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Friday, February 05, 2010

Neo-Zionism at Work - "Free Loan Group Surpasses $100 Million in Interest Free Loans"

(From Israel National News) The Israel Free Loan Association (IFLA) reported that it reached a major milestone in 2009, surpassing $100 million in interest free loans granted since its founding. These loans have been provided to over 50,000 Israeli families from all backgrounds.

IFLA loans help Ethiopian immigrants move out of mobile homes and buy apartments, enable university students to obtain academic degrees, and allow ailing Israelis to undergo operations. The loans also assist families with handicapped children to purchase medical equipment, help struggling Israelis get back on their financial feet and enable Israelis to start a business or expand existing ones thereby supporting both themselves...

The non-profit IFLA started as a private initiative of Hebrew University Professor of Social Work Emeritus, Eliezer Jaffe. He came up with the idea after a visit to an immigrant absorption center in 1988. "Busloads of Ethiopians, straight off the airplane, had just arrived at the center, and I told myself we were witnessing history in the making - the ingathering of the exiles." Soon afterwards, a flood of Russians added nearly a million new immigrants to the population.

"After I came home, I thought to myself – you have to get involved. Some friends and I put our heads together and we remembered what the sage Maimonides had said about charity – the highest level being when you give a loan or a job too a person so they can get onto their feet and keep their self-respect.

“It has worked out well because after their first year in the country, immigrants receive little help from the Jewish Agency that helped bring them to this country. They don't have family networks, they don't have the language mastered yet, and they find it hard to get a job or learn a profession."

Although originally established for new immigrants, the IFLA has branched out to offer help Israelis of all backgrounds. “In 1990 we started with a donation of only $20,000 dollars,” says Jaffe. “In 2009 we succeeded in surpassing the $100 million mark in interest free loans granted. Who would have believed we could have come so far in so short a time?”

The Israel Free Loan Association is the largest free loan organization in the world. It lends out $15 million every year to Israelis of all backgrounds. Unlike conventional charity where money is depleted, the source funds for free loans are preserved and more loans are recycled to provide funds to others.

Click here for more information.


Yishai says: Notice one thing - this way of banking is exactly the way the Torah prescribes lending in the Land of Israel. Neo-Zionism is about a renewal of our ancient ways in our modern life. It is about giving life to the Torah and engendering a society, that will be a light unto the nations because it will bring down the amazing guidelines of G-d into this corporeal world!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Zionism, not Cynicism

Israel has lots challenges: We have two hostile Iranian outposts on our borders, not to mention Iran itself building a bomb with our name on it. When we fight to defend our citizenry we get the Goldstone Report. The world is trying to stop us from building in our capital. We have a hostage in Gaza and we are being asked to release murderers for his freedom. We have very few friends abroad, and inside Israel we are often divided.

It is not surprising that in such an atmosphere, some people succumb to cynicism. But just as the darkness seems to have the upper hand, suddenly there are bright moments that delight us, remind us what Israel is all about, and shoo away the cynicism. Aliya is just such a cynicism buster. Aliya shows us that Israel continues to attract Jews from all over the world to take part in the most exciting project of the Jewish people in two-thousand years...

However, two recent articles in the Jerusalem Post seem bent on putting a dark spin on aliya as well:

In an op-ed entitled "What American aliya?" (Dec. 16) Haviv Rettig Gur wrote :

...Aliya as a phenomenon, as a movement, as a national project, has come to an end. Some 3,000 American olim come to Israel every year from a community whose population is at least 4.2 million strong... for all intents and purposes, North American aliya is currently at zero.

Then, as a follow up (Dec. 29), Michael Hirsh wrote "American aliya - an exercise in futility" stating:

I ask the well-meaning people at NBN and the Jewish Agency: With which powers of persuasion do you believe you were endowed that will sway someone to whom Israel is an afterthought into leaving everything behind and becoming an oleh? Perhaps that explains the current rate of "success," one-10th of 1 percent.

What negativity! This year was the first time in a decade that there was a rise in the number of new immigrants to Israel: 16,200 compared with the previous year's 15,440. 2009 also saw the largest number of Jews (3,767) make aliyah from North America since 1983. Amazingly, with all of Israel's challenges, aliya is on an upward trajectory - so why knock it?

Nay-sayers won't tell you that North American aliya has already become an economic success for Israel. According to a recent Deloitte audit, the entire population of Nefesh B'Nefesh Olim (6,493 households) has generated government revenues of 989 million shekels while the estimated costs of bringing them were only NIS 528 million. Also, the estimated contribution of American aliya (between 2002 and 2008) to the Israeli tourism industry (parents and pals coming to visit olim) is calculated at NIS 347 million, which brings the net contribution of recent North American aliya to a jaw-dropping 808 million shekels!

And North American aliya is bound to keep growing because immigration has never been easier: Israel has finally gotten the bureaucratic process right through the advent of Nefesh B'Nefesh. At the same time, amazing Anglo communities like Modiin and Ramat Beit Shemesh have sprouted up, making absorption a walk in an ever-more-manicured park. And as though Providentially, just as Israel's bureaucratic and community infrastructure are in place, the economic climate in the US has made aliya more attractive then ever before. In fact, measurable interest in aliya has more then doubled since the onset of the global economic crisis.

The aliya cynics point to the paltry 3,000 Olim a year and conclude that North American aliya is a failure. But since when do we value people as merely numbers? If the dream of gathering in the Exiles is happening only 3000 people at a time is that worthless? When one greets new immigrants one sees the faces of children kissing the ground, the faces of elderly rabbis crying, the faces of El Al pilots glowing with pride. "Total failure"? More like total ecstasy!

In the late 70's there were only 3 million Jews in Israel, now we are approaching 6 million. We have doubled in the last 30 years! No other country can claim that. Yes, it's mainly due to Russian Aliya, and a relatively high birthrate. But the point is that Israel wants to grow, and every Jew counts. Therefore, we must tirelessly continue to push aliya from all parts of the globe - and with special focus on American Jewry, the last major bastion of the Diaspora.

However, aliya cynics do have a point when they tell us that American Jewry is entrenched. It is. But that is not a reason to give up on our Jewish family back in the old country. To the contrary - it is precisely now, when the wheels of North American aliya are finally turning, that we must redouble our efforts to encourage Western Jews to come home.


It is in this spirit that I present three positive ideas of how to help galvanize Western Jews to seriously consider aliya:

* Aliya Day. There are well known state holidays which are used as springboards for massive educational undertakings. Yom Haatzmaut is a national celebration, but it is also a day of award ceremonies, concerts, and gatherings. Yom Hazikaron has its cemetery memorials and the siren that so powerfully reminds us of the IDF's sacrifice. Yom Hashoah educates us about the horrors of the Holocaust.

The time has arrived to unveil a new state holiday called Aliyah Day. Aliyah Day will be celebrated in Israeli schools with children getting up and telling the tale of their family's aliya. On TV, the stories of the various communal and personal immigrations will be told. Prizes will be given out to aliya activists, absorption workers and immigrants who have made a difference in Israel. Each year a different community will be featured and celebrated.

Simultaneously, Aliya Day will be celebrated in all pro-Israel institutions in the Diaspora. There, the discussion will focus on the importance of aliya, and the centrality of Israel. Aliya Day will use the proven model of a State holiday to celebrate the fact that we are all immigrants, and put aliya back onto the national agenda.

* Aliya Rally. There is a powerful force in Israel which, so far, has been totally untapped. Western olim, immigrants to Israel, are typically the most vocal supporters of continued Western aliya. If you enter the home of an oleh and broach the topic, you will find that from Raanana to Kiryat Arba, Western olim are highly enthusiastic about aliya and would like to see Jewish emigration expedited. We should harness the great passion of these people, and give them a platform to be heard.

Many rallies are held in Israel every year, but most of these rallies are anti-something, like calling for an end to some government policy. However, the aliya rally is different – it is positive and reaches out to Diaspora Jews with love and encouragement.

In a large venue in Jerusalem, like Teddy Stadium or the Sultan's Pool, the rally will be a professional production, with musical acts and speeches by well known personalities. Participants taking part in the rally will hold up placards that read: "Come Home My Brother / Sister", or posters of an Israeli passport with the words "Your Name Here" on the front. From the stage and in the crowd, we will call on our fellow Jews to come home and be our neighbors. The rally will raise aliya consciousness amongst Western Jews, empower olim in Israel who feel strongly about aliya, rekindle love of the homeland in native Israelis, and show the world that Israel still calls on all her children to come home.

* Aliya Boat. For American Jews in the US, the occasional press article or video clip about American aliya fails to persuade them that aliya is the future. It's just something they can brush off. We need to change that – we need to make the movement of Western aliya so spectacular and evocative that world Jewry will not be able to ignore it.

Enter the Aliya Boat. Evoking the nostalgia of old-world Jewish immigration, the Aliya Boat, this generation's 'Exodus', will bring 3000 Olim to Israel in just one journey. A plush cruise liner, the Aliya boat will sail for two weeks from the northeastern coast of the U.S. to one of Israel's port cities. Throughout the journey, an Israeli naval ship will escort the Aliya Boat as both security and honor guard.

While on this 'cruise' the almost-new immigrants will be busy: they will begin their Hebrew training at the on-board ulpan, take care of governmental paper work, and begin preparation to deal with their new home and environment. On the boat, children won't be strapped into constrictive seats for hours; instead, they will be 'enrolled' in an Israeli gan. Elderly folks can rest and play shuffleboard. Adults will begin friendships that will last a lifetime.

The romantic retro-iconography of the Aliya Boat will make news for two weeks straight. Embedded reporters and a documentary crew will record the epic tale. In Israel, a massive confetti welcome will make the arrival of the Aliya Boat one of the most moving spectacles of our time. It will be just too awesome of an event to minimize, and it will force every Jew in the world to rethink his or her position onaliya.

Indeed, this is not the time for cynicism. It is a time for Zionism. It is a time to think big and act big. If you will it, it is no dream.


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Friday, January 01, 2010

Intel and the Hareidim

In today's Jerusalem Post Magazine you can read my new article called "Balancing Modernity and Sanity". Below is the longer original version:

Regress standing against progress. That is the gut-conclusion we reach when shown the images of black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews standing as a monolithic angry mob out to protest at the shiny Jerusalem offices of the mega-successful microchip maker Intel.

At issue is Intel's Jerusalem factory and its continuing work hours on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath - a day Biblically set aside for rest.

Intel represents progress for the world: running with the slogan "Intel Inside" or the newer and bolder ad campaign: "Intel - sponsors of tomorrow", this cutting-edge international company powers global computing as 80% of the world computers run Intel chips.

Intel also means progress for Israel: Intel creates much-needed, well-paying jobs for people in Israel and helps boost the whole country's economy. In 2008 Intel directly employed 6500 Israelis, with a few thousand more working as subcontractors. Last year, Intel was Israel's leading exporter - sending out products worth more than $1.3 billion. This year that figure will double.

And if that is not good enough, Intel took it one step further and has built research and development offices and a chip factory in Jerusalem. The capital of Israel needs both economic and political support and Intel provides it. In economic terms, Jerusalem is one of Israel's poorest cities and the new mayor, Nir Barkat, himself a high-tech mogul, is trying hard to attract big business and job opportunities to Jerusalem. Success with Intel will pave the way for others to come. Politically, Israel's enemies try to isolate and divide Jerusalem and they loathe the fact that a major international high-tech company helps Israeli Jerusalem flourish.

All this leads to one simple conclusion: Intel is good for Israel. So why are Hareidi Jews so against it? Why are they attacking a great Jerusalem institution, forcing it to consider leaving the capital in favor of calmer pastures?

Some observers claim that it's all political, that the Hareidim want a show of power to counteract the new non-observant mayor, and that they are afraid of a secular trend taking root in Jerusalem. Others claim that it's all about the money, with the ultra-Orthodox wanting kickbacks from Intel. Yet others believe that the protesters are simply against progress. Evidenced by their out-of-date appearance and their ascetic (non-internet) lifestyle, maybe these protesters are fighting modernity itself.

To understand the side of the Hareidim, we need to step back and analyze this dispassionately. What did the protesters demand? Did they call to get Intel out of Jerusalem? Did they hold signs railing against globalization? Did the Hareidim call for a boycott against Intel or rail against the general ethos of the communications revolution? No. It was one simple message: Do it, push the envelope six days a week, but please, just not on Shabbat.

If the Hareidim did not look the way they do, this could have been perceived as a liberal protest: workers demanding more free time from their employers, or city citizens calling on a company to give the environment a break for one day. However, because Shabbat is religiously mandated, it never seems to fit liberal criteria, though the message may be liberal indeed. The overt religious look of the protesters, coupled with the branding that we have been taught to associate with them, automatically locks out any debate as to whether the ultra-Orthodox position may fit perfectly with progressive sensibilities.

In a new acclaimed book entitled "The Tyranny of Email: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox", author John Freeman describes the modern information-saturated lifestyle and the implications of our linked-in lives. Freeman reports that new surveys, like AOL's 2008 Email Addiction Poll, show an email-crazed world. 60% of respondents report checking their email on the toilet, 62% respond to email on vacation, and 67% answered that they check their email in bed in their pajamas.

What about cell phone usage? We live with the obnoxious ring, the "I'm in a meeting right now" short answer, the constant focus-shattering distraction. In December 2008, the US's 270 million cell phone users wrote more than 110 billion text messages, an average of 407 text messages per user a month, double the number in the same month of 2007. U.S. teens (ages 13 to 17) had much higher levels of text messaging in 2008, sending and receiving an average of 1,742 text messages monthly. There are now about 4.1 billion cell phones in use world wide. The numbers just keep going up.

What about television consumption? According to Nielsen ratings for 2008, the average American older than 2 watched television for 151 hours per month - that's over 5 hours a day! Scientists tell us that when watching TV, our minds are less active then when we sleep, yet we imbibe hours of violent, oversexed, and plain dumb junk daily. And now with YouTube and free video on the iPhone, these trends are sure to grow.

We are living in an age of addiction, where the devices that were supposed to set us free are actually enslaving us. The more free from wires they become, the more tethered to them we are. This is not to say that the internet-empowered multimedia cellphone isn't great - it is - its just that we have a hard time turning it off. Modernity is beautiful, but we have not reached a healthy harmony with technology, and right now the machine seems to have the upper hand.

The modern world needs a powerful counterweight to correct the disharmony that has arrived along with the technological revolution. Envision our fast-paced society humming along with cars honking, cell phones ringing, wireless routers blinking, inboxes flooding, news media ticking along, and all the rest. Now imagine that we do that for six days a week, but on the seventh day we voluntarily rest. We turn off our cell phone, we unplug the TV (so that even that standby light goes out), we power down the computer so that it too can rest.

Imagine if we, as a society, took this seventh day concept a step further: all of us decide voluntarily to walk instead of drive for a day. Oooo, smell that fresh air! Cars are great, but one day without them makes us appreciate the sites that we usually zoom past, we take a break from road rage, and suddenly there is a quiet that has not been around for a hundred years. Smokers too could use Shabbat as an excuse to give their lungs a break, maybe even as a first step towards quitting. If branded right Shabbat could be seen as a day of environmental consciousness.

Jerusalem is the natural choice for the world's first city-wide Shabbat experiment. Visualize walking in the streets toward the Old City, no honking, no smog, no tension, a true serenity over the city of Shalom, peace. People the world over will flock to Jerusalem to take part in the unique cultural phenomenon of Shabbat and they will turn off their cell phones gladly.

But while in Jerusalem Shabbat is natural, in Tel Aviv Shabbat would be a revolution! Tel Aviv needs a break from its break-neck pace and would relish a day of back-to-basics. Tel-Avivians need some form of Shabbat more desperately then do Jerusalemites, an excuse for the exhaust-exhausted to sit in the park, to read a book, to commune with the spirit.

In the end hi-tech Intel and the old-school Hareidim must reach a compromise. Intel's Jerusalem factory has technical reasons why it cannot stop the production line even for one day, but Intel is savvy enough to come up with a technical fix. Similarly, the Hareidi rabbis, though stringent, know that Jewish law has built-in flexibilities which allow for creative solutions like those utilized in farms where cows need to be milked on Shabbat.

And just as Intel and the Hareidim should find a middle ground, so too our society needs to find a healthy balance between modernity and sanity. Never before have we been so inundated with information, so enticed by entertainment, and so constantly on the go. Indeed, we need Shabbat today more urgently then ever before.

To be sure, the Hareidi protests at Intel's Jerusalem plant have not conjured the attractive images of a beautiful world taking a day off from the grind. However, the Hareidim are not big into PR - they want to win a limited war for themselves, for their neighborhoods, and for Jerusalem - and they are playing protest politics which they see as effective. Neither does the press try to present the demands of the Hareidim in any positive light. However, we need not fall into the trap of externalities by throwing away an important idea just because it comes dressed in alien garb. Maybe it is we, the internet-crazed, the blue-tooth enabled, the ceaseless searchers for wi-fi, that need the Shabbat more than the Talmud-crazed, the sidelocks enabled, the ceaseless searchers for G-d.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009


Here's some good reading - a collection of some of our best articles over the years. We'll try to keep this list updated with new articles as we write them. We've also added a link to this post on the left side of the page so be sure to check back!

The Change Place

Identity-Impaired Jewish State

Bar Refaeli: The Shabbat Queen

The Rain Drain

Seeing the Edge

Behukotai: iLand

Behar: The Real Sinai

A State of Exile


Bikini Branding and the Holy Land


The Symbolism of Succot

In Aliyah, Quantity is Quality

The Light That Heals

Stop Supporting Israel

Moshiach Bin Laden

We Won the Intifada



Our flyer from the Israel Day Parade, May 5th, 2002 (PDF)

Balance, Friendship, and the Double Standard

Taanit Ester

The Jewish Question Revisited

Rallying Cry

Rabbis stand firm on Aliyah

Neo-Zionism and the 'Event'

Our flyer from the General Assembly, November 2001 (MS Word file)

Arise! Americans Return to Zion

Confession of a Former Leftist




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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ynet Author Threatens Jewish Yesha Residents with Violence

I've read some pretty outrageously anti-religious and anti-Right pieces on YNet before, but this might take the cake so far. The author is convinced that every "settler" considers every Israeli soldier and police officer to be a Nazi and that their punishment for using such a word should be a long prison term. Ironic how somebody who rejects being classified as a Nazi wishes to throw people in prison for leading a different lifestyle than him, or even for using language he doesn't like hearing. He also goes on to say that the religious and settlers of this country are trying to provoke a civil war (interesting seeing as how they are more patriotic than most secular Israelis I've ever encountered) and how they better watch out because they've never had to deal with the secularists when they have their guns in hand. I guess if the threat of prison terms doesn't work to try and get somebody to agree with your point of view, the only other option is to try and kill them!

I'll let his vile words of (self)hate speak for themselves but before I do I'd just like to make one point. While my list of complaints against this government could fill volumes, even I don't think that everything the state does is wicked and I personally try my best to avoid using the term Nazi to describe even the most wicked Jews... that being said it is interesting to note that aside from Soviet Russia, what was the last country before the modern state of Israel to destroy Jewish communities, kick Jews out of their homes just because they were Jewish (and thus deemed not able to live there) and given money to those who wish to harm or even kill Jews? You guessed it- Nazi Germany. Shame on ANY soldier who has kicked a Jew out of his home or actively dismantled Jewish communities in our holy land of Israel, shame on the Israeli government for committing such atrocities and shame on YNet for publishing this disgusting filth.

Don’t ever call me Nazi

Settlers who refer to IDF troops as Nazis to provoke civil war

Yoram Kaniuk
Published: 06.06.09, 15:08 / Israel Opinion

The word “Nazi,” which is being hurled at both Jews and non-Jews these days, must be banned by law. Referring to someone as “Nazi” is an act that should prompt a long prison term.

The Jewish people cannot bear with the curses uttered by Judea and Samaria residents, who hurl the word “Nazi” at police officers and soldiers, as well as any other person, regardless of whether he is Jewish, German, or Arab. Those residing in the occupied territories would do well to learn some history. They should learn that those who refer to a Jewish policeman or soldier as “Nazi” are similar to those who deny the Holocaust.

We cannot have a situation whereby protestors hurl this term at the soldiers who protect them, in the presence of a Knesset member who confronts security forces, as was the case in the recent outpost evacuation. We cannot have them direct this term at all of us.

Many of us had relatives who perished in the Holocaust. However, it seems the children of Judea and Samaria residents don’t know what happened there. Many years ago, Menachem Begin said that Arafat is like Hitler in his bunker. The Shoah survivors who supported Begin earlier were stunned. After all, no Arab is Hitler, either in or outside a bunker. Not every murderer is a Nazi; neither is every enemy, and certainly not a Jewish policeman or soldier.

Once upon a time, a settler called me a “Nazi” as well. It happened a long time ago, when this term was new in the country. I attempted to explain to him that the Shoah indeed happened, and that 60 of my relatives died in one day, in one pit, in one forest in Galicia. In response, he called me a traitor.

Years have passed. For several years now, Israeli soldiers and police officers have been dubbed “Nazis.” If we had worthy army chiefs and defense ministers and police commissioners, they would have detained anyone who uses this term a long time ago. The law should have silenced this malady.

Detached from the State

Yet it appears that Israel’s defense ministers and police are also unfamiliar with the history of our people. They fail to realize the power of precedent inherent in this terrible nickname. Israelis must not desecrate the memory of the Holocaust and reject its reality with their despicable words.

There are more and more people among the settlers who have detached themselves from the State of Israel. They apparently know it will end with a civil war, because a day will come where we can no longer remain silent in the face of the wickedness we see in the territories. The killings. The razing of homes. The destruction of Arab trees. The worst thing may be the way they treat Israel’s citizens as enemies.

We are nearing the day where a civil war will break out. Especially after a retiring commander recently smeared Tel Avivians, classifying them as bad ones, as opposed to the wonderful settlers. After all, he doesn’t know how many thousands of Tel Avivians fought and died for the existence of this state. He is an ignoramus, yet he is no different than a defense minister who allows us and our sons to be dubbed “Nazis.”

It may be that we, the secular Israelis who served in the army and today wish to sit at a café or in a library, to learn and teach at the universities that are the foundation of our economy, appear to be geeks and nerds to the Shoah deniers in Judea and Samaria. Perhaps. Yet they have not encountered us with weapons in our hands, and we need to protect our children and our grandchildren from those who view us as Nazis. We have lost hope that their malice will vanish.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

"The Identity-Impaired Jewish State"

"A Jewish State, what is that supposed to mean? You call yourselves as you like, but I don't accept it, and I say so publicly." This was Mahmoud Abbas' response to Binyamin Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State as part of an eventual peace deal. What a classic Arab response to such a lame Israeli demand.

Asking the Arab and Muslim world for verbal recognition of Israel's Jewishness is the height of irony. Fatah and the Arab/Muslim world have always recognized Israel as a Jewish State. They don't recognize us in words – but they do so in actions - as every attack on Israel is the utmost recognition of its Jewishness. They want to destroy us because precisely we are Jews in a Jewish State. They recognize who we are, they just don’t accept it...

Why do we need enemies to give us affirmation, anyway? Where is the Israeli toughness, asserting our right to exist without concern for the opinion of others?

Throughout the long Exile and in the absence of a homeland, the Jewish people needed their host nations to recognize them, grant them security, and provide a nice quiet ghetto to live in – which they rarely managed to do. The founding of Israel was supposed to change all that. "Never Again" would Jews put their fate in the hands of others - the Jewish State was to exist on its own will, without regard to the whims of other nations. Unfortunately, sixty-one years after the founding of the State, we have returned to old-fashioned Exile thinking, basing our policies and plans on the recognition and approval of those who don't have our best interest at heart.

The Israeli government's fawning behavior toward the Pope is another example of the old-fashioned exilic thinking which has crept into our country:

For the last two millennia the Jews were kept lowly and persecuted under Christendom. The Catholic Church taught that G-d kept the Jews around as a 'witness' to their own downfall for rejecting Jesus, and to be 'witness' to the 'Second Coming'. Suddenly, instead of Jesus' resurrection, Israel was reborn. Seemingly, the prophecies of the Jewish ingathering and sovereign revival had come true. In contrast to Church doctrine, the Jews were no longer losers – we were winners, posing a real dilemma for Catholicism.

However, in honor of the Pope's upcoming visit, Israel is rolling out the red carpet. The Postal Authority has commissioned a set of stamps depicting Israel's churches while the Jewish National Fund is conducting a tour of trees that "are believed to have witnessed Jesus’ deeds". Our President, Shimon Peres has even called for the transfer of six "Christian" sites over to Vatican control.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic member of the Pope's welcoming committee, Israel's Ministry of Tourism, has produced a website and movie worthy of the jealousies of any Catholic missionary. The film presents the story of a divine Jesus as absolute truth. It does not politely suggest that the stories and places accord with Christian traditions, but rather asserts that the events Christians subscribe to actually occurred, offering no qualifiers to accommodate alternative beliefs – like Jewish ones. It is chilling to think that in the Middle Ages, thousands of Jews chose to die rather then affirm the Jesus myth, yet now our own Tourism Ministry affirms it wholesale on its official website.

After watching the film, two ironic thoughts may occur to you: 1. Now you understand why the Church has always put such a premium on Jewish converts to Christianity - we are just that good! We make the best Christian propaganda out there. Nothing like a meshumad (Jew for Jesus) to peddle the Pope's wares. 2. When the pro-Pope website and movie came out, you could just hear the collective joy of missionaries worldwide: it must be Messianic times when the Jews themselves are preaching the Gospel of Jesus!

The truth is that there are no closet-Christians in our government. It is simply that the people running the show are representative of the identity-impaired ethos of our time. This ethos leads them to kowtow to, and be pushed around by, foreign interested powers. The Church, as well as the Arabs, love to take advantage of our identity vacuum and to tirelessly promote their alternative narrative of the land of Israel. This is where Jesus did this, this is where Muhammad did that…

Therefore, in this identity-crisis, the first people that need to recognize Israel as a Jewish State are the Jewish people and the Jewish government of Israel. We need to understand that demanding recognition from others is meaningless when we ourselves forget our own identity.

In the case of Mahmoud Abbas, Israel does not need his recognition of our Jewish State. Rather, we need to act like a Jewish State by asserting our sovereignty over our land, and by having a zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes and Nazi-like incitement against Jews. 'Never Again' needs to become a meaningful mantra once more.

Regarding the Pope, let him keep the Vatican and we will keep Israel. Instead of promoting Catholicism, our government should use its time, money, and effort to promote the Jewish version of the Bible, our history. Tourism will not be harmed if the thrust of Israel's marketing campaign focuses on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The world needs to be told the truth – Jewish Israel is here to stay. Yet, Jews of the world need to understand that the world's acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State is totally dependant on our creation of that fact. We Jews must be reminded that the more we stand up for our truth and our beliefs, the more we will be respected, but the more we compromise on our heritage and our destiny, the more our right to exist will be challenged by those interested in promoting their own alternative narrative.


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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Economic Crisis Prompting Israeli Expats to Return Home

TEL AVIV (JTA) -- When Oded Salomy and his family first left Israel for the United States, they planned to move back after a few years of career building. But life was good, and it quickly became easy to delay the return home.

Then the economic crisis hit, giving them an extra nudge to go back to Israel...

Now celebrating his first Independence Day in Israel in five years, Salomy marvels at the relative ease of the transition from suburban New Jersey to suburban Tel Aviv.

“I feel great here," he said. "I definitely feel it was the right move both for me as person and as a family.

The Salomy family is among a growing number of Israeli families living abroad who, motivated by new economic realities and ties to family, friends and country, are making the journey back home.

As many as 1 million Israelis live overseas, according to varying estimates, but the Israeli government over the years exerted little official effort to woo them back. That changed recently when the Absorption Ministry adopted a new campaign to offer returning Israelis tax and other financial incentives, as well as assistance finding jobs.

Last year, the number of returning Israelis rose to 11,000 from a recent annual average of 4,500, according to the ministry. In the past six months, as the global economic situation has deteriorated, interest in moving to Israel has skyrocketed, officials say -- not just among Israelis abroad but potential immigrants, too.

Among those returning are highly educated Israelis who have gained valuable work and academic experience abroad.

“I hope because of the campaign tens of thousands of Israelis will find their way back to Israel,” Erez Halfon, director general of the Absorption Ministry, told JTA. “I think it’s important to them, and the government needs to encourage it because I’m sure in 10 years we will see their importance, how the economy and security situation will be improved because of their return.”

Before launching its campaign, the ministry researched some of the main reasons Israelis abroad hesitate to return.

Among the major stumbling blocks the ministry removed were penalties for failing to pay National Insurance payments (akin to Social Security payments in the United States) while abroad. The ministry also provides extra Hebrew education for the children of returning Israelis, offers business loans and provides a tax exemption for two years on all income earned abroad.

While Israel has been affected by the economic crisis, it has felt the blow less severely than the United States.

Salomy, 41, had founded a transportation technology start-up while in America -- an interactive touch-screen system for the backseats of taxi cabs in New York City. Despite finding initial success, it became clear the company would have to raise tens of millions of additional dollars to stay competitive.

“Then the markets started falling apart and commitments crumbled, and with the pinch it became clear people were tightening up and the company was not going to be able to support me and my family any longer,” he said.

A lawyer by training, Salomy had to take temporary consulting jobs to stay afloat. His and his wife’s thoughts soon focused on their deferred plan to return to Israel.

“The deteriorating economy was not as bad then as it is now, but it was still pretty bad and it pushed us to make a pivotal life decision,” he said. “We told ourselves that if we want to move, we should move now.”

There were also “pull” factors: Salomy’s children were getting older, and he wanted them to grow up in Israel -- a sentiment many returning Israelis echo.

“The decision was not for a better life, but wanting to come back as the kids got bigger,” said Ruti Efroni, who returned to Israel last summer after five years in Washington. “They had even stopped speaking Hebrew to each other, and we wanted to come back to our families.”

When it comes to finding work, recruiters suggest that those who intend to return should move back first and then seek employment. Otherwise, the recruiters warn, the job seekers are not taken as seriously by prospective employers.

That’s what Salomy did after two “scouting” trips to Israel, where he had dozens of interviews and meetings. Soon after returning last summer, he found a job as a director of corporate development for Modu, a manufacturer of light mobile phones.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that oversees North American aliyah, attributes the 100 percent jump in the number of inquiries to their call center in recent months to the economic crisis.

“Israel has been on their agenda,” said Danny Oberman, executive vice president of Israel operations for the group. “They are looking towards summer camps and paying for next year’s education for their kids, saying, ‘OK, the bonuses I got two years ago are not going to happen; it’s a new landscape.”

Ronan Hillel, a 37-year-old father of six from Long Island, N.Y., has moved up his aliyah plans to June because of the economy. Until recently he was a mortgage banker, working in a field that has dried up in the United States and doesn’t exist in Israel.

But Hillel, the son of Israelis, is optimistic. He’s planning to switch careers in Israel to the food industry.

“We’ll do anything we can in the beginning," he said, "and we'll see where life takes us.”

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Monday, April 20, 2009

A Nice Article about Israel in the NY Times? Mashiach must be coming...

"A Loud and Promised Land" By DAVID BROOKS

On my 12th visit to Israel, I finally had my baptism by traffic accident. I was sitting at a red light, when a bus turning the corner honked at me to back up. When I did, I scraped the fender of the car behind me.

The driver — a young, hip-looking, alt-rocker dude — came running out of the car in a fury. He ran up to the bus driver and got into a ferocious screaming match. Then he came up to me graciously and kindly. We were brothers in the war against bus drivers. Then, as we were filling out our paperwork, another bus happened by and honked. The rocker ran out into the street and got into another ferocious screaming match with this driver. Then he came back to me all smiles and warmth.

Israel is a country held together by argument. Public culture is one long cacophony of criticism. The politicians go at each other with a fury we can’t even fathom in the U.S. At news conferences, Israeli journalists ridicule and abuse their national leaders. Subordinates in companies feel free to correct their superiors. People who move here from Britain or the States talk about going through a period of adjustment as they learn to toughen up and talk back...

Ethan Bronner, The Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, notes that Israelis don’t observe the distinction between the public and private realms. They treat strangers as if they were their brothers-in-law and feel perfectly comfortable giving them advice on how to live.

One Israeli acquaintance recounts the time he was depositing money into his savings account and everybody else behind him in line got into an argument about whether he should really be putting his money somewhere else. Another friend tells of the time he called directory assistance to get a phone number for a restaurant. The operator responded, “You don’t want to eat there,” and proceeded to give him the numbers of some other restaurants she thought were better.

We can all think of reasons that Israeli culture should have evolved into a reticence-free zone, and that the average behavior should be different here. This is a tough, scrappy country, perpetually fighting for survival. The most emotionally intense experiences are national ones, so the public-private distinction was bound to erode. Moreover, the status system doesn’t really revolve around money. It consists of trying to prove you are savvier than everybody else, that above all you are nobody’s patsy.

As an American Jew, I was taught to go all gooey-eyed at the thought of Israel, but I have to confess, I find the place by turns exhausting, admirable, annoying, impressive and foreign. Israel’s enemies claim the country is an outpost of Western colonialism. That’s not true. Israel is, in large measure, a Middle Eastern country, and the Israeli-Arab dispute is in part an intra-Mideast conflict.

This culture of disputatiousness does yield some essential fruits. First, it gives the country a special vividness. There is no bar on earth quite so vibrant as a bar filled with Israelis.

Second, it explains the genuine national unity. Israel is the most diverse small country imaginable. Nonetheless, I may be interviewing a left-wing artist in Tel Aviv or a right-wing settler in Hebron, and I can be highly confident that they will have a few things in common: an intense sense of national mission, a hunger for emotionally significant moments, an inability to read social signals when I try to suggest that I really don’t want them to harangue me about moving here and adopting their lifestyle.

Most important, this argumentative culture nurtures a sense of responsibility. The other countries in this region are more gracious, but often there is a communal unwillingness to accept responsibility for national problems. The Israelis, on the other hand, blame themselves for everything and work hard to get the most out of each person. From that wail of criticism things really do change. I come here nearly annually, and while the peace process is always the same, there is always something unrecognizable about the national scene — whether it is the structure of the political parties, the absorption of immigrants or the new engines of economic growth.

Today, Israel is stuck in a period of frustrating stasis. Iran poses an existential threat that is too big for Israel to deal with alone. Hamas and Hezbollah will frustrate peace plans, even if the Israelis magically do everything right.

This conflict will go on for a generation or more. Israelis will keep up their insufferable and necessary barrage of self-assertion. And yet we still dream of peace and the day when I am standing in line at an Israeli cash register and an Israeli shopper sees a chance to butt in front of me, and — miracle of miracles — she will not try to take it.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Financial Crisis Leading to Immigration Surge from West"

"Advocacy groups: Financial crisis leading to immigration surge from West" by Raphael Ahren of Haaretz

The financial crisis has "drastically" increased Western Jews' interest in immigrating to Israel, several immigration advocacy groups said this week. It is not clear whether the additional inquiries will translate into actual immigrants, the groups emphasized, yet they are bracing themselves for unprecedented numbers of new arrivals this summer. However, these predictions meet a measure of academic skepticism.

"Literally all over the world, we have registered a significantly higher interest," said Noga Maliniak, the director of the Jewish Agency's aliyah division. "Some of our offices received double the amount of inquiries." Nefesh B'Nefesh, which assists British and North American immigrants, expressed similar experiences. During the period from September 1 until December 31, 2008 - the first four months of the crisis - NBN's call center recorded 2,947 inquires, while during the same period in 2007 only 1,398 people called, an increase of 111 percent. Downloads of immigration applications more than doubled from 300 in February 2008 to 750 last month.

"We won't be able to tell whether this dramatic surge in interest will translate into real numbers of immigrants before July or August, when people actually arrive," said Danny Oberman, NBN's executive vice president of Israeli operations. "It is difficult to make an exact prediction, but there will definitely be a huge increase in aliyah."

"The economic crisis has had a tremendous effect on aliyah," another NBN spokesperson told Anglo File. "It has shaken Diaspora Jewry and caused aliyah-minded individuals to reconsider their time line. We have seen an increase in the number of people who are attending our pre-aliyah seminars, workshops and one-on-one meetings who have mentioned that the economic crisis has led them to expedite their plans."

Oberman speaks of three population groups driven by the current economic climate to consider aliyah: College graduates and young couples who cannot find a job and are no longer able to keep up with the cost of living, as well as finance, marketing and high tech professionals who are either laid off or perceive dim financial prospects. "Above all, the financial crisis causes people to focus on their values," he added. "It's dramatically shaking up people's thoughts on how and where they see themselves."

Yishai Fleisher, the founder of pro-aliyah group Kumah, also expects the number of Western immigrants to rise. He attributes this trend not only to the economic downturn but also to "a lessening of social comfort for American Jews through the advent of the Muslim influx into the U.S., the rise of the Obama administration and scandals such as [the multi-billion dollar swindle committed by Bernie] Madoff."

Fleisher added that he sees young Jews coming in particular. "They are in it for the romance," he said. "Israel provides a life of challenge and an adventure, and that is why almost all NBN flights have young, cool college kids on board."

But not everybody agrees with these predictions. Sociologist Chaim Waxman, a former Jewish studies professor at Rutgers, told Anglo File that he suspects the economic situation to have a negative effect on Western aliyah. "This is in contrast to what some people in the Jewish Agency and other places are expecting, but I think they're very wrong," he said. "Their rationale is that when people are having difficulties they would be more likely to make aliyah, because the economic situation seems to be better here - I am sorry, I just don't see it. The fact of the matter is: the areas where potential [immigrants] work in are especially suffering here."

Waxman, who himself recently made aliyah, said he "love[s] the work that NBN does" but that he has never been able to substantiate its predictions. "Their data is usually much higher than that coming from the Central Bureau of Statistics or any place else."

He added, however, that the financial crunch could potentially draw Israelis living abroad back home. "If the situation is equally bad here and there, many of them might come back," Waxman said. "People prefer the place they are used to, so Israelis might come home but American Jews will probably stay where they are."

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Monday, February 16, 2009

As Anti-Semitism Burns...

Jewish students 'held hostage' in Toronto Hillel
The students in the Hillel office were evacuated soon after by police escort, amid cries of "Get off our campus" and "Shame on Hillel." "I have never in my life felt threatened and hated like I did that night," Tepper said. Ferman, the Hillel president, who was called a "f*****g Jew" and a "dirty Jew" by the protesters, said, "We were basically being held hostage in our own space." The incident was somewhat "ironic," Ferman said, because 45 minutes before the press conference, members of Hillel and the Hasbara student organization had met with members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, in an attempt to "decrease tensions" between the groups.

Surge of anti-Semitic attacks in UK
The London-based Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitism and works to safeguard the Jewish community in Britain, said 250 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the four weeks after Dec. 27. That compares to 40 incidents from the same period the year before. Dave Rich, a spokesman for the trust, said Jews in Britain are unfairly seen as local representatives of Israel – a view that fuels some of the anti-Semitic attacks.

Parisian Jews: Anti-Semitism on the rise
The attack on Benhamou occurred in the Parisian metro while he was on his way home. "Three Arab-looking men jumped on me, called me a 'fucking Jew' and said they would kill me," he recounted. "Before I even got the chance to respond, they attacked me, broke my nose and beat me all over," he added. Benhamou consequently spent four days in hospital with fractures in his face. The assailants fled the scene and police found no trace of them. Benhamou said he has not been the same since the incident. "It's a lifetime trauma. I haven't been back to work since then because it's hard for me to breath. I'm still afraid to walk around alone, and I do not plan on taking the metro anymore. "There is no place for Jews in France; we can't keep living here with these acts of barbarism. I already told my girlfriend that we are going to make aliyah. There's nothing left for us here, I want my child to be a sabra."

Running Away to Home - Let the Jews of Venezuela Open Their Eyes.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center reports about an invasion of a Caracas, Venezuela, synagogue by 15 armed thugs one recent Saturday, during which the synagogue's computers - with private information about members of the Jewish community - were stolen. The Confederation of Latin American Macabi (CLAM) asked Jewish communities worldwide to condemn the Venezuelan government's well-orchestrated campaign against the Jews in Venezuela. CLAM reports: Using an aggressive and dangerous tone never previously heard, clear incitement and anti-Semitic expressions, the Government lead is followed nationwide, with a group of pro-government journalists urging the population to boycott businesses owned by Jews in Venezuela. For what are we waiting? For the armed men and an excited mob to torch stores and businesses owned by Jews?

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Appearently the "New Rules" like to Buck the Rules of Nature!

When I was in college a few years ago I partook in a joint AIPAC/Hillel student leadership trip that took us all around Jerusalem for a jam-packed week of meeting with Israeli officials, diplomats (both Israeli to America and American to Israel) and other people who explained their roles and the Israeli government's goals and how they are achieving them and planning to further them in the future. This was a very interesting time because it was the "in between phase" - several months after the Gaza pullout from the Gush Katif communities but before Hamas won a landslide election, the government reneged on all it's promises to the evicted residents, the rocket fire increased and it became blatantly clear to everyone what a complete and utter failure it all was. Since all these horrible after effects hadn't yet fully manifested themselves, all these officials (read: airheads) still felt they had the right to boast about what a success for peace and the safety of our country the pullout was and how things would be much different and so much better now. Not that they had any solid evidence of that (and as just mentioned the facts on the ground once they became clear pointed heavily to the contrary) but at least you could give them some lee-way as they hadn't been proven wrong yet at that moment in time. That taught me a big lesson in how much you can trust the Israeli government, American diplomats and AIPAC, but let's not get into that right now.

What really has me boiling is that, unlike those morons who were hoping against hope their idiocy wouldn't be proven idiotic, now we are being subjected to idiocy that doesn't even need the test of time to prove itself. I just chanced upon an opinion article in YNET entitled New Rules of Play, in which the author brags about what a dazzling success this recent war was and how we have established "New Rules" vis-a-vis our enemies by which we will now have the upper-hand and achieve safety and security... gee haven't I heard this somewhere before? He claims that not only has the Israeli army reclaimed it's famed "Deterrence" but that Hamas has "unconditionally" stopped it's rocket fire. Please excuse me while I vent...

Deterrence has been restored!?!? What deterrence? Hamas has boasted they are already working on rearming themselves as well as Iran saying they are going to start supplying them with upgraded rockets. Plus about 95% of their combat personnel are still alive and well. The majority of Hamas killed were just traffic cops and the like, not the ones actually shooting the rockets and making the bombs.

What is this lie of rocket attacks stopping unconditionally? Within hours of Israel announcing the ceasefire they launched more rockets at us and ON THE FRONT PAGE OF YNET TODAY IT SAYS 3 MORE ROCKETS WERE JUST LAUNCHED FROM GAZA!!!

Let's review... this war: DIDN'T cripple or destroy Hamas or take out it's top leadership; DIDN'T stop rocket fire or rocket firing capabilities; and DIDN'T get back Gilad Shalit! What DID it do? It DID get several fine young boys of ours killed, it DID get a new round of world condemnation laid on us, it DID score political points for politicians who let the Jews of the south rot for 8 years under rocket fire without doing anything to help them, and now suddenly pretend to care when an election is right around the corner and they are all losing points to the more right wing parties (and these scum were willing to sacrifice Jewish soldiers' lives to achieve these political gains mind you -REMEMBER THIS AT THE VOTING BOOTH!!!)

So I don't really understand these "New Rules" this fellow at YNET is speaking of. Appearently they include blatantly denying the obvious facts, as even reported on your own website. I prefer the rules of nature and common sense myself- if it's stupid and doesn't work then don't do it, if it makes sense and does work then do that instead. What doesn't work, nor has for quite a while, is believing these ego maniacal short-sighted morons in the government and the you-know-what kissing media that loves them. What does work? Trusting in Hashem, trying to be good Jews and put a little more Torah and prayer into our lives. Look through Sefer Shoftim (The Book of Judges) and you will see the message plain and clear. Time and time the Jewish people while residing in the land of Israel are invaded and oppressed by our neighbors. Time and time again we succumb to them, sometimes even making treaties with them or falling under their rule and what saves us every time? Not our failed leaders trying to use brute force and military might, but the nation of Israel doing t'shuva and returning to G-d. Read on and you see that once we did that, every single time Hashem sent us a worthy leader who led us to victory against the enemy NOT with superior numbers, weaponry, or tactics (in fact we represented quite inferior fighting power), but purely with miracles of Hashem. Half the time Hashem made our own enemies do most of the work killing themselves for us and all we had to do was clean up the leftovers!

Time to wake up everyone, the strength isn't in our hands, never was and never will be. The strength is in the hands of G-d and if you don't want to wise up to that then I advise you to go stick your head in the sand next to Mr. Delusional op-ed writer.

Strategic importance of Gaza operation much greater than we assume

Isaac Ben-Israel

Operation Cast Lead was not a war pitting equal forces against each other and was not beyond the scope of many past Israeli operations. However, I believe that its strategic importance is much greater than we assume, and that this is a milestone that would be etched in the historic memory of the Middle East for many years. This is not necessarily because of the narrow military aspect, even though the military achievements are clear.

First, the IDF restored its deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas. This holds great significance to the deterrence vis-à-vis other Mideastern players, mostly Hizbullah in the north and the Iran-Syria axis. Even the Second Lebanon War, which was managed in a flawed manner, looks different today in light of the capabilities showcased by the IDF in the latest operation. As opposed to common perceptions, the IDF showed that it possesses the means, combat doctrine, and required determination for fighting in a crowded urban area while ensuring minimal casualties among our forces.

Secondly, Hamas’ rocket fire ended unconditionally. It is of course possible that Hamas leaders, who are only now digesting the disaster they brought upon themselves and their people, will recover eventually and go back to their old ways. Yet then they will have to take into account the fact that the IDF could again strike at them whenever it wishes to do so, and it is doubtful whether the Gaza population would allow them to prompt another similar blow against it.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the asymmetrical rules of the game that Israel appeared to accept in recent years had been broken. Previously, it appeared as though the weak side (Hamas, Hizbullah) could attack Israeli citizens uninterruptedly, while Israel hesitates in utilizing its substantial military power (airplanes, tanks, and guided missiles) for fear of hurting civilians on the other side. Yet the recent operation showed that even mosques used by terror groups are no longer an obstacle in the face of Israel using its military power.

The attack on the Kissufim Road earlier this week is also related to the new rules of play. Hamas was forced to stop the rocket fire and attacks on civilians, yet it is trying to show that attacking soldiers is allowed. We must not agree to this, of course, and we have the power to enforce the rules of play that are desired by us, which shall also include a ban on Hamas activity in the Strip within a few hundred meters of the border fence.

Path of resistance has failed

Meanwhile, the operation’s diplomatic achievements are significant and no less important than the military ones.

The first diplomatic achievement is the destabilization of Iran’s position in the Mideast in the wake of the blow sustained by its protégé in Gaza. Moreover, most of the Arab world crossed the lines and stood by Egypt vis-à-vis Hamas. This closer step to Israel and the recognition of the common interest against Iran and its emissaries holds immense strategic importance.

The second achievement is the unequivocal support offered by Western leaders to the Israeli position regarding the prevention of Hamas’ military buildup in Gaza. Understandings and agreements on curbing the smuggling have been signed and secured vis-à-vis the US and most western European states.

The third achievement is ending the war without Israel recognizing Hamas – not even indirectly.

All of the above puts Hamas’ leadership at a crossroads. It discovered that it cannot simultaneously raise the banners of sovereignty and resistance. It is for good reason that there is no precedent for this anywhere in the world. It will have to decide what is more important: Being the sovereign in an Islamic state, or enjoying the benefits of being a terror movement.

For the time being, it appears that the path of resistance has failed, big time.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Are the Dominoes Lining Up?

Many people often speak of doomsday prophecies involving horrible fates awaiting the Jews of America. Skeptics answer that such things as befell our people in past countries of residence would never happen in such an accepting place as America which has been better for the Jews than any other country in history (in some cases it could even be argued America is better to its Jews than the modern state of Israel). To this the Doomsdayers counter that the same was said of Germany at the turn of the century, and that the German Jews would never in a million years have seen something like the Shoah coming. Just like by Germany, so too by America (G-d forbid) they say. And just as German anti-Semitism is historically said to have been enabled by great financial hardships being blamed on the Jewish populace, often the Doomsdayers predict that all it would take in America for a similar scenario to play out would be a hard enough financial crisis to hit the USA.

Could the current economic downturn be just the conditions that these prophecies were waiting for? I, for one, am not sure. But I will say this- if ever a scenario were to prove those who made these predictions right, I think this could be the one. Not only are the leading corporations of industry after industry in America failing to keep their heads above water and requesting a share in the government bailout (Al tikra "bailout", elah "handout"), but following the recent headlines Joe anti-Semite could most certainly make an argument blaming it all on the Jews which could be accepted by his average like-minded bigot (or maybe even desperate average American?). Why is this? After the mortgage issue had been looming for quite some time, the world finally woke up to the seriousness of the situation with the headline that Lehman Brothers had gone under. What could have instantly come to the minds of many? "Lehman" Brothers equals Jewish... Lehman Brothers going under somehow equals Jews sabotaging the economy. Now add on to that the latest economic debacle to hit the US economy- a Jewish investor getting caught in possibly the biggest fraud case involving a single person in history, one involving upwards of 50 billion dollars. To add an even more interesting twist, apparently a bulk of his investors comprised some of the top money holders of the American East Coast Jewish scene. So what can be seen so far is that Hashem has arranged it that the wealthy Jews of America are already losing their assets in a big way. What remains to be seen is whether suspicious headlines like this will keep showing up in the news, and if so whether or not Jew-haters will use it as fodder for their propaganda (as well as how well received it will be by the American public). Like I said, I don't want to be shouting that this is for sure doom and gloom, but if ever the Doomsdayers' theories were able to be put to the test, this looks like it's shaping up to to be the chance.

$50 billion at stake after Wall St broker Bernard Madoff is arrested over ‘world’s biggest swindle’

Tim Reid in Washington

Some of America’s wealthiest socialites were facing ruin last night after the arrest of a Wall Street big hitter accused of the largest investor swindle perpetrated by one man.

Shock and panic spread through the country clubs of Palm Beach and Long Island after Bernard Madoff, a trading powerbroker for more than four decades, allegedly confessed to a fraud that will cost his wealthy investors at least $50 billion – perhaps the largest swindle in Wall Street history.

Mr Madoff, 70, a former Nasdaq stock chairman, was apparently turned in by his two sons and arrested on Thursday morning at his Manhattan apartment by the FBI. Andrew Calamari, a senior enforcement official at the US Securities and Exchange Commission, described the scheme as “a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions”.

The FBI’s criminal complaint states that when two federal agents arrived at Mr Madoff’s apartment, he told them: “There is no innocent explanation.” The agents say that he told them “he paid investors with money that wasn’t there”, that he was “broke” and that he expected to go to jail.

Many of his investors came from the enormously wealthy enclaves of Palm Beach, Florida and Long Island, New York, where people had invested billions in Mr Madoff’s firm for decades. He was a fixture on the Palm Beach social scene, and was a member of some of its most exclusive clubs, including the Palm Beach Country Club and Boca Rio Golf Club, where he drummed up much of his business.

The FBI claims that three senior employees of Mr Madoff’s investment firm turned up at his apartment on Wednesday to ask questions about the company’s solvency. Two of them are believed to be his sons, Andrew and Mark, who have worked for their father for two decades.

Mr Madoff told them that he was “finished”, that he had “absolutely nothing”, and that “it’s all just one big lie”. He said the investment arm of his firm was “basically a giant Ponzi scheme”, and that it had been insolvent for years.

A Ponzi scheme, named after the swindler Charles Ponzi, is a fraudulent investment operation that pays abnormally high returns to investors out of money put into the scheme by subsequent investors, rather than from real profits generated by share trading.

The FBI complaint states that Mr Madoff told his sons that he believed the losses from his scheme could exceed $50 billion. If that is the case, his fraud would be far greater than past Ponzi schemes and easily the greatest swindle blamed on a single individual.

There has been scepticism for years on Wall Street over how Mr Madoff managed to pay such consistently high returns. Ponzi schemes inevitably collapse, and Mr Madoff found himself to be no exception. This month, clients asked for $7 billion to be returned, the FBI says.

Mr Madoff ran the scheme separately from his main business and his sons had no involvement in it.

Mr Madoff has been charged with a single count of securities fraud. He declined to enter a plea in Manhattan’s US District Court and was released on $10 million bail. He faces up to 20 years in jail and a $5 million fine if convicted. His lawyer, Dan Horwitz, said that his client was “a person of integrity. He intends to fight to get through this unfortunate event.”

One investor told The Wall Street Journal: “This is going to kill so many people. It’s absolutely awful.” Ira Roth, from New Jersey, said that his family had $1 million invested, and that he was in a state of panic.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mobsters going green?

In one of those "only in Israel" moments I just found out that apparently the mafia scene in Israel has environmentalist leanings. In this JPost article it details a potential mob war sparking off. Read closely and you'll notice a very interesting detail. About halfway down it mentions that one of the main conflicts between sparring crime families is conflicts over a bottle-recycling racket. Upon mentioning this to a friend here in yeshiva he confirmed and told me he heard that the mafia runs all the bottle recycling in Israel. I don't know if this is true or not, but living in Israel has taught me not to be surprised by very much anymore...
Police fear a full-scale war between the country's various organized crime families will erupt after Mafia kingpin Ya'acov Alperon was killed when a car bomb exploded in his vehicle on a busy Tel Aviv thoroughfare Monday afternoon.

Mob kingpin Yaakov Alperon killed in Tel Aviv assassination

Three bystanders, including a 13-year-old boy, were wounded in the blast, which left Alperon's car ablaze as it sat on the corner of Rehov Yehuda Hamaccabi and Derech Namir.

The lifeless body of the mob boss, known on the street as "Don Alperon," dangled from an open door.

"We received a report of an explosion in a car," paramedic Lior Elharar told Army Radio. "We arrived within several minutes and found three casualties, one of whom was dead."

* Analysis: This is a war over honor

"I heard a huge blast and I approached the junction," Idit, an eyewitness, said. "Two women were lying on the crosswalk and there was an exploded car. I thought it was a terrorist attack."

Police had initially identified Alperon's body by the polo shirt he had been seen wearing earlier in the day at a Tel Aviv courthouse, where his son Dror was indicted on an unrelated charge.
Slain mob boss Ya'acov...

Slain mob boss Ya'acov Alperon in court, several hours before his assassination, Monday.
Photo: Channel 2

Video taken by news crews of Alperon at the courthouse flashed across the evening news, with Alperon, in sunglasses and a black fedora, sauntering into the courtroom.

After the blast, large numbers of police, firefighters and medics arrived on the scene, including Insp.-Gen. David Cohen and Cmdr. Ilan Franco, the Tel Aviv police commander. Police said they were searching for a second vehicle that sped away from the scene of the blast, but a gag order was later placed on the details of the investigation.

Security will be tight for Alperon's funeral, scheduled for 12:30 Tuesday in the Ra'anana Cemetery. The family has asked that Dror Alperon be released from detention for the funeral.

"An extremely serious event took place today, and its consequences are completely clear to us," Franco said. "It likely happened because of an internal conflict within the Tel Aviv crime world ... If there are consequences to this attack, we will have to deal with them."

After Netanya crime boss Charlie Abutbul was wounded in an assassination attempt at a local café in September, an additional 200 auxiliary police officers were sent to Netanya to crack down on area crime syndicates and quell the possibility of a mob war erupting.

But while that situation eventually calmed down, hopes for the quiet to continue dimmed Monday, as fears of retaliation immediately followed the news of Alperon's death.

Alperon had many enemies, including convicted drug lord Ze'ev Rosenstein - who himself has survived at least seven assassination attempts - and the rival Abutbul and Abergil families, with whom the Alperons battled over a lucrative bottle recycling racket.

Alperon has also had a standing feud with another gangster, Amir Mulner, dating to a January 2006 arbitration summit that went wrong. Knives and guns were drawn there, and Mulner emerged with a stab wound to the neck that was widely attributed to Alperon.

Alperon went undercover afterwards, along with his son, and police searched the country in vain for two months before both men struck a deal to turn themselves in. They were never charged.

A number of attempts have been made on Alperon's life previously, including an attack in 2001, in which the assailants threw a grenade at his home.

Alperon also survived a previous car bomb attack in 2003. In 2004, an indictment was filed against four Belarusian citizens for trying to murder Alperon and his associates, and last year, police defused an explosive device found in his son Elad's car.

Last May, Yaakov Alperon's older brother, Nissim, survived the ninth assassination attempt against him. Police intercepted a three-man hit team dispatched to get him, and in the ensuing gunbattle a policeman was seriously wounded and one of the gunmen was killed.

Alperon had served multiple prison terms and was arrested several times for stabbings, assault, blackmail and intimidation. He recently served a 10-month prison sentence as part of a plea agreement.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

The "Nuclear Option?"

There's an age old expression that's apparently big in the news industry: "Follow the money." Well if you follow the money behind most muslim violence and the training and propoganda networks that fuel it, it will usually take you to two places- arab/persian oil and the U.N. While I have my opinions of how to handle the U.N. I doubt any of these genius plans will be put into practice anytime soon. But in the meantime this article shows a possible solution, at least in part, to tackling muslim oil dominance in the world-wide energy market.

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. 'Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,' said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. 'They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.'

Deal claims to have more than 100 firm orders, largely from the oil and electricity industries, but says the company is also targeting developing countries and isolated communities. 'It's leapfrog technology,' he said.

The company plans to set up three factories to produce 4,000 plants between 2013 and 2023. 'We already have a pipeline for 100 reactors, and we are taking our time to tool up to mass-produce this reactor.'

The first confirmed order came from TES, a Czech infrastructure company specialising in water plants and power plants. 'They ordered six units and optioned a further 12. We are very sure of their capability to purchase,' said Deal. The first one, he said, would be installed in Romania. 'We now have a six-year waiting list. We are in talks with developers in the Cayman Islands, Panama and the Bahamas.'

The reactors, only a few metres in diameter, will be delivered on the back of a lorry to be buried underground. They must be refuelled every 7 to 10 years. Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year.

'You could never have a Chernobyl-type event - there are no moving parts,' said Deal. 'You would need nation-state resources in order to enrich our uranium. Temperature-wise it's too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.'

Other companies are known to be designing micro-reactors. Toshiba has been testing 200KW reactors measuring roughly six metres by two metres. Designed to fuel smaller numbers of homes for longer, they could power a single building for up to 40 years.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

My New Piece About "Israeli" Vs. "Jewish"

"The irony of it all is that in today's Israel, the 'Jew' is the new 'Israeli'. Israel was supposed to be the breeding ground for a strong new Hebrew who does not cower. Yet in today's Israel, it is the secular-post-Zionist-left which is the cowering Jew being led to the slaughter. The religious settler is now the emancipated Israeli, bedecked with side locks and tzitzit, and armed with the classic fundamentals of Zionist ideology; that is, to ingather, to build, and to settle the land of Israel."
Click HERE to read the full article.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Say What!?

Anyone who knows me fairly well can testify I'm not exactly the biggest lover of the Arab people. I'm not even such a fan of them being my neighbors much less ruling over me. That's why I couldn't help but laugh when I spotted this little piece on Ynet about an East Jerusalem Arab running for mayor of Jerusalem. Yet after reading it I couldn't believe it but I could actually see myself voting for the guy... like... maybe... I think? [Total brain meltdown in 5-4-3-...]

I mean take a look at the guy's platform. He says he's against Jerusalem being divided, he wouldn't talk to Hamas or Fatah, at least until they can fix their own internal disputes (unlikely to happen anytime this century), and he is against allowing any more gay parades to take place within the city. Strictly platform speaking, this guy sounds like a good deal! Now I'm not eligible to vote so it doesn't really make much of a difference for me anyway, but this is the kind of philosophical curveball I couldn't ever expect life to throw this way. Perhaps this is just a testament to the sad state of our Jewish political leaders. Don't they say something about politics making strange bedfellows? I don't know about getting into bed with anyone, but a strange part of me I never knew existed before would at least like to shake this guy's hand.

Even though the election is a few months away, the race for the position of mayor of Jerusalem is becoming more and more interesting. In addition to the two main candidates, Nir Barkat and Meir Porush, a new, some would say surprising, face has entered – a Palestinian candidate by the name of Zohir Hamdan.

Hamdan, 53, the mukhtar (head) of the east Jerusalem village of Tzur Baher who is married to three wives and is the proud father of 18, announced his candidacy on Wednesday. In an interview to Ynet he says: "I was married to a Jewish woman from Tel Aviv, but we divorced about three years ago". His name has been mentioned before as a possible mayoral candidate, but according to Hamdan, those were just speculations; this time, its official.

Jewish friends call more than Arab. Zohir Hamdan (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

Hamdan was born in Jordan, and studied engineering in Beirut. "I love this country, that's why I came here in 1974. My father and other relatives were already here. It was a family reunion; it was my duty to come here for my father", he said, describing his love for the country and for Jerusalem. Since his arrival, Hamdan has held several jobs, among them chief negotiator for east Jerusalem.

"I have many Jewish friends"
Tzur Baher, Zohir Hamdan's village, was in the news recently for a different reason. Terrorist Hossam Dwayyat, who killed three people by running them over with a stolen bulldozer, was a resident of the village. However, Hamdan goes about things in the opposite direction, wishing to bring Jews and Arabs closer together. "I'm chairman of the co-existence forum in Jerusalem. I was the first one to bring co-existence into the frey. When the Tanzim were shooting at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, I sympathized with the residents of Gilo."

"I have many Jewish friends from all over the country," adds Hamdan. "I go to visit them; they visit me and shop in Tzur Baher. We don't have any problems here. Since I announced that I was running for mayor, the phone hasn't stopped ringing. More Jews call to congratulate me than Arabs".

Meir Porush
Porush: Don’t judge me by the length of my beard / Ronen Medzini
Ultra-Orthodox candidate in Jerusalem mayoral race holds cyber press conference in bid to court secular public: ‘I know there are a lot of people who have difficulty in accepting me…I ask that you judge me by my experience and abilities’

However, not everyone is happy with Hamdan's close relationship with Jews. Seven years ago, there was an attempt made on his life.

"Tanzim operatives shot me in 2001 because I was working for co-exsistence with Jews. I was shot in several places, including the stomach, and I ended up in the hospital for two months. Despite this incident, and the fact that the Palestinian Authority has told east Jerusalem arabs to boycott the elections, Hamdan remains unfazed.

'I will not divide this city'
The single Arab contender isn't interested in establishing a relationship with the Palestinian Authority. "I'm not interested in any contact with the PA. I don't care if they are mad. Am I scared? No. Elections? That's their own internal matter".

Hamdan also has a single minded position in regards to the political future of the Palestinian Authority. "Hamas and Fatah need to talk among themselves, sort out their grievances, Then they can talk about a Palestinian state," he explains.

Hamdan holds a similar position on the matter of east Jerusalem. When asked if he would agree to transfer Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state, his response was that "Israel took over these neighborhoods from Jordan in 1967, and a large majority of the population is Jordanian. They should ask Jordan, I will not divide this city."

Hamdan adds that the Security fence has greatly to do with the security situation. "That is a decision that was made by the State for the sake of security. I can't go into it due to my position in the city; if any citizen has a complaint I will help as much as I can. State security is important and I will not interfere."

'Aryeh Deri is a good man'

The large number of candidates doesn't deter Hamdan. "I wish them all of them good luck " he says, adding that he believes Aryeh Deri "is a good man."

"The whole country is guilty of corruption, not just him," he says.

As for businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, who promised that he will appoint an Arab deputy mayor should he win, Hamdan isn't impressed. "A person who is running should know what is going on here…people are interested in action, not talk. Whoever runs the city needs to be of the people, a person who knows the real needs of the city. The Arabs aren't holding their breath for Gaydamak. The Arabs will establish their own power center".

The Arab candidate isn't afraid to predict that in two months everything will change in the State capital, with him leading the change. "I will bring a new kind of politics to the city. My door will always be open, and you won't need to schedule a meeting months in advance", he promises. "With me, there will be no discrimination; the holy city belongs to all of us, and we will live here in peace and harmony, respecting all religions," he added.

'No gay pride parade'
When asked if he would approve holding the Gay Pride Parade in the city, Hamdan declared "absolutely not. According to all world religions, what they are doing is unacceptable, both in the Koran and the Torah. I'm not religious or an extremist, I respect religion. Personally, I negate these people. A person must maintain personal dignity, and in these matters there is none. That is my opinion, I may be wrong. Whoever loves Jerusalem –is not gay".

Hamdan emphasizes that his message is one of hope. "I promise to help out all the young people and build them homes, approve construction as much as legally possible, and stop home demolition in this city. I will enable all of the citizens of this city to live honorably, while respecting the law. No one can divide Jerusalem. I hope and believe that we will live in hope and peace between all residents".

History has shown that the Arab residents of Jerusalem don't like to vote in the Municipal elections, though Hamdan is sure that east Jerusalem resident will show up to vote in droves. "I'm telling you the Arab voter turnout will be huge, God willing. They used to be afraid of the PA, now they are seeing what is going on and they are just tired of the silliness in the Palestinian leadership. Look at was is going on in Gaza, everyone is killing everyone. The residents of east Jerusalem are tired of these stories," explains Hamdan.

Not the first candidate
If Hamdan does win, he will be the first contender from east Jerusalem who does so. However he isn't the first candidate from east Jerusalem and he certainly isn't the first Arab candidate.

In 1989 Hana Seniora, a Palestinian resident of Beit Haninah decided to enter the race. Massive pressure from the PLO caused him to drop out of the race. In 1998 Moosa Alian, a businessman from Beit Tzafafa, entered the race but did not get enough votes. Additional attempts were made by the Hadash political party and the Communist party, but with no success.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

What's the point?

While surfing the headlines recently I came across an article that left me scratching my head. It's about a dwindling Jewish community somewhere deep in the south that is taking drastic measures to ensure their numerical survival. Apparently they view their situation as dire enough that they are willing to fork over fifty G's to any Jewish family that agrees to move into town.

The question I'd like to ask is with that kind of money to burn why are they choosing to invest it in their community that has relatively (as far as the Jewish people are concerned) no Jewish past and from the current state of affairs also no Jewish future? Instead of trying to build up Jewish life in Dothan Alabama why not build up Jewish life in the land of Israel? Why not help feed the some of the hungry children of Jerusalem? If they'd like to keep the money closer to home, why not invest in some sort of Torah learning institution in the states? Heck, they could even give it to me! I wouldn't mind having pre-paid yeshiva tuition for the next half decade or so! Now it's not really my place to tell them what to do with their own money. You know how I know this? Because Hashem decided to put it in their wallet and not mine! That being said, it still doesn't sit quite well with me that amounts of cash that could help klal Yisrael so greatly seem to be being directed towards things that at best don't accomplish much of anything at all.

Being Elul and all I think the most important thing is not to get too depressed or frustrated over news such as this. Perhaps it's just Hashem's way of reminding us that while we may be finding fault in these things, we should really looking harder at the faults from within. But still! (sigh)...

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Larry Blumberg is looking for a few good Jews to move to his corner of the Bible Belt.

Blumberg is chairman of the Blumberg Family Relocation Fund, which is offering Jewish families as much as $50,000 to relocate to Dothan, an overwhelmingly Christian town of 58,000 that calls itself the Peanut Capital of the World. Get involved at Temple Emanu-El and stay at least five years, the group's leaders say, and the money doesn't have to be repaid.

More Jews are living in the South than ever—about 386,00 at last count in 2001, according to Stuart Rockoff, historian at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss. But young Jews are leaving small places like Dothan in favor of cities like Atlanta and Birmingham, Rockoff said, and dozens of small-town synagogues have closed.

"A lot of the older people have died, and not many of the younger ones have stayed," said Thelma Nomberg, a member of the Dothan temple who grew up in nearby Ozark, where she was the only Jewish student in public school in the 1940s. "We are dying."

Being outside the Christian majority was never a problem, Nomberg said, even six decades ago: She won the Miss Ozark beauty pageant at 14 and sometimes attended church with friends after sleep-overs.

Now a widow, Nomberg has watched two of her four adult children leave for Florida as Temple Emanu-El lost nearly half its membership, down to about 50 families. She can only hope the recruitment plan works for her synagogue.

Launched in June, the Blumberg program has put advertisements in Jewish newspapers in Boston, Miami, Providence, R.I., and Washington, and it plans to expand the campaign.

"I think it's important that we try to find young people that we could use in our religious school, our Sunday school and help in the way of trying to create more of a family-type atmosphere in our temple," Blumberg said.

Groups offered financial aid for Jews to return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Jewish organizations around the country offer moving assistance for relocating families. A congregation has loans and other benefits for Jewish families moving into an area near Boston.

"Our program is distinctive because it's Dothan, but it's also distinctive because of the type of financial assistance," said Rob Goldsmith, executive director of Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services, which will screen applicants and administer the grant program.

Trying to lure Jewish families to a quiet Southern town in a state with a reputation for hard-right politics and racial intolerance might be difficult. About 20 Jewish families have sought information about Dothan, though none has made the move.

Rockoff credits Blumberg and the rest of the congregation with fighting to remain in Dothan, where the synagogue has a full-time rabbi and the temple, which is aligned with the reform movement, hasn't missed having a Friday night service in decades.

"It is a small community, but they have some deep pockets to be able to do this," said Rockoff. "As a historian it is fascinating to see them trying to buck this trend."

Dothan lies at the heart of the South's peanut region, in Alabama's southeastern corner just minutes from Florida and Georgia. It's dotted with big fiberglass peanuts painted to resemble characters and people—there's even an Elvis peanut.

Little things are big here: The city boasts what it calls the world's smallest city block, a triangular traffic island near the civic center.

But the Blumberg foundation is selling prospective Jewish residents on Dothan's quality of life—its low cost of living, the heritage of its synagogue and its proximity to Florida beaches, about 80 miles away.

The city is the site of the down-home National Peanut Festival each fall, and it has a full schedule of community cultural events. It has two hospitals, a branch of Troy University and is just a short drive from Fort Rucker, the Army's main helicopter training base.

Downtown is filled with quaint red-brick buildings and colorful murals, and traffic never gets too bad on Ross Clark Circle, the perimeter road.

"We have Friday afternoon rush minute, and that's about it," said manufacturing executive Ed Marbletree, 69, who grew up Jewish in Texas but married a Dothan girl and has lived in the town since 1961.

Valerie Barnes grew up in Panama and moved several times before settling 20 years ago in Dothan and becoming active at the synagogue. She's never experienced any anti-Semitism and can't imagine living anywhere else.

"The biggest thing Dothan has to offer is that it's just a very family-oriented community," said Barnes, who directs a hospital foundation. "Our congregation is very vibrant, and we have a lot of things that we get involved in."

Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith didn't know quite what to expect when she moved to Dothan a year ago to lead the congregation at Temple Emanu-El, which was founded in 1929. She came with her husband, who directs the Jewish community services group.

A Connecticut native, the rabbi halfway expected the Alabama of old with wide-open racism and dirt roads.

"The Northeast has a really warped perception of what the South is all about, and I found out it was all wrong," she said. "The South is a wonderful place to be. The people are warm and friendly. There's very little traffic. And best of all, there's no snow."

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Temple Temptations

From the Economist?!?! Looks like the Temple is making waves:

The issue of Jerusalem’s holiest site may again be dividing Jews

THE lead singer, with yarmulke, beard and guitar, appears with a sheep on the cover of the latest record by Lechatchila, a religious-rock group popular among Orthodox young Israelis. “Don’t stare at me,” the lyrics go. “The Temple is sure to be rebuilt right now. We’ve got to prepare, to believe, to make the redemption happen.”

For two millennia, ever since the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, Jews have continued to study, write and indeed sing about the intricate rituals of service and sacrifice, in the belief that one day the Messiah would come and the Temple would be rebuilt. Meanwhile, the faithful were forbidden even to walk on the Holy Mount, let alone worship there.

This suited the regime instituted on the Temple Mount by Moshe Dayan, Israel’s then defence minister, after the 1967 war. He ruled that the mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (or Noble Sanctuary), where the golden Dome of the Rock has stood since the seventh century after Christ, would remain an exclusively Muslim place of worship, administered by the Waqf, or Muslim religious trust. Jews and Christians could visit but not worship there. Rabbis of all religious and political stripes agreed.

This arrangement broadly endured, between periodic bursts of violence. But it never allayed Arab fears that the Jews had designs on the mount. In 1984, the Israeli authorities arrested a group of fanatical Jewish settlers for plotting to fire rockets into the mosque. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, infuriated Bill Clinton (then America’s president) and Israeli negotiators by repeatedly denying there ever was a Jewish temple on the site and rejecting proposals to share sovereignty over it. In September 2000, a walk on the mount by Israel’s then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, prompted bloody clashes which turned into a six-year Palestinian intifada (uprising).

Recently the rabbinical consensus has been fraying. Nationalist rabbis close to Jews who have settled on the Palestinian West Bank are permitting—even encouraging—their followers to visit the mount. Separately, the energetic and well-endowed Temple Institute in Jerusalem’s old city has been diligently recreating ancient Temple vessels and priestly garments to be ready when needed. The institute runs guided tours of the mount and publishes prayer books in which former Jewish glories are graphically depicted; its director reassures readers of its website that there is no call “for the launching of missiles or the exploding of the mosque”. But the Temple is “not just something historic, stored in a memory chest”. For nationalist-Orthodox children, it is increasingly a reality.

The larger, ultra-Orthodox community remains ostensibly unaffected. Its rabbis still forbid even walking on the mount and are content to wait for the Messiah without spurring him on. But between the two groups there is a theological overlap that translates into a tough brand of politics. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a pivotal part of the government’s coalition, has given notice that it will walk out if there is any negotiation over Jerusalem. Sure enough, in leaked draft proposals put by Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, the question of Jerusalem is postponed indefinitely. Or until the Messiah comes?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seeing The Edge

Here is my new article:

I have just returned from a five week trip to the US. While there I dedicated half of my time to family and the rest of the time to lecturing about Israel and Aliyah and meeting with American Jews who want to take part in building the Jewish State -- the most important project of the Jewish people in two thousand years...

While my speeches hit their mark and the meetings went well, I had to contend with a constantly recurring question: "What's going to be with Israel's government? Are the people of Israel going to allow themselves to be led off the edge of a cliff, like lemmings?" This question came at me from every corridor and only then did I realize how hard it is for an American Jew to break out of the American Galut. From America, Israel seems like a crazy place of endemic instability, full of enemies from within and without. Add to that sentiment the amazing attraction of America, its convenience, its wide roads, its philo-Semitic tolerance, and its wealth and you end up with one thought: "There is no way in heck I'm leaving America for Israel."

I assured the people who asked me this question that as a Jew living in Israel and taking part in the building of our country daily, I am even more concerned by the policies of my government and am embarrassed by them. I told these questioners that it will take people like them and people like me to change our reality for the better and that we have no right to abdicate our responsibility to Israel in these hard times. I told them that we did not wait two thousand years to watch a reborn Israel go down the tubes, G-d forbid.

But there was another point that I had to make: I explained to American Jews that they are locked in a media loop in which their only information about our beloved homeland comes from reading the papers or watching the news. The media is notoriously negative, not just against Israel, but in general. I asked American audiences to relate the last time they saw something positive about America in the press? They could not recall the last time.

I continued: I, too, see and hear the painful dark headlines in Israel. However, when I walk past the Jewish kindergartens in Israel I see them full of kids, when I drive into Jerusalem I marvel at its grandeur, when I walk into the general store I see it packed with Israeli products and fresh food! My image of Israel is fundamentally different because I am not enslaved by the media's negative proclivities, nor do I think that my government's suicidal policies are the end all/be all of what Israel is really all about. I can see the bigger picture and I will not allow the media and others to minimize and trivialise our efforts.

When Balak king of Moab wanted to fight the Jews he called in the evil prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews and thereby weaken them. We read in Numbers 23:13

"Then Balak said to him [Bilaam], 'Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, only their edge you will see and you will not see the whole of them; and curse them for me from there.'"

What is going on here? If I were to curse a nation I would want to see the whole bunch of them splayed out in front of me and then let 'em all have it! Why does Balak offer Bilaam a tiny glimpse of the nation in an attempt to help the evil prophet issue forth a diabolical curse? Shouldn't it be the opposite?

The evil ones on this Earth have a well developed sense of cunning and these two bad guys were no exception. They knew the secret of the Jewish people: the united totality of the Jewish people is unbeatable and the big picture of Jewish history is the revelation of G-d's providence and kindness. However, if you focus in at the small picture you may find some dirt, some criminality, some all-too-human weakness that will darken the image. That is why Balak offered Bilaam to see only the edge of the Jews -- if Bilaam could only zoom in on some negative aspect of the Jews and disregard the big picture, maybe then he could muster the venom needed to curse G-d's people.

That type of zoom-in to the darker side of today's Israel is exactly what our enemies want. They want us demoralized, they want us to turn away from Israel. However, we, lovers of Israel, cannot allow ourselves to be minimalist observers who become dissuaded when we hear that our country is going "off the derech" -- off the right path. On the whole, the Jewish project of rebuilding our homeland is moving forward at lightning speed. Israel is soon going to be the home for the majority of the world's Jews, and is already far and away the cultural center of Judaism. All of our enemies and even our sick government cannot derail the forward momentum of this project -- unless we let them!

So let us not fall victim to our enemies' dark desires to see the edge of the Jewish people with a focus on negativity. Instead, let us see the grand vision of Israel and the nearer-then-ever horizon of destiny. Once we get our vision in order we will have a renewed burst of energy to help Israel get through this tumultuous time. And that will be our great merit.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nicely Said!

Thomas Friedman's newest NYT article puts it succinctly:

Question: What do America’s premier investor, Warren Buffett, and Iran’s toxic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have in common? Answer: They’ve both made a bet about Israel’s future.

Ahmadinejad declared on Monday that Israel “has reached its final phase and will soon be wiped out from the geographic scene.”

By coincidence, I heard the Iranian leader’s statement on Israel Radio just as I was leaving the headquarters of Iscar, Israel’s famous precision tool company, headquartered in the Western Galilee, near the Lebanon border. Iscar is known for many things, most of all for being the first enterprise that Buffett bought overseas for his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett paid $4 billion for 80 percent of Iscar and the deal just happened to close a few days before Hezbollah, a key part of Iran’s holding company, attacked Israel in July 2006, triggering a monthlong war. I asked Iscar’s chairman, Eitan Wertheimer, what was Buffett’s reaction when he found out that he had just paid $4 billion for an Israeli company and a few days later Hezbollah rockets were landing outside its parking lot.

Buffett just brushed it off with a wave, recalled Wertheimer: “He said, ‘I’m not interested in the next quarter. I’m interested in the next 20 years.’ ” Wertheimer repaid that confidence by telling half his employees to stay home during the war and using the other half to keep the factory from not missing a day of work and setting a production record for the month. It helps when many of your “employees” are robots that move around the buildings, beeping humans out of the way.

So who would you put your money on? Buffett or Ahmadinejad? I’d short Ahmadinejad and go long Warren Buffett.

Why? From outside, Israel looks as if it’s in turmoil, largely because the entire political leadership seems to be under investigation. But Israel is a weak state with a strong civil society. The economy is exploding from the bottom up. Israel’s currency, the shekel, has appreciated nearly 30 percent against the dollar since the start of 2007.

The reason? Israel is a country that is hard-wired to compete in a flat world. It has a population drawn from 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages, with a business culture that strongly encourages individual imagination and adaptation and where being a nonconformist is the norm. While you were sleeping, Israel has gone from oranges to software, or as they say around here, from Jaffa to Java.

The day I visited the Iscar campus, one of its theaters was filled with industrialists from the Czech Republic, who were getting a lecture — in Czech — from Iscar experts. The Czechs came all the way to the Israel-Lebanon border region to learn about the latest innovations in precision tool-making. Wertheimer is famous for staying close to his customers and the latest technologies. “If you sleep on the floor,” he likes to say, “you never have to worry about falling out of bed.”

That kind of hunger explains why, in the first quarter of 2008, the top four economies after America in attracting venture capital for start-ups were: Europe $1.53 billion, China $719 million, Israel $572 million and India $99 million, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Israel, with 7 million people, attracted almost as much as China, with 1.3 billion.

Boaz Golany, who heads engineering at the Technion, Israel’s M.I.T., told me: “In the last eight months, we have had delegations from I.B.M., General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart visiting our campus. They are all looking to develop R & D centers in Israel.”

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.

Of course, oil wealth can buy all the software and nuclear technology you want, or can’t develop yourself. This is not an argument that we shouldn’t worry about Iran. Ahmadinejad should, though.

Iran’s economic and military clout today is largely dependent on extracting oil from the ground. Israel’s economic and military power today is entirely dependent on extracting intelligence from its people. Israel’s economic power is endlessly renewable. Iran’s is a dwindling resource based on fossil fuels made from dead dinosaurs.

So who will be here in 20 years? I’m with Buffett: I’ll bet on the people who bet on their people — not the people who bet on dead dinosaurs.

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