Monday, March 28, 2005

Simcha and Emunah

Simcha and Emunah
March 28, 2005


Today I have to speak about two different subjects, which definitely have a common denominator.  

Exactly a week ago I was in New York, together with my friends Simcha Hochbaum, Noam Arnon and Rabbi Hillel Horowitz. We all flew in to the 'big apple' for a wonderful occasion.

A few months ago, Hebron's New York affiliate, the Hebron Fund, announced the appointment of the organization's new executive director, Yossi Baumol.  Yossi came to Hebron from the most appropriate of places…Jerusalem. Directing Ateret Cohanim and the Jerusalem Reclamation Project for over fifteen years, Yossi fit into Hebron's administration swiftly and successfully. His first major project was Hebron's flagship event, the annual Hebron Fund dinner. It's not easy to begin with such a mission, but he was up to meeting the challenge. Yossi, together with his dedicated New York staff, members of the Hebron Fund Board of Directors and other talented volunteers, took off and never looked back.

By the time Hebron's Israel contingent landed in New York, most of the hard work was finished. Late last Monday afternoon we gathered at the Marriot Marquis Hotel on Broadway and found ourselves ensconced by some one thousand friends and supporters who gathered to pay homage to Hebron's Jewish Community, men, women and children. What an evening it was! As is customary at such affairs, a few exceptional people were honored. Amongst the dinner honorees were Shimi and Chani Klein, Rabbi Marvin Rosen and his son, Michael Rosen, and Howard and Phyllis Goldberg. This year we also chose to pay tribute to an extraordinary woman, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, whose work with Jews around the world is virtually unparalleled. The evening's dynamic keynote speaker was Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, spiritual leader of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY.

Every once in a while people ask us why spend the time on what seems to be such a lavish event. Of course,  it goes without saying that Hebron's numerous projects would be impossible to accomplish with our friends in Israel and abroad. For example, the new, just-finished apartment building in Tel Rumeida, was a multimillion dollar project. (Stay tuned for details of the building's dedication, to take place on Tuesday, April 26, during the Passover holiday celebrations in Hebron.) Many other undertakings, including various and assorted children's projects, such as a state-of-the-art computer room, youth centers, summer camp activities and the like, are funded by generous supporters around the world. Our annual dinner serves as a focal point, bringing together many of our devoted friends.

However, from my point of view, events such as this one can be compared to a splendid shot of adrenaline. By the end of the evening I'm on a real high – and I know my friends are too. When we come back to Hebron and tell all the others, trying to describe the phenomenal outpouring of love and camaraderie, I think much of our emotions rub off on the rest of Hebron's Jewish community. They too are uplifted by the tremendous efforts made by the New York Hebron Fund, and by so many others, to bond with us, here in the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The energy I pick up at this dinner keeps me going for a long time, and on behalf of all Hebron's residents, I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank all those who contributed to the event's fabulous success. If I start naming names, I will inevitably forget someone, so, without going into specifics, to ALL OF YOU, we owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Talking about highs…

Yesterday was Purim. No, Shabbat was Purim. Excuse me, but Friday was Purim. I guess for most of you, the latter is correct. On Thursday night and Friday morning we gathered to hear Megillat Esther, the scroll of Esther, and celebrated this age-old holiday. Yet, here in Hebron we usually celebrate two days of Purim. Due to doubts as to the legalistic status of Hebron in Jewish law – do we celebrate like most of the world, or like Jerusalem? Accordingly, we take to easy way out – we do it twice. That is a great deal of fun. But this year we had three days, with Shabbat in the middle.
Aside from reading the Megillah, giving presents to our neighbors and charity, in Hebron we participate in three special events: a 'shuk purim,' an 'a'deloyada' and a huge communal meal. Translated, a 'shuk purim' is a carnival for kids, and an 'a'deloyada' is a purim parade. Actually, I missed the shuk purim this year, because late Friday morning we were participating in individual family meals, and in the middle, I fell asleep. (One of the main facets of the feast is a lot of wine.)

Yesterday,  Sunday, day the entire community, all costumed up, danced through the streets from Tel Rumeida, past Beit Hadassah and the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, to the Hebron Heroes neighborhood, and back to Ma'arat HaMachpela. This year we had an extra added attraction. Two new Torah scrolls were dedicated to Ma'arat HaMachpela during the celebrations. It's difficult to express the feelings – you have to experience it to understand it.  Afterwards, the entire community joins for singing, dancing and lots of good wine and food at the Gutnick Center.

Of course, such an event wouldn't be complete without photographers and journalists from around the globe. Israeli television news caught me prancing around and stopped me to ask a question: "How can you have so much fun and generate so much happiness in the middle of  'disengagement?'"

The answer to that was simple. "Purim is a holiday of opposites. In the end, everything turns around and upside down. Not everything that seems to be happening is reality; sometimes reality is 'covered up,' and revealed only 'later in the game.' We have no doubt that that is what is happening now.

There are two integral ingredients: happiness and faith. Without either one of them it is difficult to exist. Here in Hebron, thank G-d, we are fortunate to be filled with both of them. Faith leads to simcha, that is, happiness, and simcha, real, true simcha, also leads to emunah, that being faith. These two come together on Purim in the most tangible way, and so too, with G-d's help, we will be blessed to the revelations of a modern day Purim miracle, in the not too distant future."

I guess here in Hebron we are very lucky. We are constantly surrounded by simcha and emunah – be it in New York, or be it here at our home. Quite a gift.

With blessings from Hebron.

This commentary is dedicated to the memory of the four Seidenfeld children from Teaneck, New Jersey, who were lost in a tragic fire last week, and to the complete recovery of mother Aliza bat Yehudit, and daughters, Zahava Nessa bat Aliza and Aviva bat Aliza. Please pray for them.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Talia Sasson is a Spy

March 14, 2005


These days, with everything that's going on, it's not too difficult to get discouraged. Actually, it's fairly easy. But, just like anything else, in the end, it's not always the way it looks, rather it's the way you look at it.

For instance, I heard a story last week that can illustrate the point. Two children were playing, a toddler and his older brother. The baby picked up a small coin, put it in his mouth and swallowed it. Well, almost swallowed it. The coin got stuck in his throat and he started choking. His brother ran to get help and the boys' father, virtually putting his hand down the baby's throat, managed to extract the coin. All's well that ends well.

The next day the older brother approached his father and said to him, "Dad, from now on I'm willing to forgo my chocolate milk and cookie in the morning." The father, somewhat surprised, asked him why. "Well, after what happened yesterday…"
What does the coin getting stuck in your brother's throat have to do with your breakfast?" asked the father. "Well, I know we really can't afford it, so I'm willing to live without it." Seeing his father's still questioning look, he added, "look, you worked so hard to get that coin out of his throat, well, we must really need the money."

Of course, we can all laugh at the child's approach to life, but that's the way he saw it, from his vantage point. But vantage points can be distorted, even by us adults. Someone looking from afar might also be laughing at us, at our reactions to what is taking place around us.

For instance, I guess this week's big news is the Sasson report, written by one Talia Sasson, an attorney, working for the prosecutor's office.

If you'd like to know who Talia Sasson is, well, there are many many examples, but the one I remember best goes back a few years. The attorney general was Eliyakim Rubenstein, then still fairly new. A meeting was arranged between Hebron community leaders and him, to try and bring down the tension level between us and the prosecutor's office. One of the people at the meeting was Ms. Sasson. She had, sitting in front of her, a huge computer printout, about the size of the NY phone directory. At one point during the meeting, she spoke and said something like the following: "I went through the records and printed out, (picking up the printout), the crimes committed by Hebron's Jewish residents." As she started to open it up, to read out some of it's contents, I held my breath. What surprises did she have up her sleeve? What embarrassment were we about to face? "Listen here: insulting a police officer, insulting a police officer…" She began going through a list of 'criminal offenses.' "Preventing a police officer from carrying out his duty, insulting a police officer…etc. etc. etc." Those were the 'serious crimes' our residents were accused of. Not thievery, not drugs, not sexual assault, or the like. But her face was so grave, her voice so serious. In her opinion, we really were criminals.

As I said, this in only one of many examples, but we need not look any further. After all, if Ariel Sharon approached her, initiating her latest project, well, he knew exactly what he was looking for, and the results he would obtain, well before the report was written and conclusions reached.

Sharon requested from Ms. Sasson to investigate 'illegal communities' throughout Judea and Samaria – no, not illegal Arab settlements, rather 'illegal Jewish communities.' Ms. Sasson came up with something in the vicinity of one hundred and fifty such places. Wow!  Yesha folk are not just lawbreakers - we are hardened criminals!

Immediately the illustrious Justice Minister, the Likud's own Tzippy Livny, jumped on the bandwagon, declaring the necessity to wipe these illegal monstrosities from the map, and now heads up a ministerial committee to investigate how and when to begin pushing the delete key.

It was truly heartwarming to hear that Education minister Limur Livnat's defense: 'Of over 100 such places, only 24 were constructed post 1991,' i.e., there must be a differentiation between those twenty four and all others.  Whee, did I sigh a breath of relief.

Yet the bandwagon rolls on, with other Likud ministers, like Mufaz, Olmert and Shitrit, agreeing the Labor party demands to rid the earth of these abominations, which have brought such disgrace to the State of Israel. Such horror, Jews building on Eretz Yisrael. How terrible!

OK, I guess by now you've got the point. But just to be sure, what we are seeing today, be it in Gush Katif, or the northern Shomron, or throughout Judea and Samaria, is a declared war, against Eretz Yisrael. I mentioned this a few articles ago, and have seen it written by others also, but it must not be forgotten. These people, the Sassons, the Livnats, the Livnys, the Mufaz's the Sharons, and all the others, these people are reproductions of the ten spies who rejected Eretz Yisrael, some 3,500 years ago. But they might be considered worse than the spies, because these people have experienced what Eretz Yisrael is, over decades, they have tasted the 'sweetness of the land' and they know, all too well, the alternative. This week a new Holocaust museum is opening at Yad v'Shem in Jerusalem, again, bringing to light the horrors of our national life without Eretz Yisrael. Education Minister Livnat was quoted as saying that the inevitable lesson of the Holocaust can only be Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. Yet I get the impression that her Zionism exists only as a paper map, and perhaps some color pictures. But Jews, Living the Land, G-d forbid. How else can one explain her vote in the cabinet to expel Jews from their homes in Katif and the Shomron? How else can one explain her readiness to declare twenty four Jewish communities 'illegal settlements?!"

So, returning to our story of the little boy and his chocolate milk – why should anyone from the outside be laughing at us.

Simply because everything that is occurring today is a necessary stage in our return. Not only our return to our land, but our return to ourselves, to our self-understanding of who we are and what we are. The present current events are an indispensable clarification of our identity, and who, in reality, stands on which side of the line. All of those people we identified with, who we thought, quite mistakenly, were 'on our side,' well, now we know, for sure. It's like sifting the flour, separating the little insects crawling around, mixed together with the pure stuff. That's exactly what we are doing today.

Not easy, I agree. It even hurts. But sometimes medical procedures, used to save lives, cause pain and leave scars. But in the end, they bring extended life. So it is today.  And I have no doubt that when the air clears and final results are in, whenever that spies like Talia Sasson will be long forgotten, and the land will be packed full of Jewish communities, with the expression 'illegal settlements' deleted the Hebrew lexicon.

In the end run we must remember, not "In Sharon We Trust," - not "In Bibi We Trust,"  - not even "In the National Religious Party We Trust" – rather, "In G-d, and only IN G-D We Trust!"

With blessings from Hebron.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Green light to terror

Green light to terror
March 7, 2005


This morning it happened again. I had sat down to work at about 8:30. Only a few minutes later the beeper started buzzing: "Shots heard near Ma'arat HaMachpela. There are wounded."

Grabbing my camera case and ID permits, I ran from the Avraham Avinu neighborhood to the Ma'ara, about 3 minutes away. There, unfortunately, an already familiar sight: ambulances, soldiers, medics and emergency personnel running around, sirens, in short, massive disarray. Not that they didn't know what they were doing; they knew all too well; they've done it many times before; too many times before. I mean disarray as opposed to normal, everyday life.

On the main road, opposite the Ma'ara, an ambulance carrying a critically wounded man stopped; he was transferred to a second unit, an intensive care ambulance. A bullet entered his side and exited through his neck.

I ran up the road adjacent to Ma'arat HaMachpela. There, a second man was carried into another ambulance. His injuries were described as 'slight.'

Up a little further was the site of the attack. There are two checkpoints in front of the building: one for Jews and the other for Moslems. They are separated by a large stone wall, built about a thousand years ago by the Crusaders, as part of a fortress in front of the holy site. The right side is where Jews enter the building; the left side is for the Arabs. There, wooded gates armed with highly sophisticated metal detectors block the visitor's way. He cannot enter the building without going through the gates. Manning the location are border policeman who are responsible for security at Ma'arat HaMachpela.

Directly across from this entrance, across the street, is an entrance to the Kasbah, 'old Hebron,' which is today off-limits to Jews. A large stone archway leads into the area, which has experienced a major overhaul in the past few years. Tremendous amounts of money, millions and millions of dollars, supplied not only by Arab states, but also by European countries, has been poured into the Kasbah.

There is much Jewish property in the Kasbah, but the Israeli government has yet to allow Jews to reclaim their due. Much property has been taken over and is occupied by Arabs. Other buildings lie vacant and abandoned.

The Kasbah is several kilometers long, from the Ma'ara, past the Avraham Avinu neighborhood and behind Beit Hadassah, leading to 'the other side of the city.' Due to a total lack of Jewish civilian presence in the area, IDF patrols there are few and far between. This creates a vacuum which can have fatal results. Several years ago during the Succot holidays, a terrorist shot from inside the Kasbah at Jews outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. A Jerusalem man, Rabbi Shapiro, was killed and his sons wounded.

This morning the terrorists again took advantage of the Kasbah. Standing only meters from the checkpoint, at the entrance to the Kasbah, an Arab terrorist, using an automatic weapon, started shooting at security forces guarding there. Two men fell. A policeman, who, until a few months ago was a border policeman, also guarding at the site, immediately opened fire, shooting back, directly at the terrorist, a short distance away. His quick reflexes stopped the terrorist, who may have been injured, and had no choice but to flee back into the Kasbah. The wounded men were evacuated and…

life goes back  to normal.

Well, not quite. Rather than spend the morning putting together my weekly Arutz 7 radio show, I had to download and edit pictures from the event. Then, less than two hours later, at about 11:00, the beeper buzzed again. Hebron's Jewish community was to be privileged with a prestigious visitor. MK Ephraim Sneh.

Just who is Ephraim Sneh? I quote an Aruz 7 news report from a few days ago: "Just two months ago, Labor MK Ephraim Sneh wrote that a civil war between Jews in Israel would not be terrible. "Even if the clash over Gaza exacts a price in blood, it will be tiny compared to the blood and victims that we will have to pay in decades of conflict with the Palestinians," Sneh wrote, adding, "A cruel and destructive civil war formed the democratic character of the United States."

Ironically, Sneh's late father Moshe, a four-time Knesset Member and member of the Israel Communist Party's Political Bureau, met with Menachem Begin in September 1944, shortly before the Saison began in earnest. Sneh the father made similar threats to Begin, saying, "If you continue your activities, a clash will result" - and he was right."

Sneh was a minister in the infamous Rabin-Peres regime which initiated the suicide Oslo Accords and expressed his satisfaction at the transfer of the Abu Sneneh and Harat a'Shech hills to the Arabs. Both of these areas lie opposite Hebron's Jewish neighborhoods and were the source of two years of gunfire at Jewish homes.

Sneh, it seems, came to visit the Arab house hanging over the Avraham Avinu playground and courtyard. The Supreme Court has ordered that the Arab family once living there be allowed to return to the house, this, despite IDF opposition and the security risk it poses.

Sneh, escorted by officers of the Civil Administration, security men and police, strutted through the neighborhood, as if it belonged to him. Members of Hebron's Jewish community greeted Sneh appropriately: Noam Arnon, Orit Struk and others shouted words of endearment at Sneh, who did his best to ignore them. Despite the terror attack only 2 hours earlier, Sneh seemed to be in the best of moods. He smiled broadly several times, including while walking on the path where Shalhevet Pass was murdered almost three years ago.

Noam Arnon reminded Sneh that he had called Hebron's residents 'paranoid' during a televised debate, due to their opposition to abandonment of the hills to the terrorists. Arnon demanded that Sneh apologize to the families of all those wounded and killed, as a result of Oslo. Sneh just smiled and kept walking.

As he approached his car, Yeshiva students from the Rinat Shalhevet Kollel greeted Sneh with boos, and demanding that he leave. Sneh stopped, looked at one of the men and said, 'you want to kill me too, the same way you killed Rabin?" Smiling, he then drove away.
There is absolutely no doubt that the present policies espoused and implemented by the Sharon regime are leading to increased terror, in Hebron and around Israel. Eighty percent of Hebron, abandoned to the terrorists, has turned into 'terrorist's haven' again, and the results include three terror attacks in the past month. A few days ago the IDF discovered a Kassam missile factory in Jenin, as well as a car bomb filed with 500 kilograms of explosives. What will happen to those missiles and car bombs after, G-d forbid, Israel again abandons Jenin?

The Sharon policies are nothing less than a 'green light' to terror. We must push the button and change the light to red. Fast.

With blessings from Hebron.