Friday, February 18, 2011

8, Yerida, Racism, Protests, and more

I guess it's telling ... I had this whole idea of what I'd write for my 8th aliya'versary blog yesterday, and I just plainly forgot to write it. Too busy at work, too busy at home and Liverpool were playing too. Oh well, so now it's 8 years and 1 day now ... It's odd to look back at the sparks that created this dream for me, or the determination and motivation in the months leading up to the move. I've thoroughly enjoyed this journey - the ups and the downs - and have no regrets. I'm looking forward to every day and every adventure life here with my precious family brings.

Other aliya'versary blogs: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


Aaron and I were both members of WUJS's February 2003 group. Last week, he told me that he was making yerida with his family due to various issues. Israel isn't for everyone (at least not now), and it's a difficult challenge at times to make it work here. It's tough to lose good people like Aaron & his family, but one can only wish them luck and hope that they return (and if not the parents, then the children!). I hope their new adventure in the US only brings them happiness and fulfillment.


In the last two months, the Tunisian & Egyptian governments have been overthrown by massive internal unrest. In Lebanon, Hezbollah succeeded in a silent coup to rid the country of the democratically elected Said Hariri, the man who's father they murdered. These events have lit a fire in the Arab world - riots, protests, fatalities and hundreds of injuries have followed in Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Algeria & Iran. What does this mean for them? I really don't know. I am not very optimistic considering what we've seen happen in Gaza & Lebanon, or what has happened in Iran since the overthrow of the Shah in '79. I hope moderate, respectful leaders somehow get into power and usher in a new era for their people. I really do ... I'd rather not think about what happens if they don't ...


I watched a documentary about Yossi Gispan yesterday. The man is responsible for writing most of the Mizrachi hits that have propelled this genre to the forefront of the Israeli music scene. It was really interesting until the end where a music analyst and various artists decided to take shots at Yossi's genre (No points for guessing what they all had in common):

"This music is destroying the Hebrew language"

"I see a direct correlation between the success of the Mizrachi genre and that the most watched shows in Israel are reality TV shows that don't require thought or 'deep thinking'" (Ivri Leader)

"There's no Israeli culture, they've ruined it" (Mati Caspi)

"Israeli Music is at a low point that's it's never seen before. There's no way back from this vulgarity. We won't be able to return the rock, the pop, or 'Israeli country music' (שירי ארץ ישראל) to their old, good place. The Mizrachi singers also sing our repertoire, the white people." (Chava Alberstein)

Wait a second ... Elitism? Racism? Naaaah, not in Israel.


Should have probably blogged about this last month ... The King came back.


Talya & I are expecting #2 b'h in early April ... The roller coaster ride continues! :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

הערכה-עצמית מול ענווה

(העשיר לא ירבה והדל לא ימעיט..." (כי תשא ל,טו"

בסדר האלף-בית באות לפני אותיות "לב" - אותיות א"ך (אות כ' לפני אות ל', ואות א' לפני אות ב'), ואחרי ה"לב" באות האותיות ג"ם (אחרי ל' - מ', ואחרי ב' - ג'). מלת "אך" משמעותה כלשון 'מיעוט', לעומתה מלת "גם" מבטאת לשון ריבוי. להורות כיצד להנהיג את ליבנו: פעמים ייתן את ליבו לצד ה'אך' שבו - כלומר ישפיל וימעיט עצמו, ופעמים עלין לשים לב לצד ה'גם' שלידו - יחזק את עצמו עד שירבה את ערכו בעיני עצמו

This is taken from פניני הבן איש חי

Friday, February 11, 2011

Channel 10's Documentary on R' Ovadia

I thought yesterday's Channel 10 documentary on R' Ovadia was extremely interesting. Here are some of the issues/facts that stood out during the documentary:

* R' Ovadia's family made aliyah to the Mandate from Iraq. All his brothers were members of the Etzel.

* R' Ovadia's father had his son work in his grocery store every weekday for a few hours. The Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef (where R' Ovadia was learning) came to the store and told his father he'd work those hours every day as his son was extremely gifted and should focus on learning Torah. His father refused.

* R' Ovadia's father changed his tune when the store was robbed a few times and he realized his son wasn't a good 'store keeper.'

* From a young age, R' Ovadia always wanted to be Gadol Ha'Dor.

* He was awared the Israel Prize for literature in 1970.

* After the Yom Kippur War, he presided over all the cases of the agunot when all other Rabbis asked had refused the important task. He spent hours every day with the Army reviewing every case and ensuring each woman was given a status of a widow (and hence, could re-marry if so she choosed). His family say he cried for hours every night during the process.

* His view on Halacha is far less machmir than most realize (Kocha D'hetera Ad)

* He has 11 children.

* The idea of Shas was put in front of him after his great disappointment at being removed (political stunt?) from being the Chief Rabbi of Israel. Shas would not have come to be however if R' Shach had advised R' Ovadia against forming the party. The two fell out when R' Ovadia supported going into Rabin's government in 1992, while R' Shach disapproved.

* Most of the controversial comments in the media come after his weekly shiur on motza"sh (Saturday evening). Shulamit Aloni, one of those insulted, and others condemn the remarks despite acknowledging he at times does it for show. Most of the interviewees that one would assume are 'anti' R' Ovadia all acknowledge the tremendous good he's done to the country but express disappointment & disgust at the negative comments he's made.

* Lastly, is R' Ovadia anti-Zionist? ... "What is anti-Zionist? It is a lie, it is a term which they have concocted themselves. I served for ten years as a Chief Rabbi - a key public position in the State of Israel. In what way are we not Zionists? We pray for Zion, for Jerusalem and its inhabitants, for Israel and the Rabbis and their students. What is Zionist? By our understanding, a Zionist is a person who loves Zion and practices the commandment of settling the land. Whenever I am overseas I encourage Aliyah. In what way are they more Zionist than us?"

Sunday, February 06, 2011

7 Mistakes

This past Shabbat morning, a 14 year old kid read the haftarah at the synagogue I went to. As he read, one person (a family member) continually corrected him loudly with an aggressive tone when he made mistakes (This all happened while the ba'al koreh was next to the boy). A few corrections later, the kid stopped for a few seconds before continuing. The way he was being corrected was rattling him. I've known this kid for a few years and he always comes off as a kid with a healthy self-esteem, but he looked shaken yesterday when he came down from the bima. Later on, I went up to him and told him he did a good job and to not worry about the corrections, "You read well, and you'll only get better." "Don't worry, I'm used to it," he responded with a dejected frown.

This really bothered me most of Shabbat. It reminded me of my Bar Mitzvah experience - I was confident, and I thought I had read my parasha perfectly. When I asked my late Nonnou how I had done, he said something along the lines of "You did very well, but you made 7 mistakes." Despite this, Nonnou left the corrections to the ba'al koreh next to me and allowed me to read without any interruptions. While I'm rather certain my errors were minor (most likely 'small' pronunciation - where Nonnou was very strict - errors), I never found out where I erred ... so who knows!

While some may say Nonnou's handling of the situation put me in a worse position than the boy at synagogue yesterday, I feel exactly the opposite. I came off the bimah that day confident, happy with my performance, and eager to do it again. The boy yesterday was dejected and didn't enjoy the privilege he was given that much. Which youngster was given the necessary 'confidence booster'?

Friday, February 04, 2011

The future of Shas ... hopefully

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


In the national crisis that followed the discrimination against Sephardi students in an Emmanuel (‘the Bnei Brak of the Shomron’) school in June, two opinions came out of Shas, the Sephardi Haredi (Haredi = Ultra Orthodox) party. The majority stance was that of R’ Ovadia Yosef, who opposed the discrimination but criticized the intervention of the Supreme Court. The minority voice came from one MK (Member of Parliament), R’ Chaim Amsalem, who declared, “We need to get out of our inferiority complex and be proud of being Sephardim.” Since the Emmanuel crisis, R’ Amsalem has continued in his vocal attempts to rehabilitate Shas’s warped Sephardi worldview and pull the party, its Haredi followers and Ashkenazi brothers away from the Israeli-Ashkenazi Haredi ‘way of life.’

In order to understand why R’ Amsalem’s stance is so critical to Israel, one must better understand Shas and its influences. Shas was founded by R’ Ovadia in 1984 prior to the elections of that year. As the party was being formed, R’ Ovadia received much guidance from R’ Elazar Shach, the leader of Israel's non-Hasidic Haredi Ashkenazi Jews. This undoubtedly played its part in Shas supporting, and at times mimicking, the Israeli-Asheknazi Haredi worldview in relation to yeshiva study, army, conversions, core studies in schools and employment. This stance negates the Sephardi worldview of yesteryear, which is why R’ Amsalem can play such a critical role in Israel’s future. As the anger and disenchantment directed at the Haredi – both Sephardi and Ashkenazi - world grows, R’ Amsalem’s moderate outlook can bridge the gaps within our society.


In the early 1950s, David Ben Gurion exempted 400 yeshiva students from the army, so they could devote their time to Torah study, with the hope they’d replace the many sages we lost during the Holocaust. In 1977, Menachem Begin removed the 400-student cap and since then, Haredi students entering the yeshiva world have been able to get exemptions from the army if they so choose. While Shas has no issues with the IDF, they do not promote it for their Haredi followers (many of Shas’s voters are traditional or secular Sephardim – a dominant majority of this constituency serves in the IDF).

Unlike far too many in Shas, R’ Amsalem believes it’s the duty of every Jew to serve in the army – unless the person in question is a Torah prodigy (a student who is extremely advanced and learned relative to his age). These prodigies, a small minority, must continue to study Torah and Gemara all day, but the others must serve and protect the country. This would eliminate one of the most contentious issues in our country – why is one sector of our society exempt from this service?


Before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, few Jews who lived in the Arab world had the ability to study all day, mainly due to the need to pay taxes and take care of their families. Only the Torah prodigies were given that privilege. Unfortunately, far too many Haredim have decided they too are deserving of this privilege. Sadly, this trend has led to higher levels of poverty and greater reliance on tzedaka (charity). R’ Amsalem highlights this problem by quoting Rambam, who wrote that one who studies Torah, doesn’t work and lives from charity has desecrated Hashem and humiliated the Torah. Rambam was opposed to this lifestyle, and even went further by saying that studying Torah without pursuing a parnassa (livelihood) leads to idleness, crime and eventually theft. The continuing Haredi support for full-time yeshiva students needs to change – if not because of Rambam’s warnings, then because it is sentencing its followers to a life of poverty.


With all the recent headlines about conversions in Israel (Rotem Law), R’ Amsalem’s recent book about the halachot (Jewish law) dealing with conversion issues has unfortunately received much criticism. R’ Amsalem believes that we need to seek ways still within the guidelines of halacha to make it easier for potential converts to join Am Yisrael. R’ Amsalem also thinks it is essential to help IDF soldiers who want to convert, as “the virtue of those who fight to protect the Jewish people is great.” Unlike the Shas leadership, R’ Amsalem criticizes the Rabbinate’s fantasy that all converts must maintain a Haredi lifestyle after their conversion. He blames this fantasy on the Ashkenazi Lithuanian Haredi branch, which has control in the Rabbinate and doesn’t practice “pragmatism in halacha.”

Core Studies in School

Within the Israeli Haredi curriculum, core studies like English, mathematics and science are very often not taught. R’ Amsalem believes teaching these subjects is essential to allow Haredim to integrate into all walks of life. By refusing to do so, Haredi youngsters cannot enter the job market (bar avodot kodesh - like a shochet, a scribe, a Rabbi etc) and are left dependent on their leaders for allowances and donations (no wonder they vote for parties like Shas and UTJ come election time!). As R’ Amsalem says, “Studies in English and math, what’s bad about it? What is this idiocy? How does it take away from Torah?”


In 1980, 21% of Haredi men didn’t work. Today, the number has risen to a staggering 65%. Some of the reasons for this increase have already been discussed above. R’ Amsalem believes that the Haredi community must use Yaakov Avinu or Rambam as examples of Torah sages who integrated Torah study with work (another great example from the many Rabbis who worked and studied is Chafetz Chaim, who kept his modest shop open until he had earned enough for his daily needs; he then closed his shop, and studied the rest of the day). R’ Amsalem is stating the sad but obvious truth: Poverty levels will continue to rise within the Haredi world if this move towards mass voluntary unemployment doesn’t change, and that will only lead to more unnecessary confrontations with the Jews who shoulder the burden of this poverty within Israel and abroad.

R’ Chaim Amsalem has taken a brave step within the Haredi world. The backlash has been fierce - his Shas career is essentially over (especially since he referred to it as a ‘Lithuanian-Sephardic party’), and he’s been labeled a ‘Hebrew Amalekite.’ Despite the expected hostility from parts of the Haredi world, R’ Amsalem has received an outpouring of support from all over Israel. His words have hit a chord with a majority of Israelis. This popularity has not changed R’ Amsalem reasons for stating why it’s imperative he speak up now. He feels that by not working and not serving in the army, Haredim are avoiding their duty and increasing the anger and hatred felt towards them. “There is a large Sephardi public,” Amsalem laments, “that needs to be rescued, that needs to be pushed to a course of parnassa and work, it’s urgent.”

Why the urgency? R’ Amsalem strongly believes that if the Haredi, be it Sephardi or Ashkenazi, community does its bit in the army and workforce, the face of the country will change dramatically for the better, the sinat chinam (baseless hatred) will drop and thousands will be drawn to the Torah of Israel.

May this man succeed in his mission, Amen.