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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ynet Author Threatens Jewish Yesha Residents with Violence

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

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

Don’t ever call me Nazi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detached from the State

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Am Yisrael - One big humus eating happy family

Every Pesach since I first became religious I've essentially had a repeat of the seder experience- a well groomed black hat sporting North American kiruv rabbi sitting at the head of the table spending the night sharing light-hearted parables tied into the story of Yetzirat Mitzrayim, everyone calmly getting their fill of matzah and maybe a cute performance from the kids. This year however due to me now having Israeli in-laws, I merited getting an up close view of the Moroccan and Yeminite worlds of Israel not so commonly available to those in the English speaking circles of Jerusalem.

The cultural challenges included things like trying to keep up with a table full of people who can read Hebrew 5 times faster than the speed of light and trying to reach halachik agreements over how to handle the intricacies of the Pesach laws with people who were often less then thrilled to have some yeshivish American kid come and start telling them what to do. In fact one thing I've noticed of quite a few of the non-Charedi Sephardim in Israel is that for many, opening up a Shulchan Aruch, Mishneh Breur or Yalkut Yosef and stating the halacha point blank seems to be no match in their eyes against claims of, "Who are you to tell me what to do? I was born in the neighboring town to where the Baba Sali lived!" Or, "My great grandfather was the Ben Ish Chai's milkman! You think I don't know what I'm talking about!?"

As difficult as it was at times to bridge the culture gap, I witnessed something really beautiful that put the whole idea of Am Yisrael and family in perspective for me. During Chol Hamoed one day we had a bbq up in Haifa. Here I was, wearing my frummer-than-though black and white "penguin" uniform surrounded by sabras in jeans and flip flops when my wife and I looked into a neighboring yard nearby. We saw another Israeli family quite similar to ours grilling their own food "al-ha'eish." Smack dab in the middle of the group was a man with a long beard also sporting the "uniform" with his super-tznious wife helping direct the festivities. My wife smiled and commented, "I guess there has to be one of those couples in every family!" Then it hit me, I looked at the people surrounding me that were in many ways so entirely different and yet had totally welcomed me into their family. I also looked down the street at the guy whom I'm sure had such similar Pesach experience to mine that he could probably write this post for me. I realized that's the story of Am Yisrael. As corny as it sounds, no matter how different we may look or feel we are all as Jews bound up by some common thread. What the thread is and how it works I'm not exactly sure bit it's definitely there and doing its thing. My rabbi gave several classes in Jerusalem in the last week or so and during one of them said that he never calls himself religious, just a Jew. People tell him things like, "Well look at your big beard!" He replies, "Goats can grow beards too, so what of it?" No matter how different we may look speak or act, we really are just one big family.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Shtikel Purim Torah

There are many new years throughout the Jewish calender. Rosh Hashanah is the main new year but there are others such as Tuv b'Shvat which is the new years of trees and Rosh Chodesh Nissan which is the new years of kings. Pesach is the new years of the Jewish holidays. Rebbe Nachman once said regarding this, “All beginnings started from Pesach but now...” Reb Natan said that from the Rebbe's gestures it was clear he meant Purim, i.e. Purim was now the holiday from which everything would start. Purim is the holiday of flip-flops and opposites. All year long we are studious and responsible yet on Purim we not only allow ourselves to get completely drunk but are expected to. Instead of dressing like respectable people we dress in light-hearted costumes. Why is it that Rebbe Nachman made this statement about Purim and why is it that everything is backwards from how it normally is on Purim?

Chazal says that in the time to come we won't celebrate any of the old holidays except for Purim which will continue to be celebrated even after the Mashiach comes. Why is this? By all our major holidays we say “Zecher l'yetziat Mitzraim” (in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt) because they all center around the miracles that happened when we left Egypt. We recognize these miracles because we always go after the biggest chiddush and the miracles that occurred during the exodus from Egypt were the greatest ever witnessed in the history of humanity therefore it would be a lesser statement of Hashem's greatness to proclaim lesser miracles. Yet when Mashiach comes Hashem will perform miracles that are even greater than those of Yetziat Mitzraim and therefore we won't need to remember those miracles anymore. But unlike the other main holidays which were based on the past redemption, the redemption of Purim was actually based on the future redemption of Mashiach which has yet to happen. This is why we will still celebrate Purim even after Mashiach comes. This is also why everything in Purim is backwards of how things normally are- instead of reaching into the past redemption and pulling the kedusha forward like the other holidays, Purim pulls into the future and pulls the kedusha backwards to the past.

Sefer Daniel describes a statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, thighs of copper, and legs of iron with the feet are made of part iron and part clay. Then four kingdoms are described corresponding to the four parts of the statue. The last part of the statue- the iron with some of the feet iron and some clay is described as a divided kingdom. The statue and kingdoms represent the four nations which will oppress the nation of Israel- the four exiles. The gold is Babylon, the silver Persia, the copper Greece, and the iron is Rome and by extension Edom and modern day America and Europe. Exile, or GaLuT (גלות), has the same root as MeGiLLah (מגילה) suggesting a link between the Megillot and the exiles, but there are five Megillot and only for exiles. Where is the fifth exile? In the iron part of the statue at the very bottom it becomes partially mixed with clay and the kingdom is divided. In the current exile of Edom that we are in, we are reaching the end of it and the kingdom is becoming divided by a new rival to America and Europe- Islam and the arabs. The fact that it is in the feet of the statue corresponds to sefer B'reshit when three angels came to Avraham and he asked them to wash the dust off their feet. Rashi comments that this is because the angels appeared to Avraham as arabs and since arabs would worship the dust on the feet he wanted to prevent them from doing their idolatry. Just like clay is mixed in with the iron, the fifth exile is mixed in with the fourth one. A hidden exile connotes a hidden megillah- the Megillat Ester as Ester means hidden. How is this exile we are now in hidden? Because the concealment is so deep that it's a concealment within a concealment- the concealment is such that people don't even know they are in it and therefore don't know to try and get out. Many of us have returned to Israel and we have a government here, yet right here we are still in spiritual galut. Many Jews don't even know there's a G-d or anything it says in the Torah. Yet this is the exile of the “Megillat Ester.” Megillah can be read as “MeGaLeh” or “reveal.” This Megillah is the revealing of the hidden. Since the clay was at the feet of the statue- the end, this current exile is nearing its own end when the hiddeness of Hashem will be revealed to the world.

In Sefer Daniel it tells of a rock that will smash the statue and then become a mountain that encompasses the world and a kingdom that will never be destroyed. This rock and kingdom is Israel when Hashem brings the final redemption. This time and experience can most be tapped into on Purim when we are spiritually speaking actually in the future redemption at the present. How do we know that we are currently tapping into the future redemption right now? At what point in the Megillat Ester do things start to turn around from bad to good for the Jews? In the sixth chapter when the king realizes that Mordecahi was never rewarded for reporting the conspirators who had planned to assassinate him. In second chapter of the megillah the name of one of the two conspirators written Bigtan (בגתן) yet in chapter six when the things start turning around his name is written Bigtana (בגתנא) with an extra aleph. Hashem was showing that by implanting that aleph into the bad situation He would turn it all around into a redemption. So to with our current and final exile, Hashem doesn't even need to make a new situation but can take this very one itself and make it a redemption, for what happens when you implant the aleph into the root of GaLuT? You get GEuLah (גאולה) (redemption)! It should be Hashem's will that we tap into the future redemption this Purim and help bring it in it's entirety soon and in our days, amen.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

The Guys Nobody Seems to be Talking About (But Maybe Should)

Lots of buzz is going around between people and definitely in the news about the big players in the upcoming election: Tzipi, Bibi, and Lieberman. Yet not nearly as much is attention is being focused on the forth alternative: Shas. Now before anyone wants to post a comment about how they're all a bunch of crooks I'd like ask why would you single them out? Do you think the other major Knesset parties people would vote for otherwise are squeaky clean? Kadima's head, our current prime minister has just gone through several rounds of indictments and the Prime Minister before him (Sharon) was also tied to some shady deals. And anybody who's had interactions with the government knows that in Israel things with the government are often not quite so "Yashar" as they should be. Plus despite some problems with members in the past, the current head Eli Yishai seems like a fine man and I am not aware of any bad report of him.

Other people want to complain that Shas are all sellouts, they are just interested in money for their causes and nothing else. Well let's take a look at those causes real quick. From what I'm aware of the majority of the money Shas funnels is into religious schools, ways to help educate non-Religious Jews in Jewish knowledge, and other general Torah learning institutions. Chazal says that Hashem created the whole world for the sake of learning Torah... so much so that if there was a moment in which Torah wasn't being learned anywhere in the world it would cease to exist. So for Shas to divert as much money into Torah learning as possible doesn't sound crooked to me, quite the opposite- I would think it would be the best investment this country could make.

Some want to criticize how they obey the directives of Rav Ovadia Yosef and seem to do whatever he says. Well if anyone has something bad to say about Rav Ovadia I would suggest you bite your tongue- for your own sake. This is because he is one our current generation's biggest Talmidei Chachim (if not THE Gadol Hador), and the Gemara's definition of a heretic is one who claims what do we need the rabbis and the Torah scholars for, what good are they?

I ask any right wing religious voter in Israel, or any religious voter for that matter, who would be a better choice? I don't even think I need to explain away Barak or Livni. Bibi? Last time I checked he doesn't sport a kippah on his head too often and he's already proven his diplomatic resolve and love of Eretz Yisrael and our religious heritage by giving away Hevron. If even Sharon didn't have the backbone to stand up against American diplomatic pressure do you really think he's going to?

What about Yisrael Beiteinu? Arutz Sheva recently reported an American diplomat has released a book of his experience dealing with Israel in which he tells that Lieberman once agreed to give in to the PLO's land demands and give away our precious Yesha. Even if he wants to deny this he can't deny things on his official platform like supporting civil marriage. Currently the Rabbinate controls who gets married in this country and Baruch Hashem there is a group responsible enough to make sure Jews are inter-marrying themselves into extinction like they are in America. Baruch Hashem I recently got married here and I can attest that as inconveniant as it may be having about 20 run-ins with the Rabbinut before getting your ketuba, at least they are making certain people are Jewish before letting them marry each other. Now what pray tell do we need civil marriage for in this country if not to allow inter-marriage and gays marrying each other? I asked a campaign worker for Yisrael Beiteinu the other day about this issue. He claimed it is one of the many issues being spun out of control to harm their image and that in truth Lieberman just supports some small concession to allow for tax breaks. This man wore a kippah as does Lieberman, so I ask them, do they believe in the Torah like their clothing suggests or not!?! If G-d explicitly forbids these types of marriages then why do we need to make even small concessions? Every concession one makes in his beliefs highlights a lack of faith in the Torah. And as far as Lieberman trying to advertise himself as the guy to get the arabs out of Israel? Doubtful. Not even Rav Kahane could do that after immeasurable blood sweat and tears, and this guys is no Rav Kahane.

What about Feiglin? I heard him speak at Tuesday Night Live this week and I must say he is about as much of a stand up guy as you'll find. The problem is he is number 36 on the list. In order to get him in you first need to get in 35 shall we say, "not so stand up" people first. He claims this is the only way to change Likud from the inside out. But changes like he is trying to accomplish take time, and in the mean time can we afford to put our hope in a 1 to 35 voting ratio while the future of the country hangs in the balance?

Then there is the Dati Leumi parties. Their hearts are in the right place but it appears as if they can't get their act together long enough to get along with themselves never mind lead the rest of the country. Plus there is the laws of probability that heavily weigh against them gaining enough seats to have serious influence in the government. One could counter that Shas doesn't have a chance of winning the prime ministership either yet that isn't important. Why? It doesn't really matter who is in charge, for we know that on Rosh Hashanah Hashem plans out of that whole following year who will go to war with who, which side will be victorious, and how much money every person and country will have as well as who will live and who will die. Therefore we could vote in the best party and prime minister in the world and if Hashem doesn't help us then we won't have a chance. Likewise we could have the most inept losers at the helm and if Hashem wills it then we'll be successful. Shas isn't going to be the biggest party, that's a given. But what is also almost guaranteed is that they will be big enough that whichever party does lead will have to take them in as a coalition partner. Therefore the stronger they are, the more muscle they have to get what they want- i.e. money to support Torah (something ever so vital now that much of the American philanthropy to Israel is getting hit hard from the world financial crisis). So if Hashem decides who successful we're going to be at war and diplomacy and the like who does it matter who "appears" to be in charge? What we should worry about is how we can affect thigns we do have control over like how many Jews are going to learn Torah or do Teshuva and have a support network to ease them into the religious world when they do.

Now at the end of the day I don't know how much my opinion counts because I am not yet able to vote here anyway. But I will say this, if you look around at all the political posters it's all attacks from this one on that one and counter-attacks the other way. Then you see the egged bus come by with a big picture of Rav Ovadia and it has a blessing to Am Yisrael or a quote from the Tanach, and always something optimistic. If nothing else, let's go with the "glass half full" people!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic importance of Gaza operation much greater than we assume

Isaac Ben-Israel

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

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

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

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

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

Path of resistance has failed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Ignorance Really is Bliss

Everyone has their pleasure buttons. For some it's cigarettes, for others that slice of chocolate cake on the table. Me? I'm a news and politics junkie. If left to my own devices I would spend all day online reading news articles and blogs, and when I ran out of those I would go on Wikipedia and look up everything I had read about. Recently I took on a resolution (yes it was around New Years, no it wasn't for New Years) to cut down on my media consumption. It was inspired when I went out to dinner with a few of my frummie friends, most of which were serious talmidei chachamim in their own right. Yet a little ways into the night I found us discussing things like electric cars and George Bush. I thought silently to myself, "If we were having this discussion ten years ago it would probably include something about Bill Clinton and maybe the internet or G-d knows what. Yet I could look back on that conversation today and the content would be meaningless for me. So too I could look back on this current conversation 10 years from now and it would be equally meaningless. I was sitting here with Torah learners who could be imparting upon me and each other thoughts of Torah which, Torah being eternal, would be just as enlightening and relevant 10 years into the future as right now. Indeed, Torah thoughts and insights are like a fine wine, as you come to understand the insight better through life experience it often improves with age.

Upon this realization I decided that I spend to much of my time concerning my brainwaves with things that, while interesting or fun to talk about, really have no bearing in the grand scheme of things and therefore I needed to trim some of the intellectual fat. There's a lot of stuff going on in the world, and probably 90% of it has absolutely nothing to do with my day to day life. While the thought of giving up all news was a little to intimidating, I decided from now on Bli Neder (that's a BIG bli neder!) I would try to stop reading non-Jewish and non-Israel related news websites. This was an especially tough move for me because of the main English language Jewish news sites, I find Haaretz way too leftist and JPost mildly too liberal and often too bland. Though I get the feeling Ynet is somewhat anti-religious I'm keeping them around (for now) because they usually have up to the moment updates of what is going on in Israel and of course there's always good ole' Arutz Sheva. Plus I've developed a deeper appreciation of Rabbi Lazer Brody's "Lazer Beams" of which I was already a big fan.

So how has it been? Well first of all it's interesting how when one tries to go up a level the Sitra Achra combats them with extra challenges to block the path. On day one of this new resolution the country went to war in Gaza. So I had a few peaks at the Drudge Report but other than that I'm proud to say I've been pretty good about it for the past couple of weeks. And you know what? It feels great! I can actually see extra time in my day that I'm spending in much more fulfilling ways and while I'm still keeping informed of issues facing the Jewish people, I no longer carry the weight of the entire world on my shoulders. I did take a quick peak again a day or two ago and was shocked at two things: A)How much is going on in America and the world I didn't know about (apparently some miracle jet crashed into the Hudson without anyone dieing and America is going to have a new president tomorrow or something like that... who knew?) and B)How I suddenly could care less about all these things I was missing out on knowing about- their importance suddenly became non-existent, as if they weren't real headlines but just some irrelevant fiction story written by an author nobody has ever heard of. For anyone thinking of trying this I really recommend it. If your as into the news as I am then you might have to get rid of things in stages but I've found the age-old adage really is true... ignorance turned out to be bliss after all. And besides- you've always got Kumah to read!

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Tagging" Ain't Just for Facebook!

To my displeasure, the walls of Jerusalem (and much of the rest of Israel) are covered in graffiti. My reaction is often to not pay attention at all or sigh over the misuse of a beautiful white wall of Jerusalem-stone. But I've noticed if you look a little deeper you will see many reoccurring patterns within the teenage (I pray they're only teenagers) markings. The most common one of course is the "Na Nach Nachma Nachman M'uman" tag of the dope-smoking hippies that fancy themselves some sort of modern breakaway group of Breslov Chassidim.

A new one that has been popping up all over the place in the last two weeks or so though is "Style Wars 2." At first I didn't think much of it, but as I saw it over and over again I started to get more curious. Could it have to do something with Star Wars? I understand every other group of people seems to lay some sort of claim to the holy city but now Star Wars nerds too!? I did an internet search on it and it turns out that Style Wars was the name of a PBS documentary done on urban culture and specifically spray paint graffiti. Now why they have started to spray Style Wars 2 everywhere is beyond me, unless it is some sort of grassroots promotion for a sequel. Also popping up is an interesting one that says something to the effect of "Joker love 42" or something like that. It always seems to feature arrows coming out the the ends of the letters which seems kind of neat I guess.

A more classic one I've seen for over a year now is "Homo = Ill" or some slight variant of it. The funny thing is that wherever somebody has written it, 90% of the time somebody has come around later, crossed out the word "Homo" and replaced it with word "bigot." My mind's eye pictures some rainbow flag bearing spray paint can toting hippie following closely behind some angry right wing punk, each tip-toeing so as to not arouse the attention of police-calling neighbors.

Another common one is the "Am Yisrael Chai" (the nation of Israel lives on) which always includes a Magen David, and every now and then you'll even see a "Mavet l'aravim" (Death to the arabs) painted on a stairwell or alleyway wall. But if you really want a treat I recommend going on Yaffo Street across from the Shuk and checking out the building that has beautiful calligraphy of Jerusalem in both Hebrew and English written across an entire wall. Whether you like it or not, the graffiti seems to pop up everywhere in Jerusalem, but at least you can't complain that they don't keep it interesting.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Being Happy When the Bad Guys Lose

Tonight I made a somewhat controversial remark on my facebook page stating my satisfaction over success of the Israeli Air Force in Gaza and the fact that some of the most vicious Jew haters/killers in the world will no longer see the light of day. An acquaintance of mine whom I know to be a somewhat liberal Jew sent me a message remarking how they were upset over me making such a comment. now it's a hotly debated issue by some as to what kind of response and how much of that response we as Jews are halachikly allowed to have concerning the downfall of our enemies. I won't speak on the details of the halacha because that is the job of qualified rabbis and not a Joe-Schmoe such as myself, but I will say this- when the enemies of the Jewish people are victorious over us and cause us harm it is a chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name). Why? Because people will see such a thing and falsely believe that G-d forbid the Torah isn't true and Hashem has abandoned the Jews, breaking His eternal promises to us. Conversely, when Hashem grants us victory over our enemies (one of the main factors of the Channukah festival we happen to be celebrating right now) this is a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name) because it shows that the Jewish people are truly meritorious and we have the support of Hashem on our side. One could say that Hashem gives the victory to us or our enemies based on how well the Jews behave which is true, but that doesn't negate the Kiddush/chillul Hashem aspect, for when the Jews follow Torah properly this is the greatest Kiddush Hashem they could do and if they don't G-d forbid, that's the greatest desecration, for the non-Jews will ask, "If G-d's own people don't follow His command, why should we?" With this in mind, I'd like to share my response to my more liberal minded Jewish friend...

I understand why you would feel upset. My question is do you believe that there is such a thing as actual evil in the world and evil people? If yes then we have what to discuss, but if not then no. I personally think it's compelling to believe there is such a thing as evil and evil people because otherwise one must say that a group of people like the nazis weren't truly evil and if everything is truly just all relative then the acts they committed can't be condemned because from their point of view they were justified.

Like I said, I believe there is evil and evil people in the world. Anybody who hates Jews and wishes to see them dead, and all the more so takes actions to kill or in any other way cause Jews harm simply for them being Jewish is evil. The fact is that the members of hamas, and the vast majority of residents in Gaza whether officially affiliated with hamas or not hate Jews and wish to see harm befall them. Therefore they are evil people in my eyes, and when evil people suffer and/or meet their end, that is a sign that there is justice in this world. According to reports, the vast, vast majority of these causalities have been official hamas members, so even if you want to say non-hamas gazans don't hate Jews, you would have a hard time arguing that these dead who WERE hamasniks didn't hate Jews. Pirkei Avot states that those who are kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind. To take pity on those who are evil will, if that path is followed long enough, eventually lead to one supporting evil themselves against the innocent. I've seen it with my own two eyes.

I respect what I assume is your great compassion to be upset over such a thing, but I just hope that you have just as much compassion and get just as upset for your Jewish brothers and sisters who have had to suffer over 3000 rocket attacks at the hands of the people who filled up the morgues today and therefore won't fill up rocket launchers tomorrow.

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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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Thursday, December 11, 2008

You just don't know how good you (could) have it

Recently a close friend of mine came up with an amazing idea. He, I, and another friend rented a car and spent the day driving all over Israel to visit and pray at kivrei tzaddikim (the graves of very holy and righteous Jews). Notice I said pray "at" and not "to." Praying at the graves of tzaddikim is an age old Jewish custom. As Jews, we believe that there is a whole other world after this one... even though somebody may have appeared to have left us they are definitely still around. Not only that, Chassidus teaches us that when a tzaddik dies, he becomes spiritually more powerful and more able to affect changes in this world than he ever could when he was alive. Therefore many people who are much lower in spiritual standing than the tzaddikim will pray to G-d at their graves in order that they should couple their merit with that of the holy person they are standing near, hopefully increasing the chances of a successful prayer.

As far as our little trip went, we hit up some pretty big names. First we prayed at the grave of Rebbe Meir Baal HaNes and that of his main pupil. Rebbe Meir was a Torah Scholar of unbelievable proportions and whenever there is an anonymous line in the Mishna it is attributed to him. Next we went to the grave of Rachel, the wife of Rebbe Akiva. When she met Rebbe Akiva he was already 40 years old, had no money and didn't even know how to read the Aleph Bet. Yet she was so holy that she was able to see the potential within him and gave up a life of luxury to live with him in a barn. With her love and support he was able to become one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, learning secrets it is said even Moses didn't know.

The next stop on the list was that of the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, and his father. It's said that since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) until the Rambam nobody named their child Moses because nobody had enough merit in Torah to have such a name. Next we went to the graves of Rebbe Akiva and one of my absolute favorite Rabbis and kabbalists- the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto). Apparently they are buried next to each other because while Rebbe Akiva didn't start learning Torah until he was 40 years old, the Ramchal passed away at 40, and it is held that he was a reincarnation of Rebbe Akiva who lived those first 40 years teaching the deepest secrets of the Torah to make up for that period of Rebbe Akiva's life that he missed out on.

All of these graves were in the Tiberias reigion, and while there were many more in the area we moved on to the forest kever of Amuka. There is a grave of a tzaddik there, and it's a tradition that those who pray there will have assistance in finding their soulmate. Regardless of traditions, it's worth going just for the amazing views (pictured above). After that we traveled to the mountain-top mystical city of Tzfat. We dipped in the mikvah of the famous kabbalist the Ari, and prayed at his grave as well well as that of the Beit Yosef Rabbi Yosef Caro (author of the Shulchan Aruch, the most widely followed book of Jewish law today). We were also able to track down Rav Kennig, the head Breslov Rabbi in Tzfat and get a bracha from him. I've been told that he once met with the Lubbavitcher Rebbe who told him, "Some say you are the head Breslov rabbi of Tzfat, but I say you're the head Breslov rabbi of the world." The humbleness of the man was amazing. He answered the door himself, and though we came totally uninvited to his private home, he was excited to see us and greeted us with a beaming smile. We topped off the night with a trip to pray at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Tanna and author of the Zohar. We then returned back to Jerusalem (not so shabby itself- home to the site of the Temple), and wanted to continue on to Kever Rachel (grave of our Matriarch Rachel) and Hevron (burial city of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah... and tradition holds Adam and Eve as well) but were prevented to only by lack of time.

If that amazing road trip wasn't enough, this past Shabbat, I was able to spend it in Beit El, site of Jacob's famous dream of the ladder to heaven, during the exact Torah portion in which this event takes place! And several days ago I was able to attend a class and receive a bracha from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, possibly the top English speaking kabbalist in the world today.

I don't mean to brag, as often my life isn't this jam packed with excitement. So what is the point I'm trying to make here? Many of us who live here in Israel often take for granted the holiness of the place and all the opportunities to access Hashem in different and exciting ways. For roughly 50 dollars a piece and a day of our time, my friends and I were able to visit the graves of some of the holiest and most famous people in Jewish history. To even come to the land of Israel itself was a privilege most Jews in the past 2000 years couldn't have. And before the days of car travel such a trek would have taken weeks instead of a single day. Just for hopping on an Egged bus I was able to make the Torah real and live out the words on its pages in my own life. These are the opportunities available to any Jew who lives here and wishes to take advantage of them. So to anyone who does live here in Israel please take some time to remember what you have here, and do something about it! And to those who have yet to come join us... if you have any appreciation of Torah or spirituality, then I don't care how comfy your house or job is, how settled you feel, or how prestigious the day school you send your kids to is... the way I see it none of that compares to being able to have all this at your fingertips.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mobsters going green?

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

Mob kingpin Yaakov Alperon killed in Tel Aviv assassination

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

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

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

* Analysis: This is a war over honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

The "Nuclear Option?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Holy Locker Room

I used to do a few sports back in my high school days and that meant spending a lot of time before and after practice/meets in a beautiful little hangout known as the men's locker room. Now for those of you who are wondering, a men's locker room in a Minnesota public high school isn't exactly the most holy place on earth. In fact in the kedusha rankings it probably sits square between an outhouse and Tijuana. Through the time I've spent there I've probably racked up hours of being exposed to (and unfortunately participating in) conversations that were at best mundane small talk and at worst vulgar as vulgar can be.

I'm personally a huge fan of going to the mikvah. Now don't get me wrong, being surrounded by big fat hairy naked chassidic men doesn't top out the list of things I'd like to be doing with my time, nor getting all clean in the shower just so I can step into a pool of murky water you can't see to the bottom of- which I know happened to be crystal clear just a few hours ago before a hundred people passed through it. But few things can compare to the feeling of walking up out of the water feeling spiritually cleansed.

I dream that someday I'll be able to be on the level of the tzaddikim that immerse themselves every morning before they start their day, but for now I just try and manage to go every Friday afternoon in honor of Shabbat. Due to the jam packed schedule of holidays we're currently going through I've been able visit the mikvah a lot more times that usual and it's been making me feel really great but aside from the normal spiritual enjoyment of it I couldn't really figure out why. Recently I was able to put my finger on it. It was erev Yom Kippur and a friend of mine from Yeshiva was taking me to dip in the natural spring in Lifta (which for the record is a beautiful area and a quick walk from the Central Bus Station) for the first time. There were many men coming in and out but probably at least 20 or 30 people were hanging around at any given time and many were conversing and shooting the breeze with each other before and after immersing. Finally it hit me, most standard indoor men's mikvahs have a locker room and shower area just like a gym or high school. I realized that on the surface they may appear very similar but fundamentally they are worlds apart. While people go to the locker room in order to work out and improve upon their physical bodies, those at the mivah are improving on themselves in a wholly spiritual manner. Plus any conversating that tends to happen in the mikvah, unlike the locker room, centers around Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people. Even if not, I can guarantee you people aren't chuckling with each other over dirty jokes.

For anyone who like me has spent a fair amount of time in a locker room setting and is not so proud of the company they kept in such a place I highly recommend doing a tikkun on it and going to check out your local mikvah this Friday afternoon. Start doing locker room time right!

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Night and Day

There are two elements to one day, what we call daytime and what we call nighttime- daytime being when the sun is out and things are bright and nighttime being when the sun is set and things are dark. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that the darkness of night represents the difficult times in life. Just as we grope in the dark without direction and unable to avoid stumbling blocks and obstacles, so too when we are going through difficult periods in our lives we often feel at a loss for direction and purpose. Lacking a guiding light we can often fall victim to despair. The daytime, however, refers to the more enjoyable periods of life, those times when we see the path laid out ahead of us and feel a degree of security.

There are two ways of approaching the order of day- the Jewish way and the non-Jewish way. The non-Jews, usually using a solar calender, hold that the day begins with the morning and that the nighttime represents the end of that particular day. Conversely the Jews, using a mainly lunar-based calendar, view a day as beginning with the evening and the actual daytime as being the latter part of the day. This is why Shabbat and other Jewish holidays always begin in the evening and last until the evening of the following day. This concept doesn't just apply to the calendar, but rather is a principle Hashem has put into the universe of which many things, one of which happens to be time, adhere to. For it says in B'reishit (Genesis) "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Since the time of creation it has been a principle of the universe that first there is a period of darkness and afterwards it is followed by the period of light.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that therefore, when going through difficult times we can take comfort in the fact that though things may be difficult at the moment, it is guaranteed that eventually the light will shine forth in our lives and things will become better as it is a fundamental principle G-d has put into the world, and all we must do is hold out long enough to see our personal redemption come from whatever the obstacles may be. But if both the darkness and the light are part of a system setup by G-d, this begs the question why does G-d desire us to pass through this alternating experience of hardship and redemption in the first place? Obviously G-d doesn't do it for His own amusement as He is far beyond simple human thinking such as that, and because of His great love for us He only does what's in our best interest never subjects us to needless suffering. So it must be that He puts us through these processes in order that we should grow. People who stay in their comfort zone tend to grow lazy and slump whereas those who are held up against the fire of adversity are forced to grow and overcome in order to survive. This puts an interesting responsibility into our hands... since these life situations are presented to us in order that we should grow it seems incumbent upon us to actually see to it that when we come out of our "nights" into our "days", we have taken something away from the experience and grow to become a better human being. To do so is to fulfill G-d's will, to fail to do so is to essentially waste an opportunity provided to us by Him.

Human civilization is currently in the era of the Arab. As the western world sets into decline, the Muslim world in general, and particularly the Arab world is filling in the power vacuum and vying for ultimate control of the direction in which to steer humanity. This is mainly through Arab oil influence and its choke hold on international policy combined with the growing boldness of militant Islam and the western world's lack of effort to curb either. It seems as if conflicts driven by this change are sparking up in virtually every place across the world... the aggressive spread of Islam, or "terrorism" as it is most often referred to affects almost every group of people in every place to some degree or another. Often fought by underground militias which blend in with the civilians in major population centers as well as in the media and across the internet, those who oppose this movement are often at a loss for means to fight it, as its tactics are radically different from organized state militaries of the enemies of yesteryear. As more nations and peoples succumb to tolerance and eventual social if not military surrender of this movement, those left opposed to it face a world of fear and darkness and seemingly greater conflict that what is already upon us lays ahead.

In Hebrew the word for Arab (ARaVi) [ ערבי] and the word for evening (EReV) [ערב] share the same root, Ayin-Resh-Bet (the word for Arab only differing by having an additional letter Yud at the end). As the age of the Arab (ARaVi) sets in the world is indeed starting to fall into a deep darkness- a worldwide darkness of night (EReV). However as we discussed earlier, there are two different views to what evening means- the Jewish one of the day beginning and the non-Jewish one of the day coming to a close. Therefore this era is marking an incredible transition in the history of humanity, that from an age of a non-Jewish based experience and thinking to that of Jewish based thinking and experience. What exactly does this mean? As already stated, Hashem desires people to go through the nighttime-daytime experience so that they should emerge more developed. So too perhaps humanity as a whole is currently undergoing such a process.

And just what is the development that the world as a whole must gain through all this? A new perspective and relationship to G-d. The Ben Ish Chai, Gaon Chayim Yosef of Baghdad, comments on how in the morning prayers we recite "Hashem melech, Hashem malach, Hashem yimloch l'olam vaed" (Hashem reigns, Hashem has reigned, Hashem will reign forever) not in the order of past present and future but rather out of order starting with the present. He says this is because our faith in Hashem ruling over the past and the future is based in recognition that He currently reigns as evident through the miracles He does for us in these times. Having described the Jewish recognition of G-d, the morning prayers continue several paragraphs later to describe the differing recognition of G-d that the non-Jews will eventually have in future times when it says, "V'yomru bagoyim Hashem malach, Hashem melech, Hashem malach, Hashem yimloch l'olam vaed" (And the nations will say Hashem has reigned, Hashem reigns, Hashem has reigned, Hashem will reign forever). This recognition of Hashem differs from that of the Jewish nation as explained by the Ben Ish Chai in that it seems the future non-Jewish recognition of Hashem currently reigning and reigning for all future times are both first preceded by the statement that Hashem has reigned in the past.

Thus we can see the future nature of the non-Jews' relationship to Hashem and infer about their current relationship. The Jews currently recognize Hashem and His mandate over the universe entire, and all past or future aspects of His rule correspond to the same G-d who we currently recognize rules right now. Yet the G-d of Israel is also the G-d of the rest of the world and the father of all of humanity. It is His desire that all people in His world should come to know Him and forge a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, the non-Jewish nations of the world have not been able to achieve the perception of G-d that the nation of Israel has via the Torah that G-d gave to it as well as the revelations to the patriarchs Abraham, Issac, Jacob and to the entire nation at Mount Sinai. Yet once the world emerges from the current "dark of night" that it is currently in, it will have gained a new development from the night-day cycle. With the coming "light of day" and the arrival of Moshiach (the Jewish Messiah) the world will come to see the truth of Torah and finally recognize Hashem, the G-d of Israel, as the one true sovereign of the world. Once this occurs, unlike the Jews who currently proclaim Hashem as king, the non-Jewish nations will realize that it was Hashem who ruled all along and therefore because of that realization of the past they will also realize that it is Hashem who reigns currently; so too they will see that just as it was Hashem who reigned before it is Hashem that will reign in the future of all time. Thus the morning prayers say that they will proclaim "Hashem has reigned" each time before declaring that He currently reigns and will in the future.

May G-d grant us the patience and strength to endure the current and coming dark times so that we may survive to see the coming times of light that will follow, in our own lives as well as the world over.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Say What!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Aryeh Deri is a good man'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 12, 2008

What's the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Inspiriation on the Number 2

You've probably heard that one about the rabbi and the Egged bus driver who both die and go up to heaven. The Egged driver is rewarded with a posh mansion complete with three car garage and swimming pool while the rabbi is placed in a dilapidated shack. Figuring there must have been some sort of mix-up the rabbi consults the Heaven Housing Authority. They inform him that there was indeed no mix-up explaining, "When you spoke in shul everybody fell asleep... when he drove the bus everybody cried out in intense prayer!"

Regardless of our, or at least my own, ideas about what to expect on the average Egged ride, recently I've had several trips on the #2 line that have been quite surprising if not touching. The number two goes between Har Nof and the Kotel, hitting up many other Charedi areas in between. The other night I got on the one that leaves the kotel at 1 AM and to say it was crowded would be an understatement. As I squeezed on in between waves of bearded chassidim I expected the worse. I knew I would be in for about 45 minutes of getting shoved around, people rudely staring at each other and a highly probable chance of riding next to one or more people who would be... how to say this politely... "deodorant-ly challenged." The first blessing was there were no B.O. problems, thank G-d. Secondly everyone politely shuffled in and tried to make space for all who wanted to get on. But the truly amazing thing was, though the bus was packed to the gills, there was one lone empty seat available. The man in the seat next to it kept inviting somebody, anybody, to come occupy it. Yet there were no takers. All those within access to the seat turned down the opportunity to sit and sacrificed their own comfort so their fellow Jew could relax instead. The seat remained empty until about a third of the way into the trip when quite a few other seats became available as well and it was no longer the only one available. Upon returning to yeshiva and discussing the occurrence with my roommate though, we both realized that somebody may have quite possibly been in the seat the whole time- Eliyahu HaNavi.

Another beautiful moment happened tonight after shabbos had just gotten out. As I got on the number two and started riding home, a boy probably in his late teens, and who seemed to suffer from some sort of mental disability, suddenly stood up on his seat and started speaking to everyone on the bus. My conversational hebrew still isn't so incredible so I can't be sure what he was saying, but it sounded to me like he was quoting a passuk of Torah or something of the like. Though he stuttered a bit that didn't interfere with his beaming smile as he tried to get out his thought. If this happened on any bus I've ever ridden on in America I'm sure this would evoke mocking laughter and scowls. Yet the passengers of the number two were respectably silent, pausing their conversations to give him the floor and seemed to be waiting for a new chiddush to learn. Afterward a father of three sitting next to him gently motioned to help him sit back down. So often I see such people treated negatively, yet everyone on the bus was treating him like they would any other normal person even though his behavior was quite out of the ordinary.

If the tourist ministry is looking for any ideas for a new campaign, I suggest they put the Jerusalem Number Two bus on their ads from now on.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jerusalem's "Rave" Reviews

When many people think of Israel, an image of people riding around on camels in the desert shooting machine guns may come to mind (if you think I'm joking I'll have you know I actually had a friend in college who seriously believed this until I informed him to the contrary that we actually have such advanced infrastructure as "roads" and "office buildings" and "malls"). If it's not the middle east conflicts that one may think of then perhaps Israel's numerous religious and historical sites, or it's pristine beaches and natural scenery, or it's world renown high-tech industry. But an often overlooked aspect of Israel is it's trance scene. Israel has given to rise to some of the top trance artists, including Infected Mushroom, a personal favorite of mine and almost anybody else into Goa Trance.

It's with this in mind that I feel I shouldn't have been surprised, though I still was, by what I witnessed this past Friday afternoon. While running an errand that involved schlepping from the the Machane Yehuda shuk to the old city, I started hearing a steady deep thumping coming from a side street off of Yaffo Street. As I kept walking it kept getting louder and louder. As I came by a corner I saw some people hanging out on the steps. A few more steps in that direction revealed security guards checking people's backpacks as they were walking in, and as I finally came past the corner I was privy to a full on dance club in the middle of the street. It was complete with what could have been club quality speakers, a stage, and tens of people showing off their best moves while the electronica was blaring out into the streets. I was left scratching my head and asking myself if I was honestly seeing a public sidewalk rave. But not just any public sidewalk rave. One next to the old city of Jerusalem, the religious capital of the world... in the middle of broad daylight... on Friday afternoon when everyone is (supposed to be) getting ready for shabbat. Turns out my eyes, and ears for that matter, were not deceiving me and it was actually happening. I even had a tiny yetzer hara trying to convince me that if it wasn't for my errand as well as the dead give-away peos and tzitzit, maybe I should have jumped into the crowd and relived some old glory days, but alas... the service of the Lord is very demanding upon His faithful ones.

The strange event stuck in my mind for several hours into shabbat, and I mentioned it to a friend of mine from yeshiva while we were walking to the home of our hosts for Friday night dinner. My friend informed me that apparently he's witnessed this same Friday afternoon rave before, just a mere several blocks from where I saw it. Apparently the trance scene in Israel is even better than I originally thought! So much so you don't even need to travel to Tel Aviv on a Saturday night, just walk around downtown Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon.

So for anyone who is a fan of good music, you now have yet another reason to make aliyah. Come to Israel... and don't forget your glowsticks!

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Weapon of Choice

It's amazing the beautiful Jews you're guaranteed to observe during late-night trips to the Kotel. A couple of nights ago I was posted up near one of my favorite spots for nights at the Kotel, towards the back right corner (the other being in the tunnel tucked right into the front left corner closest to the Kadosh Kadoshim). There are two main reasons this spot is so great. First of all it's usually the least crowded and if you plan on spending a long amount of quality time with Hashem it affords you the opportunity to have your space and avoid distractions. Secondly it will seat you next to a nightly shiur given by a quite fiery-voiced rav, the passion for Torah of which can really be inspiring. A third reason for any single guys out there is the thought that you never know... your zivug could be davening at that exact moment just a mere several yards away from you on the other side of the mechitza and you don't even know it. Anyway, several evenings ago while I was enjoying a particularly good session of Kotel time, a soldier walked in. He was carrying his weapon strapped over his shoulder and walking hand in hand with his young son. He pulled up a chair and a shtender, sat down, and his son said something inaudible to him. He smiled and gave his weapon to his son at which point he put the barrel up to his mouth. Several moments later he took it and put it up to his own mouth.

You see, this wasn't a normal soldier. His uniform wasn't green with reddish brown boots and a beret. It was a large white kippah, flowing white shirt and pants, and bright orange crocs. And his weapon was an M-16 or the like, though it had a strap attached to it like one. This weapon was his extra large shofar... this man was a soldier of Hashem. It's hard to describe how beautiful the notes sounded coming out of his horn as he blew it proudly. He we all were, at the sight of our two destroyed holy temples, thousands of years without them, and during the nine days leading up to the anniversary of their mutual destruction. Yet even in a time of seeming despair and mourning such as this, this man sounded the shofar's cry of our redemption and, if for just a few seconds, reminded us that we may be mourning now, but that will soon come to an end. The geuala is on it's way, and if you need proof, just take a late-night trip to our holy Kotel and wait for Hashem to give you a sign.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The American's Guide to Lesser Known Israeli Stereotypes Part 1: Fashionista Rambo

I would venture to say many if not most Americans have a generic picture of the average Israeli in their head... someone with tan skin, dark brown hair, and a funny middle eastern accent, possibly wearing a nice button down shirt and jeans, smoking a cigarette and talking on a cell phone. If one wishes to get fancy they might conjure up an image of a soldier with a machine gun or a charedi with long curled peos and a shtreimel. Only after having spent some time here have I started to realize just how numerous and varied the different "character types" of Israelis are. In order to better inform the American Jewish public who might be unaware of the existence of these people, I would like to post a several installment mini-series of these lesser known Israeli stereotypes. In this first installment I'd like to open with the Fashionista Rambo. While many girls serve in the army when they turn 18, if you were to spot one on the street while in uniform they would appear as just that- some girl in an army uniform. Yet walk the streets enough and it won't take you long to spot a particular special breed of army girl- the Fashionista Rambo. This is a girl who, although she may be confined to a wardrobe selection of baggy amorphous dull green slacks and shirt, isn't going to let that cramp her style.

What may be lacking in originality and fun in her uniform is more than made up for in everything else. She can be identified by her professionally painted fingernails, sandal shoes with some sort of heel instead of the standard brown or black boots, humongous designer aviator-like sunglasses that cover two thirds of her face and hair and makeup that she probably spent four hours in the bathroom that morning working on. Fashionista Rambo may not lug around a big sack like many of the men soldiers but you'll never find her without her purse. Rarely is she ever carrying her gun... perhaps she feels she is adequately armed with "looks that could kill." For some reason these girls seem to always get on the bus as the same time as another army girl who seems much more meek and just wears flip flops and has her hair in a plain old ponytail. Though they often aren't together, the fact they get on the bust at the same time makes it fun to compare and contrast the two.

There seems to be a variant of Fashionista Rambo in the police force as well. About a month ago I saw one of these women supervising a construction sight, or was supposed to have been though in reality she was busy sending text messages on her phone. She looked as though she could be a model on a runway, and I say this not because she was extraordinarily beautiful (though she did happen to be a very pretty Jewish girl) but simply because she had enough makeup on as to make one think she was prepared for a photo shoot.

Stay tuned for future installments including Pajama Men and Backpack Kids!

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Facing the giant

There is an idea in Judaism that Hashem is constantly sending us signs and messages of which we must decode and figure out how to apply to our daily lives. One of the ways He does this is through the lessons in the parshat hashavua (weekly Torah section). In light of the recent terrorist attack on Yaffo Street this last week, what can we learn about it from that week's section Parshat Chukat?

At the end of the parsha the Israelites face a confrontation with the nation of Bashan and their king the giant Og. Hashem tells Moses, "Al tira oto," or, "Don't fear him" (referring to Og). This is commonly understood to mean that because of Og's immense size, combat with him meant certain danger if not death, and G-d needed to reassure Moses so he would have the courage to face such an enemy. However, if G-d was on the side of the Israelites, why would Moses need be afraid? The had just had a similar confrontation in which Hashem had granted them victory, and the Torah doesn't seem to mention any sin they had committed that would forfeit their divine protection. Even if Og was a giant, that is merely a physical advantage, and Moses of all people who had a closer relationship to Hashem than anyone else should have known that physicality is nothing compared to G-d's strength. So why the need for words of encouragement?

Back in B'reshit (book of Genesis) when Abraham's nephew Lot is captured, it says that the fugitive came to inform Abraham about it. The term fugitive refers to the giant Og. Og was of a time before the flood that destroyed the world but his life was spared and he was allowed to ride on top of Noah's Ark. Within the world there is klipot, spiritual shells that block Hashem's divine light and feed off the power of evil, and since the world was destroyed during the flood the Ark served as a temporary world in the meantime. Since the time had not yet come for a perfect existence there was still a need for klipot in the world, and Og was allowed to survive outside the Ark during the flood serve as the klipah. This is why he is referred to as the fugitive- though he should have died like all the other wicked people of his generation he was able to make it out alive.

When Og came to tell Abraham of what had happened to Lot his intention was that Abraham should rush off to battle in order to save Lot and end up getting killed, allowing Og to take Sarah as a wife for himself. Even though he had wicked intentions, the fact was he still did a good thing and because of that Abraham rewarded him by giving him a brit milah (circumcision). The brit milah is one of the most important mitzvot it the entire Torah and somebody who has one merits great spiritual reward.

With this in mind, let's take another look at what Hashem tells Moses, "Al tira oto." While the word "oto" means "him", it can also be read as a contracted form of "ot shelo", or, "his sign." Often a brit milah is refered to as a sign (ot), and while Moses may have not been intimidated by Og's physical stature, he knew that Og had a brit milah and therefore because of it may merit spiritual protection, making it much more difficult to defeat him. As it turns out though, Og had strayed in sexual deviancy and because of this had forfeited the holiness of his brit milah and any spiritual protection it may have afforded him. This is why Hashem told Moses not to fear him, for even though one might think that Og's brit milah would give him merit and protect him, his evil ways had caused him to lose any such merit.

Possibly the biggest enemy to the Jewish people and especially Israel today is the muslim nations who seek our destruction. Numbering in the billions, they are most certainly a giant as far as peoples go. If it weren't enough that they outsize us, they too, like Og, have a brit milah. They also worship G-d and often lead very devout lifestyles often willing to give their life on command in what they view as the service of G-d. If one wasn't worried enough by their sheer size, one could most definitely be worried that G-d may grant them success in the merit of their devotion to Him. More than that, this is an enemy that already lives amongst us. For all the high tech equipment and strategies Israel's government and Army employs, checkpoints, weapon confiscations, world class intelligence gathering, etc., our enemy can sidestep us and use simple every-day objects like a bulldozer from a local construction sight to try and destroy us as did the terrorist this last week (may his name be erased).

Yet scratch under the surface of their seeming piety and you don't have to look hard to find many contradictions. The same people who proclaim to be holy commit mass murders, bombings and countless other terrorist attacks, oppress their women and subject them to honor rapes and killings, as well as countless other horrible behaviors. This is certainly not becoming of a people that wishes to make themselves the representatives of G-d. Therefore when confronting this seemingly giant enemy in what often looks like a hopeless situation, we must have faith that G-d will protect us. Wicked murderous peoples lose any protection they may have been expecting from G-d while we have the promise laid out in His Torah that we will survive to the end and see our redemption, may it come soon.

Before mentioning the events of Og and Bashan, earlier in the parsha it described the Para Aduma, or Red Heifer. The Para Aduma was used to purify people of the impurity of death, which according to the Torah is the strongest of impurities. Just as Torah instructs us in a purification process before relating the story of the battle with Og, we need to understand that while our enemies' defeat hinges on their impurity, likewise our victory hinges on our ability to purify ourselves and cleave to Hashem. May it be His will that we have success in this and that we don't know from any more heinous attacks in our time.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Same city... Two different worlds

Two interesting events occurred today in Jerusalem, both of which merited mass police security and the streets being closed off... the gay pride parade and accompanying counter-protest. Since these occurrences have in the past sparked sharp criticism going both ways I decided this year I would go to both and check things out for myself.

First and foremost I would like to say that people in both gatherings seemed to be very mellow and there were no signs of violence or extremism from what I saw. Though I've heard gay parades in places such as America can tend to be extremely vulgar, there was nothing I saw that I would say was overtly offensive (unless one happens to be offended by gays in which case the whole event would be cause for slighted feelings). For the most part it was people carrying signs and rainbow flags with a few shouting rhyming chants. An exception would be a group of youths all in red carrying red soviet hammer and sickle flags and one girl in the group wearing picture of Lenin on her shirt. What communism has to do with homosexuality is beyond me, but nobody else seemed to notice or at least care.

Much more troubling than the behavior of the parade goers (which was much more mellow than I had expected) was that of the police who saw fit to talk to me several different times. Since I was just going to observe and not arouse any controversy I specifically dressed up in non-religious clothing but apparently the beard gave my disguise away. Upon requesting me to take my baseball cap off and seeing I had peos (sidelocks) underneath I was rejected from entering at that point and instructed to enter in a different location while other non-religious people were allowed to come and go as the pleased. Once inside the pre-parade gathering I was approached by undercover police, asked for identification and asked if I was religious and what I was doing there. Later on as the parade was underway, an plainclothes officer asked me where I was from although he left it at that. While I understand there were concerns that there might be people sneaking into the crowd who wished to disrupt the event and possibly even cause violence, I was still a little unnerved by the police-state like feel.

Next I ventured into Kikar Shabbat in the heart of Charedi Meah Shearim to check out the counter-protest. While people were displaying banners, some of which were extremely sharply-worded, the atmosphere itself was even more docile than the parade. There were several hundred people gathered before a platform in which a small older man was speaking through a large speaker system leading Slichot prayers.

I feel the contrast between these two gatherings is indicative of a greater diversity throughout Israeli society at large. Regardless of political and religious/moral beliefs, I found the marked differences between participants taking place so close to each other (a ten minute walk apart) fascinating. The parade was full of rainbow colors and a variety of outfits. The protest uniform black and white suits (aside from a few sackcloths). The parade was filled with smiles and dance. The protest, mourning and heartfelt pleas for forgiveness. Even the physical dynamics- the parade a large leaderless mass traveling down the street while the protest was stationary, all focused on a stage and seemingly searching for the proper guidance. Both were groups of Jews taking time out of their day to stand up for what they believe is right and for their views of Jerusalem and what it should represent, yet what incredibly different views they both have.

One may say Jerusalem is confused, or even schizophrenic, but they can't say it's boring.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Jerusalem's bridge striking some "chords" with the public

Anyone who's been paying attention to Jerusalem has noticed the Chords bridge, the "uniquely" designed suspension bridge being built over the entrance to the city. I personally thought for quite a while that it looked utterly ridiculous until somebody showed me a specific angle from a specific spot under the bridge at which you can see the support cables forming a beautiful spiral. I think that's an apt metaphor for the situation described in the following article on Ynet News by Ronen Medzini- at first glance it looks like a bunch of Jews finding yet another thing to fight over. Look a little closer and you can find the beauty in the ruckus... Where else in the world does the public get vocally offended by a construction project that ends up breaking Shabbos? And where else would the company and government actually express regret and do something to hold people accountable? Even amid the bickering and problems here one can see the people of Israel inching closer to Moshiach.
The construction of the new Chords Bridge leading into Jerusalem caused controversy in the city's municipal meeting Sunday, as several of City Hall's coalition members were enraged by reports suggesting several construction workers were spotted working on Shabbat.

The bridge, which is supposed to carry the city's new light train, has been under construction for the past three years. Jerusalem's coalition members believed the some of the work was done on Shabbat in order to finish it in time for Wednesday's inauguration ceremony.

"Not only is it not worth it, it offended many people's emotions, both religious and secular," Shmuel Yitzhaky, a Shas Jerusalem councilman told Ynet Monday.

"The fact that the Jerusalem municipality sponsored this work is very grave. For what? For a ceremony? There is no reason what so ever to finish it of Shabbat."
Yitzhaky also said he believed the work was sanctioned by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski. The people in City Hall, he added, "are only concerned with their jobs and don't care about the coalition."

Yehoshua Mor Yosef, spokesman for the Moria Company, which was tasked with the bridge's construction and who issued a statement on behalf of both Moria and the Jerusalem Municipality, said that the company sees the incident as severe.

Moreover, "The company has decided to immediately relieve the project's foreman and the construction's supervisor of their duties in order to make sure this kind of mishap never happens again."

Mor Yosef further denied Lupolianski's involvement in the decision to finish the project on Shabbat: "The mayor had no knowledge about any activities which were carried out in violation of the building contract, which clearly stipulates that, no work should be done on the bridge on Shabbat. The construction workers involved were Arab's hired by a sub-contractor, who sent them to the site against orders."

The inauguration ceremony itself has encountered some objections in the city council: Nir Bareket, who heads the municipality's opposition, slammed the costs – estimated as NIS 2 million (approximately $600,000) as unnecessarily extravagant.

"These public funds should have found their way to more important causes, such as schools and the city's beautification," he said.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sefer Torah procession in Beit HaKarem

Recently there was a ceremony to celebrate a new sefer Torah being brought to the retirement home in the Beit HaKarem neighborhood in Jerusalem. The procession from the center of the neighborhood to the retirement home in and of itself was a great time as there were people of all ages, men and women, frum to secular, coming to join in as well as a live band and much dancing. Unlike America in which our elderly are unfortunately too often put away in the cupboard to be taken out and visited at our convenience so to speak, the residents of the retirement home benefited from all sorts of members of the community taking part in their simcha. But what made this event really incredible? The fact that when the Beit HaKarem neighborhood was founded in 1922, its charter forbade any buildings of a religious nature from existing in the neighborhood. It may have taken several decades, but now this once "devoutly" secular community is home to both a synagogue as well as a yeshiva. In a beautiful twist of irony, the procession of the sefer Torah went right past the building that still houses this charter, almost slapping it in the face with the reality of how times have and continue to change. The land of Israel and its people are waking up to the Torah, come join the excitement.

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Merkaz HaRav - a flame that can't be extinguished

This last March Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav was the site of a gruesome arab attack against the heart and soul of religious Zionism. Yet just a few months later throngs of people showed up for their annual Yom Yerushalayim celebration. At one in the morning people filled the streets as the block was closed off and the sounds of singing and dancing could be heard in all the surrounding neighborhoods. No matter what tragedy our enemies may hurl at us, people like those at Merkaz HaRav show that the Jewish people are dedicating their lives to Hashem and our land and we won't be stopped or intimidated. Kol hakavod to all the bochurim and rebbeim there, may you only hear good news from now on.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Beloved Princess

A story inspired by the tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and the teachings of Ramchal as well as several other sources:

There once was a kingdom in which lived a beautiful princess. She had a smile and a laugh that could melt the heart of anyone and she was very beloved by the people of her country. Everywhere she went she brought success and happiness to the people and she was the main source of blessing for the country. There was also a prince in the country, and the prince and the princess where very much in love with each other. It was assumed that when they became of age, they would eventually marry each other and rule over the nation as king and queen.

It happened that the prince started to become enticed and seduced by foreign princesses from other lands and began to chase after them. He neglected his own princess and abused her. Eventually it reached the point where she had to leave the palace. She decided to go into hiding, disguise herself, and blend in with the common people. After their beloved princess had left the palace the people of the country became very angry with the prince for being the cause of her leaving. They rose up against him, threw him out of the palace and forced him into exile.

After the prince and the princess had both left the palace great darkness and despair came upon the land. Gangs of wild man started invading and took over all the areas of the land. These men were very dangerous and not only robbed and murdered the people but often fought each other. Life became very difficult for the people of the land and especially for the princess. Used to a life of having catered food, the finest clothes and jewelry, and her every need met, she now had to become accustomed to not knowing where her next meal was coming from and if there would be a roof over her head or not. She never know if she could trust somebody who claimed they were trying to help her of if they may just be trying to take advantage of her and she had to be on the look out for the gangs of wild men.

Things went on like this for many years until eventually the princess grew up into a woman, and the prince grew up to become a man. The prince decided the time had come for him to retake his place at the head of the nation so he mustered his strength and gathered his friends to him and started a war campaign against the wild men to take back his land. Though he and his allies were few and their enemies great, they fought bravely and great miracles occurred for them and they obtained many victories. Soon the prince had reconquered many of his cities and much of his land.

As the prince was walking through one of the reclaimed cities he chanced upon a woman in the shuk. She was very filthy, dressed in rags with natty hair and a face covered with dirt. This woman was his princess from years ago and when she saw him she turned away in shame so that she wouldn't be recognized, but he stopped her, lifted her face and looked deep into her eyes. Though he could barely recognize her, there was something vague yet deep within him that told him this could be her. He told her, “I'm reclaiming my land, I invite you to be first among my wives and sit as queen to the country next to me on the throne.” She replied, “Do you expect me to accept such an offer? You cannot begin to comprehend the pain and suffering you have caused me for all these years. I've spent a lifetime banished from my home in the palace and trying to survive in hiding. How I've yearned to return to my rightful place and now you offer me a show marriage as just another wife in order to advance your cause? I refuse.”

The prince left her and continued his campaign. He and his allies fought a great battle against the wild men and benefited from more great miracles resulting in them capturing the capital city. The prince returned to the palace and sat on the throne to reign as king but the people wouldn't rally behind him. They claimed, “Where is our beloved princess that you caused to leave? Without her as queen we cannot accept you as our king.” The prince was in a dangerous situation as, though he had had great victories, there were still many enemies in the land and without the support of the people it would only be a matter of time before he would be defeated. He was very worried as he knew, this time he would not only once again lose his kingdom, but also his life itself. The prince finally realized that he must be back together with his princess for without her he would never be able to fulfill his destiny properly. He sent for her to be brought to the palace and cleaned off in the royal baths. She was then dressed with fine garments and expensive jewelry, as well as being covered with beautiful perfumes. As soon as the dirt was cleaned off of the princess, suddenly her original beauty came back and radiated from her as before. The prince renounced all the other princess he had sought after and proclaimed his undivided love only for her. He spent countless nights wooing her with poetry and love songs, and profusely apologizing for having ever caused her harm. After much sincere and hard work, the princess's heart began to turn and as she rediscovered her love for the prince, eventually forgiving him for what he had done.

It happened that once the prince had won back his princess's heart, they became married to each other. The people rallied behind them and they took their place on the thrown as united king and queen. They drove all the enemies from the land and ruled in peace and prosperity all their days.

So just who is this princess? She is the shechinah, often understood as Hashem's divine presence in the world. On a deeper level, the Shechinah corresponds in the sefirot to the lowest sefirah of Malchut. Malchut is a feminine sefirah as it is a kli which gathers Hashem's divine light from all the other sefirot and manifests it into this world. That is the relationship between the masculine and the feminine- the masculine gives potential and the feminine gathers the potential and actualizes it into a reality, as with a man who can give seed to a woman with DNA in it that maps out the possibility of an entire human being, and then the woman's body takes that potential seed and forms it into an actual person. Just as Malchut takes all the power of Hashem's divine light and pours it forth into the world as actual blessing, so too the princess was the source of blessing for the whole country.

The prince of the story is the Jewish people. Am Yisrael and the Shechinah are husband and wife and that is why the prince and the princess were destined to be joined together. Just as the prince chased after foreign princesses and ended up driving his own princess away, the Jews used to be united in Eretz Yisrael with the Shechinah but chose to chase after idolatry driving the Shechinah away (as we continue to do with our varied sins today). The people of the country represent Eretz Yisrael, and just like they couldn't accept the prince without the princess and drove him out as well, once the Jewish people rejected the Shechinah the land spewed them out, and it's taught that when the Jewish people went into exile, the Shechinah went as well. When all this happened the land went into darkness and was taken over by gangs of wild men. In the land of Israel, various nations have spent the last several thousand years conquering it, losing it, and sometimes reconquering it. The last group of “wild men” to now be in the land are currently the muslims, descendants of Ishmael. In Sefer Bereshit Hashem refers to Ishmael saying he will be a wild man in constant conflict with others.

But the princess never actually left, she just went into hiding. So too the Shechinah never actually left the world but just became very hidden. She may have been covered in dirt and rags, yet underneath all that, her true beauty was present all along, and as soon as it was able to be revealed it shone forth. Ramchal teaches of this with the Shechinah in his sefer Mishkney Elyon. All things that exist in the lower world have a corresponding counterpart in the upper spiritual realms. Jacob was called Jacob, but had a higher spiritual reality to him known is Israel. In this world we have Jerusalem, and in the upper realms there is Tzion. The Ramchal teaches this is also true of the temple, in which there is a physical temple on earth and a corresponding one in the heavens. When the first temple stood, the corresponding upper temple lined up in design with it perfectly and that's why the Shechinah could dwell there, as opposed to the second temple in which it did not rest. Why is this? Because once the first temple was destroyed the heavenly one was as well, and immediately a new one was built. However the design of this one didn't match up with the physical design of the second in this world and therefore it was destined to not stand forever. So what does this upper temple correspond to in design? Ramchal teaches it is to be the third temple, and that when the proper tikkun olam is performed and the upper worlds become unified with the lower worlds it will come down through the worlds to manifest itself here in this world. At that point we will simply build a corresponding physical building around it.

With this we can now better understand the hidden but always present beauty of the princess which once it was revealed shone forth as before and prepared her to bring the blessings to her people again. The third temple, which will be the source of Malchut/Shechinah to bring blessing into this world is already here, just hidden in the upper worlds, but once it becomes revealed in this world will radiate G-dliness to everything in existence.

The prince's coming of age and conquest of the country represents the Jewish people's return to the land of Israel and founding of the modern state with it's courages battles and many miraculous victories. Though the prince wasn't looking for his princess and his main goal was to rally the people behind him and reign as king (as secular Zionism wasn't concerned with a return to Torah but simply to create a modern Jewish state within the land), once he had started his quest he chanced upon the princess. He could barely recognize her for she was still very hidden but something deep within him remembered her. As we have come back to this land G-d's presence has been calling us and almost every Jew who visits or lives in the land now can feel at least a hint of these stirrings in their heart.

Why did the prince and princess need to be united in marriage as king and queen before their destiny could be fulfilled? Within a person, there is both male and female aspects. In a proper relationship, the man will bring the femininity out of a woman and the woman will bring the masculinity out of a man. When they are together properly each one brings out the essence of the other. Furthermore, animals have relations with the female's back facing the male while human beings have relations face to face. The ten sefirot are within a person's body and like in the sefirot, the left side of a person is gevura while the right side is chesed. When a man and a woman come face to face with each other, their bodies are reversed (meaning one's left side is facing the other's right and their right is facing the other's left). Thus, the man's chesed attaches to the woman's gevura and his gevura to her chesed, and they create an all around tiferet – the beautiful balance.

Yet at first the prince wasn't interested in winning back the heart of the princess. It was only after he couldn't gain complete success in rallying the people and realized that without her in his life he would soon lose his kingdom and his life to his enemies that he figured out that his destiny was interwoven with hers. We may have made very big strides in Israel today, yet for all we've accomplished we still can not stamp out the threat of our enemies and over time the threat they pose to us just gets bigger and bigger until now we have those sworn to kill us surrounding us on all sides, some of them even pursuing nuclear weapons which will only take a mater of time to obtain. As the prince realized he needed the princess, we need to realize we will never make it on our own in this country without G-d's help and the Shechinah in our presence no matter what kind of allies or military strength we may think we possess.

When the prince first asked the princess to marry him he hadn't renounced the other princesses he had sought after and was only interested in the union in as much as it helped him. He was looking for a union akin the animal level where the female may be turned away but the male does not care because he is simply seeking his pleasure, rather than a human union of facing each other in which both mutually want to draw the other into themselves and then may line up correctly spiritually as well as physically. The princess refused because he hadn't worked to fix the damage to her he had caused and show her he really loved her. Therefore, to reveal the Shechinah in this world and bring about the ultimate union between G-d's presence and the Jewish people, we will need to put in much hard work, and with the threats we are faced with we do not have any other options. The time has come for us to let our own princess know how sorry we are for what we have done by doing t'shuva (repentence) for the sins we have committed and denouncing the “foreign princesses” of westernism, secularism, assimilation, and any other mentality or school of thought we have latched onto which is not rooted in Torah (and on a more simple level our desires for sins). As the prince had to woo his princess back to earn her love, we need to commit ourselves to Hashem and make His presence revealed in the world by trying our best to love Him and never leave Him again. May we have success in doing this and realizing our national destiny soon and in our times.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The hot new summer style: Israel Bashing

For those who wish to think that there will always be a safe Jew-friendly alternative to living in Israel in the form of America, perhaps you would be interested in what was slated to hit clothing store racks this season. Clothing supplier Urban Outfitters was, until caving to a slew of angry complaints, carrying a t-shirt from graphic designer FreshJive of palestinian youths wearing Arafat style scarfs, armed with machine guns and boasting the line “Victimized” (because an individual armed with an assault rifle is ever the classic image of a victim). The shirt also featured a few other images including a palestinian flag. Not only is this hot little number machine washable but it sells for the cool price of $9.99!

As disgusting as this propaganda cloaked in the guise of fashion may be, it's not even the first time Urban Outfitters has made such a move. They have previously marketed scarves akin to the arab neck-piece made famous by Yassar Arafat, grandfather of the modern terrorist movement (may his name be wiped out), as has been pointed out by Little Green Footballs.

While I was in college Urban Outfitters was known as a pretty trendy and popular store on my campus. This glorification of terrorism via t-shirts has precedent with the “Che Guevara” t-shirt featuring the face of said communist thug made popular by Rage Against the Machine. Historically ignorant youth all over America rushed out to stores to buy one and thus turned Che into an anti-hero icon of the modern day want-to-be counterculture that American junior high through college age students somehow think they are reviving. It appears marketers are attempting to take advantage of American youth and do the same with palestinian terrorists, in the oh so ideological name of higher profits.

What's really disturbing about this is that it isn't some rhetoric spewing out of a fringe group or even the ivory-tower intellectual elites of the academic world. This is a mainstream company that, while having pushed controversial items in the past, is more well known for selling designer jeans than for making political statements. Often Jews perceive our biggest threats in the west as coming from loud-mouthed bigots who choose to use their freedom of speech to demonize us in the public square. I'm more afraid of a society that seems to love us on the surface, but dig a little deeper and there is anti-Israel sentiment (and the anti-Semitism that comes with it) slowly but surely making it's way into the POPULAR attitudes. It can start with fashion trends manipulating people to buy into a cause they probably don't even know that much about. Before you know it, it becomes an accepted thing in their mind and now when the issues are brought up in a debate they've already made up their mind before they've even done any research. Things such as these may just seem like a piece of cotton in the small picture, but in the big picture they are chinks in the armor of the Jewish Americans' cherished status of being an “accepted people.'' The thing about small chinks in the armor is that they aren't so noticeable, but when you add enough of them up together over time, the armor ends up failing to protect you against a major blow.

The Jews of America have apparently dealt with this in a reasonable fashion. It appears that enough angry emails and/or phonecalls were made that Urban Outfitters has taken the item off their website. While this is indeed a great temporary solution it remains only that- temporary. The fact that a major clothing distributer feels comfortable enough braving potential criticism and pushing an item like this to see how people take it could be a sign that things are slowly but surely changing for the American Jew. If such a gradual and cloaked change is underway, once it picks up enough speed it will have no need to hide itself anymore and by then all the store boycotts and angry letters in the world won't help to stop it.

So my suggestion to the Zionist of American persuasion who wants to make a much larger impact against those that wish to destroy the Zionist dream is this- combat them by actually living out that dream! Come back home! Every single Jew that moves to the land of Israel to connect to Hashem and make their life here does more for for the positive than a million ridiculous t-shirts could ever do for the other side. After all, the only thing better than not wearing a pro-arab terror shirt is not wearing it in Israel!

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Be afraid, be very afraid... NOT!

While browsing the fine literary selection of the magazine rack at the airport recently, my eyes were snagged immediately by an interesting cover of that week's issue of the Atlantic. It featured a twisted merging of the Israeli and palestinian flags (above) and read, “Is Israel Finished?” While covering a plethora of issues that Israel is facing, the theme that tied it all together was a big problem Olmert has been facing lately. What is this problem that has beset our beloved prime minister (the good Lord has yet to grant us a “sarcasm” font)? It's not incredibly low popularity ratings, and it's not the fact that he's under numerous investigations, heck it's not even that he has been charged with the duty of running a country when he apparently hasn't the faintest clue how to. No, Olmert's big problem is that after Israeli author David Grossman sadly lost one of his sons in the war with Hezbollah, Olmert in turn lost his support.

Article author Jefferey Goldberg seems to think this is a problem because the pace of the nation is apparently set by what the novelists write in their books. While I'm sure they are entertaining, I've never personally read one of Grossman's works, or even heard of him before reading this article, for that matter. There does happen to be a book that DOES shape my opinions on this country though- it's called the Torah and it's author goes by the pen name of G-d. The fact that Mr. Goldberg, for the purposes of his article at least, puts more emphasis on one author and not the other is a telling sign of a problem I see with the people who on the one hand are invested in Israel emotionally, residentially, or otherwise yet don't have Hashem guiding them.

Goldberg's article is riddled with fear. He cites fear that Israel isn't safe; fear that the arabs under Israeli jurisdiction will soon outnumber the Jews, and fear that the very existence of the state is in danger. He says that Olmert feels things would be better for him if he could only get Grossman back on his side. Grossman himself feels things would be better for Israel if we could make more concessions to the palestinians and express more love to them. Never mind the fact that Grossman giving his haskama to Olmert wouldn't change all the mistakes he's made and magically turn him into an actual leader. And also never mind that people who have been raised by every element of their society since childhood to believe we are descendants of pigs and apes who have stolen their land and whose murder guarantees them a spot in paradise will most likely not be satisfied with some land concessions, especially seeing as such strategies have historically and utterly failed time and time again.

But that's the problem with those who don't recognize Hashem. If you don't believe G-d will help you then you turn to everyone other than G-d for help instead. Everyone from novelists to your embittered enemies with a seething blood lust against you. The thing is, most people, no matter how stupidly they may act, aren't truly and utterly stupid. Deep down people know that there is no salvation in novelists, and there is no salvation in enemies. And that's where their fear comes from. For, from deep within comes a voice of reason which screams out that these false gods will offer no protection and there's nothing like a good voice of reason to keep you up at night. But there is hope. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously taught, “Know that the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid.” That's because with the knowledge that G-d supports you, there truly is nothing to fear in this world.

Furthermore, the Torah itself says in Psalm 81, “Listen, My nation, and I will attest to you; oh Israel, if you would but listen to Me. There shall be no strange god within you, nor shall you bow down to an alien god. I am Hashem, your G-d, who elevated you from the land of Egypt, open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But My people did not heed My voice and Israel did not desire Me. So I let them follow their heart's fantasies, they follow their own counsels. If only My people would heed Me, if Israel would walk in My ways. In an instant I would subdue their foes, and against their tormentors turn My hand.” Strange how things written thousands of years ago can be so applicable today eh? We, as the nation of Israel have a clear promise from G-d that He will love and protect us, and we have no need to rely on fake leaders, intellectual armchair diplomats or the mercy of those sworn to destroy us. It's about time we stopped being afraid, and started putting our trust where we will get actual results. If not, Israel may as well be “finally finished”, G-d forbid.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Update from chutz-la'artetz: It's enough to make a lazy man cry

I'm a lazy person. Well, I like to call myself relaxed but my mother, she says it's laziness. I'm not all that into things like working out, I think one of the best things about dressing in black in white is that I never have to pick out what I'm going to wear, and I recently switched dorm rooms in the yeshiva citing having to go walk a shorter distance to the beit midrash for davening in the morning as one of the key points of the move. About a week ago I stepped off a plane from Tel Aviv to Newark and I got hit by a really emotional moment. It was the first time in months I walked through a doorway without a mezuzah on it and I almost started to cry. But... now after about a week in chutz-la'aretz with my emotions having calmed down, it's now become else entirely that almost has me in tears- all the extra hustle and bustle my poor lazy rear-end has to go through.

In Israel, especially in cities like Jerusalem there is a shul on every corner. To find a minyan you literally don't have to walk more than ten minutes. Heck, if your really gutsy you can try and just grab ten guys off the street and daven on the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda, which several friends of mine and I have done so don't think I'm exaggerating! Now I find myself lost in a strange land where I sometimes have to sit in traffic for 40 minutes do daven with a minyan. Before I had to decide between which of eight kosher pizza places to eat at. Now I'm faced with choices lie getting pizza or not eating because there's only one kosher restaurant in town and that's all they serve.

Now perhaps if you live in Monsey, Boro Park, or LA then you don't feel my pain. For the rest of you “out of towners” there might be those who cite the fact that in the old days we had to deal with pogroms and inquisitions and feel we should be overjoyed these are the biggest problems one should have to face as a Jew in America today. But I know in my heart of hearts that there are those out there who are like me, those who dream of something better. There are those who strive for a more happy and carefree life of not having to worry where your next kosher steak is going to come from. To you, my brothers and sisters, I say no more! We're the few, the proud, the lazy, and we deserve to live in a country where you don't have to sit next to a non-Jew on the the bus happily chowing down on some fresh McDonalds while you look on with longing eyes! Pack your bags now, come home, and take comfort in the fact that if you want a chalav-yisroel candy bar all you need do is get off your chair and walk to the corner store!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Straight to G-d

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sorry Zeyde, but I'm a slave to my leather bucket seats!

This weekend marks the beginning of the Pesach holiday, the time of which G-d freed us from our slavery in Egypt. The exodus from Egypt was not just a one-time occurrence, but rather something that replays itself out in every generation. As such it’s important that we recognize how Pesach is occurring now in our times. Who is Pharaoh? Where/what is Egypt? How are we enslaved and what must we do if we want to free ourselves?More than any other available option of countries around today, without a doubt I would say America is the Egypt of our times. Boasting the largest population of Jews outside of Israel, America keeps our brethren trapped within it’s borders and keeps them from re-uniting with the homeland of their fathers much as ancient Egypt did thousands of years ago.

But hold on a minute here, hasn’t slavery been outlawed in America since the civil war you say? And hasn’t America traditionally been “good to the Jews?” True, this slavery may not come in the form of whippings and beatings, or building pyramids. It does, however, come in the form of an addiction to yearly vacation, a bigger swimming pool in the back yard, more trips to the hair salon, or driving the latest German import. So who is Pharaoh? I’ll give you a hint- he’s small, green, fits in your wallet, and has the face of George Washington.

Egypt was the lone world superpower of its time, America is the world’s lone superpower today. During the great famine, the starving masses flocked to Egypt. In our time masses of those seeking the American dream of ending their famine of not being rich flock, some even braving the journey by sea on death-trap rafts just to get their fair crack at it. And just as there were no guards on Egypt’s borders to keep people in, so too in America you are free to leave whenever you choose and yet very few are actually packing their bags.

The number one excuse I hear from people as to why they cannot or will not leave America for Israel is, “While I’d love to live in Israel, the money factor is just too big for me.” For many it’s debt. The more they try and climb their way out the deeper they seem to fall in. A friend once told me that this economic labyrinth from which people can’t seem to escape is not original to our times but actually comes from Egypt. Apparently Pharaoh would promise people the good life, offering them a great house in a nice neighborhood, maybe a sturdy horse or donkey too, and all for free! Sort of… these things were all offered on credit, to be paid back later but people were fooled into the illusion that they were somehow getting something for nothing, failing to see how their debts would come back to haunt them later. Sound familiar?

For those who are keeping their heads above water, their monetary excuse is that they wouldn’t be able to afford the same lifestyle in Israel that they now have in America. Excuse me but since when is an easy and comfortable life necessarily a fulfilling one? How many celebrities do you see that have much more money, toys, vacations, etc. then you will ever have and yet they are so unhappy they end up killing themselves? Besides, while you sit comfortably in your big house in America think about your ancestors who would have given everything in their lives to be able to come live in the land of Israel. Not only do we now have a state that enables us to do so but you can even get hooked up with a free plane ride over here and a welcome basket of government benefits and money (read: You get paid to move to Israel)! Be honest with yourself for one minute and imagine if your zeyde came back from the grave to ask you why you’re still in America. Just try to think of a persuasive way to tell him that you’d rather have a nice BMW with heated leather bucket seats then to live in the land he only saw in his most beautiful dreams.

So for all our brothers and sisters who are still in America, this year when you do your Pesach seder, instead of just paying lip service why don’t you actually put some serious thought into the freedom from slavery that it represents. How about freeing yourself from the Egyptian slavery of that dollar in your wallet and finally making the move home to be with the rest of us? After all… it’s no coincidence that the dollar has a pyramid on it!

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tzfat Tzfat Rosh Hashanah!

Have you heard that catchy tune? Uman, Uman Rosh Hashanah! Uman, Uman Rosh Hashanah! No no, it’s not actually Rosh Hashanah and I’m not actually talking about Uman. But this last Sunday was Rosh Chodesh Nissan which, while not the main Jewish new year, is a minor new year and begins the calendar for all the holidays of the Jewish year. Rosh Chodesh Nissan also marks the birthday of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The holy city of Tzfat is a stronghold for spirituality and Chassidus in Israel today, and especially for Breslov Chassidus. As such there are few places more fitting to spend this past Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh Nissan and a several friends of mine from yeshiva and I did just that.On the bus ride up from Jerusalem we met a guy who learns at Yeshivat Derech Hamelech, also in Jerusalem, and quickly hit it off. When we arrived at the room we were renting for the weekend we found that it was also being rented out by several other guys who learn at the Mir Yeshiva and we quickly became friends with them as well. Even though we ranged from Chassidish to Litvish, “black and white” to polo or t-shirts, everyone got along perfectly as though we had all been friends for several years. What’s more, this attitude was but a reflection of the greater mood throughout Tzfat’s old city.

Tzfat is truly a magical place and for those of you who haven’t been, or haven’t spent much time, I recommend you change that ASAP. Aside from all the amazing art galleries you can browse through, it also boasts the famous Arizal mikveh as well as the graves of such tzaddikim as the Arizal and Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch. Plus the fresh mountain air can’t be beat!

I wasn’t able to find a single person in low spirits during the whole weekend. It seemed like everyone had a smile on their faces and you never knew when you would walk around a corner and all of a sudden hear some mystical insight being given over. Even the man running the coffee stand in a t-shirt and jeans with no kippa on had a large poster of the Lubavitcher Rebbe next to his Yitzchak Rabin poster and offered holiday blessings. A local bookstore was offering a sale on all Breslov books in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday.

Friday night davening was a beautiful mix. Like our makeshift chevra of yeshiva guys, so too the shul we were at was a chullent of Chassidim, Misnagdim, Carlebachers, and basically anything else you could imagine all singing and dancing together passionately. Saturday night we had seuda shlishit at the Breslov yeshiva/kollel. I was treated to things like beautiful children with long flowing peos that didn’t look a day older than ten arguing over gemeras with each other and some incredibly beautiful niggunim being belted out by several hundred shtreimel wearing Chassidim. At the table we were at you would have taken one look at the people and not expected them to know a word outside of Yiddish, yet at least three men started talking to us in perfect English with clearly American-born accents. Though it was obvious my friends and I weren’t always religious, they could care less and were so happy to have us there as they eagerly asked questions to get to know us. I don’t know what was more refreshing, seeing charedi people breaking the mold we so often stereotype them with or seeing Americans that were able to leave behind everything in the States to come live a life tuned into an entirely different and spiritual frequency.

Basically the whole weekend was a birthday celebration Rebbe Nachman would have been proud of and one that I think the people of Tzfat should be proud of as well. I think we as a country and more importantly as a Jewish people should take an example from that kind of open Ahavat Yisrael without any judgment and service of HaShem with pure happiness.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

American, Israeli, or neither?

After spending the last four years dreaming about living in Israel I've now spent the last four months actually living out that dream. This is a place where many people come to "find themselves" and I too expected that to somewhat happen to myself. One thing I didn't consider though, is that in order to find yourself, maybe first you have to lose yourself a little bit. When most people talk about the difficulties of moving to Israel, they speak of learning Hebrew, living with the arabs, or trying to make a living. Not always do they speak of dealing with a new and not so clear identity. Though it should be obvious that coming to a place halfway across the world with a different economy, language and overall society should affect you and by being surrounded by it change you somewhat as a person, it’s something that could in the excitement of things be very easy to overlook.

Though for some it may be simple semantics I tend to think there is a certain importance to the labels we choose to apply, or not to apply, to ourselves and present to others. And while this is the land I plan on making my life in, I’m not so sure if somebody were to ask me, “What are you?” that “Israeli” would be the first word off of my lips. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a point of traveling to places such as the Mearat haMachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hevron and Rachel’s Tomb, which has tremendously increased my connection to this land. Also as my Hebrew improves to the point where I can proficiently order a baguette of schwarma or argue with cab drivers without having to resort to English I start to feel much more like a native. Yet despite this, Israeli society and the many different mentalities of the people here can often be a far cry from what you find back in “the old country.”

So if I’m not an Israeli then I guess I’m just an American in Israel right? Maybe not. While I have no ill will towards America and wish it the best of luck so long as that doesn’t conflict with Israel’s success, in general I feel somewhat detached from it. This is my home now and I care what goes on here, how high gas prices are or who won the Super-bowl back in the States doesn’t have much of an impact on my day-to-day life in Israel. More than that, often I’ll see a bus load of American college students here on a trip making fools of themselves or American tourists doing some of the behaviors that has earned the American tourist a stereotype status around the world and I cringe while I mutter to myself, “G-d, they’re acting so American!” But wait, aren’t I American too? Does the fact I live here and not there give me the opportunity to get on a high horse and think I’m now qualitatively different?

Recently a new idea has crept into my head. What if I don’t need to be either? What if I’m just a Jew who’s come back home and while figuring out what that means doesn’t need to check either box A or B. And as I look around this country I’m in I realize that is the very essence of Israel itself. This country is only several decades old, made up of people from virtually every place in the world. In many ways the country itself still hasn’t figured out who it is. And maybe what it could use is more people who aren’t so sure of who they are yet either. There is a big comfort in the safety of staying wherever you are and however you are. Let's not kid ourselves, to go to a new place often involves becoming somewhat of a new person, which can be pretty scary. But while change can be a scary thing, it often is the best thing that could ever happen to us. It's also only through change that we ever grow. And maybe as more of us come home and find out who we are on an individual level, the fact that we are doing it together in the land of Israel will help our country and people to ultimately find out who we are as a nation.

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