Friday, June 29, 2012

Russian Flag Above Jerusalem

Russian President (dictator), Herr Putin, was in Israel recently. While it's well-documented that Putin was elected--then re-elected and elected again illegitimately, that the election process in of itself is a sham, that Putin's anti-Western, pro-Iranian regime has repeatedly made crude human rights violations, that Putin and his hentchmen have murdered countless opposition members and members of the Russian "free" press, that Putin was a KGB agent at the age of 21, and that Russia is the most evil regime in the world (worse than the likes of Syria, Sudan, and Iran), Israel welcomed the bastard (there are no better terms to describe him) and provided him access to Judaism's holiest sites.

While I realize that Israel and its leadership had little choice other than to welcome any world leader who's willing to visit here, I don't believe we should have been as ready to appease this evil psycho. I don't think Bibi and Peres (the latter of whom little can be expected of) should have been as willing to lavish praise on Putin and his regime. I certainly don't think FM Avigdor Lieberman, who knows the truth about Russia all too well, should have as much as shaken hands with Putin.

But what got me on a personal level was seeing Russian Federation flags flying high over Jerusalem. Now, I don't know what's worse: gay flags in Tel-Aviv or Russian flags in Jerusalem, but what I do know is that both of these expressions of "freedom" and "human rights" are in effect expressions of evil. Not so much the gay flags; after all they're "born" gay, right!? But the Russian flag stands for centuries of oppressing countless people; be they Chechens, Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Litvaks, Georgians, Bosnians, Estonians, Czechs, or Jews.

Let me make this very clear: I have Russian relatives and friends whom I love, but I detest what Russia stands for. It stands for the worst qualities of human nature and I, in no way consider myself "Russian."

Inviting Putin to visit Israel was the only choice we had and it was probably the right one, but we could--and should have made more of an effort to let him know Israel doesn't approve of his choices. Perhaps some of our top politicians (I would have liked to see this on the part of Lieberman and had he been in the opposition I believe he would have done this) could have given him a cold shoulder. I'm certain the Russian flag should under no circuimstance be flying over Jerusalem. This is an embarassment to our national pride and a mini-tragedy for me as an Israeli Jew.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Grandmothers (May They Merit a Long Life)

This post is dedicated to two wonderful grandmothers, E and Y. E was born in 1923 in Moscow, Russia. Her grandparents were observant Jews who lived in a small shtetl outside Moscow. She'd spend her summers with them. They tried teaching her the Jewish way of life, but her Moscow friends held a bigger influence on her, and while she never ignored her grandparents, the secular life of the Russian capital held more allure than the simple, old lifestyle of Pale Jews.

E's granparents survived the Holocaust when the Nazis occupied the Ukraine and much of Western Russia in 1941. They happened to be visiting Moscow the day the SS arrived in their town. The Nazis forced all the shtetl's citizens into the local synagogue and proceded to burn it down. May the blood of the righteous victims of the Holocaust be avenged and may their souls merit an eternal resting place Above.

My grandma's father, Avraham, was a very talented engineer. Following the war, Stalin sent him along with some of the country's brightest engineers to learn the secrets of the trade outside the USSR. Avraham went to London. He took my grandma, then a girl of 7-8 along with him.

They stayed in England for a few years. These were the formidable years of my grandma's life. She made quick friends in school, adjusted to the British way of life, and learned English to such a degree that when her father was recalled back to Russia (his boss defected to England and Avraham received a stern scolding from his superiors. He also had trouble finding a job after this episode.), she finished the Moscow Languages College and went on to teach in the prestigious #1 school in Moscow (in Russia, schools are known by their number which is given according to the presinct the school is found in).

With time, my grandma's English became impeccable. She read so much that it was unheard of for her to make any kinds of mistakes, whether in her written or spoken English. She helped write and publish two textbooks. I believe these are still used by Russian schools. Still, my grandma was Jewish and this prevented her from being accepted to teach at a Soviet university. She instructed the children of State heads, and KGB leaders, who'd go on to take central roles in the Soviet government. My grandma has some very interesting stories to tell about her former students and their families.

Grandma met grandpa after he'd escaped the Siege of Leningrad which claimed several million lives. He was on the verge of starvation when they met. She nurtured him back to health and, soon afterward, they got married. Theirs is a story of true love and commitment. We recently celebrated their 60th anniversary!

Grandma E lives in Chicago, on the 17th floor of an apartment building not far from downtown. She's my best friend and has been there for me literally every step of the way, from when I was born, till now. We make sure to talk at least a few times a week. We stay in touch via e-mail and Skype (!)

My grandma from my mother's side has had a very difficult life. She was born in 1910 (she recently turned 92!), in Ismail, Ukraine, a seaport Russia captured from Turkey I believe in the Crimea Campaign.

She got engaged early, but her fiance, whom she adored, was killed fighting in the war. She also lost her dear brother, whom I'm named after, and who was only 18 at the time of the war. Needless to say, the war changed her life dramatically.

Nevertheless, my grandma, Y got married to my grandfather (whom I never had the privilege of meeting) and had two kids: my mom and my uncle. Grandpa, who'd fought valiantly as a navy captain, and had received numerous eccalades for his heroism, drowned in a swimming accident shortly after the Allies' victory. She was left with two small children and almost no money.

Granmda made ends meet by cooking pastries and sewing. My uncle brought in the rest of the income. He was only 17 when grandpa passed away, but managed to get accepted to a top math university (all the top Soviet universities had quotas for Jews), and earn money tutoring math and chess (he had the choice of becomming either a professional mathematician or professional chess player as he excelled in both).

Grandma never did remarry, even though she had plenty of suitors. The loss of grandpa (Z"L) was extremely devastating for her. She's always keeps his picture by her side on her bedroom table. Mom says yortzheit for grandpa every Yom Kippur. She's been doing this since we came to America even though she never had any religious upbringing.

Such is the nature of my family. These are truly holy people who have been touched by tragedy but have always continued doing their best to welcome strangers to their homes and give large amounts of money to charity. They love Israel with all their hearts and support her struggle for peace.

This is more or less the story of my two amazing grandmothers, a story uncommon even amongst the Russian-Jewish community. May my grandmas, E and Y merit a long life full of happiness, good deeds, charity and lovingkindness. May they merit the coming of Mashiach ben David and the Redemption.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jewish Need to Do Good Missapplied

By Eitan Divinsky, Jerusalem, Israel, 6/25/2012:

I've been having a discussion with a friend of mine (this guy was one of the first to befriend me when I was having a hard time getting adjusted to life in America and happens to be a rabbi whom I respect and admire) regarding the illegal aliens living in Southern Tel-Aviv, Ashkelon, and Eilat. As a background to what I'm about to say, the aliens, most of whom come from Sudan and Erethria, have been involved in countless thefts, a few cases of rape and one or two murders.

Their culture of laziness, squalor, and violence has accompanied them to Israel. While they owe a dept of gratitude to Israel--the only country willing to accept them, they've paid us back with crime and disregard for our rights. With perhaps a few exceptions, they know nothing of Jewish culture and are not willing to learn.

How do I know--or claim to know this? Well, to begin with, I went to Southern Tel-Aviv with Yeshivat Ha'mivtar. We took a tour of the neighborhood with the head of the "Secular Yeshiva," an interesting idea in its own right. He told us how the Israeli government is planning on sending them "home," how in his eyes, this is "unjust" because not only will we "take in a new wave of immigrants who will have to once again pay us to come" but also because "they provide all the manual labor that local Israelis aren't willing to do."

Fair enough, but is this really the case? Is the Secular Yeshiva head and local media not telling us a part of the story? Well, they really aren't when you consider some of the recent headlines: a gruesome gang-rape and murder of a Jewish girl by a pack of "immigrants," and more violence every day.

So my question is: does quoting individual parts of Tanach, Gemara, and other sources that stress our need to "welcome the stranger because you were (once) strangers in Egypt" necessitate us to welcome refugees--whether Jewish or not from every corner of the world, be it Russia, North Africa, or "Palestine"? Why must the tiny Jewish nation carry this seemingly unnecessary burden on its shoulders? Have we heaped too much; so much so that we can't carry it anymore on ourselves?

The answers I have in mind are obvious for anyone who's read my previous articles or knows my positions vis-a-vis the North African "refugees." Fact is, a large majority of these "refugees" weren't "running away" from anywhere. They're here simply because they want to make a living. But how are they making this "living"? Is their "living" coming at the expense of the Jewish citizens of Southern Tel-Aviv? Once again, I'm asking rhetorical questions in order to propel your instict to question the standard. And this "standard" has been set. By media outlets such as Ha'aretz and the Huffington Post.

In summary, the illegal aliens occupying (and I believe they are occupiers so long as they're here) need to be provided safe-passage home. So long as they're not in Israel, I'm ready to love them, even donate the money I don't have to them. The Israeli government is doing the right thing by sending them home. It's doing so compassionately, providing the aliens with the dignity and respect any human being deserves. As far as your donations, send these to any number of Jewish Zionist causes. You're to sure to find one--even if you don't look for it.

On Despair and Getting Back Up

By Eitan Divinsky

By Eitan Divinsky, Jerusalem, Israel, 6/25/2012:

Where are you?
Brighter, better days?
Where do you lay hidden?
When will you return and stay?
How long I've longed for you to come and reawaken me from this dreadful slumber?
How much longer will I wait for you?
Some things I know, but the majority are there to be discovered.
How much time will it take to bring back those who've stumbled?
Upon the path we all set upon in the beginning,
I can now hear the bells tolling, I know the feeling,
When one gets hurt,
Falls, cries out,
When one can't go on anylonger,
When all's doubts,
How much more suffering?
Why the guns and armor?
How much more muttering?
Of days gone by,
Of good, kind folks gone asunder?

When one cries, he should always know:
That good days shall return again,
The laughter's flow,
Will fill all sanctuaries,
Tall and low,
Will penetrate the city walls,
Will find its way,
To days gone by,
Will return and stay!

When one cries, he should always keep in mind two things:
There's no despair in this world,
And all's for the good,
We should always bear this lesson in mind when thinking of giving up in life unless,
Unless we're to fall into a pit of no return,
Fear not, my valiant friend,
Fear not,
And thou shalt weather the storm!

-Eitan Divinsky.

More Outrage (This time in Ramle) and the Case for a Death Penalty

My go-to local media source, Arutz-7, reported today that an Arab terrorist in Ramle tried to set aflame a Jewish family working for the "Garin Ha'torani", "The Torah Center", a national outreach group that  spreads Judaism, and the love for the Land and People of Israel to all reaches of the country.

The story may be found here: Ramle Terrorist Tries to Burn Family Alive. The case for a death penalty in Israel, one supported by FM Avigdor Lieberman and some MK's from the Likud, is one that needs not be taken lightly in lieu of heineous terrorist acts such as the murders of the Fogel family of Itomar--not to mention terrorist attacks that take place on a weekly basis.

The argument in favor of a death penalty is that it would force potential terrorists to fear the repurcusions of being apprehended and brought to trial. To be certain, a terrorist's detainment would, in a majority of cases, end up in his/her execution.

I'm absolutely convinced this is the right way to go--whether in Israel, America, or Europe (in Russia, most criminals no matter what their crime are assured such an end. Russia's crime enforcement is to be questioned and is inefficient to say the least, but the Russian government excels in cruelty which may at times, be a useful lesson for Israel and the West). By being kind to the wicked, we're being cruel to those who deserve our kindness.

Our inability to act causes me anger. Moreover, I'm puzzled by Israel's lack of conviction in dealing adequately with Palestinian violence since the signing of Oslo. I believe that had someone such as Moshe Feiglin or Avigdor Lieberman been elected instead of Rabin or Peres, thousands of Jewish lives would have been saved on both sides of the coflict.

To be sure, the Palestinians would also support a strong Israel more than they do the current government which has created an image of not being comitted to any issue whatsoever. I respect Bibi, but his union governement featuring Mofaz and Barak is a weak one. It sorely misses people like Feiglin and "Katzale." The Ulpana debacle is just one example of this.

The case for a death penalty grows with every terrorist act. When will the authorities heed the pain of the People? When will they wake from their slumber?

On Skokie (At Leo's Request)

So many memories, so many yearnings,
So much past, so much desire to return,
I give you this much, Skokie,
You're one crazy big part of me!

When we first moved there,
It was a pleasant suburb,
A place to grow, to mature,
When I left you, Skokie,
Hey, I still feel your alure.

I'm here in Jerusalem,
The holiest place under the heavens.
But Skokie's anther place I call "home,"
And it probably always will be.

I sing your praises in good and stormy weather,
Hoping to see you soon,
I always love it when we're together,
And next time 'round, I'll bring back a brand new tune.

Every time,
We're reunited,
It feels like I've never left you.
Always miss you,
I need to get some tissue,
I'm so embarassed I need to cry.

I'd love to kiss you,
I definitely have some issues
If the town I'm from makes me so sore.

-Eitan Divinsky.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's the Elites, Stupid!

Living in Efrat in the Judean Hills, I often found myself asking the question: who's got it better: the "settlers," surrounded by fences, barbed wire, soldier-manned guard towers, and an entire army of tanks, armed vehicles, helicopters, foot soldiers, and so forth--or the local Palestinians who have to present an I.D. just to board a bus, not to mention the hours spent at checkpoints waiting to enter Israel proper? My answer is that basically, no one has it good, and while the simple folks suffer from the pangs of armed conflict, the elites do their utmost to perpetuate it.

While living in Judea, I met many Palestinians who'd smile at me, and greet me--mostly in Hebrew. I also had the experience of teaching Palestinian children English at Berlitz some-5 years ago. I remember handing out an assignment where I asked my students to list some basic information regarding themselves: their names/ages/place of birth--and I went a step further: I asked them to list their "ethnicity." I remember the feeling of elation I experienced having received their answers: ALL the Palestinian kids listed their ethnicity as "Israeli."

I strongly believe that it's not the simple, hard-working Arabs who want to "throw us into the sea." Not in the West Bank, not in Gaza, not in any Arab country in the region. Yes, they are constantly getting brain-washed. Local T.V. channels stream anti-Semitic propaganda into their living rooms. Anti-Israeli sentimen is synonymous with being a good Muslim.

Even so, there are many examples of incredibly brave, independent-thinking Arabs who've come forth and denounced their governments' hatred of Jews. Surprising? I think not when we take the time to study the history of Islam, especially its "Golden Age", when Muslim conquerors spread the faith by way of living peacefully with Jews and Christians, thus gaining from both. Not so in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. The Koran, as I've recently learned, is extremely ambiguous when it comes to women's and minority rights. There are Muslims who actually do their "homework" and end up choosing those passages of the Koran that speak to them--not the local mufti. While the mufti will teach you that Jews and Christians are the sons of pigs and apes (respectively), the Koran also teaches to respect the "People of the Book."

I've always had the feeling that there's much, much more to Islam than the stuff we see on T.V. and read about in the latest news reports. It's not only a culture of hatred and violence. Rather, it's a society experiencing a period of upheaval and hardship--and perhaps an all-out revolution in thought and practice will follow. Judaism and Christianity also went through similar processes. Who's to say Islam won't reform for the best, and that Jews and Muslims (who have a lot more innate similarities than do Jews and Christians) won't team up to build an era of progress and coopeation in the Middle East?

While missiles continue raining down on Southern Israel, I remain hopeful that the Palestinians will group out of their slave mentality to overthrow the corrupt regimes of both the Fatah and Hamas and partner up with Israel to achieve a real peace--a peace in which Israel need not give up any territory in return for empty promises. We've tried this path already. It has brought about two decades of bloodshed.

So whom do we have to look to in our search for a "peace partner?" I believe such a partner has to come from amongst the simple people; those not as exposed to the constant brain-washing machine that's the PLO (now PA). We need to build relations with the farmers, the artists, the musicians, the construction workers, the school teachers; in short the lower classes. And needless to say, this is the majority amonsgst the Palestinians. We need to show them we care about them by policing their cities, by providing them with quality jobs, by sponsoring their schools.

Thankfully, Benjamin Netanyahu's government realizes this simple truth. I see Israeli soldiers lending a helping hand to Palestinian youngsters, our religious students organizing united prayers for rain with their community leaders (one of my friends in Efrat did this so I know first-hand), our Rabbis inviting their immams to sit down and hold the negotiations our governments aren't able--or aren't willing to hold (Rabbi Riskin has been doing this for several decades now).

I believe every individual: Arab or Jew has the capacity to change. I went from being a hard-core Kahane supported to being strongly opposed to the mention of "transfer." I continue respecting the Rabbi and his legacy--especially for his work towards freeing Soviet Jews and for his endless self-sacrifice, but there are things which he said and did that go against what I believe in, mainly: the human spirit, our ability to change, our innate good-will. This war will--whether the elites want it or not--come to an end. This will happen when those who've been renogated to the sidelines for so long will rise up and say "Enough, our values are their values! Our quest for liberty and freedom is theirs as well!" As I sit at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem following another bomb scare, I remain as optimistic as ever.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moshe and Tarphon: Friends and Role Models

Moshe--Madoi (right) and Tarphon (left) came to Yeshivat Ha'mivtar where I studied for half a year a few months ago. They were raised Jewish and are now trying to get an Orthodox conversion. I'm pasting a story describing their personal/tribal history that was featured on the JPost website but first, a brief introduction of my own:

Moshe, Tarphon and I became fast friends after they arrived at the yeshiva in Efrat. The yeshiva is nothing like the pastural Ugandan town they have grown used to. It's surrounded by barbed wire at the perimeter and an armed guard consisting of 2 male/female soldiers (usually from the modi'in unit) is present at a watch tower 24/7. Students have access to nearby Efrat, a Judean hilltop "settlement" with a picturesque view of the surrounding hills.

One can visit Efrat to have pizza at the local family-owned (and what a family!) pizzeria, have a saltry burger at the burger bar next door, buy just about anything they fancy at one of two local grocery stores, sign up for a tour anywhere in the world at a tour agency at the same mall, and so much more! But this isn't about Efrat now, is it!?

Moshe and Tarphon are two guys who've inspired me to be the best I can be. Best person. Best Israeli. Best Jew. And to be sure, they espouse all these in who they are. Over a period of about 3-4 months, Moshe and Tarphon won me over with their polite, honest demeanor, their compassion, and their willingness to study Torah and the Jewish way of life which, as a matter of fact, they're more familiar than me.

I'm going to cut this short and give you the JPost article on my two friends:

Participants at the ROI Summit, the gathering of young Jewish leaders that kicked off in Jerusalem on Sunday, are a case study in diversity. They come from dozens of countries and belong to many different streams of Judaism, or are entirely secular.

Still, Moshe Madoi of Uganda sticks out even in this colorful crowd. The 24-year-old yeshiva student, who is the only black participant in the conference this year, said he has been warmly welcomed by organizers at the conference and in Israel in general.

“In Efrat, where I am living, there has not been any kind of racism of segregation,” he said.

“Perhaps only during prayer when we are not considered part of the minyan,” the prayer quorum, “because we are not considered Jewish according to the halacha.”

Madoi is a member of the Abaduya, a religious minority in eastern Uganda that professes Judaism as its faith. The community members, which Madoi said number around 1,100 people, are followers and descendants of Tsemei Kakungulu, a 20th-century official who was fascinated by the Mosaic faith.

“He was given a bible with the New and Old Testament,” said Madoi, “but only followed the ones in the old one so a British officer told him, that’s what Jews do, so he said ‘OK, then I’m Jewish.’”

Madoi is in Israel to learn more about Orthodox Judaism and bring back that knowledge to the 100 people back home who adhere to that stream of Judaism (the other 1,000, he said, are Conservative Jews.) “Relations between the two groups used to be bad but now they are fine,” he said. “Now we go to each other’s synagogues and pray.”

He said he would like to make aliya with the rest of his community, but that depends on the government’s immigration policy. So far, the gates are closed to them especially since they have not converted to Judaism, as recognized by the Orthodox establishment in Israel.

“I would like to convert officially and so would the rest of the Orthodox community back home,” said Modai.

Meanwhile, he is busy expanding his Jewish horizons at the ROI Summit, which is happy to have him.

“We need the resolve to create a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew seeking to lead a personally meaningful and active Jewish life,” said billionaire philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, chairwoman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network and funder of the ROI Community.

“We need the courage to focus not on the question of who is a Jew, but on what we can do as Jews to strengthen our community and the world around us. In many ways, the ROI Community is an embodiment of this vision.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

For You (Whoever You Are)

When will I find you, the one I'm looking for?
What does this world
Full of wicked deeds and evil thoughts but also good
Hold in store?

Why have I come so far just to find a lack of you?
Why does this universe so deeply righteous in its very nature
Yell out the names of those stricken
Are all the stories true?

What am I to do and where am I to search when I don't know where to start?
Why are we so very far apart?
Why so many questions yet no answers appear in this world of mine?
Is this really our world or is it just
All a matter of time?
Before our world disappears, we lose our way
In this hard, difficult reality
Oh dear G-d, to You I pray!

Please guard and keep me
Grant me the wisdom to know good from bad
Let me grow and blossom
It's not death I dread
Rather it's not finding you I can't stand not being able to fulfill
Dear G-d, I send another prayer your way
As the world stands still.

On the Parsha and on Personal Lethargy

This week's parsha depicts the sin of the spies who were sent out to scout the Land of Canaan. What was the underlying cause of their sin? Was it their lack of imagination and intuition that doomed them to perish or was it their inability to think positively when it came to the Land of Israel, a land which has stood at the forefront of the Jewish peoples' quest for meaning since the times of Abraham?

When we learn about the feats of our ancestors and try to glean meaning from their escapades, we need to be able to connect their actions with our daily experiences. For example, I've been highly inneffective and increasingly lethargic this week, and realize that I need to change basic elements of my behavior in order not to fall farther. As it's written: " sin leads to more sins." One needs to change his/her behavior based on what one understands to be proper/effective behavior. It's even more useful to learn from the mistakes of others and whom better to learn from than our illustrious ancestors?

Had it not been for the sin of the spies, our entry into the Promised Land would have likely ended in failure. Had the spies not sinned, we may not have needed to traverse the Sinai desert en route to the Promised Land. We don't know what would have happened. The bottom line, is that the sin of the spies enables us to learn an important lesson.

I believe this lesson is two-fold: We must always think positively no matter what challenges we're faced with, and we must not give in to lethargy. We must set goals, and pursue them till the end. Interestingly enough, the parsha teaches me a critical lesson that I've yet to internalize. Just like anyone else, I must not give in to various mood-swings (always stay positive) and stick to my plans (not alow lathargy to overcome). The Torah speaks to me just like it's spoken to every generation of Jews beginning with the revelation at Sinai.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Self Criticism on Religious Zionism

When I start talking about "critisizing myself," something I'm proud of being able to do, I'm talking about critisizing the religious Zionist movement because I see myself as an extension of this movement. My actions, the values I hold dear, and my "inner voice" are all extensions of this movement: a movement I swear; no live by.

Since coming to Israel about half a year ago, I've come across but a small segment of the spectrum that exists within the religious Zionist movement today. I've met Rabbis steeped in Torah knowledge, kind, and devoted to spreading the wisdon of our forefathers as much as any Charedi Rabbi I've met thus far. I've met kollel students living in Judea who want to make a significant difference in the lives of future generations of religious as well as secular Jews, who risk their lives on a daily basis in order to guarantee the continuation of Jewish settlement in Yesha. I've met sincere, modest girls versed in Yiddishkeit who dream of raising a Jewish family in the Land of Israel. And I've also met degenerates who practice denegrading the Name of G-d on a daily basis who consider themselves "religious Zionists." 

This is not to say that examples of such people don't exist within the Charedi community; only they're not as visible. You won't, for example, find a guy wearing a black hat, with a beard and the rest of the get-up making out with a woman wearing a long, black dress, and a sheitel at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, but you will see a multitude of guys and girls wearing knitted kippot doing all kinds of interesting things just about anywhere you go in Israel. Why this apparent inconsistency? "Inconsistency" because someone dressed as a "religious Jew" belonging to any brand of Judaism should not act in a manner not befitting his/her appearance. There are plenty of reasons for this, and one need not look in the Shulchan Aruch or the Ways of the Righteous to find them.

The religious Zionist movement is a product of the teachings of one of the greatest Chassidic sages of recent memory, Ha'Rav Tzvi Yehuda Hakohen Kook (Z"TL) whose books read like prophecy straight out of NaCH. Based on his teachings, it's apparent that Rav Kook invisioned a State of Israel in which the religious Zionist movement stood at the forefront of every aspect of State, whether it was sports, medicine, science, music, art, or the army. Rav Kook understood the value Judaism held for future generations of Israelis. He knew that without it, we would be just like any other country in the world, but that with it, we held the keys to the Redemption of mankind.

I personally have a problem that people dressed in the traditional religious Zionist garb do things strictly outlawed by the Torah. This is something I've been contemplating for a while. I believe it's just as important for the religious Zionist establishment to critisize a lack of modesty in our midst as it is for these Rabbis to rale agaisnt Arab terrorism or problems within the Charedi community. Whereas their (the Charedim) problems stem from their desire to curb ludeness, our problems come from a lacking in this department. 

Last week's parsha, Be'halotcha, depicts the Children of Israel's lusting for meat. They complain to Moshe that they were able to satiate their pallets with all kinds of delicacies while being slaves in Egypt, and that now that  Moshe has brought them out of slavery, they have nothing besides ma'an which tastes the same every time. Moshe lashes out agaisnt the Jewish People. Why is it so difficult for Moshe to put up with this and why did he not react in the same fashion when the Children of Israel errected the golden calf?

I think that the answer to this question and the qeustion I'm asking: Why is it so hard for the religious Zionist movement to face the hard facts at bay while we are ready and willing to take the offensive on questions of security are one and the same. We must be more willing to at least open up a dialogue amongst ourselves on the question of modesty. I'm not advocating for involving anyone outside the religious Zionist spectrum in our  problems, but we must be able to look at our shortcomings objectively.

It's my sincere hope and desire that it's religious Zionism that comes to represent the innermost values of the Torah, religious Judaism and that the State of Israel as a whole buys into these values and continues to set the standards the world lives by and is governed upon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interesting Post by Max Revisited as the Ulpana Neigborhood in Beit-El is Sleighted for Destruction

H/T: Max Stesel

Israel's survival and popularity, inverse relationship

When political analysts warn that certain policies of Israeli government may lead to international isolation of Israel, please keep French president Nicholas Sarkozy (see below) in mind. This 'friend' of Israel and the Jewish people, and a leader of one of the most developed Western democracies denies Israel's identity as Jewish homeland, and thereby rejects any historic rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. If this is a position of a respected right-of-center leader of an enlightened Western democracy, one can only imagine how the tyrants and dictators ruling vast majority of the countries represented in the U.N. view Israel.

There is one way Israel can successfully escape international isolation, the same way the Jewry can escape anti-semitism - cease to exist. In light of that, when you hear that a certain step by Israel's government elicits world's irritation or indignation, be happy Israel is doing something right. And if you hear that the world is applauding Israeli leaders' policies, know that Israel's safety and very survival is being gambled with.

The Battle Against Messianic "Jews"

I picked up a close friend of mine from the airport today. We took a cab to Jerusalem and as had been the case 5 months ago when I returned to Israel and had to take the same kind of cab to the capital, a messianic was there for the ride.

Certain things stand out about these people right away: the girls dress modestly albeit in colorful dresses, the guys obviously don't wear kippot or tzitziot, and they seem carried away in their own world of thoughts. They tend to be boisterous when in groups, but like any segment of the population, messianics are often difficult to pinpoint.

Maybe it was the fact that I struck up a conversation with the my friend as soon as we got in the cab, or maybe this particular messianic was just the quiet, interspective type, but she didn't make much of an impression on me. I seriously considered her to be a religious Jewish girl probably coming to Israel to study at a seminary. I was wrong.

We ran into Y. again (she'd been dropped off in an "interesting" neighborhood--interesting in that I'd never visited it before) upon emerging from an interview I had in an alley off Yaffo Street near the shuk. My friend started a conversation with Y. by pointing out that "Jerusalem has a way of connecting people"--or something of that nature. The girl agreed and we continued talking for the duration of the next half hour while passer-byers gawked at this interfaith dialogue/spat (depending on whether it was me or my friend leading the attempt to bring the poor girl to her senses).

I have a way of talking to these people that brings me right to the point: "Yoshke was a false messiah like so many in our history. I've read the sources you claim to prove he was something out of the ordinary and had he really been, that would have been great. Only he wasn't. He didn't bring peace to the world. On the contrary, his disciples have plagued society with constant warfare and needless bloodshed. Contrary to your claims, he didn't ressurect the dead. He may have been from the Davidic dynasty but if he did one thing it was to desecrate the Temple and attempt to embarass the highest Talmudic authorities of the time."

"If you want to base your argument on a few verses from Genesis, Deuteronomy and Isaiah, I can in term prove each one of these wrong. Take Genesis 26 (which they almost always use): "And G-d said, "Let us make Man in Our image..." Rashi skillfully explains away the seeming contradiction with Christians have used to perpatrate defamotory propaganda campaigns against the Jewish people ever since the Church began spreading its dogma across the Roman empire."

I have several porblems with messianics: both the individuals and their movement as a whole. They attack (this is the right term) weak individuals; Jews from broken homes, depressed teens tormented by their peers or their parents trying to find a warm home. Why do they pick on the weak? Simple! No Jew with a basic understanding of Judaism/Jewish history and a loving home would ever fall for the nonsense these people preach. I mean folks, when you try to prove that G-d is not a physical being and that he impregnated a Jewish virgin, well then I'd say you need to see a qualified physician. That's one thing.

The other thing is that they're a cancer literally in our midst. They parade around claiming to be "Jewish" or--as happens all too, "more Jewish than Jewish." Kind of a perverted idea, no!? I mean, my family was persecuted for being Jewish, we observed certain cultural practices secretely, tried to leave the USSR to no avail and finally left empty-handed because we were Jewish and here you are telling me you're "more Jewish" than me!? Some kinda hutzpa, but yeah, I know you're doing it because you love me and want to save my soul....Yeah....

So yes, halachically a Jew once born a Jew always remains a Jew, but personally, I don't consider messianics "Jewish" and there are considerations for this approach as well. The general practice for these people is to continue telling the world (and the State of Israel where many of them live without any fear of persecution contrary to what you've been told) they're "Jewish" after having been Baptized. Y., the girl we met today, told us she'd been baptized but that "it was no different from having been immersed in a mikveh." Really? Think again! Baptism is definitley not the same as immersion in a mikveh. The idea is stolen from Judaism but applied for much different purposes.

So are they really "Jewish"? Are these lost, mistaken individuals on the same level as my brothers and sisters in Judea and Samaria who put their lives on the line every day thanks to their belonging to the Jewish people? I'd like to think there's an intricate difference between the two. What they are (and this has been the terminology adapted by anti-missionary groups) are "wolves in sheep's clothing." How do they do it? By pretending to associate with the State of Israel, by being "Zionists", by studying Hebrew; basically doing what good, faithful Jews do. And they're influence is growing. The girl we talked to today claimed messianics were gaining popularity in Israel. Let's hope she's wrong but let's also prepare for the worst-case scenario. It's all good and dandy till one day your son or daughter falls in love with one of these "alternative Jews." Is that any better than them dating an Arab!? Would you want to prevent this from happening?

My problem with messianics stems not only from a long personal history of conversion attempts I've been a target of, but also the realization that my people are in danger. The messianics have already accomplished what the Catholic Church failed by infiltrating the very fabric of our community. I believe that the Israeli government can and should take much sterner action against messiancs by outlawing their activities in order to eventually extradite them from Israel. Your thoughts (not messianic rubbish) welcomed....

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Internet: Good or Evil?

I began thinking about this after having read a Facebook post of someone I greatly admire. They were having a problem with a certain yeshiva banning the Internet from its families and students. I defended the yeshiva's right to act in this manner but the discussion that followed made me think about my own position vis-a-vis the benefits vs. the downfaults of the Internet. I must prelude the following by saying that there are those who are able to overcome their natural urges/desires and create "light out of darkness" but that the majority of us have not reached this level.

Ours is an age of change. The past 200+ years have witnessed the falling of empires, a multitude of revolutions, natual disasters, climate changes, two world wars, catastrophes of cataclysmic proportion, social upheavels, and so much more. We've been privy to both the good and the bad; G-d has shown favor to us and He has reaped havoc upon all aspects of our being. The Industrial Revolution, which began at the dawn of the 19th century, has spread to all corners of the Earth. It has benefited billions of people, at the same time dooming whole cultures. 

The coming of the Age of the Internet may or may not have been predetermined. Science fiction writers such as Ray Bradburry and Isaac Asimov predicted things of this nature in their books. It was perhaps meant to be and today, the Internet is a fact of life just as credible as the existence of the human race. What we do with it; how we apply it to our everyday lives is the question though.

I see many--especially those in the frum community creating boundaries for their Internet use. Today, there are a number of helpful gadgets that prevent kids and those lacking the strength to "guard their eyes" from accessing certain sites. Many yeshivot have taken upon themselves to block the Internet at least during part of the day, and there are others who've done away with it altogether. I'm definitely in favor of this type of boundary-setting. It's crucial for us as both individuals--and as a nation to maintain our purity of thought and action. 

The great 11th-12th century Torah sage, Rashi (Z"TL) almost incessantly carried on about the theme of doing away with promiscuity throughout the Chumash. He touched on this theme beginning with the generation of the Flood all the way to the end of Book of Deuteronomy. Nahmonides also brings much commentary on the topic of promiscuity as does Mahmonides. What is the essence of being "holy?" My conviction is that "holiness" has everything to do with keeping marital purity and carefully choosing what one watches. This is a choice we make on an every day basis. We cannot choose what we see, but we can definitely choose what to pay attention to.

The Internet doesn't even pretend to hide its ugly underbelly. I can make the claim that the entire purpose of the Internet is to expose people to trash--that this is not some kind of undesired side-effect and that the underlying intent of the Web is to bring negativity to our lives. How much more freedom; how much more time would we have if it were not for the constant burden of time spent "surfing the net", a term that has become synonomous with wasting one's time (and for good reason!)? Yes, some of us might end up losing their income (we've become completely dependent on the Internet for our earnings), and people might not have as much freedom as they previously did, but doing away with the Internet would, in essense, free us of an overbearing deamon.

I'd like to open a debate here by inviting you to voice your opinions on this subject. What do you think: Is the Internet mostly good or mostly evil?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Power of Good Deeds

"On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on prayer, and on good deeds"--Tractate Avot

The power of good deeds has never ceased to amaze me. Whenever I delve into my past and try to figure out why G-d has granted me the gift of life over and over again, I realize it must have been something in my past: perhaps offering a word of encouragement to an elderly woman, perhaps giving charity to someone I didn't know and would never meet again, maybe it was just feeding to a stray animal trying to find some shelter in bad weather. I obviously don't know--and can never wish to understand the "dealings of Heaven", but it's almost like I can feel the reaction from Above when I--or someone around me does a good deed.

Words, too, are a powerful tool at our disposal. We can use these for good--and at the same time, for bad. I'm sure there's a reason the tongue is guarded by a set of teeth, as well as one's lips; perhaps this is so that saying something, whether we like it or not, involves the involuntary process of opening one's mouth (and thus we're forced to think before we speak). I think that the vast majority of trouble I've gotten myself into has been a result of speaking prior to thinking. And this is liable to doom not just a recent ba'al tshuva like myself, but the most righteous individual--not to mention a sensitive entity such as an interpersonal relationship.

I guess the best I can do is focus on learning--and trying not to repeat my mistakes. I can also inspire others not to make the mistakes I've made and this is what I try to do in the book I'm hoping to complete by mid-August. I feel that I've been privileged to fall and keep right on going and I want others to do the same. Rebbi Nachman (ZT"L) teaches that the worst part of a sin is what happens right afterwards when one feels sadness over his/her actions. The Rebbi teaches that one should keep on going as if nothing has happened.

Yes, of course he/she should do tshuva (repent) for his/her sins, but the innitial reaction should be one of forgetfulness: "Let's start anew! No matter how far one has fallen he has the power to get back up and return to G-d. This is the process of "tshuva"--repentance and it has great power. Perhaps, along with good deeds and acts of lovingkindness, it's the one most significant concept in Judaism.

Back to good deeds. There's a reason I wanted to publish this now. Amazing things are taking place amongst the Nation of Israel. Jews are coming to Israel from all corners of the Earth, the "settlements" in Judea and Samaria are growing at an unprecedented rate, and some of our top politicians are returning to the faith of their fathers. Every day, the State of Israel wakes up and realizes its living out the words of the prophet "And sons shall return to their borders."

Each and every single one of you is responsible for ushering in the "footsteps of Moshiach." Not one good deed; not one good thought goes for naught as it is written: "G-d knows the thoughts of the heart..." Every day, we utter the words "...Because they (Torah) are our life and the value of our days." Living in Jerusalem, it's difficult not to feel that this is the redemption our people have been seeking from time immemorial; that this is an age unlike any other in the annals of human history.

We must take advantage of the chances we've been given to be a truly "holy nation, a nation of priests." We must take advantage of this amazing opportunity and be the best sons, the best daughters, the best husbands and wives we can possibly be because this is what life is all about.

I write this from my apartment in Jerusalem and I know that just like G-d "vomits" His people from our Land when we're unworthy of inhabiting it, he "bring(s) back the exiles from the four corners of the Earth..." It's  my honor and priviledge to be a part of the process of Redemption. I hope that by performing acts of kindess and by doing good deeds I can merit to usher in Moshiach ben David.
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