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Thursday, January 21, 2010


Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar called on all capable to fast and pray this Thursday in hope that God will bring an end to the drought that has depleted Israel's water sources and struck a blow to local agriculture.

"Because of our sins the water situation is in a serious state," wrote Amar in a notice that was sent out Monday to rabbis, synagogues and other religious functionaries across the nation.

"Our duty in this situation is to scrutinize and examine our actions and bring ourselves close to God with all our hearts. We must must be repentant with broken hearts and anyone who is able should fast, if not a whole day at least a half day."

Amar said that if there were ten men fasting a Torah scroll should be read and during the recitation of the Amida prayer the Anenu prayer should be added like any public fast day.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why did the truck driver cross the road?

So I was walking down King George St one day when I spotted a lady crossing the street. She had a bag over her shoulder and was wheeling a stroller while a toddler was pushing his own riding toy beside her. There was nothing unusual about that. She was crossing the street perpendicular from where I was waiting at the red light. (A policewoman recently warned me not to cross against the light just near this intersection so I wasn’t going to press my luck.)

Right smack in the middle of the street the toddler apparently resented his mother holding his hand and became very uncooperative. This forced mom to pick him up with one hand, and wheel the stroller with the other, all while still having the bag over her shoulder. Inevitably, that yellow riding toy was left behind right in the middle of a very busy intersection. The red light that kept the long line of cars from smashing it to pieces was about to turn green.

There was nothing the mother could do, as she wasn’t about to abandon her children for this toy. As I was about to cross against the light to help her out, policewoman’s warning or not, something truly unexpected happened. Sitting in front of this long line of cars that were waiting for the light to change was a delivery truck. The truck’s driver side door flew open and down jumped the truck driver who happily rescued the riding toy from its precarious position and deposited it safely on the corner. With a wave, nod, and a smile he jumped back in to his truck.

As I stood there watching I was awed. I was wondering what exactly would happen if the same scenario played out in New York City. Would any NYC truck driver ever abandon his vehicle to help a mother in need? Would any NYC truck driver even bother driving around the toy rather than simply running it over?

Who knows? But one thing I know. Here in Israel when people see that help is needed – they help! Because after all, we are all part of the same family.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

What's in your backyard?

There was a small news bite in the Israeli media which most people may not have even noticed. Today, there was a court hearing to decide the fate of a grave that was recently discoverd.

The story goes something like this. Mitch Pilcer owns a bed and breakfast in Tzipori in the lower Galilee. Business was going well so he decided to expand the hotel. But when they started digging in his yard they discovered something extraordinary.

Right there in his backyard was the grave of none other than Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi ! It's still being investigated to see if things pan out and it really is the grave of the important Amora sage. But it just goes to show you that when you are living in a land that contains thousands of years of our history you'll never know what you'll discover right in your own backyard!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My New Tisha b'Av Video: Rectifying the Sin of Spies

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Letter To My Rabbi

Shavua Tov Yishai,

Below is the text of an e-mail that I felt the need to send to my Rav. I felt compelled to share it with you too.

I'm writing this e-mail simply because I felt like sharing some thoughts which occurred to me yesterday in shul during our reading of the Torah.

Towards the beginning of the parsha (as you know, we're back at parshat Shelach because of Shavuot), Moshe clarifies the "mandate" which was conferred upon the 12 men selected "latur" the Land. As I see it, the mandate of these shlichim, was comprised of 6 elements (1 general directive, 4 questions of assessment to be answered and, lastly, 1 "grocery order"):

1) see the land, what it is;
2) [see] the people that dwelleth therein, whether they are strong or weak, whether they are few or many;
3) [see] what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad;
4) [see] what cities they are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in strongholds;
5) [see] what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, whether there is wood therein, or not;
6) be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.' (Now the time was the time of the first-ripe grapes);

Now, the 1st and 6th elements of the mandate seem to me to fit relatively easily into the "legitimate" side of the mission, namely to come back with good news and words of encouragement designed & intended to create a kind of "pep rally" among b'nei Yisrael in anticiaption of their taking possession of their inheritance. I was forced to wonder, however, about where the 4 question elements could find their legitimacy in Hashem's eyes.

Then 2 analogies came to mind. The first having to do with my children and the second, related to the context of newlyweds.

The first brought to mind many instances where I would offer things (yummy food or cool toys, for example) to my kids which I knew they would like. If I were to give it to them without saying anything, they would surely enjoy the thing given, but that would be it. So I would find myself saying things like "Well here's some chocolate ice cream, but I dunno, should I really to give it to you cuz' it's maybe kinda yucky, maybe you don't like it". Of course, this inevitably elicits responses such as "Daddy! Nooooo! It's so yummy! Of course you should give it to us - we love it!!" A whole "buzz" is thus created and the enjoyment amplified. It occurred to me that this is perhaps the way in which Moshe, in the name of Hashem, was talking to b'nei Yisrael - as if saying "kinderlech, there's Eretz Yisrael over there - what do you think? the people that dwelleth therein, are they strong or weak, are they few or many, the Land, is it good or bad, are the cities that the inhabitants live in camps or strongholds, and the Land, is it fat or lean, is there wood or not?" while expecting the answer to be "Oy Avinu Shebashamayim! You're being so silly with us - of course we love the Land, it's soooo good, it has everything we need and what difference does it make how the inhabitants are, whether they're big or small, strong or weak, few or many - we have You! - who could possibly compare to You?!"

This, in turn, (oddly) brought to mind the 2nd analogy - that of husband and wife - newlyweds. It's the image of a newly married couple - fresh from the chupah. For weeks, the groom had been preparing a new home for he and his wife - arranging everything just so, to accoimmodate his precious bride. Was this not the stage at which b'nei Yisrael found itself? - fresh out of the chupah of Har Sinai and on the point of being led into the home that Hakadosh Baruch Hu had set aside and arranged just so for us, his "bride". (I won't even get into the additional eggshells being walked upon by b'nei Yisrael as a result of the Chet haEgel fiasco). Moreover, what a groom to have! And now right before the point of being proverbially carried across the threshhold (the Jordan) by our All-Powerful groom - and what happens? The bride (at least in terms of her majority-led collective expression) has the audacity to say "We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we" [note that the denotes either b'nei Yisrael AND Hashem or b`nei Yisrael to the exclusion of Hashem - each interpretation being worse than the other!!] and "'The land... is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature" as if to say "Hashem, I'm kinda concerned about the structural integrity of the home you prepared for us and, moreover, there are other men around that seem totally ripped - way more buff than You!"

Can the ensuing fury of the new husband be overstated?!?!

But wait! There's yet more!

The new wife adds fuel to the fire saying "'Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt".

After EVERYTHING that Hashem had orchestrated to bring his wife to this point - after the famines in E'Y, the whole episode with Joseph and his brothers, the miraculous hasgacha pratis which led Joseph to the house of Potiphar and then to prison, to the ruach hakodesh granted to Yosef in his dream interpretations, first for Pharoah's chief baker and chief steward and then for Pharoah himself. Then the 7 fat years and the 7 lean years, the Part II of the episode with Joseph and his brothers, then the descent of Yaakov and his entire household into Egypt only to transform into slavery - ALL only to be redeemed therefrom, brought to the Chupah of Har Sinai, given the Ketubah of Torah (being also the blueprint for all existence), lastly being brought to the threshold of the ultimate co-existence with the Creator of the Universe and the response is "Let's choose a new guide who will bring us back to Egypt"?!?!?

All of this struck me as the leining went on and all I could do is tremble from both fear and disbelief with tears rolling down my cheek. How dispicably unfathomable is it that we could have done this once so long ago - ever?! But that we have been doing it again over the course of the last 61 years?!?!!?

Hashem's statement "I will smite them with the pestilence, and destroy them, and will make of thee a nation greater and mightier than they" seems like getting off easy in light of the travesty exhibited. The fact that Hashem ended up acceeding to Moshe's pleadings saying simply "salachti kidvarecha" is just beyond rachamim - beyond my comprehension anyway. It is no wonder that our national punishment for that act of total betrayal had to be meted out over millenia of sufferings. If that was the consequence of the first transgression of our rejection of Hashem's invitation that we join Him in the Home he set aside for us, what in the world do we have in store for us this time around?!

Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. The 17th (my birthday, incidentally) ushers in that most ominous and dreadful time of year for our nation - those 3 weeks during which we are acutely reminded (or at least ought to be acutely reminded) of our having failed yet again - for the gazilionth time - to correct and rectify that disgustingly grievous mistake originally committed thousands of years ago. Of course, I always try to muster up a tiny bit of hope that this year will be different - that this year I'll be able to celebrate my birthday along with far greater causes of celebration. But I'm afraid and ashamed to say that I don't feel particularly optimistic about this year being that year. I have no reason to believe that I'll be doing anything other than sitting on a milk crate in our shul here in admat nechar again watching other Jews who gather with a little facial hair growth and a bit of a growl in their stomach - but without, at least apparently, any intention of rectifying the very error that got them in that predicament in the first place or, worse, without any clue as to what error was and continues to be.

Hey whaddya know! This e-mail has been so long that it's brought me to nightime - so Chodesh Tov!


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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shavuot Awesomeness

Please check out the amazing video of our Klean-Up in Hebron at the Tomb of Ruth and Yishai (just in time for Shavuot!)

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Our Klean-Up Was Awesome!

Check out Yoseph and Melody's "Love of the Land" blog for some great pictures of our amazing, and miracle filled adventure in the Tomb of Ruth and Yishai.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beit El Snow 5769 / 2009

See more of my beautiful snow pictures

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Happy 2B Shvat Israel Photos!


I hope you will avail yourselves of our frankly awesome Tu b'Shevat seder, which Malkah compiled many moons ago. Gather your little fruits (and wines), your favorite folks, and pray for the good of Israel, and for all life, wherever it flourishes.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Chag Sameach from Kumah!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Kumah Call - Golan Heights!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rebranding Israel: FM Just Doesn’t Get It - Still!

This is not the first time Kumah has written about this.

Last week I attended the Nefesh B’Nefesh First International Jewish Bloggers Convention along with the rest of the Jblog world. One segment of the program featured Zavi Apfelbaum, the Director of Brand Management of the Foreign Ministry. At the time I did not know that she represented the State of Israel. (I didn't read the program, okay?)

(Click the video for a transcript we posted on YouTube.)

Which is why when blogger Moshe Burt (“Israel and the Sin of Expulsion”) began screaming at the top of his lungs “this is a Jewish State!,” though I agreed with him, I thought he was taking the wrong approach. But now that I realize exactly what was going on I think he was exactly right and that might be the only way to keep making the point, as Burt wrote, “until it sinks irrevocably into their consciousness.”

Let’s start at the beginning. The Foreign Ministry spent millions of shekel of taxpayer money to figure out that, guess what, the world thinks Israel is a bunch of thugs and a very cold (not weather-wise), dull, place to live or visit. Well obviously the world has branded us waaay wrong! Apfelbaum, again blaming the victim, claimed it was not the world that did it but we did it to ourselves. Perhaps I’ll grant that as a half-truth but that’s for another discussion.

So once again the Foreign Ministry plans to spend waste millions of shekel “rebranding” Israel.

Akiva, summarized it like this:

The future brand and marketing image of Israel:
1. Tel Aviv Fashion Brands
2. Tel Aviv Modern Dance Troupes
3. Tel Aviv Beach Life
4. Israeli High Technology Developments
5. Tel Aviv Night Life
6. Israeli High Technology Medical Developments
7. Israeli Wine
With the exception of 4 and 6, basically they are trying to brand Israel as Italy, France or Spain.

When will they learn? Israel is a Jewish Country!

Here’s what I wrote a year ago:

Once Israel becomes "a nation like any other" we are thrust onto a world scale we have no right being on. On that scale, Israel appears to be a pretty crummy nation with nothing special at all. Hence the post-Zionists. But if we stay on the scale we are supposed to stay on, the "light-to-the-nations" scale we are untouchable! When we promote G-d, no nation anywhere can come close in terms of history, culture, food, family life, beauty, and spirituality. Indeed we have something no other nation has.
To summarize, Israel already has an excellent – but discarded - brand. The powers-that-be in the government just don’t like it very much. But this brand has been around for over 3,300 years! Let me explain it in simple terms:

New York is to “The Big Apple” as Israel is to “The Holy Land.”

Gee, whiz. Brilliant! Why didn’t anyone ever think of that before? It’s a brand we have and it’s a brand we should use. It’s a brand that will stick because it already sticks, much to the dismay of the government. Basically the country is spending millions because we don’t want people to think of us as holy! Stop pretending to be the Europeans we are not, because the world is not dumb enough the fall for it. Start being yourself, Israel, and good things will happen. In the 60 years since she was founded Israel never got to be herself - not for one day.

And Moshe Burt is right. In terms of Holy we are talking Judaism. No Muslims are going to view Israel more favorable if we tell them Israel is important to them. And the Christians already know the real deal and love the Jewish people for it. Just talk to any Christians you meet. They know the Holy Land is G-d’s gift to the Jews and they are cool with that. Very cool with it.

So here is a small part of Pinchas’s plan for “rebranding” (that’s "re" as in repeating something not as in changing something):



Jewish Tradition

Jewish Children

Holy Things

The problem is the government is working backwards. Instead of displaying the beauty of Judaism and Shabbat for the world, the government does everything it can to destroy our image as a holy nation by doing things like attempting to have buses run on Shabbat. Sometimes the only way to get the message across truly is to yell it, and to yell it again, again, and again!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

This Week's Torah Portion in Deuteronomy

Chapter 11:
10. For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden. 11. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven, 12. a land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year....

Chapter 12
22. For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him, 23. then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will possess nations greater and stronger than you. 24. Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread, will be yours: from the desert and the Lebanon, from the river, the Euphrates River, and until the western sea, will be your boundary. 25. No man will stand up before you; the Lord your God will cast the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land upon which you tread, as He spoke to you.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Good Things

Jacob Richman wrote:

Hi Everyone!

On Friday afternoons, I buy several newspapers including Hebrew ones. Every so often, the Hebrew newspapers include a special insert. If we get a new Israeli president there will be a picture of him / her; if a sports team wins a champinship there may be a picture of them; before Passover you can find a free Haggadah; and before Israel Independence Day there is a large flag folded inside the paper.

This past Friday (July 25), there was a small glossy, two-sided, flyer in the Yediot Achronot newspaper.

On the front of the flyer is a family eating together at the table. The Hebrew text reads: Friday is Reserved for My Family To talk, laugh, eat together. There is one day of the week that you can sit with the whole family and connect. So we declare: Friday is Reserved for My Family.

On the back of the flyer is the Shabbat Kiddush:

After close to 24 years in Israel, I still find nice surprises in the most unexpected places.

Shavua Tov,

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Kumah Kall 2 - At The Grottos

Sunday, May 25, 2008


"I will remember My covenant with Jacob and even My covenant with Isaac, and even My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land." (Vayikra 26;42)

In this week's parsha there is a long list of ultra-scary curses that G-d vows to bring upon us if we neglect His Torah. At the end of these awful passages promising exile comes a verse that is meant to give us solace. G-d promises to bring us back from the Exile in the merit of the forefathers and the merit of the Land. But why would G-d include in His list of the Patriarchs a special mention of the Land of Israel? Why did He not include other mitzvot He might remember, like: 'I will remember Jacob and his Tefillin, Issac and his Tzitit, and Abraham and his Etrog'?

In this iPod generation it is easy to believe that the world is here for our convenience. Everything is quick, easy and on demand. Through this attitude we may come to the false conclusion that the Land of Israel is our own little iLand, a personalized tool for our use. We may begin to treat the Land as merely a Cheftza, that is, a religious object like tefillin, tzitit, and etrog to be used and then put away when done, or even disposed of when it wears out...

This utilitarian thinking is actually a wide-reaching phenomenon. For example: Secular Post-Zionism is the belief that a few years ago we needed a safe haven from persecution and therefore we created a Jewish state; but now that we are well-off and safe from persecution we can scrap the state - it's boring, and anyway we can simply live in peace and harmony in the US, a very nice place indeed. We have used up the Land of Israel and now it's time to move on, to SKIP to the next song, to throw away this paper cup.

Religious Post-Zionism, that is, Orthodox Jewry outside of Israel, is just as utilitarian. Says the religious post-Zionist: "Sure there are Mitzvot connected to the Land of Israel and that's why I come to Israel now and then. It's there for my religious convenience. Now I would like to hit a button on my iLand and play the Israel song for a ten-day trip. On the trip I will pray at the Kotel, give some charity to the needy, and walk around Jerusalem like I own the place. When I'm satiated in my religious observance, I hit STOP on the iLand and I go back HOME."

These attitudes are reasonable symptoms of mistaken initial assumptions. In this week's Torah portion, Hashem tells us that the Land of Israel is not just a mitzvah or religious tool. The Torah equates the Land to the Forefathers and tells us that G-d's particular remembrance for the Land is amongst the merits that will yank us out of the Exile. But what is this merit? Why does G-d remember the Land?

When G-d created the world, he created the Land of Israel as a special entity – a land that has feelings and a personality, a land that is sensitive to how she is treated, and sensitive to how her inhabitants behave!

"And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you; your land will be desolate and your cities will be a ruin. Then the land will be appeased for its sabbaticals during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land will rest and it will appease for its sabbaticals. All the years of its desolation it will rest, whatever it did not rest during your sabbaticals when you dwelled upon her." (Vayikra 26, 33-35)

If we Jews are bad, the Land will evict us, if we Jews don't keep the Sabbaths including the Shmittah year, the Land will vomit us out. However, when we call out to G-d from the Exile, the merit of the Land, this entity which loves the Jewish people, this special being that only flourishes when the Jewish people are with her, helps convince G-d that indeed it is time to bring us home.

Once we understand that the Land has her own personality and that she has a relationship with Hashem, we become much more careful as to how we treat her. We will not litter our Land because it offends her, we do not speak ill of the Land because it hurts her feelings. Moreover, once we comprehend that our Land is our unique friend and partner, we stop treating the Land as some personal i-device that we turn on and off at our whim. Instead, we embrace her, we cultivate her, we protect her, and we honor her. Our Forefathers knew that the Land of Israel is a gift; let us also not take her for granted.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Understanding and Action

The following wonderful article from the OU's Jewish Action Magazine is entitled: "A Love Story in Anticipation of a Happy Ending" and was written by my friend and colleague Rabbi Hillel Fendel and I think it sums it all up pretty well:

“Skittering over the hilltops, jumping between the mountains” (Song of Songs 2:8). In sight for a moment, out of view for two, and once again back into range. How aptly the relationship depicted in Song of Songs between God and Israel describes that between the Jewish people of today—so clearly longing for Redemption and for Israel’s material and spiritual success—and the modern State of Israel.

We see so much good and beauty in Israel as it skitters before us over the hilltops—and then we recall its many shortcomings and problems as its glory falls out of view behind the mountains. True, we know it will soon come into view again—and maybe this time even forever! But when we look at the horizon and see nothing but the fleeting image of what could be, it is hard to remain encouraged. Perhaps all that’s missing is to view the mountainside from the proper angle?

Some decades ago, when I first arrived in Bayit Vegan, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, for high school, it seemed as if all was right with the country. A sense of confidence prevailed: The Kotel was ours, and work was underway to build a plaza in front of it. The War of Attrition was behind us, and whatever terror attacks there were—and there were—were faced with unity and a sense of justice in our national cause. The ba’al teshuvah movement was going strong, and new yeshivot seemed to be opening everywhere (though at a snail’s pace compared to the current frenzied rate). The ingathering of the exiles was proceeding apace, and the economy was growing. While it was difficult to get a phone line for a private apartment, the number of months one needed to wait seemed to be gradually dropping to single digits.

And now, several months before Israel’s sixtieth birthday, has everything turned upside down? Must we feel, as the introduction to this series of articles implies, that all of our accomplishments amount to nil? Must we feel that then we had a sense of unity, but today we don’t, that then we had confidence and direction, but today we don’t? Yes, we all know the many terrific problems we currently face, but must we assume that our national history has gone into reverse?

Am Yisrael is always advancing along the road toward Redemption, and especially so during the past 120 years. For more than 1,800 years we had been waiting patiently for the Divine call “Return, My children, to your borders!” It came finally, unmistakably, in the late 1800s, when Jews not only began arriving in the Land of Israel in large numbers, but were also self-supporting!

As the great visionary Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever wrote in 1890 after a visit to the Land:

Can anyone not see the finger of God in all that has befallen us? .... It has been now six years that towns and villages and wells and flocks have arisen from the dust; the fields are full of grain, and grapes and vines cover the hills. Fourteen colonies have been founded during this period, and 3,000 of our brothers are working there. Before, the holy ways were filled with thorns and thistles, and people could barely walk here and traveled only by covered wagon—but now, we travel from Yaffo to Jerusalem, Hebron, Petach Tikvah, Rishon LeTzion, Mikveh Yisrael, Zichron Yaakov—and all on a straight path, the “king’s way,” in a carriage drawn by three horses. And Jerusalem, so desolate before, is now as fresh as in its youth; outside the walls of old Jerusalem, we see straight and beautiful streets lined by hundreds of houses, soon to be thousands; and all the European countries are trying to buy a portion of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Is all this not a sign and wonder that Hashem has remembered His people and His Land, and that all that He wrought was for our good, to bring us up to the heights of Mt. Zion?

Over a century later, can there be any doubt that the process of Redemption has only intensified? When commemorating sixty years of statehood, we must not look myopically at the past few years, but rather at the entire picture—beginning with the Exile, and extending through the centuries of darkness, wandering and persecutions to the gradual return of the Jewish people to their home—exactly as was predicted by our prophets and sages.

Though for many years it was hard to see how this process was developing, in our generation we are fully confident that our ascent towards complete national Redemption has started—and that we ourselves are playing an active role in moving the process along. As Rabbi Eli Sadan, the head of the first mechinah (pre-army yeshivah program) in Israel, wrote in a recent pamphlet:

The front line of great rabbis of the past generations—Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook and many others—told us: “Holy flock, the time of your redemption has arrived!” They marked the way for us—yet astonishingly, it was very hard for the Jewish people to accept the ruling [that the period of forced exile was ending and the time to return to the Land of Israel had come]. This was chiefly because it was truly a hard thing to do—to adopt a national lifestyle of politics, army, economy, and the like, and all in the old/new garb of the traditional sanctity and purity of Israel. How difficult! But “kol dodi dofek, my beloved is calling,” and “et l'chenenah ki va moed, the time has come to favor the Land”; the nation, in the depths of its soul, began to awaken; the Master of the Universe dropped the walls and opened before us the gates of Eretz Yisrael.…The time had come.

Even if the religious public hesitated, Rabbi Sadan continued, the non-religious Jews were unable to wait any longer. Creating facts on the ground, they burst forward. Tradition states that the coming of the Mashiach will take place in a similar manner—Mashiach “Ben Partzi” is destined to come from Peretz, the one who paratz, burst forth, into the world before his twin brother.

Ever since those early years of modern Zionism, Israel has continued to be on the ascendancy, with more Torah, more religiosity, more hi-tech and scientific inventions, more production of agriculture, more development of cities and towns—and more growth in the Jewish population.

Everyone is familiar with the fantastic rate of growth and construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. But what about the rest of the country? Take, for example, sleepy old Afula. When I lived there some twenty years ago, I would take my bicycle for weekly rounds around the outskirts of the city to check that the eruv was functional. Today, given Afula’s tremendous growth, the former “outskirts” are in the middle of town, while the current outskirts are blocks and blocks away in each direction.

Could any Jew who experienced the Holocaust sixty-five years ago have dared to entertain such a scenario? When commemorating sixty years of statehood, we must not look myopically at the past few years, but rather at the entire picture.Never in the last 1,930 years have the Jewish people, on a national scale, had it so good!

But, of course, there is the other side of the coin. If everything is so great, why does everything feel so bad? The problems in Israel are many and great. With a total lack of confidence in the necessity of listing them at all, here they are: Corruption in the government, poor quality of education, discord about our national goals, a growing non-Jewish population, growing socio-economic gaps, increased estrangement from Judaism and the Land of Israel, lack of inspired leadership, apathy regarding the fate of Jerusalem and uncertainty regarding the nation’s future and violent crime.

So what do we do? Give up? Throw in the towel? Say it was a good try but better luck next time, see you again in a couple of centuries? The very fact that we can entertain this question is an absurdity. Can you imagine the French or the Brazilians ever “giving up” and leaving their country? Is there any nation that would actually consider the option of calling for a “do-over”?

Moreover, it’s an incredible chutzpah when Jews living chutz la’Aretz criticize Israelis and their political leaders and assert that because of their mistakes, they will be staying in the Diaspora. Such sentiments are often found in talkbacks to Internet news reports on Israel.

History has decreed that our prophets’ Divine messages are coming true before our eyes; we can either jump on the bandwagon or get left behind. But to claim membership in a nation that has taken the path of revival while at the same time choosing to remain exiled is untenable in the long run.

This, then, is both the challenge and the solution: aliyah. It’s not just for those who live outside Israel (immigration) but also for those who already live here. The word aliyah comes from the root word aleh, which either means to “go up” or to “raise up.” Those who live here should be continually trying to raise the quality of Israeli life on all planes. Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael is necessary, for the sake of both the individual and the nation. We need Jews here, and they need to be here. The Jewish nation suffers when her children are not home, and the children suffer when they are cut off from their source.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the more people move to Israel in order to help solve our collective problems, the faster those problems will be solved. Decades ago, some religious leaders did not encourage aliyah for fear that the State would not be religious. Ironically, this almost guaranteed that the State would be irreligious.

There are those today who mock the religious leaders of previous decades for taking this road, yet they themselves take a similar approach today. However, there’s a difference. Back then, it was “spiritual” problems that kept some Jews away. Today, it is “political” problems. “First get rid of your government,” they say, or “your bureaucracy or [fill in the blank] and then I’ll consider coming.” (Insert small dose of healthy skepticism here).

Let us not make the same errors again. No more “I-told-you-so’s” after the fact. Instead of once again finding the perfect excuse to remain in the Diaspora, let us jump into the fray with real-time fixes. Let us be a part of the solution, not the problem.

And those who live here in Israel must also make aliyah. We must be constantly on the lookout, as more and more people already are, for ways to alleviate the problems that are closest to our hearts. We must be constantly on the alert to radiate to others that life in Israel, in the long-range, is not only good but is getting better.

And more: As we increasingly hear our rabbis—and our children—say, let us grab the chance to establish a society predicated on Torah values. Let us forge ahead to become a strong presence and influence in the army, in the courts, in the media. Let us combine purity and on-the-ground action to build our national home in Eretz Yisrael. Let us raise a generation imbued with dedication and even sacrifice. Let us be like the early pioneers, but with the added great ambition to live a life of sanctity in accordance with the Torah of Israel.

Let us not be fooled by what appears to be thriving Jewish life in the United States. The center and the heart of Jewish life is here in Israel. Taking active part in the enterprise that is Israel is the challenge of our times and is an opportunity that no one must miss. After sixty years, it’s way past time to come home.


Rabbi Fendel has been the senior news editor of Arutz Sheva Israel National News since 1995. He studied in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav for five years and started Yeshivat Mevaseret Zion for international students. He is the author of One Thing I Ask (Jerusalem, 1995) and has lived in Beit El with his wife Bina and their eight children since 1992.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Straight to G-d

With Pesach having come to a close I’m now looking forward to a short vacation. The funny thing is, with a month off from yeshiva for the chag, technically I’ve already been on vacation for several weeks. Yet with all the excitement of Pesach and the different Chol Omed activities going on around the country last week, I find I actually need a vacation from my vacation.

Thank G-d, I was able to do a lot of traveling this past week, from one end of the country to the other. Bus rides to Beitar, bus rides to Hebron, bus rides to Tzfat, even an amazing two day Carlebach music festival at the Dead sea. I’m left feeling much more connected to Hashem after tapping into these holy places but I’m also left something else as well… exhausted! As I now look forward to a short visit to America to make the mandatory family visits and get some well earned relaxation, I realize this rest is from more than just running around all last week. In some ways, the hustle and bustle of Pesach and Chol Omed has been a microcosm of a larger life here in Israel.

This land is called “Eretz Yisrael”, and if you split up “Yisrael” in half you get “Eretz Yishar El” (The land straight to G-d). Through the name of the land itself we understand it’s nature, if you want to be taken straight to G-d this is the place to do it in. The thing is, G-d is indescribably powerful, and being much closer to Him can infuse a lot of energy into a person, place, or thing. Often this high-energy state of being is a very good thing, but one has to be careful to channel it in the right direction or else you can get burnt. It’s no coincidence that this land produces the gedolim-hador, rabbis of saintly stature able to take spirituality to the utter heights, as well as suicide bombers who grab hold of that same spiritual energy and are driven to take it to the utter depths. While speaking with my rabbi this weekend he was describing how last Shabbat he saw huge amounts of Greek Orthodox Christian tour groups walking around Jerusalem and bearing huge crosses no less, and he said he was very pleased about it. Not expecting to hear such a reaction I asked him why and he replied that the holiness of this land is now such that all the non-Jews of the world are vying to get a hold of it. Not only is it a sign that Hashem is really doing something special here, but also that now it has gotten to the point where it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the Jewish nation also wakes up to this fact as the non-Jews already have.

Life in America now seems like watching a movie… something that’s not quite real and at any moment someone may hit the stop button. Comparatively, life here is quite real, sometimes almost too real. When things are good they’re really good, but when they are bad they can be very stressful. Often you only get a split second to jump from great to horrible and back again, not being afforded a moment to catch your breath. I was speaking to a police officer here after a heated protest recently and commenting on it he told me, “You see, it’s not always so easy to be here.” To that I replied that I’d rather have a hard life in truth than to live an easy life in falsehood. Sometimes facing reality can be uncomfortable or worse downright painful. But it’s not our purpose to use this life we were given to sit back in a lazyboy and grow fat and weak, it’s our job to seek out the truth in this life. To do that the best, we must go “Yishar El”, straight to G-d, and this is the place to do it!

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Monday, April 28, 2008


The photo above was taken on the mountainside below my house. Some people hate pigs. I don't hate them, I just don't eat them or let them run around the sanctuary. These wild boars don't harm people, and are said to be dangerous only when cornered. I have had no problems with them. In fact, I love to see G-d's amazing creatures. I do think though that the Torah's repeated warnings against eating swine is due to the fact the hogs are common in Israel and the Lord wanted to give us a stern warning not to partake of pig flesh. However, as you can see in the Forward article below not everyone has heard His call for an embargo on the pork:

On Israel’s Only Jewish-Run Pig Farm, It’s The Swine That Bring Home the Bacon

I stood beside the road with a traveling backpack and a yarmulke, my arm extended, hitchhiking to the junction from Ramat Raziel to catch a bus home. I was singing “Lev Tahor,” a verse from Psalm 51 meaning “pure heart” that I’d been singing all Sabbath long. A car stopped, and a bearded man in a knit yarmulke picked me up. As I entered his car, he turned to me: “I’m Oren… So where you going?” Damn. I’d begun to hate this question, especially when asked by religious people. “Kibbutz Lahav,” I answered, expecting a gasp. Unfazed, he further inquired, “And what do you do there?” Again, I hesitated, this time with dread. “Uh, well… I work on their pig farm.”

And just like that, I managed to overwhelm and confuse Oren, as well as myself, while simultaneously expressing the contradiction that pig farming in Israel played in my life for the two months I spent working at Kibbutz Lahav. Luckily, Oren was an open-minded man whose parting words to me were: “God put you on the pork farm for a reason.”

The kibbutz and its pigs sit comfortably in the northern Negev, just 30 minutes north of Beersheba, surrounded by the Lahav forest, Israel’s largest manmade woodlands. Pine trees, scattered acorns and orderly planted “wild” grasses and flowers seem somewhat out of place in the desert hills. The iconoclastic kibbutz similarly appears incongruous in a Jewish part of a Jewish country, next door to religious Kibbutz Shomeriya. As I learned over the course of two months, though, the kibbutz, just like the forest, fits into the complex web of Israeli and Jewish identity in more ways than one.

Toward the end of January, I moved onto Kibbutz Lahav in an effort to understand the phenomenon of pigs in Israel. While there are a number of similar farms in Israel, Kibbutz Lahav is unique because, as its slogan suggests, it is “the meat from the Kibbutz.” All the other pig breeders operate in a zone in the North dominated by Christian Arabs, the only place where raising pork is legal, according to a 1962 law. Kibbutz Lahav, a Jewish-run farm, proudly operates outside the legal zone.

Lahav’s pig breeding gained widespread notoriety because of its legal loophole, almost talmudic in its ingenuity, in which the kibbutz is exempt from the law and can rightfully raise pigs for research as a part of its Animal Research Institute. Thus, the kibbutz raises pigs for science and eats the excess, developing over the years a rather staggering excess. For many years the institute was no more than an ad hoc veterinarian research institute, which, on the scientific side, boasted little more than the successful splicing of an ibex with a goat.

“Israelis weren’t ready to pay more money for it,” said Dodik, a kibbutz elder whose last name I never learned, as was the case with most people on the kibbutz.

Today, as a result of the recent biotech boom, the institute is the center of Israel’s most spectacular medical advancements, where religious Jewish scientists are among the hundreds of researchers who use the pigs for innovative experimentation.

Despite the institute’s success, raising and processing pig meat is the main purpose of the farm, as the 10,000-plus animals suggest. Most workers commute from Beersheba each morning. Jewish immigrants from Argentina and Russian immigrants with little Jewish background make up the largest proportion of the 50-something workers. On any given morning, the workers are spread out among the 15 or so indoor buildings, administering antibiotics, slaughtering and butchering, inseminating sows and moving pigs to the fattening rooms from their weaning rooms.

Eshai, a proud Israeli-born pork eater — and self-proclaimed messiah (he was born on the Ninth of Av, the prophesied birthday of the future messiah) — was my supervisor for most of February. He seethed with a cynicism toward all things Jewish and traditional. I once asked him why nobody collects and sells pigs’ milk. He answered me, grinning: “Pigs’ milk isn’t kosher.”

One day after work, when changing out of my coveralls and knee-high boots, a new immigrant from Brazil, Yehoshua, was discussing his former religiosity with Marcos when he mentioned in passing that he still didn’t eat pork. “Me neither,” I interrupted their conversation, excited to discover I wasn’t alone. “I keep kosher.”

Then Marcos chimed in, in his equally broken Hebrew: “Yeah, neither do I.” And there we sat, three confused Jewish pig farmers, when Imat, the Palestinian Muslim pig farmer, who also didn’t eat pork, entered the room.

How can you spot a kosher pig farmer? We blended in — except for Yehoshua, who always wore facemasks in a last-ditch effort not to inhale or ingest the same air as the pigs, or the floating fecal dust. Early on I also donned a facemask, but unlike Yehoshua, who can hardly understand Hebrew or English, I got the jokes and insults, such as “Jewboy” and “rookie,” from the Sabras, not to mention Eshai’s looks, which implied “pansy.”

It was when I learned from co-workers that our manager doesn’t eat pork, and that his manager and the head of the entire pork operation has a pork-free home, that I first felt at home, comfortable as a kosher Jew on the kibbutz. Through such revelations I saw the pig-breeding center as home to the same neurotic Jewish traditionalism that courses through my veins.

Such contradictions shed light on the beautiful and confusing Jewish identity of Kibbutz Lahav and its pigs. On Friday night in the kibbutz dining room, there is a Sabbath display of candlesticks, a challah cover and a Kiddush cup. Kibbutzniks thus have the Sabbath on their minds as they eat their special meal of braised pork or ham on the ceremonial white Sabbath linens. During our celebratory barbecue just prior to Purim, management handed out mishloach manot, traditional Jewish gift baskets, to all the workers, with a note wishing everyone a “happy Purim.” Most workers ate the hamantaschen as dessert after the grilled pork spare ribs. One Thursday, while I was shopping in the kolbo — the kibbutz grocery store — a panicked woman ran behind me to speak to the cashier, urgently asking if she could leave a ham in the freezer and collect it tomorrow for Friday’s dinner. When she left with permission to do so, I turned to the cashier woman, smiled and asked her if the meat was “for Shabbat.” She nodded, and we both laughed.

According to Dodik, one of the kibbutz founders, Lahav embarked on pork production by chance. In 1952, the year of the kibbutz’s founding and a period of major food shortages in Israel, the struggling Lahav received a gift of one boar and two sows from a neighboring kibbutz. After a number of years, and thanks to the will of a few kibbutzniks, those pigs became the kibbutz’s financial linchpin. As kibbutzim have been failing and Lahav, in particular, has had trouble, the pigs have remained a stable revenue producer, an unlikely friend to a Zionist institution.

And even though most kibbutzniks no longer “work in the pigs,” the porcine influence on the kibbutz is nearly impossible to miss. Ten thousand-plus pigs howl throughout the night, along with the desert jackals. There’s a dreaded western wind here that brings with it the inescapable and potent scent of industrial hog waste that cannot possibly be ignored. In the dining room there is almost always a pork option. The kibbutzniks find no need for the silly euphemisms used by greater Israeli society, like “white meat” and “white steak.” Pork, or at least the right to raise it, serve it and eat it, is no doubt a point of pride at Lahav today, and part of the kibbutz’s national legacy.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The Luckiest Jews in the World"

The following is a beautiful and revealing new essay written by Caroline Glick. In it she talks about her own Aliyah, the magic of Hebrew and the difficultly of leaving America. I urge you to read it to the end.

The Luckiest Jews In The World
I just published a collection of my essays in English. Each time I am asked if I am also releasing the volume in Hebrew I feel a pain deep inside me when I answer that no, right now, my publisher is only interested in an English edition. Indeed it is a shame because I wrote most of the essays in Hebrew as well.

Writing in Hebrew is a qualitatively different experience than writing in English. Hebrew is a more compact language than English. It has fewer words and the words it has are denser and more flexible than English words. A 1,200-word essay in Hebrew will be 1,800 words in English.

This is a mechanical difference. But there are deeper distinctions as well. One level beyond the mechanics is the multiple meanings of Hebrew words. The density of meaning in Hebrew is a writer’s dream. Nearly anyone can imbue a seemingly simple sentence with multiple, generally complementary meanings simply by choosing a specific verb, verb form, noun or adjective. These double, triple and even quadruple meanings of one word are a source of unbounded joy for a writer. To take just one example, the Hebrew word “shevet” means returning and it also means sitting. And it is also a homonym for club – as in billy club – and for tribe...

In 2005, the IDF named the operation expelling the Israeli residents of Gaza and Northern Samaria “Shevet Achim,” or returning or sitting with brothers. But it also sounded like it was making a distinction between tribesmen and brothers. And it also sounded like “clubbing brothers.”

As this one example demonstrates, one joyful consequence of the unique density of the Hebrew language is that satirical irony comes easily to even the most dour and unpoetic writers.

For a Jew, knowing, speaking and writing Hebrew is an intimate experience. This is particularly so for those of us whose mother tongue is not Hebrew – because as the secrets of the language slowly reveal themselves to us we feel we are discovering ourselves.

Hebrew encapsulates the entirety of the Jewish story. Modern Hebrew in particular is an eclectic amalgamation of classical Hebrew, Yiddishisms, and expressions from the Sephardic Diaspora experience. Greek, Roman, Aramaic, Turkish, Arabic and English expressions meld seamlessly into the stream of words. It is not simply that it is the language of the Bible. Hebrew is also an expression of the unique culture of a small, proud, often besieged, often conquered and permeable people.

Its power to explain that cultural experience and that historical baggage is something that often leaves a newly initiated member of the Hebrew-speaking world gasping in a mixture of disbelief and relief. It is unbelievable that a language can be so immediately and unselfconsciously expressive of feelings that have traversed millennia. Understanding its power as a tool of expressing the Jewish condition is one of the most gratifying discoveries a Jew can make.

But the experience of speaking in Hebrew and of living in Hebrew is incomplete when it is not experienced in Israel. It is one thing to pray in a synagogue in Hebrew or even to speak regular Hebrew outside of Israel. The former is a spiritual duty and a communal experience. The latter is a social or educational experience. But speaking Hebrew in Israel is a complete experience. Hebrew localizes the Jewishness, Judaism and Jews. It anchors us to the Land of Israel. Taken together, the Hebrew language and the Land of Israel stabilize a tradition and make the Jewish people whole.

I write all of this as a means of explaining why a Jew in the Diaspora, particularly the United States, would want to live in Israel. Leaving America is difficult on several levels. In my own experience, it involved physically separating from my entire family. It also involved cutting myself off from my language – English – and immersing myself completely in a tongue I had yet to master. Beyond that, it meant leaving a country that had done only good for me and for the generations of my family who fled to America from the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.

As someone who loves me told me 17 years ago as I packed my bags for an unknowable future, “People don’t emigrate away from America. They beg to come to its shores.”

But would it be right to characterize leaving America as an act of ingratitude? Do Jews have to reject America in order to go to Israel? No, we don’t.

Coming to Israel is not rejecting America. It is embracing a choice to become whole in a way that life outside of Israel cannot provide. That doesn’t mean life cannot be fulfilling for a Jew outside of Israel. Millions of Jews can attest to the fact. It certainly doesn’t mean that life in Israel is easier or safer or more lucrative than life is elsewhere.

Israel is a troublesome, hard, often irritating place. It is a young country that belongs to an ancient, eternal people who are all imperfect. Some Israelis, particularly those who today occupy the seats of power, are weak and irresponsible and often corrupt and self-serving.

Israelis have quick fuses. Among other things, this distinctively Israeli rush to anger makes being stuck in rush hour traffic a bit like dancing a waltz in the middle of a shooting range. Then too, service is not a concept that most Israelis – particularly in service professions – are even vaguely familiar with.

Beyond the general fallibility of Israelis, there are the wars and the hatred and the terror that make up so much of life in Israel. Being surrounded by enemies and living in the midst of jihad-crazed Arab states is like sitting on the edge of a volcano. And rather than acknowledge the danger and contend with it, Israelis – frustratingly and dangerously – more often than not blame one another for the heat while ignoring its source.

Yet once a Jew catches the Zionist bug, none of that is important. Once a Jew allows himself or herself to feel the pull of our heritage, of our language and our land, the frustration, danger and hardship of living in Israel seems like second nature – as natural as breathing in and out.

I recently moved to a home on the edge of a valley filled with forests and carpeted by wildflowers. Every day I hike for an hour or two along the trails below. A few days ago, as I walked late at night, I considered the dark and silent hills surrounding me and felt safe. They were liberated in 1948.

As I stood for a moment, I thought to myself, “These hills have already been conquered for you, by people better than yourself. Now it is your job to keep them safe for the next generation. And it will be the next generation’s responsibility to keep them safe for the following one.”

The thought filled me with a sense of privilege and peace.

People ask me all the time why I insist on living in Israel. Usually I just shrug my shoulders and smile. I, a woman who makes my living from words, find myself speechless when challenged with this simple question.

I spend several months a year away from Israel working. But every time I go away on a long trip, inevitably after three weeks or so, I begin to feel incomplete. I start to long for the smells of Israel. My ears ache to hear Hebrew all around me. I want to go back so I can walk down the streets on Friday afternoons and smile at perfect strangers as we bid each other Shabbat Shalom.

Why do I live in Israel? Because Israel lives in me, as it lives in all Jews. It is who we are. And those of us lucky enough to recognize this truth and embrace it in all its fullness and depth are the luckiest Jews in the world.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Visiting Joseph

A few weeks ago, I boarded a bus at Yitzhar, which when completely overloaded, headed to Shchem for a visit to the destroyed compound that is the Tomb of Joseph. The 30 minutes I spent there gave me a spiritual high that is still with me weeks later. When I first got there, I felt like crying at seeing the burnt remains of this holy site, one of only three which Scripture tells us was bought by our forefathers in the Land of Israel. Seeing the destroyed structure is bad enough, but there is even more pain at the realization that the state of the Tomb of Joseph is also a clear sign that the Jewish State has receded, and that to a degree, Israel is being overpowered by the Philistines of today...

Powerful prayers could be heard from the other worshipers, and I joined them as well. But a funny and unexpected thing happened. All around the compound I was sad and brokenhearted, but when I finally touched my head to the headstone of the tomb I started laughing! I had to hide my laughter so that others would not think I was nuts! Why did I laugh? Because I just had a feeling well up in mY soul that nothing, nothing, could hurt Joseph or stop the destiny of the Jewish/world project. It was just the clearest sense that Joseph was WAY above any superficial destruction and it made me laughingly happy. Eretz Yisrael is acquired through hardships and is seems that we were chosen to deal with the issues of a fledgling Jewish State and her enemies. Just as Joseph was sold into slavery but then was brought high, so too he will rise again, and with him all of Israel.

Here is a link to the pictures I took on the trip.

Below is a nice article from AFP (usually quite anti-Semitic) about our trip:
Hardline Jews Make Night Pilgrimages To West Bank Tomb

NABLUS, West Bank (AFP) — Headlights pierce the misty night as the armored bus packed with hardline Jews winds down the road from a hilltop settlement into the heart of the Palestinian town of Nablus.

Their destination is the burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph, a pilgrimage site that has become a grim symbol of the region's intractable conflict.

Nearly 100 men wearing black hats or skullcaps and clutching prayer books huddle in the bus, some reading prayers by the light of mobile phones.

"This is a path of devotion for God. I have gone this way dozens of times and will continue doing it," says Benjamin Makhleb, a 23-year-old member of the Hassidic Breslav movement who had come from Jerusalem.

The tense silence that grips this cloak-and-dagger mission gives way to raptured singing and praying as the two buses pass through the checkpoint at the entrance to Nablus, under heavy military escort.

It is just past 2 am.

"This is the cradle of our existence as a Jewish people. Joseph's Tomb is part of every Jew and it is shameful to see us having to sneak in here like thieves in the night," says 23-year-old Nathan Azur.

"It saddens and angers me to see this," says the bearded student from a town near Tel Aviv.

Everyone makes the journey for religious reasons, but for many extreme right-wing Israelis it is also an affirmation of what they see as the Jews' right to control and govern their sacred sites in the Holy Land.

They reject the Israeli government's peace talks with the Palestinians, whose goal is to create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- which would mean evacuating dozens of Jewish settlements and removing Israeli army presence from most of the occupied land .

Escorted by two armored jeeps at each end, the small convoy heads slowly through the deserted, derelict streets of this town of 150,000.

The Palestinian Authority deployed 600 policemen in Nablus after Middle East peace talks resumed in November, but they are not allowed to operate after midnight when only the Israeli army patrols the city.

Palestinian security officials told AFP they are not involved in coordinating the visits to the tomb of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob. And one local Palestinian security official warned that these the visits could spark new trouble.

"This place has already seen a lot of violence and death, and allowing the settlers to enter Nablus and visit this site could cause more violence," said the official, who requested to remain unnamed.

A small synagogue built on the site following Israel's occupation of the West Bank in 1967 was ransacked and destroyed by Palestinians shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. Several Israeli soldiers and Palestinian were killed in fighting at this site.

In another incident, hundreds of Jewish settlers and Breslav Hassidim defied an Israeli ban on entering Palestinian cities in order to visit the tomb, at great personal risk under cover of darkness.

After the army had to rescue several of them, the military agreed to organise regular, guarded visits with help from local Jewish settler groups.

These days the visits are "done in full coordination with the army, after appropriate preparations and in view of the conditions that allow the prayers to be carried out under the army's surveillance," the army said in a statement.

Nahman Weiss, 19, however, says he has visited this tomb and many other holy sites across the West Bank hundreds of times in recent years, often travelling with friends and without informing the army.

The risk involved is a test of his devotion to God, he says.

"Going through this is hard and sometimes dangerous, but this is the only happiness. We trust God," he says. Like other men on the bus, Weiss sports the earlocks, white skullcap and black overcoat of his Hassidic sect.

As fervent believers file silently out of the bus in front of the abandoned tomb, dozens of heavily armed soldiers fan out across the area.

Two neon lamps illuminate the limestone structure as the stench of urine and rubbish mingles with the cold night air. The stairs leading to the small domed shrine are covered with litter and dirt.

Women in headscarves get off a second bus and head to the tomb as the men enter a side room where they immediately break into rapturous prayers.

In the centre of the main chamber a ring of stones encircles the presumed grave where an Ottoman-era tombstone was destroyed in 2003.

A huge hole in the demolished dome opens out to the starry sky, and the walls are still black from the blaze that badly damaged the structure.

Young women prostrate themselves upon the grave, whispering prayers for good luck, health and strength. Others read quietly from prayer books.

After a few minutes the men enter and take the women's place in the main room. Some sink into deep meditation, swaying back and forth. Others break into loud singing in praise of God and Joseph.

Some rub their faces with dirt from the ground and the walls of the site.

"This is a source of strength and good fortune," says Ohad Ben-Ela, a 20-year-old settler from Yitzhar, his face black with soot and earth.

A megaphone calls everyone back to the buses, sparking a burst of loud singing inside the tomb as the pilgrims make the most out of the 30-minute visit. Back on the bus, some excitedly exchange impressions, others are exhausted by the intense late-night experience.

Someone uses the vehicle's PA system to urge everyone to return to the tomb, with or without the army, in order to assert their claim over the site.

"We must continue pressing the army to conquer this place from our enemies," the pilgrim said. "We must not cave in to dictates by an army that operates as a UN force between Jews and Arabs."

Back in the settlement of Yitzhar, overlooking Nablus, two more buses are ready to depart as the others return. A total of seven busloads of pilgrims will visit Joseph's Tomb before dawn.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Second Snow, Yawn, in Jerusalem (Video & Photos)

A second heavy snowfall hit Yerushalayim today. Unlike last month's this one did not shutdown the city at all. Below is what it looked like...

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Final Thoughts And Photos on the Winter Storm of 5768

As the last few stubborn patches of snow melt away I wanted to share a few more pictures I took and a wonderful thought.

These were taken on Thursday morning which was relatively warm and sunny.

Dogs, kids, just about everyone was playing in the snow.

And the roads slowly turned back to normal.

But I wanted to share something that no one seems to point out.

It’s a truly amazing thing when you see it with your own eyes.

If these pictures don’t prove how rain (and snow) on Eretz Yisrael are a direct gift from our father-in-heaven.

And a most beautiful gift indeed.

Isn’t it?

But just look at this radar capture taken in the midst of the storm. The rain and snow falls literally only within the biblical borders of Eretz Yisrael – and just stops – just like that – as soon as the clouds pass over the border...

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Photos: Snow in Jerusalem

I took the photos below on my way to work today in Jerusalem. Enjoy!

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Video: Snow in Jerusalem

An uncommon heavy snowfall hit Jerusalem today turning bustling streets and busy shopping centers into ghost towns. This video was taken on Jerusalem’s usually very busy Kanfei Nesharim Street which is also in one of the higher altitude areas of the city.

Photos, Bez"H are on the way!

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First Pictures of the Snow Storm

Jerusalem usually gets snow once a winter. Sometimes it'll just be a flurry, sometimes a full storm. During the last month, we've had unseasonably cold temperatures a few times, but without precipitation. This winter has also seen unseasonably little precipitation, which is quite bad. But this week has already been full of precipitation, Baruch Hashem, and now the cold temperatures have caught up with it, which means snow in Jerusalem! It started tonight and is predicted to continue through Thursday morning, making it quite a blizzard for Israeli standards. For the rest of tonight's pictures:

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Tu B'Shvat in Beit Shemesh

Seder Tu B' Shvat & "Peirot Tish" w/ Rav Simcha Hochbaum (of Chevron) & Judah Mischel; Live Music, Divrei Torah, The 7 Species and over 60 Fruits & Nuts from Eretz Yisrael
@ Yeshivat Reishit, 21 Rechov Rashi, Beit Shemesh, 7:30pm (Men Only Please)

ברוכים הבאים

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kumah's Tu B'Shevat Seder

Does anyone know what tomorrow is?

If you are living in the United States of America you will probably answer “Of course - it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

No, silly! Tomorrow night is Tu B’Shvat!

(Those of you in Israel would say “Of course – It’s Tu B’Shvat tomorrow night!” And would say – “Really? MLK day? I had no idea!”)

Tu B’Shvat – yet another reason to make Aliyah. Here this “forgotten holiday” is actually widely celebrated. The sad truth is (even though, or perhaps because, I grew up in Yeshivish surroundings) I never even heard of a Tu B’shvat seder until I actually made Aliyah. Here everybody makes them.

Last year Kumah’s own Malkah put together an absolutely stunning Tu B’shvat Haggadah! (Special thanks the Yechiel for helping us dig it up.)


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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Defiant West Bank Settlers Vow To Stay On"

From the Toronto Star's Middle East Bureau
by Oakland Ross

BEIT EL, Israel - Do not talk to Yishai Fleischer about peace.

The 31-year-old Israeli radio-station manager has heard it all before, and he doesn't believe a word.

"I don't buy any of it," said the bearded, rapid-talking ideologue who also hosts a thrice-weekly current-events program on Arutz Sheva, an Internet radio station that promotes a conservative Jewish agenda. "We're not living in a time of peace. I don't think Israel should make any concessions. Israel should be strong."

For Fleischer, the concept of strength includes an all but absolute refusal to live anywhere other than this airy hilltop settlement high in the Samaria Mountains, some 20 kilometres north of Jerusalem.

It is a fair bet the same defiant sentiment is shared by his neighbours, who number about 5,300 people, almost all of them religious Jews who did not wind up living in Beit El by accident.

The town's name means "House of God" in Hebrew and it is one of dozens of Jewish communities speckled across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on rocky, arid real estate that most of the world considers to have been confiscated from Palestinians.

Many differences separate Israeli and Palestinian negotiators who this week formally launched a new Middle East peace effort during an international gathering in Annapolis, Md., but none of the challenges ahead is likely to be more daunting than the task of sorting out which tracts of land belong to whose side.

"The key is the territorial," senior Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said in a recent interview. "If we solve the territorial, other issues will be easier."

After 40 years of nearly relentless expansion, approximately 450,000 Israelis now dwell on soil that much of the world considers to be Palestinian land – 270,000 of them in the West Bank and an additional 180,000 in East Jerusalem, which the Israeli government annexed in 1967. If the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks goes ahead more or less as planned, the Israeli government may soon find itself under intense pressure to withdraw people from some of these settlements and to give at least a portion of this land back.

Just be careful broaching this subject in the presence of Yishai Fleischer.

"To envision it happening is almost impossible," he says. "The underpinning to our presence here is spiritual and religious. Our essence here is our antiquity, our legacy here, our promise from God. This is our heritage, our gift. Our return was prophesied."

In other words, his people were here yesterday, he's here now, and he damned well means to be here tomorrow, along with his wife, their six-week-old daughter, and a lot of their equally determined friends.

As the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proceeds along a road that may – or may not – lead to an eventual peace agreement with approximately 3 million Palestinians, it will have to confront a plenitude of adversaries, no small number of whom will be in possession of Israeli passports.

Fleischer is just one of them, an Israeli-born, U.S.-educated young man who moved to Beit El four years ago, largely for religious reasons, and who won't be leaving town without a fight.

"I could have been a hotshot lawyer in New York City," he says. "Instead, I live in a trailer home. Our project is not greedy. It's a holy project."

Almost no one believes that Israel will withdraw entirely from the West Bank, if only because any government rash enough to propose such a measure would not long survive in power.

"This would be civil war," said Arnon Sofer, head of research at the Israel Defence Forces' National Defence College and a leading Israeli demographer.

Sofer believes some 70 settlements might be dismantled and about 60,000 settlers withdrawn. The rest of the settlements would remain in Israeli hands, but the Palestinians could be compensated with land swaps, mostly involving territory in the Negev Desert of southern Israel, some of which could be added to the West Bank and some to the slender Gaza Strip.

But Sofer's vision would also see Israel retaining control of the entire Jordan Valley as a military buffer zone, to prevent the possible smuggling of weaponry into Palestinian territory in the West Bank from the Kingdom of Jordan, which stretches to the east of the Jordan River.

Even that rather stingy arrangement would fail to satisfy Fleischer, who flat-out rejects the idea of peace between Arabs and Israelis, either now or, quite possibly, ever.

"I respect Arabs," he says. "I don't hate them. But you have to be tough. Israel needs to fight.'

As an example of what happens when Israel fails to fight, Fleischer points to the Gaza Strip.

Under a policy championed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the coastal territory two years ago, removing some 8,500 Israeli settlers by force and closing down its military posts.

Now Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a militant Islamist movement.

"It wasn't months before Gaza became a terrorist state," says Fleischer, who predicts the same pattern would unfold here if Israel withdrew from parts of the West Bank – a prospect he and others vow they would mightily oppose. "There would be resistance, civil disobedience on a grand scale."

But Fleischer does not believe it will come to that, primarily because he does not believe the current search for Middle Eastern peace will prove any more successful than have all the failed searches of the past.

"We have been through this wringer before," he said. "We Jewish people are not terrorists. We're here because we love the land."

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Awesome New Website

I want to make a blessing! Check out the new YMAP site. You can see Israel's roads, satellite photos, or a synthesis of the two. Since the invention of cartography, mankind has been zealously mapping out the Holy Land - this site takes it to the next level.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Comet Over Jerusalem - Mah Rabu Ma'asechah Hashem!

For those who have been following astronomy news of late, something caused a megaburst from Comet 17P/Holmes over 3 weeks ago, which shot 100 million tons of dust into space around the comet. This has made it visible to the naked eye, and especially visible with binoculars or a zoom lens. I took a few pictures of it in the sky above Jerusalem this week. It's the big fuzz-ball (the fuzz being all the dust).
For more info and close up pictures: Sky and Telescope Magazine
For more of my pictures: Facebook Album

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Rainbow Connection

Why are there so many songs about rainbows? And why does it always rain on the week of Parshas Noach? Those are questions people always ask. And sure enough the first two Parshas Noachs after I made Aliyah it poured! So this past week as the sun shined brightly we thought we were in trouble there. But have no fear! Sure enough clouds moved in later in the afternoon and delivered a light but steady sprinkle which I guess could be considered the very first rain of 5768 in Yerushalayim.

Tonight however I walked home from work surrounded by an awesome lightening show. The rain, very heavy at times, started falling as I got home. We started praying for rain just a few weeks ago on Simchas Torah! Rain in Israel in the winter months is a sign of blessing and a great simcha (joy)! What a country where we videotape the rain falling!

In a related note all this rain and Parshas Noach remined me of Kermit the frog and his words of pure genius! This song is SOOOO deep! Enjoy!

The Rainbow Connection

Written by Paul Williams and used by Kermit the Frog, of The Muppets, Jim Henson Productions

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that
and someone believed it,
and look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under its spell,
we know that it's probably magic....

Have you been half asleep
and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.
La, la la, La, la la la, La Laa, la la, La, La la laaaaaaa

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Road Trip - From the Golan to Beit El

After Rosh Hashanna Malkah and I drove back home to Beit El from our friends new house (above) located on Moshav Yonatan in the Golan. We decided to take pictures from the car so that you could see the beauties of the land! This is our Israel-style road trip, enjoy:

Golan Rt. 98

More Rt. 98

Afik Junction Rt. 789

Going down 789

Me and Malkah having fun!

First View of Kinneret on 789

Our Alps

Nice eh?

Close to Ein Gev on Rt. 92

Stop at Kinneret

At Tsemach Junction in Jordan Valley

Best Meatballs - Beit Shaan

Cliffs on the Alon Road

Open Spaces on the Alon Road

Mehora - Lone Community

Looking out on the Jordon Valley

The Shiloh Valley

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rosh Hashana September 2003

"T'ka b'Shofar Gadol L'cheruteinu" by Ben

I would like to add to Ze'ev's post below. We say three times a day: "Teka b'shofar gadol l'cheruteinu, v'sa nesh l'kabetz galuyoutenu, v'kab'tzenu yachad me'arba kanfot haaretz (l'artzenu)" - Sound the great shofar to announce our redemption, and raise a banner for the ingathering of our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth (to our land). (Nusach Ashkenaz leaves out "l'artzeinu" - to our land. I say this word anyway, because we must be clear about the destination of kibutz galuyot!)

Why is it the shofar which will announce our return to Israel? The main function of the shofar, as Ze'ev said, is to call us to repent. It is a wake-up siren, waking us from our sleep to a state where we are conscious of our sins. Sometimes, when I wake up, I don't remember where I am, or what time of day it is. It takes a few minutes before I am fully aware. This is the case on the national level as well.

When we in the exile wake up this Rosh Hashana, we may feel like we are at home. But the shofar calls to us to remind us to wake up fully, and realize where we are - we are in exile, that is, not home, not where we are supposed to be. We are not in exile because we have been forced here; we are in exile because we've chosen not to return to the land which God has given us. We can only make this choice if we are not fully awake- if we are not conscious of our exile.

May the shofar this Rosh Hashana awake in us a new consciousness, to lead us to a full ingathering of the exiles to our land!

K'tiva v'Chatima Tova!


"Teshuva - More than just repentance" by Ze'ev

From Rosh Chodesh Elul, when the Shofar was first blown, through the conclusion of the Neila prayer on Yom Kippur, the main theme is Teshuva - traditionally defined as repentance. When one considers the purpose of teshuva, the idea is that through confessing our sins, experiencing true remorse over having commited them in the first place and resolving not to commit them again in the future, that we are bringing ourselves closer to Hashem.

The Rebbi m'Slonim, in his Sefer Netivot Shalom, says that the purpose of all the mitzvot is for one, through observing the mitvot to become closer to Hashem. If closeness to Hashem is the purpose of performing mitzvot, as well as being the goal of teshuva, then I suggest, that we approach this idea of teshuva from a different perspective.

If our goal (and purpose) as a Jew is to strive to become close to Hashem, then there is no other place more conducive towards this end more so than Eretz Yisrael. Teshuva should be defined, not as merely repentance, but as an actual call for us to return Home - to return to the place where we can experience true closeness with Hashem.

"Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V'nashuva, chadeish yemeinu kikedem" - "Return to us Hashem, and we shall return to you, restore things to how they once were". Hashem has returned to us - He has given every Jew in the world the chance to come home - it is up to us to make the move.

May this year be a year where "V'shavu banim l'gvulam" - "where the children (the Jews) return to their borders".

Shanah tova!


"READERS!" by Malkah

Shalom, Readers! As Rosh Hashanah rapidly approaches, I would like to ask a favor from all of you who care about Aliyah, from all of you who care about the State of Israel, the Land of Israel, the People Israel, all of these or any combination thereof: Push.

Push your friends and family to sign up with us on our website, and with any organization that does its best to help the Jewish people/land. Push them to support such organizations with their time, their money, and their voices. Push them to talk about Jewish issues with THEIR friends and THEIR families. Push them to sacrifice MANY more hours and MANY more dollars, to the point where they wonder whether they might actually be giving too much (the answer, I assure you, will always be "No.").

Push them to move to Israel - it's in them to do it, anyway.

Push yourself. Push yourself to dare to do more than you're comfortable with. Push yourself to take risks for the greater good. Push yourself to try harder, dream larger, sleep less, sweat more. Push yourself to believe. Push yourself to believe that everything will turn out for the best (because, honest to G-d, it will), that Faith will land Goodness right on your doorstep, that you can accomplish more than you ask from yourself, that naysayers aren't any wiser than optimists and that you CAN live in Israel, you WILL find that job and you'll be better than fine, you'll be great.

Push every Jew you ever meet to love you and to love every other Jew that he or she will ever meet. Push them to be as much a part of our amazing people and our amazing land as they can possibly be.

Push yourselves, dear, dear readers, to always, always arise, arise, arise.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Few Photos From Around Town

This is the First Rimmon - Pomegranate - Growing Outside My House

Gelato Ice Cream in Town

Rabbi Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute

Hebrew Labor Moving Company

Hebrew Mover

Homeless in Jerusalem (maybe better than homeful in galut...)

Cranes Build Jerusalem Unceasingly

The Good Jews of the Land

Burger King is Kosher

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Feel Good Zionist Photos

This shot from space was sent to be by Shmuel Goldman and it is said to be a brand new photo from the Shuttle Endeavour. (Click on the photo to enlarge)

This pic of myself blowing the shofar at the NBN flight arrival this week was taken by Jacob Richman and can be found along with tons of other Aliyah photos on his site.

This photo was in a YNET article about Professor Hille Weiss and Hebron. It was taken when we went to protest Peace Now's pro-eviction rally in Hebron a few months ago. You can see myself on the left and Jonny Stein on the right. The caption in the YNET piece reads: "Rightists protest Hebron evacuation"

Also: check out this wonderful A7 article about the NBN arrival for more awesome pics.


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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

2 Bee or Not 2 Bee


I just finished listening to your show of August 2 concerning the plight of honeybees in the US, their importance to the agricultural economy, and its possible spiritual significance. If I may I would like to suggest a bit more to the possible symbolism. As you pointed out the queen lays an egg in each cell. The egg hatches into the larva, a sluggish looking thing that cannot fend for itself and can only eat the honey that is fed to it by the workers. After a certain number of days a pupa forms (the resting & transformation stage). Soon out from the cell emerges an adult bee, complete in its form, beautiful in its structure; built and devoted to service and defense of the hive. Could it be that this is what is meant by the land of milk & honey (the honey portion that is)? G_d planted his people in the land of Israel as immature and relatively helpless. They "fed" in and on the land in the past as they should feed in the present. The "honey" converts them from slug-like immature humans into complete humans dedicated to the service and defense of the land.

Another characteristic of honey is its antibiotic qualities. In older times soldiers and others would often salve their wounds with honey to prevent infections. Think about it, a container of honey can be left in the cupboard rather than in the frig - mold will not grow on it because of the antiseptic nature. Is it possible that living in the land of Israel does the same thing for G_d's people? Living elsewhere exposes one to sin and makes the evil inclination stronger, while living in the Promised Land, like honey, helps to cleanse one from sin and the evil inclination.

Also the adult bees, when they travel or when they perform their "dance" to communicate food sources to others in the hive, - it is all done with reference to the sun - the sustainer in life in the biological world. They constantly orient themselves to the position of the sun. Should it be the same for all humans, but especially for His people living in Israel - always checking on G-d's position and orienting to it?

Well, what do you think? Does this make sense? As you and your bride seemed so interested in bees and honey, I thought you might find these thoughts interesting.

All the best & stay strong,

Tekonsha, Michigan USA

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Friday, July 06, 2007

A Few Pre-Shabbat Pics

Old-School "Hebrew Watermellon"

Yosef from Brooklyn took us out for steak - life is good!!

"Israel Hangs in the Balance" - with every mitzva we tip the scale!

A giant engagement cookie - courtesy of Herbie Dan Bakery in Beit El

"Free Pollard" spray-painted in Jerusalem

Free Palestine NOW!

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cherry Picking Pics

Click here to see the full photo album.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Finding Your Home

Dear Yishai,

When you called me, I was on my way to Tekoa. I was totally amazed with the place. I'm not really sure what you mean about it being liberal ideologically, I think that that is a bad rap. What it is, which is totally unique in Israel, is a very open minded place where different types of people live togeather in a spirit of true Ahavat Yisrael. At the same time, I saw at least 4 or 5 guys with guns on their belt on Shabbat. There is also a very special Hesder Yeshivah there run by Rabbi Steinsaltz.

I saw something in Tekoa that I have never seen before in Israel. We were walking to Shul on Shabbat and a car came by us. We had to kind of part to let the car go by. As we parted, the car stopped, rolled down the window, and the people inside started to talk to the people I was walking with everyone wished each other Shabbat Shalom and asked how everyone else was doing. There were no dirty looks or judgmentalism. I think that if there was more of that kind of attitude in Israel, there would be a lot more people observing Torah.

I spent most of the rest of my time in Israel checking out Tekoa and getting to know the people there and the schools etc. I am very impressed and I hope to move there with my family in August. We can't wait.

Hope to see you in Israel soon,


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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sun in Jerusalem

For those keeping track, today is the summer solstice. In honor of that, here are a few sun related pictures. Some are from a nice sunset viewed from Rechov Agripas last week, some are from a sunset viewed from Har Nof on Purim 5765 (2005), another is the sun through sand and haze. Others are from an old synagogue across the street from Shuk Machaneh Yehudah which is famous for it's sundial. It's called the Rays of the Sun Synagogue, or in Hebrew - Zoharei Chama. It was founded in 1908. From what I understand, as the new city of Jerusalem was built up and the Shuk opened as the general marketplace, the workers and shoppers needed a place nearby to pray. The synagogue still functions today and it is a "minyan factory" (Jews pray in quorums of at least 10 men, and in this building, there are a few rooms so every few minutes, a new prayer quorum starts) at least for the afternoon service, Minchah. There is also a Beit Medrash (Jewish study room) on the 2nd floor.

More pictures:

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Top "Top-Ten" Lists

Lately there have been a few ROCKIN Top-Ten type articles extolling the virtues of Israel and Aliyah. I thought I would bring you three of them:

"My Israeli Top 12 List" by Avi Hein

This week, Jews read the Torah portion Shelach Lecha, which recalls the sin of the spies. These were the 12 men that Moses sent to scout out the Land of Israel before entering. When they returned, their reports were distorted and negative and caused a 40 year delay before the children of Israel could enter their land.

Today, despite the challenges that come with living in Israel, we - who have decided to make Israel our home - are witness to all that is good and special about living here. We're able to have influence and be a part of Jewish history and not merely a spectator. To 'rectify' the sins of the ancient spies - and modern day spies - this message serves to shed light on just a bit of the good of life in Israel.

Just as the Torah portion recalls the sin of the 12 spies, I'd like to share 12 good things about living in Israel. Too often, the positive side of Israel 'beyond the conflict' is obscured.

12. The entire Jewish world focuses on us. When Jews around the world pray for dew, rain, or peace, it is not for weather in America or peace in Zimbabwe - but rather in the land of Israel. When you pray for peace, it is for peace in Israel and Jerusalem - my home. When Jews celebrate Jerusalem Day or the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot), they focus on the city I live in.

11. Safety. Despite fear mongering or the misrepresentation of the news, Israel is a safe country. I feel much safer walking the streets of Jerusalem at one in the morning than I feel in Washington, DC even in the middle of the afternoon. Random acts of violence are very rare in Israel. In addition, in Israel, we live long lives. The life expectancy for an Israeli man is 77.44 years and 81.85 years for a woman but in America, it is shorter - American men live over two years less (75.15) and women a year less (80.97).

10. Innovation and ingenuity - Israel ranks third in ingenuity in the world, second in quality of university education, and first in R&D investment. Only the US has more start ups in the world - yet Israel is only a fraction of the population. But, what does that mean in reality? It is an Israeli-developed processor that powers your computer, Israeli technology makes your small speakers give quality sound, it is Israelis that invented voice mail, Israeli doctors that find cures to diseases - Michael J. Fox is looking to Israel for a cure to Parkinson's disease. When Warren Buffet looks for a good investment outside of America, he looks to Israel. These are my countrymen that are improving the world.

9. Israel is real - The Talmud says that mitzvoth (commandments) performed outside of Israel are just for practice for when the Jewish people return to Israel. Today, when I put on tefillin, or say a prayer, I know it's for real - and God is a local call. Life isn't just about catching the next dollar or empty meaningless lives. In Israel, it's about making the world a better place, it's about being a part of Jewish history and not just a spectator. It's about LIVING LIFE. I don't need to scuba dive or bungee jump to feel alive. I can do that every day in Israel.

8. Great food and wine - It's not Manischevitz here! - Israeli wineries make some of the best wine in the world (Domaine du Castel - praised even by the French, and the one thing they know is wine - and Golan Heights Winery, for example). Restaurants from around the world - Mexican, Chinese, Thai, American, Italian, Brazilian, and Japanese, among others - make some of the tastiest food in the world. Even better - most of it is kosher!

7. It's my history - Not someone else's history, Israel's holidays are my holidays and Israel's history is my history. Whether it's King David settling Jerusalem, the sights in which Biblical events took place, or modern Zionism and the building of the State of Israel, it's the history of my ancestors. The founding of Tel Aviv? It was my family who was doing the building. When the American founders were reading the Bible for inspiration, they were trying to duplicate my people - not the other way around. When the president wishes the country a happy holidays, or when the supermarket cashier does, it's my holidays. No December dilemma for me! And that means more vacation days as Jewish holidays are national holidays here.

8. A caring community ' 'How are you doing?' isn't just a formality. In Israel, whether it's the man or woman on the street, or the supermarket cashier, the people care how you are. It's not cold, impersonal living.

7. Kosher food courts in the mall. Kosher restaurants in the street. - Business lunch? No problem!

6. The fulfillment of Biblical prophesy - When a bride and groom get married in Israel, it's a fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah. When Jews from all over the world - Ethiopia, North Africa, Europe, America, and the four corners of the globe - live in one area, it's Kibbutz Galuyot - the ingathering of the exiles we pray for in our daily prayers and mentioned numerous times in the Bible is happening every day here.

5. A country that mourns together, a country that celebrates together - Memorial Day isn't an excuse for a long weekend, a trip to the mall, or a barbeque. Rather, an entire country comes together to remember those who died so we can be a free nation in our land. Independence Day isn't just an excuse for a barbeque (although it is the national pastime on this day) but a day to celebrate together as one nation. We don't watch the fireworks on TV in our own homes, but in our streets and neighborhoods as a country.

4. 180 miles of beach - Who needs an expensive Mediterranean vacation? We are that vacation! On the shores of the Med, Israeli beaches are world class. There's no place in the world quite like the Dead Sea. Who needs an expensive vacation? Just take a day off and go to Tel Aviv or Netanya or Eilat. The world's best scenery and beaches. And, above all - no jetlag!

3. The language of the Bible and the Jewish people is our everyday language - Atem medebrim Ivrit? Ani medeber Ivrit. No need for translations - this is the original. Israeli children speak the same language as Abraham and Moses. The language of the bank, of the court, and, yes, of the criminal is the language of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Who needs translation? Here, it's the original! Shalom!

2. It's the fulfillment of a 2,000-year old dream. Who says dreams don't come true? Ever since being exiled from our land, the Jewish people have prayed to return. Ever since losing sovereignty thousands of years ago, we have prayed for its restoration. Every day, every moment, every Jewish event has contained a dream to return to the land of Israel under Jewish rule. In the Grace after Meals, we prayed for an end to exile. For thousands of years, being in exile was not a choice. In 1948, being an exile became a choice. In 2004, my exile ended and I chose to be a free person in my land.

While our ancestors were mourning Jerusalem, today, I can celebrate Jerusalem at home, under a Jewish and democratic government, as a sovereign person in my land.

1. It's home. ONLY in Israel are the words of Hatikvah true. Lihiyot am chofshi b'Artezenu - To be a free people in our land only happens in Israel.

Home may not always be fun, but it's always home! And, as Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz, 'there's no place like home.'


"Excuses, Excuses" by Orit Arfa

People make excuses for anything and everything: why they're stuck in their dead-end job; why they're stuck in a bad relationship; and, of course, why they're "stuck" in America.

Excuses are not "reasons," which are carefully identified and examined causes for refraining from taking a specific action. Excuses are blank, empty statements that hide laziness, fear and some other crippling emotion. Usually, they speak of a lack of desire. Often, they smack of dishonesty.

American Jews who believe in the mitzvah of settling Israel provide a stock of excuses for not consummating this Jewish calling. Here's my top ten (notice they begin with the word "but"):

10. But I can't leave my family members.

This convenient excuse pardons your life in exile with your great sensitivity. Have you spoken with them? Maybe they'd resist at first, but eventually support your decision. Who knows? Maybe they'll even follow? Unless a serious effort has been made to confront family members, blaming them remains an easy way out.

9. But I can't make a living.
Without seriously checking career options in Israel, this is an excuse. Israel is not without good jobs. I know many people in my hometown of Los Angeles who are struggling there as much as they'd be struggling in Israel. It's true they have a support system of family and friends, but Israel is equipped with an automatic support system: fellow olim who band together to help each other succeed. Furthermore, there are plenty of companies hungry to hire English-speakers.

Until you find or create your profession in Israel, work for less and live frugally. You may not enjoy the comfortable American lifestyle right away, but it can be achieved with hard work and determination. If there is a will, there is a way.

8. But I don't speak Hebrew.
It's called ulpan, and it's offered free to olim. Hebrew is not difficult to learn if you do homework and practice. I recently met an oleh who made it a point to read Hebrew newspapers everyday, and he is now reading high Israeli literature.

In addition, it's easy to get by with minimal Hebrew. English is practically a second language here, and Israelis love to exercise English with olim.

7. But I'm afraid for my life.
This past year, car accidents have been the cause for more deaths than terrorist attacks, but Americans continue to ride Israel's highways.

Life can't be lived in fear. There's that well-known story about the Israeli who moved to London to escape terrorist attacks only to get blown up in a London bus. We all take precautions, and while there is a constant risk of war, isn't that why we are here? To fight Israel's battles head-on. Chazak v'amatz.

6. But I don't like the mentality.
It's hard to argue with this excuse, because it speaks of preference. It says: "I prefer the American mentality," i.e., the American life. Whoever makes this "excuse" really doesn't want to live in Israel, and that's legitimate - if you'd only say so.

The Israeli mentality can be abrasive at times, but I've learned to love it. People aren't fake; they tell it like it is. I don't like to be called "ma'am" all the time and constantly have to wish everyone a good day. So, in response to this excuse, I say: "Have a good day."

5. But I don't want to live under Olmert and Peretz.
Well, neither do I, but at least I'm here to help change that.

If people lived in a country based on their approval of the current leadership, than half of Americans would be leaving the US. We get bad leaders once in a while, but we weather them and work to get better ones - or become better ones.

I agree that America's (relatively) free-market, presidential system is superior to Israel's socialist, parliamentary, Jewish concoction. But I believe that if more Jews steeped in positive American principles moved here, we'd consist of a serious mass poised to influence the political and intellectual landscape of Israel.

4. But I can do more for Israel in the US.
And you are making plenty of sacrifices as well: your six-figure salary, three-bedroom house, Volvo, and friends from shul.

We don't need your favors, please. Unless you are a gazillionare supporting other olim, host a successful radio show, or raise money for pro-Israel organizations, we don't need your letters to the senator or your rallies at the United Nations. Change has to occur within Israel. We can't constantly beg the American administration or people to support our cause. We must influence the leadership and people on our soil.

We have a great many Christian and conservative friends who will fight our cause in the US, and that is their rightful place. Let's be their allies from the land we're fighting for.

3. But my spouse doesn't want to go.
Is that really the case, or is it a convenient excuse? Why should your spouse be the one to decide, while your vision of Israel remains suppressed? A word to the wise: before getting married, agree on Aliyah.

2. But I'm a rabbi or Jewish educator bringing hundreds of Jews closer to Yiddishkeit.
What is the value of teaching Judaism if you side-step the one theme that permeates the entire Torah: settling the Land. It would be better to go on shlichut (missions) from here to the galut. Or better yet, bring your great talents to the exiled minds of the rabidly secular Tel Avivians. They need lessons in Judaism far more than the average, unaffiliated American college student. American Jewry is one big revolving door: for every Jew that enters the fold, another out-marries. Jewish continuity - and physical and spiritual survival - begins in Israel.

Orthodox Jews who stay in the US are, in some ways, "pick and choose" Jews. They wiggle their way out of Aliyah with fancy interpretations of halachot, pitting Aliyah against Torah study, making a living and other such ideals. Rabbis and educators who claim to believe in Aliyah but remain in the US are often the excuse-generators par excellence, the perpetuators of the galut.

What better way to educate Jews than to lead by example?

1. I'm sure the above list is not exhaustive, so feel free to share your favorite or come up with your own.
In the meantime, I ask Aliyah-dodgers to please stop offering excuses, and instead offer real reasons, even if some of them may reveal your clash of values or lack of integrity. It would be much more honest and praiseworthy if you submit: I like Israel in theory, not in practice; I don't want to give up my comfortable life; it's too hard and I don't want it bad enough.

At least we'll understand that we live with two different value systems, that American Jews who remain in the galut may just be another Jewish sect. And we should respect each other, even though we disagree, just as the Chabad, dati-le'umi, Haredi, Reform and Conservative should respect each other. But let's get one thing straight: you claim America as your true Promised Land, not Israel.


"The Human Spirit: 59 More Reasons Why I love Israel" by Barbara Sofer

1. ABC's Good Morning America chose Jerusalem as one of the Seven Wonders of the world, and they were right. 2. There's more to unearth. King David was the first king to rule Jerusalem, but his palace was only revealed in the City of David this year. 3. JNF forest rangers remained in the forests to put out fires while Katyushas were falling. 4. Twenty-five thousand volunteers helped replant the forests that did burn. 5. Six thousand spunky Israelis who left their homes during the war pretended they were vacationing on the beach. 6. While Intel Haifa workers were working in an underground shelter, Intel announced the new multi-core processor developed there. 7. During the Lebanon War, a northern kids' butterfly center was moved to Tel Aviv. 8. Russian-speaking immigrants in the Haifa shelters offered hospitality to the American tourists who came to show solidarity. 9. We ask tourists why they don't move here (even when the bombs are falling). 10. Banners on tourist buses reveal where the tourists hail from because we care.

11. OUR national bus company Egged was named by National Poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. 12. We have a national bus museum which features a bus called the Tepele (a pot in Yiddish). 13. The Children's Museum in Holon offers a program on experiencing blindness. It's booked months in advance. 14. In the archeological park in Caesarea you can ask a virtual Baron Rothschild questions, but he won't give financial tips. 15. A rabbinical couple in Caesarea offered seminars on how to get through Pessah without family quarrels. 16. A school in central Israel offered an afternoon class on how to steal the afikoman. 17. A cheese called "blintzes filling" is marketed only before Shavuot. 18. Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) allowing us to speak internationally without phones was pioneered in Israel. 19. Two hundred thousand Israelis communicate without phones by lighting fires and singing in Meron on Lag Ba'omer, also pioneered in Israel. 20. Pizza parlors and felafel stands put up booths for Succot.

21. NOT JUST oranges. Researchers are developing edible flowers that look like marigolds and taste like radishes. Go figure. 22. You can buy kosher sushi in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda. 23. We send SMSs in the language of the Bible. 24. Youngsters routinely travel to the cemetery at Kvutzat Kinneret to visit the graves of poet Rahel and national song laureate Naomi Shemer. 25. The driver in the horse cart in Kvutzat Kinneret sings Naomi Shemer songs for tourists. 26. Aviv Matzot exports its unleavened bread to Egypt. 27. We have sex symbols named Yehuda Levy and Pnina Rosenblum. (Thank you reader Carol Clapsaddle.) 28. An Israeli start-up wants to turn our ubiquitous olive pits into fuel. 29. An Israeli stand-up comedian turns brit mila into humor. 30. A diamond salesman from Bnei Brak invented a computer program to identify the handwriting on Torah scrolls in case they're stolen.

31. NEWS Web sites graph the daily level of the Kinneret. 32. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly came up with the name for the popular romantic comedy Pretty Woman. 33. Beersheba, capital of the Negev, has the greatest number of chess grandmasters per capita in the world. The town has cricket and rugby teams, too. Also a camel market. 34. Some of the fanciest wedding halls are run by kibbutzniks who rode to and from their own huppot on tractors. 35. The rise in matza sales is reported annually on the financial pages. 36. We turn our salty water in the desert into sweet peppers and mellow wines. 37. We're turning our southern shooting ranges into potato fields and exporting the potatoes to Europe. 38. Tourists from the South Pole arrived on Pessah and were puzzled that there was no bread in the supermarkets. 39. No wonder foreign coffee chains fail. Even in a Golan Heights strategic site you can get a cappuccino to go called "Coffee in the Clouds."

40. DESPITE the tensions and political dissension, Israel has the highest Jewish birthrate in the world. 41. Nine months after the war in Lebanon we had a baby boom. 42. Everyone in the park shares bags of Bamba. 43. Yad Vashem is so important there's no entrance fee. 44. Our pilots fought over the honor of taking part in the fly-by over Auschwitz 60 years after liberation. 45. A popular mall in Haifa features an art gallery. 46. Cafes offer delicious Israeli breakfasts all day long. 47. We carry gifts of soup nuts, jellyfish repellent, sandals and jewelry to friends abroad. 48. How many countries have a tourist program that lets you hunt for the snails to make your own blue ritual fringes like those in the Bible? 49. The IDF has developed Shabbat-friendly pens, telephones, computer mice, electronic gates, and even sensor-activated faucets and urinals. Hi-tech or low tech? 50. "Push the Button," the Israeli entry in the Eurovision song contest, will be performed by Teapacks, a group formed in beleaguered Sderot.

51. YOU can buy an alarm clock that sings "Modeh ani lefanecha," the Jewish wake-up prayer. 52. In America, Dora the Explorer speaks English and Spanish on TV. In Israel, she speaks Hebrew and English. 53. Our top Broadway star plays the nursery-school teacher in a series of educational musicals for preschoolers. 54. Hamburger joints serve matza buns on Pessah. 55. We're finally remembering to turn off our cell phones. 56. Sealy hopes to install an Israeli sensor in its mattresses to help control snoring. 57. We were always techy. A sophisticated steam room and bathing pool were uncovered on Masada in the middle of the desert. 58. The Red Sea resort town of Eilat is promoting a new birdwatching festival featuring laughing doves and Palestine sunbirds, also a belly-dancing festival. 59. "Hatikva" still gives me goosebumps.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cherry Festival - A Must Go

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sweet Cherries

Yishai & Malka recently compared life in The Land to a bowl of cherries. According to the holy Zohar, had the Meraglim tasted the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, they never could have spoken badly... Here are some pics of our humble effort to fix the sin of the spies:

P.S. I'm well aware that not everyone in the world is interested in seeing pic from our cherry-picking tiyul in Gush Etzion, but at least our family will enjoy!

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Friday, June 08, 2007

How to See the Beauty of The Land

Sin of the Spies Continues

Just in time for Parshat Shelach (Part II):

Newsflash: Eretz Yisrael Rejects Avraham Burg!

Shortly after the end of World War II, at a Shabbat table in Jerusalem, the discussion turned to the regrettable phenomenon of visitors who tour the Land of Israel, and then return home badmouthing the country. "These tourists complain about the heat, the poverty, the backwardness, the government - and discourage other Jews from moving here," lamented one of those present. The room became quiet. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief rabbi, responded by relating the following parable.
"There was once a wealthy man who desired to marry a certain young lady. She was the most beautiful girl in town, and was blessed with many talents and a truly refined character. Since her family was not well-off, they were eager about the possible match with the wealthy man.

The young woman, however, was not interested in the match. Rich or not, the young man was coarse and ill-mannered. She refused to meet with him.

The father, anxious that his daughter should get married, pressured her to meet with the young man. 'After all, one meeting doesn't obligate you to marry him!' To please her father, the young woman agreed.

The following Shabbat, the fellow arrived at the house as arranged. A few minutes later, the girl made her entrance: her hair uncombed, wearing a crumpled, worn dress and shabby house slippers. Appalled at her disheveled appearance, it didn't take long before the young man excused himself and made a hurried exit.

"What everyone says about this girl - it's not true," exclaimed the astonished young man to his friends. "She's a hideous old hag!"

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah then explained his parable. Superficially, it would appear that the young fellow had rejected the young woman. But in truth, she had rejected him. So too, the Land of Israel does not display her beauty to all who visit. Not everyone is worthy enough to merit seeing the special qualities of Eretz Yisrael. It appears as if the dissatisfied visitors are the ones who reject the land - but in reality, it is the land that rejects them.

[Rav Chanan Morrison- Adapted from "Malachim Kivnei Adam" by Rabbi Simcha Raz, pp. 227-278, 230

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pictures from Mea Shearim

On a short walk through Mea Shearim yesterday I had my camera out - come take a look:

Inside a Jewish bookstore, a whole section just on Shmittah, the Sabbatical year for the Land of Israel

Kid's books talk about the wondrousness of the Land of Israel and the G-dly commandments which have to do solely with Land...

This page compares the Shabbat of the week to the Shabbat of the Land of Israel

In the bookstore: tons of English book for the tons of English-speakers that loaf around

A majestic palm adorns a building in Mea Shearim

...but you can't convince everyone and at least we have a vibrant democracy...

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Summer Thunder Showers... in Jerusalem

The unusual rainy spring weather continues... I didn't have an umbrella but I did have my camera!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pre-Shavuos Photos

Visited the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens today. Here are some photos...

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rain in Jerusalem... in May?

Is summer time rain in Israel a bad sign? Is it a good sign since we need it? Is the rain falling because it's the year before Shmeta? Is it a sign that Moshiach is imminent? (My sister reminded me that the gemara says "seasons will cease.") Whatever the answer it poured and hailed hard today... here's a video if you missed it!

muse of Me-ander also wrote about this and posted pictures.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Neo-Zionist Challenge: Shmittah & The Living Torah

Next year is going to a be a Shmittah year - the one year in every seven, where the Land of Israel must be left to lie fallow.

Since the destruction of the 1st Holy Temple in Jerusalem, until present times - over 2,500 years later - Shmittah has been only Rabbinically mandated. However, within the next 25 years, when the majority of the Jewish People will be living in the Land of Israel, Shmittah (along with all of the other Mitzvot HaTeluyot Ba'aretz - Land of Israel dependent commandments) will return to Biblically mandated status.

Below are two article presenting differing perspectives as to how modern Israeli society should be relating to Shmittah - each with their own set of pros and cons:

1) Chief Rabbinate to Reduce Use of Special 7th-Year Dispensation

2) The ground beneath our feet

Equally important as the solution that will ultimately be agreed upon and implemented is the discussion in itself.

For 2,000+ years, this discussion did not take place - could not take place - in a manner that had any practical relevance. With the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel the Torah of Israel has returned to life.

Rabbi Yotav Eliach puts it best:
The Torah sets up a constitutional blueprint for the running of a Jewish society which is anchored in a Jewish state. Parashat Mishpatim, most of Vayikra and Bemidbar, and all of Sefer Devarim, make this point very clear. Judaism is not merely interested in the ritualistic aspects of our lives. It is rather a framework for running a Jewish republic, one complete with a court system, government, army, welfare and tax system. Finally, this constitutional blueprint is not meant for implementation in any piece of territory in which the Jewish nation may happen to be the majority, but primarily in the one country whose boundaries are clearly outlined geographically in the Torah: The Land of Israel.

One of the striking ways to reinforce these points is by showing that there are four basic areas of mitzvot in the Torah that are dependent upon the Land of Israel in one way or another:

a) All mitzvot connected to the Beit Hamikdash in any shape or form;
b) All mitzvot connected to having a Sanhedrin court system functioning;
c) All mitzvot connected to the soil of Israel;
d) All mitzvot connected to the running of the government, army, and taxes.

Taken together, these four areas make up approximately 50% of the 613 mitzvot. Another graphic way to make the point of Israel's centrality to Jewish life is by looking at the Shas. Two of the six sedarim of Shas, Kodashim and Taharot, are totally dependent upon the Land of Israel, as is Seder Zera'im (with the exception of Masekhet Berakhot).

The fourth, Seder Mo'ed, is also very dependent upon the Land of Israel. All the special sacrifices associated with each holiday are dependent upon the Beit Hamikdash in Israel, as is aliyah la'regel, bikkurim, and the bringing of the omer. The fifth, Seder Nezikin, is also connected, to a large extent, to the concept of a functioning Jewish legal system existing in the land of Israel, headed by the Sanhedrin. Only the sixth seder - Nashim - can be kept almost in its entirety (the exception being Sotah) outside the boundaries of Israel.
Thank G-d for the challenges that go along with living in the Land of Israel!

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fun in the Desert

Malkah and I needed some time off so we headed to the desert. Mitzpeh Ramon sits on the Machtesh Ramon Crater - an awesome geological marvel.

While there, we checked out the local attractions, including the Alpaca Farm

Then we went on to do some desert archery - Malkah was very good!!

Archery is fun and helps with concentration

The Avdat Canyon is close by:

Nice to see you!

A little spirituality from Yishai never hurts:

Life in Israel can be tense, and that is why a bit of a vacation is in order. The emptiness of the desert allows one to defrag a bit, and reconnect with the spirit. Oh yeah, great shuls in Mitzpeh Ramon, salt of the Earth type people - I loved it.

Mitzpeh Ramon - small town with a big heart!

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Zionist Photo Album

If you need some inspiration this Yom Ha'Atzmaut, I put together an album of 40 Zionist pictures I took (a few are from Johnny Stein).

Feel free to use them and be inspired!!! Click here for the album.

Also, if you need a great one-page Sefira calender - check out this dandy one from YU (thanks to EphShap!)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

There's No Place Like Home

Unfortunately, I spent Pesach in New York this year, but at least it was with my parents who still live there. I returned to Israel Monday morning. Now I'm sure that most countries have some sort of welcome sign when you land there, but I enjoy the greetings at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel so I took some pictures of it.
The following picture is an advertisement for the Orange cell phone company, but it can be used as an advertisement for any Jew to make Aliyah. It means: "London is cultural, Bangkok is lively, New York is trendy, Barcelona is sexy, Prague is gorgeous, Tokyo is surprising, but, there's no place like home!

Here are a few more pictures, including a few from the flight:

The 1st greeting upon exiting the plane and entering the terminal

In memory of the 1st Israeli Astronaut, Ilan Ramon

I think this a satellite image of the Sinai Peninsula, and any part of Israel included is under the clouds

Now some Israel flight pictures:
For the record, I didn't pay for business class, but El Al was overbooked in coach and underbooked in business, and I'm a "matmid" (frequent flyer club) member, so they bumped me up and it was amazing!
Here's some people davening on the plane

Israeli Coast

Tel Aviv

The plains just before landing

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Living Holocaust Memorial

Sunday, April 08, 2007

From Neve D. to Sde B.

One beautiful sunny morning, in Sde Boaz, the HaLevi family decided that it was simply a crime to stay indoors. They had persuaded the Brenner family all the way from Neve Daniel (about a two minute drive away) to join them on a short hike, and get to know the outskirts of Sde Boaz. And so- we went on our journey, and Ezra and Miriam turned out to be quite good tour guides.

We said we would meet at the Ma'ayan (spring) next to Sde Boaz. Ezra had explained to us how to get there, but we still got lost and found ourselves wandering around a vineyard. We didn't mind because the view was absolutely amazing! We eventually found our way back with the help of Ezra calling us from beyond the fence.

The cold clean water of the spring felt really good, and we sat around and talked for a little while, but it was really difficult to get Ze'evi, our son, to stop throwing rocks into the spring, so we decided to move on.

As we walked on the dirt road and admired the view we passed a well (or a cistern, I'm not sure), and then our tour guides showed us an ancient mikve full of water, that they and the Neve Daniel youth had excavated.

At the end we were invited to their house and Ezra made the best matzah-brei we have ever tasted!

Thank you Ezra and Miriam- you guys rock!!!!

Here are some photos of our day in the coolest Yishuv ever: Sde Boaz.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

If you missed the Priestly Blessing at the Kotel... Don't worry!

You can CLICK HERE to see the whole blessing and get some yourself!!!

If you missed the party at Hebron... don't worry!

Click HERE to see the whole album!!!

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Preparing for Pesach with Matisyahu in Jerusalem

There is not much that could get my wife to leave the house just two nights before Pesach...

I was hoping Matisyahu would sing my favorite niggun: "Kol BaYaar/ Father in the Forest": a powerful dialogue between Hashem the Almighty Father and His children, the people of Israel. The Father looks for His children in the Diaspora, Galut, and implores them to return home to the Holy Land. "Where have you been that you have forsaken Me?" He inquires of His children, "Dear children, please Return Home, I feel forlorn without you." The children's answer is "But, Father, how can we return when there is a guard blocking the door?"

Matisyahu did not disapoint: half way through he sang an extended version of the niggun. Listen to the Original, classic song HERE (from & Matisyahu's studio version HERE

What a night! So many Jews, from all walks of life: celebrating, dancing, praying and enjoying a powerful and inspiring(!) concert/ tefillah & performance. Great music, fun crowd; lots of joy and Jewish Pride.

Last Motzai Shabbat- while on a Heritage trip to Poland-I made Havdala with a group of students in Auschwitz, mourning the past; one week later we were surrounded by hundreds of Jews- alive in Eretz Yisrael- and look forward to a bright future.

Jerusalem VIDEO CLIP

"Indestructable"- Live Clip (from NYC) HERE

Fear nobody but His Majesty,
My spirit, you retrieved,
For You I wait silently,
It seems that you believe in me

Just a tool in the hands of the builder
Fill them with the strength to go further
Diggin deep for eternal treasure
Stay away from quicksand and false pleasure

Release me from their schemes
My distress you will relieve
Shield me on the path that's dark and slippery
They seek deception and futility

I stand with integrity
Sneak to the roof of that building
Don't want nobody here to see me
To say that I'm living in a fantasy
But I believe in find and keep

And I plead in sincerity
Wont you utterly remove the cloud hangin over me
Wont you wave that decree in the shade of your wings
Shelter me from the wicked who have plundered me
From my mortal enemies wont you shield me

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Photos and Free Orange Minutes!

I always say the first sign that I'm not Home is when I get into the terminal at JFK airport and reach for the mezuzah and it's not there! Just last week I was in the Post Office and the clerk wished me a "Chag Samayach!" That's what I'm talking about. Home!

You know what I mean. Speaking of which... Orange is giving its customers 200 FREE minutes on Pesach (see details below) as a holiday gift. Awesome! Home!

Here are some photos I took of our beautiful Land on the way out. I miss you already and will be back soon.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

We Return To Homesh!!!

See more CHOMESH ACTION in this all-in-one article: audio, video, pics, and story.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Sderot - Kassam Battered, But Still Blossoming - Photo Essay

Two Fridays ago, I spent the day in Sderot as part of a Yavneh Olami Shabbaton (our group was made up young olim and post-high school students studying in Israel for the year, and we were in Kibbutz Ein Tzurim for Shabbat - IY"H I'll post pictures from there within the next few days). We saw different parts of the city, including the police station which has remains of hundreds of Kassam rockets, the center shopping area where rocket damage can still be seen, and school buildings with special protective coverings. It seems like a Cabinet Committee should be calling what's going on now a war instead of debating last summer's war title.

But we also saw the Yeshivah, which is prospering, and even building a new Beit Medrash building, and we saw people on the street, shops and restaurants open (I had a good shwarma),and we saw some beautiful flowers and trees blossoming as Rosh Chodesh Nisan is now upon us.

Rabbi Yehoshua says in Gemara Rosh HaShanah 11A, "In Nisan we were redeemed [from Egypt], in Nisan in the future, we will be redeemed." Let's hope we see the redemption this year and can focus on the blossoming and see an end to the war!
Now here's Sderot:

The police station

The Kassam remains behind it

Life goes on - a basketball rolls by the Kassam remains

Damage around the city center

Protective covering for parts of school buildings

Trees and flowers blossoming in Sderot

Sderot, the city:
Our Yavneh Olami Group

Smoke from Ashkelon power plant in the background

The Yeshivah, some parts under construction:

The view from the edge of Sderot:
Ashkelon's Power Plant
Gaza with a security blimp flying above it
Our group enjoying the view
Panorama looking back toward Sderot from the lookout

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Green Israel! (Breathtaking Photos!)

No, this has nothing to do with today's date. Why would it? Israel is a Jewish State, remember?

Ever wonder where all these North American and British Olim end up living? Well a whole lot of them move to Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS) - and after you see the photos in this post it's easy to understand why...

At the very end of the rainy season RBS is surrounded by lush green hills. We are taught that there is no clearer sign that Hashem is calling us back Home than seeing the Land blooming.I often find myself in RBS for Shabbos wishing that I was there on a weekday so I could take pictures and share the breathtaking views with our readers.

So this past Friday I arrived in RBS extra early armed with my camera. B"H it was raining part of the time though I still managed to get these 20 photos between cracks in the clouds.


Besides the green hills there are loads of playgrounds for loads of kids...

There are still apartments being built in RBS for more Olim that are coming Home soon!

If you lived here you'd be home now.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Snow Day!!!

After years of Jerusalem fake-out snow days (You know. You wake up and there is snow and everyone is all excited and there are some good pictures to be taken but then it turns to rain, melts and life goes on) it takes living on a hilltop above 3,000 feet to have a true snow day. We are truly snowed in here.

The only problem is that the rest of the world has no idea and thinks you are joking when you tell them why you aren't coming to work/a meeting/an appointment.

Enjoying our personal Sde Boaz snow-day nonetheless.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Are you ready for some... Shmittah? (AUDIO)

One of the most special things that comes along with living in the Land of Israel is the privilege of being able to keep many Mitzvot that are simply not relevant to the Jew of the Exile.

Many of these Mitzvot are known as Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba'Aretz - Torah commandments that are incumbent upon a Jew living in the Land of Israel.

This coming year, 5768, will be a Shmittah year - the one year, out of every seven, when the Jew in Israel must allow the Land of Israel to lay fallow, (it's actually much more complex that that, but we'll get to that a little later on) and more importantly, being that I made Aliyah only four years ago, this will represent my very first opportunity to fulfill the Mitzva of Shmittah.

Shmittah has additional significance, as being one of the Mitzvot that only becomes Biblically mandated once the majority of the Jewish People are living in the Land of Israel - something that has not happened since the destruction of the first Temple 2,500+ years ago, and which is scheduled to happen at some point in the next 25 years.

In preparation for the upcoming Shmittah year, I helped to organize a weekly, English language, Shmittah shiur in my community. The shiur is scheduled to run from now until the start of the Shmittah year, and I will be posting each installment of the shiur, along with the accompanying source sheets.

The shiur is being given by Rabbi Gedalia Meyer of Ma'aleh Adumim, and he welcomes any questions that listeners might have ( .

The first, weekly English Shmittah Shiur can be listened to by clicking here. (MP3 format)

Tizku l'mitzvot!

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Skiing in Eretz Yisrael and much, much, more!

Where does it look like these pictures are from? The Rockies? The Swiss Alps? No, the Holy Land! That's right - you can go skiing even in Israel! There is one mountain up north, Mt. Hermon, just by the border with Syria, where you can go skiing. There are only a few slopes, and they may not be quite as good as some other fancy skiing mountains around the world, but this is the only place in the world where you can be doing a mitzvah while skiing! My trip was with about 30 young olim, organized by Nefesh B'Nefesh, and we also spent the night in the Golan and visited the Golan Heights Winery among other places in the morning.

We left at 5 am from Jerusalem, the sun rose somewhere around the Kineret.
The Jordan Valley road is very colorful this time of year. Here you can also see some of the old brick and new buildings in Tiberias.
The snowy cliffs start peaking through...
A Golan town with Hermon in the background.
Looking out from the foot of Hermon, the structure on the left peak is Nimrod's Fortress from the times of the crusaders
The snowy Hermon peaks
Park entrance (above and below)

More skiing / snowboarding / Hermon park pictures

I decided to have fun blurring the next 2:

Only in Israel - a gun on his back, skis in his hand
Park slopes map
Some Nefesh B'Nefesh skiers
Only in Israel - Minchah after skiing
The Nefesh B'Nefesh Group

Sunset and the mountains, hills, and lakes of the Golan:

The view from the Golan Field School in Gonen, where we stayed:

Friday morning Golan views:

Cows - wandering around all over the Golan
Golan's topography - from the Kesem HaGolan (Magic of the Golan) museum-theater-display place...

The Golan Heights Winery:

Mmm... Wine tasting...

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Thursday, February 22, 2007


Nothing beats oleh art. I call it Olart.

("Dude, I just Olarted!")

Anyway, check out the story and the exhibit itself.

Speaking of art, here is some Tel Aviv installation art using fruit and a phonograph stumbled upon by Reb Ezra (the other Ezra - the head of the Lamed Vavnikim in the Old City and the soon-to-be opened Jerusalem Soul Center):

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Monday, February 12, 2007

The Hidden Religious People of Jerusalem

(This post is only for those of you who are actually FAMILIAR with Israel - for those of you who want to be part of this crew but aren't yet, you know what to do :-) )

Have you ever noticed how many holy seemingly non-religious people there are in Israel? I'm not even just talking about the people who go out of their way to do help a stranger, share a kind word, or build something useful. I'm talking about the hidden religious people.

Every time I go to Jerusalem these days, I notice another one of these secret religious Jews. Recently, it was a woman in her 50s with the classic red spiked hair that has plagued so many good Jewish women in this country (many G-d grant them a full and speedy recovery), walking to the bus while reading morning prayers out of a worn-out siddur. A friend recently mentioned the woman at the automotive store who reads Rebbe Nachman's Tikkun Klali non-stop. Today, in the seat next to me, I noticed a woman in a less-than-kosher shirt and skinny jeans reading Perek Shirah ("The Song of the Universe").

Where have all these secret frummies come from? Were they always there? Does the religious community understand how deep the current of Jewishness is in this country?

While you can certainly estimate a person based on their appearance, you ultimately cannot judge the woman by the cut of her shirt. Or maybe we are all just rising higher somehow, without even realizing it....

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Got the Post TU B'Shvat Greens

There is something extra Ayit Fallspowerful about the winter prayer for rain that comes from the mouths of farmers. Since moving to Moshav Yonatan in the Golan Heights just one month ago, I've tried to do my part as well, joining my prayers for rain with those of these men of the Land. We've gotten a few sprinkles here and there, but nothing like the downpour beginning last night and continuing all day today.

The rolling hills and mountains are lush with exploding greenery and the waterfalls are gushing liquid gold straight to the Kinneret. Check out this picture of the Ayit waterfull in the central Golan. Intense.

Here in the Golan, especially in the moshavim and kibbutzim, you get a constant reminder of what it means to live close to the Land. Just this past Saturday night there was a moshav sponsored Tu B'Shvat party in the brand new lul, chicken coop, that the agricultural collective here just added to their many endeavors. Lovely Leah in the LulThe party was the moshav's way of dedicating this new state of the art, massive facility, which will eventually hold up to 25,000 chickens at a time for 3-4 month cycles. Our rabbi spoke about the connection between the last week's Torah portion, the new lul and Tu B'Shvat.

He described how it was that even after Am Yisrael witnessed the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea they still complained about not having the quantity or variety of foods they had in Egypt. In other words, you can take the slave out of Egypt, but it's tough to take the slave out of the Israelite. Part of being a slave is that although life is hard and portions might be meager, at least you know where your next pot of meat is coming from. So Hashem tides them over with the manna to show that ultimately sustenance comes from Above. But it would be a tough lesson because in the Land of Israel they had to work by the sweat of their brow to produce food. This still holds true today. And it is the working of the Land, he said, that solidifies the Jews' connection to our home. This connection is weakening throughout the population, he worries, and is leading to results like the Disengagement. That said, it is because of strongholds of Jewish agriculture, like our collective, that this connection is kept alive by sowing the seeds and deepening the roots (Tu B'shvat connection) of our future here on the Land.

Speaking of Jewish agriculture, there was a powerful write up about Shai Dromi in the local Golan paper. I'll save that for a future blog.

In the meantime, suffice it to say, I'm blessed to live in a place where the water runs fast, the rabbis speak the truth and the parties are held in chicken coops.

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Picturesque Sunset in Ramat Beit Shemesh

I happened to be leaving Ramat Beit Shemesh to come back to Yerushalayim around sunset today and I caught the sun setting between the rain clouds that would hit shortly. Enjoy a beautiful Israeli sun set!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pictures from Tu BiShvat Keep Making Aliyah Shabbaton in Beit El

Tu BiShvat Tree Planting for all ages...
... on the Jewish Artis Hilltop in Beit El

The almond tree blossoms, as the classic Israeli
folk song goes, HaShkediyah Porachat - תחרופ הידקשה

Some other cool trees in Beit El:

More Tree Planting:

The Group on the Artis Hilltop of Beit El, then walking down to the cave, and listening to Tour Guide Yishai:

Arutz-Sheva Studio Tour and Recording, Motzaei Shabbat:
Yishai and Zev, Arutz-Sheva radio hosts

The group listens as we record...

Never too young to be on Arutz-Sheva!

Yishai loves his live studio!

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tu B'Shvat in Beit El (Photos!)

Kumah, Yavneh Olami, and Am Segula teamed up to put together an unbelievable Tu B'Shvat Shabbaton in gorgeous Beit-El!

On Friday the group planted trees in one of the highest and most breathtaking points in the region. If you weren't there here's a bit of what you missed!

Yishai shows the group the stunning view.

Everyone helped out!

Keep making a splash!

More photos are on the way!

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Snow In Beit El

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another Slam Dunk for the Seven Species!

In your face, diseases of the world! The Land of Israel is your arch-nemesis!

Appears that G-d didn't pick our beloved Seven Species just for their prettiness and yumminess. Rather, they are merciless health warriors provided especially for the service of the Jewish people (and their friends). Looks like the holy Pomegranate is standing in the spotlight yet again:

Israeli study: Pomegranate juice could benefit diabetics
By ISRAEL21c staff August 24, 2006

Researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology say that pomegranate juice may provide important health benefits for diabetic patients.

According to results published in the August 2006 issue of Atherosclerosis, subjects who drank 180 ml (6 oz.) of pomegranate juice per day for three months experienced a reduced risk for atherosclerosis, a condition that leads to arterial wall thickening and hardening. Atherosclerosis accounts for 80% of all deaths among diabetic patients.

The researchers also found that drinking pomegranate juice reduced the uptake of oxidized LDL ("bad" cholesterol) by large, versatile immune cells known as macrophages. Oxidized LDL uptake by macrophages is a main contributing factor to the development of atherosclerosis.

One surprising finding, said lead researcher Professor Michael Aviram of the Technion Faculty of Medicine, was that the sugars contained in pomegranate juice - although similar in content to those found in other fruit juices - did not worsen diabetes disease parameters (including blood sugar levels) in the patients, but in fact reduced the risk for atherosclerosis.

"In most juices, sugars are present in free - and harmful - forms," explained Aviram. "In pomegranate juice, however, the sugars are attached to unique antioxidants, which actually make these sugars protective against atherosclerosis."

The findings of this small (20 subjects) study are part of Aviram's ongoing research into the effects of pomegranates on cholesterol oxidation and cardiovascular diseases. In his previous widely published studies, Aviram was the first to prove that consuming red wine reduces cholesterol oxidation and arteriosclerosis, which leads to heart disease, a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the Western world. His later studies confirmed the antioxidant and anti-atherosclerotic benefits of licorice, olive oil, onions and pomegranates.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 20.8 million people in the United States have diabetes. Both type I and type II diabetes are powerful and independent risk factors for coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral arterial disease.

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