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Monday, June 11, 2007

Olah Olot Strike Back at Der Forvard ('The Forward' - so this will be Googlable)

A new immigrant resident of Neve Daniel figured, hey, this nice girl from Der Forvard wants to come do a story on Aliyah - let me welcome her into my home. Foward's Orly Hapern, bothered by the specter of settlers taking a little bit of Teaneck with them, writes this article (a fun read - possibly even recruiting some olim from Teaneck - but not very nice to her host family and an obvious case of creative quote-bending).

Olah Lara Kwalbrun strikes back:
Dear editors and writers of The Forward,

My name is Lara Kwalbrun and I am a resident of Neve Daniel who was interviewed by Orly Halpern for her June 6th article. I am writing to say that I am both insulted and disgusted by Ms. Halpern's opportunistic use of my hospitality as a means to misquote me and misrepresent the lifestyle my family and I live in Yesha.

To start, our home does NOT "boast" a jacuzzi, fireplace, or a manicured lawn. Neither is it "surrounded by Arab villages" but overlooks the city of Beitar Illit on one side and Efrat (with over 8,000 Jewish residents) on the other. Ms. Halpern asked me if this life isn't better than what we left behind in New Jersey and I told her that we had a nicer and easier lifestyle in America but believe strongly in yishuv haaretz.

In addition, what Ms. Halpern pens as a direct quote is nothing short of a fabrication. She writes, "'Before we found Neve Daniel, my husband told me, 'I love you and I want to live in Israel, but I'm very materialistic and if I don't have a nice house, we're not moving.'" Actually we moved to a rental in Alon Shevut in August of 2005 with no plans to buy for a while. We only purchased the house after realizing that there was very little real estate in the area that we had grown to love that was available. Our moving to Israel had absolutely nothing to do with buying a house; rather, when my husband got a job in Israel we felt that we had no good reason to stay in America regardless of the good lifestyle. We left our jobs, home, families, friends, and native country to move to Israel and Yesha where we felt that our presence makes a difference in what is the ancient heartland of Eretz Yisrael; my family and I resent what we consider to be a libelous and fictitious representation of our goals and the words I used to define them. In addition the openness with which we greeted Ms. Halpern was returned with an attempt on her part to trivialize and reduce the American-Jewish struggle to leave what is easy and safe and re-cast themselves as immigrants in a land that is both strange and wonderful.

My family and I expect that The Forward will take some sort of action to rectify the egregious errors and misrepresentations that make up Ms. Halpern's article. At the very least she should apologize to my husband whose decision to move here was out of love and responsibility despite the fact that he speaks no Hebrew and cannot yet practice medicine in this country.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Dr. Lara Kwalbrun

Her neighbor, Laura Ben-David, wrote:

I was excited to read the article "Suburbia Sells Settlers on the West Bank" by Orly Halpern (June 6) as it is about Neve Daniel, the place that I've called home for the past five years. I'm sorry to say that I was utterly disappointed. We, too, moved from a lovely home, ours in beautiful Boca Raton, Florida. Your article suggests that we are a bunch of rich snobs looking for a great real estate deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. We left Boca Raton and its green, manicured, country club-like atmosphere for something real. We left what was physical and material for something genuine and spiritual. We left what had merely been our home to create a new life in our homeland. A wonderful, meaningful, and truly enjoyable life. One that is not bound by the trappings of "keeping up with the Joneses"; A burden that we were only too happy to be rid of.

Once we chose to make the big move to Israel, choosing where to live was huge. We made several pre-Aliyah trips, and did a lot of research. In the end we chose Gush Etzion for one main reason - neither materialistic nor political in nature. We chose the Gush for its excellent education. Yes, education. Having brought four kids with us, from 7th grade down to kindergarten, we wanted to make sure to meet their needs. So we chose Gush Etzion. As for Neve Daniel, we chose it for the weather, the amazing people and the truly unbelievable 360 degree views.

Our life is nothing like it was in Boca. Like many of our friends who made Aliyah, we sacrificed lots of things like a second car and a swimming pool. Plus, we need to watch our budget much more carefully than we did in America. Is it worth it? And how! We are no longer in the "rat race". Our lives are so much richer than ever before; our happiness is deeper; I can honestly say that we are content. My "take home message" is that Israel is not about a standard of living - it is about living to a higher standard.

Laura Ben-David
Neve Daniel, Israel

Author of "MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal"

My take? It is a blessing that comfortable communities like Neve Daniel exist. Folks like Ms. Halpern are always looking for different ways to mock or mourn the return of Jews to Judea. The moral of the story (for those who didn't know already): The Forward operates under the same ethical assumptions and directives as Haaretz - it ain't your grand-daddy's yiddish paper no more.

There is a tendency among Israel news readers to sometimes be dismissive of Arutz-7, due to what is seen as its obvious 'bias'. The truth is that there exists no Israeli news site without a bias - the problem is dishonesty and lying about the facts. A news agency's responsibility is to be honest about its underlying assumptions: whether they be that UN resolutions and a leftist interpretation of international law are Divine, or whether the Jewish people's right to the Land of Israel is both historically and Biblically mandated; Arutz-7 operates under the latter assumption. The other news agencies operating in Israel are not honest about their underlying assumptions, but far worse, have no compunctions about playing with facts, quotes and statistics to bolster the editorial line. I am not saying A7 never makes mistakes, but I truly believe it is as close as you can get at this point in time to honest journalism in Israel (this is without even going into the corporate ownership and state-control of Israeli media and the Federation and Big-Leftist-Jewish money bolstering papers like the Forward).

Update: Laura Ben-David's letter is due to be printed in The F, albeit they changed her home country from Israel to the narrow strip of land holding the west side of the puny Jordan River from spilling over (hat tip: NG, who would never miss and opportunity to accost such offenders)

Another letter sent to the Forward (and then to me):
To the Editor,
It is too bad Orly Halperin was so focused on the materialistic aspect of the high standard of living found in Yesha communities in Israel. This fact is not really "news", as all over the world communities outside of major cities are more affordable and more spacious. Suburbs in America are always about a better materialistic standard of living. Although I would not exagerrate to the extent that Ms. Halpern has, making Neve Daniel sound like the "Bel Air" of the settlements, when in most cases families still sacrifice much to come here, such as a second car, or a pool, and lets not forget that "jacuzzi and fireplace" which is not standard equipment in homes even in Neve Daniel; it is still true that it is an easier transition for Jews from U.S. suburbs to move to places like Gush Etzion. However, a much more important story would be to focus on the clear improvement in the more spritual aspects of living in a community. No matter how wonderful the Jewish communities of Cedarhurst, Teaneck or in my case Los Angeles, it is another world here in our "gated communities" more aptly described as "yishuv kehillati", or "Congregational Community". On a yishuv, such as Neve Daniel, or Alon Shvut where I am from, there is a spirit and social cohesion which is impossible to create in an American suburb. This is the true reason many American Jews seem to be coming to the 'burbs here in Israel. This enormous improvement in the spiritual quality of life which is attained by coming to yishuvim is the real story and is worthy of an article in the Forward, and not the trivializing of the true nature of "yishuv ha' aretz" (settling the Land) which Ms Halperin's article so deftly does. I invite Ms. Halpern to come visit Gush Etzion again, for any holiday of her choosing, or Shabbat, as my guest, and I and my family and my community will show her the true appeal of Yesha and Israel.

Donna Zeff
Alon Shvut
Gush Etzion

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  • At 4:00 PM , Blogger Pinchas said...

    Hmm...If Dr. Kwalbrun is interested I know some good lawyers....

  • At 6:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Do you think she doesn't have a fireplace/jacuzzi/manicured lawn or she just doesn't "boast" it?

  • At 5:52 AM , Blogger Uri said...

    Ezra - nice piece

    As for my dear, idealistic, trailblazing and role-model brother- and sister-in-law Lara and Mark Kwalbrun... yet another rung of the Talmudic teaching that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through yisurin - "bumps" in the road.

  • At 5:31 PM , Blogger Dan Leubitz said...

    and another to the forward:

  • At 11:21 AM , Anonymous Marc said...

    I was likewise misquoted in the article, and I wrote my own letters as well. You can see them at


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