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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Future: Shai Agassi, Denmark, and soon Israel

Monday, November 30, 2009

TLATD #3: Living in Israel During a Recession

The discussion of the Gemara (BB 91a) turns to the economy of Eretz Yisrael. It explains that to protect the economy of Eretz Yisrael certain staples (wines, oils and fine flours) were not allowed to be exported. The concern is that exporting these items could lead to a shortage and a price hike which would create hardships for the local population of Eretz Yisrael.

It is important to note how focused not just Tanach is on Eretz Yisrael, but even the Talmud Bavli which was written in Babylonia. The Gemara continues to explain that we are equally concerned about the economy in Eretz Yisrael if prices dropped too much (60% of its original value) and a special prayer would be recited on Shabbos in such an event. This seems much like the way Jews all over the world pray for rain in Eretz Yisrael and on Shabbos for the well-being. The Jewish people are always focused on our true Homeland.

The Gemara then makes an extraordinary statement about living in Eretz Yisrael. "One may not leave the land of Israel to go live outside the land unless two se’ah of wheat cost a sela." In other words inflation would have to reach a whopping 100% before one would be permitted to leave Eretz Yisrael according to the Rabbis. Rabbi Shimon however disagrees and holds this is only true if one can not even find wheat to purchase but otherwise, even if wheat costs double leaving the Land is forbidden.

A proof is brought for R’ Shimon's strict position from the Meggilas Rus. Artscroll's translation: "And similarly R’ Shimon ben Yochai used to say: Elimelech, Machlon and Chilyon [who left the Land of Israel during a famine and moved to Moab where they died not long after,] were the great men of their generation and the caretakers of their generation. And for what reason were they punished? Because they left the land of Israel to go live outside the Land."

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Study: North American Olim Huge Boost to Israeli Economy

(Published by moi at IsraelNN a couple days ago)

A new first-time study conducted by accounting and consulting firm Deloitte Brightman Almagor Zohar and commissioned by the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliyah organization shows the overwhelming contribution North American immigrants to Israel have made to the country's economy.

The analysis was conducted based on accumulated data provided by Nefesh B'Nefesh (NbN) about 18,000 immigrants who made Aliyah through the organization between the years 2002-2008.

According to the study, households of NbN immigrants "pay back" the Israeli government's investment in them within the first year of their arrival, and are already a significant source of income for the country within five years.

The 6,493 households which made aliyah through NbN between 2002 and 2008 have yielded a whopping 989 million shekels, with the cost of absorbing them standing at only NIS 528 million, leaving the immigrants' contribution at NIS 461 million so far.

Visiting friends and family of NbN olim have also given their boost to the economy by supporting the national tourism industry to the tune of NIS 347 million. Adding this to the tally, NbN olim are accountable for a total GNP contribution of NIS 808 million (over $212 million). Considering the passage of another year and the continued employment and success of North American olim, that number could be higher than NIS 1 billion (almost $262.5 million)

Education and assets
Tali Barda, director of the Department of Strategic Consulting of Deloitte Brightman Almagor Zohar says the success of North American olim can be tied to three key factors:

1. The high level of higher education found among NbN immigrants. Their level (75% have a bachelor's degree or higher) is significantly higher than the average in Israel.

2. NbN immigrants tend to arrive with a lot of valuable assets.

3. Many tourists are attracted to Israel by NbN olim, whose families and friends have pumped hundreds of millions of shekels in tourist dollars into the economy.

Other interesting findings include the considerable number of children immigrating (46%), the high employment eligibility of immigrants (81% of adult immigrants are at the age of employment), and their overwhelming success in finding a job (almost 90% are employed within 1 year of arrival).

Immigration from the United States and Canada "is contributing qualitative strength to the state," said Chairman and Founder of Nefesh b'Nefesh, Tony Gelbart. Over 150 doctors have come to Israel through the organization, said Gelbart, as well as hundreds of high-tech businesspeople and 1,500 new soldiers.

Nefesh B'Nefesh was founded in 2002 by Tony Gelbart (a Jewish businessman and philanthropist from the USA) and Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. Working in conjunction with the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel, they have brought over 23,000 new immigrants to Israel from the US, Canada, and England in the last 8 years. To learn more, visit their website at

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hot Air

The Jews have been through a lot this month. Those who haven't welcomed their sons, husbands, and friends home from a dangerous war which came to an untimely and even more dangerous end, are losing the shirts off their backs on the American stock market or are getting held up in their driveways in South Africa, rioted against in Paris or - well, any number of things that are happening today in our crazy world.

I don't know about you, but I have become much more involved in prayer recently. I once had a dream (a nighttime dream, not a grand MLK-style vision) that a huge projector played movies of natural disasters and wars in the air above my house in Texas. This movie, which was played around the world (in my dream) as an immediate precursor to the arrival of the Messiah, was meant to finally illustrate to the people of the world that G-d had orchestrated each and every war and natural disaster as a warning and as an opportunity for us to return to Him in prayer and loyalty. I woke up very moved.

Of course, as is the nature of G-d's less perfect people (and as you can note occurs to the Jews in basically every book of the Bible), this acute understanding eventually faded from my mind, and was replaced by the much more mundane feelings and impulses which we all deal with daily.

With the recent return of chaos and uncertainty to our lives, as I felt the welfare of the Nation of Israel coming into peril as my brothers went into battle against our evil enemy, I myself returned - to my better self, my nobler priorities, and my wiser understandings - or at least tried. Even now, as the world seems no less shaky, I try to drag and scrape my way up the ladder toward G-d, hoping to be part of the solution, and not the vast, shameful problem.

When I heard the news that a major natural gas reserve was discovered off the coast of Haifa, I thanked G-d for the blessing he bestowed on the Jewish People, perhaps a token of love and support as we trudged home from a war from whose battlefields we were dragged prematurely, by powers who know no G-d.

"How great is our L-rd!" I thought. "Who knows from what direction blessings can come? Nothing is too big for Hashem!"

I read articles, in which the drillers breathlessly predicted 15 years of Israeli energy independence thanks to the new find. "Baruch Hashem!" I thought. "Things are finally going in the right direction. Score!"

But Yitzhak Tshuva, the owner of many of the companies involved in the joint drilling effort, burst my gas-filled bubble with his statement on the issue. Thinking the nation was in a different place after the unity of war cast a new light on our country, thinking recent anti-Israel UN resolutions might put our place in this world in perspective, I was shocked when I read Tshuva's enthusiastic comments to Army Radio: "My golden touch hasn't disappeared," Tshuva said.

Oh man! How sad. And angering. What a fool, what a missed opportunity, what an embarrassment! What did you touch exactly, Mr. Tshuva, and how did you become so "golden"? And how do you know that it won't disappear? Did you create your drills, or the gas you found, or even your talent for locating it? How could you be so self-centered - and so wrong? How could you think that you are responsible for all this good?

It's sad how easy it is to fall backward. The Jewish People, as they struggle forward, are constantly victim to this particular kind of disaster. "I made all these things," we think to ourselves. We don't realize the amazing kindness with which Hashem treats us everyday, the mercy. Instead, we think we are big - until Hashem is forced to show us that we're small.

I pray that the Jewish People break this vicious cycle soon, for everyone's sake. I don't want to watch G-d's disaster movie play out here in the Holy Land anymore.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Are the Dominoes Lining Up?

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

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

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

Tim Reid in Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Why American Aliyah? It's the Economy, Stupid.

Abraham Waxman, a prominent Jewish-American sociologist who has written much about American Aliyah, recently wrote an article in the Jerusalem Post, arguing that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it may make economic sense for American Jews to make Aliyah:
THE HIGH cost of Jewish living has had an impact on patterns of American aliya. Those for whom living a Jewish lifestyle is more important are those who are most likely to make aliya because their lifestyle costs are much lower in Israel. Ironically, although American Jews have traditionally associated making aliya with economic sacrifice, aliya can make economic sense...
Waxman ends with these words regarding the potential consequences of America's economic downturn for US Jewry:
Although America's Jews have enjoyed unprecedented degrees of equality and a sense of being at-home that they have not experienced in any society in which they were not sovereign, there are no guarantees that this will not slow down, if not reverse direction. While such a forecast is not on the radar screen, anyone with a sense of history cannot be too certain that it cannot develop.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Boycotted Israeli Car Commerical

This Israeli commercial for Nissan's new Tiida (or Versa, in the US) automobile, which is supposed to save its owners lots of money on gas, was pulled off the air as a result of Arab pressure.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Real Sinai

Here is my new Torah article on INN:

"Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the Land that I give you, the Land shall observe a Sabbath rest for HaShem."

This Torah portion has everything to do with the Land of Israel, and yet its commandments and directions are clearly marked as being given at Mount Sinai. Why does the Torah make this unusual stress on the place where these commandments are given? Moreover, aren't all the commandments from Mount Sinai? What makes these commandments different?

HaShem wrote the Torah, created the world, created man and created man's psychology. He knows that we, Am Yisrael, have a tendency to forget Eretz Yisrael, to settle in the Exile and make it our home. Even today, after the miracle rebirth of Israel, we often hear observant, Torah-true Jews saying that they cannot find the right community in Israel, they cannot make a living, or cannot get married here. It is not unusual to hear observant Jews say they can live a fuller Jewish life in the Diaspora.

Behar's introduction, and its specific naming of Mount Sinai, is written to address this classic Jewish psychological weakness. Know this, the Torah tells us, the commandments of Eretz Yisrael, Shmittah, Yovel, walled cities, selling of land, these are at the heart of the revelation at Mount Sinai. This is Torah MiSinai. You are not allowed to push these commandments aside, to the edges of your consciousness. If you claim to be a Torah-true Jew, then know that this is Torah, the Torah that was given at Sinai to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moreover, if you do find yourself in the bitter Exile, keep these commandments close to your heart, learn them, love them and yearn for the day that HaShem will return you. When He does return you, you will be prepared to implement these laws and live your Torah-true life in the Land which He swore to give to our forefathers.

Alas, today, when living in Israel has never been easier, when Torah institutions abound, when Yerushalayim is being built, there are still "Torah-true" Jews who make excuses and claim that they can live a more "Torah lifestyle" in Passaic, Monsey, Teaneck or LA. Comes our Torah portion and tells us: You want Torah from Sinai? This is Torah from Sinai: Shmittah, Yovel, walled cities, selling of land - this is at the heart of Torat Moshe MiSinai. Live it or lose it.


Parshat Behar also issues a challenge to Jews in Israel today. While we Jews have achieved a modern state with a governing body, an army, an education system, and health care, we are not satisfied or complacent. Indeed, we pray and act everyday to make the arms of the state more in line with the Torah's will. We have alternative political parties, we have special army units and we have Torah education - all these try to reshape the state in G-d's image. Moreover, we yearn for the Temple to stand in Jerusalem, with a righteous Sanhedrin adjudicating the nation.

Yet when is the last time you heard a push for Torah economics?

Parshat Behar is a Torah portion dedicated to Torah economics: the Shmittah cycle bids us to leave the land fallow every seventh year, the Yovel heralds freedom for the Hebrew bondsman and a return of sold land to its original owners, while the prohibition to loan with interest protects the destitute.

The Torah has an economic system in mind for Jewish life in Israel; yet, our economic system today is not much different from those of other countries. The Torah's economic laws are a secret insight as to how to make it here in the land and yet we barely use them. We must establish Torah institutes that will study and unravel what Torah economics means in the modern age.

The closer we follow HaShem's economic vision, the more we will merit to live here with His blessing.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Surprise: More Jewish Poverty In U.S. Than Israel

That's what Haaretz's Ruth Sinai reports:

Study claims Jewish poverty rate in the U.S. is higher than in Israel

Some highlights:

- "Jewish poverty rate in the United States is higher than that in Israel."

- "One of every five Jews among Chicago's 270,000 Jews is poor or almost poor according to the federal government's definition."

- "New York also has a high rate of Jewish poverty."

- "More than a quarter of the members of the world's richest Jewish community live close to the poverty line."

- "The highest poverty rate is in Brooklyn."

So the next you hear anyone say "Make Aliyah? But there a so many poor people in Israel," simply show them this post. This is actually one of the excuses I do hear. People have said "You talk about how great Eretz Yisrael is, why don't you talk about all the poverty over there?"

How's this? We'll start talking about poverty in Israel when you start talking about poverty in Jewish America? Deal?

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

JOBOPP: Jerusalem of Chocolate

From the Efrat list:

"worker required for centrally located jerusalem chocolatier - cafe.

twentyish, diligent, to operate coffee machine, make sandwiches, serve, wash
dishes. afternoons (4-10 p.m.) and fridays.

call etty 054-8081001"

Mmmmm. Chocolate in Jerusalem.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007


There's a lot of things we lovers-of-Israel wait for here: better driving standards, an end to Arab aggression and occupation in the Holy Land, a return of Jewish enthusiasm and pride, and of course, Target.

So when I read this recent piece of news, I was overjoyed, as I saw one of my personal goals coming that much closer to fruition: being loaded.
Merrill Lynch: 7,200 millionaires living in Israel

World Wealth Report says Jewish state had 12.9 percent more millionaires in 2006 than in previous year
Some 7,200 millionaires lived in Israel in 2006, 12.9 percent more than the previous year, Merrill Lynch reported in its World Wealth Report.
The report also said that the number of Israeli multi-millionaires – people whose wealth exceeds $30 million – grew by 15 percent to 87. In addition, Israel registered 50 percent more millionaires in 2006 than the average increase in the rest of the world.
The capital of Israel's super-rich stood at $35 billion in 2006, 17 percent more than a year earlier, the report found.
Uri Goldfarb, Merrill Lynch Israel vice president for private banking, attributed the capital boost of Israeli multi-millionaires to large investments in developing countries, the continued rise of the Tel Aviv stock exchange, and the purchase of property for development at home and abroad.
The report put at 9.5 million the number of people worth $1million or more, 8.3 percent more than in 2005. The total capital of the world's millionaires rose by 11.4 percent to $37.2 trillion, the first double-digit rise in seven years.

So for those of you who like money (if you're not one of these people, call me and I'll help you get rid of yours), invest (yourself) in Israel.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Neozionist Role Model: Stanley Fischer

Fischer said he intends on completing his five-year term, but hasn't decided what to do after that. He said he has a "strong attachment" to the U.S., but now considers Israel his home.

"Social life here is very warm, very friendly. It has an intimacy and a warmth that is possibly much greater than that in the United States," he said. "Despite the fact that public life is very tough in Israel, I would say I'm enjoying it."

Read the full article here..

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Case of Bad Gas

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is considering signing a 15-20 year contract to purchase gas from a British energy company that would earn the "Palestinians" $1 billion. The gas would be supplied from the Gaza marine field, off Gaza's coast, which the "Palestinian Authority" has control over (as a e result of the "peace process"), thus earning them one quarter of the estimated $ billion deal.
Last month the cabinet approved continued negotiations with BG over purchase of the gas, a decision that necessitated a previous ban on buying natural gas from the PA. The change of heart, government officials said, was simply the product of economics, since buying the gas from Egypt, another option, would cost twice as much.
Now, there are many problematic aspects to this potential deal, but here are two of them:

1) Would anyone care to guess what the Hamas led PA will buy with $1 billion? In short, this would not be the first time that the State of Israel would be funding our enemies efforts to destroy the Jewish State (See: The Oslo Accords / "Peace Process".)

The fact that there isn't a law forbidding such actions speaks volumes.

2) Equally troubling is why the State of Israel, which possesses very few natural resources, would give away a gas field off it's coast worth billions of dollars?

Once again, this is not the first time Israel has made such a mistake.

Post Six Day War, after Israel had liberated the Sinai peninsula, it was discovered that there were was enough oil reserves in the Sinai to cover 100% of Israel's energy needs for a long time to come. As part of the "peace process" with Egypt, Israel gave away the Sinai and all her oil fields, leaving Israel with no peace and no oil.

Those on the left often speak of how much the "settlements" have cost Israel. Well, I think the time has come to begin asking how much "peace" has cost Israel, both in dollars, and in lives.

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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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Saturday, March 10, 2007

NYT: Choosing Israel, Not the Hamptons

The following excellent piece appeared in yesterday's The New York Times. (You won't see me typing a sentance like that often!) It appears online here and a slideshow is posted here.

Now because articles on the NYT website have the habit of disappearing after a few days we cut and pasted the whole thing here.

The nutshell version is that American Jews are starting to opt to buy their second homes in Israel instead of traditional US vacation spots. And, it gets better, many of those Jews eventually move here for good!

Full text follows...

March 9, 2007
Choosing Israel, Not the Hamptons

AS an associate professor of clinical surgery and chief of high risk programs at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Freya Schnabel is an unlikely international real estate pioneer. But as one of the first buyers in Eden Hills - a planned community 15 minutes southwest of Jerusalem - Dr. Schnabel, who is 49, is emblematic of a new breed of visitor to Israel: the foreign vacation-home buyer.

Indeed, from downtown Tel Aviv to the heart of Jerusalem, foreigners - especially Americans - searching for second homes are redefining Israel's high-end real estate market. Part of Tel Aviv is, in fact, in the midst of a mini-Manhattan makeover with the recent arrival of New York-style residential projects designed by the likes of Philippe Starck and Richard Meier. Even Donald Trump has entered the Tel Aviv marketplace with plans for a 70-story residential and commercial tower - Israel's highest - in the suburb of Ramat Gan.

Real estate analysts estimate that while foreigners made up less than 5 percent of total home buyers in Israel last year, they snapped up a third of the luxury properties - roughly defined as those priced above $500 a square foot. Taking advantage of a decrease in terrorism and property prices still far below Western levels, foreigners bought over $1.2 billion in Israeli real estate in 2006, according to the Israel Central Bank, more than double the $445 million in sales just three years earlier.

While deals like the $13 million purchase of a Tel Aviv triplex by Shari Arison, the Carnival Cruise Lines heiress, illustrate the upper end of the market, most foreign buyers are far more modest. But their desire for larger properties appears to be growing.

"The Americans have shifted from buying one- to two-bedroom to four- to five-bedroom apartments over the past half decade," said Werner M. Loval, managing director of the Jerusalem office of Anglo-Saxon Real Estate in Jerusalem, one of Israel's largest real estate agencies. "But they're still usually spending from about $400,000 to $1 million."

Davyd Tal, the Welsh-born owner of the real estate agency Jerusalem Homes, said that about 65 percent of all foreign buyers are Americans, most of whom are in their 40s and 50s. In Jerusalem, a quarter of all homes sold in 2006 went to foreigners.

Such statistics are credited with helping to boost average per-room prices throughout the capital by 27 percent last year - to just over $88,000 - even though the majority of foreigners remain concentrated in several city-center neighborhoods. These include Rehavia, the German Colony, old Katmon, Kiryat Shmuel, Mamilla and Talibeh, areas where roughly half of last year's home sales were to foreigners.

These areas are mostly within walking distance of major religious sites - the Old City, the Western Wall and the Great Synagogue - fulfilling the needs of the mostly religious Americans who are increasingly calling the neighborhoods home for at least part of the year.

"They want to be here because Jerusalem is the holy city and they are prepared to pay for this privilege," said Yaron Tzuberi, marketing and sales director for Africa Israel, one of Israel's top residential real estate developers.

Mr. Tzuberi notes that almost none of his American buyers live in Jerusalem full time, visiting instead during major Jewish holidays like Passover and Sukkot and perhaps for a few weeks each summer. Such buyers may eventually retire in Israel, but for now, he adds, "the apartments are just empty the rest of the time."

Nonetheless, along with their personal reinforced-concrete bomb shelters, Mr. Tzuberi's clients demand amenities like parking and central air-conditioning and heating - still premium services in much of Israel.

Some buyers are even opting for American-style gated communities - like the 600-unit Eden Hills - to further cushion their landing in the Levant.

"I hate sounding like an ugly American," said Dr. Allen Josephs, a 56-year-old New Jersey neurologist and future Eden Hills resident. "But I want my creature comforts while still being in Israel."

American buyers also covet the sights and sounds of Jerusalem itself. "Views of the Old City and of the Dome of the Rock are a must," Mr. Tzuberi said, "even though they can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of a home."

Properties within the walls of the Old City itself, meanwhile, are so rare that they regularly come with multimillion-dollar price tags, including one historic gem near the Western Wall that real estate agents said was shown to Madonna in 2004, though she did not buy it.

IT'S a simple case of supply and demand," says Mr. Tal of Jerusalem Homes. "When homes enter this market, they move fast."

Mr. Tal cited a $650,000 property in the Old City that sold within weeks. Another there was recently resold after just a year, with a markup of $450,000, to $1.45 million.

Views of the Mediterranean - rather than of historic sites - are among the key selling points in Tel Aviv, Israel's second-strongest market for foreign sales. Barely 90 years old, Tel Aviv's skyline is dotted with boxy, 1950s-era apartment blocks, along with an increasing number of sleek new luxury residential towers. They're a far cry from Jerusalem's low-rise, stone-clad houses.

"While Jewish, Tel Aviv buyers are almost never religious, and tend to visit far more often than their Jerusalem counterparts," said Mr. Tzuberi, adding that second-home buyers there are mostly American, British, Russian, French and ex-patriate Israelis looking for a part-time residence back home.

Spas, swimming pools, doormen and heavy security are standard offerings in Tel Aviv's newest developments, which include Mr. Starck's Yoo Tel Aviv - twin 40-floor cylinders opening later this year - and Mr. Meier's 30-story residential tower on posh Rothschild Avenue, which will open in 2010.

Such perks are expensive, however. Prime homes have risen roughly 30 percent over the last year to at least $650 a square foot at benchmark projects like the Akirov Towers - also called the Treetop Towers - in northern Tel Aviv; the 168-unit Rova Lev Ha'ir complex in the city center; and the beachfront Opera Tower. They go up to $1,000 a square foot by the sea.

Ms. Arison's $13 million downtown triplex is in Project G, a 31-floor tower still on the drawing boards.

"We were surprised by these prices, but we actually just purchased a second, larger apartment in the same building," said Margaret Amouyal, who bought into Rova Lev Ha'ir three years ago and visits Tel Aviv six times a year from Brussels.

For many foreigners in Tel Aviv, such standards increasingly include elements of the city's Bauhaus past. Known as the White City and declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2003, Tel Aviv's historic core includes 4,000 Bauhaus buildings - the largest single concentration in the world - many now the target of design-minded American and European second-home seekers. Designated for conservation, Bauhaus apartments usually cover entire floors and offer the feel of a private home in a city that conspicuously lacks detached housing.

As a recent $26 million deal for five historic Tel Aviv Bauhaus buildings suggests, buying into this unique architectural heritage is not for the meek. Landmarked buildings command at least 30-percent premiums over conventional structures from the same era, according to Itzik Ben-Shoam, chief executive of White City Buildings, a real estate agency specializing in Bauhaus residences.

Whether purchasing along Israel's coast or in its spiritual heartland, one thing has been common among almost all foreign home buyers in Israel. They are generally not investment purchases.

"They're intended to be true second homes and not sold or rented for a quick profit," said the developer Alfred Akirov, whose eponymous trio of towers helped start Tel Aviv's luxury skyscraper boom in the late 1990s.

WHILE foreign sales are providing a much-needed boost to Israel's overall economy - battered earlier this decade by almost five years of bomb attacks on civilians - Israelis themselves have not necessarily been so welcoming.

Secular, middle-class Jerusalemites who can no longer afford to live in many areas of their city have been the most vocal in their anti-outsider sentiment. What's more, with foreign buyers often absent for months on end, some areas of the city can seem like luxury ghost towns.

In response, developers have broadened their marketing strategies to include local buyers, as well as voluntarily capping foreign ownership, as in a 30 percent limit at a new seafront tower in the resort city Netanya. While government-mandated restrictions remain unlikely, urban development organizations like the Futura Institute have suggested supplemental property taxes for non-Israeli owners or incentives for developers to include affordable housing aimed at local residents in luxury projects.

One firm, Nam5, is constructing a 120-unit residence offering free housing to recently discharged soldiers in a Tel Aviv suburb, as well as a new luxury tower in Tel Aviv.

For buyers like Dr. Schnabel and Dr. Josephs - who expect to move to Eden Hills by 2009 - rising prices and edged-out locals seem a world away from their still-pristine slice of ancient Judea. With homes ranging from $400,000 to well over a million, Eden Hills is priced to appeal to buyers accustomed to living among the parks, tennis courts, artificial lakes, bike trails and tree-lined pedestrian malls typical of high-end American subdivisions. Such attributes, along with numerous synagogues, are designed to lure Eden Hills's wealthy, Orthodox American target audience - and keep them there.

Dr. Schnabel is already practicing for her new, part-time life in Israel with monthlong stays in Jerusalem apartments to gain a sense of the country off the typical tourist track. And Dr. Josephs is so bullish on Israel that he has bought four separate Eden Hills lots for himself and his children.

"I am actually thinking of Eden Hills as my primary residence," Dr. Josephs said, adding that, eventually, "I will live in Israel, and then visit my second home - in New Jersey."

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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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Thursday, February 15, 2007

What is Blue and Yellow and Filled With Thousands of Israelis?

No, it is not a Beitar Jerusalem soccer match, or a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game. It is the true national sport of Israel: IKEA.

Consumerism at its best, sleek furniture and housewares galore, a glatt kosher cafeteria, a playcenter for children, and parking for nearly 1,000 cars, Ikea reigns as the true national sport of the modern State of Israel.

Day off from work, national holiday, summer vacation; these are all perfect reasons to go to the hip Israeli's new favorite pastime. A store unlike any other in our burgeouning material economy, Ikea features two floors and countless dunams of shopping.

Fun for kids and adults alike, only the most insulated and isolated Israelis have yet to make it to the Swedish supercenter parked firmly in the middle of Israel's population center.

The store is so popular, that two more branches of the international uberchain will be opening in Israel in the next 24 months.

I recently celebrated my third outing this year alone to the mega magnet located off Highway 2 in Netanya. It is truly an experience. For those who live outside the Gush Dan region, a few hours at Ikea gives you a taste of Israeli society, a microcosm of the state featuring citizens spending more than they can afford on items they don't need, and loving every minute of it.

We got some shelves for our kitchen and toy storage for the kids room:)

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Where has the Israeli gone?

You know when I was younger I remember hearing all these amazing stories about the Israeli people. You know the ones that lived in Israel and worked to get the land what it is today. They were the ones I would look up to.

Always so smart and cunning. Figuring out ways to conveniently get around the problems that they were faced with. Being the best at everything and anything just because they could. I saw them as the smartest and most efficient Jews. They had the smallest army but were able to infiltrate anything and anyone that would come in their way. They had pride, they knew they were small and that enhanced their desire to be the best and do it with style. They would do such amazing covert operations that those Israelis would train the US Seals.
Where are those people? Does anyone else remember them?

I remember my parents telling me that when my brothers were younger they would try to sniff out the "secret" army personal on the El Al flights and go over to them and let them know that their disguise was crashed. I mean, this was the Israelis personality and mentality. They were the most creative and the best at getting what they wanted done with the least amount of effort and casualties.

Where are those people? Does anyone else remember them?

When I was in Israel during the Gush Katif "situation" I asked one of my friends who was in Hebrew University, how can the Israelis live with the fact that they are letting themselves lose? His response, as if computer generated was "don't worry, we don't know the half of it, I am sure Sharon has something up his sleeve, I mean look at what he has done in the past."

I feel like the Israelis are forgetting who they are and what they are capable of doing. When I read what Olmert and the Israeli "leader (wanna bes)" are up to, I think that those Israeli mentalities that I was raised looking up to were just a dream.

Did they really exist?
Were we that cunning to do all those successful operations?
Was it all luck?

I keep thinking to myself, that the IDF is planning an operation right now to go into Gaza and get back Gilad. I mean they practically know where all the "terrorist heads" live. I am sure they have internal secret information regarding our captive brothers whereabouts. I know they are just waiting for the opportune time and they will get him back. Right?

Am I right?

Is the IDF figuring out this operation? Or are they figuring out how to handle the protests that will be coming when they try to evacuate more settlements?
Where are our leaders that would listen to their commanders, most of the time and not all the time?
Where are the Israelis that know they can take anyone down... with one hand behind their backs... blindfolded... with nothing but a rubber band?

This is the Israeli I was raised hearing about. The fearless and invincible IDF, the Lion of Israel. Has the Lion turned into a little kitten? Because that's what it looks like when I read the news.

I feel like now that we have "made it" into the upscale world, now that huge companies like Google and Intel have voted Israel as a viable asset, we no longer feel small or the need to work to be something. Is this the price we pay for "making it" into the big world by losing our real world? By losing our reputation as being invincible and indivisible? Is it worth it? Can we go back? Can we become who we were/are? The Israeli that as a child I wanted to be like. My sister has her little children watch the "Victory of Entebbe", and I see it in their eyes, that same awe and admiration for those Israelis. Should I tell them that they don't exist anymore? Or do they?

Well I think they do, and they just need a little WAKE UP CALL. Remind them what they have been and still are capable of. Have them read the Exodus. Watch some old movies that will refresh their memories, or just look in the mirror.

If we believe, you know we can overcome.

We are Jews and have overcome everything thrown in our paths. We have faith in a promise that goes back thousands of generations and we hold the key to its fulfillment. The land is ours, now we have to keep it that way, and know that we have the ability to make it stay that way forever.

According, to reality we Jews realistically should have disappeared ages ago, but there is something reality doesn't know... it's that we are not held down by their reality. We believe in the Real G-d and that's all the reality for us. We don't abide by the rules of this material world. Some Israelis think that if the UN and even the US say something then that is REAL. Well, if we just take some time to think and remind ourselves how our existence in the Holy land of Israel is not according to their reality, then we will remember what is-real to us, and stop being held back by the real "fake" world, and take back our place in our nations mind as the invincible, cunning, creative, and awesome Israelis that we are. This way I can tell my little nephews that they can grow up to be like those Israelis they watch in the movies, and with G-d's help, they WILL.

That was a long one, but I had to, we really need to wake up!!! But its late here in NY so I'm off to bed,
TTFN ~ DFTSS ~ Shulamit

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Capitalism: Good for the Jews

Yes, like Yechiel and Alex I too watched the Superbowl. And I must say during it, E-Trade aired an absolutely brilliant ad about Bank Leumi. Okay, they didn't say it was Bank Leumi but we all know that's where the thirty second spot took place - or perhaps it was at some other bank in Israel.

"On one leg," the gist of the ad (which you could view here or above) is people get robbed by their own bank in broad daylight. And that's exactly what has been going on in Israel for too long! It's like this: you could either put your money in a checking account and watch it melt, or put it in a savings account and watch it freeze.

Put it in a checking account and watch all the creative fees the banks come up with, essentially excuses not to give you your hard earned money back! Whoever heard of having to pay a bank for the privilege of withdrawing money from the ATM of the very bank and even of the very branch your account is held in?

And if you put it in a savings account, as any Israeli banker will tell you, "to offset the fees," you can kiss that money goodbye for at least 18 months, and if you are lucky with the minimal interest you earn you might just actually offset those checking account fees - maybe... Hey, it could happen.

Ahh yes, Neo-Zionism. It's not just ranting about what's wrong with the country but proposing real working solutions for improving the future of our Jewish State.

Probably the single greatest accomplishment of Bibi Netanyahu was appointing Stanley Fischer as head of the Bank of Israel. Last week the Bank Governor made headlines yet again: "Bank of Israel looks to decrease fees" declared the Jerusalem Post. "Association of Banks director: The fees issue does not justify legislative intervention," elaborated Globes.

Short term thinking has dominated, nay, plagued this State for way too long. Arutz-7 reported that several weeks ago "major banks announced they would raise fees up to 100 percent in a move that would net them additional profits amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars." But this bank-get-rich-quick-scheme ultimately would harm our economy. Not only that but according to Fischer the current fees are already harming the socialist inclined country.

"In Western countries that exhibit high levels of banking competition, a simple fee system is the norm - one that doesn't entail excessive numbers of charges and often allows clients to avoid charges on ordinary checking accounts," the Bank of Israel said.

The former Citigroup International President knows that while the Socialist model of "give me more money today" might work well to jump start a nation, one that has matured and desires long term growth needs healthy western capitalistic thinking that encourages free market competition and customer service while we're at it.

If Fischer gets his way, and it looks like he just might, you can expect your bank to finally start treating you like a mensch. And you know what? If my bank starts showing me some respect I might just show them respect back and lend them more of my money. And maybe - just maybe - they will actually get more customers and ultimately make more money this way. Everyone will have more money to spend and the economy will flourish. It's called long term thinking.

Am Yisrael Chai! Capitalism Chai!

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