Monday, July 12, 2010

Update: Making Peace with Change

I did more research after writing yesterday's blog post. I still wasn't really that at peace with my decision. I wanted to ensure I was doing the right thing for myself, and my family.

After a quick review, I found out (I'm not sure how I missed this yesterday) that Rav Yosef Karo (Maran Yosef) actually writes in the Shulchan Aruch about shavoah she'chal bo as the Jews of Rhodes, and Sefardim (not to be confused here with Mizrachim), practiced it.

That led me to the key question here: does Minhag Yerushulayim (Jerusalem custom; That of the Sfradim who lived here, as the Ashkenazi Jews that lived here had their own Minhag Yerushalayim) take precedence here (as it was in practice before Karo wrote the Shulchan Aruch) as I am a resident of the city. As I am not a permanent resident of the city (at least not yet, so this may be revisited in the future) and have a halachic backing for my minhag (custom), I do not feel the need, or obligation, to change it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Making Peace with Change

Every morning, one of the members of the shul where I attend shacharit (morning services) read a halacha (Jewish law), or two, from the Yalkut Yosef. This past Thursday morning, the halacha read essentially said a minhag (custom) I held during the first nine days of Av may be wrong. I won't go into depth about the minhag (eating meat until Shavoah she'chal bo) but after the service ended, I discussed with a few members of the community what I do, which was confirmed by a Rabbi who is well versed in the halachot of Rhodes, an island south of Turkey which was a home to a thriving small Sefardi (Judeo-Spanish) community before the Holocaust.

By the time the conversation had ended, I had decided I needed to do some research to ensure what I was doing was in fact ok. I e-mailed my dad to ask him if the Rabbi had a source, and also picked up Rabbi Dobrinsky's excellent A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs. After going back and forth, I realized that I needed to change my minhag. When I told my dad this, he approved but made the following comment:

Unfortunately, the people who say that the tradition is untenable if there is no source are cementing the Holocaust’s work, because these communities’ written halachot were destroyed in the holocaust.

It hurt me to read that. I'm extremely proud of my roots, and do my best to adhere to customs that have been passed along for generations. It left me in a bind.

This morning after shacharit, I had a long discussion with Yossi, who reads the Torah every Shabbat morning. I told him why I was struggling with what to do. He made the point that since the minhag does in fact clash with the halacha, it's best I do change the minhag. However, he then stressed something that I was foolishly overlooking. I can still teach Nissim that this was done in Rhodes (even if we do not practice it in Israel) while actually teaching and observing with him the Rhodesli customs (with regards to food, nusach and music for example) that were passed on to me by my parents.

I hope that, like my father & mother with me, I'm successful in transmitting my enthusiasm, love and appreciation of these customs* to Nissim (and G-d willng, the other children that follow) so that he carriers them, like me, on his journeys.

* I'd just like to add that while these customs are important, they're 2nd fiddle to teaching Nissim to love his faith and be an active & respectful member of Am Yisrael.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Gilad Shalit

I don't even know where to begin this. Fact is, I really hope this boy sees his parents and home soon. He's been in solitary confinement for over four years, with no contact with the world he left behind on June 25th, 2006. He's probably endured mental hardships none of us will even come close to experiencing. And yet, what I'm seeing on TV with this march demanding his return doesn't sit with me well. Now don't get me wrong, if I was Gilad's father I'd probably be doing the same exact thing. But this still doesn't sit well with me.

Gilad cannot come back at any cost - especially if that price will include jailed terrorists who will continue to be active. If they kill again, are we willing to tell those newly bereaved parents that Gilad's life was worth more than the lives of their loved ones? Pidyun Shovyim is an important issue here, but I feel its importance is lessened in this situation as it increases the desire of our enemies to take hostages. If I was Noam or Aviva Shalit, I wouldn't care about the last paragraph I've written. As a father myself, I respect and understand that is their way is the only way the parents should be thinking. But as an Israeli with no 'family' attachment to Gilad, I cannot allow myself to think that way, or to expect my government to act that way.

As a soldier, I struggle with this 'what if' scenario all the time. I think however that once in uniform, our life becomes 'less important' than that of our civilian population, and hence, we shouldn't endanger it in any way. I'd never want to be in Shalit's position, but I'd rather not be the potential reason civilians die if I was. I'm sure it would be the opposite if I was sitting in the same room as Gilad is now, but this is where I stand without that horrific reality being a part of my decision making process.

34 years later

My latest article in Kaminando y Avlando, the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town's monthly publication:


July 4th marked the 34th anniversary of the Entebbe Raid. Although four years have passed since I wrote this article for my blog, I think the point is still highly relevant in light of recent events in Israel and abroad.


Another 4th of July is fast approaching here in Israel. A day that should mean something not only in Israel, but also worldwide, will probably only be mentioned because of its significance in US history. Little will be made of the fact that it is the anniversary of one of history's most daring anti-terror rescue operations. Thirty years have passed, but this event can still play a major role in shaping the world's mentality in pursuing its inalienable rights. During such an uncertain stage in Israel's & the world's war on radical Islam's terror tactics, July 4th should be remembered for the actions of Israel's elite forces during Operation Thunderbolt, otherwise known as the Raid on Entebbe.

A brief overview of the event: Late June 1976, an Air France jet left Israel and landed in Athens, where two Germans and two Arabs boarded the plane and hijacked it. The plane arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, where the terrorists were joined by more Arabs and friendly Ugandan troops (by orders of the country's president, Idi Amin). The terrorists demanded the release of their imprisoned comrades throughout Europe and Israel. After a few days, all the non-Jews and non-Israelis are released and flown to Paris – an eerie reminder for Israel of the Holocaust and the selections. As the world remained predictably silent, Israel planned a daring mission while 'attempting to negotiate.' Late July 3rd, Sayeret Matkal (Israel's most elite unit), with other standout soldiers from various units, left Israel on a 4,000 km flight in an attempt to deal a death blow to terrorism.

On July 4th, Israel's forces did the impossible: they rescued all but 4 of the hostages (2 were killed by stray bullets at the terminal, 1 died of his wounds in a Nairobi hospital and Dora Bloch z"l was left behind in a Ugandan hospital, where she was murdered by Ugandan troops) and one soldier, the commander of Sayeret Matkal, Yonatan ‘Yoni’ Netanyahu z"l. Israel had once again stood up to terror, refusing to allow it to dictate her policies.

The significance and importance of such an accomplishment should be stressed in light of worldwide events in the last few years. Islamic terror has killed thousands of innocent civilians since 2000, and while their numbers, supporters and strength continue to grow, the world's reactions become more timid and appeasingly pathetic. When the US pursues actions (offensives against terror supporting Afghani & Iraqi regimes) that it deems necessary to protect its citizens, far too many countries refuse to react. When Spain suffered a devastating attack that killed 191 people, its reaction was to change prime minister (PM) and withdraw all its troops from Iraq. Wonder what the terrorists learned from that?! When Australia lost over 100 citizens in the attacks on Bali in 2002, the reaction was a few harsh words from PM John Howard and since then, very little else. After the first suicide bus bombing in London, England's reaction also left much to be desired. So as radical Muslim activity flourishes in Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, too little is being done to put obstacles in the terrorists' paths. The inability to preempt, or react, is only further strengthening the belief of the terrorists that one day they will win the war against us.

The rescue at Entebbe stresses the right and duty of any nation to defend its citizens. A day to honor the bravery and dedication of those soldiers would stress a vital point: A country should undertake whatever means it deems necessary to protect its citizens from the threats of terrorism, be it a preemptive strike or by reacting to attacks. A good example of the above are the events surrounding the World Trade Center towers: Bill Clinton should have reacted with force after the first attack in '93, and by that I don't mean bombing a medicine factory in Sudan, and George Bush should have started to act when all the warnings came in before the tragic events of September 11th unfolded.

The free world is in a vital phase in its war to eliminate radical Islam's terror tactics and allow a moderate and peaceful Islam to flourish. Any backtracking or hesitation, like we're seeing today with Israel with regards to Hamas for example, will only strengthen the terrorists' resolve to destroy the values most of us take for granted. By commemorating and highlighting the brave actions of the IDF on July 4th 1976, the world would be sending a clear and necessary message to the terror cells of the world: No action taken against the citizens of the free world will go unpunished.