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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Make Aliyah and Help Save Israel

By Michael Berezin: We are at a turning point my fellow Jews. The meager support we once had here in Israel stemming from Europe and America, is quickly slipping away. They have bought the Arab narrative or at the very least are choosing to support the Arab side, based on their own domestic demographic based fears. What this means is that our enemies have become emboldened. They know we can't use our fancy killing devices because of the hard work of proud capos such as Goldstone. So as a result they demand more for nothing and stockpile better weapons to one day kill us with.

Wait wait it gets better. At the same time that our enemies are both threatening to destroy us and mocking us with an all or nothing peace approach. We are fighting with our own people and telling them that for this charade they can't extend their porches or complete houses already paid for. How can this be? Where is the outrage? At what point are we going to realize that either we stay and fight for our right to be here, or we say forget it, pack up and leave. Perhaps we can join the ex Israelis in Forrest Hills. Or maybe downward to Sydney. From what I hear its a great place to enjoy the sun and learn Hebrew from the locals...

The silly post Zionists will have you believe that if it weren't for these pesky roaches I mean settlers peace would reign supreme. Never mind that if the Arabs wanted peace they would have had it at any time in the last 40 years. I mean who can forget all the wonderful goodness, the Arabs were bestowing on us prior to 1967. You know the famous 29' massacres notice how the number 29 comes before 67? or the independence war of 48'. Lets not forget the celebration of Hamas celebrating 22 years. All our concessions have really helped stem the tide of terrors popularity.

Ok we get it. The situation sucks. Why should we want to be a part of it? What will making Aliyah do to help any of this?

Back to the turning point. Now if you follow the news you will see how there seems to be two Israels. One which bows down to the farce of democracy, fears world isolation--> not G-d and sees the land as a commodity to be offered around, the other says "no and to hell with world pressure (which wouldn't go away anyhow) this is our land and we aren't going anywhere". You might recognize them as being referred to as crazy extremists.

Once upon a time it was not only good but it was inspiring to be called a settler. Many might not know this but Petah Tikvah was a settlement, actually the first one. Nobody would ever call that place a settlement now or think of it as occupied illegal land. Except, and here is a little secret the Arabs actually do see it this way. What's even crazier is that they don't keep it a secret they say it all the time. We for some reason can't hear it no matter how loud they say it, act it, and live it.

This is where you come in. By making Aliyah you are letting the world know that this land is your right and that you are here to stay. Now since the whole country will always be treated as a settlement enterprise, pissing off those who hate us anyway, you can live anywhere you want! Doesn't matter if its Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Gush Etzion. Eventually we will internalize the fact that they are after the whole thing. When that day comes will you board the plane then?

We are at a critical juncture. Either we embrace Palestinian Nationalism or we embrace our G-d given right to be here. Everyone who values holding on to this land needs to be here and make there presence felt. You could have all the best of intentions about Israel but if you don't wake up here in the morning then it doesn't do much for the cause. All this nonsense of demographics would be put to rest if more Jews from America and beyond could see the writing on the wall and take the plunge.

This would pave the way for a national consensus built on the notion that we are all settlers and thats a good thing. Don't wake up on the wrong side of history, make Aliyah this week!

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why Aliyah Is Important For You?

by Michael Berezin

Wherever you might be right now there is one thing that is certain, you are a Jew. You might be a Jew living in New York, you might be a Jew living in London, you might even be an accountant. Its even possible that you might be looking for a whole new way to identify yourself, either way no matter what, you are a Jew first and a Jew last. It is important to clarify that because by speaking of Aliyah and its importance we need to understand what being a Jew and living in Israel has to do with each other. There are many countries and regions in the world filled with all kinds of people. There is but one country promised to one people, explicitly stated by G-d, and that is the land of Israel for the Jewish people...

We just read the Torah portion of Chayeh Sara which starts off with the acquisition of a plot of land. The reason explained for this seemingly unimportant monetary deal to be stated so explicitly is that it was in fact important. Avraham wanted it to be clear that this land purchused in Chevron was in fact acquired fair and square so that there could be no future claims on it. Despite Avraham's best intentions, Hevron is a place that is constantly under siege by an enemy surrounding it.

So what does that mean to you?

It means something incredible! You have an inheritance to claim! So heavy it gets two exclamation points.

Ok great, heard it all before, but I am happy where I am.

How does one argue with happiness?

The answer is that if you really think you are happy it might be that you are. Now imagine being even happier and being on the right side of History. Sure you can wake up in your comfortable suburban town. You might even be making decent money although these days probably not. One thing though is that you are missing out on being a part of connecting the dots to our past, present and promised future. Our destiny was not France as it was not Spain, England, Germany, or do I even dare say the United States Of America. The one thing that all the places where we once flourished have in common was that they either persecuted us or threw us out just when things seemed to be going so well.

History is not linear there are lessons to be learned and miricles to be realized. The modern state of Israel although far from perfect is our destiny. Why because it's about the land. The land that was promissed to our forefathers. there is no other reason to explain how after two thousand years of exile, would we have the wherewithall to vanquish our enemies time and time again when there numbers far outnumber ours as well as their resources.

Does anybody think the Jews of Berlin the most assimilated and progressive Jews of the world could have ever dreamt of a reality where they would be viewed as Jews first and dealt with accordingly?

We are on the cusp of a whole new realty with the threat of Iran and a Muslim population bent on world dominance, where are you gonna put your faith?

Don't wait for the wrong time, sieze the right time and the right time is now. Why? Because you are Jew and Israel is not just your destiny but a part of your identity. Aliyah- Just do it!


[I found the following text when I Googled "Why Aliyah is important for you?" -Yishai]

One of the profile questions on which I found on Pinchas' Blog is: "Below describe in you own words why Aliyah is important to you. If you already made Aliyah also talk about your experience making Aliyah:"

I got a bit carried away and here is my answer....

I came nearly 9 years ago for a Yeshiva "summer program" after my first (and subsequently last) year of college. I loved yeshiva, but I despised Israel, Israeli apartments, Israeli meat (or what tried to pass as such), Israeli attitude, fighting to the death with taxi drivers over 30 cents and most importantly the fact the milk comes in bags.

I anxiously left after around a year and counted down the days until I would go home for Pesach (I guess an "anti-omer" of sorts) and then learn for the next zman in the US.. The moment the plane took off I already regretted my decision, got this gnawing feeling in my kishkes and knew it would not be long before I was back...

6 Months later I was and I have been here since, and don't plan to leave (unless I am expelled from my house in the next few months by the shilton hakofrim/memsheles zadon).

Why Israel? Honestly I ask myself that question every day and have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. It is certainly not the bad attitude, rudeness, poor hygiene, lack of amenities, high prices, even higher taxes, small cars, bad meat, pitiful salaries, 6 day workweeks, deathly bureaucracy, or the dreaded milk in bags. Certainly not the rashayim in the government and supreme court. Definitely not the threat of being shot or blown up every day for the crime of waking up that morning (or in my case, early afternoon).

I think when it comes down to it, I like the fact that in Israel, being Jewish is normal and the natural thing to do. In Israel you just ARE Jewish, period. The difference between a mildly assimilated American Jew and even the most secular Israeli is astounding. No one (ok fine, no one excluding a statistically insignificant fringe minority) would dream of not getting married under a chuppa, or giving their kids a bris. Almost everyone goes to shul on Yom Kippur, a majority fast, and upwards of 90% leave Egypt each year at a Pesach Seder. Every student (even in the most heretical anti-religious schools) must learn Tanakh and Jewish History. We speak Hebrew, we use Shekalim and everyone kvetches to their heart's content (as if there is such a thing). You have to go out of your way to find treife restaurants (even in Tel Aviv) and there is no city, town or neighborhood without a shul(an orthodox one at that). People stop for hitchhikers, invite perfect strangers to their homes for Shabbos and let their little kids roam around unsupervised in the streets (or send them to the store to buy milk in bags). Maybe it is the fact that I can read about certain events in the Chumash and the Gemara and get in the car and go there. Shabbos Chaaye Sarah in Chevron, Lag B'omer in Meron, Birchas Kohanim in Yerushalayim, and for a change Tu B'shevat actually matters. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I scoff at the walls of the Old City which are a mere 400 years old, on my way to Daven at one which was built over 2000 years ago. I remember as a wee youngin' being impressed when we went to visit a house on Long Island which was a whopping 300 years old, in Israel 300 year old artifacts are worth less than yesterday's election poll results.

In America I was a weirdo, a fanatic, a fossil, a relic from the past hanging on to his culture which became obsolete centuries if not millennia ago. Even in Schnorrer Park and Flatbush you are surrounded by people with customs and culture very different from ours and can't help be inundated and influenced by it. Even the shtarkest of Jews in America has a different attitude and way of life than his cousin in Bnai Brak or Beer Sheva. In the streets of The Old City, Meah Shearim or Hebron I am just another brick in the wall just some Harry trying to get to the mikeveh before it closes. Elsewhere I am a tourist attraction.

But I think what really spoke to me and still impresses me to this day is the level of living l'shaim shamayim and mesirus nefesh which is routinely displayed everywhere you look. Yidden who dedicate their lives to serving the Aibishter, have kids without cheshbon, live on hilltops without water or toilets and spend all day arguing about nuances in 2000 year old religious debates because "it is a mitzvah". The entire value system even when compared to worldwide frum communites is just different. Stores which open "after shachris" and close whenever the falafel runs out because the baal habayis has done his histadlus for the day. Everyone is in debt, live in overdraft but somehow manage to put food on the table and marry off their kids. There is no logical explanation for it and hashgocha pratis literally blows in the wind here. I am not saying that living L'shaim shamayim and mesirus nefesh are impossible to find in America, but in Israel you don't even have to look and certainly doesn't come as a surprise.

Sure we can make a list of all the things wrong with Israel (and Israelis) (take milk in bags for example) and still not be finished before the next appearance of Halley's Comet and there is clearly much room for improvement on many fronts, but when push comes to shove, if you are REALLY interested in "being Jewish" Israel is THE place to do it.

That said, I've been here for almost 10 years and it STILL bothers me to no end that milk comes in bags.....

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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, April 23, 2009

Why I Moved to Israel

By Dani Koesterich (check out his blog)

Around 5 weeks ago, I moved from New Jersey to Jerusalem. Many people wondered why I decided to move, and when asked the reason, I found myself advancing a wide range of answers - everything from the inspirational, to the spiritual, and even the practical (”well, I have a lot of friends there”). Now, being Israeli for 5 weeks, I would like to list some of the reasons I decided to move, and add my present-day opinions, now that I have a bit of hindsight on the matter.

(1). Israel is the only country that actively protects Jews worldwide

You may not know this, but there are Israeli mossad agents in every single country on planet earth. I kid you not. If you’ve done a bit of reading into history, and intake regular quantities of Middle Eastern news, you’d know how vulnerable Jews are worldwide (if you disagree, I assure you I can change your opinion). Let’s leave anti-semitism out of the picture for a moment. The state of Israel as a country is rather controversial in the world. Terrorism against Jews in any country can send a serious message to the state of Israel, and that is why Israel takes on the unbelievable burden of watching out for Jews all over the world.
It may not seem like a big deal for Jews living in America, under the security and protection of the world superpower, but when the situation hits the fan for the Jews (and believe me, it does), circumstances can become dire. That is why I feel the safest living in a country full of Jews, run by Jews, whose #1 priority is to protect Jewish lives...

(2). This is the chance our ancestors waited over 1800 years for

The 2nd temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans, and the Jewish people were exiled, and dispersed from Israel to locations all over the world. In their daily prayers (3 times a day) Jews have been praying for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and their temple for over 1800 years. Rewind just 100 years ago: Millions of Russain Jews were living in ghettos, poor, starving, and 40% unemployed, where it was illegal to practice any form of Judaism whatsoever. The Jews of that period in time would literally have done any possible thing to be freed from their oppression, let alone to have a state of their own, where Jewish observance was not only legal, but facilitated.

Now that the chance to live in a Jewish land of Israel has returned for the first time in 1800 years, I would think it an unimaginable lost opportunity to just ignore it, and live somewhere else. We’ve been wondering from country to country for centuries already.

(3). We’re making history

Read some history books. In approximately the year 378 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus The Great set forth an edict allowing Jews to return to their homeland, and rebuild their temple. A mere 5% took him up on his offer. Not only that, but later on, when the temple was finally rebuilt and the 2nd Jewish commonwealth was underway, 75% of world Jewry lived outside the land of Israel. Our Rabbis and Sages say that had the Jews risen to the opportunity that Cyrus The Great had helped to provide, the 2nd temple may not have been destroyed.

To put it mildly, their great grandchildren and their descendants felt they made a disastrous decision, and the Jewish people have paid wholesomely for it, for millennia. When the history books of the 21st century are written and studied by future generations, I don’t want to be looked back on poorly.

(4). Israel needs Jews!

Having lived in Israel for 5 weeks at this point, I can say definitively that Israel needs Jews living here. In just 60 years, the country has gone from practically nothing, to a first-world country, often times leading the way in technology and science. I believe this is solely due to the unparralelled talent, and drive the Jewish people have, collectively.

I like to think of myself as a talented individual, and thus, one of the reasons I decided to move to Israel was so that I can put my talents toward improving the Jewish state. There are a lot of smart Jews living in Israel, and let me just say, it’s apparent.

(5). Everything you do is a Mitzvah

There is only one country on earth where picking trash up off the ground is a Mitzvah, and there is only one country on earth where sweeping the ground outside your apartment is a Mitzvah. You guessed it: Israel.

(6). What do you want to do with your life?

Believe it or not, there will come a point in time that you will look back on your life, and begin to judge whether you lived your life satisfactorily. For me, when that time comes, I desperately want to be able to list the multitude of things I dedicated time and energy toward during my lifetime that helped build Israel into a better place. I also hope at that time, I can say that I successfully raised a generation of children that will continue the legacy of the Jewish people.

Maybe they’ll each have their own blogs. That would be awesome. I know a good programmer they can hire.

(7). The food here is ridiculous

Seriously, if you like food even a little, you would love living in Israel. The ice coffee is in slurpee consistency! Enough said.

(8). Hebrew is sickly cool

עברית היא שפה קדושה ומגניבה

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zionist Destiny and the End of the Exile

Jewish Population Inside and Outside Israel During the Last Century by Yehezkel Laing

As we look around us we see the world economy taking a nosedive which financial experts say may be unprecedented. At the same time we see the totalitarian regime of Iran approaching the creation of a nuclear bomb. The question is why are these and other cataclysmic events happening davka now?

It appears we are approaching a critical moment in the history of the Jewish people. For almost two thousand years little changed for the Jewish people regarding national independence. We lived scattered all over the world, subject to the whims and mercies of our host nations. However, over the course of less than a century we have seen the rapid decline of the exile and the growing influence of the State of Israel. Today the number of Jews in the diaspora is one third of what it was only 70 years ago.

On the other hand the number of Jews in Israel is rapidly approaching 6 million. Currently there are about 5.7 million Jews in the Jewish homeland. Every year, due to births and aliya, there are 100,000 more Jews in Israel and every year, due to deaths and assimilation, there are 100,000 less Jews in the Diaspora. At the current rate, in a little over three years time, the State of Israel will hold the majority of the Jews in the world – that is the Jewish people will have officially “returned home”. Coincidentally we also see that those who contest Jewish national independence are reaching their greatest opposition as they instinctively realize the significance of the moment.

Jews typically wield disproportional influence to their numbers. The countries which were strongest 30 years ago were the two world super powers, the Soviet Union and the US. Similarly, the two countries which contained the most Jews 30 years ago were the Soviet Union and the US. When the Jews left Russia the country collapsed and it is no longer considered a super power. In the past couple of years the State of Israel surpassed the US regarding size of Jewish population. Coincidentally we see the United States economy has begun to implode.

The Jewish Bible tells us that one day God will gather in His People. “Therefore say, 'So says the Lord GOD, ‘I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.'” (Ezekiel 11:17). While the present situation presents us with many great challenges we should always remember how lucky we are to be able to witness the fulfillment of this great prophecy. How lucky we are to be able to witness the Redemption.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

"Purim, An Aliya Story"

by Stewart Weiss

Is the Bible relevant? As we read the Book of Esther during these days of Purim, I find myself wondering just what this story is all about. On the surface, it is a classic morality play. The forces of injustice and cruelty become ascendant, threatening to exterminate a whole people simply because they are different. A reluctant band of heroes enters the scene, eloquently pleading their cause and ultimately gaining the favor of the King. The despicable tyrant is vanquished, Good triumphs over Evil, and all live happily ever after. Neat, sweet and complete. But hark, fair reader. Purim doth teach that all is not as it seemeth; that masks of many shapes and sizes disguise a much deeper message hiding behind the poetry and prose.

I suggest that one of the central themes of the Purim story is the ancient, yet ongoing, interplay between the Jew of the Diaspora and the Jew of Israel. It is precisely this motif which not only makes the Megila eternal, but among the most popular and well-known of all the books of the Bible...

THE JEWS of Shushan are your archetypal Diaspora Jews. They seem to live quite comfortably under a benevolent ruler who respects their rights and ignores their idiosyncrasies. They are even invited to royal banquets – where the food is glatt kosher – and are called upon regularly for advice. Yet, for all their prominence, the Jews still tread that thin line between security and suspicion. Can they trust their hosts, and can their own loyalty to the crown be trusted? Among themselves they perpetually debate – with no foregone conclusion – whether they are Persian Jews or Jewish Persians.

Haman and Mordechai enter the scene, bringing the deeper issues into focus. Haman is no stranger to Jews, having lived among them and observed their rites and rituals for quite some time. He has no love for Jews, to be sure, but is quite prepared to strike a modus vivendi with them – if they demonstrate that their first allegiance is to the state and its sovereign. Haman therefore prepares a test, convincing the king to hold a party celebrating the end of Jewish independence, even using the vessels of the Temple to toast Jewish subservience to the mighty Persian Empire.

Alas, the Jews submit and enthusiastically attend the party celebrating their own demise. They laugh and make merry, hardly realizing the joke is on them. But there is one Jew who will not abdicate his soul. Mordechai is of a different character. He remembers Jerusalem, having survived the Temple's destruction. He dresses like a Jew, and prefers Hebrew to Persian. He will neither bend nor bow, despite the intense pressure from both the grand vizier and his own co-religionists. Mordechai may live in the exile, but he is a son of Israel in form and substance.

When Haman sees Mordechai unbowed, he understands – better than the Jews themselves –that they will not forever be compromised. He therefore employs the age-old charges of "dual loyalty" and "fifth column" against them, convincing the Persian monarch that "once a Jew, always a Jew," and that this "certain people" will never mesh with the pure Persian pedigree. In the battle of wills that follows Mordechai must convince his people that abandoning their heritage will not keep them safe. Eventually, their salvation lies in reasserting their unique character and "casting their lot" with the King of Kings rather than with despots of flesh and blood.

Esther, for her part, is the story's most tragic figure. Caught between being a daughter of Israel and queen for a day, she never does make a whole and final peace. While she will save her people from disaster and gain lasting fame, in the process she will leave her home, intermarry, and bear a child for a man she does not love.

On stages all over the world this same little piece of theater is played out each and every day. Jews in countries throughout the exile live in various conditions of pain or pleasure. They pray to be left alone, yet know that their own personal Haman may be lurking right around the corner, just waiting to take advantage of their precarious position. They fear the day will come when they will be tested and have to choose between fealty and faith, and they are afraid they will choose wrong. They wonder if a Mordechai or Esther will arise to save them, too.

But there is a big difference between Persia then and the Jewish world now. Today, we have a place where a Jew can live as a Jew, with no fear of religious persecution, at present or in the future. We have a homeland where no Jew need divide his loyalty. We have a country and an army that will do battle with every Haman that tries to torment us, that will quash every plot that tries to destroy us.

The Jews of the Persian Empire are largely a footnote of history, but Israel is the center of history in the making, beckoning every Jew to come home, where we truly belong. And that, as they say, is the whole Megila.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach and Ohel Ari Heritage Center in Ra'anana.

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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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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Abayudaya - Jewish Zionists in Rural Uganda!

You heard right!

This is one of the most inspiring stories of our time. It is a story that takes place in rural Uganda, in Putti village, where 160 people have been practicing Judaism for nearly four generations.

The organizations, Putti Village Assistance Organization as well as The Committee To Save Ugandan Jewry are working to gain them an Orthodox giur (if needed) and economic self sufficiency. Their ultimate goal? To resettle in the Land of Israel and join the Jewish People.

You have to check out this amazing story: The Jews Of Uganda

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Aliyah Revolution - Alive and Well in Chicago IL

The Aliyah Revolution is full steam ahead at the University of Chicago where over 25 students have already registered for an aliyah shabbaton on November 16th and 17th. Will post details after the event - if you have any ideas please leave a comment!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

David Lynch Believes in God

by Aaron Fox

I know because I just asked him.

Many of you have done a better job than I have on keeping your eyes and ears away from bad stuff and therefore have never heard of David Lynch. He's a film maker of dark, absurd, violent and highly creative movies. There, I just saved you about 20 hours of ultimately nonredeemable hours.

Riding on the ray of light of Madonna, Mr. Lynch too has blessed us with his presence. Instead of McKabbalah, he's promoting transcendental meditation as the cure for world strife. I still think Jews keeping the mitzvot will do the trick.

So how did he tell me that he believed in God? No, he did not step out of the shadows of the corner of my living room with a sashaying midget in a red suit with Lynch giving me the message backwards into a flashlight. He was holding a "lecture" series in Israel's three biggest cities and since I live in Haifa (yes we're still #3) it gave me a chance to check him out. Since he doesn't lecture, he has an interesting Q&A format where he just takes questions from the audience for two hours. There wasn't even an opening statement just an opening question. I suggest Rabbis of Israel look into this format because I for one have been lectured to death.

He is a former hero of mine, an idol I have since smashed. I wondered, did my interest in him have any sort of commonality to what I'm into today: God, Torah and Eretz Israel?

I formed the simple question that would get to the wild at heart of the matter.

On my turn at the microphone I asked, in the presence of an auditorium filled with the classic young secular Israelis, "Do you believe in God?"

"Yes, absolutely," Mr. Lynch doesn't hesitate.

Someone in the crowd shouted, "Which one?"

Lynch didn't flinch, "The all-powerful, merciful one."

A buzz breaks out in the auditorium. I was afraid that this was the end to his answer. So I asked, "Why?"

He said, "You and I should have a long talk." That would be welcomed (with anyone for that matter). He explained himself using the unified theory of quantum mechanics which I admit did lead into his transcendental meditation pitch, much to the chagrin to our protectionist Jews out there.

But that's not the point. The point is that I made aliyah. This enabled me to send a message to my unbelieving brethren. The next time one of them is confronted with the question of God he will remember to himself that even the darkest, most violent, most way-out-there director in the history of Hollywood basis his search for happiness and enlightenment on a firm belief of an all-powerful, merciful God. Maybe God is not such a nerd after all. How's that for Jewish outreach?

If I never made aliyah, nothing would have interrupted the onslaught of technical questions from the secular Jews about lighting, sound, digital versus film, movie theater versus internet, blah, blah, blah...

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Confessions of a Shavuot Hater - by Benyamin

The following is an essay called "Confessions of a Shavuot Hater" by Benyamin, the same mysterious semi-anonymous contributor who won Kumah a silver metal for Best Humor Post for his "Becoming a Real Israeli" confessional.

Thoughts on Shavuot
by Baruch Ben-Galut

My earliest memories of Shavuot are of my Consecration ceremony. Although I was very young, I was nevertheless aware that Consecration was not cool. No matter how satisfying or memorable your synagogue experience was, you can probably find something disturbing. My large suburban conservative American synagogue had many. Although I appreciate the religious basis I received, there was a healthy dose of synagogue experiences that turned me off to being Jewish as well. One of these was Consecration.

Somehow I knew even back then that this was some kind of a set-up. Some kind of trick to get me to go to Sunday School or Hebrew School or both every week so I could get a quality Jewish education. Not too Jewish, because, heaven forbid, I could end up making aliyah and then I would not grow up to be a dues-paying synagogue member with a doctorate and 2.5 kids.

Consecration involved the graduating class of 1st grade Sunday School marching around the synagogue with little miniature Torah's. The thought alone of standing in front of that many people was traumatic. On top of this terror, I was convinced there was something worse.

The word Consecration did not sit well with me. It sounded way too much like the word circumcision and I was still trying to figure out what that one meant and if it made me any less of a man then my classmates in public school. Further more, the word Consecration sounded suspiciously Christian to me. It definitely didn't sound Hebrew. And I wasn't going to be tricked into being Christian. I heard some of the students in public school talking about some kind of consecration at their church. I didn't know much about being Jewish, but I knew that we Jewish folks didn't go to church and that we had some kind of unspoken obligation to think of church with aversion.

My Jewish consciousness was strong at a young age. That is until I ruined it by abandoning my people by moving to a strange Middle Eastern country on the shores of the Mediterranean where they barely had any conservative or reform synagogues let alone a Sunday School.

Being Jewish to me meant being a Grinch. I was compelled to flip the TV channel whenever a Christmas movie came on. We received presents on Hanukah, not that other holiday. That's what made me special. But the word 'special' doesn't always have positive connotations.

This brings us up to the holiday of Shavuot, the most forgotten holiday of them all and yet perhaps one of the most important. I get presents on Hanukah. I eat apples and honey on Rusha Shonah. On Passover my whole family comes over and I get to eat a big meal. On Yom Kipper, I don't eat anything, that is, if I�m hardcore enough and punk rock enough to go through with fasting an entire day.

Every holiday seems to have something. Shavuot has nothing. Nothing that is, except Consecration. I eventually went through with the ceremony but it was but a precursor to my Bar Mitzvah. I failed in finding a good way out of that as well. I also failed in my elaborately planned protest against the degradation of Hebrew School Graduation. But I tricked them all by moving to Israel and thus sparing my children from the same experiences.

Shavuot. The day we received the Torah. One of the three pilgrimage festivals. This is a big one. Surely there should be some kind of ritual to celebrate it. But there isn't. Maybe that's the point. The concepts expressed on Shavuot should be taken on their own merit without any extras.

Eventually I discovered that there more to being Jewish then the fact that I get presents on a different day then the people on TV do. I also found that my Jewishness does not end at my bar mitzvah in a 13 year old mentality. That doesn't mean that my thoughts at age 13 are not legitimate. They are. But I'm not 13 any more and my Jewishness has to grow along with me. Because you can't be proud of who you are if you're walking around apologizing for what you are.

My synagogue experience didn't make me feel particular proud of my roots, but I discovered something that did. It had something to do about fighting for a cause and protesting against injustice. I learned all about a movement to create an independent nation in the face of great adversity. It went by a name that begins with the letter Z but I also learned that we're not supposed to use that word anymore. In college it had negative connotations.

By the time I got to college I felt strongly enough that I refused to go to school on Shavuot. Instead I went to shul. Finals happened to be on the same day as Shavuot, the second day, that is. I asked the professor if I could take the test a day later. A fellow Jewish student overheard the conversation. "That's right! Shavuot IS next week, isn't it." He too asked the professor if he could take finals a day later. The professor, smiling, refused on the grounds that he knew I would go to synagogue while my classmate just wanted an extra day to study. The student admitted the professor was right. I took the test a day later and passed.

It wasn't always that easy. Once in high school, I got in trouble and had to get a note from the principal's office. The next day was Shavuot. I thought I could get away with not bothering to go to the principal's office at all. But I didn't get away that easy. At home it was insisted upon that I get the note either before or after synagogue.

And thus came the great dilemma. What would the others students say when they saw me waltzing into school with a button-down white shirt and black slacks? Should I wear the clothes I usually wore to school? But then what would the rabbi in synagogue say? Should I leave my kippah on or not? What would the other students say when they saw me in a kippah? Would I get a nasty comment? Did it make any sense for me to walk in school with a button-down white shirt and black slacks and no kippah? Would that be even more awkward?

That day, I cut school, went to shul, then went to school, got the note and then went home. The next day in school the only comments were the fact that I had cut school. In my school, it was just as likely that I was dressed up because I had to appear in court. Most of my friends just assumed that I cut for fun. My Jewishness wasn't questioned in the least. By the next school year I was wearing a kippah every day, both in school and in the street.

Although my non-Jewish acquaintances were understanding, the yom tov dilemma always cropped up. I dreaded holidays because it meant asking off from work and explaining why I couldn't use electricity. But worse then that was trying to explain why the holiday was celebrated two days in America when it seemed to be that technically it was really only one day. Shavuot was the worst, since, as discussed earlier, it is the least known and least celebrated of the holidays. Even Jewish people didn't exactly understand. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, of course Shavuot is only one day.

Two-day yomtovs are great when it means Passover with two seders and all my favorite foods two days in a row. But on a holiday like Shavuot, especially when it comes on a Shabbos, it means up to three days without showering. It was a happy occasion if The Jewish Press arrived before sunset so I could devour the screaming blue headlines that predicted utter catastrophe for Israel at any minute. And I dreamed of that far off country with blue skies and palm trees where I could fight for the struggle and watch TV on the second day of yomtov.

But those concerns are now worlds away. This year, Shavuot will take on a new meaning. We learned in Sunday School that Shavuot was a day when the entire Jewish people made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Then we were taught of the importance of not chewing gum during synagogue services. I doubt any of the students in 1st grade Sunday School believed that Jewish people in modern times actually make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Shavuot. Growing up, travelling to Shavuot services required either the Volvo or the Honda. Today I can walk to the site of the Holy Temple where Shavuot has been celebrated for generations.

In Israel, I've barely thought for a second what the reaction would be if I wore a kippah in public or how I'm going to explain to my boss why I need off for yet another Jewish holiday. I'm still afraid, however, to use the Z word in certain circles, let alone neo-Z.

Moving to Israel did not magically transform my life for the better. It's a challenge which I've taken up. The new challenges that are far preferable to the once I grew up with. My identity issues have been transformed for the better.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

It's the Little Things

In follow-up to Alex's description of sewage running in the wrong direction, here are some pictures of sewage going in the right direction; sewage pipes that is. As we speak, the Golan municipality is installing sewage pipes for our little piece of heaven, in North-East, Israel. Sewage is one of those little things in life that make a man happy. And there is nothing like watching those backhoes at work digging sewage trenches for your very own house. Can't wait to put those sewage pipes to good use.
Golan sewage
Next is electricity and water. Bit by bit we'll get this house in order so it'll eventually be a home.

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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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