Monday, May 27, 2013

I Have Factories, Family - Aliyah Is Not For Me

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Baruch Duvdevani served as the Executive Director of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah department. He recounted this frightful story:

It was the winter of 5716 (1956), immediately following the Sinai Campaign. Poland and the USSR had just signed a treaty allowing all Polish citizens who had fled to Russia during World War II to return to Poland. Jewish or not, they had the right to return, as long as they were Polish citizens on September 1, 1939, the day the War broke out. As a result of this treaty, thousands of Jews throughout Russia returned to Poland, and the majority of them subsequently immigrated to Israel.

I was privileged to spend that year, and the next, in Poland, helping organize this mass aliyah to Israel.
One December morning, when the temperature in Warsaw reached 19 degrees below zero (Celsius), I arrived at the Israeli embassy where we were stationed for our immigration work. The courtyard was filled with scores of people who had come from Russia to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. I stopped and talked to each and every one of them at length. Our hearts were so filled with joy that we did not feel the cold.

I noticed an old Jew standing in the corner of the courtyard. He was bone-thin, with practically no flesh on his body. His dim eyes lacked any spark of life; his cheekbones protruded profusely; and his clothes were tattered and torn, despite the bitter cold. I realized immediately that the man wanted to speak with me and that he was simply waiting for me to finish talking to the others.

When I finished, the man approached me and asked if I was from Jerusalem. I told him that I was, and then he asked me if I knew Rav Kook, of blessed memory. I answered that I had been privileged to benefit from his exalted Torah and inspiring discourses. At that moment, the man burst into tears and said, "What a shame! What a shame that I did not listen to him.

He continued to sob for a while, and when he finally calmed down a bit, he told me his story:

In the early 1920's, I was a big manufacturer in one of Poland's famous industrial cities. One day, I decided to take a trip to Eretz Yisrael and spend Passover there. Being a religious Jew, I visited Rav Kook zt"l immediately upon my arrival. 
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook
He welcomed me warmly and encouraged me to seek out the good of the Land and consider settling there. After a few weeks of touring, I returned to the Rav and asked him, among other things, what I should do regarding the second day of  Yom Tov, seeing that I was a tourist.

The Rav answered with a smile: 'Decide right now to bring your family here and to build a factory in the Land. Then, you can keep one day of Yom Tov already this Passover, like all inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael.'
I took his answer jovially, and since the holiday was still a few weeks away, I decided to return at a later date and pose the question again, when it was more practical.

A few days before Passover, I went to Rav Kook and asked him the question once more. This time, the Rav answered sternly: 'I already told you that you should move here; then you may keep one day of Yom Tov starting now, even if you must return to Poland after Passover to settle your affairs.'

I said to him: 'Excuse me, dear rabbi, I have thought about it at great length; but in the end, da'ati lachazor — my intention is to return to the Diaspora. How, then, can I celebrate like the residents of Eretz Yisrael?'
The Rav banged his hand on the table and said with great emotion: 'Your da'at [intention] is to return? That is nothing but lack of da'at [sense]!'

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The man continued in a broken voice: 'I did not listen to the Rav. I returned to the Diaspora and remained there. I lost my wife, my children, and my grandchildren in the Holocaust, and here I am today, lonely and desolate. I have come back here with nothing, after wandering for years through Russia. And I constantly recall Rav Kook's prophetic words: "That is nothing but lack of da'at!

(Originally appeared in the book 'An Angel Among Men' by R. Simcha Raz, p. 257)

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Peace Now Said It the Best

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog post to relay the great news about the Defense Ministry's response to a Peace Now petition in which Peace Now urges the court to demolish 6 start-up neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria. When I saw the Peace Now press release on the topic, I realized that I couldn't have written it better (except for their trigger happiness in using the word "illegal.") So here's the news in their words. Enjoy.

Below the press release, see my comment about Givat Assaf.

The Government Announces 4 New Settlements in the West Bank

On Tuesday, the Government submitted a formal response to Peace Now's Supreme Court petition against six illegal outposts. In the response the government declares its intention to legalize four outposts, in isolated areas.

The Civil Administration has been instructed to begin a process of legalizing the outposts of Ma'ale Rehavam, Haroeh, Givat Assaf, and Mitzpe Lachshish. The former government had previously promised to remove the illegal construction built on private land, but had not declared its intention to legalize the outposts.
The Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the petition on Wednesday, May 22nd.

Peace Now: “The intention to legalize outposts as new settlements is no less than a slap in the face of Secretary Kerry's new process and is blatant reassurance to settler interests. The new Government is indicating it is not committed to peace and to two state solution. The decision to retroactively legalize settler movements gives free reign to illegal settler activities, which continue to establish strategic facts on the ground and harm the chances for peace.  

Download the State response (in Hebrew)

The Givat Assaf outpost (near Bet El)

The Outposts to be legalized according to the State response:
1. Ma’ale Rehavam (East of Bethlehem) – The Minister of Defense instructed the Civil Administration to prepare options to legalize all of the construction in the outpost situated on “State Land”.

2. Haroeh (North of Ramallah) – The Minister of Defense instructed the Civil Administration to launch a survey procedure meant to declare the lands of the outpost as “State Land”, as part of preparing the possibility to legalize the outpost.

3. Givat Assaf (East of Ramallah) – The Government instructed the Civil Administration to explore the possibilities to legalize the outpost, based on claims by settlers that they have purchased parts of the land. According to the response given to the court, over the past few months the settlers managed to buy three parcels of land on which ¾ of the outpost's structures are built.

4. Mitzpe Lachish (South West of Hebron) – The previous Government had informed the court its wish to legalize the outpost, however, because of the elections the decision was left to the new Government. In the response to the court the Government declares, “a decision to include the outpost in the Negohot settlement land, should be taken soon”. This translates into an intention to legalize the outpost, by calling it a “neighborhood” of the settlement of Negohot.

As for the two remaining outposts on the petition, Mitzpe Yizhar (South of Nablus) and Ramat Gilad (East of Qalqilya), the Government states that most of the structures that were built on private land were removed, but does not say anything about the future of the outposts themselves.

My son Yehuda and I had the privilege to be in Givat Assaf on the first Shabbat after it was established in 2001. They were looking for some people to be there over Shabbat. It was just after the funeral of Assaf Hershkowitz who was murdered by Arabs nearby and who the town is named after.

Here's a short video about Givat Assaf, which is an extension neighborhood of Bet El.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why Stay Up and Learn All Night on Shavuot?

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by Rabbi David Samson 

On the holiday of Shavuot, is the practice of learning Torah all night long a commandment or a just a custom?

The practice of staying up all night to study Torah on the holiday of Shavuot is a custom and not a commandment.[1] However that does not mean that a person should snuggle into bed thinking that he is not missing anything by not joining in with the rest of the Jewish people on this exalted night. On Shavuot night, a person who longs to come closer to G-d can do so in the study hall, rather than sleeping off his holiday meal in bed.

The House of Study in Kerem B'Yavneh packed with students

The festival of Shavuot commemorates G-d the giving the Torah to the Jewish nation on Mt. Sinai. The Midrash teaches that the Jewish people at Sinai slept all night instead of waiting anxiously for the giving of the Torah.[2] By staying up the whole night and studying, we rectify the slighting this caused to the honor of the Torah.

The Zohar states that the early sages would learn Torah all night to insure that the blessing of Torah would be passed on to their children. A person who learns Torah with joy on Shavuot night is insured the blessing of life in this world and the world to come.[3] The Arizal emphasizes that a person should stay awake all night and be rapturously involved in the study of Torah. This pious behavior guarantees that the person will not die in the coming year. He states that the holiness of Shavuot night is so exalted that a person should take special care to say only words of Torah and not to utter a single unnecessary comment.[4]

For these reasons, many synagogues hold lectures all through the night on Shavuot, in order to provide a festive environment for people who have trouble staying up all night learning alone at home.

In the holy writings of the “Shelah,” Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, a kaballist who lived in Safed several hundred years ago, an interesting story is told about Shavuot night in the study hall of Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Oruch. The Rabbi and his students were living in Turkey at the time and as was their habit, they spent the evening diligently studying the Tikun of Shavuot Night, a special order of holy texts established by the sages of the Zohar. In the middle of their learning, they heard a supernatural voice emerging from the mouth of their revered Rabbi. All of the neighbors heard the booming voice of the Divine Presence, which, with the exile of the Jewish People, had fallen from its throne. All those in attendance fell upon their faces, unable to look at the holy sight of the great Rabbi as the awe-inspiring voice sounded from his lips. Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Elkabetz, author of the song “Lecha Dodi” and one of the students present, documented the scene in a letter quoted by the Shelah.[5]

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“Listen my most devoted and beloved friends,” the Voice said. ‘Happy are you and those who gave birth to you, how fortunate you are in this world and the next, you who took it upon yourselves to honor me with the crown of your learning this evening. For it is now many years that my crown has fallen and there are none to console me. And I am cast into the dust, and now you have returned my glory of old.’”

“Be strengthened, friends and loved ones, know that you are the lofty chosen few, for you have merited to enter the palace of the King, for all of your learning and the breath of your mouths have come before G-d and pierced many heavens until your voices ascended to the reaches of the angels. All of the Celestial Host stand hearing your words of Torah to listen to your voices. And behold, here I am, …I have come to speak with you and praise you, how fortunate you are my beloved, for keeping sleep from your eyes, for through you I have been magnified this evening….”

“You are not like those who are lying on their ivory beds in sleep, which is like a tiny portion of death. You have cleaved to G-d and He rejoices with you… Therefore my children be strong and brave. Be joyous in the study of Torah and in attaining the fear of G-d, my friends. Do not cease from your learning, for a cord of loving kindness is wrapped around you, and your Torah learning is cherished by G-d.”

“Hearing these words, we stood on our feet. Then the Voice returned and said, ‘Do not ceaseyour studies for a moment, and now come to the Land of Israel, for not all times are equal and G-d does not require legions to bring salvation, for you shall eat from the exalted goodness of the Land. And if you take heed and listen to these the words, surely the goodness of the Land you shall eat. Therefore, be quick to come to the Land of Israel for it is I who supports you. And you shall dwell in peace, and peace shall be upon your households and all that you own will enjoy shalom. G-d grants valor to His nation; G-d will bless His nation with peace.’”[5]

For people who don’t feel up to a rousing Shavuot experience like this, or if someone is afraid that he will be too tired to pray the morning service properly if he stays up all night, then he should not feel bad about retiring early.

Those who do stay up all night should try to hear the morning blessings from someone who slept and then simply answer Amen.[1]

In the words of Rabbi Elkabetz at the close of his epistle, this Shavuot “May the merciful G-d instill within your hearts to have mercy upon yourselves, and may we merit to be united in the Holy Land to worship G-d in unison.”

Hag sameach and lashana haba b’Yerushalayim habinouyah.
More Q&A by Rabbi David Samson
1. Mishna Berurah, Orach Chaim, 494:1.
2. Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, Chapter 41.
3. Zohar, Emor, Folio 98A. Also, Introduction to Zohar, Part One, Folio 8A.
4. Gateway to Meditaton, Page 89A. Also “Pri Etz Chadash,” Gate 23:1.
5. Shelah HaKodosh, on Shavuot, Pg. 30.

Rabbi David Samson is one of the leading English-speaking Torah scholars in the Religious-Zionist movement in Israel. He has co-authored four books on the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Rabbi Samson learned for twelve years under the tutelage of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. He served as Rabbi of the Kehillat Dati Leumi Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, and teaches Jewish Studies at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva Institutions.
Tzvi Fishman was a successful Hollywood screenwriter before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984. He has co-authored several Torah works with Rabbi David Samson and written several books on Jewish/Israel topics.

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Induction Ceremony of Yonatan Gordon into the IDF Tank Corps

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This past Thursday, my wife, Anat, and I attended the induction ceremony of our son Yonatan into the IDF Tank Corps. It was simply a rush of pride, nachas, and great joy.

A great day in Gordon Family history

In this video (view it widescreen), I tried to capture the spirit of the ceremony which I think you will really enjoy. Join in our simcha by watching:

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Selections from a Diary of Jerusalem's Liberation

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by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, IDF Chief Rabbi in the Six-Day War

First to the Wailing Wall
In a private conversation, I told division commander Motta Gur that I had managed to secured a guarantee through operational documents that when we conquer the Old City of Jerusalem, I would be the first to reach the Wailing Wall. To this Motta Gur replied, "If you want to be the first to reach the Wailing Wall, you will have to be on good terms with me."

"Why with you?" I asked.

"Because," he replied, "I am going to be the one who conquers the Old City."

I said to him, "If you promise me that you will conquer the Old City and allow me to be the first person by the Western Wall, I promise to keep on good terms with you."

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We shook hands as a sign of accord and commitment. There were two other officers present who heard our discussion. This took place in 1961. Thereafter, Motta Gur changed positions until he finally became commander of 55 Parachute Brigade.

Noontime . . . the armored vehicle came and took me to the museum. There, I found division commander Motta Gur and late deputy brigade commander Moshe Peles. I congratulated them on the task they had been given and on the historic privilege that had fallen into their hands - the conquest of the Old City and the liberation of the Temple Mount and Western Wall. I reminded Motta Gur of our agreement six years earlier regarding my entrance to the Western Wall.

Motta was very depressed. He informed me that he had received orders not to enter the Old City but rather to surround it from all sides. Under no circumstances was he to enter the city. He added that apparently the policy was to leave the Old City in the hands of the city's Arab population without conquering it.

Click here to read the continuation...

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

High Hopes for Peace Smashed – Tel Aviv Journalist Returns From Dialogue with Arabs

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Lital Shemesh is a 29-year-old successful, female, Israeli journalist who recently participated in a seminar with other young Israelis and Arabs in hopes of igniting optimism for peace. She returned from the seminar disappointed and disillusioned.

Lital Shemesh as Editor of Israeli's largest youth magazine

She is a rising star in the Israeli media who openly expresses her political aspirations to reach the Knesset. She worked as Editor-in-Chief for the Yedioth Youth Magazines, reported for the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Hot CableTV News channel, and is CEO and Founder of a web-based girls magazine “Pinkish – Everything that Girls Love.”

In her first video blog in English two years ago, she says, “I really want… a peaceful quiet country to live in, and I really want peace to come.” 

"I really want peace to come" - 1:09 minute mark.

But her conclusions from the peace seminar reflect a strong trend in Israeli society: Israelis are realizing that the negotiations with the Arabs are destined to fail from the outset, so why waste the time? As is apparent from the February election results, further talks with the Arabs simply no longer interest many people. It is an issue that has been sidelined and tabled to “maybe the next generation.”

Her summary (below) of her experience at the peace seminar will help readers better understand Israeli society of 2013. A must read. Her report appeared this past Thursday (May 2, 2013) on the Walla news site:

Peace? From the Palestinian Standpoint, There is a Past, No Future
by Lital Shemesh
I participated in the Dialogue for Peace Project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer today, with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.

The project involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey.

On the third day of the seminar after we had become acquainted, had removed barriers, and split helpings of rachat Lukum [a halva-like almond Arab delicacy] as though there was never a partition wall between us, we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides. The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.

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The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife– “Let’s talk business.” The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?

We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.

They spoke of one state – their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. “There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – this was their main message. “Firs t, let them pay for what they perpetrated.”

In the course of a dialogue which escalated to shouts, the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so. “So how do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians,” I asked one of the participants.

“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words.

“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” answered Amichai, a religious, Jewish student from Jerusalem. “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”

Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality. It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.

Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.

I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?

Translated by Baruch Gordon

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Man That Has No Equal

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A man passes away in the 1st Century, CE.

Two thousand years later, a half a million people come to pay respects at his tomb on the anniversary of his passing.

Is there another person like this in the world?

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

I am speaking of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Kabbalistic centerpiece -  the Zohar - and the 4th most-mentioned Jewish sage in the Mishna (the basis of Jewish Law).

Last Sunday, I took my wife and kids for our wedding anniversary to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon in the Galilee. Everyone was rejoicing.

Our tradition says that Rabbi Shimon from his resting place blesses personally each person who comes.

Enjoy a 60-second video clip of the joy at Rabbi Shimon's Tomb:

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