Monday, March 31, 2008

A Conflict of Cultures and Values

This morning one of the headlines adorning the Jerusalem Post reads, "Israel mulls PA troops in Hebron."

When called the previous evening for a reaction to this story, one of the points I made was, "Israel is allowing armed terrorists to 'legally' return to Jenin. After the number of soldiers we lost in Jenin cleaning out the terrorist nests there, I really don't understand how we can allow them back!"

In an article in HaAretz from March 28, by Amos Harel and Avi Yissacharof, it is written that the critical Kevasim junction is also slated to be opened. This junction, between Kiryat Arba and the southern Hebron Hills communities, is not far from the regional Judea command post, and leads to the area's industrial center, Fachs el-Masmas. Numerous terror attacks have occurred near this site. Should the junction be again opened, terrorists will have a clear escape route, leading to just about anywhere in Hebron.

Interestingly, but sadly, the article mentions that Barak may not hasten to open the junction because, "an attack which allows terrorists to pass though an area where there was a security barrier which was removed, will be negatively accredited to the Defense Minister."

And back to the Post: Hebron was a perfect place for the program (to deploy 'PA police'), (but) it was a sensitive issue due to the Jewish population in the city.

So what are we dealing with: security of the state of Israel and human lives, or politics?

A few weeks ago I met a man outside Ma'arat HaMachpela, who identified himself as a journalist, working for the Yisrael Post newspaper. When we began talking he told me, "you cannot image how much I hate you." As we continued to converse he said, "you really don't understand. I hate you more than you hate the Palestinians." I didn't give up, hoping to conduct a serious discussion with him. But in the end, just before he walked away, he concluded, "you know, I believe that a good settler is a dead settler." And with that he walked away.

I have no idea how many people in Israel think the above thoughts. More than likely, most of them would refrain from expressing them, especially to a 'settler' in Hebron. However, this particular man put all the cards on the table. Others have too.

The following was broadcast thirteen years ago on Kol Yisrael radio, on Friday July 14, 1995. I posted it in an article that same day []: "… Rabbi Rabinovitch had spoken to a reporter who had interviewed the Israeli Foreign minister a short time before. The reporter asked him, 'aren't you worried about what will happen to the 'settlers' in Judea and Samaria after the army pulls out?' He answered, "I have no problem with what will happen in Yesha. We will withdraw the army and then let's see what happens. They (the Jews) will either run away immediately, or the Arabs will massacre some, and then we'll see what happens."

By the way, in case you've forgotten, the Foreign minister in July 1995 is currently serving as President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres. (And we also know what happened when the IDF retreated from areas in Judea and Samaria, and also Gush Katif.)

Hebron came under attack for almost two years, following the abandonment of over 80% of the city to the PA, including the hills surrounding the Jewish community. In a few days Hebron will mark the seventh anniversary of the murder of Shalhevet Pas, the ten-month old infant murdered by a sniper shooting from those very hills. Not too long ago another terrorist began shooting towards Beit Hadassah and hit two homes. Several bullets hit a baby's crib in an apartment on the building's second floor. Another bullet flew through my son's room, stopping in his clothes closet. And that is WITH the IDF still stationed in the hills, before renewal of an armed palestinian force in the city.

The question must be addressed: What are the goals of the so-called "Israeli leadership, and at what price?" If they consider it necessary to take 'calculated risks,' then at what cost? Who will have to pay the price should the 'calculated risk' backfire? Who will replace the mother or father, or son or daughter sacrificed to the god of 'calculated risks'?

But getting to the roots of the matter, do the so-called leaders care about Israeli life? Does it really make any difference to them if any of us live or die? According to Shimon Peres, circa 1995, or the gentleman mentioned above, who calls, 'dead settlers good settlers,' the answer would seem clear. But it's not only words that count; actions speak louder than words. Judging from the reactions of 'leaders' to the mortars falling on Gush Katif for years, or shooting attacks in Hebron or throughout Judea and Samaria, the answer would have to be a resounding 'no!' It might be expected that Israeli life in the 'cities' would be worth more than those of us living in Yesha. But judging from the reaction of rockets being shot at Sdereot or Asheklon, it seems that life there too, is considered to be cheap.

I have an idea.

I was just interviewed about the suggested compensation to be paid to those (Jews) expelled from Judea and Samaria. (Of course, such compensation to Arabs, when suggested by Rav Meir Kahane HY"D or Rehavam Ze'evi – Gandhi HY"D was considered racism. But when offered to Jews, it is considered a legitimate means to attain 'peace.') We should begin to collect funds to pay-off our present politicians, offering them money, homes, drink, anything they so desire, anywhere in the world, barring Israel. They will most definitely accept, being that nothing is more important to them than money. Once they have left we'll be able to start again, they way we should have in the first place.

Seriously, the objective is not to physically rid ourselves of those people, despite the fact that they are corrupt and dangerous to the existence of the State. But more treacherous are the ideas they espouse – human life is cheap while Eretz Yisrael and Judaism are worthless. Their despicable scorning of the three tenets of Judaism: Am Yisrael – the Jewish people, Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel and Torat Yisrael, while at the same time valuing only their own personal power and well-being, is abominable. Our primary struggle is not against our enemies from without; rather it is a battle against the enemy eating away at us from within; a conflict of cultures and values, the outcome of which will determine the face of the Jewish people for generations to come.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An open letter to dearest Ehud

Adar Bet 4, 5768, 3/11/2008

An open letter to dearest Ehud

we have no way of preventing these rocket attacks from recurring
Our dearest Ehud,
We would like to express our deepest gratitude to you following your visit to Ashkelon earlier today. We found your statement there, to the Jewish people of the city quite informative and encouraging. You told the people to be prepared for more rockets - that you, the prime minister of Israel have no good new for them - that they will have to get used to it, that Israel has no way to stop the rocket attacks. That really is music to our ears.
Ehud, you have now experienced two tastes of our missiles - coming from the north, into Haifa, Safed, Kiryat Shemona, Meron; and now also from the south, into Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as many smaller Jewish communities.
Know, dear Ehud, that this is only the beginning. Soon we are going to up the dosage, and more rockets will rain down upon you, flooding your people from the air. We are going to shoot from the north and south, and also from the north east, hitting major populated Jewish cities, and soon after that, when the new state is established, it should come as no surprise to you when Kfar Saba and Petach Tikva are assailed. And I would suggest that your diplomatic flights in and out of our occupied land not utilize the Ben Gurion airport. We are training very hard and expect to have expert marksmen to shoot down your airplanes. We are sure you wouldn't want to be on one of those.
And then, our friend, we will really let loose - aha - you really believe that you'll be able to take out the BIG missiles - we have news for you - our colleague Mahmoud is no Idi Amin, and not even a Sadam Hussein - and besides which, you really think Bush and his cronies in Europe will allow you to endanger world peace - Ah - wait and see.
And you, our beloved one, will continue to tell your fellow countrymen that you have no solution to the rockets. After all, only hours ago you declared,  "Don't conduct yourselves as though the Grad rocket attacks were not a one-time thing; - we have no way of preventing these things (rocket attacks) from recurring."
Ah, how right you are.
So, our dearest of friends, we would like to offer you a deal - a kind of solution for you and perhaps, others. Actually you have three choices: You can either: stay where you are and try to catch the falling rockets - and die;
or, we will offer a temporary cease-fire, allowing all of you enough time, let's say a week or so, to get on ships and planes and get out of our land while you are still alive (we will refrain from aiming at the ships and planes for that period of time);
or finally, if you really wish to stay in our promised land, then very simply, accept that our way is right and your way is wrong. Become one of us.
Those are your three choices, Mr. Prime Minister, who has no solution to our rocket attacks. Those are your solutions. Make your decision and make it fast, because we have no more patience, and will not wait much longer - Prime Minister EHUD  NO SOLUTION.
Kindest regards to your lovely wife, son and daughter,
Hassan, Ismael and Bashar

Monday, March 10, 2008

Three Cheers for Mercaz HaRav

This morning I must admit: I did something I'm not wont to do. I read an article called 'Heads to the right,' penned by Gideon Levy in Haaretz newspaper. Even stranger, I actually agreed with some of what he wrote. Not everything, of course, but bits and pieces.

For example, the 2nd paragraph: Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas. Religious Zionists are the only group, aside from the ultra-Orthodox population, whose members are willing to lay down their lives for the collective and its worldview. Right on!

And he goes on to say: …without the Gush Emunim movement, supported by successive Israeli governments, there would be no settlements; and without the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, there would be no Gush Emunim. This institution, then, was the cradle of the settlement enterprise and its driving force. Right again!

But of course, it can't all be good. These last lines are prefaced with: Nor can anyone ignore the damage it has caused the country. Without the settlement enterprise, peace might have reigned here already… Oops.

And then, some of the lines are mixed: From Mercaz Harav emerged the rabbis that led the vilest move in Zionist history. Most of the delusional right-wing perpetrators and the mongers of hate for Arabs came from this flagship. Religious leaders such as Rabbis Moshe Levinger, Haim Druckman, Avraham Shapira, Yaakov Ariel, Zefania Drori, Shlomo Aviner and Dov Lior, all idolized by their students, raised generations of nationalist youths within those walls.

All of these lines can be analyzed, but the first words are really what interest me: Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas.

Ah, those lofty ideals, which are today so blasphemed. So old-fashioned. Like these quotes:

It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical… In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them! The Diary of a Young Girl, eds. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, p. 332

One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one's life has meaning, that one is needed in this world. Hannah Senesh []

I also seem to remember, even though I cannot presently find the source, that either the poetess Rachel or Hannah Senesh asked, 'what will happen to us, here in Israel, after we've achieved our present goals. What will happen to our ideals then?'

But for many, such ideals have lost their taste. Today their lives are based upon secular materialism, hedonism and money. And let's not forget peace. Even at the cost of survival.

The Rabbinic leadership and student body of Mercaz HaRav must be lauded and applauded. For at least three different things:

As we say – Sur me'ra v'aseh tov – first veer from evil and then, do good!

Sur me'ra – Veer from Evil:

Yesterday the so-called education minister, Yuli Tamir visited the yeshiva. When leaving she was verbally attacked by people there. Bravo. She deserved everything said to her, including 'murderer.' As 'education minister' Tamir has allowed 'nakba' (the Arab word for catastrophe, which they use to describe the 1948 War of Independence), to be taught in Israeli schools as a legitimate part of the curriculum. This is nothing less than incitement, inciting Arabs against Jews and the state of Israel. Such incitement can only lead to bloodshed. Jewish blood being shed.

Yuli Tamir, one of the founders of Shalom Achshav, (Peace Now), is the antithesis of everything Mercaz HaRav has ever stood for. Thank G-d she was chased away.

Sur me'ra number two: The yeshiva refused to allow Olmert to visit and pay his respects or condolences. This too is an act to be praised.

Olmert was one of the initiators of the expulsion from Gush Katif. He has publicly declared his willingness to expel tens and hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria, while abandoning our land to our enemies, allowing them to continue attacking our civilian population.

Despite continuing attacks on Israelis, Olmert stubbornly insists on continuing negotiations with the enemy, in an attempt to rid ourselves of our land. He plans on holding negotiations even during the week of the 'shiva' – the seven days of mourning for the yeshiva's murdered eight young students. He is ready to abandon Hebron and divide Jerusalem, leaving the holiest sites in the world in the hands of our enemy.

How could Mercaz HaRav allow such a defiled person to walk in its holy midst, who, while offering 'condolences' is preparing the ground for more Israelis to be killed?

And now, Aseh tov – Do Good: This morning, when speaking on Israel radio, Rabbi Haim Steiner, when asked why the Yeshiva was politicizing the death and mourning of its students, (referring to the decision to refuse Olmert's visit), he answered, 'this is not politics. We are people of Torah and 'yirat-shamayim' (G-d fearing.) In other words, there are issues which transcend such mundane subjects as politics. There is G-d. There is Torah. Those who study Torah, the word of G-d, those who fear and revere G-d, those who make ideas and ideals a way of life, have the ability to discern who and what surround them. Eretz Yisrael is transformed from earth to a spiritual value, far exceeding the obscure standards of life significant to the Levys, Tamirs, and Olmerts of this world. Refusing to shake hands with Olmert is not politics – it is Torah!!!

This is why it was so important to make these points clear, from the very center of religious Zionism, Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, during one of its most difficult moments.

Da'at Torah – the way of Torah, is not weak and lackadaisical. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt'l, son of Israel's first Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and leader of Mercaz HaRav and the return to Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza following the Six Day War in 1967 wrote about his trip to Yaffo in the winter of 1949, visiting the home and Torah study hall where his father had lived and where he had grown up:

…It was an awesome moment. I was filled and spiritually uplifted by the energy binding me during my stay at the Talmud Torah…and afterwards (I went) again to the study hall "Ohr Zoreach" which had been shelled and destroyed and ruined by the British, may their names be blotted out…and I forced myself to walk back and forth, with the many sacred memories of my childhood and later years…filled with the anger of G-d and I felt empty there, at this terrible time at this terrible place, with the deepest of thoughts and sharpest expressions and speech, from myself and from holy verses, of the abundance of curses and vengeance which should occur soon on the heads of the wicked, on the rulers of malice and its perpetrators, which G-d the redeemer will bring about and judge them as they've done to us, as they have destroyed and ruined here, so too swiftly will it be to their palaces and halls…" (Ohr l'Netivoti, 315-316)

Amen, may it be His Will, speedily in our days.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Damage control - wall-style

Adar Bet 2, 5768, 3/9/2008

Damage control - wall-style

I'd thought to write this morning about how Shabbat was quiet and relaxing. A Jerusalem men's choir visited Hebron and Kiryat Arba. They sang us through Sabbath morning prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela, and it was just what the doctor ordered. Something of a cleansing of the soul.


What can you do? Shabbat leaves us for another week and realities of life hit you back, like a punch in the nose.

This morning Israeli radio news featured the Thursday night massacre at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem. Bibi was interviewed, as was one of the deans of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehoshua Magnes.

But then.... Danny Yatom, member of the Labor party. What did he suggest? His cowardly solution is to build a wall, divided East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem, thereby 'protecting' the rest of the country from the animals on the other side.

However, as we all know, walls usually define boundaries, and in the case, such a wall would act as a G-d forbid, future border between Israel and a new terror state, abandoning parts of Jerusalem to the enemy.

This is, of course, Labor policy, dividing Jerusalem. Ghettoizing Israel. Living behind walls.

When asked about such things in Hebron, like, 'why don't you build walls to protect yourselves?" I answer like this:

"We left Eastern Europe to get OUT OF THE GHETTO. We didn't come to Israel to live in a ghetto. We say, in the national anthem HaTikva 'to be a free people in our land.' You cannot be a free people in your land living behind walls. If there's a problem, wall in the animals, (or better yet, get rid of them), but don't punish us for their crimes!"

But I do have a new idea, concerning walls. I think the time has come to construct new walls...AROUND THE KNESSET.

We can let them out once in a while for a breath of fresh air, but only within the boundaries of the walls. Telephone calls, monitored, once a day, for five minutes. They can even have visitors, twice a week, for a half hour at a time. But that's it.Let them experience what they are offering everyone else. This is called damage control - wall-style.

What do you think?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Torn into pieces

Adar 30, 5768, 3/7/2008

Torn into pieces

Last night was a bad dream - no, a nightmare, really really bad. The kind of events you try not to think about. After managing to express a few of my thoughts (posted in my previous blog) I managed to get some sleep. Total exhaustion forced the sleep on me, but surely it wasn't a peaceful slumber. And it didn't last very long. At about 4:30 the phone next to my bed rang. My oldest daughter, pregnant with her fourth child, was on the line, telling me the time had come to leave for the hospital. Her baby was knocking on the door, waiting to emerge into this world.

My wife and another daughter dressed and walked five minutes down the road from Beit Hadassh where we live, to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, where they live. Ora, my wife, left with Bat-tzion and Boaz to the hospital in Jerusalem. Ruti stayed with the other three kids, ranging in age from six to two. I dozed for a little while before giving up on any more sleep.

I knew the day would be difficult. It was clear that I had to go to Jerusalem for the funerals. But I'd already obligated myself to conduct a tour of Hebron. A family from the US was coming in for a Bar Mitzvah tour. How could I cancel it, leaving them without a guide to the sites in Hebron, a tour that they'd been looking forward to for quite a while?

So, I was basically torn into three pieces: one part of me was with my wife, daughter, and son-in-law, waiting for a new child/grandchild; one part of me was with the thousands in Jerusalem, mourning the murders of eight young men; and the last part of me, trying to keep myself composed, and even happy, while touring with several kids and their parents, explaining Hebron to them as I've done so many other times, as if today was just like any other day.

Just as we were beginning, in the Tel Rumeida-Tel Hebron neighborhood, my cellphone's SMS chicken cock-a-doodle-dood. It was a message from my wife: Bat-tzion just gave birth to her fourth boy. Mazal Tov.

I really wasn't quite sure how to react. On the one hand, an event like this is joyous. But it was difficult to feel, or express joy. I didn't even say anything to the group with me, at least not immediately. For some reason it didn't feel right. Only a little later did I spread the good news.

But I kept asking myself: is this really where I should be - shouldn't I be in Jerusalem, at Mercaz HaRav? Of course, I couldn't let that question interfere with a tour of Hebron; after all, who knows when they'd be back again. When you've got a chance to try to show people what Hebron is all about, you really don't want to mess it up. So, the tour went on, as usual. Almost.

The only thing I permitted myself to do, kind of releasing the frustrations, was to yell several times at one of the most despicable people I've ever come in contact with: Yehuda Shaul, founder and director of 'Breaking the Silence,' a fanaticly extremist left-wing organization, had the chutzpa to bring another group of people to Hebron, explaining to them the self-proclaimed 'war-crimes' he committed while serving in the IDF in Hebron, and pointing out the problems faced by the 'poor palestinians' who are 'oppressed' by the State of Israel, and of course, the 'racist settlers.' Several times, while passing the group, I could not contain myself: "You are supporting child killers! You are inciting to kill other other Jews."

Usually I don't do this. Today I couldn't not say it.

So that's the way it was - torn into three different pieces, torn by various and opposing emotions, while at the same time trying to maintain my sanity. Not easy to do. 

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Thoughts after the terror attack -Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav

Adar 29, 5768, 3/6/2008

Thoughts after the terror attack -Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav

I was sitting in my office tonight, meeting with the director of Mattot-Arim, activist Susie Dym, when the beeper started beeping. I read it, wiped my eyes, and read it again: 20:42 - (8:42 PM) - Magen David Adom Jerusalem reports shooting inside Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem. Details to follow. The beepers kept streaming, each one bringing terrible news. Shooting for somewhere in the vicinity of ten minutes, the terrorist killed eight students and wounded at least another eleven, three of whom are in critical condition.

Listening now to the radio, the Yeshiva's director, Rabbi Sasson, spoke of how the yeshiva students all participated in a mass prayer gathering at the Kotel, the Western Wall, earlier today. This evening they were preparing Rosh Hodesh (New Month) festivities, celebrating the beginning of the new month of Adar and the upcoming Purim holiday. Only moments before the beginning of the dancing, the Rabbi said that he heard shooting in the building and immediately realized that a terrorist had infiltrated the yeshiva.

Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav is the spiritual center of Religious Zionism, founded by Israel's first Chief Rabbi, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook. His son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook led the movement of the Jewish people back to Yesha following the 1967 Six Day War. The Yeshiva's dean, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, died a few months ago, and his son, Rabbi Ya'akov Shapira replaced him.

I worked at Mercaz HaRav some 15 years ago for about a year. The Yeshiva has a very unique atmosphere, very spiritual, and very Torah-oriented. Many many students fill the huge study hall, day and night, 24 hours a day. Many of the students are IDF officers, serving in elite units. The yeshiva's students are amongst the most patriotic Jews in Israel, serving their country, their land, their people, their G-d, in body and in spirit. Many of Israel's most important spiritual leaders are graduates of Mercaz HaRav.

It is very sad to see the pictures, to hear the voices, to feel the pain of young Torah scholars, studying Torah, celebrating the joy of the month of Adar, cut down by a terrorist's bullets, for no reason other than that they are Jews.

Earlier today I spent a couple of hours with journalists from Finland, questioning me about our presence in Hebron and in Judea and Samaria. I stressed to them that the enemy we are facing are nothing more than wild animals; only animal can perpetrate such horror attacks. Tonight another one of these animals escaped from his cage and, let loose in civilization, attacked, as does a wild lion or tiger.

I continue hearing on the radio reports how the police and security are continuing to prepare for tomorrow's "Friday prayer on Temple Mount" referring of course, to Arab, Islamic prayer. I do not understand why the Israeli authorities are going to allow these prayers to take place, especially taking into account that according to the latest reports, the terrorist who perpetrated the murder tonight is a resident of Jabal MuKaber, a neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The first thing that should have been announced tonight is that those prayers, on Temple Mount, are canceled. The second announcement should be that any and all 'peace talks' with the Arabs are suspended until further notice.

Third, the Knesset should meet in special session and pass a law which will allow immediate suspension of Knesset members who incite the enemy and who celebrate such murderous attacks as we've witnessed tonight.

Now we cry together with the yeshiva, with the families of the victims, with Klal Yisrael, But crying is not enough. Israel cannot allow such terror in our eternal capital to be ignored. The enemy must be punished.