Friday, April 22, 2016

Passion, Vision, Hebron and Eretz Yisrael

Passion, Vision, Hebron and Eretz YisraelDavid Wilder
13 Nisan 5776 - April 22, 2016

Erev Pesach – Passover Eve. In a few hours we will begin the first holiday ever celebrated by Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. As it is known, freedom from the Exile in Egypt.  Actually it only began 3328 years ago, and still hasn't concluded.
Many reasons may be given: One - There's a superficial exile and an inner exile – in reality both are still existent. For the main reason for freedom was to receive the Torah and then live that Torah in Eretz Yisrael. At present not all Jews are in Israel and not all fulfill various parts of Torah.
However, according to recent surveys, well over 90% of Jews living in Israel do celebrate the first night of Pesach, conducting some sort of Seder, that is, the reciting of the story of our exile and exodus. Different people may have different versions, but in the end, the nucleolus begins with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. And later, Moses, Aharon and Miriyam. Beginning as a family and continuing as a People. With Eretz Yi​srael as the center – where it began and where it leads to.

So, it can reasonably be said that the Jewish people are quite passionate about their existence, so much so, that many many people change their whole lifestyle for a week, eating no bread or bread products, changing all our dishes, turning our lives upside down, in order to recall what was then and how it still affects us today. Only a passionate people can fulfill such 'extreme' commandments and living conditions.
I use the word passionate intentionally.
A little while ago I spoke by phone with Mrs. Ruth Pechman. Her husband, and my friend, Rabbi Yitzhak Pechman passed away just over a week ago. Rabbi Pechman was one of the founders and first president of the Hebron Fund, founded decades ago. Rabbi Pechman worked tirelessly on behalf of the Fund and the Hebron Jewish community for years and years.
Mrs. Pechman told me that when asked to describe her husband in one word, she said 'Hebron.' However the Rabbi was active for many important causes, so much so that another one word description of him, in her words, was passionate. Everything he did, he was passionate about.
Actually, after he died, thinking about him, my one word description was visionary. When he initiated the Hebron Fund there were few Jews living in the city and the future was still very much a question mark. It takes much vision to see forward, and work to enable a goal, as of then, still a dream.
But that's what he did, and successful he was.
Later in life, with all of his family living in Israel, he and Ruth also made Aliyah, living his dream in Jerusalem, until his passing.
Rabbi Yizhak Pechman was a very humble man, but very great. His passion  and vision lives on with his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And also with  us, living in Hebron.
Only a few days after Rabbi Pechman's passing, another great Jew also left us.
Honestly I didn't see Joe Mermelstein for at least a decade. And my friend Dr. Joe Frager wrote a beautiful article depicting this wonderful man.
But I have to add a few words, as, along with all his other activities, Joe was also very close to Hebron.
Some stories:
Many years ago the Hebron Fund sponsored a concert in NYC. I recall spending a month there, working with then Hebron Fund executive director Judy Grossman, in the freezing November cold, trying to sell tickets to the event.
About a week or so before the concert almost no tickets had been sold. We were, to say the least, in panic mode. Joe Mermelstein, hearing about our plight, took out a full page advertisement in the Jewish Press, asking Jews how they could ignore Hebron.
The concert, as a result, was a sellout.
A few years later we conducted an evening for Hebron in the Five-Towns area of New York, After all the speeches and movies and songs (Mordechai ben David appeared for us), the time came to try and fund-raise. See little enthusiasm, Joe stood on the stage and declared, "I had a whole speech prepared, but everything I had to say boils down to a few words. So rather than read the speech, I'm going to tear it up, and in its place give this check to Hebron." Which he did, quite generously.
Another time, before the Hebron dinner, we attended an event with Ariel Sharon. I really wanted to video him saying a few good words about Hebron. But he refused. Until Joe promised him a generous donation to whatever Sharon wanted. Then he agreed to speak in front of the camera.
And last, as Joe's business was with watches, he manufactured a Hebron watch. I may still have one here at home.
We called him Papa Joe. He was a 'Papa' to many organizations, and his presence will too be missed.
Both of these men were passionate visionaries and Papas to Hebron and Eretz Yisrael.  Their help and enthusiasm, vision and passion are among the reasons we are able to continue celebrating Pesach in Israel's first Jewish city, Hebron.
Chag sameach! 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bushy beards and Bleeding Hearts

There are subjects which are difficult to think about. And also to talk about, or write about. Sometimes the issues are so complex that you're not even 100% sure that you know what your opinion is, or whether you're right or wrong.

But then, such topics can reach a boiling point when you cannot avoid them.

The headlines about 'the soldier who shot in Hebron' continue to dominate Israeli news. Their seem to be differing and contradicting accounts of what actually happened, or why it happened. There are a few versions of youtube videos floating around, in attempts by different sides to prove their point of view, that the soldier is guilty of murder/manslaughter/??? or what they'll charge him with next, or innocent/a hero/victim.

I'd like to enumerate some of what bothers me. I hope I'll remember everything, or at least the most significant points.

Yesterday, Netanyahu spoke with the soldier's father, telling him that he 'understands' the parents' feelings, and urging them to 'trust' the IDF examination and conclusions about the incident.

This is the same Netanyahu who condemned the soldier's actions almost before he was arrested. And the same Netanyahu, who a few days later, stated that conclusions shouldn't be reached before the IDF examination is finished.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon began, and continues to walk in the shadow of evil, declaring time and time again that the soldier is not a 'hero,' rather 'he stinks.' Yaalon has nothing but criticism for anyone and everyone, private citizen, MK or Minister, who shows any support for the soldier.

Israeli C-I-C Eizenkott from the outset, exclaimed that the soldier's act was immoral, contradicting the ethics of the IDF.

He then wrote and distributed a letter to all soldiers, expressing support for 'any combatant who errs in the heat of battle' but will prosecute to the full extent of the law 'any combatant who disregards and acts in contradiction to IDF morals and ethics.'

The IDF prosecutor continues to behave as other Israeli law enforcement officials we've become accustomed to over the years, with big teeth, similar to fangs, and claw-like finger nails, in order to nail the soldier any way possible. Yesterday a military court ordered him released to 'limited arrest in an army base, without a weapon.' The IDF prosecutor appealed, claims that he is 'dangerous' and must remain in the famous, or infamous, IDF prison 4. (The appeal was rejected and he will, it seems, be released to limited arrest in an army base.)

And then today, an article published in the Israeli press, about a pamphlet issued by the IDF Educational Unit, praising and encouraging soldiers to practice 'self-sacrifice' (i.e. risk losing their lives) in defense of Palestinians. .

One simple fact, that in my opinion, has been totally overlooked. That is, that the soldier in question, as well as most of those in the field who today face imminent attacks by Arab terrorists, with knives, guns, or who knows what else, are between 18 to 21 years old. Their exposure to such attacks, as members of the military, in active service, ranges from 3 months to two or three years. In other words, for many of them, they must deal with life-threatening experiences for the first time, making virtually instant decisions, based upon – based upon what? What their eyes see (an attack on them or their comrades), what they feel, (a knife or bullet entering their body), what people around them shout out (TERRORIST), or, what they stop to think about?

After the terror attack outside Beit Hadassah, when a terrorist attacked a soldier, and was shot dead by Hebron security officer Yoni Bleichbard, I asked him: "You were ten feet from the terrorist who was straddling over the soldier. There were other people there. How could you shoot, without thinking about hitting someone besides the terrorist?"

His answer was very simple. "If I didn't shoot, the soldier was dead. I didn't have time to run up closer to the terrorist. I took all the other possibilities into account. But I didn't have any other choice if I wanted to try to save the soldier. " In other words, his thoughts and actions came together as one, instantaneously.

Yoni has dealt with security issues for many years. He was involved in the terrorist attack which left 13 dead, between Hebron and Kiryat Arba over a decade ago. He has about as much experience as one can have, in his field.

But an 18 or 19 year old has none of that experience. So what must he rely on? Must he stop and think, that is, hesitate, and ask himself, is this the right or wrong thing to do? Will I wind up in jail? Am I being ethical or immoral?

That second, or two or three seconds could very well cost him, or others, their lives. And what will the headlines then scream out: IDF Chief: This is not the kind of soldier we train! The Defense Minister: Soldiers are taught to fight, not to stand by and watch! The Prime Minister: Hero's act; Cowards cower.

I have three sons, all of whom have served in battle units. I always thought that this is what Israel is all about. The preservation of the State, the ability to defend ourselves nationally, after a 2,000 year exile. This is what makes us a free people in our homeland. At any cost.

But in truth, I'm not sure, if my kids had to go into the army today, whether I'd encourage them or not. Because what we are seeing and experiencing is not a demand for self-sacrifice opposite our enemy. Rather it is wishy-washy expressions by bleeding hearts, who, rather than lead, hide behind symptoms of cowardice, unwilling to stand in the forefront, as Israeli warriors have been known to do from time immemorial and lead the charge forward.

What do they concern themselves with? Presently, the IDF leadership is dealing with the issue of soldiers having beards. I have in my possession a copy of an IDF 'permit,' issued to a religious soldier, in which it is written that he may keep his beard, but only if it is 'bushy.'

This is Israel – facing Iran, Syria, ISIS, Hizbullah, Hamas, the PA, the EU, the UN, the US – 2016.

But, no, don't shoot!!! And measure that beard!!

Heartbreaking. Heartbreaking.