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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Temple Mount is...

On June 7th, 1967 / the 28th of the month of Iyar, 5727, Motta Gur uttered 3 words that shook the very foundations of the world and served as the culmination of 2,000 years of Jewish hopes, dreams and prayers: Har HaBayit BeYadeinu!!! (The Temple Mount is in our hands). Sadly, just under 40 years later, that is no longer the case.

Today, I had the distinct privilege of ascending to Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), and visiting the holiest site of the Jewish People. (Before any Jew visits Har HaBayit he should consult with a Halachic authority well versed in the laws concerning such a visit). Har HaBayit is the site where the 1st two Batei HaMikdash (Holy Temples) stood, and upon which the 3rd will be built - speedily, in our time. It is on this very place where the presence of G-d rests, and many central events in Jewish history occurred on this very spot (such as Akeidat Yitzchak - the binding of Isaac).

While I am thankful for the opportunity to visit the holiest of sites of the Jewish People (an act, which throughout our long Exile, so few Jews merited - and I dare not proclaim to be of greater spiritual worth, and as such more derserving), and in reality, the holiest site in the entire world, there is a sense of shame that accompanies me. When a Jew visits Har HaBayit today - specifically religious Jews - he does so as a visitor, as a guest, and not as sovereign.

After the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem was liberated from Jordanian occupation, the Jewish People had once again returned to Har HaBayit, the focal point of all of our prayers. Sadly, Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense, ordered the Israeli Flag lowered from the Mount, and gave the Muslim Waqf day to day control over Har HaBayit, and this remains the status quo until this very day.

As such, today, when a Jew visits Har HaBayit, he must play according to rules set by the Muslim Waqf. He is only allowed to visit during limited hours. Religious Jews are given "special" treatment, where they are instructed that if they do any act of prayer while visiting Har HaBayit, they will be forcibly removed and charges will be brought against him (this speech is given by a Jewish, Israeli police officer). These restrictions include uttering prayers, bowing, tearing clothing, singing, dancing... The powers that be ensure compliance on this matter by ensuring that all religious Jews visiting Har HaBayit are escorted by Israeli police, as well as Muslim Waqf officials. (This treatment is only given for religious Jews, tourists are able to move freely on Har Habayit without escort).

To make matters worse, Har HaBayit today is not given the respect and reverence that is befitting a place of such holiness. Arab children can be seen riding bikes and playing ball. Garbage is strewn all over the Mount. Illegal excavations continue round the clock in order to erase any physical evidence of a Jewish connection to the site. When the Arabs come to pray at the mosques found on the Temple Mount, they hear sermons filled with hatred and vitriol cagainst the Jewish People and State, comparing Jews to monkeys and pigs, alongside calls forthe destruction of Israel.

To see pictures of Har HaBayit today, click here.

The poet, Uri Tzvi Greenberg Z"L, understood the centrality of the Temple Mount to the conflict that the Jewish People are faced with in the Land of Israel:
He who rules the Mount rules the Land

Today, it is clear from the actions (or inaction) or successive Jewish governments since 1967, that the Jewish People do not rule the Mount, and as such, our hold on Eretz Yisrael today is tenuous.

Consider this: If the State of Israel is unwilling to stand up and enforce the right of the Jewish People to Har HaBayit, out holiest site, then for what are we willing to stand and fight for? For Gush Katif? For Hebron? For eastern Jerusalem?

The Arabs are not a stupid people. They see that we are unwilling to stand up for what is ours - in this case, our holiest site - and they understand that if that is the case, we will not truly stand up to them anywhere else in the Land of Israel either.

The time has come for the Jewish People to reconnect with our holiest site. To raise an outcry over the injustices taking place on Har HaBayit. To demand, at the very least, that Jews should have equal rights with the Muslims, and be able to pray on Har HaBayit, in accordance with Halacha. How can it be that in the Jewish State of Israel (which also claims to be a democracy) that freedom of religious worship is not extended to Jews at their holiest of sites?

Here's a better question: How can it be that this descration of G-d's name and sanctuary bothers so few Jews, both in Israel and the world?

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Monday, September 26, 2005

Fixing the Sin....

Devarim 26:

1. "Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it,
2. that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.
3. "You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, `I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.'
4. "Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.
5. "You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, `My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.
6. `And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us.
7. `Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression;
8. and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders;
9. and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

10. `Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.' And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God;
11. and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.
12. "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
13. "You shall say before the LORD your God, `I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments.
14. `I have not eaten of it while mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor offered any of it to the dead. I have listened to the voice of the LORD my God; I have done according to all that You have commanded me.
15. `Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.'

16. "This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
17. "You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice.
18. "The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments;
19. and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God, as He has spoken."

From Torah Tidbits

IY"H Soon with the fruit too

The mitzva of Bikurim consists of two components: the bringing of the first fruits to the kohen in the Beit HaMikdash and the recitation of the Bikurim declaration, as set down in the beginning of this week's sedra. The mitzva of Bikurim is applicable only in the time of the Beit HaMikdash.

However... there is a dimension of the mitzva that we can apply in our own time. Bikurim, says the ARI z"l is the TIKUN for the sin of the Meraglim. The Meraglim took beautiful fruits from Eretz Yisrael, showed them to the generation of the Wilderness, and then spoke against the Land and against G-d's Plan for the People of Israel to go there to conquer, settle, and live.

For that sin, the 10 scouts were struck dead. For that sin, the adult male population of that generation (not including Kalev and Yehoshua) were decreed to wander in the Midbar and die out over a 40 year period, before the new generation would be able to cross the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael.

The bottom line of the sin of the spies is that the Meraglim said: It's a nice place to visit, but we wouldn't want to live there. That sin is repeated and compounded by every Jew who says those words. Cheit HaMeraglim is sadly alive and well in our time.

The TIKUN, repair, atonement for that sin is epitomized by every Jew that lives in Eretz Yisrael and feels and says what the Bikurim-bringer says: Baruch HaShem that G-d brought us to this place and gave us this Land.
There is a third component of Bikurim. It comes in the last pasuk of the Bikurim parsha. V'SAMACHTA... and you shall rejoice in all the good that G-d has given you... and not selfishly, but with others, including the less fortunate and the stranger in your midst.

We might not be able to bring the fruits now, but we certainly can and must work on the TIKUN of the sin of the spies, and always be thankful to G-d.
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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Get your copy of Kumah's Kummunique!

For those of you who have been pining away for a Kumah newsletter, a weekly display of Neo-Zionist fervor, love and advice, sign on to Kumah's listserve (see the box on the left side of this page), and get a heaping serving of what Kumah's all about(plus recipes - activism with a stomach).

Browse digitally or print it out for a casual weekend read.

So check your inboxes every Friday for Kummunique!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reconnecting with the Land of Israel

Last night I had the distinct privilege of visiting some friends who live in Sde Boaz, a newly established Jewish community just outside of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion.

I want to share some special things that I noticed about Sde Boaz:

* Sde Boaz is situated on one of the highest points in Israel, and as such, one can see for miles (kilometers) in every direction. There are likely few better places in Israel from where one can take in so much of the Land of Israel - and I believe that it is for this reason that this area was frequented by our forefathers.

* Sde Boaz is surrounded by beautiful hills and valleys full of nature. The air is crisp, cool and fresh. With every breath that one inhales, he is cleansing his body, both in a physical sense, as well as spiritually, as the very air seems to have a mystical quality to it.

I had the opportunity to visit the spring just outside of Sde Boaz (which has goldfish in it), and to eat figs right off the trees that surround Sde Boaz. This had an added signifigance, as figs are one of the 7 species special to the Land of Israel, and as such, I got to also make a Shehechiyanu blessing on the fruit (as I had not had one in quite some time), thanking G-d for having blessed me with the opportunity to partake of the fruit of His chosen land, the Land of Israel, as a proud Jew, who had returned home.

* Sde Boaz, home to about 25 people, is full of both religious and secular Jews, new immigrants and native Israelis, who live together with a shared love for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel and the desire to live in a Jewish State.

* Sde Boaz is not surrounded by any fences (that would otherwise restrict the natural growth of the community), and all work that is done in the community is done through Jewish labor.


* Sde Boaz also happens to be, in the eyes of the world, and some in Israel, an illegal outpost which the State of Israel has committed itself to remove.

* Sde Boaz is considered to be an illegal outpost even though it is built on state owned land (via the Jewish National Fund) that was purchased through money that was collected by our gransparents, who stood on street corners holding the small, blue JNF tzedaka boxes, in order that Jews would be able to live anywhere in the Land of Israel.

Illegal outposts like Sde Boaz are communities full of some of the most wonderful Jews around, modern day pioneers who believe in working the land and in building new Jewish communities throughout the Land of Israel, Jews who do not apologize for believing in the right of the Jewish People to a Jewish State in the Land of Israel - and who are committed to this ideal not merely in word but in physical deed, Jews who are willing to live with less material comfort, but whose lives are full of a richness that money simply can't buy.

Even for one who lives in Israel like myself, it is easy, in the course of day-to-day living, to have one's physical connection to the Land of Israel become a bit removed. Thankfully, last night, I was able to recharge my batteries. There is just something special about walking through the hills and valleys of the Land of Israel, eating the fruits of the land right off the tree, and doing so with my fellow Jewish brothers and sisters who also have chosen to make Aliyah and build their lives in the Jewish homeland.

Next time one hears of the need for Israel to remove these illegal outposts, consider the following:

* Is it really the presence of communities like Sde Boaz and the Jews who live there that are standing in the way of peace with the Arabs?

* Are the values of self-sacrifice and dedication towards one's fellow Jews and to the Land of Israel, as well as the value of a Jew to being able to live anywhere in the Land of Israel as a proud Jew - the very foundations upon which communities like Sde Boaz are built upon - are these values that we want to remove from our society?

* Ask yourself what exactly an illegal outpost is. Can it really be illegal - a crime - for a Jew to live, build and settle in the Jewish Homeland?

* If one believes in the right of the Jewish People to a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, will removing these communities serve to strengthen or weaken our claim to the Land of Israel?

Think about it.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Monday, September 19, 2005

Revising the Prayers on Behalf of Israel and the IDF

In Shul this past Shabbat I noticed that that when the prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, as well as the prayer for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was recited, there were changes made to the text of each of the prayers.

From the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel:
Our Father Who are in Heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless Thou the State of Israel which marks the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of Thy love; Spread over it Thy canopy of peace; Place at her head able men, those that fear G-d, men of truth, who hate unjust gain.

(This is in place of: "send Thy light and Thy truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Thy good counsel").

From the Prayer for the IDF:
May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in all their missions against our enemies...

(This is in place of: "and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor".)

These changes were proposed, by among others, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Shlita, of Beit El.

Rabbi Ya'akov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, also expressed his views on the matter.
The prayer for the welfare of the state should continue to be recited, "even more fervently," with added emphasis on granting ministers and advisors sound advice "and even add a supplication to grant them more merciful hearts and more humane attitudes."

"I recommend that the prayer for the well being of IDF soldiers omit the clause, '...and send blessing and success in all the work of their hands.' Not all of the hands of the IDF's soldiers are worthy of blessing and success - only those that fight against our external enemies,"

Personally, I don't have a problem with either change. I imagine that when these prayers were instituted by Israel's Chief Rabbinate, that this was their original intention, and it is only now it has been decided that these ideas must be clearly expressed.

I think that the State of Israel would be a much better place (and more Jewish State) if we had leadership that was G-d fearing and honest (not that the two are mutually exclusive). As for the Prayer for the IDF, I do not wish them any success in throwing Jews out of their homes, or in any other actions against the Jewish People - that is not why they exist. For more on this idea, see what Rabbi Melamed has to say).

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Visit The Kotel On a Thursday Morning

I really got to start carrying along my good camera with me everywhere! I took these with my Treo cellphone instead...

This morning I visited the Kotel. It's amazing to go on any Monday or Thursday morning because the plaza is full with Bar Mitzvah Boys!

And singing and dancing and candies being thrown all over the place...

Boys in colorful garb - it was achlah! (That's Hebrew for "groovie!")

And there's always something going on at the Kotel.

This motorcade then pulled up and this old distinguished looking man got out...

Followed but what looked like a general.

So I yahooed (google doesn't let you search news photos) and found these Reuters photos:

It seems it was Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus.

Yep. Always something going on at the Kotel...
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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Photo Update of Plantings (Not Uprootings)

Remember these flower pots:

We volunteered there again and they now look like this:

Growing beautiful lilacs!

Full post and comments...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Yom HaAliyah - A New Jewish Holiday (Part 2)

In my last post, about the new American Jewish holiday, Arrival Day, I gave my reasoning behind rejecting such a holiday as inconsistent with Jewish tradition and beliefs. In response, my wife critiqued me for not having used the concept of Arrival Day for something positive, as opposed to merely criticizing the idea. After all, it's always easy to be critical of new ideas, the challenge is to find something positive in them, and build upon it.

On that note, I would like to present to you my suggestion for a new Jewish holiday, based on the concept of Arrival Day, to be known as Yom HaAliyah (National Aliyah Day).

What exactly is Yom HaAliyah?

* Yom HaAliyah is a day which celebrates the Aliyah of millions of Jews from the 4 corners of the Earth to the Jewish State of Israel.

* Yom HaAliyah is a day which celebrates the undying will and spirit of the Jewish People throughout the 2,000 year Exile to return Home to the Land of Israel, as is expressed through Jewish tradition and heritage.

* Yom HaAliyah is a day which will focus on educating Jews both in Israel, as well as abroad, of the importance of Aliyah, and the fulfillment that it brings to one's Jewish life.

In Israel, education programming would be geared towards helping Jewish Israelis appreciate the significance of Aliyah to the future of the state of Israel, both in a demographic sense, as well as a spiritual one. Additionally, educational programming would be geared towards helping native Israelis understand the challenges and sacrifices involved in making Aliyah, in an effort to try and build a connection and understanding between both native Israelis and Olim Chadashim (new immigrants).

Additionally, on this day, all Jews who made Aliyah in the past year would be invited to a special ceremony lead by Jewish / political leaders throughout Israel in a gala celebration of Kibbutz HaGaluyot (the Ingathering of the Exiles).

In Jewish communities throughout the world, the educational message will be varied depending on the needs and circumstances of the particular community. Jewish communities will learn of stories of famous Jews, both past and present who in word and deed embodied the Jewish idea of Shivat Zion (the desire to return to Zion).

Additionally, Jewish communities will learn how they can find both personal and communal fulfillment in Israel, be it professionally, educationally, religiously, spiritually, or physically. Olim from their respective communities will return to their native communities to give 1st hand accounts of their lives in Israel.

I propose that Yom HaAliyah be celebrated annually on the 6th of Tammuz. On the 6th of Tammuz over 500 Jews made Aliyah from North America (with the generous assistance and support of Nefesh B'Nefesh), the largest contingent of North American Jews to make Aliyah in one day in Israel?s history. Granted, I may be partial, being a North American Oleh myself, to proposing a date connected to North American Aliyah, but I believe that this is a fitting date for a more central reason.

North American Aliyah represents Aliyah by choice. Jews who make Aliyah from North America are not fleeing from anti-Semitism or economic hardship. These are Jews who are leaving behind perfectly comfortable lives because they recognize that the only place where they can truly find fulfillment as Jews (both individually and nationally) is in the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. That, I believe, is the very message that Yom HaAliyah will seek to get across. Aliyah is not only for Jews who have nowhere else to go, but for Jews who want to take an active role in shaping the destiny and future of the Jewish People.

It seems I have turned over a new leaf. Arrival Day isn't such a bad idea after all, so long as we are celebrating the arrival and return of the Jewish People to their one and only true home - the Land and State of Israel.

Yom HaAliyah. It has a nice ring to it, no? Anyone else think so?

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dear Fellow Jews from Katrina-Stricken New Orleans

Biloxi´s Beth Israel Congregation, the only synagogue on the Mississippi coast, still stands two blocks from the beach, though the building suffered heavy damage. Larry Brook/Deep South Jewish Voice

Dear Fellow Jews from Katrina-Stricken New Orleans,

We continue to be saddened at the terrible tragedy that has befallen the southern coast of the United States. We would like to express our pain and share in your sorrow over your family's misfortune and that of the disintegration of your community.

All of Israel is bound to and responsible for one another, and in this spirit we pray for your welfare and wish to help out in whichever ways we can.

The prospect of rebuilding your lives in a new location must be very foreboding. New schools, new work, new communities, new homes. Many of us, ourselves, are facing similar challenges, though under different circumstances - the result of the "disengagement."

Could it be that this is the right opportunity for you to rebuild with us, here in Israel?

Aliyah to Israel in normal circumstances is not easy, from several standpoints. But now that you have been forced to make such a sharp switch, might it not be a good idea to grab the bull by the horns and turn it into the ideal Zionist/Jewish turnabout?

We are living in a complex, puzzling and difficult period, with many crises facing us both nationally and across the world. Confusion, bewilderment and frustration are our lot at present. The challenges are great, and the rewards can be even greater. Amidst it all, we believe in the light of the Redemption of Israel, of the revival of the Jewish People in our Land, and the delicate but strong light that will arise from the darkness.

Housing, employment and educational opportunities abound here in Israel, and we can help find them for you. You can choose from small communities in Yesha, to large cities in central Israel, and many different options in between. We invite you to start anew here with us in the Land of Israel, the Land of our Fathers, "to build and be rebuilt."

May we all merit to see your rebuilding together with the rebuilding of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.


Ariel Fendel, a student of the expelled Yeshivat Torat haCahim from Gush Katif who has now started the school year in Shoresh

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A New Jewish Holiday?

During my daily surfing of all that the Jewish Blogsphere has to offer, I stumbled across the Velveteen Rabbi blog that directed me to The Head Heeb blog, who posted about the new (self-declared) American Jewish Holiday, Arrival Day that commemorates the arrival of the 1st Jews to America (New Amsterdam) on Sept. 7th, 1654.

In The Head Heeb's own words:
Arrival Day is a holiday of the American Jewish people rather than the Jewish religion - a celebration of the Jewish community and its contributions to the United States. As such, non-Jews as well as Jews are welcome to join in the celebration. In the wise words of Ikram Saeed, everyone is Jewish today, just as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

I hope to see all of you next September for Arrival Day 352. Mazel tov, and next year in America.

Ok, let's go through the issues I have with this new holiday.

1) Whether one refers to Jews (and Jewish communities) outside of Israel as being in the Diaspora or in Exile (Check out the definition for Diaspora and Exile), the common denominator is that regardless of one's preferred choice of word, the American Jewish community is not where they are naturally meant to be (from a Jewish perspective), namely the Land of Israel (today, the State of Israel) and as such, their existence is at best a b'dieved (not an optimal) situation, regardless of whatever contributions they may have made to American society, or how welcoming American society has been towards the Jews.

Celebration of Arrival Day is the equivalent of throwing a party for the team that finishes in 2nd place.

No one will doubt the comfort, affluence and success that American Jewry has experienced during its stay in America, and of the many contributions that individual Jews (and not Judaism) have made to American society, however, it must be noted, that, sadly, the greatest (in number) contribution that American Jewry has made to the United States has been to give it hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of it sons and daughters, who have chosen Americaness at the expense of their Jewishness, and that is not something worth celebrating.

2) If all Americans are Jewish on Arrival Day, does that mean that all Jews become good Irish Catholics on St. Patrick's Day?

I hope to see all of you next September for Arrival Day 352. Mazel tov, and next year in America.

I can only respond with some words from our great Jewish sages:

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen, The Ohr Somayach, in Meschech Chochma, p. 191-192 (The year these words were uttered was 1926).
"If a Jew will forget his origin and true identity and consider himself a full-fledged citizen of the country of his exile? If he thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem?then a raging storm will uproot him by his trunk? the tempest will arise and spread it's roaring waves, and swallow, and destroy and spread forth without pity."

Rabbi Yaacov Emden, (The Ya'avetz) in his Siddur Beit Yaacov, p. 13
It seems to me, in our present peaceful existence outside the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem; this to me, is the greatest, deepest and most obvious and direct cause of all the awesome, frightening monstrous, unimaginable destruction that we have experienced in the Diaspora."

The Head Heeb, in response to a comment on this post, writes:
"and next year in America".
Are you saying that the US is the new Promised Land for the Jews?

You asked this question tongue in cheek, but I used that phrase very deliberately. I'm not saying that the United States is the new Promised Land, but I am saying that Diaspora Judaism is something that has intrinsic value and deserves to be celebrated. That isn't the orthodox Zionist position, but my Zionism isn't particularly orthodox.

Whether Arrival Day is about supplanting the Land of Israel as the eternal Homeland of the Jewish People is irrelevant.

While in exile, Jews never stopped mourning for and praying to return to Jerusalem. The word Zionism - the national movement of the Jewish people - comes from the word Zion, one of the Jewish names for the holy city of Jerusalem.

Three times every day, when Jews pray, they face toward Jerusalem, and pray for their return to the Holy City.

After every meal, Jews pray that God will "rebuild Jerusalem speedily in our days."

"Next year in Jerusalem," is recited by every Jew at the end of the Passover Seder and at the end of the Yom Kippur fast.

At Jewish weddings, a glass is broken in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. Blessings recited during the Jewish marriage ceremony pray for the return of Zion's children to Jerusalem and for the sound of joyous nuptials to be heard in Jerusalem's streets.

Arrival Day is the antithesis of 2,000 years of the Jewish tradition, which it (unintentionally?) seeks to undermine. Arrival Day is the celebration of the American Jewish community's having found their home - in America - where they no longer see the need to yearn or hope to return to their other home.

It is ironic, that on this year's Arrival Day, Sept. 7th, another 200 Jews made Aliyah from North America, through the generous assistance and support of Nefesh B'Nefesh (the 6th such flight of this summer, totaling over 1,800 North American Jews) returning to their one and only true home.

Now, that's something worth celebrating.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Aliyah Trains Keeps on Chugging Along!!!!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Greatest Threat to the State of Israel

I often spend my waking hours thinking of the challenges that are facing the Jewish People, and how best we can overcome them. When I am together with friends, invariably, we most often spend our time discussing these matters, as well. I am an avid reader, and one of the things that I take pride in is the sizeable library of both Jewish books, as well as books relating to Israel and the Jewish People, that I have established in my home.

Growing up in America, I attended from kindergarten through University, Orthodox Jewish day schools. I received the best Jewish education money could buy, and yet, at no point do I really recall ever being taught about what it meant to be a Jew, why the Jewish People should continue exist today, the centrality of the Land of Israel to the destiny and mission of the Jewish People. The emphasis seemed to always be on the "how's" and "what's" of Judaism, but not the "why's".

Personally speaking, if not for my year of study upon graduating high school, in Israel, as well as my willingness to read and learn on my own, I would most likely still remain ignorant to the bigger picture of Judaism and the Jewish People.

It seems that according to a recent study, this seems to be the case in Israel as well.
The study, which was based on an analysis of data appearing in the Program for International Student Assessment from 2003, reveals that Israel languishes at the bottom of the world table when it comes to demand for achievement from students, with most developed European and American countries ranking above it.

"The study paints the picture that teachers in Israel spoon-feed the material to the students and don't challenge them," Mevarech says.

"The teacher in Israel spoon-feeds the students, processes the material for them and poses a low demand threshold," Mevarech says. "The figures show that teachers in Israel are prepared to receive sloppy work from their students."

The greatest threat that faces Israel, as a Jewish State, today, is not the "Palestinians", it is not demography, and it is not even the threat of a nuclear Iran. The greatest threat being posed to the Jewish State of Israel today is the inability of its educational system to produce proud, caring and knowledgeable Jews. A system where the average Jewish child graduates high school without understanding what it means to be a Jew, what it means to have a Jewish State, and why both are worth fighting, sacrificing and even dying for.

The strength of the Jewish People throughout the millennia of exile and persecution has been our ability to pass on from one generation to the next, without fail, a love for Judaism and the Jewish People. The backbone of every Jewish community that survived the long Exile was its Synagogue and its Cheder (Jewish educational system). It is this, and only this, that gave the Jew the strength to get up in the morning when he knew that all that awaited him was discrimination and persecution, pain and suffering. The Jew knew who he was, knew that he was the descendant of Prophets and Kings, and the Jew knew that he was destined to reach those great heights once again, so long as he stayed true to his faith.

There is no excuse that I can think of as to why Israel?s educational system should not be among the best in the world. Israel?s schools should be filled with teachers who are highly motivated and dedicated to the subject matter, a system where the educators would strive to bring out the very best in their students, to encourage growth and creative thinking, and not be willing to merely spoon-feed their students and accept the very least that they have to offer.

The State of Israel must be able to produces generation after generation of proud and knowledgeable Jews (not necessarily religiously observant ones). Jews who will be prepared to work, study, fight, and grow all for the glory of Israel. The key is for every Jew to know who we are, why we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. With that knowledge, I believe that nothing can stand in our way. Without it, I do not believe that we have a future.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Monday, September 05, 2005

A Short Jerusalem Taxi Story

Posted this to my blog last Friday. It's yet another reason to make Aliyah! What are you waiting for?

Got to get ready for Shabbat - but one quick story to blog about before I go. This morning I woke up late - just after 8 which meant I missed the local 8 O'Clock minyan. So I decided to go to the Kotel to daven - I like going there anyway on any Friday I can. As I get the Derech Chevron, the main street where the buses run, I see my bus wiz by which usually means at least a 20 minute wait.

But then something amazing happened. A taxi who saw that I just missed the bus pulled up to the bus stop and starts honking. I wave him off - I have a "Chodshi Chofshi" (a monthly pass) for the bus after all why would I take a cab?

"Lo, Ze Chenam! Bli Kessef! ? [No, it?s free, no money!]" he calls to me.

"Free?" I say ? "Why?"

"It's a chessed [kind deed]! I'm going this way anyway to drop off the taxi somewhere so I might as well take you."


Bear in mind, we had this entire discussion in Hebrew. And we continued to talk about where I'm from and how there is no kedusha in America and about what is happening in New Orleans being "Mida Kinegged Mida" [measure for measure] punishment for the US Government supporting the uprooting of Jewish communities in Gush Katif. "I will curse those that curse you!" If Gush Katif is to be uprooted those that supported it will be uprooted a hundred-fold. (President Bush's Christian supporters should make him aware of this - and conversely if America blesses Israel by supporting expanding Jewish Communities instead of destroying them we will see America greatly prosper!)

So I was impressed that for the first time in my life I was able to keep up a conversation in Hebrew with a taxi driver. And I was even more impressed that your typical taxi driver in Yerushalayim (he wasn?t wearing a kippa if you were wondering) was talking about chessed and kudusha. And then he asked me to have him in mind when I daven at the Kotel. I did.

Now my question to the reader: Did a NYC cabbie, ever, in the history of New York, offer anyone a FREE lift?

What a country! So many holy Jews here.
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Friday, September 02, 2005

If Not Unity, Then What...?

I have received a lot of feedback relating to my post: Never Forget... Together We Will Rebuild. The gist of the post was that in order for Jewish People to have a future in the Land of Israel, then it is incumbent upon the Religious Zionist camp to be forgiving of those who passively supported ?Disengagement?, and of the need to work together with them to create a better future for the Jewish People in Israel.

In response, I have received many e-mails such as this one:
Before the disengagement I would have said that you are right the Chilonim are our brothers. But no more, it is time we realize that they are not our brothers nor have they ever been. They are Erev Rav and until we realize this and fight them with as much strength and ruthlessness as they have fought us we will never defeat them.

I do agree, that there exists in Israel elements that have shown through both word and deed a strong ideological aversion to all things Jewish (such as Israel's media, Supreme Court, the ultra-secular elites, and numerous figures and bodies within Israel?s political system) and these individuals and institutions have taken pleasure in watching the expulsion of Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel. (An act that if committed against the Arabs of Israel, they would have protested with all of their might). With these types of people, I do not believe that we have a shared future or common spirit that unites us as brohters.

However, collectively, these people represent the minority of Jews in Israel, and their power is not in relation to their numbers or supporters. It is questionable, even with the media serving as a propaganda organ for Sharon in support of ?Disengagement?, as to whether there ever existed a Jewish majority of public support for the "Disengagement" plan (and as I mentioned in my post, the vast majority of the Jews who did support the plan did not do so out of a hatred for the Jews who lived in these communities, but after having been misled to believe by the media and the government that there was no alternative).

The majority of Jews in Israel are either traditional (believe in G-d and connect themselves in some way with the Jewish People and Jewish heritage and ritual) or religiously observant - meaning that the majority of Jews in Israel want Israel to exist as a Jewish State. We may not agree on exactly what that means, but there is enough of a common ground to work together.

After all, what is the alternative? Are we to create two states, as was the case during the Biblical times - a State of Israel and a State of Judea? And if one responds in the affirmative, is that realistic or practical? To those who say we should fight... how and against whom exactly? What steps does one who supports such an initiative advocate taking?

Israel Perspectives: Feeling 'Right' At Home

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

A World Built Upon Kindness ("Olam Chessed Yibaneh")

Yesterday I was privileged to spend the day handing out backpacks to the children of Gush Katif who were expelled from their homes, and who are starting school today. The campaign, sponsored by World Mizrachi was done in recognition that among the last things going through the minds of the families who were expelled from their homes was of the need to buy their children school supplies for the coming year. To see the smiles on the face of the children, and the appreciation of the parents is something that I will not soon forget, and I was blessed to have been able to have been able to bring even a small amount of happiness to these holy Jews who deserve so much better.

One consistent theme that I noticed throughout the various locations that I visited was the kindness extended by the Jewish People to take care of their Jewish brothers and sisters. No, I am not talking about the government, but of non-official initiatives started by Jews who said that they felt the need to help.

We visited Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim and Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh which have both opened their doors, beds, dining rooms, synagogues... to these Jews. At Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim, where the vast majority of the former Yishuv of Ganei Tal is located, I heard time and again how at home they have been made to feel, and that they are under no pressure from the Kibbutz to leave anytime soon.

We visited the tent city at Netivot, full of former residents of Kfar Darom, which they have renamed "The City of Faith". They are living on land that was donated by a landowner in Netivot, who not only gave these Jews the land, but also is renovating an enormous hothouse in order to build a roof over the heads of these Jews, so that come the winter, they will be able to stay dry.

Throughout the day I came across Jews from all over Israel who had come to help these holy Jews of Gush Katif however they could.

Do not get me wrong. Life is not easy for the Jews who have been expelled from their homes, and even with all the smiles, the sadness, mourning and shock is still there. There is a sense of betrayal at the hands of the government, not just for throwing them out of their homes, but for not having anything ready for them after the fact. Yet, in the midst of all the darkness, Am Yisrael is responding to the mission to help their Jewish brothers and sisters in need.

There is much that needs to be done, and everyone can find a way on their own level to help. This is about helping a fellow Jew, and transcends any political beliefs that one may have.

Before we left Be'er Sheva, one of the Jews who was forced to live out of a hotel expressed to me how she wished that there was a way for her to repay the kindness that we were showing her. I told her that all I wanted in return was an invitation to spend Shabbat with her family after they are able to return to, and rebuild their home in Gush Katif.

The spirit of kindess that binds the Jewish People together can never be extinguished, even (or especially) during trying times like these. It is this spirit of kindess and compassion that is shared by one Jew for his brother that will not only allow the Jewish People to endure this tragedy that has befallen us, but it will also serve as the foundation upon which the future Jewish State of Israel will be built - unending love for our fellow Jews.

May we merit to see it speedily in our days!

Israel Perspectives: Feeling 'Right' At Home
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