Thursday, December 22, 2011

In my Heart, In my Soul

Liverpool has been a part of me since I was growing up in Israel. I'm still not sure who got me into the footy team, but since I was 8/9, I was a fan of Liverpool FC. A few years later, I was hooked on the Beatles after being a part of a 'She Loves You' skit while in Club Med in Italy. The passion for both took on another level when my parents sent me to Carmel College in 1992, a boarding school in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, I never made it up to Liverpool and when my family moved to the US in '94, it seemed like the dream of seeing the city would be put on hold indefinitely. With the development of the internet, following Liverpool became easier and so that passion, as well as listening to the tens of Beatles CDs I had now accumulated, became an every day activity. Fast forward through high school and uni, and I moved to Israel. Within a few years, I was working for IDT Telecom and finding myself in London once to twice a year. In 2010, I managed to see Liverpool live for the first time, a 2-1 Carling Cup defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It was time I decided - I had to get up to Liverpool.

When my boss told me he wanted me in London from November 28th to 30th, I quickly glanced at Liverpool's schedule. YES! Liverpool were playing Manchester City at Anfield on the 27th, not to mention the added bonus of playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the 29th. I started looking for tickets, and soon, a family friend (Ian) from Leicester struck gold. I had tickets ... The dream was about to be realized at the ripe old age of 31! I arrived in England on Nov 25th, and made my way up to Manchester to spend some time with friends I met in Israel. It was a pleasant Shabbat, and on Sunday morning, I made my way to Liverpool for the first time.

I arrived at Liverpool's Lime Street Station around noon, and met Ian. The next two hours were spent touring the city: From St. Luke's Church, to the Cavern Club, to the schools that John, Paul and George attended, to the Albert Dock, to the Royal Liver Building, to seeing the Mersey, to Penny Lane, to Strawberry Fields, and to a few other landmarks. The last landmark was what I was anticipating for decades ... Anfield.

Before the walk there, I stopped at King Harry, a pub frequented by many of my mates from SixCrazyMinutes.com, a Liverpool forum. It was nice to put faces on people I've been talking to for years. After a pint, I had to run. I wanted to go into the stadium a bit early and soak up the atmosphere. As I walked towards Anfield, it was an incredible feeling. I've been waiting for this for so long, a childhood dream that became an adult dream that was finally being realized. Here it was ... and I was smiling as if I'd just won the lottery. I stopped and bought a scarf - how else was I going to sing You'll Never Walk Alone with the 40,000 other Liverpool fans? I passed the gates and there was the statue of Shanks, the mythical manager. A quick picture, and I started walking with Ian towards the gate. I was in footy heaven.

We started walking up the stairs towards the pitch and I caught a glimpse of the green grass. I started smiling like a little child again. As I walked in, I saw the Liverpool lads warming up and the famous Kop. I was actually there ... Anfield. I sat down, and started staring, filming and taking photos. I was on cloud nine and it was only 30 minutes before kick off! As the clock ticked down to kick off, the players walked onto the pitch. A minute of silence. Gary Speed, a fantastic player in his day and the current manager of Wales, had committed suicide in the morning. Anfield was silent. You could hear a pin drop. The whistle blows, and the famous anthem starts ... You'll never walk alone. Goosebumps ... I have sung this song many times with the fans, but it was always in front of a TV monitor or the PC, but now I was singing with 40,000 Reds. "When you walk through a storm ..." "Walk on with hope in your heart ..." It was special. The whistle interrupts the high ... kick off!

The first twenty five minutes were very frustrating. Liverpool gave Man City far too much room, and in the process, the back four was harassed continually. It felt like only a matter of time really, and City duly obliged with a Vincent Kompany goal off a corner. "Great," I thought to myself, "Let's hope we can find a way to stay in this." Before I even had a chance to finish my next thought, Charlie Adam had equalized thanks to a wicked deflecion. 1-1. Game on! That goal changed the momentum of the game. From then on, Liverpool were on top and creating chance after chance. A few minutes later, we all jumped thinking 2-1 but Joe Hart produced a great save off Adam after some great work from Dirk Kuyt & Luis Suarez. A few more half chances, and it's half time. Lucas, the much maligned Brazilian, has been dominant. Our defense has been strong. We're on top here, and there's a sense that we're about to hand City their first loss this season in the league. What a great 45 minutes - I'm loving every minute of this.

The second half kicks off. The first 30 minutes are ok - with neither side managing to dominate. It's back and forth, with a few half chances but neither keeper is troubled. Kuyt seems a shadow of the player he was last year - either bereft of confidence, or on one of his regular 2-3 month slumps. The first real chance for Liverpool in the 2nd half comes around the 80th minute, a great ball from Jordan Henderson finds Stuart Downing. His shot (or cross?) is hit brilliantly but misses the net and the onrushing Kuyt. Downing has had an ok game, but the amount of money we've spent on him, you'd want a goal or an assist every few games. He's yet to register one, though that was close. The last 10 minutes are looking tense for both clubs, but it swings Liverpool's way with a second yellow for Mario Balotelli. He's a nutter, but a player I've loved since his days at Inter. It may be harsh, but Liverpool fans are all too happy to boo him off. The last few minutes are going to be great!

The game picks up. Suarez, on a nice link up with Henderson, forces Hart into a great save. Big Andy Carroll is now on the pitch. As the fans sense a late winner, City almost hit us on the counter with a great run by Edin Dzeko leaving David Silva one on one with Pepe Reina. Reina comes out so fast that Silva hesitates, and by the time he shoots, 3 Liverpool players await the shot on the line and clear without much commotion. Three minutes added on. The seconds are ticking away, and I'm hoping for a miracle to end this great day. Great cross from GlenJo, Carroll gets a head on it - and another brilliant save from Joe Hart, extending to his left. Suarez gets the rebound, and Hart keeps it out again, with Downing's follow up effort booted over the bar. The whistle blows. It's over.

A great game, but I left absolutely gutted. 1-1? We should have won. With my voice almost gone, Ian and I started discussing the game. Pity, a real pity. The result wasn't what I wanted, but the last seven hours were. Seeing the city that has been a part of me for almost 25 years, meeting mates and watching the mighty Reds at Anfield in one day? Sheesh, very few non-family events can compare to this experience. As we made our way back down to Leicester, I told Ian I'd be back. You can't do this just once ...

For more photos, click here (they include pictures from Liverpool's game at Stamford Bridge - an experience which I hope to write about in the next few weeks).
_

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who am I?

He was one of the most important Jewish leaders during WWII ... Do you know who he is?

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Monday, December 05, 2011

At Any Cost?

There isn’t a place in Israel where you couldn’t see his face over the past five years, be it on bumper stickers, billboards or large road signs. His name was on the tongues of politicians, reporters and ordinary citizens over the same time period. He became a celebrity of sorts, and thousands rallied for him across Israel and major cities worldwide, including London, Rome, Paris and New York. On October 18, his popularity reached its peak—Gilad Shalit was coming home after almost 2,000 days as Hamas’s hostage. How did this soldier become such an iconic figure worldwide?

A year and a half after Shalit’s abduction in June 2006, Noam and Aviva Shalit turned to the media in order to ensure their son was front-page news as often as possible. The Israeli PR firm Rimon-Cohen-Shinkman worked tirelessly to ensure Shalit remained in the country’s daily thoughts. Their stickers, billboards, flags and iconic blue and white picture of the soldier struck gold. With full media support (they referred to Shalit as “The child of all of us,” or “The boy”—and not “the soldier in captivity”) and little opposition to the idea of a deal from politicians (career suicide?), porters, pressure continued to pressure grew on Bibi Netanyahu’s government to strike a deal with Hamas. The deal Bibi eventually struck was a costly one (90% of Israelis polled thought the price was too high), but one the Israeli public supported (80%) – 1,027 Palestinian prisoners would be released, amongst them some of the most evil terrorist minds Israel had arrested. The days that led up to, and those that followed, the release were extremely intense – a nation united around this joyous occasion despite the other side – a side of mourning, anger and fear.

There wasn’t one family in Israel that wasn’t happy for Gilad Shalit and his family. The soldier, who had been in captivity for over five years, was finally home. The pictures of Shalit on the phone with his family, saluting Bibi after disembarking, hugging his father or just smiling united the country. It was a feel good story – one that showed how much importance Israel places on our soldiers’ lives and how important of a figure Shalit had become in the Israeli psyche. However, despite this immense joy, there was another side. The wounds of families who had been ripped apart by the actions of some of the terrorists we released were inevitably reopened, and little to no attention was afforded them by the media or Supreme Court, whom they petitioned to stop the deal. Their pain and anger at this neglect highlighted how the “other side” was marginalized in the Gilad Shalit debate.

The other side of the “at any cost” campaign waged through the media cast, and will cast, a shadow on this deal for many years. The deal clearly shows terrorist groups that kidnapping Israeli soldiers works – an open invitation to capture the next Shalit. It also sadly ends the idea of a prison sentence, no matter how long, being a potential deterrent for terrorists; far too many of the terrorists released had so-called life sentences, and now they’re free with a university degree (courtesy of Israel). Many of the terrorists released have vowed to continue killing Jews, or helping educate the next generation of terrorists how to do so.

Since Israel released 435 prisoners for Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of two Israeli reservists in 2004, 27 Israelis have died as a direct result of those prisoners’ actions. Israel has directly endangered the lives of many Israelis by releasing so many cold-blooded, unrepentant killers in this deal. The Tannebaum deal strengthened Hezbollah’s position within the Arab world, and likewise, the Shalit deal has strengthened Hamas and greatly increased their popularity amongst the Palestinians. They sadly seem to be the biggest winners here.

Some have said that halachically this deal was a must as it fell under Pidyon Shvuyim (Redemption of Prisoners; the Talmud calls it a mitzvah rabbah, a great mitzvah, as captivity is viewed as worse than starvation and even death [Bava Batra 8b]). However, many rabbis have said that the issue is far more complicated due to the danger the released terrorists will pose to Israeli society. Despite the many worrying issues, Bibi’s government pushed through the deal. Gilad Shalit is home…but at what cost?

When Shalit was released, I went through a wide array of emotions. I was happy for him and his family. I sincerely hope he can get back to being “anonymous,” and that the media leaves him alone. I was also greatly saddened by the difficulty and pain the trade was causing victims of the terror attacks, as the perpetrators returned home as heroes, brandishing victory signs to the celebrating masses. At the same time, I was angry—we’ve freed killers who will kill again. If a few Israelis are killed because of these people, were their lives really worth less than Gilad Shalit’s? Perhaps my feelings, and those of many combat soldiers, have been best expressed by “Y,” a Shayetet 13 (Navy Seals) soldier:

***

If, heaven forbid, I should be abducted by a terrorist organization, I request the following from you:

Please do not organize any demonstrations, please do not conduct any interviews, please do not talk about how much this is hurting you and please do not organize any festivals or musical competitions on my behalf. Any novice in business knows that that is not the way to lower the asking price.

I am not “everybody’s child.” I am a combat soldier in captivity. Please do not use me as a pawn. I do not want the entire world to know who I am and what my name is, while nobody can remember the name of the soldier who died right by my side. I don’t need the media to use me as a freebee. I don’t want to become a tool for furthering all sorts of political agendas, power games or manipulations.

I don’t want to become the national beacon, nor do I want to be the entry ticket to the Israeli consensus. I don’t want the idea of my release to become official dogma that is forbidden to be questioned.

I do not want the people who dare think differently to be silenced on my behalf.

I don’t want the media to use me to get better ratings.

I don’t want entertainers to write a song about me to improve their Google results.

I am not a bottle of shampoo: Do not make a logo of my picture. Do not add my face to your Facebook profile. Do not stylize my silhouette to make a slogan.

Do not hire a public relations firm to mold public opinion and that of the decision makers. Do not set up “creative teams,” “optimization teams” or “marketing teams.” Do not set up a “headquarters.” Do not hold any staff meetings with burekas and slideshows. Do not hold any brainstorming sessions and do not create any “critical mass,” do not arrange any advertising budgets or market penetration. Do not write any strategy sketches, do not build any chart-, cross section- or graph-analysis of the population.

I do not want any “panel of experts” or conferences. I don’t want anybody counting the number of days of my captivity. I don’t want any “depression merchants” making a career off my story.

Do not produce any pins, ties, flags or t-shirts. Do not hold any marches, demonstrations or parades for me. Do not set up any on-campus petition booths for me. These things will decrease my chances of being released. These things only serve to confuse our decision makers. I am not a reality show. I don’t want you to photograph me with my father as a souvenir while thousands of murderers are being released on my behalf.

I don’t want you to wave any blue-white flags when really, we are in a white-flag atmosphere.

I don’t want the cold-blooded murderer of 16 people smiling as he is being released, having gained some weight within the few years since he directed a victory sign at the families of the murder victims in the court room.

I am not prepared for the hundreds of families who only recently buried their babies, who are rightfully filled with rage, to be presented as “party poopers.” I am not prepared for the kid who went with his father, mother and three brothers to eat pizza and came back alone, to watch the murderer eat baklava in his “victory hut,” a mere 20 kilometers away. I don’t want the murderers released to eastern Jerusalem to ride the light rail together with my niece. I don’t want families whose entire world has just caved in on them to read in the paper that the man who murdered their boy is going on a Club Med vacation in Turkey. I don’t want their pain to receive a mere one-eighth page coverage, just before the sports news, because “reporting-wise it is better that way.” They already know that the blood of their beloved sons is cheap; they don’t need to have their hearts crushed completely.

I feel just so comforted to know that the president has “pardoned but not forgiven them.”

I don’t want the next Intifada to be named after me.
_

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Judge Every Person Favorably, II

On the way home from beit knesset two weeks ago, I walked by a notice that said Yosef Mutzari had passed away. After reading his distinguished background (A Rabbi of a beit knesset in Katamon, a teacher at Porat Yosef for over two decades, wrote a book and various other accolades), I asked a neighbor who he was as I thought I knew him. My hunch was right. I used to see Mutzari z'l read Torah at the Katamon Shtiblach when I prayed shacharit there a few years ago, and always saw him walking on my street.

A few days later, I saw another notice to a meal to honor Mutzari after the shiva, with Rabbis such as R' Ovadia Yosef and R' Shlomo Amar speaking. Now I was curious - who exactly was this humble, quiet man? He was part of R' Ovadia's chavruta! I guess every man could possibly be a Chacham, eh?
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Taxi Driver

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

***


When I first started praying at the Kurdi Beit Knesset near my home, a co-worker asked me, "Isn't that the Beit Knesset where the taxi drivers pray?" This happened four years ago, and I felt that this innocent comment was rather insulting to the Beit Knesset’s members. Why would a house of worship be defined by the occupation of those who pray there? “I don’t know,” I responded to the co-worker and continued on my way.


One of the people who prays with me at another Beit Knesset near my place is a taxi driver. Granted, I think he’s doing it for some extra money as I think he’s retired but he’s still a taxi driver. Abroad, one would scoff at that line of work – here too apparently. A taxi driver? Peasants. Probably a high school dropout, or a lazy person who couldn’t make it in the corporate world. However, this taxi driver (and many others too) is special. He’s a phenomenal shat"z (shaliach tzibbur, the person who leads the prayers) and ba'al koreh (the person who reads the Torah). What’s even more impressive is that his four boys (I've never met his two girls) are all excellent when they're called to be the shat"z or ba'al koreh, from the youngest (14) to the oldest (25). Yup, a taxi driver ... A phenomenal man.

The above reminds me of the story of the Rabbi who entered the classroom every morning to find new insights on the Talmud on his chalkboard. Every day, without fail, the chalkboard contained pearls of wisdom that were mostly new to him. One evening, the Rabbi stayed in the corner of the classroom and waited for the protégé to reveal himself. At midnight, the yeshiva's elderly janitor walked into the room. To the Rabbi’s amazement, he sat down at a desk, begun reading the Talmud and started to scribble on the chalkboard. His genius was the janitor.

Of course not every janitor proves to be an Einstein, nor every taxi driver a scholar, but the point is that profession alone does not define a man (or woman), and if you write someone off, or judge them negatively, simply because of what they do, you're navigating by stereotype and closing yourself off to unexpected learning and human connection. I guess both stories are rather nicely summed up by Pirkei Avot 1:6, “Judge every person favorably.”
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Judge Every Person Favorably, I

The story is told of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the famed tzaddik of Jerusalem, who once spotted a young soldier on a short furlough from the army.

The Rabbi knew the young man from the neighborhood in Geula, and so he crossed the street in order to extend his hand in greeting. “Shalom Aleichem,” said the venerable sage, “Please come to my home. I would very much like to drink tea with you and hear about your activities.”

The young soldier seemed uncomfortable, “I don’t think it’s right for me to come visit you,” he said. “I don’t wear a kippa anymore.”

Rabbi Levin, in his black hat and black kaftan, smiled warmly at the young man and took his hand in his own. “Don’t you see?,” he said, “I’m a very short man. I see you, but I cannot look up so high as to notice as to whether you are wearing a kippa. But I can see your heart – and your heart is big and kind, and that’s what counts. You are also a soldier placing your life at risk for all of us in Israel. Please drink tea with me; your kippa is probably bigger than mine."
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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Riskin on Jewishness

A great passage from R' Shlomo Riskin's latest book, Listening to God. I've written about this numerous times, and I just hope most of Israel will realize how the lack of attachment to our Jewish identity and history is destroying the country far more than any other Arab country could

'I believed in peace based on compromise with Israel when I thought Israel would win. I changed my mind; I now believe that we will win in an armed battle. I changed my mind shortly before the prisoner exchange. I was exercising in the prison courtyard when I saw the Israeli guard eating pita and falafel. 'How can you eat what you're eating?' I asked him. 'I'll eat whatever I want,' he responded. 'I am still the guard and you are still the prisoner! I tell you what to eat. You don't tell me what to eat.' 'But today is the third day of Passover,' I told him. 'Your Bible forbids you eating pita bread on Passover.' 'I couldn't give a damn what a book written four thousand years ago hast o say about anything,' said the guard. At that moment, I felt I had experienced an epiphany. 'If the Israels don't care what the Bible says about Passover, they won't care about the Land of Israel either. If they are not connected to the Bible, they are not connected to the land They will not be willing to sacrifice for the land. This is a bad neighborhood for you Israelis.'
Salah Ta'amri

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jabotinsky's warning

It is now three years that I plead with you, Jews of Poland, the crown of world Jewry. I warn you without respite that the catastrophe approaches. My hair has turned white and I have grown old during those years since my heart bleeds, dear brothers and sisters, because you do not see the volcano which will soon begin to erupt with the fire of destruction. I see a terrible sight, time is short when one can still save oneself.

I know you do not see because you are busy and worried with your day-to-day cares. Listen to my words at this twelfth hour: For God's sake, let everyone save his soul while there is still time - and time is short!

And I want to say to you one more thing today,the Ninth of Av: those who will succeed to escape the calamity will live to see a festive moment of great Jewish joy: the renewal and establishment of the Jewish State! I don't know if I myself will live to see it - but my son will see it! Of that I am certain, just as I am certain that tomorrow the sun will shine. With all my heart I believe in it

I wonder how many people ignored Zev Jabotinsky's warnings solely because he was a revisionist? Far too many probably ...
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Noach

The opening of Parshat Noach starts off by telling us that Noach was "a righteous man, perfect in his generations," (Bereshit 6:9). Rashi states that this is a rebuke of Noach, who was only righteous in his generations due to the ways of his contemporaries (Sefer HaParshiyot states however that the righteous of each generation must be judged in terms of their own times).

Later in the parsha, Noach is told, "Make for yourself an Ark of gopher wood," (Bereshit 6:14). Rashi's view of Noach is accepted by the Alshich, who sees this as a rebuke of Noach, "Make an ark to symbolize your own behavior. You remained aloof from your compatriots, instead of chastising them and trying to save them by improving their conduct. Now you will isolate yourself in an Ark with beasts and animals."

Further criticism of Noach comes from Isaiah, who actually calls the Flood "waters of Noach," (מי נח, Isaiah 54:9) due to Noach's failure to even try to influence his generation. The Zohar even implies that Noach was responsible for the Flood (which confirms the awesome responsibility Tzaddikim have).

Noach's actions present us with an important lesson - one must strive to live a righteous life that can affect his surrounding environment for the better. Unlike Avraham Avinu, who came ten generations later, Noach's righteousness was essentially hidden from the masses, depriving a needing world of his positive influence and guidance.

(Ideas taken from The Stone Edition Chumash)
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Livni's at it again

Another morning, another ridiculous statement from Tzippi Livni:

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) broke her silence Sunday over the Gilad Shalit’s prisoner exchange which saw the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for the abducted soldier, stating that the deal “legitimizes and strengthens” Hamas.

I wonder, if just perhaps, maybe, pulling out of Gaza and handing the entire territory to Hamas strengthened Hamas just a little bit? Perhaps she already forgot she voted and backed the release of 400 prisoners to Hezbollah for a drug dealer (Elhanan Tannenbaum) and two bodies (Goldwasser and Regev) despite the fact it would 'legitimize and strengthen' them?

I cannot believe people actually think this Kerry-like politician can lead our country ...
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Letter by a Shayetet 13 Commando

This letter, written by a combat soldier in Shayetet 13, was translated by a friend, and I think it offers a different opinion that has sadly been silenced by our media over the past few years.

If heaven forbid, I should be abducted by a terrorist organization I request the following from you:

Please do not organize any demonstrations, please do not conduct any interviews, please do not talk about how much this is hurting you and please do not organize any festivals or musical competitions on my behalf. Any novice in business knows that that is not the way to lower the asking price.

I am not “everybody’s child”. I am a combat soldier in captivity. Please do not use me as a pawn. I do not want the entire world to know who I am and what my name is – while nobody can remember the name of the soldier who died right by my side. I don’t need the media to use me as a freebee. I don’t want to become a tool for furthering all sorts of political agendas, power games or manipulations.

I don’t want to become the national beacon, nor do I want to be the entry ticket to the Israeli consensus. I don’t want the idea of my release to become official dogma which is forbidden to be questioned.

I do not want the people who dare think differently to be silenced on my behalf.

I don’t want the media to use me to get better ratings.

I don’t want entertainers to write a song about me to improve their Google results.

I am not a bottle of shampoo: do not make a logo of my picture. Do not add my face to your Facebook profile. Do not stylize my silhouette to make a slogan.

Do not hire a public relations firm to mold public opinion and that of the decision makers. Do not set up “creative teams”, “optimization teams” or “marketing teams.” Do not set up a “headquarters.” Do not hold any staff meetings with burekas and slideshows. Do not hold any brainstorming sessions and do not create any “critical mass,” do not arrange any advertising budgets or market penetration. Do not write any strategy sketches; do not build any chart-, cross section-, or graph-analysis of the population.

I do not want any “panel of experts” or conferences. I don’t want anybody counting the number of days of my captivity. I don’t want any “depression merchants” making a career off my story.

Do not produce any pins, ties, flags or t-shirts. Do not hold any marches, demonstrations or parades for me. Do not set up any on campus petition booths for me. These things will decrease my chances of being released. These things only serve to confuse our decision makers. I am not a reality show. I don’t want you to photograph me with my father as a souvenir while thousands of murderers are being released on my behalf.

I don’t want you to wave any blue-white flags when really, we are in a white-flag atmosphere.

I don’t want the cold-blooded murderer of sixteen people smiling as he is being released, having gained some weight within the few years since he made a V-sign at the families of the murder victims in the court room.

I am not prepared for the hundreds of families who only recently buried their babies, who are rightfully filled with rage, to be presented as “party poopers”. I am not prepared for the kid who went with his father, mother and three brothers to eat pizza and came back alone, to watch the murderer eat baklava in his “victory hut”, a mere 20 kilometers away. I don’t want the murderers released to eastern Jerusalem to ride the light rail together with my niece. I don’t want families whose entire world has just caved in on them to read in the paper that the man who murdered their boy is going to a Club Med vacation in Turkey. I don’t want their pain to receive a mere one eighth page coverage, just before the sports news, because “reporting-wise it is better that way.” They already know that the blood of their beloved sons is cheap; they don’t need to have their hearts crushed completely.

I feel just so comforted to know that the president has “pardoned but not forgiven them”.

I don’t want the next Intifada to be named after me.

“Y”.
A Shayetet 13 combat soldier.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Value

It's funny ... and sad ... on so many levels:

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Welcome Home Gilad

I'm putting aside the obvious issues that this deal presents (at least for now!), and welcoming Gilad Shalit back to Israel after almost 2000 days in captivity.

Welcome back Gilad!

Chag Sameach!
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bereshit & Daniel's vision

An interesting connections between Bereshit, which we'll be reading this coming Saturday as the Torah 'begins' again, to Daniel's vision of the four empires (Daniel 7:1-28):

"And the earth was desolate and in turmoil, and there was darkness on the face of the abyss, and the spirit of G-d hovered upon the fact of the water," (Bereshit 1:2).

Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish (Bereshit Rabba, 2:5) sayst he word 'desolate' refers to the Babylonian empire; the word 'turmoil' refers to Persia/Medes; the word 'darkness' refers to Greece who darkened the light of Israel through its decrees; and the phrase 'upon the face of the abyss' refers to the Edom/Rome empire which is as unfathomable as an abyss. This unfolding of history leads to 'the spirit of G-d,' hovering over the waters.

From the commentary on R' Kook's War and Peace
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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Jewish Fundamentalism

With the scary & despicable events (mosque arson & grave graffiti) that seem (Trying to give benefit of the doubt and 'innocent until proven guilty,' but it's not easy) to be our very own taking extreme steps, the following paragraph from the commentary on R' Kook's War and Peace seems prophetic:

If the war between Iraq and Iran awakens a passionate movement of Islamic fundamentalism, bringing the doctrine of Islam to its most strident expression, then a parallel force in the fundamentalism of Judaism will be catalyzed to appear in a more dominant form.
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10 questions with Ahmed

Ahmed [False name used to protect identity and family] and I have been talking online since I saw a blog post of his about Zionism (back in 2004), which I thought needed my response. Though he's an Iraqi Muslim and I'm a Israeli Jew, we've become friends and despite various disagreements, there is a strong mutual respect and warm friendship. Here's a Q & A session with the man himself:

1) I remember what started our friendship was a post you had written about Judaism and Zionism. I didn't agree with various points you made, and I e-mailed you to discuss. Do you remember your first recollections of our conversation (and don't worry if you don't, I really don't anymore either!)?

How could I forget?! I was still at work and received your email. The first thing that caught my eyes was the letters "IDF".

You were serving in the army then, if my memory doesn't betray me, and you mentioned that you wanted to "extend an olive branch." I remember I sat back and started thinking. Growing up in a country that was run by an anti-Israel regime, I started thinking if this was a scam, an email from Mossad trying to recruit an Iraqi or if it was a real Jewish person who wanted to become friends with me.

I remember I did not respond right away to give it more thought. I was still doubtful even when I replied later. I was mainly worried because you were in the IDF, which is something considered evil, brutal and even satanic in Iraq.

2) As we talked more, how did your impression of Israeli Jews - especially religious Zionist Jews - change, if it did at all?

Before we had started talking, I met the first Jews ever in my life at work. They were Jewish Americans whom I worked and became good friends with. During that time, I started realizing there is a difference between what I grew up knowing and what the real definition of "Jew" is.

Most Iraqis, especially my generation, thought that every Jew is an Israeli Zionist, someone who "hates Palestinians and who wants to get rid of them forever."

However, I realized that there is actually a difference between the word "Zionist" and the word "Jew". Mind you, we were not subject to question the difference or even learn there is a difference!

You were honestly the very first Israeli Jew I've ever known and talked to. I must say that despite the fact that I was doubtful of you at first, I was a bit excited that you contacted me. Of course, it is still something I never shared with any of my family members and friends. No one would understand where I come from.

As we became friends -as I like to describe it- I started learning about where you come from. I disagreed, and still do, with a lot of the things you agree on. However, discussing such issues with you made me think that it's OK to disagree and not hate.

I do not remember if I "hated" Jews but I remember hating what the Palestinians were going through, especially during the second Intifada, which of course made me a bit angry with the "Zionists". Keep in mind, the word "Zionist" is considered a very bad word. We even did not call Israel "Israel". Instead, we used to call it "The Zionist Entity".

Something you may not know is Iraqis are not huge fans of Palestinians, but we have a saying "I'm against my cousin but I support my cousin against the stranger."

3) Growing up in Saddam's Iraq as a minority must have been difficult. What stands out about your youth there?


I'm from a Shiite background, something I don't like to define myself with or with any other term other than "Iraqi" or "Arab".

Under Saddam, most Iraqis from all sects and religions suffered. It was only the elite group that was favored by the regime. It included those from all sects and religions who were loyal to Saddam and the Baath Party.

4) You made a comment once about how you were educated about Jews in school. Can you share a bit more about that?

Well, like I said earlier we were mainly taught that the "Palestinian Cause" is something important and that Jews are the ones who are killing Palestinians and stealing their land. So you can imagine what we considered Jews to be.

Unfortunately, this has not changed much even after the Saddam was overthrown. However, Kurdish Iraqis are a little bit more accepting, at least the politicians. Rumors have it in Iraq that Kurdish leaders are in touch with their Israeli counterparts but they don't talk about it, fearing public rage.

5) What was it like being a war zone correspondent around that danger? Did it create any issues for you or your family? Any regrets?

Working for this news organization made me a stronger person. It was very hard to be objective and unbiased since I was covering the horrors my country was going through.

6) How did you get to the US? What are your thoughts about the country?

I came to the US to pursue my graduate studies. An American friend of mine encouraged me to apply to study in the US. In 2006, I arrived and have been living here since.

The US is a diverse place of people and thoughts. I come across ignorant, racist and intolerant people sometimes but I also meet very open-minded people who are aware of what is happening in the world.

I believe that a lot of American still need to get out of the bubble they live in and understand the world in a better way. A lot of Americans still think it's "UnAmerican" to question what happens here. This needs to change in order to better solve the problems.

7) You're a big fan of Obama. How do you think the Arab world sees the man? Do you feel he can promote a strong relationship between the US and the Arab world? How do you feel he's handled the Arab Spring rebellions?

I'm an Obama fan mostly because he's Democrat which I lean to become when I become a US citizen. I think he really cares about the people who are struggling in the US, but the Republicans are not giving him the chance to help those in need because they think it's "socialism," which they consider a bad thing. I think socialism can be useful too if it is not abused.

With regards to the Arab Spring, I do not like where the US administration stand. On one hand it was completely silent with regards to the tyrannical oppression of protesters in Bahrain, while on the other hand it intervened in what happened in Libya. It's all a matter of interests and the victims are the people. I believe you either fully support protesters' legitimate demands in every country controlled by totalitarian regimes or you don't. It's too ideal I believe and it will never happen.

8) What are your thoughts on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad & Iran?

I pity the Iranian people because of him. I know a lot of Iranians inside and outside Iran who despise what he's doing. He's taking his country backwards and hurting whatever chance left to make Iran blend in with the rest of the world.

9) You recently got engaged, so congrats yet again. Do you wish to settle down in the US and build your future there? Or is there a hope to return home, to Iraq? What do you see for the future of Iraq?

Thanks for the kind wishes!

The future in Iraq is grim. It'll take a really long time to rebuild Iraq to at least how it was before 2003. I do want to go home and help rebuild but like we say, "One hand doesn't clap". We need a group effort which doesn't seem like it's going to happen anytime soon.

I do intend to live in the US for now. Things change and you never know what the next step might be sometimes even if you plan it!

10) Last but not least - if you could control the powers that be, how would you end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Two states as a start. Both sides must compromise. Palestinians need to build their new country and stop saying "It's our land. You stole it from us" and the Israelis should compromise and stop the whole "We were here before you" ideology if they both want peace. If no one compromises, this conflict will never end.
_

In the News, II

This time, Haaretz:

Ashdod, returning from suspension, looked excited to be back in the thick of things. The team started off the brighter side with its number 11 rattling the crossbar on 12 minutes with a header. Moments later Jaffa was unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty after an Ashdod player appeared to handle the ball in the area. Ashdod also tasted bad luck in the first half after its winger was denied a penalty despite being hacked down in the area by Jaffa full back Yossi Sandler.

Jaffa got on the score sheet first as a defense-breaking pass from Alberto Tellias came through to Nir Hacohen, who confidently netted Jaffa's first goal of the season. The beginning of the second half saw Ashdod grab a deserved equalizer as Shlomi Touboul ran 40 meters past several Jaffa players before placing a low drive past Jaffa keeper Avram Piha.

Ashdod looked to take charge of the game but Jaffa had not given up the three points as Hacohen hit the crossbar for the second time in the game on 67 minutes. But it wasn't to be Jaffa's night, and on 77 minutes Alberto Tellias saw his powerful header hit the Ashdod crossbar.

A tiring Jaffa side weathered the storm over the last 10 minutes from a fast Ashdod attack. Daniel Berkeley, Simon Berkley and goalkeeper Avram Piha deserved full credit for making sure that Jaffa didn't end the night empty-handed.
_

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Roskas ... The Tradition Continues

My family traditionally breaks the fast (no pun intended) approaching Yom Kippur fast with feta, tomatoes, olive oil and za'atar sandwiched in a roska, a sweet bread/roll (drink of choice: Pepitada). One can obviously have roskas throughout the year, but we tend to only have them after the fast which is probably why I look forward to Yom Kippur more than most! ;) On that note, gmar chatima tova!

The recipe


Dough, Part I



Dough, Part II


Ready to go into the oven


The final product


תזכו לשנים טובות ונעימות
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Only in Israel

Gmar Chatima Tova!
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Taste like Chicken?

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Reshikas ... The Tradition Continues

Reshikas are twice baked cookies, served for various occasions including Rosh Ha'Shana (Spanish / English article). Talya & I decided to make them this year for the first time. The shapes aren't nearly as good as the ones Nonna, Mom or Tova make - but for a first effort, I'm happy. As Nonna said however, it's the taste that counts and they're yummy!

The recipe


Dough (yummy!)


Ready to go into the oven


The final produ
ct (well, before crisping)


שנה טובה ומתוקה! תזכו לשנים טובות ונעימות
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Concessions & History

Gidon Levy is an extremist. He does not represent the majority of Israeli left wingers. However, he does raise two ideas in his latest op-ed in Haaretz which are far too common way of thinking within the Israeli left. Levy highlights the falsehoods that concessions will probably bring peace and that attachment to our history is a stumbling block in our maturation as a country.

Netanyahu was particularly persuasive when he explained that a Palestinian state would endanger Israel - narrow waist, just hundreds of meters from Israeli cities, thousands of rockets - one giant blah-blah that willfully ignores the possibility of peace.

Willfully ignores the possibility of peace? Concessions don't bring peace in this region, and if they do, it's temporary at best. Menachem Begin's peace with Egypt brought temporary quiet to Israel's southern border, but peace? Egypt's government continued to promote vicious anti-semitism and anti-Israel sentiments in their media, and we are seeing the full effect of this during the overthrow of Hosni Mumbarak. With the non-stop threats from Egypt that the peace treaty is not permanent and can be ended, the concessions we made bought us 30 years of quiet and that's it it seems (unless we include the US giving Egypt non-stop military aid to make their army a serious player in this region). Yitzchak Rabin's Oslo Accords brought suicide bombers into Tel Aviv. Ehud Barak's Camp David attempt brought us the 2nd Intifada and 1,000+ dead Israelis and 3,000+ dead Palestinians. Arik Sharon's Disengagement brought us a Hamas government and rockets on Ashkelon & Ashdod. Two states won't necessarily bring peace, especially if we listen to Hamas ("It can not abandon the path of jihad and resistance and its dedication to the martyrs with their blood and their sacrifice." - source) or Fatah ("If we say that we want to wipe Israel out... C'mon, it's too difficult. It's not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don't say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself." - source), the parties who rule, and will rule, Gaza and the West Bank. I have no problem with people promoting two states in hope that it will bring peace - but we need to be realistic. Deliberately keeping our heads in the sand has resulted in much bloodshed over our history - why continue with this self-imposed blindness?

Every decent Israeli must be ashamed of their prime minister, who stands before the world and tries to sell it the same old shopworn, even rotten goods that are long past their expiration date, expounding on ancient, irrelevant chapters of history

Ancient, irrelevant chapters of our history? Excuse me? Why are we here again? How can any decent Israeli not be horrified by what Levy is highlighting here - the secular Left's detachment from their Jewish identity. I've written about this before, and Arik Sharon's quote needs repeating:

And I for one, even then, never believed we would really be able to survive here if we were nothing more than Israelis. For our attachment to the land of Israel, our identity with it, comes through out Jewishness. I am a Jew, I thought then, as I think now. That does not mean I am a religious man. I am not. When it comes to practicing Judaism, there is much I do not know. But I do know for certain that above everything I am a Jew and only afterwards an Israeli and the rest.

I just hope that Arik's warning is 'heard' amongst the secular Left before it's too late.

This conflict isn't about land - it wasn't before '48, it wasn't after '48 or '67 and it's not that now. It's about something that has been an active part of the Jew's life in this region since ~600 CE:

The key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and in the wider Israeli-Arab dispute, is the issue that dare not speak its name, the pervasive and profound anti-Semitism that permeates the contemporary Islamic world, especially the Middle East.

This is the real barrier to peace, and people who are concerned with peace will try to ameliorate it.


It is analytically false, historically untrue and conceptually impossible that all this anti-Semitism has arisen from Israel’s sins, real and imagined.


Greg Sherdian


(h/t Gedaliah)
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Credit where Credit's due

I'm not sure what President Obama's motivations where for yesterday's speech, but it was an important speech and he deserves credit for it:

I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek – the question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.

...

Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were.

These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

תשע"ב on the way

A really nice video from Aish ... "Growth takes patience and perseverance."



Wishing all a happy & healthy New Year.

שנה טובה ומתוקה לכולם

תשע"ב on the way!
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Twerski on Pursuit of Happiness

Many people sacrifice comforts, conveniences, and pleasure in pursuit of an ultimate goal. However, if the ultimate goal is pursuit of pleasure, it is unreasonable to expect people, especially youngsters, to sacrifice pleasure for the ultimate goal which is ... pursuit of pleasure. Western culture with its hedonism has painted itself into a corner.

What about Torah-observant families? Let us be brutally frank with ourselves. Many Torah-observant families have been caught up in pursuit of pleasure, the one difference being that they partake only of pleasures that have a hechsher, which today includes almost everything.

It is not as though we were not forewarned in regard to this. The Ramban in reference to the mitzvah (Leviticus 19:2), "You shall be holy," asks, 'What is the requirement of this mitzvah?' His answer is prophetic. It is possible for a person to technically observe all of the restrictions in the Torah, yet live a life of physical indulgence. The mitzvah of kedoshim tehiyu, "You shall be holy," means that a person should abstain not only from things that are forbidden by the Torah, but even from the many things that are permissible, but which are unnecessary for optimum health and functioning."

Taken from Positive Parenting by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Livni & Being Israeli

Not like I need more reasons to dislike her, but Tzippi Livni dropped even further in my eyes when she opened her mouth yesterday:

Livni said that while the Netanyahu government speaks of national pride, Israeli ambassadors are being forced to flee countries in the middle of the night wearing kaffiyehs.

[The government] talks tough but it has weakened Israel to the point that it cannot act when missiles are falling on its residents.

Is Israel's security better or in greater doubt?

Where to begin ... While I've long thought the peace treaty with Egypt was bound to fail (See point 2 here), the current mess in Egypt was not Israel's doing, and couldn't have been stopped by Bibi's government. Instead of praising Bibi for acting to get our six boys out safely, she continues in her typical "Bash Bibi, domestically or internationally, no matter what" fashion.

Her 2nd point is equally ridiculous. Livni was an eager member of the Sharon's government that pushed the Disengagement through despite continuous rocket fire, and a member of the following governments that did what exactly through 5 years of continuous rocket fire? Nothing until Operation Cast Lead ... Was our country weak then? How exactly have things changed? It's all the same really ...

Her last point is mind boggling. Is she really blaming Bibi and his government for the ramifications of the Arab Spring and the deterioration of the Turkey relationship? No one could have predicted the Arab Spring, and the issues it's brought closer to our borders. With regards to Turkey, it was our dear ex-foreign minister's government that accelerated our (unavoidable, I might add) problems with Erdogan's Turkey (Davos anybody)? Our security situation is unfortunately being dictated by events we are not in control of.

It's really sad that since 1981, left leaning opposition leaders have been unable to stand behind right wing governments in times of need. They should really try and learn from Begin's two and a half decades as the opposition leader.

***

At our footy match last night, one of the regulars (Let's call him Harry) bought his brother along. After the game, I asked his brother if he had made aliyah, as the game could always use talented kids like him. "Nope," he replied, before Harry also chimed in, "I haven't made aliyah either Avram." I asked why and he responded, "because I don't want to become Israeli."

I didn't push the point, but I understood where he was coming from. The stereotypical Israeli - loud, rude etc - is not something any of us Olim strive to become. We may acquire parts of the mentality (I know I have) but that doesn't mean we can't maintain the positive 'Oleh' traits we came with, and pass them on to our children or display them actively around Israelis. If everyone took his stance, how can we, as individuals, ever hope to to really improve the Sabara?
_

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Palmer Report

The Palmer Report - The UN's findings about the IDF's raid on the Mavi Marmara - will finally be released tomorrow. Haaretz, through the NY Times, has released some of the major findings from the report:

- Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara were met with "organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers," and so were forced to use self defense.

- The Israeli forces used "excessive and unreasonable force," and emphasized that the loss of life on board the ship is "unacceptable." Moreover, it found that the treatment of the passengers by the IDF soldiers after the interception was "abusive."

- The Palmer report determined that the Israeli naval blockade on the Gaza Strip is legal, as "Israel faces a security threat from violent groups in Gaza."

- The report harshly criticizes the flotilla organizers, stating "they acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade". It added that ” there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH.”

Considering that this is a UN report, it seems pretty fair. The one area of the report I'd like to see an IDF's response to is the forensic evidence presented in the report. Other than that, I think the report pretty much highlights what most reasonable people already knew.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Book's Cover

When I first started praying at the Kurdi beit knesset near my home, a co-worker asked me, "Isn't that the beit knesset where the taxi drivers pray?" This happened four years ago, and I don't really remember reacting to the comment bar feeling a bit insulted inside.

One of the people who prays with me at another beit knesset near my place is also a taxi driver. Granted, I think he's doing it for some extra money as I think he's retired but he's still a taxi driver. Abroad, one would scoff at that line of work - Here too apparently. A taxi driver? Peasants. However, this taxi driver (and many others too I'm sure) is special. He's a phenomenal shat"z (shaliach tzibbur, the person who leads the prayers) and ba'al koreh (The person who reads the Torah). What's even more impressive is his four boys (I've never met his two girls) are all also excellent when they're called to be the shat"z or ba'al koreh, from the youngest (14) to the oldest (25 I think). Yup, a taxi driver ... A phenomenal man.

It reminds me of the story of the Rabbi who entered the classroom every morning to find new insights on the Talmud on his chalkboard. Every day, without fail, the chalkboard contained pearls of wisdom that were mostly new to him. One evening, the Rabbi stayed in the corner of the classroom and waited for the protege to reveal himself. At midnight, the yeshiva's elderly janitor walked into the room. To the Rabbi's amazement, he sat down at a desk, begun reading the Talmud and started to scribble on the chalkboard. His genius was the janitor.

I guess both stories are rather nicely summed up by Pirkei Avot 1:6, "Judge every person favorably."
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Voices of the Farhud" by David Kahtan

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Farhud [The massacre, rape and dispossession of 145 Jews in Iraq in 1941]. Here is a short 20 minute movie about the horrifying event from people who lived through it:

Part 1 & Part 2
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

I love you

The week started with an inspiring post by a poster on SixCrazyMinutes.com about 'counting the blessings.' It's something I've blogged about in the past, and I feel it's something we struggle to do enough. How often do we stop and appreciate our blessings (loved ones, our health, our parnassa etc)?

I got a SMS on Tuesday night from one of my team members. "My father passed away," it started. I stopped. "I read this wrong," I hoped. I read it again, "My father passed away." I looked at my wife, and told her. Our expressions were probably identical. The same fears we (and I guess most people) have were now being lived by a good friend.

The next day I had to call my Dad. I wanted to hear his voice. To tell him what I tell him whenever I talk to him, "I love you." The idea of not being able to hear either parent's voice, or tell them these simple words, scare me deeply. I dread the day. Alas, that day will come ... that's life. Until then, I hope to continue to appreciate the amazing parents I've been blessed with. These tragic events only highlight how important the 'task' is ...

Words of appreciation (and love) are the "simple thing you got left to trust," (courtesy of Juluka's "Simple Things") - why otherwise would we start every day with modeh ani?
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Media Coverage of Israel

An Israeli is on vacation and is visiting a zoo in the States when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion's cage.

Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to devour her - under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The Israeli runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the Israeli brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A reporter had watched the whole event. The reporter says to the Israeli: 'Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I've seen a man do in my entire life.'

The Israeli replies, 'Why, it was nothing, really. The lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger and did what I thought was right.'

The reporter says, 'Well, I'll make sure this won't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, and tomorrow's paper will have this story on the front page! So, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?'

The Israeli replies, "I serve in the Israeli army and I vote for the Likud.'

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the Israeli buys the paper to see news of his actions, and reads the front page's headline:

ISRAELI ASSAULTS AFRICAN IMMIGRANT AND STEALS HIS LUNCH

It may be a joke, but sometimes you just wonder (for many real examples of this, check out Honest Reporting).
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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A letter

The Germans were coming, and there was no chance that anyone would survive. The mother decided that she was going to give her daughter over to a non-Jewish couple - perhaps she would be saved. The following letter was sewed into the shirt of the girl in hope that it would remain with her ... that someday she would read this letter.

Dear Mirrele,

I can’t believe that I have one night to struck a life time of love into this letter. Tomorrow morning at 4 am – if it can be called morning – I’m giving you up. I’m taking you Mirrele to the back entrance of dear, brave Herman’s grocery, and the child rescuers will be waiting there for you, and the 32 other children under the age of three. They will inject you with a sedative, so you won’t cry, and then they’ll slip off into pre-dawn, with you, my life, my love, out of this horrible country to safety.

We’ve pushed it off, and pushed it off, Mirrele. We didn’t want to believe we would have to give up our child, probably never to see her again. But this is the last child rescue. After this there will be no-one left to rescue, because tomorrow our informers tell us is the last big round up. Tomorrow they come for men, women and children. And I’ve been convinced by these words spoken by our entrusted informer Herman, the brave gentile grocer any child they take away either dies immediately or dies on the way to the death camps. We were the last ones to be convinced to give up our child.

He said finally, with the deepest sadness, and every exhausted wrinkle in his face, “I cannot force you. But if you keep her with you she will be dead in a month. They have no use for babies. She cannot work for them. If you want to give her to us bring her to the back entrance of my grocery at 4am. No belongings. Whatever food you have. Goodbye”.

Mirrele, do you see why I had to give you up? He said no belongings, but I will beg, I will plead that this letter be allowed to go, sewn into your undershirt. And then I will pray to G-D the letter stays with you until you are old enough to read it. You must know that we love you. You must know why you are alone without parents. Not because they didn’t love you, but because they did.

Its eerie to think that by the time you read this I will probably be dead. That’s what Herman said is going on. People die either immediately, on the way, or after a week or two of forced labour and no food. But I won’t have lived in vein, Mirrele. If I know that I brought you into the world and you will live and survive and grow big and strong, and you will be happy. You can be happy, Mirrele – because we love you.

What makes the difference in the lives of adults, it seems, is if they had to kill childhood, secure it with lots of love and acceptance, and means fulfilled, and predictable routines in the life. You have that up till this minute. You have it up until 4am. But then you won’t. Who knows who will end up taking care of you? Some family who will take you in for the money. Herman will pay them. They will surely be kinder to their own then to you.

Here is where pain mixes with rage. I rage at the animals who are making it possible for you to cry and I won’t be there to comfort you. But you will have this letter. And this letter will make you feel secure, if G-D answers my prayers.

You leave us Mirrele, even though you can’t see us. We’re with you. We’re watching you. I’m praying for you. Every time you have troubles, we are pounding on the door to G-D’s very throne room, and shifting on the audience to demanding mercy for you, Mirrele, down on earth alone without her parents. And G-D will listen to us. We won’t leave Him alone, until he agrees with us, that you deserve health and love and happiness.

Mirrele, you will wonder what your first two years were like? You wish you could remember. Let me remember for you, right now, tenderly on this piece of paper.

You like hot cereal in the morning with lots of milk and sugar – except there is no milk and sugar now, not in the whole city. But I make you cereal anyway, and you eat it with big smiles between every bite. Then you become ready for your nap, so I wrap you putting you where the sunlight will fall on you. I rock you until you fall asleep, and then I put you in my bed. You sleep well there. You like my smell. What will you smell tomorrow night? Surely nobody will wrap you tomorrow morning – not even in the shade.

O G-D, I cannot do it. I will do it for you Mirrele, so that you will have at least a hope for life.

Mirrele, do me a favour. After you grow, after this dirty nightmarish war is over, I know there will be those who underplay the tragedies going on here every day. They will say, “War is war. It was just a war”. Mirrele, tell them about the agony. Tell them how you felt secure in my arms being rocked to sleep in the sunlight. Tell them how your father ran one night a year ago when you were sick to get you medicine, past sentries whilst breaking the curfew. He risked his life to ease your pain.

Mirrele, now the three of us are being torn apart. Just a war? Tell them Mirrele that all the wars in the world don’t add up to the agony in my heart right now as I write this.

G-D, it’s 2am already. Only two more hours with my loved, my baby, my life, my Mirrele. I’m going to hold you now, Mirrele, for two hours. Your father and I are going to wake you, feed you, and tell you over and over how much we love you. Your barely two years old, but maybe if G-D is good, maybe you will remember us, until you are old enough to read this.

There will be bad times ahead for you Mirrele, I know. But just think about me holding you, rocking you to sleep in the sunlight. Keeping that sunlight in your heart always.

I love you. Your father loves you. My G-D help us all.

It remained with this woman, who at least knew her name. Her name was Mirrele, Miri. She never knew her mother’s name. Her mother signed off 'Mamma'. She calls herself Miriam bat Liba. Liba means ‘loved’, because that is what she remembers about her mother.

This is about a mother who was forced to abandon her child out of love.
_

Monday, August 08, 2011

Netzer Hazani

[Put aside your feelings re: the Disengagement and watch the lives of the kids who lived through the event]

The story of high-schoolers from Netzer Hazani during their last summer vacation before the Disengagement. A movie about perseverance, unity and faith till the end (In Hebrew with English subtitles).

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Food

"According to a celebrated study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, published in a report called "The Importance of Family Dinners" [2005], the most successful children - the most well-adjusted, balanced, self-sufficient and self-confident children - are the children who have dinner with their parents at least five evenings per week."

Yisroel Roll in Shut Up and Stay Married*

* No need to worry, all is well with wife & I. Just reading a book recommended by Rabbi Twerski. Honest! :)
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Picture A Day

I've found this cool new blog, Picture a Day.

Enjoy!
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

המלמד ידי לקרב ואצבעותי למלחמה

עבדיך נשאו את ראש אנשי המלחמה אשר בידנו - (מטות לא,מט)

נראה להסביר את דברי הכבוב, על פי מה שאמרו חז"ל בתלמוד ירושלמי (פאה א,א): "דורו של דוד כולם צדיקים, ועל ידי שהיו בהם דילטורין [מלשינים] - היו יוצאים למלחמה ונופלים. דורו של אחאב, היו עובדי עבודה זרה, ועל שלא היה בהם דילטורין - היו יוצאים ומנצחין". רואים מכאן כמה חמור חטא המלשינות ולשון הרע, עד שגורם שגם צדיקים ושלמים יפלו בקרב. חכמינו במסכת כתובות (ה,ב) נתנו לנו עצה איך להמלט מחטא זה, וכך כתבו שם: "מדוע האצבעות של אדם מחודדות כיתד? כדי שאם ישמע דבר שאינו הגון - יניח אצבעותיו באזניו". נמצא שלמעשה הכלי זין האמיתיים המביאים ניצחון במלחמה הם אותם ראשי אצבעות, שעוזרים לאדם להמנע מלשמוע דברי השמצה ומלשינות.

לאור הדברים הללו מתפרשים דברי הפסוק בצורה נפלאה. בני ישראל באים להסביר כיצד זכו במלחמה נגד מדין, וכך הם אומרים: "עבדיך נשאו את ראש אנשי המלחמה אשר בידינו", עבדיך עשו שימוש נכון בכלי מלחמתם, הם ראשי האצבעות שבידיהם - "ראש אנשי המלחמה אשר בידינו", ומשום כך זכינו ש"לא נפקד ממנו איש", כולם שבו בשלום מן המלחמה

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Struggle

"A boy comes upon a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. He sees the nascent butterfly struggling. The cocoon flails back and forth as the butterfly struggles to set itself free. The boy has pity on the painful struggle of the butterfly and cuts open the cocoon. The butterfly is now free. Moments later, the boy sees the butterfly, and it is limping. He had hoped to watch it spread its orange and black Monarch wings and fly on its life's journey. Instead it is in pain. Its wings are glued shut. It cannot move. It soon dies.

In the end, the struggle of the butterfly was necessary for its wings to become healthy. The struggle was actually strengthening its wings and making them ready for the winds of life. Without enduring the struggle required to emerge from the cocoon, the butterfly could not gain the strength it needed to fly to freedom. Struggle and travail were essential for its survival."

Yisroel Roll
in Shut Up and Stay Married*

* No need to worry, all is well with wife & I. Just reading a book recommended by Rabbi Twerski. Honest! :)
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Milulim

I spent last week deep in the Negev on Miluim.

* The July heat in the Negev is something else. When you sit down and can't stop sweating, it's hot!

* As usual, there were some fascinating discussions throughout the 5 days. I think Miluim gives the participants an amazing opportunity - meeting a wide variety of people from every walk of life which you'd normally not be spending any quality time with. Religious vs Secular, Fathers vs the Singles, Employed vs Self-Employed vs unemployed, Righties vs Lefties, Yeshiva Students vs 'Youth Movement' students, Sabras vs Olim - it's just a great melting pot, where everyone is linked by the green suit.

* I think this is the first business trip/miluim where Nissim realized I was gone. One morning, he asked Tals, "Where's Abba? Be'Milulim?, "(Where's Dad? In Miluim?). The additional 'l' cracks me up.

* I was really surprised to see how many people I talked to knew of Rav Chaim Amsalem. His message was very much applauded by those I talked to, and I'm very optimistic about where Am Shalem is heading.

* Every time I meet up with the lads, I'm impressed at the dedication and desire to be in Miluim. Yes, some come as it's a break from reality and a chance to meet 'good friends.' But most come due to a feeling of responsibility. It's reassuring - especially with all the flotillas, bad'law'illas, etc hounding our news streams 24-7. Israel will be ok ...

* I hope the next time I see these lads is next year ... but something tells me, they'll need us sooner unfortunately.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The last few weeks

After Shavout, the family & I flew out to New York for my sister's wedding. It was a lovely few weeks.

- Tova's wedding was just fantastic. It was a lovely day, and great to see the whole family together for such a happy occasion. Chupa was great, food was great, dancing was fun ... The most fun I've had at a wedding since my own wedding actually!

Below is the video I made for the lovely couple - may they be blessed with many years of happiness and good health:



- At the wedding, Nissim met Emily Dagan, Tante Amelie's (z'l) great grandchild. The kids, named after their departed great grandparents (who were siblings), got along really well. It left Emily's grandmother saying, "I never fully understood the power of naming after relatives until I saw these two together."

-I really enjoyed watching Nissim and Keren interacting with their great grandparents. It gave me such pleasure.

- I had the pleasure of being at Brian & Melissa's celebration of their April wedding. As Talya and I couldn't attend the wedding in Mexico, we were very happy that their scheduled celebration for friends and family in the New York area coincided with our visit. It was great to see Bri so happy. We've known each other for over 11 years now, and have shared many great times together. It's wonderful to see him and Melissa so happy together as hubbie and wife.

- On the way to shul on one Shabbat, someone shouted 'F*cking Jews' as we walked on a street parallel to Weaver Street. Still there ... alive and kicking I see.

- I went fishing with my dad and bro during the trip, and what a night it turned out to be! I caught 3 blues (the 2 I kept are below, while the 3rd I gave to a high school student from Harlem) and enjoyed the experience quite a bit.

Back in Israel now ... reality ...
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Monday, July 04, 2011

Am Shalem Update

Background

MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s name has become synonymous with solving fundamental problems within the State of Israel. His battle against racism and discrimination (which received significant praise in the annual report of the State Comptroller), his writings allowing for leniencies within halacha to solve the conversion crisis, and his encouragement of Haredim to study general studies, join the work force, and serve in the IDF left him chastised and excommunicated by the Shas party. MK Rabbi Amsalem’s strong ideology and intense desire to address these and other critical issues plaguing the State of Israel from within, has led to his forming a new political movement called “Am Shalem.”

Goals

The Am Shalem movement, under the leadership of MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, seeks to create a substantial public and political force which will succeed in bringing about a radical and significant change and improvement in the nature of the relations between the myriad components of Israeli society: Haredim - Religious Zionist – Traditional - Secular; Sephardim – Ashkenazim; Right wing – left wing; Jews – gentiles, and more.

Like all citizens of the State of Israel, Am Shalem hopes for the day when peace will come to our land. However, until that time comes and as we continue to work towards that dream, Am Shalem seeks to return the social issues which are vital to the State, to Israeli society, and to the existence of the Jewish people to the forefront of the national political agenda and to solve the most burning problems as outlined below.

Am Shalem is now beginning its difficult path to creating a better and more unified nation and country.

Livelihoods with Dignity

Hundreds of thousands of Jews in the State of Israel live below the poverty line or close to it. Entire populations, especially in the periphery, are not able to sustain themselves with dignity. In the Haredi population, work has become illegitimate, a development which has not only led this entire population to poverty but has also lowered the value of Torah and religion in the eyes of their fellow citizens. This runs counter to the way of Torah sages in the past who combined Torah with “parnassa.” The movement seeks to change the status quo in which an entire generation has been born into a life of poverty and whose sustenance is predicated on government subsidies by implementing the following actions:

1) The establishment of a network of quality, public Haredi schools in which students will be taught Torah and general studies on a high level leading towards full matriculation certificates. (Rabbi Amsalem is already hard at work trying to establish a private Haredi high school of this kind.) Am Shalem will also establish an academic institution of higher education in the “Yeshiva University” model in which all students will study toward academic degrees alongside their Torah studies and the option of studying for Rabbinic ordination. The above will be accompanied by a campaign to educate the Haredi public about not only the legitimacy of these institutions but also the special pride which its students and parent body should experience.

2) To facilitate the integration of Haredim into the workforce, Rabbi Amsalem has established a forum consisting of hi-tech entrepreneurs and managers. Am Shalem will continue to expand this forum which will both create and encourage local initiatives in the hi-tech industry in order to help integrate Haredim.

3) The key to earning a dignified livelihood is access to higher education. Am Shalem will work to pass legislation to encourage higher education among the youth of development towns and lower income neighborhoods. The law would dictate that the children of a person who lives in a development town or low income neighborhood for more than 15 years will be entitled to significant tuition subsidies towards university studies.

4) Canceling the V.A.T. tax for those who provide basic life necessities such as basic food items, medication and clothing

Equal sharing of national burdens

From the time of the establishment of the State of Israel until present times, we have needed a strong army to protect us, with God’s grace, from those who seek our destruction. Am Shalem sees the joint participation of all segments of society in bearing the burden of national defense as critical to our national success in Eretz Yisrael and will work to solve the problem in the following ways:

1) Requiring those who are exempt from IDF service by the State to serve in national or civil service for an equal period of time. Those who do so will be recognized as having served the State with the benefits that come from such recognition.

2) Work to increase and adjust existing programs for Haredi youth to serve in the army and dedicate resources to educating the Haredi population regarding the necessity of contributing its fair share to the nation through such service, a process which Rabbi Amsalem has already begun.

3) Establishing Yeshivot Hesder for Haredim to enable the combination of Torah studies and army service with sensitivity to the needs of the Haredi population. Rabbi Amsalem has already begun the process of establishing this option.

4) Ensuring that the State continues to view those select few who are completely and totally dedicated to Torah study as the elite of the nation and are supported comfortably by the nation. Their Torah study would be treated as their fulfillment of national service. This group will be chosen and monitored based on clear parameters.

Combating discrimination and racism

Am Shalem will combat discrimination of any kind with all means at its disposal and will confront and work to solve any revelation of racism. The movement has set a goal to establish legislation declaring the equality of human worth and equal opportunity for all citizens. Am Shalem will work to accomplish this in the following ways:

1) We will promote legislation to withhold funding from any institution suspected of discrimination. (Rabbi Amsalem earned the praise of the State Comptroller in his annual report as a person who “the Ministry of Education should learn from regarding how to deal with discrimination.”)

2) We will establish a hotline and an e-mail service to combat discrimination and racism. Attorneys will be available to provide free legal services to victims of discrimination. Rabbi Amsalem’s Knesset office is already engaged in dealing with complaints of these kinds and will continue to do so until this plague is removed from the State and our nation.

3) We will work towards enacting legislation to protect weaker populations from discrimination with a focus on improving the standing of the Ethiopian community.

A complete reshaping of the Chief Rabbinate

The Chief Rabbinate is controlled by extreme and anti-Zionist organizations. Am Shalem will work to establish a Rabbinate which exudes love of fellow Jews and the sharing of the beauty of Judaism to all Jews. Rabbinic and religious services must follow the path of Bet Hillel with a tolerant approach and a sensivity to the general public’s legitimate fears of religious coercion. Rabbi Amsalem has already demonstrated this approach in his Rabbinic positions for decades. This revolution will be carried out in the following ways:

1) The establishment of a state committee to define the role of the Chief Rabbi, city Rabbis, and neighborhood Rabbis.

2) The establishment of a committee to choose Rabbis similar to the committee to choose state judges. The committee will be comprised of both religious and secular people who will ensure that Rabbis will be chosen solely based on their qualifications and suitability for the position regardless of their political connections or their ethnic/family backgrounds. The committee will also arrange for local bodies of a similar makeup to choose the local Rabbis.

3) All Rabbis of cities and settlements will be subject to a set of uniform rules and laws like all other officials, with no distinctions made between different cities or the type of kippa worn by the Rabbi.

4) We will work to make a substantial change to the system regarding all religious services provided to all citizens. These changes will manifest themselves on three levels: a)Changing the halachic approach from the stringent one of today to the more lenient and tolerant spirit of Beit Hillel b)Changing the establishment’s approach towards religious services from one of distancing and hatefulness to a welcoming and loving approach. This will be reflected in the Rabbinate’s dealing with people in the areas of marriage, divorce, Mikveh, Kashrut, and burial. c)The Rabbinate will be evaluated measured based on the degree of satisfaction expressed by the recipients of its services. Grievnaces against individual Rabbis will be treated with the utmost seriousness

Solutions for the conversion crisis

Close to 400,000 immigrants who descend from Jews live in our midst today. They study in our schools, serve in the army, and take part in every fabric of Israeli life. Many of them want to join the Jewish people through conversion but have been prevented from doing so due to hostility from the Rabbinical establishment. This antagonism will lead to mass assimilation, civil marriages, and horrific polarization in the Jewish nation. Am Shalem intends to solve this problem in the following ways:

1) Implementing the halachic opinion of Rabbi Amsalem for the conversion of immigrants with Jewish roots based on his sefer, “Zera Yisrael” as the conversion policy of the State of Israel.

2) Establishing legislation to prevent any attempt to nullify conversions already performed. This concept goes against Jewish law and violates the civil and Jewish rights of all those who converted in Israel in accordance with the Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Amsalem has already begun the process of establishing such a law.

3) As part of the revolution in the Chief Rabbinate, Am Shalem will establish a conversion framework which will provide halachic answers to those who come to convert and are from “zera yisrael.” Am Shalem will also build a database of people throughout the world who fit the category of “zera yisrael” to assist them with conversion questions and issues.

4) Establishing a national hotline and e-mail service to assist with conversion issues and the conversion process.

Am Shalem’s Potential

A poll carried out by a top polling company in Israel, “Maagar HaMochot” under the direction of Professor Yitzchak Katz revealed that if elections were held today, a movement led by MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem would win 6% of the votes and that up to 13% of voters say that voting for such a party is an option for them. This means that Am Shalem has the strong possibility of winning 5 seats in the next Knesset and a window of up to 15 seats!
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