Scary thoughts started entering my mind, only to be shattered by a newborn cry of arrival.


"You have a beautiful son," the nurse said, "And your wife will be ok." I smiled. I quickly rang my mom and my mother-in-law before following my son to the nursery. After snapping a picture, I ran to the recovery ward. About thirty minutes later, I was allowed in to see my exhausted wife. In obvious discomfort, she smiled as I showed her the picture of our little angel.


Stay tuned for more about baby Piha as the days progress ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The New Arrival

Talya and I are very happy to announce the arrival of our first child, a baby boy born this morning at Hadassah Ein Kerem. Many more thoughts and pictures to follow ... stay tuned.

Monday, November 03, 2008

From Avraham Avinu to Menachem Begin

"So Abram said to Lot: 'Please let there be no more strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen'"
Parashat Lech Lecha, 13:8

"We shall continue to love the people of Israel, and we shall continue to fight for the people of Israel...Help me to persuade my people that it is forbidden for brother to raise a hand against brother, that it is forbidden that a Hebrew weapon be used against Hebrew fighters."
Menachem Begin, in the 'Speech of Tears' after the brutal attack on the Altalena by his 'brothers'.

For more similar quotes regarding Begin's refusal to promote strife between the Jewish people, read 'Civil War - Never!', 'The "Altalena" Affair' & 'When the Heart Weeps' in The Revolt

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Stamped for Life

This is a wonderful piece, courtesy of Aish, about a couple I had never heard of before. Like Raoul Wallenberg, they dedicated themselves to saving innocent Jews during some of mankind's darkest hours. Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara ... May their dear souls rest in peace.

Stamped for Life

When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Polish Jewry was trapped between two beasts, the Nazis to the West and the Communists to the East. On one side was certain death, on the other was spiritual destruction. There was nowhere to turn. As darkness set upon the European continent, the sun began to dawn in a far away land, where no one ever would have expected -- Japan, the land of the rising sun.

Polish and Lithuanian Jews sought to escape across the barren Soviet wasteland to the Far East. Underneath the Nazis' very nose, thousands of Jews took refuge in Japan, amongst the Nazis' own allies. How did they make it through the iron curtain to safety? As many as 10,000 Jews owe their salvation to the actions of one man and his wife, who defied everything but their own morals to save lives.

Rebel with a Cause

Chiune Sugihara was born on January 1, 1900, in Yaotsu, a rural area in Japan, into a middle class samurai family. Although the samurai clans put great emphasis on honor and tradition, Chiune was a rebel for most of his life. Instead of following in his father's footsteps and becoming a doctor, he deliberately failed the medical school entrance examination and instead pursued a degree in English literature with a hope to someday travel abroad. The Japanese Foreign Ministry eventually recruited him to serve as Foreign Minister in Manchuria in 1918 where he met with great success. While in Manchuria, Chiune became fluent in Russian and German and ended up converting to Orthodox Christianity. Despite his success, Chiune quit his post in Manchuria in protest over Japanese mistreatment of Chinese locals. In 1935, he returned to Japan, where he married Yukiko Kikuchi and together they had four sons.

In 1939, he became a vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. When Russia took over Lithuania in 1940, annexing it to the Soviet Union, thousands of Jewish refugees attempted to obtain exit visas to escape the iron grip of Communism; they knew full well that if they remained behind, they would either be forced to give up their Torah lifestyle or be shipped off to the dreaded Siberia. Furthermore, everyone knew that it was just a matter of time before Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and began his conquest of the Soviet Union. The refugees included several of the most prestigious yeshivas of Europe as well as many of the leading Rabbis of the time.

Leaving the Soviet grasp was not easy. The Soviets would only issue an exit visa to people possessing an entrance visa to a foreign country however it was almost impossible to find a foreign consulate who would grant such a visa. It was now Chiune Sugihara's moment to enter the stage.

Saving Lives Every Moment

Despite the refusal of the Japanese government in Tokyo to grant visas to anyone lacking the proper funds, Sugihara chose to defy official orders. From July 31 to August 28, 1940, Sugihara began to grant visas on his own initiative. During this time, he would spend 18 hours a day hand writing over 300 visas daily, more than one month's regular quota. He refused to take breaks to eat, knowing that every moment was a chance to save another life. At the end of each day, his wife recalled massaging his swollen hands.

He promised the crowds of refugees gathered outside the walls of the consulate that he would not abandon them. He would keep writing until every single person had a visa. "It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes," he said. "He cannot just help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes." (Levine, Hillel. [1996]. In Search of Sugihara: The Elusive Japanese Diplomat Who Risked His Life to Rescue 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust, p259).

Sugihara continued to issue visas until he was forced to leave his post on September 4 when his consulate was dissolved due to the impending Nazi invasion. He continued to write visas while in transit, throwing them into the crowd of desperate refugees while he boarded his train. When the train began to depart from the station, he allegedly threw his visa stamp into the crowd, enabling the Jews to continue to write their own visas. If he was humanly capable of doing more he would have. He was forced to leave so many behind, and it broke his heart that he was unable to save more.

From Obscurity to Honor

Between 6000-10,000 Jews were rescued by his heroic efforts, second only in numbers to the Jews saved by Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg. Many of the refugees made it safely to Japan with no intention of continuing to another destination. Some 20,000 Jews survived the war in the Shanghai ghetto despite German pressure for the Japanese government to liquidate the Jewish refugees. In a legendary meeting between the Amshinover Rebbe and several Japanese generals, the question was posed as to why the German's hated the Jews so much. Without missing a beat the Amshinover Rebbe responded, "Because we are not Aryan like them, we are Asians."

In 1945, the Japanese government unceremoniously dismissed Sugihara from his diplomatic service and to this day they deny that it was related to his behavior in Lithuania. From then on, he lived a low key existence for the rest of his life, working hard to make a living to support his family. He lived a quiet, humble life, and his story remained virtually unknown. He felt no need to talk about his accomplishments because he saw nothing extraordinary about them.

In 1968, Sugihara was discovered by one of his beneficiaries, a diplomat to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo. He was granted the honor of Righteous among the Nations by the State of Israel in 1985. He passed away one year later and only when a large delegation of Jews from around the world appeared at his funeral, did his story become known to the Japanese people.

When asked about his motivations, Sugihara replied by quoting an old samurai saying, Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge. "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't I would be disobeying God," he said. "There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives... The spirit of humanity, philanthropy... neighborly friendship...with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation -- and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage." (Levine, ibid)

Visas for Life

Chiune Sugihara's widow, Yukiko, passed away last month at 94. In her book, "Visas for Life," Yukiko describes her own feelings as she watched the crowds of Jews waiting outside the Japanese consulate in Lithuania: "We saw a little child standing behind his mother hiding himself in his mother's coat, and a girl with an expression of hunger and terror which made her look like an adult and some others crouching in fatigue." She had just given birth to her third child and recalled thinking that if those mothers loved their children as much as she loved hers, she must try to help them.

She stood firmly behind her husband and was the driving force to keep him going despite all odds. "The Jews who passed through Kaunas still treasure the visas which my husband issued," she said. "They didn't forget what they shouted when we were leaving Kaunas station. 'We will never forget you. We will see you again.' I've heard that, as a people, the Jews never forget a promise."

Today, over half a century and two generations later, there are over 40,000 people who owe their lives to Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara. We will never forget.

He's baaack

Haaretz's latest headline:

Ex-cabinet minister Benny Begin announces return to Likud
By Yossi Verter, Haaretz Correspondent

Former cabinet minister and Likud MK Benny Begin will soon announce his return to politics and to the Likud Party, and his intention to run in the party primary for the next Knesset list.

Begin, who dropped out of politics and public life in 1999, agreed in talks with Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu over recent weeks to return to the party, after having apparently been promised a ministerial appointment if Netanyahu should win the upcoming elections.

I mentioned back in February how much I'd like to see this man return to politics ... I guess my vote is already cast.