Yom Ha’atzmaut Links and Some Thoughts on Jewish Unity

Tonight begins Yom Ha’atzmaut and whether you say Hallel or not, brocha or no brocha, after Shomeneh Esrai or after Aleinu, we can all be thankful that there are so many Jews living and learning today in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Adlerstein had a good post titled Something For Everyone over at Cross-Currents.

Here is a link to some shiurim about the day from YU Torah.

Here’s the link to the OU Web page about the day.

And here are some thoughts on Jewish Unity from Rav Mordechai Scher of Kol BeRamah, a traditional Orthodox synagogue in Santa Fe..

About twenty years ago, while learning at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, my chevruta and I decided to learn the halachot relating to safrut. We heard that the best shiur available was from Rav Mordechai Friedlander (a Squarer Hasid, if I recall correctly), who taught for Machon Mishmeret Stam. We started attending the shiur, the only religious Zionists (or obvious ones, anyway) in the group.

Rav Friedlander invited me to learn with him during bein hazmanim. I eagerly accepted. During Hol Hamoed Pesah, I went to the beit midrash in Geulah where we planned to learn. A young fellow approached me, pointed to the kipah s’rugah (crocheted kipah) on my head, and told me I was in the wrong place. I responded that I had come to learn Torah in the beit midrash. He insistently repeated that I didn’t belong there. Rav Friedlander entered, and put the young man in his place.

During the period that I learned by him (about a year and a half), he confided to me that until Eitan and I came to his shiur, he didn’t know quite what to think about fellows in Hesder yeshivot or Mercaz Harav. He didn’t really know that our respect for Torah, our skills in learning, our diligence were no different from what he knew in his own community. There were simply some differences in perspectives or p’sak; not in the loyalty to Hashem’s Torah. He did insist that we not talk about the same issues that Steve suggests avoiding, “Rav Mordechai, some topics we’re better off not discussing.”

In Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s beit midrash, a disparaging word was never uttered about a talmid hacham. His opinions could be attacked in the manner that a dispute can occur for the sake of Heaven; but no genuine opinion in learning was ignored by way of de-legitimizing it. It was an eye-opener for me to discover that approach was not universal in yeshivot.

Hashem should help us to unite in His Torah. Without that, we cannot unite the rest of Am Yisrael.

Originally published 5/3/2006

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut

Yom Ha’atzmaut (Hebrew: יום העצמאות‎ yōm hā-‘aṣmā’ūṯ) is the national independence day of Israel, commemorating its declaration of independence in 1948.

Celebrated annually on or around the 5th of the Jewish month of Iyar, it centers around the declaration of the state of Israel by David Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar, 5708), and the end of the British Mandate of Palestine.

It is always preceded by Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day on the 4th of Iyar.

An official ceremony is held every year on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on the evening of Yom Ha’atzmaut. The ceremony includes a speech by the speaker of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), a dramatic presentation, a ritual march of soldiers carrying the Flag of Israel, forming elaborate structures (such as a Menorah, Magen David and a number which represents the age of Israel) and the lighting of twelve torches (one for each of the Tribes of Israel). Every year a dozen Israeli citizens, who made a significant social contribution in a selected area, are invited to light the torches.

From Wikipedia
Read more Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut

Where is G-d?

By Michael Freund
First published in The Jerusalem Post on May 27, 2010

Yesterday at 11 a.m., air raid sirens sounded across the country. Emergency crews went into position, security forces entered a heightened state of readiness and thousands of people made their way to public shelters.

It was a chilling scene, as schoolchildren were shepherded to safety, and the innocence of our nation’s youth was disrupted by the din of the alarm. Thankfully, it was only a drill.

As Col. Chilik Soffer of the IDF Home Front Command bluntly noted: “Every country trains for emergency scenarios like earthquakes and fires. Here in Israel we train for those as well as for enemy attacks.”

Living in the Middle East, it would appear, like any tough neighborhood, requires taking all sorts of precautions, however unpleasant.

And while the government tried to calm the country’s nerves, assuring us that this exercise was routine and bore no relation to the dire state of the region, it was hard to escape the feeling that something ominous is in the air. Indeed, the headlines of late have been filled with all sorts of warnings and threats, as our foes dispatch daily reminders that their intentions are anything but peaceful.

In the past few days, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad spoke openly of war and embracing the “resistance option,” while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reasserted his determination to bring about Israel’s demise. To our north, Hizbullah is busy rearming, and its thug-in-chief Hassan Nasrallah boldly declared that Israeli commercial and civilian shipping could come under attack.

Meanwhile, to the south, rocket-fire emanating from Gaza resumed, and Palestinian terrorists sought to attack soldiers guarding the frontier. In every direction, it seems, our enemies are gearing up for a war of extermination, each one trying to outdo the other in a frenzy of blood-curdling intimidation.

The arc of iniquity that stretches from Beirut to Damascus, and from there to Teheran and all the way back to Gaza, is not just rattling its saber, but may be getting ready to unsheathe it.

IN THE meantime, our closest ally, the United States, has increasingly turned hostile to us and our interests, badgering us to make still more concessions to the enemies gathering at the gate.

Like it or not, we are very much a nation that is dwelling alone.

In the face of all this, there is a knife-like question piercing through the fog of fear: Where is G-d?

Some might take this as a challenge to divine justice, but that is not what I intend. I am a man of faith, and I believe our deliverance will assuredly come.

What I mean to say is: Where is G-d in our public discourse? Why aren’t we turning to Him in this hour of need?

Sure, diplomacy and military readiness are crucial, and we must continue to invest our efforts in these areas, even as we hope for the best. But the piercing siren sounded yesterday brought to mind the wailing of the shofar on Yom Kippur, penetrating the serene obliviousness that characterizes much of our daily lives. This was a spiritual wake-up call, sounding to arouse us and jolt us into action. We can choose to ignore it, but we do so at our peril.

Each night, our generals and defense officials grace the television screens, insisting that “Israel is strong” and “we are ready.”

I’m glad to hear it and hope it’s true. But as we have seen in the past, overconfidence can breed arrogance, which is a recipe for disaster.

A dash of humility and a healthy dose of faith are just as critical to ensuring success. That’s why I’d like to see our leaders projecting a little less conceit and a lot more conviction.

How refreshing it would be to hear them invoking some reliance on the Almighty and putting G-d back into the national conversation, injecting the sacred into their public discourse – and ours.

This is more than just semantics; it goes to the very heart of the challenges we face. Belief in a higher power and in the justness of our cause is our spiritual ammunition, giving us the strength and determination to turn back any foe.

The great hassidic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, once asked a student where G-d could be found. The surprised young scholar offered the seemingly obvious answer: Rabbi, He is surely everywhere! “No!” said the Kotzker, with fiery certitude. “G-d is only where we let Him in!”

Now, more than ever, would be the perfect time to do so.

Today is Yom Hazikaron in Eretz Yisroel

Yom Hazikron is the day on which Israel honors its war veterans. National memorial services are held in the presence of Israel’s top leadership and military personnel. The day opens the preceding evening at 20:00 (8:00 pm), given that in the Hebrew calendar system days begin at sunset, with a siren. The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, which stops highways) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. Many national-religious Jews say prayers for the souls of the fallen soldiers at this time as well. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, at which time the flag of Israel is lowered to half mast.

A two-minute siren is heard the following morning, at 11:00, which marks the opening of the official memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gathering which are held at each cemetery where soldiers are buried. The day officially draws to a close between 19:00 and 20:00 (7–8:00 p.m.) in the official ceremony of Israel Independence Day on Mount Herzl, when the flag of Israel is returned to full mast.

Scheduling Yom Hazikaron right before Yom Ha-Atzma’ut is intended to remind people of the price paid for independence and of what was achieved with the soldiers’ sacrifice. This transition shows the importance of this day among Israelis, most of whom have served in the armed forces or have a connection with people who were killed during their military service. To families of the fallen, however, this isn’t always a welcomed transition as mourning while most Israelis plan their Yom Ha-Atzma’ut celebrations isn’t simple.
From Wikipedia

Here is a link to a memorial video for two talmidim/soldiers from Bnei David who were killed in Lebanon.

A Chatzi Yarchei Kallah ( How We Spent Our Winter Vacation)

Last August, we said good bye to our daughter, son in law and granddaughter as they embarked for a year ( at least) in Israel at YU/RIETS’s Gruss Kollel. We kept in touch via cellphone and pictures. However, we decided to spend two weeks in Israel between the end of December and the middle of January. Our younger daughter joined us after completing finals at SCW. The following is a small travelogue of some of the highlights of our trip.

The Gruss Campus is nestled in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood of Yerushalayim, which affords some of the most gorgeous views of Ir HaKodesh, especially at night. It includes a Beis Medrash, classrooms and two buildings for accomodations for the kollelniks, most of whom are young married couples with preschool children. Unlike many kollelim, Gruss provides two hot meals a day and free board,as well as empty apartments ( if available) for family relatives, which are far less expensive than an apartment or hotel room. We stayed on campus for the two weeks.

Of course, we connected and met with some dear friends who had made aliyah and went to the Kotel. We did not do any real touring simply because we wanted to spend time with our children. We spent a lot of quality time babysitting , etc with our kids. We were amazed at the difference between our then 14 month old and a now 18 month old granddaughter who loves to be cuddled, read to , climb, run and chase the cats and birds around the Gruss campus as well as ride the swings and see her cousins in a nearby neighborhood!

Prior to our leaving in late December, my SIL advised me that his chavrusa would be returning to NY for some simchos. I decided that even with chavrusos and sedarim for learning in our neighborhood. and even though I could have had Net access in the Gruss building, that I needed to recharge my spiritual batteries as much as possible with as minimal interruption outside of meals and just sit and learn each morning to the best of my abilities. I went without Net access for the entire trip and without seeing a newspaper for most of the trip.

Every morning, I davened in a wonderful minyan that lasted about an hour-twice as long as the normal Shacharis weekday morning. The davening on Shabbos was wonderful-great Baalei Tefilah and Baalei Kriah. I couldn’t recall the last time that Kabalas Shabbos was so inspiring. Some of the Avreichim davened by the windows of the Beis Medrash just to have the view of the Makom HaMikdash raise their kavanah. To paraphrase a commercial, some things in life are priceless-davening facing the Makom HaMikdash is truely priceless.

We decided to learn during the morning seder so he could review for an upcoming bchinah.
After breakfast, we returned to the Beis Medrash and after a preliminary shiur in Mesilas Yesharim given by the Rosh Kollel, we proceeded to work hard at Perek Chezkas HaBatim, a wonderfully rich Perek in Bava Basra with many Shitos HaRishonim for most of the days we were in Gruss.. In the afternoon, after lunch and Mincha, I attended shiurim in Hilcos Nidah and Hiclos Ishus as well as wonderful shirim at night both in Gruss and as well with Bayit Vagan with R Asher Weiss in a neighborhood shul that was packed with Bnei Torah who represented the full spectrum of hashkafas in Israel.

Being in Yerushalayim means that you either hike the steps of the Arei Yehudah and the Chutzos Yerushalayim or take the buses. We did both. Taking the buses is a fascinating way of picking up a feel for the country, as is taking a far more expensive taxi.

We were also blessed with great weather. At the suggestion of a neigbor’s daughter who is now living with her family in Romema, we also met with R Sheinberg and received his brachos. We also did our share of shopping for Sefarim in Shanky’s, Manny’s and Girsa, three of the best ( but hardly the only seforim stores ) in Yerusahalayim. Somehow, we were not overweight upon our return to NY.

RYBS once commented that while he knew that some American Jews were Shomer Shabbos, few understood the meaning of Erev Shabbos. I finally understood the Pshat of that observation after watching so many Yidden shop for their challah, kugel, etc in Geulah. The aroma of the streets just was so evocative of the upcoming Shabbos Kodesh and the rush to complete preparations for Shabbos on such a short day.. Such an atmosphere cannot be duplicated anywhere else-possibly not in even the Chasidishe neighborhoods and definitely not in our more MO communities even with our bakeries. up to date stores with groceries., Glatt Kosher meat, etc.

The Gruss Kollel is a wonderful gem in the world of YU/RIETS. The Avreichim and their families represent the full spectrum of the RIETS Beis Medrash and Roshei Yeshiva . They celebrate their Simchos, work together in all means of Chesed and a Gmach and had a Tisch on one Shabbos while we were there for the Chasan Torah and Chasan Breishis for the past Simchas Torah with nosh, etc and Divrei Torah. The Kolelleit also serve as a liason for Mussar Vaadim and Hachnosas Orchim for talmidim in Yeshivas Torah Sharaga, a yeshiva for “gap year” Americans.

For those readers who have a son or son in law in a Kollel or even in a yeshiva for a one year program, I urge you to not just visit and take your kids out for dinner or away for Shabbos in a hotel or apartment. Spend some time in the Beis Medrash. Appreciate a Tefilah that is led by a Baal Tefilah, as opposed to a “chiyuv” with a less than inspiring command of Nusach HaTefilah or Perush HaMilos. Try to spend some time learning Torah with your son and SIL. There is simply no greater way of showing your family that you value and appreciate Talmud Torah.

For all of us, it was truly a wondeful trip, with our batteries recharged in so many ways.

Safety Amidst the Ice Floes

By Yaakov

My brother, living half the year in Hungary and half the year in California, writes me, living in Israel, a detailed analysis of the political situation vis a vis Iran, Israel, the U.S., etc., and at the end of his cogent points, adds, AND THE ONE PLACE I WOULD NOT WANT TO BE LIVING IN SUCH A SITUATION IS ISRAEL.

And I reply that there are many I know who believe that Israel will be the safest place in the world.

In my next email, I add to that:

…And if you will ask me how anyone can possibly say that Israel will be the safest place in the world, I’ll answer that I don’t know. I’ll say that maybe it’s something like the eye of the hurricane, but that doesn’t really answer it.

Reasonably speaking, the statement about Israel being the safest place in the world doesn’t make much sense.

And from one side, I wish that things ran only according to reason. Then I could use my powers of analysis and feel that I have a good idea about how things run. I’d probably feel much more comfortable in this body, in this world, if I could reach that point. Then, if things didn’t go the way I knew they should, I would have someone to blame for it.

Then, reason or better yet, misused, distorted reason, would be the explanations for the larger or smaller events of my life and of the way of the world.

But from another side, what can I do if I’ve seen many, many, many times over that the supra-rational enters into the picture, into all pictures, so much so that, as uncomfortable as it is, as difficult as it sometimes makes my life as it shakes up my belief in my own abilities to reason things out, I have no choice but to take it into account?

How can one possibly deal with something like that without boxing it off in a separate category, saying, “Yes, there is something that is supra-rational, something called “The Mystery,” but it’s over there, in another place. The place I find when I go meditate, or sometimes when I walk aside the ocean. Meanwhile, right here is reality.”

What can I do if I know already that without entering the supra-rational into reality I have an incomplete picture?

What can I do?

I have no choice but to learn to navigate unchartered waters.

And that has a beautiful and complete feel of truth to it, so if I have to navigate, so be it.

As maybe it was Mark Twain said, “a ship is a beautiful thing, but its purpose is not to sit in the harbor.”

It’s a constant learning process and the only way to learn is to be out there in the ocean. There are no rehearsals. And sometimes I hit ice floes. (I don’t want to say “icebergs,” because that brings up images of the Titanic, which lies forever on the ocean floor).

So the ice floes, or meteors if one prefers the metaphor of flying in outer space, are constant elements that have to be taken into account. They sometimes have the advantage of being, at least, solid matter, as opposed to the void that surrounds one in space or in the ocean.

A friend of mine tells me of the time he sailed a small boat across the ocean. He started out, more or less, with a book in his hand entitled something like, “How to Sail Across the Ocean.”

One day, out there somewhere, he decided to go for a swim. So he anchored his boat and jumped in.

What he saw and experienced was so frightening that he immediately scuttled his mission and bounced right back into the boat.

What happened was that out there the water is so crystal clear that he was able to see down and around him much further that he ever thought possible, pristine clear, and it was something like being inside of a crystal, or, I think, more like free-falling without any bearings. It terrorized him.

On the other hand, as one gets used to it, to whatever degree a flesh-and-blood human can, one receives what can only be called, “gifts,” the kind of gifts that those who stay in harbor cannot even conceive of. The kinds of gifts that give one the feeling that, “Ahh! For that I was born!”

The kinds of gifts that can give him his Life, and ruin his life.

And right after that, he can run into another ice floe. It’s what might be called an “occupational hazard.”

And there are any number of people around, good people, well-meaning people, who are ready to say, “Ah! You see! You see what it’s all got you to!”

And then you have your moments of doubt, but then, again, mercifully or not, Life beckons and you spend the rest of your time in harbor gathering up supplies.

And before you leave, you tell your well-intended, but settled friends in harbor the story brought down at the end of a Jewish book, Gesher HaChaim, that details the Torah laws of the mourning process:

Twins are in the womb. One of them is quite content with his life as it is, having all his food brought to him automatically amidst the mesmerizing rhythmic heart-beat and cushioned watery environment.

The other has some kind of what can only be called a “received,” intuitive awareness that there is more to it than that, more to come.

They go back and forth discussing it, disagreeing, for many months.

“Don’t you see, my brother? We have everything here. What else were we created for?”

And the second one can only speak vaguely of some feeling, some innate understanding of his, that there is something “outside.”

Finally, comes the time to go out. The “receiving” one is going first. As he goes, his brother is heartbroken. “My brother, don’t leave, come back! What did it get you, all your ideas?!”

What he doesn’t hear, or maybe hears only faintly without it penetrating his awareness, are the joyous cries on the other side, “Mazel Tov! You have a son!”

So you stay in harbor long enough to lick your wounds and gather supplies, dodging the “ice floes” which are also found on safe ground, the ones you meet up with oftentimes when you go into the settlers’ stores, as they beckon you to mature and become realistic, “if not for your sake, at least for your family’s sake for God’s sake, do it.”

What happens next? I don’t know. I’m still licking my wounds and all I have is a vague memory of a previous scenario, which may or may not be relevant next time around.

Life Through Orange-Tinted Glasses

Before we moved to Israel, I’d barely heard about Gush Katif, knew anyone who lived there, or ever visited the place itself. We moved the day of the disengagement in 2005, when all that changed and Gush Katif hit the headlines.

I’ve moved around a lot as a young teenager and young adult, and I still remember from that time just how horrible transient, temporary living is. So when we were still camping out in our new house in Israel, surrounded by boxes, seeing the pictures of people being forcibly removed from their homes really touched a chord.

But it appeared we were in the minority. At that time, where we lived, there was very little sympathy for the people of the Gush. To this day, I don’t know why. Maybe people bought the line they were being spun about the communities in the Gush being an ‘obstacle to peace’. Maybe they believed it was a sacrifice worth making for the greater good. (always easy to say that, of course, when it’s not you doing the sacrificing). But we also detected quite a distressing undercurrent of the Gush evacuees somehow ‘deserving’ what they were getting.

Six months after the disengagement, I signed up for a ‘tour’ round the main communities, mostly to satisfy my own curiosity and also to see with my own eyes what had happened to these ‘messianic fanatics’ and ‘rabid settlers’.

I was shocked by what I saw. In March 2006, people were still living in hotel rooms or the guest wing of kibbutzes, with 4, 5 and 6 kids crammed into one room; some had moved into their ‘caravillas’ in Nitzan, and discovered that most of their belongings had melted or broken in the packing crates that had been sitting in the scorching desert sun in the Negev.

Other ‘camps’, like the self-named ‘Ir haEmuna’ were almost too shocking to describe. The living conditions were absolutely terrible; tiny, decrepit trailers with large families somehow managing to keep their dignity, community and faith alive, against all the odds. Meanwhile, the people of Elei Sinai had spent the cold, wet, Israeli winter living in tents by the side of a motorway.

I came back and tried to tell a few people about it. Most people weren’t interested – and some were so dismissive of the gush katif people’s plight that once again, I was enormously shocked and discomforted.

Why so dismissive of other people’s suffering? Why the cruelty? Why the attitude that almost nothing was too bad for the former settlers of Gush Katif. I couldn’t work it out. To be honest, I still can’t, particularly when most of the people expressing these sentiments pride themselves on being observant jews.

In the year that passed since, I have struck up a relationship with some of the families formerly from the Gush. I have gone to visit them on a regular, if not frequent, basis, and seen them struggle to once again, keep their dignity, community and faith alive, when most people would have been crushed by everything that has happened – or failed to happen – a long time ago.

We are fortunate enough to be quite close to Rabbi Lazer Brody (www.lazerbeams.net), so when Rabbi Brody went to talk at the Ein Tsurim community centre a few nights ago, accompanied by a group of musicians, we went along to cheer him on.

If you’ve listened to any of Rabbi Brody’s CDs, or visited his website, you’ll know that Rabbi Brody’s main thing is to always emphasise the positive, stay hopeful and do a lot of praying that Hashem will turn bad situations around for us.

As he himself says, it’s not always easy to get people to ‘hear’ that message when they live in gorgeous homes, have gorgeous families, and nice jobs.

But the crowd in Ein Tsurim were potentially a particularly tough sell, because this is a bunch of people who have lost everything; who have very little hope left – and who have already prayed their hearts out.

The clip here will give you an idea of what I’m on about:– it’s from just before the hitnakut, and it really made me cry.

Nevertheless, around 40 people turned out to hear Rabbi Brody speak. They were mostly the older crowd; the people who had successful businesses, but who are now officially classified as being ‘too old’ to find work – so the government isn’t counting them in the unemployment stats for Gush Katif, and they long since ceased being eligible for unemployment payments.

In my previous visits to ein tsurim, I hadn’t realised how many Sephardim there were there, but there was a real mix of people from Tunisia, Morocco, France – and of course, a few from the States and even one woman from the UK that made aliya 36 years ago.

On the wall, there was a picture by someone called something ‘Fhima’ that caught my eye, as that’s my maiden name. The lady next to me explained that this man had moved to Israel from marakech, morocco (so he probably is a relative…) and had lost his wife 4 years ago in the Gush, and is now raising his kids alone.

There are lots of stories like that; stories of quiet loss and dignity in suffering – and gratitude to Hashem despite it all. Really uplifting stories.

The Rav spoke from around 8.30 to about 11 – which is an amazingly long time to hold anyone’s attention, particularly on a week night – but he had a rapt audience.

Can you imagine telling people who don’t have anything to look forward to that it’s a ‘mitvah gedola’ to be happy always? Or that the crowd would respond positively to this message and really take it to heart?

It’s a testament to just how extraordinary the people of Gush Katif are that this is exactly what happened. They ‘heard’ the message that so many of us, with so much more to be grateful for, simply don’t, can’t or won’t.

These are not ‘rabid settlers’; they are not ‘messianic fanatics’, or any of the other names that the Israeli press in particular loves to sling at them.

I’ve spent a lot of time with them now, and they are amongst the best, most sincere jews I have ever met in my life. To go through so many challenges, to have so many other jews ignore their plight, mock them or actively hate them – and to still be able to get up and sing about loving the Jewish people and G-d, and clinging on to their emuna – that is something else.

We’re trying to raise £10k for the community in Ein Tsurim, to help them to pay for small things like a few communal activities, including purim parties, the Rav’s talk and other things that while they don’t sound very important, are actually the ‘glue’ that is continuing to stick that community together.

To date, with G-d’s help and the generosity of some very special people, we’ve managed to raise: £1,368.

I know everyone has a lot of expenses; I know there is a lot going on etc etc.

But it’s not really about the sums of money, it’s more about sending a message that other Jews care what happens to them. If you can help even by giving a tenner, the koach it would give to this community would be enormous.

If you can’t give money at the mo, then feel free to write a message of support in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to pass it on to them. Even better, if you are in Israel over Pesach go and visit them for yourselves, and see with your own eyes that they are kind, lovely people, and they deserve to be treated so much better than they are being.

I know from past experience that the expellees are not a popular subject with many people. But Gush Katif stopped being about politics a long time ago. Now it’s about people who are suffering, and whether we as Jews are going to sit on one side and ignore it, or actually make even a tiny effort to let them know that we are thinking about them and want to try to help.

To help Ein Tsurim:

In Israel, you can send a cheque directly to:
Keran Yochanan (the name of the charity)
C/O Anita Tucker
Ein Tzurim
D.N. Ein tzurim

In the US, you can make a donation to the Central Fund for Israel, and just mark it to go to Ein Tsurim.
Central Fund for Israel
980 Sixth Ave.
3rd. Floor
New York, N.Y. 10018
Please clearly mark the cheque as going to Ein Tsurim, as the fund services a lot of different charities

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz on Making Aliya

Recommended reading for this column – “When American Families Move to Eretz Yisroel” by Rabbi Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My wife and I have always had a deep love for Eretz Yisroel since we both studied there in our post high school years. Over the years, we have been discussing the idea of making aliya (moving there) with our family, but somehow we never got to actually doing it.

Now, we feel that we are ready, but we are concerned about relocating our children. We have four children; the eldest is thirteen, and we would appreciate your guidance with this potential move.

I’m not sure how important this information is, but my wife is not as gung-ho about this as I am.


Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Imagine that you decided to go on a one-day camping trip and then prepared a backpack with your provisions. Please bear with me Dovid while I carry this one out, but in the analogy, you are the sandwich, your wife is the bottle of orange juice and your kids are the dozen eggs.

I say that because generally speaking the men/fathers find relocation to be less stressful than do the wives/mothers. Why? Because the mothers are the ones who need to take care of the ‘stuff’ – the details that will make or break the success of your aliya.

Dovid don’t make the all-to-common mistake of underestimating the importance of getting the ‘stuff’ right. Please don’t trivialize or dismiss your wife’s concerns with the pragmatics of the move. Don’t think, “Here we are thinking of the incredible mitzvah of spending the rest of our lives in Eretz Yisroel and my wife is worried about jobs and schools for the kids.” If you need an example of what things look like when one is inspired by a big idea and neglects the details, just analyze the horrific train wreck that the war in Iraq has become. That also began with two big ideas – free the Iraqi people and spread democracy. But President Bush was so inspired by his vision that he forgot to ask or inquire if the troops will have bulletproof vests or who will make sure that the Iraqi people have electricity.

All things considered, I am most concerned about your thirteen year old. If you are the sandwich (easy to move), and your wife is the bottle of orange juice (much more likely not to handle the adjustment well), your children are the dozen eggs (far more likely to crack during the transition). And moving your adolescent child is like taking the eggs out of the container and stuffing all of them into your pants pockets.

I am always reluctant to give detailed advice to people whom I do not know well, but I can tell you with near certainty that you should not make the move at this point in your life. Let’s face it. Your children – especially the older ones – are Americans and making the adjustment to the Israeli culture is quite complicated. And although the benefit of making aliya is great, the risks are simply too high in your case. I suggest that you keep this dream of yours on hold until, with the help of Hashem, your children are married, or at least settled in the last year or two of High School. I would be far more likely to encourage you to make the move if you had written that you had either: 1) spent a great deal of time planning the move, 2) spent a summer in Eretz Yisroel with your children, 3) taught your children Hebrew and they took to the language well, and 4) your wife and children all ‘on board’ with your aliya plans. But from your question, it does not seem that this is the case. Should you decide to go ahead with your plans, please spend lots of time and effort properly planning for the move. The people I know who have made successful aliya — including and especially those who had teen children — all spent many months or years preparing for the transition.

For readers who are contemplating aliya, here are my suggestions:

* Do as much homework as possible. Speak to as many American olim as you can to pick up tips and suggestions to make the transition easier.
* Please read an outstanding article by my dear chaver, Rabbi Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer. While we respectfully agree-to-disagree on other topics (Click here and here), I concur with his column completely. (In fact, I first got to know Yair when I cold-called him to compliment him for his clarity of thought – and courage – when this article was first published in The Jewish Observer.)
* An excellent resource is Nefesh B’nefesh. (www.nbn.org.il) They have successfully facilitated the aliya of hundreds of families due to their methodical approach to guiding families – and their understanding of the importance of getting the ‘stuff’ right for the families who are making the move.
* If you are making the move, do so while your children are younger. The earlier in their lives the better.
* Look into the schools in prospective communities – even if your children are toddlers. Most Israeli schools are very different than American ones, and it is critically important that your family is in sync with the mosdos that your children will attend. Generally speaking, there is far more ‘gray’ in America than in charedi society in Eretz Yisroel. Make sure that your views on kollel, sports-playing-for-children, tzniyus for girls (and mothers) are at least close to that of the community in which you live.

I know many people who have successfully made aliya and I commend you for having the commitment to consider the move. My response is not ‘no’ – it is just, “Not yet” or “Not now.”

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Please visit Rabbi Horowitz’ newly redesigned website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, to review/post comments on any of the archived articles. You can also visit the “Resource Listing” section (Click Here) of the website to become more familiar with many services and organizations that can assist you in your quest to help your children realize their fullest potential. Bright Beginnings has a growing number of skill-based materials in Chumash (Click Here) and Kriah (Click Here). I hope that you find them helpful. YH.

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Hard Time in a Hard Holy Land

One of the most troubling threads of discussion to emerge from this blog is the firm, virtually unanimous line of warning from Americans, particularly BT’s, who have chosen to make Israel their home — or those who, having made that decision once, concluded it was the wrong one for them, and have returned to their countries of origin. Having just come back from a trip to Israel, where I stayed in the largely North American enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, I found this discussion particularly compelling. It is clear, based on my observations, discussions with American olim, and the majority of commentators here on this topic, that the cultural environment for North American BT’s who wish to find a place in Haredi life in Israel is brutally harsh. I can understand many reasons why this may be so. Some of them suggest rather harsh observations as well, and ones that we should learn from for our own sakes.

Fundamentally, American haredism and Israeli haredism bear largely superficial relations to each other. The differences are more fundamental than the similarities. You might object to this and insist that it is an overstatement; both kind of haredim, after all, are committed to scrupulous observance of halacha, including the cultural pressure points of tzenius and limud hatorah. But there are substantial populations withing the dati leumi camp, including those who consider themselves a sort of cross between haredim and datiim — chardal, they call themselves (Haredi Leumi — Nationalist Haredim) — who fit this description as well. Datiim also observe Shabbos and kashrus, all with varying degrees of stringency. Yes, non-hasidic haredim consider themselves in the same camp as hasidim; but probably not as many hasidim as they’d like to think agree.

But haredi society in Israel is so profoundly different from that of the group that uses the same name here (including hasidim to a large extent) that American olim have found it necessary to build their own camps. It is widely understood among Americans, and according to many it is daas torah, that Americans should live and learn mainly separately from Israelis, even in Israel. There are a number of very significant differences, and they don’t all have to do with hashkofah (outlook or philosophy).

One does: In Israeli haredi society (non-hasidic), men are simply not supposed to work for a living. Men learn. The “elite” includes everyone, except those who wish never to be regarded as fully frum. In America, by contrast, while there is a large and culturally very significant cadre of full-time learners, there is a place of honor at the table for the learned baalebos (“householder” or layman). This does not solve all our economic and social problems — witness the threads here about yeshiva tuition, for example — but it does mean we have a society in which the expectation of a man who is the head of a household being supported by others is not the default position. It is not an understatement to say that this is a profound difference between American and Israeli haredi society, and evidently men who learned in yeshiva for years, BT or otherwise, who get to Israel after having already left the beis medrash and begun to take personal and direct responsibility for their families’ sustenance, discover that they are at best second-class citizens in the eyes of Israeli haredim. This is regardless of their level of Torah knowledge, frumkeit and observance, and it is, from what I gather and from what I can project in my own case — because who does not visit Israel and muse of staying there? — demoralizing to say the least.

That is the easy one. The second main thrust of criticism that I have gleaned is far less amenable to interpretation as an artifact of idealism, and it is this: Haredi life in Israel is brutal. Some of this is the result of the first issue; where an entire social group lives on handouts, and insists that it is entitled to them by virtue of the spiritual benefit if bestows on those from whom it makes this demands, let us just say there will be… resistance. And gnawing, growing need. Corruption is almost inevitable. Every sort of tribal and clannish behavior is found and, unfortunately, rewarded by the system. Schools and seminaries become personal fiefdoms. The Israeli political system — recognized as one of the free world’s most corrupt — being largely the benefactor of an entire ethnic and cultural sector, inevitably leeches its crooked ethos into the soil from which even the most idealistic blooms grow. To an American, this is inevitable: Earthly sustenance disconnected from effort is contrary to the Protestant work ethic that every American, including orthodox Jews, believes in, even as we acknowledge abstractly that our work is only hishtadlus (a contribution of external effort) and that parnosah itself is awarded only by the grace of God. Here we say it; there, they live it. In fact they live it so profoundly there that they have political parties whose sole job is to press forward with enforcing the grace of God in the Knesset. It is inconceivable that American olim do not view this cynically, and that it chips away at their idealism.

(In a similar vein, Americans raised on concepts — however much observed more in the breach — of fair play and communal responsibility, the idea of living in a place and not contributing to its physical security, regardless of the spiritual station you assign yourself, is itself seen in largely unflattering terms — especially by many BTs. I cannot say, however, that I have observed this particular point to be one which has resulted in a large amount of American aliyah disfunction among haredim. Perhaps this is because of the widespread and reasonable observation that the Israeli political and philosophical hashkofah and utterly un-tzenius lifestyle that are part and parcel of military service are really so offensive to Torah values.)

Americans are told, or find out the hard way, that the system is “different” in Israel, and some of it is because of these profound structural differences. There are more. There is no question that despite the existence of chesed and tzedaka on phenomenal levels in Israeli society, there is a harshness in personal interrelations that simply does not comport with conception of Jewish middos that we learn about and try to inculcate in our children and ourselves. This Old World harshness, almost a certain brutality, is far more commonplace in Israel than in America.

This is not entirely surprising. In America, we go out of our way to avoid giving offense; making friends, being socially accepted by broad categories of persons, and even obsequiousness are considered ways to get ahead. One of our all-time biggest sellers is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. A recent article discussed how this book is being used in haredi communities here, such as hasidim, where such concepts are utterly foreign; but to Israelis, the promulgation of such ideas seems preposterous. Israelis joke about their style, but to fresh-scrubbed Americans, driving (it seems) to kill, assertive and widespread tobacco use, physical violence — all known phenomena in the Israel haredi world that cannot be blamed on exposure to the krum (gross) host culture — frankly seem abominable to North American eyes. To strangers, often lacking roots and native skills, such as language, the coldness and lack of outer warmth is more than off-putting. It can be a genuine challenge to religious inspiration, to say the least.

And finally, there is that issue of roots. I mentioned clannishness briefly. The English-language journalism, and the “reports” from the field in Israel, are clear: There is tremendous polarization along ethnic and “racial” lines among Jews in Israel, and these prejudices are very much alive among haredim. One recent article described an ehrliche (sincere) haredi parent’s attempt to enroll his child in a cheder, which was unsuccesful in cheder after cheder until he was given the advice to just plain lie about his children’s Sefardi grandparents on his mother’s side. We have Ashkenazi and Sefardi camps here, too, but I cannot fathom such a story in any but the most obscure communities, if then, in chutz l’aretz.

Undoubtedly, Israeli haredim are on the front lines of a very profound kulturkampf, a fight for the soul of the Jewish people that is being played out in very stark terms. But where there is war, there are uniforms — rigidly enforced; there are casualties — however regrettably; and there are atrocities — so to speak. Yes, I remain more than impressed — positively inspired — by the wellspring of enthusiasm and, yes, idealism by olim who have grown and blossomed and flourished in our eretz hakadosh. The growth of Torah to historically phenomenal levels can only be a sign of Heavenly approval. When I was in Israel, especially as I walked the streets of Jerusalem, I felt truly at home. Perhaps it is because I am a native New Yorker, but to me it is Jerusalem that I picture when I imagine, fantasize really, about living in Israel. But as my youthful enthusiasm gives way to reality and the acceptance of who and where I am, I have realized and learned that, unfortunately, there is almost no conceivable way I can be there, short of the miraculous Redemption, in the foreseeable future. What pains me most, though, is the realization that this fantasy, like so many others, can perhaps only be nurtured in the abstract, and that from what I have read, seen and heard, this love may well be unrequited.

We are, after all, in galus.

Steve Brizel’s Eretz Yisroel Travel-blog

Steve Brizel is in Eretz Yisroel and he has been blogging his trip in the comments to this post. We’ve collected some of the comments here, but read the whole thread for the commenting back and forth.

For many of us in Chuz L’aretz, one of the best ways of cultivating and maintaining a love of EY in a physical sense is visiting our children who are learning in yeshivos and seminaries. We visited our older daughter back in 2004 and we are leaving for EY Bezras HaShem for two weeks, this Wednesday night.

Here are a few suggestions for any first time or returning visitor who is visiting a child. First of all, if your son or daughter invites you to sit in on a shiur or chavrusa or chaburah, do so and don’t pull them out of valuable time that could be devoted to Torah learning.You will be inspired by so many young men or women devoting their time to learning Torah.

Read more Steve Brizel’s Eretz Yisroel Travel-blog

A Letter From a Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Shemonah Talmid

Contributor and commentor, Mordechai Scher sent this letter from Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Shemonah, where he learned and where he and his wife hope to make aliyah someday.

Evil Shall Break Forth out of the North?! (Jeremiah 1:14)
Written during the 2nd week of the war

by Yair Kraus, Shiur Daled
Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Shemonah

When war in the North broke out last week, the Haftarah – the first chapter in Jeremiah, spoke of a warning of the war that is expected to break out in the north of Israel, with ramifications on the entire population. It is hard not to see a direct link to the fighting taking place up here.

On Wednesday, Kiryat Shemonah and, in fact, all the settlements in the north of the country awoke to a new-old reality. The morning the soldiers were abducted at the border, against a background of massive bombing by the Hizbollah with Katyushas aiming at our homes, we – the Yeshivah students – realized we were somewhere we had never been before.

Over the past week hundreds of Katyushas have landed on the settlements of the north. We thank G-d for the miracles we see with our very eyes, that there have been a minimum of casualties, yet our hearts weep when we hear of the dead and the wounded in other parts of the country. We are in the midst of a war against our enemies whose sole aim is to hurt, kill and destroy us, and it looks as if it is going to last quite a long time.
Read more A Letter From a Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Shemonah Talmid

One on One

What often gets lost in the constant news and statistics of the ongoing war in eretz yisroel is the singular plight of each family, each soldier, each individual.

The Midrash relates:During the war against Midyon, for each person who went out to war there was a person designated to pray and learn for him.

The Bostoner Rebbe and HaRav Kook of Rechvot have started a program where they are asking individuals who find themselves in danger and all soldiers who wish to have someone designated to learn and daven for them to submit their names. Those wishing to receive a name of a “partner” to learn and daven for should email maortlmo@bezeqint.net.

May all of the efforts of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael and our prayers merit a speedy and succesful end to this trial and the safe return of all of our soldiers.

The Situation

Here is a letter Menachem wrote to his friends and family last week about “the situation” in Israel which he offered to share with us on Beyond BT.

I’ve been debating whether or not to write something about the current “situation” here in Israel, so if you actually receive this you’ll know which side won the debate.

As you’ve noticed, probably thankfully, these updates have become fewer and farther between. This was not because I don’t miss you, it’s just because life had gotten pretty routinized and there just wasn’t much to write about. One of the reasons I hesitate to write now is that on the whole I’ve attempted to keep things positive and a-political. Well I guess I could just write some fluffy stuff and ignore the fact that those moon bats North of the border are using us for target practice, but since you probably read the paper or listen to the news occasionally you’d realize I was trying to hide something.
Read more The Situation

What Can We Do To Help

The Jewish People are under attack and as Rabbi Brody has said repeatedly, the call of the day is to increase our Emuna and do Teshuva.

Emuna goes beyond believing in G-d, but acting in accordance with that belief. Although we are all probably checking the Israeli news sites multiple times a day to see how the Israeli military is faring, emuna means seeing clearly that the outcome of this crisis is totally in Hashem’s hands and acting on that belief.

Although most of the people reading this site have undertaken a significant committment to Teshuva, as Rabbi Lam reminded us at the last Beyond BT Melave Malka, this is just the first step. Teshuva is a continual process and now seems like the right time to take some next steps.

Here are some simple ideas, but please add your own suggestions in the comments:

1) Say one shehakol a day with more kavana.
2) Pause before Bonei Yerushaliyim in the Shomenah Esrai and say it with more intent.
3) Before reading another news article on the net, say Shir Hamalos for the Matzav in Eretz Yisroel.
4) Commit to learning or relearning a new sefer, 5 minutes extra a day.
5) Fulfill the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel by:
a) Saying something nice about a fellow Jew
b) Helping a fellow Jew with there phyisical needs
c) Honoring a fellow Jew

Increasing our observance of mitzvos in some small way shows that our emuna is not just an intellectual excercise, but that we have committed our lives to serving Hashem. Let’s all reach deep into our hearts and minds and do what we can to help the Jewish People.

If you want to make a Bli Neder small committment in the comments either by name or anonomously it would be helpful.

Pray for our Boys

As most of us are probably aware, an Israeli soldier was kidnapped by arab terrorists yesterday.

Please have Gilad ben Aviva (Shalit) in mind in your prayers and good deeds.

The following Israeli soldiers remain Missing in Action:

Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah (Katz)

Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam (Baumel)

Zvi ben Penina (Feldman)

Ron ben Batya (Arad)

Guy ben Rina (Hever)

May Hashem redeem them and bring them home safely to their loved ones.

Baalei Teshuva and Aliyah

It is no secret that the vast majority of Jews who make Aliyah by choice are orthodox. I have also noticed that Baalei Teshuva are a well represented subgroup among Olim. Of course, neither of these observations should be surprising. As orthodox Jews we know that our religious existence is incomplete while not living and serving G-d in our homeland. As Baalei Teshuva the process of Aliyah has much in common with our Teshuva process.

Like becoming frum, making Aliyah requires one to turn his life upside down and to make enormous changes based on, what is essentially, a leap of faith. Certainly, people can and will list dozens of tangible benefits as dividends of both of these endeavors. While some of these dividends may accrue to us, in the long run we know that we are doing these things simply because we believe that they are the right thing to do.

The search for truth that brings many Baalei Teshuva to Yidishkeit does not end when they become observant. Many BTs get “hooked” with a good kumsitz, torah codes, or rationalist explanations for the mitzvos. Once inside we come to understand that the bottom line is that we do what do because we believe that G-d gave us the Torah and its divine message is beyond our attempts to rationally explain it. This realization is what allows us to weather the many challenges we face. (Such as high tuition bills!)
Read more Baalei Teshuva and Aliyah

In the Face of Approaching Disaster

As many of us know PM Olmert has publicly stated that he is ready to divide Jerusalem as well as expel up to 70,000 Jews from their homes. To show support for Israel and to protest PM Olmert’s intended actions there will be a rally on Tuesday May 23rd, 12:00 Noon in Washington D.C. Taft Park at The Capitol Building. If you want to go on a bus from the NY, NJ, CT area, please contact Rafael V. Rabinovich, Cell phone (718) 514-4328, e-mail: rafvrab@att.net, rafvrab@gmail.com. For Information and Coordination Across the United States: Jonathan Silverman, (718) 304- 3193, e-mail: jonsilverman2002@yahoo.com.

Somebody sent us an email alerting us to the OU’s take on the rally. You can read the OU statement here.

Please read Rabbi Brody’s recent Open Letter to Hashem about this matter.

We want to thank Max Stessel of Chicago for writing the following piece with the goal of trying to sensitize us to the potential horrific situation facing our brethen in Eretz Yisroel.

Max Stesel
Chicago, IL

The Medrash tells us that when, as a young prince, Moshe Rabeinu went out of Pharaoh’s palace for the first time and saw Jewish slaves toiling for Egyptians, his first act was to join them in their back breaking task, to participate in their pain and partake in the suffering of slavery. This was done despite the fact that being a prince and a Levi, slavery was not a part of Moshe Rabeinu’s experience. He further could have argued that had the other tribes stood their ground when Pharoh invited them to volunteer for the sake of the state, as Levis did, they would not be subjected to cruel slavery. All reasons and differences aside, Moshe Rabeinu saw that it was his brothers who were suffering and he had to join them and participate with them.

Almost a year ago, possibly the greatest humanitarian disaster in recent decades struck world Jewry. More than 10,000 Jews were forcibly removed from Gaza. We might debate the diplomatic, security, ideological and other justifications and condemnations of that event. But one thing is undisputable, this was a humanitarian disaster. Destruction of communities, dreams, removal from spacious homes into crowded hotels and refugee camps, loss of personal property, transition from meaningful jobs to reliance on charity, complete uncertainty about future, strained family relations, depression. Today, most of these Jews still lack permanent housing and adequate employment. We saw it on the internet, read about it in newspapers, heard about it on the radio and what was our reaction? How did we respond to this momentous event?
Read more In the Face of Approaching Disaster

Remembering Israel’s Fallen Heroes

Today is Yom HaZikiron which is the day on which we honor Israel’s fallen heroes.

Rabbi Lazer Brody has a good post which opens with:

Today is Israel’s Memorial Day; for some, it’s theoretical. For many of us, it’s a day of opening up old wounds and 24 hours of tears in the eyes.

Please read the whole thing to also honor those who have survived but constantly are giving up their lives through their suffering with PTSD – Post Trauma Stress Disorder.

Aish has a true story for Israel Remembrance Day called The Rabbi and the Professor.

Read more Remembering Israel’s Fallen Heroes

Cultivating a Love of Eretz Yisroel

From the moment I first came here to work on kibbutz, looking to experience the cleanest expression of communism in the Free World (…remember this was the 60’s!), and experienced the Land of Israel – the hills, the people, the smells, the songs, the connections – I knew that I was in love. It took me many years to go from disgruntled and passionate anti-Vietnam War protester to contented but still passionate resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, and I have logged many miles in my “wandering Jew” journey. But my love for Eretz Israel has never left my heart, and my desire to take my place among our people in Hashem’s precious land never wavered.
Read more Cultivating a Love of Eretz Yisroel