Monday, December 31, 2012

Interview with Shlomo Epshteyn

I met Shlomo Epshteyn when we were both competing for the Niles West chess team. We got along just fine, but were never close friends there. It was Shlomo’s senior year, while I was a freshman. Shlomo graduated, and went on to study engineering at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana.

To say that I had a hard go of it at Niles West would be a huge understatement. Those were some of the darkest years of my life. It took my parents’ superhuman-like efforts to help me graduate high school in four years. I attended one year of Oakton Community College and decided to make Aliya to Israel the following year.

Shlomo and I were reunited when I came back to Chicago following a six-year stint in the Holy Land. Amongst other things, I now had a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and spoke fluent Hebrew.  I was just beginning to get interested in religious Judaism, while besides having gotten married, and having kids, Shlomo was deeply involved in Chicago’s Jewish community.

Shlomo and I immediately became best of friends. I’d often stay with him and his family for Shabbat, and we spent a lot of time learning Torah together. Shlomo became a significant influence in my life: more so than when he was beating me in chess a decade back.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem: A Tale of Two Cities

I got up early Friday morning, attended the local Chabad morning prayers, and took bus 75 to the central bus station in Jerusalem.

I hurried to find my way. I’d been here many times before, and the Friday morning hustle was nothing new to me. I encountered a few beggars on the way. Jerusalem is host to an array of both needy people and those pretending to be poor and spending their time benefiting from the locals’ generosity.

There’s a wide range of stores, pharmacies, cafes, restaurants, and even a place to donate blood at the central bus station. At this particular time of the year, it’s teaming with tourists from all over the world. Many are Christian pilgrims who’ve come to Israel for Christmas. Some continue on a tour of the Middle East, while others prefer to stay in Israel and remain shielded from the perils of our neighbors to the East.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

End of Days

By Eliyahu:
ָהיֶכTheָרְדּTorah'stakeon life - and all it throws our way.

December 20th, 2012 has come and gone. Those who wasted valuable time and money buying lifetime supplies in fear of the baseless prediction of the world's end are now exempt from grocery shopping forever more as life carries on. While the Mayan myth has been debunked (until they come up with another date for disaster), we must take this opportunity to explore the Jewish view on the apocalypse. Do we believe in such an event? And if we do, what's in store if and when it happens?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reprinted via The Algemeiner: Not the Typical IDF Soldier’s Mom: Muslim Arab Mother Whose Son Serves in the IDF Speaks Out

Anet Haskia is not the typical mom of a soldier serving in the Israel Defense Forces. A Muslim Arab, who grew up in a mixed Arab-Jewish city in the north, Haskia is breathing a little easier this week.
For Haskia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision not to enter the Gaza Strip last week was “brave and right.”

The mother of three children, with a 20-year-old IDF combat soldier, Haskia told Tazpit News Agency, that “many Israeli soldiers’ lives were saved thanks to that decision.”

“Going into Gaza would have yielded success for the Hamas terrorists. Israel did what it had to do for the time being to stop the rocket attacks and played it smart.”

Haskia who was born and raised in Acre (Akko), a mixed Arab-Jewish city in the Western Galilee in northern Israel, is openly vocal about her support for the Jewish state of Israel.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Miracle of Hannukah

By Eliyahu
           R' Moshe Haim Luzzato (Ramhal), in his classic work Derech Hashem, writes that the events on which our holidays are based upon are revisited every year. The theme of redemption is most pretentious on Pesah, when we celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people from the hands of the Egyptians. On Shavuot, the potency for success in Torah reaches its highest - a reflection of Matan Torah, which took place on the 6th of Sivan hundreds of years ago. It thus follows that on Hanuka, a holiday which serves as a remembrance for the impossible victory of the minute Jewish army over the mighty Greeks and of the beloved wonder involving the oil which lasted for 8 days, there is a higher level of potential for miraculous occurrences. We shall try today to aim for a deeper understanding of the mechanics behind miracles, and the way to view them through the lenses of our Torah.

Nothing is Certain in this World and a Little Commentary on Parshat Miketz

We learn from the travails of our forefathers that almost nothing--perhaps with the exception of the Torah and its teachings--is for certain, and that we should always be happy with our lot in life.

We learn several important lessons from the story of Joseph the Tzaddik. There's a good reason he's the only person in the Five Books of Moses to carry the title of "Tzaddik" or "Righteous one." Joseph endures several monumental tests in his life, not the least of which is his being tempted by Potiphar's wife. Joseph is described as being "good of stature and good of look," in other words, a very handsome guy.

At the beginning of parshat Miketz, he's said to put a lot of effort into "making his hair." We can also make a reasonable case that growing up as Jacob's favorite son, he's very much "full" of himself to a point where he not only dreams of instances that clearly portray his superiority over the other members of his family, but even goes on to describe these dreams to his brothers and Jacob himself.

Joseph is able to overcome his main weakness and withhold himself from acting on his impulses. He goes beyond his calling, one may argue, by refusing to be taken in by Potiphar wife's incessant sexual appeals.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Duality in Israeli Society

You'll find just about anything and anyone you're looking for in Israel from criminals and drug-dealers to Rabbis immersed in a life of giving and good deeds and scientists trying to come up with cures for the world's deadliest diseases. After a lengthy exile from the Holy Land, Jews from around the globe have gathered in Israel. Representatives of six continents make Israel their home. This is literally the ingathering of exiles; the land of immigrants. Not America--but Israel.

The result of this blend of Jews from around the world is a society saturated with inherent dualities in all its aspects. Because Jews tend to be so opinionated (it's been said that for every two Jews, there are three different sets of opinions), conflict is the modus operandi in Israel. This is the way of life here. You'll see people arguing on just about any subject. Arguments range from the petty to the extremely serious, and as is the case in any society, they can die down quietly, but sometimes get out of hand as well.

I decided to write this article having attended a party where I witnessed a young couple (I didn't know they were married till the husband told me his "companion" was indeed his wife) arguing about the rights of Israelis to smoke in public. There's no way I could have known they were married judging by the way they were going at it. Mind you, this wasn't a matter of life and death; not even politics. This was a question whose outcome isn't likely to affect the life of the young couple in any particular fashion: it won't make it better or worse in the conceivable future.

Monday, December 10, 2012

For All We Do

For all we do, for all we say,

A price is surely to be paid.

A humble servant of man’s fate,

That is not me,

I’ve come too late.


Look here,

I’m not special, different, better than anybody else,

I’m simply me,

At any rate,

I’d like you, if it’s possible, to relate,

To my life’s journey,

A work of passion, loss, adjustment, disarray,

A cycle with an end,

A trendy way of living-with no real trend.


Brought here on a mission,

Clear that height!

I see my elders take to flight,

They do not know, do not see,

The person buried deep in me.


Felt hardships, done what’s wrong,

I know this,

The notes to a different song,

Will express my thanks,

To those who’ve believed and never shouted,

To those who’ve helped and never doubted.


I will escape,

Tear down the iron gates,

I will be free one day,

I will enjoy my life,

Is what you too should say.


Listen, fellow sufferers,

Hearken to my words,

Believe me, I have been hurt as well.

Two things that you must never lose, lest you lose yourselves:

Your hope, your resolve to make it no matter what the odds,

And your sense of humor, your smile,

What you do from here isn’t up to me,

Keep working always,

You too will go free.

Dedicated to all those trying so hard to get out of whatever predicament they've found themselves in for their own good and the good of the world.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Doing a Switcheroo, Voting Jewish Home

I like Bibi, I really do. I like Feiglin and the rest of the gang, especially now that Moshe has a very realistic chance of getting into the Knesset. It's just that I like Naftali Bennett more, that's all!

The Israeli public got a first-hand impression of Bennett's leadership skills during Operation Pillar of Cloud (Biblical references are becomming all the rage here as more and more people are coming home to Judaism), when he resisted the urge to blame the situation on Bibi; instead promoting Israel's right to defend herself, traveling to the South, and holding multiple press-conferences where he reiterated our right to self-defense and self-determination. And I thought I'd finally vote for the Likud...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Few Words on a Sucker State

By: Evgeny Sanatovsky (translated from Russian by me)

An impartial opinion on pro-peace activism in the Middle East from an impartial bystander as it unfolds—not only of the past two decades, demonstrates that Israel has turned into the greatest regional sucker. Not only in the eyes of the U.N., “co-sponsor of the peace process,” but of its neighbors as well.

It goes without saying that this term brings about plenty of negative emotion in the Jewish State, but it is what it is. The author cannot possibly come up with a different, fancier term for Israeli internal policy, because he’s powerless to do so. The striking disparity between Israel’s—and the peoples’ who dwell there military, economical, and intellectual potential, and the suicidal concessions that it has offered to make year after year, decade after decade, —and in the best-case scenario, simply hasn’t been able to reach, cannot be explained in any other way. These people are not state leaders, or politics of an international caliber—but freiers. Cheap suckers at that. Small-time pawns who’ve undertaken to play a big-boys’ game whose rules they don’t understand. They lose time and again, but what’s worse is that they fail to realize this.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Desperate Soul: In Memory of Jovan Belcher and his Girlfriend

Deperate Soul: In Memory of NFL Player Jovan Belcher and his Girlfriend
The football world was devastated—yet again—yesterday by Chief’s Jovan Belcher’s murder of his girlfriend, and mother of their infant baby girl, followed by his taking his own life. For both these individuals, it’s over. Yesterday, they were here. Today, they are no more. Their world is gone.

It’s written that every human being is a “world unto himself,” that every individual, whether Jew or Gentile, has an immense amount of potential. We either live up to our potential or needlessly lose it—as I’m afraid was the case with Jovan.

Suicide is the antithesis to life. Even Arab suicide bombers have difficulty accepting the fact that they’re going to die. I know this because there have been cases in which soon-to-be suicide bombers have repented and handed themselves in.
I spent many years of my life being depressed for no apparent reason. I know what it feels like to hurt inside. To hurt all over. To have no one to turn to...

...And I know what it feels like to be connected. To be connected to one’s Father in Heaven. To come to an understanding that there’s a Source for the world, for both the good and the bad; for both the horrible things that happen in our non-stop thrill-seeking reality, and the wonderful introspectiveness that we may bring to our lives as a result of holy living.

May Jovan's story be a lesson to us all. May we merit to see the day there's no more sadness, and no more murder.

Summer Months (A Poem from a Few Months Ago)

Back in Israel,

Back home,

Reliving sweaty days at the kibbutz,

Sitting here writing all alone,

Feel like composing a song for my people, for the country I so love, for all I hold dear,

These sweaty July days when people in the country heed no fear,

No fear of the past, no fear of death, just longing for better days to come,

To shout out in glee,

For all that’s done is behind us,

And there are only good things, warm summer days beyond,

Where no man has walked,

Where no woman has cried,

Where no little child has fallen down,

Where no human-Jew or Arab has died.


As I sit, relax, sip some ice coffee in a bar just off Yehuda,

I think of days when modern-day Maccabies stood tall, the likes of Judah,

Took on armies just a few feet from where I sit,

These hot, trying days and nights are fit,

For heroes’ stories, dreams of giving back,

Of armies taking flight,

Of going on the attack.


I have so much love, so much desire to be here in July,

My Aliya month,

The time, I myself, tried in vain, cried out, lied,

Took hold of all that was important and moved back home,

This time in July I feel every kotel stone,

Remember my people’s past,

Remember where I came from, and my destination,

Remember to keep my dreams afloat, to drown out my frustration.


I’m getting used to being here,

To being happy at long last,

And people all around me cry,

As they try so hard to forget the past,

Days, months, years gone by,

We try to gather up what we’ve lost,

With every passing moment,

We struggle as we assess the cost.


I read Rav Kook’s “Sparks” and know what my mission in this world is

To light up the dark Av sky,

To help end this painful Exile,

To spark a flood of brotherhood and unity,

To never fully fall, always get up and try,

To keep on trying when all has failed

And I’ll know my dreams and plans have prevailed

When I open my door this very day next year

And the Messiah beckons to come near

When my People are brought back from every corner of the world

Then, and only then,

Will my own story have been told.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Day in the Muslim Quarter

I recently had an opportunity to take a walk in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Before going there, I’d always been a little apprehensive about showing up—especially with my kippa and tzitzit (the traditional Jewish garb). It took some courage and the friendly smile of a close friend who made Aliya about a year ago to persuade me to venture out of my familiar comfort zone into a hereto unknown reality.
We entered the Old City, a place holy to the world’s three great faiths, perhaps the most hotly contested area in the world through the Yaffo Gate. I asked my friend if she was up for some coffee (the cold weather was beginning to be felt in Jerusalem). She gladly accepted my offer.
As we sat there watching passerby’s, we noticed people of a variety of backgrounds that’s difficult to spot just about anywhere else. Both of us are Russian-speakers, so I pointed out a group of Russian tourists taking in the beauty of the Old City. They spoke in the traditional jargon that I simply couldn’t resist ignoring them. It was like being back in Moscow again. Some kind of dejavu…
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