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Post  Admin on Sun 24 Jun 2018, 6:00 pm

15 Quotes from Charles Krauthammer
Jun 24, 2018
by Charles Krauthammer
15 Quotes from Charles Krauthammer
Thought-provoking, insightful and eloquent.

1. Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store.

2. I knew I’d always be a Jew, and I’d always be an outsider.

3. Where religion is trivialized, one is unlikely to find persecution.

4. Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible.

5. …the Jews have done something never done before by anybody else. Even the Jews didn’t imagine it could be done, they returned. No one’s ever returned. We can’t even read the Etruscan language. Everybody disappears. The ten tribes have disappeared… This is a story that is so improbable, the revival of Hebrew. That’s never happened. No language has ever been revived to become the language of everyday life, ever. This is the uniqueness of our history.

6. Obsession with self is the motif of our time.

7. Loyalty to the President is great, but loyalty to truth, integrity, and country is even better.

8. Life and consciousness are the two great mysteries. Actually, their substrates are the inanimate. And how do you get from neurons shooting around in the brain to the thought that pops up in your head and mine? There's something deeply mysterious about that. And if you're not struck by the mystery, I think you haven't thought about it.

9. Great leaders are willing to retire unloved and unpopular as the price for great exertion.

10. My theology can be summed up as, the only theology I know is not true, the only one I’m sure is untrue is atheism. Everything else I’m unsure about…I have this sense that there is transcendence in the universe, but we are in no position ever to understand it…I have an enormous attachment to the Jewish tradition and to the depth and the subtlety of its understanding of life, morality, and of metaphysics. I’ve always been interested in it, and that to me, I think, is important for Jews to try to continue that tradition, to make sure it lives, and to make sure that culture is nourished.

11. Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal—indeed, deeply human—to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty. Should we not be moved when it produces a vision—a creature—of the purest sweetness?

12. There is no comparing the brutality and cynicism of today's pop culture with that of forty years ago: from High Noon to Robocop is a long descent.

13. The joy of losing consists in this: Where there are no expectations, there is no disappointment.

14. Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating. […] For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.

15. You’ve got to learn the texts, you have to know Talmud, you have to be able to read Rashi, you have to know what’s there. My father said, “I can’t make you religious. I can’t make sure that you’ll be religious, but I am going to make sure that you’re not ignorant.”

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Post  Admin on Sat 16 Jun 2018, 12:16 pm

Over-Zealous Parenting is Harming our Children
Jun 9, 2018
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
Over-Zealous Parenting is Harming our Children
How to raise independent kids in today ‘s world.

One of my favorite childhood memories is riding my bike Sunday afternoons and peddling through the sidewalks of North Woodmere. I lived in a quiet suburban community with open spaces, shady trees and lots of winding roads.

These were the days before Amber Alerts, 9-11, constant after school programs and hours spent texting or checking out social media on your phone. We kids loved to be free and explore our world. Today’s children are growing up in a totally different environment. It can be stifling.

Andrea Petersen’s recent article, “The Overprotected American Child”, in the Wall Street Journal laments the lack of independence in our children today. Fewer kids walk to school on their own. Parents have been charged with neglect when they allowed their sons and daughters to play or walk unsupervised. As a result psychologists are seeing more children and young adults with anxiety disorders. “Over-zealous parenting can do real harm,” Petersen writes.

Encasing our children in bubble wrap makes them even more anxious.
The connection between anxiety and lack of independence is strong. Studies show that the more autonomy given, the less anxiety exhibited. When we encase our children in bubble wrap, we mistakenly believe that we are safeguarding them for life. In reality, we are making them even more anxious.

Overprotecting children doesn’t shield them from harm. Instead, it conveys the message that the world is frightening and dangerous. Children feel ill equipped to handle stress. They remain over dependent on mom and dad, seeking their solutions instead of finding their own as they grow. When decisions need to be made, they doubt themselves because parents have always stepped in.

We don’t want our children to be scared of life. We want them to become self-sufficient, self-reliant, and self-assured.

Yes we need to deal with the reality of the world today. There are some really bad stories out there. Parents need to have a sense of safety and awareness and guide their children accordingly. Different cultures and different neighborhoods bring different rules. I recall being astounded when visiting my daughter in Israel and seeing young children running errands for their mothers at the local supermarket. But that does not mean that just because you live in a more guarded society, your children cannot find their own spirit of independence. The question is: how?

First, examine if you are doing for your children that which they can do for themselves. Parents struggle with time crunch, pressure, and tight schedules. We don’t want to deal with tantrums and explosive outbursts. It becomes easier to just handle the task ourselves. We let our children off easy.

If you’d like to teach your child independence, begin with age appropriate skills they can learn in the home. Don’t rush to put their things away, solve their situations, or serve their meals and prepare their lunches and snacks. Even young children can clear their plates, prepare knapsacks for the next morning or put dirty clothing in a hamper. More than chores, these are ways we allow children to master moments that lead to feelings of self-sufficiency.

As children grow they can be involved in their food prep and even cooking with a parent’s watchful eye. Teaching safety and techniques allows for self-reliance instead of greater expectations for parents to do it all. The result is self-confidence and self-esteem, not based on empty praise, but because they, themselves, see how they are naturally growing into capable and competent young adults.

Independence outside our home is more difficult to achieve but it is possible. Again, it is up to a parent’s wisdom and discretion. Besides thinking about how to navigate street crossings, mall outings and venturing outdoors, here are some guidelines for parents to keep in mind:

Provide clear rules and understandings about curfews, distances, what to do when feeling lost or unsafe and expected responsibilities.

Speak about consequences if rules and responsibilities are not followed

Teach children to own their behavior. Explain: You are responsible for your mistakes, causing harm, damage, and bad behavior. If you hurt others you need to make amends. Don’t make excuses or seek to blame others. It’s not about who else did it, who pushed you to do it, or somehow everyone else’s fault but yours. Be accountable.

Allow children to overcome fears, take risks and gain courage. For example, talk together about how shyness can be conquered in small steps, or seek solutions instead of remaining frightened of dogs or heights. Empower your child.

Realize that we cannot manipulate our children’s friendships, sleepover invitations and social lives. Yes, when they are small we can help with playdates. That stops early on, though, and then our children need to navigate on their own. We can try to guide them, help them recognize the meaning of true friendship and open our homes and hearts. Ultimately we hope that they make good choices because we have taught them well.

Guide children to help and do for themselves. They can fulfill their needs and requirements without expecting parents to come to the rescue. One gym teacher told me that I cannot imagine the amount of students who blame their moms for not packing their sneakers.

Making Changes
If you desire to bring more independence to your child’s life, begin with these 5 steps:

Communicate that you would like to see more self-reliance. Say something positive like “Now that you are in middle school, you can….” And be clear about responsibilities.

Give a sense of time. Show through clocks, watches, and phone alarms that children can stick to a schedule and learn how to appropriately balance their time.

Acceptance: Don’t get stuck on perfection. Recognize efforts and then work on bettering skills.

Begin with the good. If your son dressed himself, recognize that before mentioning that his shirt is on backwards. Energize instead of criticize.

Teach solution skills. No matter the age, you will find your child struggling with something. Don’t rush in to fix the problem. Instead encourage him to find solutions.

When we cannot step back and allow children to make mistakes or discover life’s magic on their own, they lose the power to spread their wings. As children grow they want to rely less on us but still be aware of our love and inspiration. We are here to guide, to teach, to strengthen and to discipline. We have the ability to help our sons and daughters flourish, gain independence, and nourish their souls so that they can make a difference in this world.

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Post  Admin on Tue 29 May 2018, 8:02 pm

How to be a Spiritual Role Model to Your Children
May 26, 2018  |  by Rabbi Jay Goldmintz
How to be a Spiritual Role Model to Your Children
The four key steps to being a spiritual exemplar in your family.

How exactly does spiritual modeling work? Social psychologists refer to it as “observational learning.” You watch your role models do stuff and then you end up doing it too. If only it were so easy!

Instead, it has been said that observational learning works when certain specific things take place and, if you want to be a spiritual role model, you need to put those things into effect. First, for example, get their attention. It’s not enough that you are doing something; you need to draw it to your child’s attention.

My wife (the real spiritual exemplar in our family) signed up to help cook meals whenever someone in the shul gave birth. Women banded together to help the newborn’s family get through the first week without having to worry about meals for the rest of the family. In her modest way, my wife did this without announcing it to our own kids until one day, one of the kids noticed there was an extra lasagna in the oven. Only then did they realize what their mother had been doing all along and they thereby learned that chesed, doing acts of kindness, was something that their mother had incorporated into her life on a regular basis. In retrospect, it was a mistake to not draw it to the kids’ attention sooner. They can’t learn what they don’t know they’re supposed to learn.

A second factor in observational learning is retention. A child needs to remember what they see and hear and the only way for that to happen is if the actions and behaviors are repeated over and over again. In the present example, they needed to see their mother cooking extra food for strangers or neighbors over and over again. But it would also apply to singing songs at the Shabbat table every week until the songs are memorized, or repeating aloud the blessing one is supposed to say when one hears thunder, so that the child’s response will be automatic when the situation again presents itself, or retelling the stories of the Torah portion every week to highlight the actions of the characters who are our collective spiritual exemplars. Behaviors, feelings, stories, experiences need to be repeated and internalized until they are a part of the fabric of one’s being if there is going to be any long-term impact.

A third related factor is that for observed learning to be impactful it must be reproduced by the child himself or herself. It’s not enough to see someone else doing it; the child needs to feel what it’s like and needs feedback from the adult model about whether it is being done correctly.

Kids need practice and, like any skill, be it playing an instrument or a sport, they need trainers and coaches, and, when it comes to spiritual skills and practices, parents are the ones most likely to provide that feedback…or not.

Finally, there needs to be motivation, some inherent system of reward that energizes a child and tells him or her that this activity is worth doing. It could be the self-satisfaction that comes with the act or it could be the praise that comes from the parent or community, but as much as we’d like to think sometimes that kids will just learn how to do the right thing on their own, they still need something a little more self-serving along the way.

Being a spiritual role model for one’s child requires thought and planning and routine. Being a spiritual exemplar is tough work, or as Mom always used to say, “Wait until you’re a parent one day and then you’ll understand.”

This article originally appeared on ou.org

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Post  Admin on Tue 29 May 2018, 11:16 am

Ten Things I Wish I Knew at My Graduation
June 13, 2015  |  by Sara Debbie Gutfreund
Ten Things I Wish I Knew at My Graduation
Print and post on your fridge and read regularly.
I wish I would have spent more time in college figuring out my life goals instead of figuring out where I wanted to go to graduate school. I wish I would have had the courage to look honestly at myself instead of looking at other people. I wish I would have tried to find my own core values instead of searching the world for meaning.
I wish I would have learned more and studied a little less. I wish I would have treasured my friends instead of taking them for granted. I wish I would have somehow known the following ten things.
1. If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you. When I first graduated college, I thought that if something didn't come easily to me, it meant that something was wrong. Every challenge looked like an obstacle instead of an opportunity. I wish I would have known then that nothing worthwhile is easy.
2. The secret to having it all is believing that you already do. I wish I would have known then how to be grateful for everything that I had, to be happy even while striving to reach new goals, instead of telling myself "I'll be happy when..." because "when" never comes since we always want more. I wish I would have known that the time to be grateful is now.
3. A negative mind never gives you a positive life. I wish I would have known how important it is to believe in yourself and to look at life through an optimistic lens. I wish I would have known how much complaining is a waste of time and energy and how powerful positive thoughts can be in creating a happy life.
4. If plan 'A' fails, remember there are 25 more letters. I wish I would have known how many different ways there are to succeed, that there are many unique paths and solutions to reach the same goal. I wish I would have understood that real persistence means being open to new strategies when the old ones no longer work.
5. Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. I wish I would have known that every situation and person that I would encounter was sent to teach me something. Pain is a lesson and the faster I learned its message, the quicker it would pass.
6. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. I wish I would have known that I was already in a position to give, to teach, to change the world, that no one is ever "ready" to try something new, and that successful people don't wait until they feel ready.
7. If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse. I wish I would have known that I could accomplish extraordinary things if I wanted them badly enough. Putting off dreams is like giving up on them because "someday" never really arrives.
8. The sign of a beautiful person is that she sees beauty in others. I wish I would have known then not to focus so much on how others perceived me and to instead focus on seeing the beauty in others.
9. If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results. I wish I would have known that we can't always see the results of our work immediately. The important thing to remember is to believe in change itself and to keep growing. If you’re patient, you will eventually see the results of your efforts.
10. Your life is the result of the choices you make. If you don't like your life, it is time to start making better choices. I wish I would have known then that I was – and would always be – responsible for my own happiness. If my life isn't working out the way I want it to, I can start making different choices today.

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Post  Admin on Thu 24 May 2018, 3:29 pm

Children of Nazis
A new book delves into the lives of the sons and daughters of the Third Reich’s most notorious henchmen.
by Chad Smith 
How would you cope if your father were an infamous Nazi? Would you disown the man or accept him? Would you respect him as a father but not a person? Or would you just change your name and try to forget the past?
In “Children of Nazis” author Tania Crasnianski explores the impact of being the child of a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, showing the vastly different ways children dealt with their fathers’ legacies.

Brigitte Höss with her father, Rudolf

It is unlikely that readers will have heard of any of the Nazi progeny examined in the book, but they will certainly recognize the names of their fathers: Heinrich Himmler, Herman Göring, Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank, Martin Bormann, Rudolf Höss, Albert Speer and Josef Mengele.

These were National Socialists who were responsible for some of the world’s most reprehensible crimes. But according to the author, they still strove to provide their kids with normal and happy childhoods.

Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS and architect of the Holocaust, would regularly call home to talk to his young daughter, Gudrun, and would even send her flowers and chocolates. Herman Göring commissioned elaborate dresses for his daughter, Edda, whom he always kissed goodnight before going to bed.
But after the war life changes dramatically for these well cared for children. Overnight, their fathers go from heroes to villains, and they need to wrestle with the consequences of having had a Nazi for a father.

Some of the children are refused entry into schools due to their last names; some are victims of schoolyard bullying. Edda Göring and Gudrun Himmler actually lived in an Allied prison for several years, not because they were jailed there but because their mothers were so desperate and fearful after the war that they begged the warden for shelter.

The book is at its most interesting when the children reach adulthood and are forced to come to grips with the enormity of their fathers’ crimes. The children cope in strikingly different ways. Gudrun Himmler, Wolf Hess and Edda Göring defend their fathers; Niklas Frank denounces his; Brigitte Höss tries to forget her past; and Martin Bormann Jr. and Rolf Mengele think their fathers are abominable but still accept them as their blood.

Ironically, the chapters that deal with the children who clung to the notion that their fathers were somehow conscionable people are easier to digest. We somehow “understand” that Wolf Hess wanted to hold onto the belief that his father was a crusader for peace and Gudrun Himmler never could admit her father was guilty. These children find comfort in their delusions.

Much more difficult to process are the chapters about the children who struggled to reconcile the men they knew as fathers with the monsters those men were. Reading about these children forces us think about how we would have reacted in their shoes.

Brigitte Höss, left

For example, Brigitte Höss knew that her father, Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, was guilty. His crimes caused her so much distress that after the war she left Germany, settled in anonymity in the U.S. and made a vow never to speak of her history with anyone.

So why, knowing that her father was so evil, does she sleep with his wedding photo over her bed? Apparently, she simply cannot forget that her father was very kind to her and her family.

“He was very good to us,” she has said of him, recalling how he had played with her and her siblings, read fairytales to them and took them to ride horses.

Rolf Mengele, with his father Josef

And then there’s Rolf Mengele, son of the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death.” Rolf Mengele has said that his father’s actions horrified him and that his own personal political views were “diametrically opposed to that of my father’s.” Yet even after Rolf confronted his father about his ghastly crimes (the two met as adults once, in Brazil in 1977), Rolf still couldn’t find it in himself to tell Nazi hunters where his father was hiding. Asked why, he said, “I would never betray my father. No one in the world can ask me to do that.”

Making sense of the complicated coexistence of love, disgust and other emotions that lived inside some of the children in respect to their fathers can be difficult, but Crasnianski does try.

She quotes, for example, Martin Bormann Jr., who had an interesting theory on why he was able to feel love toward his father. Citing the Bible, Bormann said, “The Fifth Commandment demands only that children love and respect their parents, as parents, and not individuals exercising a role in society.” 

Though Crasnianski works hard to try and help us understand her subjects’ complicated feelings, some of the questions raised in the book still never get answered. That’s because she mostly didn’t speak to her subjects. In fact, the only Nazi descendent who granted her an interview was Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, general governor of occupied Poland. Unsurprisingly, the chapter about him is very rich and completely answers why he took the stance he did on his father.

Hans Frank, left; Niklas Frank, right

In one particularly illuminating passage, Frank tells the author, “It wasn’t long before I saw photos of the camps on the front pages of the newspaper: piles of naked bodies, skeletons in rags and children holding out their tiny wrists to show their numbers. ... They were the same age as me, they were being held so close to the castle in Poland where my father was stockpiling his gold and where I was acting like a prince in my pedal car. It was a horrifying realization.”

More first-person accounts as penetrating as Frank’s would have enhanced the book. Still, “Children of Nazis” is a fascinating read and considering that the sons and daughters of the Nazi notables are now elderly, Crasnianski is able to tell the story from a unique vantage point, one that distinguishes her book from others on the subject.

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Post  Admin on Wed 23 May 2018, 2:00 pm

The Jews of Djerba: 9 Facts about This Ancient Jewish Community
One of the oldest Jewish communities in the world exists in a Muslim-dominated region.
by Barbara Penn
9 Facts about This Ancient Jewish CommunityThe Jews of Djerba: 9 Facts about This Ancient Jewish Community
1. Djerba, an island off the coast of Tunisia, Africa, stands like a citadel among an ocean of unrest. Besides being home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, Djerba is also one of the only Jewish communities living in a Muslim-dominated region. Locals work side-by-side and in relative harmony with their Muslim neighbors, speaking the local language of Arabic.

By Bellyglad from Tunisia - Synagogue at DjerbaUploaded by stegop, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20975035

2. As equally fascinating as the age and locale of this 2,500-year community is the people’s ancestry. The unique community has been dubbed “The Island of Kohanim (priests)” since approximately 80% of the community is descended from priests, according to the biography From Djerba to Jerusalem. According to the book, following the destruction of the First Temple, the high priest Tzadok, along with his fellow Kohanim, escaped to this distant Island and settled there. Locals maintain that the priests carried a stone with them from the altar of the destroyed Temple, and incorporated it into the building of the famous synagogue, the El Ghriba synagogue.

Jews of Tunis, c. 1900

3. While there are a sprinkling of Israelites in Djerba (Jews who descend from tribes other than the tribe of Levi and its family of priests), the lack of Levites might seem puzzling. According to tradition, their absence is a result of their refusal to return to Israel after the Second Temple was built. Travel writer Ari Greenspan’s article The Jews of Djerba notes that when the prophet Ezra heard about their refusal to return, he cursed them and said that the Levites there would not live out the year.

4. The community, reminiscent of the shtetl-style life of yesteryear, remains a source of pride for the Djerban Jews. Most men contribute to the largely self-sufficient community by taking on blue-collar jobs, working as craftsmen, jewelry makers, storeowners, and vendors at the marketplace.

5. Locals of Djerba maintain scrupulous adherence to Jewish law and hold their 2,500-year-old customs sacred. Their kashrut customs, marriage practices, and education system remain virtually unchanged since it was established.

Jewish money changer in Tunisia

In his article, Rabbi Greenspan relates that community members still bring their pots and challot to the local baker on Friday afternoon to have them heated in a warm oven over the course of Shabbos – a custom no longer in place anywhere else in the world. (While their kitchens are modern enough to keep their food warm in their own homes, they continue to practice this custom in order to keep it alive.) Rabbi Biton, the community rabbi, can be seen on the rooftops every Friday afternoon blowing a ram's horn to remind everyone to close their shops before the approach of the Shabbos – another ancient custom still held sacred.

6. The El Ghriba synagogue, which literally translates as “the extraordinary one”, is one of the oldest-standing and most architecturally beautiful synagogues around today and attracts thousands of tourists every year. Tunisian Jews hope to gain a UNESCO World Heritage status for the building.

Inside the El Ghriba Synagogue By Chapultepec, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1930877

The story behind how the synagogue got its name is a strange one. Locals of Djerba told Rabbi Greenspan that legend has it that a beautiful, pious woman who lived alone died as a result of a fire on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer. Though her house burned, her body remained untouched by the flames and the community attributed this to her saintliness. The unknown woman, nicknamed “the extraordinary one”, was buried next to the synagogue.

7. One unique custom and highlight of the year for Tunisian Jews is the yearly pilgrimage to Djerba. During the time of Lag BaOmer, thousands of Jews make a pilgrimage to pray at the El Ghriba synagogue in honor of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, two great sages who died during that time of year. A festive parade is made in their honor, where a giant cloth-decorated candelabra mounted on three wheels is marched through the streets while the attendees sing in honor of the sages. The menorah is beautifully decorated with representations of the 12 tribes of Israel, the names of rabbis of Tunisia, the names of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and crowned with a star of David containing an inscription of the Divine name. According to Beit Hatfutsot, the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, the menorah, decorated in veils, is made to resemble a bride and the parade is made to resemble a wedding ceremony, signifying the union between the people of Israel and God. Pilgrims also pay homage to the gravesite of the woman buried next to the synagogue. Visiting her grave has become auspicious for helping barren women bear children.

Lag Ba'Omer procession returning to the El Ghriba synagogue in Er-Riadh (Hara Sghira), Djerba 2007 By Chesdovi - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2136998

8. Despite the relative communal harmony, it is not completely immune to anti-Semitism. In 1985, a local policeman responsible for watching the synagogue opened fire, killing three people, among them one child. In 2002, a truck belonging to a suicide bomber affiliated with Al Qaida exploded near the shul and killed 21 people, mostly German tourists. In January 2018, a firebomb was thrown at the synagogue in an attempt to burn it down. Fortunately, it only caused minor damages.

9. The age-old community faces an uncertain future. What was once populated by 100,000 individuals is down to a few families consisting of one thousand people. Most of the Jews have emigrated to France and Israel. The terror attack in 2002, growing social unrest, and religious extremism in the region has made tourists wary of visiting, effectively hurting the income of many locals who rely on tourists to buy their products. According to Haaretz, while some are weighing the idea of traveling en masse to Israel, they have mixed feelings about abandoning such a rich heritage behind. “Everybody’s thought about leaving,” says local resident Ben Zion Dee’ie. “It feels wrong to leave where my ancestors lived for so many years.”

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Post  Admin on Thu 17 May 2018, 11:02 pm

I Was at the Gaza Border, We Did All We Could to Avoid KillingI Was at the Gaza Border, We Did All We Could to Avoid Killing
What I saw and heard was a supreme effort from our side to prevent, in every possible way, Palestinian deaths and injuries.
by Kinley Tur-Paz 
I’m writing this for my good friends, my moral humane friends, and for all those who are concerned and angry over the Palestinians killed and injured on the border with Gaza.

In the biblical Exodus from Egypt, when the Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea just before overtaking the Israelites, our sages say that God prevented the angels from singing and rejoicing, scolding them with the words “my creations are drowning in the sea and you are singing?!”

I write these words with great caution, and from a sense of mission. I can understand and identify with all of those good and moral Zionists who fear that the many Palestinian victims may be our fault, the result of mistakes made by our side. I’m writing because I am one of the few who was there, in uniform, in the reserves, but I was there. Yes, right there on the fence where the demonstrations are happening. It was last Friday, but I saw it with my own eyes; I was on our side of the fence but I could see and hear and understand everything. I want to testify from my firsthand knowledge, not a theoretical point of view. Because I was there.

I want to testify that what I saw and heard was a tremendous, supreme effort from our side to prevent, in every possible way, Palestinian deaths and injuries.

Of course, the primary mission was to prevent hundreds of thousands of Gazans from infiltrating into our territory. That kind of invasion would be perilous, mortally dangerous, to the nearby communities; would permit terrorists disguised as civilians to enter our kibbutz and moshav communities, and would leave us with no choice but to target every single infiltrator. That’s why our soldiers were directed to prevent infiltration, in a variety of ways, using live ammunition only as a last resort.

The IDF employs many creative means of reducing friction with Gazans and uses numerous methods, most of which are not made public, to prevent them from reaching the fence. In addition, over the past few weeks there have been serious efforts to save the lives of children and civilians who have been pushed to the front lines by the Hamas, who are trying to hide behind them in order to infiltrate and attack Israel.

When there is no alternative, and live ammunition must be used to stop those who storm the fence, the soldiers make heroic and sometimes dangerous efforts not to kill and to only injure those on the other side. The IDF stations senior commanders at every confrontation point to ensure that every shot is approved and backed up by a responsible figure with proper authority. Every staging area has an especially large number of troops in order to make sure that soldiers are not put into life-threatening situations where they will have no choice but to fire indiscriminately.

A situation where thousands of people rush you is frightening, even terrifying. It is extremely difficult to show restraint, and it requires calm, mature professionalism. Sixty-two dead is an enormous number. But I can testify from my first-hand experience, that every bullet and every hit is carefully reported, documented and investigated, in Excel spreadsheets. Literally. I was there and I saw it with my own eyes.

This isn’t the time or place to discuss the situation in general and the desperate plight of the residents of Gaza. I’m not interested in starting a political discussion here, although I do have a clear position. What I’m trying to do is present, for everyone who really wants to listen, the extent of the IDF’s enormous effort to protect Israel’s borders while minimizing injuries and loss of life on the other side.

And despite all this – the situation on the border with Gaza is deteriorating. I hope that we won’t be called up again soon for reserve duty to protect our country. But if we are, we will go with the knowledge that we are serving a morally just cause. We do not rejoice when we must go to war, but we also don’t go like sheep to the slaughter.

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King Tut & the Revolution of Torah
I didn’t expect to walk away from a King Tut exhibit with a new way to make Shavuot meaningful.
by Emuna Braverman 
There is a King Tut exhibit on display at the California Science Center. The discovery of the tomb illuminated much about the Egyptian culture. Fun fact: the archaeologist who was credited with discovery packed and shipped 5,398 items from the tomb to a museum in Cairo. That’s a lot to be found in one burial site. And a lot to learn about the customs and beliefs of the Egyptians.

As we left, my husband and I turned to each other in awe, and said in unison, “That was the perfect exhibit to see right before Shavuot.”
How could that be? In delving into the lives of the ancient Egyptians, we discover, among other things, a big focus on magic, myriad forms of idol worship and a seeming obsession with death. This helps illuminate the life of the Jewish people before they were redeemed and taken out of the land. It helps us understand why Moses originally approached Pharaoh with some magic tricks. It helps us understand the Almighty’s strategy in demonstrating His overarching power. It helps us recognize what state the Jewish people must have been in at the time of Passover story. And so much more. I am only skimming the surface here.

But the real insight came when contrasting Egyptian culture and beliefs with the Torah. From looking at their lifestyle, we get a glimpse of what a complete revolution the giving of the Torah was. We get a taste of how it completely changed humanity, that it was a new and unique way to look at life and ourselves.

Belief in only one God challenged the Egyptian way of life that was completely immersed in idolatry, that credited idols with all the good in their lives, that blamed them for the bad and that spent significant time and resources trying to propitiate them.

Prohibitions against magic that fill the Torah taught the Jewish people that any real growth had to be generated internally, had to come from hard work and not from some special spell, potion or amulet. It also reminded us of the concept of Divine providence, the idea that the Almighty is running the world and that it is all in His hands.

Although the IMAX movie shown in advance of viewing the exhibit proclaimed that the Egyptians loved life, everything about the exhibit seemed to suggest the opposite. There was so much preparation and focus on what material goods went with people into the afterlife that the whole point of both this world and the world to come seem to have been missed. It highlighted our view that this world is a tremendous opportunity – to grow, to change, to connect to God – that we don’t want to waste. And that the afterlife is a completely spiritual existence, a world of souls, with no more ties to the material.

Appreciating the revolutionary nature of Torah, no wonder there was complete silence when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. The world was being completely upended and everyone and everything could only listen awestruck.

I didn’t expect to walk away from a King Tut exhibit with a new way to make Shavuot meaningful this year, with a deeper appreciation of the revelation of Torah. But if you make yourself receptive, you never know when the opportunity may strike.

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5 Misconceptions about the Violence in Gaza5 Misconceptions about the Violence in Gaza
Some clarity in a world filled with media distortion.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
As thousands of Gazans clash with Israeli forces along Israel’s border with Gaza, the number of casualties continues to grow – and so has public condemnation of Israel. Here are five misconceptions fueled by the media about the current violence in Gaza – and what really is going on.
1. Gazans are protesting the new American Embassy in Jerusalem
“Tens of thousands protested along the frontier against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem” declared Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Many media outlets followed suit – misreporting the riots that rocked parts of Gaza as a spontaneous eruption sparked by the United States’ decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital Jerusalem.

That overlooks the fact that the ongoing riots were planned months ago: back in February 2018, the Hamas terror group that governs Gaza announced there would be six weeks of riots along the border, set to culminate on May 15, 2018. That’s the day after Israel’s 70th anniversary of its founding as a modern state: May 15 is day mourned as the “Nakba”, or disaster, by many Palestinians and other Arabs. For weeks, crowds of Hamas militants have been gathering at points along Israel’s border with Gaza, burning tires and attempting to break down the fence and storm Israel. They’ve billed it as the “March of Return”, allowing Gazans to relocate and live in what they claim are their ancestral homelands inside of Israel.

It’s not the first time in recent years that Hamas has attempted to invade Israel. The 2014 military conflict with Gaza showed that Hamas had spent years building highly engineered terror tunnels into Israel, designed to allow terrorists to infiltrate and carry out attacks. Israel’s army uncovered ammunition, maps, Israeli army uniforms, and plans to attack an Israeli kindergarten where one of the terror tunnels ended. Since that conflict, Hamas has lobbed scores of rockets into Israel, and has even sent explosives attached to kites over the border to attack the Jewish state. Efforts to tunnel into Israel continue unabated. In April 2018, Israel uncovered the longest and most sophisticated terror tunnel yet.

Hamas doesn’t recognize a state of Israel in any borders, and last week, Yahya Sinwar, since 2017 the leader of Hamas in Gaza, reiterated his group’s position, declaring that he intended to amass enough militants to launch a major invasion of Israel. “What’s the problem with hundreds of thousands breaking through a fence that is not a border?” he asked. Sinwar’s remarks were widely reported in the Israeli press. It’s impossible that the reporters from Western media outlets tasked with covering this conflict don’t know of Hamas’ plans – to pretend this is a spontaneous uprising sparked by the US embassy’s move is disingenuous at best and deliberately misleading at worst.
2. Israeli forces massacred protesting Gazans
Turkey said that Israel and the US shared responsibility for a “vile massacre” as dozens of Palestinian rioters were killed by Israeli fire on May 14. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has a political sharing agreement with Hamas, declared “today once again, the massacres against our people continue.” In the US Security council, only a veto by the United States averted yet another condemnation of Israel.

In the past six weeks, 40,000 Gazans have stormed the border with Israel in 13 locations along the Gaza Strip security fence. Fighting these military forces, many of whom traded live fire with Israeli soldiers, doesn’t constitute a massacre. As White House spokesman Raj Shah explained, “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas…. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response.”

As the fighting has escalated, Israel’s army has taken steps to tell civilians to stay away from the riots and to minimize deaths. On May 14, for instance, the Israeli Defense Forces put out media statements telling civilians to stay away from the riots, and dropped two rounds of leaflets warning people to stay away from the fighting.
3. The Gaza rioters are peaceful civilians
In a column in the New York Times on May 14, 2018, a Gazan named Ahmed Abu Ratima claimed that he was one of the first people to dream up the current six-week period of rioting – and admits that it has become out of control, violent and militarized. The riots “cannot be completely controlled. We discouraged the burning of the Israeli flags and the attachment of Molotov cocktails to kites.” he claims; “We have also tried to discourage protesters from attempting to cross into Israel. However, we can’t stop them.” After six weeks of riots, it seems Hamas and other terrorist groups like Islamic Jihad are now calling the shots.

In a typical day of rioting, on May 6, 2018, Israeli soldiers shot at a group of terrorists who succeeded in breaching the border and made it into Israel. They were found to be carrying an axe, wire cutters, an oxygen mask, gloves, a camera and petrol bombs. On May 14, the most violent day of riots in this bloody six-week period, Hamas deployed at least a dozen separate terror cells to breach the border with Israel in different spots; they were ordered to confront and kidnap Israeli soldiers. In two locations, teams of Hamas fighters opened fire on Israeli soldiers, and in one spot terrorists planted a bomb along the border. Israeli Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis called the multiple military threats Israel faced on that day “unprecedented”.

In the context of these military-style attacks, the fact that Hamas is encouraging civilians, including women and children, to provide cover for hardened fighters is tragic. These civilian Gazans are nothing less than human shields. For weeks, Hamas has been using its own people as cannon fodder, encouraging civilians into a war zone of its own creation.
4. Hamas is seeking peace with Israel
Back in March of 2018, when the six weeks of violence at the Israel-Gaza border were just getting started, Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh attended one of the gatherings and declared that the demonstrations marked the beginning of Gazans return to “all of Palestine” – meaning all of Israel. Since then, Hamas’ Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, has escalated Hamas’ rhetoric, appearing at the riots declaring that the Gaza rioters will “eat the livers” of the Jews, and that he won’t rest until he has personally broken into Israel and marched on Jerusalem.

Hamas, which adopted a new charter in 2017, continues to call for the destruction of Israel. In fact, it won’t even name the Jewish state, calling Israel the “Zionist entity” instead. Speaking with reporters in 2017 when he became leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar declared Hamas would disarm only “when Satan enters paradise” and explained “there’s not one minute of the day or night when we aren’t building up our military might.” The current riots at the Israel-Gaza border are Sinwar’s first chance to show his military might, and he seems to be reveling in the hatred and violence he’s causing.
5. There’s no way to fight misinformation and bias
For weeks, international media have adopted Hamas’ version of events, painting the Gaza riots as peaceful protests and Israel’s reactions as disproportionate and indefensible. For Israelis and Israel’s supporters, it can seem nearly impossible to counter the hate. But it is possible. Here are three suggestions to help inject more fairness and balance into discussions.

First, educate yourself. Read Israeli newspapers online. Subscribe to bulletins from organizations like the Israel Defense Forces https://www.facebook.com/idfonline/ and Honest Reporting (honestreporting.com). Speak with Israelis. Despite the violent nature of the current Gaza riots, Israelis have been remarkably unified in supporting their military’s response to the terror and infiltration and live fire they’ve come under. Learn how Israelis are responding to the violence on their border, and to international efforts to blame Israel for the riots.

Second, don’t be afraid to speak out. When you see unfair reporting or hear Israel slandered in the media or elsewhere, say something. Write letters to the editor. Blog about Israel. Speak up when people discuss the news as it relates to Israel. It’s crucial that lies and distortions about Israel don’t go unnoticed and uncorrected.

Finally, do all you can to educate those around you. It can be hard to believe that Hamas is sending bombs attached to kites sailing into Israel. It can sound incredible that they are cynically using human shields in their campaign to invade and destabilize Israel. It seems much easier to blame Israel’s military for the recent violence instead. It’s up to each of us to spread accurate information, showing that far from conducting peaceful, measured protests, Hamas is cynically orchestrating violent protests that harm their own people. As Israel fights at its border, we all have a responsibility to fight misinformation and distortion that slanders the Jewish state.

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5 Signs You Need to Take a Fresh Look at Judaism5 Signs You Need to Take a Fresh Look at Judaism
So many Jews, myself included, stopped their Jewish education when they were kids and never examined the depth of Judaism through adult eyes.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
A recent survey found that fully 62% of American Jews feel that being Jewish is merely an accident of birth. For so many of us, Judaism isn’t where we look for answers to life’s big questions.

And that’s a shame, because Judaism is chock-full of wisdom and insights for creating a meaningful, joyous life. But so many Jews, myself included, stopped advancing their Jewish education when they were children and never examined the depth of Jewish wisdom through adult eyes.

Here are five signs that it might be time to take a fresh look at Judaism as an adult.

1. You think Judaism is all about guilt.
Judaism gets a bad rap when it comes to guilt. Many Jews think our religion is one long guilt trip, replete with beating ourselves up and feeling shame. Perhaps it’s because Yom Kippur is one of the most-observed holidays among Jews that we mistakenly think Judaism is focused primarily on blame and fault.

Unlike some religions which regard people as innately sinful and bad, the Torah explains we each are created betzelem Elokim, in the image of the Divine (Genesis 1:26). We each contain a pure soul that reflects our celestial origins. Our essential core is good. What we do with this divine spark is up to us, but Judaism gives us infinite opportunities to grow and develop and to reinforce our connection with the Almighty. The Torah is our playbook, giving us tasks and guidelines that enable us to reach beyond ourselves, become more refine and connect to God.

When we make mistakes and come up short – which is guaranteed to happen – instead of fostering feelings of guilt, Judaism encourages us to pause, restock, and figure out how to do better. As King Solomon said, “The righteous person falls seven times, and gets up” (Proverbs 24:16). Recognize the mistake, get on track and move on.

2. You feel that Judaism doesn’t speak to you personally.
A friend recently told me that her strongest feelings about being Jewish stemmed from the Holocaust and pride in the modern day state of Israel.  Both of these issues are crucially important to the identity of modern Jews, but I asked her, “Do you relate to Judaism personally? Does being Jewish affect your day-to-life? Your relationship with God?”

These questions elicited a confused shrug.

Judaism is replete with meaningful mitzvahs that have the power to transform us, turning us into more spiritual beings.  Each time we enjoy a delicious Shabbat dinner, we’re not only taking our place in a chain of countless generations of Jews who have done the same, we’re deepening our connection with the Divine.  When we give tzedakah, perform acts of kindness, celebrate Jewish holidays, and put Jewish teachings into practice we are connecting to eternal truths and spiritual principles that stem from a transcendent, Infinite dimension that brings out our inner potential, elevating us and the world.

Being Jewish isn’t only about Jewish history; it’s a vehicle for transforming our very souls as well.

3. You think there are no female Jewish role models.
I grew up hearing this and it took me years to learn that in fact many of Judaism’s central role models are women. In our darkest time during slavery in Egypt, it was women who kept the Jewish people going, never losing hope that days would get better and would triumph, and refusing to give in to despair. Later, when the Jews sinned at Mount Sinai by building an idol to worship, it was Jewish women who remained steadfast in their belief in God, and refused to take part. In every generation, Jewish women have sustained us, strengthening the Jewish body and nurturing the Jewish soul.

Indeed, our tradition teems with women who inspire and shape our religion. We model our behavior towards guests on the hospitality of our matriarch Sarah, and we model the way we pray on a Jewish woman in the Torah named Chana. Each Purim we read the story of Queen Esther who saved the Jewish people. On Shavuot, we recall Ruth, the ultimate model of choosing Judaism and accepting the Torah. On Chanukah, we celebrate two Jewish heroines, Judith and Chana, and each year we recall the military victory wrought by Yael. From their ancient times to now, Jewish women have been a key part of our history, nurturing and guiding and inspiring us all.

4. You believe that Judaism has little to say about life’s pressing issues.
Growing up, I thought that the Talmud was archaic and irrelevant. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sent my kids to a Jewish school and they took Talmud. Well, it didn’t take long for my son to put what he was learning into practice. One day he found a $5 bill on the sidewalk and picked it up, exclaiming “I know what to do with this!” He’d been learning the Talmudic chapter on how to treat lost property and was thrilled to put the Jewish laws to use, asking neighbors if they’d lost any money and not resting until he’d found the bill’s rightful owner.

The Talmud is an encyclopedic work that addresses every topic under the sun –sharing its timeless wisdom on issues such as property rights, environmentalism, the ethical treatment of animals, settling disputes, treating people with respect, behavior in times of peace and conflict, and countless other real-world dilemmas.  

From ancient insights from King Solomon to modern day thinkers, Judaism is teeming with knowledge that addresses myriad issues we face every day.

But only if we make an effort to learn it.

5. You think the synagogue is where Judaism takes place.
When I was a child, just about everything we did that was Jewish was performed in the synagogue, from praying and eating kosher foods to socializing with other Jews and learning things about our religion.  Very few of those activities had a place in our regular, day-to-day life. It was only once I learned more about Judaism that I realized that for thousands of years the Jewish home has been the center of Jewish life.  

My first glimpse of this was during my first visit to Israel when I arranged to have Shabbat lunch with a local Orthodox Jewish family.  I arrived at their house and was surprised to find the mom sitting quietly studying Torah until her guests arrived. I’d never seen anyone study Jewish texts outside of a synagogue class before.  Shabbat lunch was leisurely: slowly, over sumptuous food, we sang Shabbat songs, discussed religious topics, listened to the family’s children talk about the week’s Torah portion, and chatted. Hours later, when lunch was finally over, it knew that was the sort of home I longed to build: a place where Jewish holidays and Shabbat are celebrated, a place where guests are welcomed and where Jewish values permeate the very air.  

In Hebrew, the Jewish home is referred to as a Mikdash Me’at – a mini Temple that each of us has the power to create. It’s a place where we instill Jewish values in the next generation, where we teach and learn, and where we watch with pride as Judaism is lived and performed.

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Home   »  Holocaust Studies   »  Issues
Confronting General Eisenhower Over Allies’ Refusal to Bomb AuschwitzConfronting General Eisenhower Over Allies’ Refusal to Bomb Auschwitz
In a direct and sharp rebuke, the Klausenberger Rebbe said the Americans and England shared in the guilt along with Hitler.
by Dr. Rafael Medoff 
“The Americans and England share in the guilt along with Hitler because they had the ability to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz or the gas chambers.”

That sharp rebuke was delivered by the Klausenberger Rebbe directly to General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945, according to the new Israeli documentary film, “Astir Panai.”

The Rebbe, his wife, and nine of their 11 children were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Various accounts describe him as often going hungry because of his refusal to eat non-kosher food in the camp. He was transferred to a slave labor brigade in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, and then survived several death marches to sub-camps of Dachau before the Allies liberated the region at the end of April 1945.

The Rebbe ended up in Feldafing, a Displaced Persons camp established by the American occupation forces near Munich. The Rebbetzin and ten of their children had been murdered months earlier by the Nazis. Unknown to the Rebbe, their eldest son survived the Holocaust but died soon afterwards, in another DP camp nearby.

On Yom Kippur, in 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe—and subsequently President of the United States—paid a visit to Feldafing. In the documentary, Reb Moshe Reich describes what happened that day, based on what he heard from his father-in-law, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak (Horowitz) Barminka, a Sanz-Klausenberger chasid who was with the Rebbe both in Auschwitz and in Feldafing.

The DPs were deeply divided as to who should have the honor of greeting General Eisenhower and speaking at the welcoming ceremony, according to Reich. “The Communists said they were entitled to the honor, because they [the Soviets] had liberated Auschwitz,” he recalled. “The Zionists said that they should have the honor, since they were building a state.” As a compromise, “they went to the Rebbe and said that he, as a holy man, should be the one to greet [Eisenhower]. But they said one thing to him—that he shouldn’t speak as if he were giving a sermon, and he shouldn’t recite the whole story of the Holocaust, but rather he should focus on revival.”

“A million Jews could have been saved… If the Americans had intervened just a little bit earlier, it wouldn’t have happened.”
In the film, Reich continues: “The Rebbe said nothing in response. Eisenhower arrived. As the Rebbe went to go up to the podium, he asked for a talis and he put it on. It was too late for anyone to do anything about that, because Eisenhower had already arrived. The Rebbe proceeded to speak about all the events of the Holocaust. The Rebbe said, ‘The Americans and England share in the guilt along with Hitler, because the Americans knew, for at least several years [what was happening in the death camps]. And they had the ability to bomb the railway lines [leading to Auschwitz] and they could have bombed the places [where Jews were being murdered]. A million Jews could have been saved—[including] all the Jews of Hungary. If the Americans had intervened just a little bit earlier, it wouldn’t have happened.”

The Rebbe spoke in Yiddish. A simultaneous translation into English was provided to General Eisenhower by Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum, a young Orthodox Jewish soldier from Brooklyn who had been assigned to the American forces governing the DP camps. “Lieutenant Birnbaum told me that Eisenhower had tears in his eyes when the Rebbe finished,” Moshe Reich told Ami in an exclusive interview.

“At the time, the Rebbe didn’t know the details about the requests that had been made to the Allies to bomb Auschwitz,” Reich noted to Ami. “He spoke in general about the obvious fact that they were bombing in the area and could have hit Auschwitz. But after the war, when the Rebbe remarried, he became close to Rav Michoel Dov Ber Weissmandl, who in fact made the shidduch, and both of them were now sons-in-law of Rav Shmuel David Ungar. Rav Weissmandl then told the Rebbe about the efforts to get the Americans to bomb Auschwitz, and the Rebbe mentioned the issue a number of times over the years to his chasidim.”

Rav Weissmandl was part of a group of rescue activists in Czechoslovakia and Hungary who, in 1944, received detailed maps of Auschwitz from two escapees. The rabbi then sent numerous messages to Jewish leaders abroad and Allied diplomats, urging the bombing of the railway lines leading to Auschwitz, as well as the gas chambers and crematoria. His pleas were sent to senior Roosevelt administration officials, but they were rejected.

General Eisenhower asked the Rebbe afterwards if there was anything in particular he needed. He had one request.
According to Reich, General Eisenhower asked the Rebbe afterwards if there was anything in particular he needed. “The Rebbe could have requested a visa to America, or all sorts of other things from him,” Reich said. “He had one request—Sukkot was coming in four days, and they didn’t have the arbaah minim (the four species). Eisenhower sent the arbaah minim for the Rebbe, and they arrived just before Yom Tov began.”

The website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum describes General Eisenhower’s visit to Feldafing, but does not report what the Rebbe said. Yad Vashem’s website quotes excerpts from what it calls “the Rebbe’s sermon on Yom Kippur,” although it is not clear if the words it quotes came from the Rebbe’s address to Eisenhower, or from another drashah he gave on Yom Kippur. In any event, Yad Vashem likewise makes no mention of the Rebbe’s remarks about bombing.

The release of “Astir Panai” coincides with a new controversy over a staff historian at the US Holocaust Museum, who has suggested that the Roosevelt administration had good reason to refuse to bomb Auschwitz.

The historian, Dr. Rebecca Erbelding, told the Times of Israel on April 15: “I’m extremely cautious about saying that bombing the gas chambers would have saved a lot of lives… [Bombing] would have killed a lot of people. There were about 100,000 people in Auschwitz [in 1944]. And so if the [US] had carpet-bombed the camp, most of the camp would have died.”

Erbelding set up a straw man. In fact, a number of Jewish organizations urged the US government to bomb Auschwitz in 1944, and asked not for “carpet bombing,” but for precision strikes either on the gas chambers and crematoria, or on the railroad lines over which hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to their deaths.

The Allies carried out a number of successful precision bombing raids in World War II, including an attack on a rocket factory in the Buchenwald concentration camp. The planes hit the factory, but avoided striking the prisoners’ barracks. In another famous precision raid, British planes swooped low over a German prison in Amiens, France, and bombed the guard tower and outer walls, so that hundreds of prisoners could escape.

Erbelding is the one of the curators of a controversial exhibit opening this week at the US Holocaust Museum, titled “American Responses to the Holocaust.” It presents a revisionist view of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Nazi genocide, claiming there was very little the Roosevelt administration could have done to rescue Jews.

But historians who have studied the question of bombing the camps or railways have pointed out that American planes flew over Auschwitz on a number of occasions in the summer and fall of 1944, when they were bombing German oil factories that were less than five miles from the gas chambers. Therefore, it would have been entirely feasible for them to strike the gas chambers or the railways. Since 12,000 Jews were being gassed daily, even a brief disrupti

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Judaism’s Golden RuleJudaism’s Golden Rule
Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.
by Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
The Talmud tells the story of a gentile who came to Shammai requesting a quickie McConversion to Judaism. He asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai had no patience for the ridiculous and disrespectful request and chased him out of the study hall.

Undaunted, the fellow then proceeded to visit Shammai's colleague, Hillel with the same request. Hillel instructed him, "Whatever is hateful and distasteful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary. Go learn."

It seems a little bold of Hillel to claim to summarize the entire Torah in one sentence. And even if he could, what is it about this particular principle that defines all of Judaism? Would not, "I am the Lord your God..." the first of the Ten Commandments or "Shema Yisrael..." and the notion of One God been a more logical place to start?

It takes a genius to be able to distill something into its simplest and most basic component the way Hillel did. Hillel was instructing this gentile about the most crucial component that is the basis of all of Judaism. He was pointing out the most essential ingredient of Judaism before one can even begin to understand the myriad of responsibilities and mitzvot that are part and parcel of being a Jew.

All of Judaism depends on the ability to view another person as real as one views one self.
All of Judaism depends on the ability to view another person as real as one views one self. Understanding God's word cannot begin without the realization that the person next to me is just as real as me; that another person travelling through life has the self-same experiences of love, pain, hurt and joy from the ups and downs and curveballs in life that I experience so intensely and seriously.

And as simple as this may sound, the fact of the matter is that it is a lifelong and difficult duty to try to accomplish on a daily basis.

This notion that Hillel is describing is expressed at the very beginning of Creation going back to Adam and Eve. After God created Adam and declared that, "It is not good for Man to be alone", He made a helpmate for him. But before God put Adam into a deep sleep to create Eve from his side, He brought the animals to Adam for him to name. Only after this zoo-naming exercise did God finally provide Adam with his wife.

Why the interruption? Why have Adam name the entire animal kingdom before he met Eve? A prerequisite to the very first relationship in the history of mankind was the need for Adam to be able to practice and master the ability to relate to something outside of himself. He needed to realize that he was not the center of the universe. If he thought he was, his relationship with his soon-to-be wife would be doomed. Adam needed training in relating to something – anything, even an animal – before he’d be ready to begin a serious relationship with another.

While this lesson may be obvious, too often people cannot adjust to their new reality of putting another on equal or even higher footing than the self. It is not easy for a person to make the necessary and continuous effort to exercise heart and mind to look beyond oneself and see others as real beings with similar needs, fears, cares, goals and everyday concerns.

All of the Torah's instructions for living rest on the ability to treat someone else as seriously as you would want another to treat you; to see another as a full human being created in God's image just as you know with certainty that to be the case about yourself.

Once this becomes clear, the rest of the Torah is merely the commentary and details of how to carry it out.

Jews, Hats & Modern Anti-SemitismRabbi Benjamin BlechJews, Hats & Modern Anti-Semitism
The only antidote to anti-Semitism is pro-Semitism.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Just over 70 years after the Holocaust, has anti-Semitism returned once again as a powerful evil force threatening contemporary world Jewry?

To respond, let’s talk for a moment, of all things, about hats. Hats not as a statement of fashion but as a statement of faith. Hats known as yarmulkes by some, kippot by others. Hats worn by observant Jews to publicly identify themselves by way of a tradition going back thousands of years.

Hats symbolize our belief in a Supreme Being Who is above us – the Almighty who transcends our heads, our minds and our intelligence.

Hats played a central in what happened last week in Berlin. An apparently Jewish man wearing said skullcap was viciously attacked and beaten. His assailants made clear, as they continued to pound him, that his only crime was the fact that he was a Jew. It was a racist attack fueled by the ancient venom of anti-Semitism.

But in the aftermath of this beating, the police made a remarkable discovery. The victim was not a Jew, he was an Israeli Arab. The reason for his wearing a yarmulke? He had made a bet that anti-Semitism is no longer a problem in Germany today and to prove it he decided to walk the streets self-identified as a Jew.

The Arab paid a heavy price for his mistaken assumption. And it seems he is not alone in his misreading of the current mood of anti-Semitism.

Copenhagen is a city renowned for Denmark’s historic generosity to non-Danes. Jews exploring Nørrebro, a neighborhood of immigrants who left their home countries for the stability of a welfare state, were advised to heed the advice of Israel’s ambassador to Denmark, Arthur Avnon, who strongly suggested that Jews traveling in Copenhagen exercise extreme subtlety: “Don’t speak Hebrew too loudly, cover up any visible Star of David jewelry, fold your kippot and slip them into your pockets.”

In short, in the very place which served as an illustration of the goodness of people to triumph and for anti-Semitism to be abolished, it is now the official advice to keep your Judaism to yourself – and to get rid of that piece of clothing on your head which lets everyone know that you’re Jewish.

The famous Danish journalist Martin Krasnik went to great pains to inform readers that the Israeli ambassador “was misunderstood or mistaken.” Clearly, he maintained, the ambassador was only offering advice to Israelis visiting the rest of Europe. He couldn’t possibly be speaking about Copenhagen which has a long history of hospitality to Jews. “Anti-Semitism is endemic in immigrant neighborhoods. It’s the same in London, it’s the same in Paris.” But not here. Not in Denmark.

So Krasnik, just like the Israeli Arab in Berlin, decided to do his own “hat test”. He put on a yarmulke and walked the streets of Nørrebrogade.

Can you guess what happened to him?

Krasnik describes numerous encounters in which he just barely missed being severely abused. He writes: “The threats were veiled, like thugs in a mafia protection racket. One of the anti-Semitic interlocutors explained that while ‘perhaps your religion tells you to wear this, it doesn’t tell you to get killed.’ Another explained that the kippah was ‘not a problem for us, but my cousin killed a guy for wearing a ‘Jewish hat.’” Finally, after another demand was made for the “hat” to be removed, Krasnik refused and hurriedly fled.

Attacks in New York
Berlin, Denmark – but surely not in the great state of New York with close to 2 million Jews? An organization representing more than 950 US Orthodox rabbis has condemned an “alarming” increase in violent attacks on Jews in New York City, saying it would work with authorities to provide protection to “neighborhoods under siege” after the latest anti-Semitic assaults within a week.

WATCH https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=30&v=EgV-BEsX-wo&ab_channel=JewsOnTelevision

Last Saturday, an ultra-Orthodox Jew was violently assaulted while walking home from Shabbat services in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The attacker threatened to strangle him, cracked his ribs, told him while knocking the hat off his head into a neighboring garden that he hated Jews and was going to kill him.

In a frightening sign of the times, German Jewry has come up with what it believes is “for now, the best solution.” The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, warned against wearing religious symbols on city streets for fear of attack, with a stark caution that Jews who wear the kippah or the Star of David could be courting danger on German streets.

The head of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, however criticized Schuster, saying he was “mistaken in the cure for the serious problem. Not wearing a skullcap due to fear of anti-Semitism is in fact the fulfillment of the vision of anti-Semites in Europe.”

It is ironic that hats play such a significant role in these anti-Semitic incidents. Sigmund Freud, the Jewish founder of psychoanalysis, emphasized an incident in his life which he considered life changing – he called it “the primal scene in his life” – which helps us shed light on the matter. John Murray Cuddihy, in his fascinating book “The Ordeal of Civility”, tells how Freud himself described it:

I may have been ten or twelve years old, when my father began to take me with him on his walks and to reveal to me in his talk his views upon things in the world we live in. Thus it was, on one such occasion that he told me a story to show me how much better things were now than they had been in his days. “When I was a young man,” he said, “I went for a walk one Saturday in the streets of your birthplace. I was well dressed, and had a new cap on my head. A Christian came up to me and with a single blow knocked off my cap into the mud and shouted, “Jew! Get off the pavement!”

“And what did you do?” I asked.

“I went into the roadway and picked up my cap,” was his quiet reply.

This struck me as unheroic conduct on the part of the big strong man who was holding the little boy by the hand.

Freud went on to describe his disappointment and shame at his father’s weak response. Cuddihy relates this moment too much of Freud’s work – his ambivalent relationship with Jews and non-Jews, his theory of the Oedipus complex, and his strange assertion in Moses and Monotheism that Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian.

Wear It with Pride
A head covering, the very symbol of Jewish pride, became a lifelong reminder of shame – and for Freud had lifelong consequences. For Jews, a kippah is a way of publicly declaring religious affiliation and identity. The Talmud tells us there were three reasons why the Jews survived in spite of being enslaved in the land of Egypt. Their merit was threefold: they did not change their names, their language and also their garments. Those are the three reasons which kept us from assimilation at the very beginning of our history; they remain the keys to our unique survival from amongst all of the nations in the world to this day. The Jew maintains at least one special garment which declares his faith – and his unwillingness to hide his great pride in being a descendent of Abraham.

Jews need to have the fierce determination to be guided by self-identification as a Jew rather than self-negation.
Is a hat that important? No – only what it stands for. To meekly succumb to the horror of racism, even by as minor a gesture as removing our yarmulke in order “to avoid conflict” is not just to lose our hat – but to lose our heads. Anti-Semitism must be fought with full force and energy, with all of our political strength, with all of our efforts on the college campuses, in the press, and all the other arenas where it has begun to infuse its deadly poison. The antidote to anti-Semitism – the only antidote which has a chance of succeeding – is pro-Semitism, the fierce determination to be guided by pride rather than fear, by self-identification as a Jew rather than self-negation.

If we remove the signs of our Jewishness to appease our enemies, we have already lost. The hat is but a symbol – yet it is a mighty symbol of our firm belief that the Almighty rules the world and, as He promised in the Torah, He will bless those who bless us and those who curse us He will curse.

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Yom HaAtzmaut TraditionsYom HaAtzmaut Traditions
This Israel Independence Day, shpritz people with white foam. In Israel, that’s just what we do.
by David Kilimnick 
Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is a fairly new holiday. Seventy years ago, we came back to Israel as a Jewish nation and now we celebrate it. How? That is a question that has caused many arguments. Nonetheless, there are certain traditions that are ubiquitous for the celebration of Israel’s independence, and many we can add to make the holiday more enjoyable.

1,000 years from now, people are going to be talking about the Yom HaAtzmaut traditions we practice today. We are creating the traditions, this is our chance to make it meaningful.

Celebrate with a tiny BBQ known as a “Mangal”. Nothing says Israel like a grill that is difficult to use.
Wear Jeans
Jeans are very expensive in Israel, and thus classy. Class is defined by money, which is why I usually wear a suit. I don’t have enough money for jeans. Keep Yom HaAtzmaut with the appropriate respect for the day and wear show up to synagogue for the special prayers of the day with dyed jeans, a bedazzled shirt with no collar, and plastic shoes. Crocs are also expensive in Israel.

Shpritz People with White Foam
Take any white foam and spray people who will not appreciate it. Look for people in suits. They are not dressed for a holiday – the foam is hard to get out of their clothes. Making them not happy helps us all celebrate with more joy.

Shaving cream works well for the practice of this tradition, as seen by the Israeli children on the major streets of all cities. Due to the laws of not taking a razor to the corners of the face, this is a great use of shaving cream. Even better, use toothpaste. It’s harder to get that out of the clothing and hair.

Bop People
Take a plastic bopper that looks like a hammer and bop people. This is a tradition practiced by Israeli children who cannot find somebody in a suit.

Anything Annoying
If you can’t find a foam spray or a bopper, just run up to people and touch their ears. The idea is that kids have off from school and we celebrate by allowing them to bother adults.

Walk In Israel
All Israelis living in Israel do this on Yom HaAtzmaut. Hence, it is now a tradition.

If you want to make your walk feel more Israeli, do what they have done on every hike I have been on with a group in Israel. Carry a 5-gallon bottle of water with you. Known as a jerrycan, this will make your hike heavier and harder to finish. Also, make sure to have a bus waiting for you at the end of the hike, to drive you back to where you started the hike from.

Flag Parade
Israeli kids walk the streets waving flags. That’s the tradition. We don’t celebrate with floats. There is already enough traffic in Israel.

Outside of Israel, you must also walk down the streets with Israeli flags. For parades, you usually have to obtain a city permit and a police escort. But don’t worry. If you walk down the streets of your town outside of Israel with Israeli flags, at some point the cops will probably show up.

Hang an Israeli Flag from Your Car
Tradition is to hang the flag from the car and keep it there until you start driving and realize the window is open. By the end of the day, it mustn’t be there.

Travel to the Old Area of Your City
Israel is ancient, and thus we must connect with old stuff. If you’re not in Israel and can’t find a walled city, this requirement may also be fulfilled by traveling to any area where there is a Kmart.

Barbeque it Mangal Style
Make sure your BBQ is tiny. Known in Israel as the “Mangal”, it should be no bigger than a matchbox. Israeli Independence Day is celebrated with a grill that is not easy to use. With that in mind, it is forbidden to use a gas grill.

Burn Eight Mangals
Why not bring the Chanukah feeling to your Yom HaAtzmaut. Burn eight Mangals and celebrate the miracle of having enough room on the grill to feed the whole family.

Bring a Portable Speaker to Your BBQ
This will allow you to connect with the Israeli tradition of playing the music you like very loudly, even though you don’t know the other people at the park.

Make sure you play the music they play on Israeli radio stations, like Adele.

Leave the Garbage Out
Make sure that you don’t clean up the garbage that was left from your Mangal. It is not celebratory to clean.

American Immigrants Must Learn a Hebrew Word
This is a tradition I created. On this one day, Americans have to try. They must put a little effort into acclimating; either by trying to speak Hebrew or by using an Israeli accent to speak English. If neither of those work, they must try to sound French. Anything to show they are trying to fit in.

Do Something Israeli
Play soccer on a basketball court. Make Israeli coffee that doesn’t dissolve, so that when you finish drinking your coffee there is more coffee in there then when you started drinking it. Pretend like you are part of the Knesset and argue with people. Eat falafel or anything that doesn’t require utensils like burritos. Dance in a circle and then move back and forth in one spot. Give the Jewish National Fund money to plant a tree for you in Israel that you will never see.

Some of these traditions may change over the years. Arguments may occur over the required amount of coals for the Mangal and how many BBQs you should light. Some rabbis may ban spraying people with white foam. Flags may be required to be taped to the windows so that they don’t fly away. I don’t know how traditions will change. One thing I know that never will change is kids are off from school and they will make life difficult for the rest of us.

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Post  Admin on Thu 19 Apr 2018, 12:50 pm

Israel at 70: More than a Start-Up NationIsrael at 70: More than a Start-Up Nation
Israel's flag testifies to our miraculous, unfinished mission.
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons 
When I first visited Israel at age 24, a proud American who adored the Statue of Liberty and the Fourth of July, I was struck by Israeli flags waving everywhere from government buildings to private homes to yeshivas. Then, as I studied Torah and walked in the footsteps of Abraham and King David, I began to sense that this flag – its six-pointed star and two blue stripes – bespoke an ideal unparalleled in human history.

This intuition was punctuated a few weeks later when Natan Sharansky – after a decade in harsh Soviet prison for the audacity of wanting to go to Israel – was finally freed. That same evening I joined thousands of euphoric Jews at the Western Wall, raising Sharansky on our shoulders in a triumphant cry of Am Yisrael Chai – "the Jewish nation lives!"

What was the secret of this magical land?

When the State of Israel was proclaimed, the world watched with great anticipation. Everyone knew of the Jews' awesome impact – from the rabbinic greats Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon, to the groundbreaking work of Freud, Einstein and countless Nobel laureates. If the Jews could achieve this despite difficult exile – Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, and Holocaust – then reunited in their ancient homeland they would surely transform the world.

The Jewish rebirth in their homeland is unprecedented in the annals of history.
Israel's first 70 years have been nothing less than astounding. The population rose from 800,000 in 1948, to 8.6 million today – multiplying more than 10-fold. (By contrast, the U.S. population has slightly more than doubled in that time.) Prior to the Holocaust 80 years ago, only 3% of Jews worldwide lived in Israel; today that number is 45% – marking the first time in 2,000 years that the largest Jewish population center is Israel.

On a broader scale, Israel's growing economic, military and diplomatic clout now ranks it one of the world’s top-10 superpowers. Israel has achieved the unimaginable by reviving Hebrew as a spoken language, while miraculously "ingathering the exiles" – nearly a million immigrants from Middle Eastern countries, and another million from the former Soviet Union, plus dramatic returns of Ethiopian Jews and "lost tribes" from the Far East.

This rebirth of the Jewish people in their homeland is totally unprecedented in the annals of history.

Along with the remarkable emergence of Israel as a start-up nation, modern Israel has witnessed an explosion in the field of Torah education, led by citadels such as Ponevich, Chevron and Mir – the largest yeshiva in the world with 9,000 students. It is here that Jewish ethics are honed: the balance of individual and communal rights; end-of-life issues; and the moral code of modern warfare. And it is here that Jews learn of the obligation to inspire the rest of the country, to create positive PR for God and His Torah. As Maimonides writes, the definition of Kiddush Hashem is where somebody sees a religious person acting with kindness, compassion and integrity, and thinks: "If this is what Torah does for a person, then I want it, too."

Each Jews is obligated to create positive PR for God and His Torah.
Given all we have achieved in 70 years, the Jewish historical mission – to bring the light of Torah to all humanity – is not yet complete. The prophet assures us that wisdom emanating from Torah academies will one day "fill the land with knowledge of God, as water covers the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

As Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, said: "I've seen it time and time again: When a Jew is turned on to Torah, it sparks enthusiasm, energy and unbridled passion. Imagine an entire nation of Jews empowered to carry forth the Jewish message of rational, relevant wisdom for living. With technology, the message can go forth rapidly and effectively. How beautiful this would be!"

So what will be our national passion? Israel's founding father, the staunch secularist David Ben-Gurion, was torn. On one hand, he proclaimed Israel's "dream to be a normal people with our own prostitutes and thieves." On the other hand, appearing in 1936 before the British Peel Commission he declared: “The Bible is our mandate to the land.”

Herein lies the dichotomy.

Yes, we have succeeded in building the finest hospitals, roads, schools and industry. Yes, we are lauded as the “start-up nation," a hi-tech leader in science, medicine, agriculture, energy and security, with the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside of North America. These are indeed tremendous achievements, and we did it all amidst boycotts, terror and war.

But there is more. If this infrastructure is the "body" of Israel, Torah is our nation's soul.

Moral-Spiritual Revolution
Let's take a closer look at the Israeli flag. In the center is a Star of David, its six points symbolizing God's universal presence in all six directions. The triangle pointing "up" symbolizes the Jewish people turning to God, then activating a reciprocal flow of goodness into the world, symbolized by the triangle pointing down. Through our long and often difficult history, ultimately our only hope is trust in God.

Framing the star on the Israeli flag are two blue stripes. What do they represent?

One of the most recognizable symbols of the Jewish connection to God is the tallit. Striped prayer shawls were found in the caves used as hideouts for Jews during the second century revolt against Rome, and these stripes have been used by practically all Jewish communities for millennia. It is these tallit stripes, legend says, that adorn the Israeli flag.

Which brings us to the Jewish mission: to teach the world about ethical monotheism, and how the sanctity of human life is rooted in every individual's "Divine image." This is why the Ten Commandments were given on two parallel tablets – five on one tablet, and five on the other. The first command on the first tablet is belief in God, corresponding to first command on the second tablet, "Do not murder." Respect for others is predicated on respect for God.

From here flows the revolutionary ideals that Judaism introduced to the world: universal education, justice, integrity, kindness, literacy, peace, social responsibility, charity, dignity and equality, to name but a few.

During the golden era of the Holy Temple, Israel thrived as the world's spiritual and moral epicenter. Non-Jews visited the Temple – "the house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7) – and rulers like the Queen of Sheba journeyed to Jerusalem to study Torah wisdom.

In the process, Torah values became the bedrock of Western civilization. As non-Jewish historian Paul Johnson wrote: “Certainly, the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place... To them we owe... the basic moral furniture of the human mind.”

Achad HaAm called Israel "the historic center of a roving spiritual idea," a living workshop where lofty Jewish ideals can become reality.

Which brings us to the crucial question: Moving forward, what will be our global persona? Do we celebrate our secular universalism – rock concerts, Olympic medals, beautiful beaches, and Wonder Woman? Is this how we define the expression of "light unto the nations?" Is this the culmination of 2,000 years of struggle and suffering?

A few years ago, when a delegation of Russian health officials visited Israel, the itinerary included Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, a world-leading rehabilitation center for physically challenged and disabled children. The group toured a sprawling complex of advanced occupational therapy, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, speech therapy, and psychological counseling. At which point one of the Russian representatives turned to his Israeli counterpart and said, "These children are infirm and handicapped. Why do you bother making such an effort?"

This is our mandate moving forward. Whether assisting orphans in Jerusalem or a village in Thailand, we must teach the world how to care passionately for every human being.

We have achieved so much. Yet Israel remains a work in progress. As long as corruption and abuse still exist in the world, more Torah light is needed to push away the darkness. We yearn for the day when "the wolf dwells with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6) will be the new norm. No aggression, no duplicity. On this 70th Israel Independence Day, this is our hope and our prayer.


Home   »  Israel   »  Jewish World
Israel and the Secret of 70Rabbi Benjamin BlechIsrael and the Secret of 70
The number 70 was singled out for special attention in ways that make this Yom HaAtzmaut particularly meaningful.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech 
In Jewish tradition numbers have special meaning and can convey crucial insights for our understanding of Jewish history.

On the eve of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel and the miraculous return of our people to our national homeland after almost 2000 years of exile, let us ask: “Who knows seventy?” Who knows its secret and deeper meaning?

Seventy isn’t merely a nice round number. Long ago the number was singled out for special attention in ways that make this Yom HaAtzmaut particularly meaningful.

At the Passover Seder we almost tangentially met the number 70. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya admitted that he never knew the biblical source for the commandment to remember the Exodus from Egypt every night as well as day until he merited learning the source from another sage. Strangely, he introduces his joy in his newfound wisdom with the words “Behold I am like someone 70 years of age.” Commentators are all perplexed. We know that Rabbi Eliezer was in fact only 18 years old at the time. Many fanciful explanations are given to resolve the question. But the fact remains that in order to express the idea of old age he used the number seventy.

And why was that? Surely it was a reference to the verse in the book of Psalms: “The days of our lives are threescore and ten” (Psalms, 90:10).

Seventy is the proverbial biblical lifespan. Those are the number of years we are normally granted to achieve our mission on earth. Rabbi Eliezer, although he was only 18, feared he would live out his days without knowing a fundamental truth of Torah. His great happiness was the feeling that he was now “like someone seventy years of age”, the age at which we are to measure our achievements, reflect on our accomplishments, and take stock of our life’s journey and purpose.

It is true for our lives. It is also true for our land.

Seventy is the number which demands reflection. It is the number which defines a generation. It is intimately linked with judgment – so much so that in Jewish law the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, was composed of 70 members, just as there were 70 elders in the days of Moses.

More, 70 was the key to the creation of the Jewish people. The book of Exodus, moving the story of our ancestors from family to nation, tells us “And it was that all those who were direct descendants of Jacob were seventy souls” (1:5). The entire Passover story, the slavery as well as the Exodus, had its beginning with the very same number identified with biblical lifespan. Seventy is opportunity. Seventy is potential. And 70 is the number which reminds us that we are judged by the same divine standards that governed the rulings of the Sanhedrin.

In a remarkable commentary of the midrash on the verse in the Torah which tells us that there were 70 who originally descended to Egypt, the problem was raised that a count of Jacob’s family members gives us only 69. Why does the Torah tell us 70? Of the various answers given, the one which perhaps has the most relevance to this year’s 70th anniversary celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut is that God included himself in the number! God could not exclude himself from his people.

That is why those who went into the first exile were able to survive. And that is why, too, the state of Israel, surrounded by enemies who from its inception threatened its destruction and attacked it numerous times, nonetheless survived; more than survived, Israel prospered. It was God who was part of the original 70. It is God who remains the only rational explanation for the 70-year miracle of modern-day Israel.

To speak of Israel today after its first 70 years from birth is to acknowledge a dual reality. On the one hand, it would be foolish to maintain that Israel has achieved the vision of the prophets, that it has realized the perfection of its messianic destiny. There is much that remains to be done.

Seventy years witnessed the accomplishments of one generation. History requires additional 70-year periods, future generations to each one of whom is given the task of bringing us closer to the final goal. But we should not minimize what we have lived to see, what has already been accomplished.

We do not know when Messiah will come. But the rabbis have left us one clue to alert us to his imminent arrival. It is recorded in the Midrash by way of a fascinating parable.

A student once asked his rabbi: “We have been waiting so long for the Messiah to come, yet he still has not made his appearance. How will we, the Jewish people, know when he will at last reveal himself? What is the sign we can look for that will announce his imminent arrival?”

The rabbi responded, “I will answer you by way of a story. A father and son journeyed together on a long trek through a desert. Their destination was a faraway city. Weary from the trip, the young boy pleaded with his father to give him some kind of sign so that he might know when they were close to the final destination. In response, the father told the boy, ‘This will be a sure indication before you. Remember this sign. When you will see a cemetery, you will know that the city is near.’ This parable,” the rabbi continued to his student, “is the answer to your question. When you will see a cemetery, you will know that redemption is near. So, too, did God reveal to his children that in the aftermath of being beset by horrible tragedy, death and destruction, the Almighty will have mercy and answer the prayers of the Jews, as it is written (Psalms 20:4) ‘And the Almighty will respond to you in the day of great hardship.’”

The parable is perhaps a key to the proximity of the Holocaust to the creation of the state of Israel, to the link between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaAtzmaut.

The Holocaust came to an end in 1945. Just three short years later, when many thought that the genocide of 6 million meant the end of the Jewish story, we began anew fulfilling the first stage of the prophetic promise of redemption.

Seventy years, a biblical lifespan, brought us a major step forward to complete fulfillment. That is why we need to celebrate. And that is also why we pray that the next generation will be granted the opportunity to speedily complete the task – and the dream.

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Honoring Israel’s FallenHonoring Israel’s Fallen
My act of kindness is the least I can do to say thank you.
by Michal Nordmann 
Dear Yael and Yonatan,

Yesterday I read about your son Gilad. I read about his life, his personality, his hobbies, and his tragic untimely death.

Gilad Mishayaker
I read that your beautiful boy Gilad was born on May 13th, 1976 in Jerusalem. He was a playmate for big sister Sharon, and later, a big brother to Dan. He was a huge basketball fan, playing until 11th grade for the Hapoel Jerusalem Youth Division and how his school’s basketball team won the Jerusalem School Championship. He even aspired to become a professional basketball player.

I also discovered that he was a good and beloved friend. His friends describe him as an amazing conversationalist, a loyal friend, a source of support. I was so moved by the way your son Dan eloquently described Gilad: “First of all, you listened. Then you advised. Only later would you tell what you were going through. You, who were on the front line, fighting for your life and our lives, would first of all listen to my problems at school, to everyone's various love problems, and to a whole lot of other things that were small compared to what you went through. But you treated our problems with amazing importance. You were my ‘proportions’ man. Always when I was upset by something, or when I was crying from the losses of Hapoel Jerusalem in basketball, you would bring me back to earth and remind me of the really difficult problems. You always helped me solve problems after you said to me, 'First of all, take it in the right spirit and remember that it is fluid and solvable. Now I'll tell you what I think about the problem’.”

In November 1994, Gilad enlisted in the IDF and on the evening of February 4, 1997, a helicopter disaster occurred on its way to operational activity in Lebanon and 73 soldiers died. It should have been 74, but on a list of men drafted to go onto the helicopter, Gilad’s name appeared twice. They mistakenly believed that the helicopter was full when, in fact, there was one place left and the last soldier was sent back home. Even in his death, Gilad saved the life of another.

He was not yet 21 when he died.

Yael and Yonatan, I did not personally know Gilad but after reading about him I now feel like I do. After reading about his life on HonorIsraelsFallen.com I wanted to do something to honor Gilad’s memory, something that would befit his character. I donated money to help Israeli schoolchildren in disadvantaged neighborhoods have access to more sports facilities and opportunities.

Yael and Yonatan, thank you. To you and the thousands of other families of fallen soldiers and security forces whose loved ones sacrificed their lives so that we can celebrate Israel, our home.


Michal Nordmann

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The Goering Brothers: Heredity is Not DestinyThe Goering Brothers: Heredity is Not Destiny
While Herman Goering was killing Jews, his brother worked tirelessly to save them.
by Salvador Litvak 
Hermann Goering was Hitler’s right-hand man and the founder of the Gestapo – may that monster suffer true justice for his deeds.

Albert Goering was Hermann’s younger brother. While his maniacal sibling was killing Jews, Albert worked tirelessly to save them.

The Goering brothers, only two years apart, grew up in a Bavarian castle. From an early age, the two were obviously different. Hermann was bold, confident and obsessed with war games; Albert was shy and thoughtful.

Later, Hermann would tell a psychiatrist from his Nuremberg cell, “Albert was always the antithesis of myself."

In the 1930’s, ruthless Hermann rose in the ranks of the Nazi party to become Hitler’s top military commander.

Albert was strongly opposed to Nazism and left Germany in protest. He moved to Vienna, where he worked in the film industry and counted Jews among his closest friends.

As Hermann's campaign against the Jews intensified, so did Albert’s determination to help them.

In Vienna, Albert once came upon a group of Nazi thugs, who had put a sign around an old woman’s neck proclaiming, “I am a Jewish sow.” A crowd gathered to mock the woman.

Albert pushed through the mob, and punched two Gestapo officers to save the woman. His life might have ended right there, as the crowd turned on him. The SS men demanded to see his papers.

When they saw his name, they escorted him to safety in deference to Hermann.

When Albert’s Jewish friends in Vienna were arrested by the Nazis, Albert again used his unique position to save them.

He forged documents, using his brother’s name, to help longtime pal Jacques Benbassat escape to Switzerland, and used his influence to get his former boss Oskar Pilzer, and Pilzer’s entire family, freed. Again and again, he saved Jewish lives.

Whole families owe their present existence to Albert. He saved many Jews by sending trucks to Nazi concentration camps with requests for workers. Once aboard, the trucks would take them into a forest and allow them to escape.

After the war, Albert was imprisoned at Nuremberg and interrogated for 15 months. Nobody believed his story until 34 Jews he’d rescued submitted sworn statements on his behalf.

He was freed, but soon found that his name made him an unemployable pariah. Albert sank into depression and alcoholism, surviving on a small government pension and food packages sent by Jews he had saved.

He died in obscurity in 1966.

Albert’s wartime heroism was unknown until documents were recently unearthed in British archives showing that he saved hundreds of Jews. His life demonstrates that it is our choices that define us, not our relatives.

Reprinted with permission from the Accidental Talmudist.

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Israel vs. Hamas: The Case for Moral ClarityIsrael vs. Hamas: The Case for Moral Clarity
The difference between Hamas and Israel couldn’t be greater, yet you wouldn’t know it when listening to some observers.
by David A. Harris 
Two centuries ago, the great German poet Goethe said: “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.”

It’s as true today as it was then.

The difference between Hamas and Israel couldn’t be greater, yet you wouldn’t know it when listening to some observers.

For them, whether it’s Turkish President Erdogan or Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström, it’s basically all about Gaza’s innocence and Israel’s guilt. With nothing else to do but consider how to provoke peaceful, serene, Hamas-ruled Gaza, the big, bad Israelis have decided to make life difficult for local residents.

For a fair share of the media, it’s above all a story of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel’s military machine.

This is a perfect illustration of reverse causality. Hamas threatens and harasses Israel, but it is only Israel’s response that warrants close attention and scrutiny.

Indeed, Goethe was right. There are those who can’t, or won’t, see what’s right in front of them.

Ideological blinders get in the way. Or a failure of imagination about the true nature of Hamas. Or a gullibility that allows people to believe whatever the Hamas propaganda machine churns out. Or, in some cases, downright hostility to anything that Israel, the Jewish state, does.

It’s high time for moral clarity, not moral fog.

Hamas is a terrorist organization. That’s its official designation by the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and others.

Israel is a democratic country with an independent judiciary, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and a robust civil society.

Hamas is anti-Western, anti-Semitic, misogynist, and anti-intellectual.

Israel is the exact opposite.

Hamas has territorial ambitions on Israel. In fact, that’s putting it too mildly: it would like to replace Israel in its entirety with a Muslim Brotherhood-ruled state.

Israel has no territorial ambitions on Hamas-ruled Gaza. To the contrary, Israel left it totally 13 years ago, with the hope of never having to return.

Hamas has a vested interest in using its Gaza base for permanent confrontation with Israel.

Israel, which, alas, can’t change its geography, has a vested interest in a peaceful, moderate, and developing state on its border.

Hamas, the sole ruler of Gaza since 2007, has used the last 11 years to smuggle in weaponry and develop military punch, rather than building the foundation of a responsible state.

Knowing this arsenal has been stockpiled for the sole purpose of being used against it, Israel seeks, as any nation would, to prevent Hamas from attaining its lethal goal.

Hamas has no compunction about deploying terrorist cells and weapons in the midst of civilian population centers in Gaza, or, most recently, deploying people along the border and encouraging breaches, fully aware that Israel would have no choice but to appear to be targeting “innocent” people.

Israel goes to unprecedented lengths to avoid falling into the Hamas trap, even phoning and dropping leaflets in advance to warn civilians to leave target areas.

Hamas cynically tells the civilian population to stay put, not to react to Israeli warnings about imminent strikes. The more Palestinian casualties, the better, as far as Hamas is concerned, including women and children.

Israel makes every effort to alert its entire population, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, to Hamas missile strikes and move people into shelters as quickly as possible.

Hamas uses mosques for storing arms.

Israel uses houses of worship, including mosques, solely for prayer.

Hamas uses schools as weapons depots.

Israel uses schools solely to educate its children, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.

Hamas uses hospitals as terrorist redoubts.

Israel uses its hospitals solely to cure the ill and injured, including residents of Gaza who can’t find adequate care there.

Hamas aspires to kill as many Israelis as possible, firing rockets indiscriminately in all directions.

Israel seeks out only the Hamas terrorist infrastructure, and has aborted many operations when the risks of civilian casualties were too great.

Hamas, as the record amply shows, has no qualms about falsifying information, doctoring photos, staging scenes, and inflating numbers to make its case to the outside world.

Israel, by contrast, goes to great lengths, even to the point of sometimes losing the edge in the “media race,” to verify information that it presents about its operations.

Hamas supporters explode in paroxysms of glee when Israeli targets are hit.

Israelis don’t honk horns, shoot in the air, and pass out candy for doing what they wished they didn’t have to do in the first place, and voice regret when the inevitable mistakes in warfare occur.

Hamas wouldn’t know how to spell the words “international humanitarian law,” much less adhere to it.

Israel’s defense forces have specialists in international humanitarian law assigned to every unit in an effort to ensure maximum compliance.

Hamas shouts from the rooftops that Israel is a brutal enemy.

Israel, unlike any other targeted nation in history, is actually providing — right now — most of Gaza’s electricity and much of its fuel and foodstuffs, even as Hamas leaders call for Israel’s annihilation and refer to Jews as targets to be exterminated.

Hamas celebrates death, something few people of good will can understand.

Israel celebrates life, something all people of good will should understand.

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11 Quintessential Jewish Jokes11 Quintessential Jewish Jokes
Some old and some new, and all have an underlying point.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 

1. How many Jews does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Four: One to convince others to do it, a second to donate the bulb, a third to screw it in, and a fourth to make a speech saying the entire Jewish people stands behind the new bulb.

2. Two men, a Jew and a Gentile, were marooned on a desert island. The Gentile immediately got to work, dragging rocks to spell out “SOS” in huge letters on the beach, gathering driftwood to build a bonfire, and thinking about ways to build a boat.

The Jew, however, merely sat on the beach and waited.

“What’s the matter with you?” the Gentile exclaimed. “Don’t you want to be rescued?”

The Jew said calmly, “Look, I live in a city with a big Jewish Federation. Last year, I donated a million dollars to them. The year before, I donated a million dollars to them. This year, wherever I am, they’ll find me!”

3. Two men are waiting for a train. The younger man asks the older man for the time, but the older man ignores him. After a while, the younger man again asks for the time and again the older man ignores him. Frustrated, the younger man finally asks, “Why won’t you answer me when I ask you for the time?”

The older man sighs and explains: “Look, if I tell you the time, we’ll start to talk. Then when the train comes, you might sit down next to me. Perhaps we’ll get to know each other, and maybe I’ll eventually invite you to my house for Shabbat dinner. Maybe then you and my daughter would really get along – why, you might even get engaged! And why would I want a son-in-law who can’t even afford a watch?”

4. A Jew is shipwrecked and finds himself alone on an island in the middle of the ocean. To pass the time, he first builds a house, then a synagogue. Eventually, after many years, he’s constructed an entire town.

One day he is rescued, but before he leaves the island he shows his rescuers around, pointing out all the building’s he’s made. Puzzled, the rescuers ask why if there’s only one of him, he’s built two separate synagogues.

“That synagogue,” the man sneers, pointing at one of the synagogues, “that’s the one I would never step foot in!”

Praying to God
5. A man had eight o’clock reservations at a downtown restaurant. It was nearly eight and he couldn’t find a single parking spot. He circled around the block with no luck. Finally, he called out “God, please help me find a parking space!”

Still no luck.

“God, if you give me parking spot, I’ll go to shul every day.”

No spot.

“God, I’ll keep kosher!”

All of a sudden, right in front of the restaurant, a car pulled out – leaving a large parking space. Eagerly, the man maneuvered into it, while calling out, “Never mind God, I found one!”

6. All his life, Shloime hoped to win the lottery. Each week, he’d pray to God intently, pleading that this be the week he’d finally win.

For years he prayed for the lottery – but he never won.

Finally one day, in the middle of Shloime’s fervent prayers, a heavenly voice was heard in the synagogue: “Shloime, buy a ticket already!”

7. Moshe was a religious Jew who sported a hat, beard, and suit. He prayed in the synagogue every day, kept Shabbat, ate only kosher food, and gave abundantly to charity.

When Moshe turned 80, he thought, “I’ve been good all my life – let me try to have some fun.”

He went to a barber and shaved off his beard. He took off his hat, and bought some jeans and a tee shirt. He bought a brand new convertible too, drove to Las Vegas, and was cruising the strip, when – bam! A truck hit Moshe’s new convertible.

As Moshe lay in the wreckage, he called out “God! I’ve been a good Jew my whole life! I know I slipped a little the past few weeks, but did you really have to do this to me?”

“Moshe?” a Heavenly voice called out, full of concern. “Moshe – is that you? I didn’t recognize you!”

8. Rachel is a very religious woman. One day, a local river bursts its banks and floods her town. The mayor warns everyone to leave. Everyone panics and starts evacuating except for Rachel, who says God will save her.

Soon, the water has filled her first floor, and Rachel goes up to a second story window. A rescuer passes by in a rowboat and offers to help Rachel leave, but she says no – God will save her.

Next, the water rises even further and Rachel clambers up on her roof. A helicopter passes and a rescuer offers to take Rachel away, but she refuses, explaining that God will save her.

Finally, the water rises even higher and Rachel drowns. She goes to Heaven, where she comes face to face with God and asks, “Why didn’t you save me?”

“I tried,” explains God. “First I sent you an evacuation order from the mayor, but you didn’t listen. Then I sent you a rescuer in a rowboat and you didn’t listen. Then I sent you a rescue helicopter – and still you ignored me!”

9. When God was creating the world, He told the angels He was going to create an extra-special place called Israel. He described the beautiful hills, the verdant fields, the wonderful springs and rivers He planned to create. Then He described how the people who lived there would be smart and resourceful, and would create great cities, wonderful art, and amazing scientific innovations.

“Won’t the rest of the world be jealous, God, putting so many wonderful things inside Israel?” the angels fretted.

“Don’ worry,” said God, “wait until the world sees they neighbors I’m giving them!”

10. Two hundred years ago in Poland, a town’s Jews were in a panic: a Christian girl had been found murdered, and the Jews were worried they’d be blamed for the crime.

The town’s rabbi called a special meeting to discuss the situation. Just as everyone was sitting down, a Jewish townsman ran into the hall. “I have wonderful news!” he told the gathering. “The murdered girl was Jewish!”

11. A woman called the switchboard of a hospital and asked how Mrs. Schwartz in room 102 was doing. The switchboard operator put her on hold for a minute, then came back and reported: “Mrs. Schwartz in room 102 is doing very well! Why, just this morning her lab work came back and everything is normal. Her doctor is pleased and says she will be able to go home next week.”

“Hurray!” shouted the caller.

“You must be a relative to be so happy,” observed the switchboard operator.

“No,” explained the caller, “I’m Mrs. Schwartz in room 102. Nobody tells me anything!”

Visit Jewlarious.com’s joke page for hundreds of Jewish jokes.

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Jewish Comedians and Splitting the SeaJewish Comedians and Splitting the Sea
A surprising answer to why so many Jews become comedians.
by Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff 
When Robin Williams, arguably one of the greatest comedians died, some people gave him an interesting title: “honorary Jew.” Why the Jew label? Couldn't he have been left as a brilliantly comedic non-Jew?

Well if you look back at most of the great comedians from the previous generation, they were predominantly Jewish. This is a group it seems some people badly wanted him to be part of. Here is a short list of some Jewish comedians, with their real names:

Jack Benny (Benjamin Kubelsky),
Mel Brooks (Melvyn Kaminsky),
Milton Berle (Mendel Berlinger),
Gene Wilder (Jerome Silberman),
Jackie Mason (Yaakov Moshe Maza),
Buddy Hackett (Leonard Hacker),
Jerry Lewis (Joseph Levitch),
Danny Kaye (Daniel Kaminski),
Victor Borge (Borge Rosenbaum),
Rodney Dangerfield (Jacob Cohen),
Joan Rivers (Joan Molinsky)
And my personal favorite 
Tony Curtis (Bernie Schwartz)

Growing up I had a passion for jokes and stand-up comedy; I even performed once in a while. The fact that I became a rabbi instead of a stand-up comic tells you how good I was.

Why are Jews so funny? Is it a coincidence that nearly all the great entertainers of recent memory were of Jewish stock, or is something deeper going on?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of my favorite commentators on the Torah, answered the question for me. He makes a short but remarkable statement which changed the way I looked at comedy and why so many Jews are comedians. The relationship between Jews and comedy actually goes back to our birth as a people.

When the Jewish people left Egypt they were pursued by Pharaoh and the Egyptian army who regretted letting them leave in the first place. Several days after leaving Egypt the Jewish people arrived at the Red Sea. Behind them were the Egyptian soldiers and in front of them was the sea. They were trapped.

The Torah describes the scene quite vividly, “…and when Pharaoh drew close, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were very afraid; and the children of Israel cried out to God.” (Exodus 14:10-11)

You could have expected them to cry out to God, or to complain to Moses, but what they did after that was rather unexpected: “And they said to Moses: Were there no graves in Egypt, that you brought us to die here in the wilderness?”

What kind of statement is that? Of course there were graves in Egypt. Their own parents and grandparents had been buried there.

Rabbi Hirsch gives a short and fascinating explanation of this verse. He says, “This sharp and ironic statement was made at a time of the deepest anxiety and despair. This marks the sense of wit that is a characteristic trait of the clearheaded Jewish people.”

He’s telling us something remarkable: the Jewish people made a joke. They assumed that this was the end of the road. All bets were off. Hundreds of years of Jewish history were about to come to a gruesome and pitiful end. Instead of crying, they made a sarcastic comment. “Oh I see Moses, there wasn't a grave in Egypt that you had to shlep us to die here instead!”

Comedy and humor have a purpose. The Jewish people have gone through thousands of years of Jewish history, and along the way we have seen and been part of some of the worst atrocities the world has known. We have survived beatings, torture, forced conversions, exiles, pogroms and holocausts. We needed something to help us survive those hardships. One of the abilities that God encoded into our spiritual DNA from our earliest beginnings as a people was the ability to laugh. The Jewish people used comedy as one of many survival tools. And God knows, we've needed it.

A few years ago Leo Zisman of blessed memory, a survivor of Birkenau, and his wife Myrna, accompanied a group of young professionals to Poland on a tour that I was leading. Leo gave us a detailed explanation of what living during the horrors of the Holocaust was like. He also had a terrific and mischievous sense of humor.

I asked him how he had the mental stamina to survive such an atrocious experience. He replied that many people would tell each other jokes and funny stories from the shtetl in order to escape the terrible reality they were faced with on a daily basis. Those moments of laughter lifted them out of their misery for a few moments every day.

I even saw a book for sale in the Majdanek gift shop (yes, even the camps have gift shops) entitled “Laughter in Hell” that cataloged many of the stories, plays and jokes that were told in the camps.

Medical research has shown the benefits a good laugh can have on your mind and body. Among other things laughter can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormone levels, improve cardiac health and trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain killers.

The Talmud tells a story about the great sage Rabbi Beroka who one day met Elijah the prophet in the market place. Rabbi Beroka asked him, “Who in the market is worthy of achieving the next world?” Elijah pointed at two men and said they were ideal candidates. Rabbi Beroka was surprised as these two men did not fit the image of very righteous individuals. Intrigued, Rabbi Beroka approached them and asked, “What do you do for a living?”

They replied, “We are clowns and we tell jokes for a living. When we see people around us who are a bit down hearted we cheer them up with a joke and a few funny words.”

Using the power of humor to lift people’s spirits when they are down is worthy enough of assuring a place in heaven.

Leave the Driving to GodLeave the Driving to God
This Passover stop the backseat driving.
by Sara Yoheved Rigler 
On Tuesday morning I called my friend Cindy with joyful anticipation. Monday was her final court date, after three long years of legal battles with her ex-husband, first over child custody, then visiting rights, and finally child support payments. I expected Cindy to be as relieved as someone who, wandering in a dark labyrinth for years, finally finds her way out into the sunlight.

"It's over!" I shouted gleefully into the telephone.

"Well, not quite." Cindy sounded morose. "We're going to a full trial. We have a court date for next September."

"Next September?" I cried. "That's six months away! What happened? I thought that the child support was supposed to be settled yesterday."

"So did I," Cindy sighed bitterly. "But it was a choice between letting the judge decide and going to trial, so we're going to trial."

"Are you serious?" I couldn't believe that Cindy would have to live in limbo, without monthly child support payments, for another half year. "What happened? Your ex just wasn't willing to let the judge decide?"

"Actually, he agreed. I was the one who didn't want to hand it over to the judge."

I was stunned. "He agreed and you refused?! But isn't it Judge A., who's been handling your case all along?"

"Yes, it's the same judge," Cindy affirmed.

"But Judge A. likes you! All along she's ruled in your favor on every point. And she clearly doesn't like your ex. Why don't you just let her decide?"

"Well, it's not so simple. If we let her decide, her decision is final. We have no right of appeal. If we go to a full trial, and we don't like her decision, we can always appeal to a higher court."

"But she likes you!" I repeated incredulously. "She'll give you a fair judgment."

"Well, I'm not so sure," Cindy answered uncertainly. "But something happened last night that's making me wonder whether I should trust her after all. Someone gave me a free ticket to the Tel Aviv Opera. I had never been before. In the ladies' room during intermission, who did I run into? Judge A.! Of course, she couldn't say anything to me, but she smiled at me this really loving smile. Since then I've been wondering whether I should just go ahead and trust her to decide."


Letting the supernal Judge -- that is, God -- decide is one of the hardest spiritual challenges we face. God says explicitly that the whole purpose of the Exodus was so that He would become a God to us. "I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be a God to you" [Num. 15:41].

God is the ultimate controller of the universe and everything in it. When we relinquish control to God, we allow God to be God. When we take our will and try to align it with the Divine will, saying sincerely to God, "Okay, this isn't the way I want it, but it's the way You want it, and I'll make Your will my will," then God becomes a God to us.

For most of us control freaks, it would be easier to climb Mt. Everest with our hands tied behind our backs. Oh, we're willing to let God be God on the cosmic scale -- creating the universe, keeping the planets rotating in their orbits, etc. But when it comes to the microcosm, to our own little fiefdoms, at home, in the workplace, with our families and friends, we usurp Divine control on a daily -- sometimes hourly -- basis.

Last week I needed to buy some medicine for my son. No sooner did I drive out of the Old City than I hit bumper-to-bumper traffic.

"At this rate, it's going to take me an hour to get to the pharmacy and back," I thought. "I'd better make sure they have the medication in stock before I blow a whole hour."

I called my husband on my cell phone and asked him to look up the number of the pharmacy and call them to make sure they had the medicine in stock. A few minutes -- and maybe 20 meters -- later, he called back to say they had it in the 250 mg. package. What size did we need? I checked the prescription. Yes, 250 mg., but I'd better just make sure. My husband gave me the pharmacy number, I called, and I spoke to the same pharmacist, the only one on duty in that small pharmacy. Yes, they had it.

No matter how organized, efficient, and reasonable I am, I can't control the world. I can't even control the purchase of one small medication.
A half-hour of crawling along in traffic later, I reached the pharmacy. After waiting in line for ten minutes, I handed the pharmacist the prescription. She looked at it and remarked, "Oh yes, your husband called and you called." She started opening and closing drawers and several minutes later returned to the prescription counter.

"We don't have it," she said.

"What?" I almost shrieked. "But we called! You said you had it!"

"We did have it," she said unapologetically. "We had two packages of it. But people have come in since you called. Did you expect me to hold it for you?"

All the way home in the traffic, I mulled over the maddening reality that, no matter how organized, efficient, thorough, and reasonable I am, I can't control the world. I can't even control the purchase of one small medication.

God runs the world. Most of the time, in my humble estimation, He does a grand job of it. (I write these words sitting out on my friend's patio, between the orange and red tulips and the pink and white snapdragons. Bravo! Bravo!) But sometimes when I have a perfectly good idea of how things should go, God deems otherwise. And that's the chance to let God be God.

Anyone recognize the following scenarios?

You spend three months planning your family's dream vacation, and then one of the kids gets sick.

You get locked out of your house and the neighbor who has your spare key is on vacation in Disneyworld.

You prepare an outstanding presentation for a perspective client, but you don't get the job.

You did everything the book says, but you still can't get your child to go to bed on time.

You've allowed exactly enough time to meet a friend -- or a date you're trying to impress -- at the box office ten minutes before show time, and the car won't start, or your mother calls with an emergency, or your pet absconds through the front door and won't come back.
Every time we don't get our way, we have a choice of response. We can get frustrated, angry, bitter, depressed, or we can let God be God.
Relinquishing control does not mean abdicating responsibility. Judaism obligates us to carefully plan the vacation, prepare the presentation, establish boundaries for our children, and show up when we say we will. But sometimes (often!) despite our best efforts, events go awry. These are the occasions when we are literally competing with God for control.

The prerequisite for surrendering control to God is to trust that He will do what is best for us. Frequently, like Cindy, no matter how often the Judge has ruled in our favor, we are afraid to trust Him. The great miracles of the Exodus were meant to be like Cindy's encounter with Judge A. at the opera. Just as Judge A.'s loving smile conveyed the message that she really cared for Cindy, so the miracles of the Exodus were meant to convince us, once and for all, of God's great love for us.


Unlike the other holidays of the Jewish calendar, which demand great spiritual effort from us if we are to partake of the unique gifts they offer, Passover is a freebie. The redemption from Egypt, we are told, came not because the Israelite slaves were worthy, but because they cried out to God in their helplessness. Their liberation required only that they surrender to God's will by sacrificing the Pascal sheep (symbolic of following) and follow God into the desert, with no idea of what they would eat or drink in the vast wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.

Passover is the time to hear the Divine voice saying, "Leave the driving to Me."
Every year at Passover the same dynamic applies. Passover is the time to hear the Divine voice saying, "Leave the driving to Me." This doesn't mean that we should curl up in the back seat and go to sleep. But it does mean that we should stop being backseat drivers to the Almighty.

A backseat driver sits in the passenger seat issuing incessant commands: "Slow down!" "Turn right here!" "Watch out for that guy trying to pass us!" And when the car in front stops suddenly, the backseat driver slams down on the brake. Only there is no brake on that side of the car.

Similarly, most of us drive through life slamming our foot on the brake or the accelerator or tightly gripping the steering wheel, when there is no brake, no accelerator, and no steering wheel on our human side of the car. All the control devices are on the other side, and God is in the driver's seat.

According to Jewish thought, the only power human beings possess is the power to choose between right and wrong. Everything else is orchestrated by the One God, the only real Force in the universe.

To access the special liberating power of Passover, we need to stop trying to control our world and trust God to do the job. The optimum time for this is at the Seder, while we are eating the Afikoman, the matzah that comes after dessert and that is symbolic of the Pascal offering. While consuming the matzah, in silence, without distraction, speak to God in your heart and tell Him: "I truly want to align my will with Your will." You will taste no greater freedom

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Is the Messiah a Christian Concept?Is the Messiah a Christian Concept?
Why you should care about the Messiah.
by Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff 
When I was a teenager I was asked a question that shocked me. I was student at a Jewish high school in London and I had a strong Jewish identity, even if Jewish learning was not my top priority.

I was at shabbaton with a bunch of my friends and 200 other Jewish teenagers, and naturally we all thought we knew everything there is to know about being Jewish. A speaker stood up in front of us and asked, “You guys think you know a lot about Judaism. Well, let me ask you a simple question: what’s the name of Jesus’s mother?”

Without missing a beat a chorus of, “Mary!” rang out in the crowd.

“Okay,” he said, “What’s the name of Moses’s mother?”

Silence hung in the air until someone finally shouted out, “Miriam” and another “Tzipora!”

Both were wrong. None of us knew. (It’s Yocheved, in case you’re wondering.) How could I know more about Jesus than Moses? Furthermore I knew Judaism rejected Jesus as the Messiah, but I had no idea what the Jewish view of the Messiah was at all.

Fast forward many years and I now teach courses and seminars on the Jewish view of the Messiah. And it’s not surprising to me to hear that many Jews mistakenly believe the entire concept of a Messiah to be a Christian one.

It’s not. Here’s why.

Jewish history has a beginning, middle and end. Every challenge that has happened to the Jewish people throughout our history, every exile, crusade, pogrom and Holocaust, is leading us to what the Torah calls, “The End of Days”. It refers to a time when the Jewish people will return safely to our homeland Israel and be able to live in peace without being attacked for who we are and what we believe.

This final redemption will not only affect the Jews, but the entire world. The prophet Isaiah describes a vision of the peaceful world awaiting us; his words are etched into the wall outside the United Nations where it says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” The world will come to recognize the reality of God and the truth of Torah, and war will finally be lifted from the face of world.

Think of it as the final page of a gripping novel or the last moments of an intense movie when the climax brings everything together and the arc of the story is completely revealed. Every episode of world history will finally make sense.

The Hebrew term for the Messiah is Mashiach. Jewish tradition teaches us that the Mashiach will be a normal human being, born of human parents. He will also be a great leader and an extremely wise Torah scholar. He will put these talents to use to precipitate a worldwide upheaval which will bring perfect social justice to all of humanity. The Mashiach will also be a great prophet, second only to Moses in his level of prophecy. He will need all of these powers in order to fulfill his mission.

As a Jewish king and redeemer he will have a number of tasks. Here are a few of them: (see Maimonides, the last two chapters of the Book of Laws for details)

Spread Torah knowledge to all Jewish people
Inspire Jews to return to their Jewish faith.
Return the Jews scattered throughout the world to their homeland Israel
Teach the entire world of the One true God.
Build the third and final Temple on Temple Mount in Jerusalem
Each one of these tasks and many more will establish a new world of peace over all of humanity and bring an end to all war and bloodshed, which will be the advent of a new era of peace and prosperity to all mankind.

The fact that none of these tasks have happened completely until now means that the final Messiah has not yet arrived on the stage of world history. But with everything we are seeing in the world today, from the return of the Jewish people to Israel, the city of Jerusalem being recognized as the eternal capital of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, as well Jews from all over the world returning and reconnecting to their Jewish faith, all these are signs that the final Messiah is close to coming.

In the words of Maimonides, “The Messiah, who will be a king descended from King David, will be even wiser than King Shlomo. He will instruct the entire Jewish people in the way of God. Furthermore, the world’s nations will come to hear him speak, as predicted by the prophet (Isaiah 2:2-3), “At the End of Days the mountain of God’s house [the Temple in Jerusalem] shall be set over all other mountains and lifted high above the hills and all nations will come streaming to it. Many shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to God’s mountain, to the house of Israel’s God. He, the Messiah, will teach us his way, and we will walk in His paths.”

May we all see and feel this final redemption very soon and enjoy the peace we pray and long for every day.

Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff’s new book “The Future - A Guide to the Jewish Messiah, Israel and the End of Days” is available in Jewish bookstores worldwide and online at www.amazon.com/author/rabbilawrenc

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Post  Admin on Mon 05 Mar 2018, 5:42 pm

Queen Esther shows us how to overcome our obstacles and move forward, despite our fears.
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund 
Imagine that you are an orphan who is being raised by your uncle. You are utterly alone in this world, always wondering where you really came from and if you’ll ever feel like you belong anywhere.

Suddenly, you are forced into marriage to a man that you neither like nor respect. You are stuck in a foreign palace where you can only eat fruit and seeds. There is no one for you to speak to and nothing for you to do except wonder how long you will have to remain living this life that someone else has chosen for you.

This was Queen Ester’s life. She could have been filled with self- pity, thinking how unfair it was that she was born into this world without parents. And how, after all her suffering, she was forced into a role that could have so easily robbed her of her dignity and her faith. She could have given up. She could have sunk into a hole of her own despair. But instead Queen Esther became a heroine. She kept her faith and her dignity. She refused to give up even when everything seemed lost. She took her tragic story and used it to transform her life.

Here are five lessons in personal transformation that we can learn from Esther’s life:

1. The obstacle is the way. Esther took the suffering that she experienced as an orphan and used it to make her stronger. She knew what it felt like to be lonely. She knew that she had overcome pain as a child, and that she had the resilience within her to face new challenges. When she stepped into the palace, she used these obstacles of her past as stepping stones instead of excuses. She chose to use her pain instead of being suffocated by it.

2. Live for something greater than yourself. The more focused a person is on finding happiness for himself in this world, the more that happiness seems to elude his grasp. This is because we find the greatest happiness in giving to others and living for something greater than our own desires. Esther could have decided to make herself comfortable in the luxuries and pleasures of the palace and ignore the world and her people beyond its walls. But Esther wasn’t living for herself. She had grown up in the house of Mordechai, and she knew that she had a responsibility to stand up for her people.

3. Reach out to others for help. We often think that we need to forge our own paths without anyone’s support. Esther was the queen; she could have decided to use just her own resources to try to save the Jewish people. But she chose instead to reach out to every single person in Am Yisrael, the Jewish nation, and beg them to pray for her. She needed their prayers. She knew in her heart that ultimately, we rise and fall together. She had the humility to be able to say: I need your help. Please fight beside me.

4. Faith is persistence. When Esther risked her life and walked towards the king to beg for her nation, she felt the divine presence begin to leave her. She felt weak and afraid, like she couldn’t go on. But faith doesn’t mean that we always feel strong and courageous. Faith means that we persist even when we are exhausted and afraid. Esther did not give up when she felt like she couldn’t go on. Instead she prayed. She demanded to know: God, God why have you left me? I need You. She found the faith to reach out, to beg for strength and to find a way to make the impossible possible. She kept moving forward until she reached the king.

5. Fight evil by inviting it to the party. We often can’t overcome destructive habits and desires by fighting them directly. They are too strong and too deceitful for head-on battles. But we can trick them like Esther did when she invited Haman to one party after another. We can make them feel like they are welcome in our lives, and then we can turn around and channel them into tools for good. Use anger to fight for justice. Use beauty to build a home. Use pleasure to connect to enduring values.

Purim is an opportunity to transform our mundane pleasures into spiritual joy. Our fragmented communities into a unified nation. Our despair into redemption. Our stagnation into growth. Let’s follow Queen Esther’s path as we overcome our obstacles and move forward.

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Post  Admin on Mon 05 Mar 2018, 5:37 pm

Queen Esther and 6 Other Extraordinary Jewish Women
Jewish history abounds with strong Jewish women who ensured the survival of the Jewish people.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
Here are 7 remarkable Jewish women whose legacies continue to shape us today.

Queen Esther
Queen Esther, the famous heroine of the Purim story, was a Jewish orphan selected by King Achashveirosh to be his wife as he ruled over a mighty empire centered in ancient Persia. When the king’s wicked minister Haman proposed murdering the Jews, it was Esther who intervened, at great risk to her life, begging the king for mercy on her people.

There’s a lot that people didn’t know about Queen Esther. For one, her name wasn’t Esther. It was Hadassah, but she took the more Persian-sounding name as her public face. When Esther was chosen to be queen, she thought it prudent to reveal as little about herself as possible. Her new husband was brutal and had recently murdered his first wife, Vashti. Yet Esther, alone in the palace, never forgot who she was.

Jewish tradition teaches that Esther ate only seeds and legumes, cooked in her own private kitchen, so she would never violate the laws of kosher food. She secretly counted the days, keeping track of when it was Shabbat each week.

Perhaps it was this steely determination that gave Esther the courage to confront King Achashveirosh after he signed an order to murder all the kingdom’s Jews. Turning to her Jewish community outside the palace walls, Esther asked that every Jew fast and pray for her success. Then, she gathered up her courage and risked the king’s wrath and certain death by entering his chamber unbidden. Avaditi, avaditi she told her uncle Mordechai: if I perish, I perish. Esther knew that some things are worth risking all.

Sarah Schenirer
Sarah Schenirer was born in 1883 in Krakow, Poland, into a Chassidic Jewish family. At that time, the expectation was that Jewish boys would learn about their religion in special Jewish schools, and that Jewish girls would attend publich schools and be instructed in Jewish thought at home by their parents. This model may have worked in previous generations, but Sara Schenirer saw firsthand how Jewish girls were becoming woefully ignorant of Jewish topics and starting to assimilate. She saw a crisis arising.

Sarah herself left school at 13 and became a seamstress. Unlike many of her peers, she continued to read Jewish books and educate herself about Judaism and Jewish thought. As girls went to her to commission new clothes and for fittings, Sarah began to wish she had a way to show her clients the beauty of their heritage. Older girls merely mocked her, so Sarah decided to start educating young children and dreamed of opening a Jewish girls school.

She went to visit the Belzer Rebbe, the spiritual leader of Sarah’s community, to seek his blessing. Many thought she would fail: she was divorced and had no children of her own, and she was proposing something radical that even the greatest Jewish leaders of her time had failed to enact. The Rebbe, however, offered her two powerful words: Beracha v’hatzlacha - Blessings and success. In 1917, Sarah Schenirer opened a school with 25 pupils called Beis Yaakov.

Soon, other towns were contacting Sarah asking for help in opening their own Beis Yaakov schools for girls. By 1937, two years after Sara Schenirer’s death, there were 248 Beis Yaakov schools educating 35,000 girls. Today, Beis Yaakov schools continue to thrive the world over. In Israel alone, there are over 100 Beis Yaakov schools, educating over 15,000 girls and Sarah Schenirer is universally recognized as a visionary educator who saved the Jewish people.

Hannah Senesh
Born into an assimilated Jewish family in Budapest in 1921, as a child Hannah Senesh was drawn to Zionism and local Zionist youth group activities. When she was 18 she made aliyah (moved to what would soon be the state of Israel), settling in Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where she wrote poetry and a play about kibbutz life.

In 1943, with World War II raging, Hannah volunteered for the British Army, which presented her with a grave proposal: would she be willing to parachute into Nazi-occupied Europe in order to help Allied efforts to organize local anti-Nazi resistance movements? Hannah agreed and became one of 33 soldiers chosen for this top-secret, dangerous mission. In March 1944, she was dropped into Nazi-controlled Yugoslavia, where she fought with Tito’s resistance troops for three months. She then crossed the border into her native Hungary, where she was caught almost at once.

Viciously tortured over a period of months by the Hungarian police, Hannah refused to give any details about her mission. On November 7, 1944, at the age of 23, Hannah was executed by firing squad. She refused an offer to be blindfolded, staring clear-eyed at her murderers instead.

After her death, the following poem was found in her prison cell:

One, two, three… Eight feet long
Two strides across, the rest is dark…
Life is a fleeting question mark
One, two, three… Maybe another week
Or the next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel, is very near.
I could have been 23 next July
I gambled on what mattered most, the dice were cast. I lost.

In 1950, Hannah Senesh’s remains were returned to Israel and buried on Mount Herzl in Israel. Many of her poems, as well as the diary she kept, are classics in Hebrew literature today.

Dulcea of Worms
Much of what we know about Dulcea, a Jewish woman who lived during the Middle Ages in the German city of Worms, comes from the poetry of her husband, Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms (1165-1230). Her accomplishments and character traits convey a picture of a remarkably active community leader, leading a thriving Jewish community against the background of the reign of terror of the Crusades.

Dulcea supported her family and community in one of the only means of business open to Jews at the time: moneylending. Dulcea managed her community’s resources, taking charge of neighbors’ funds and investing them jointly at the most profitable rates. It wasn’t her unusual business acumen that impressed others, however, as much as her intense spiritual life.

Following the devastation of the First Crusade of 1096, which saw the brutal murder of thousands of Europe’s Jews, Dulcea and her husband became members of an intellectual group that studied and penned Jewish texts. Dulcea taught women and helped them express their spirituality.

As well as business enterprises, Dulcea was an accomplished craftswoman and embroiderer. She sewed books and did the needlework required to join panels of vellum to create forty Torah scrolls. She was also a matchmaker and helped Jewish brides prepare for their weddings, and performed tahara, bathing the dead and preparing the deceased for burial.

Dulcea was murdered, along with her daughters Bellette and Hanna, in November 1196, when two armed men broke into their home, attacking the family, as well as a teacher and a number of students who were staying with the family at the time. Dulcea’s husband survived the attack and wrote about it for posterity. Though he didn’t write that the attackers were Crusaders, many historians have posited that it might have been errant Crusaders who attacked Dulcea, perhaps because they knew of her money lending activities and hoped to find treasure in her home.

In the time of Judges in ancient Israel, Deborah was a prophet and a leader, a military strategist who helped Israel fight and prevail against the repressive Canaanite king Yavin. While there are seven female prophets in the Torah, Deborah stands alone as a female military leader in ancient Israel. The Torah describes her in impressive terms: “Deborah was a prophetess, a fiery woman; she was the judge of Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4).

The Torah records that Deborah sat in judgment under a palm tree, and everyone who had disputes would bring them to her to adjudicate. Jewish tradition gives some clue as to why Deborah was seen as such a remarkable judge. She was a learned woman, yet her husband, Lapidot, was an unlearned, simple laborer. Deborah longed to elevate her husband, and she did so in an unusual way. Seeing that he was skilled at making wicks for oil lamps, Deborah encouraged Lapidot to bring some of his wicks to a place of worship in the town of Shiloh and donate them for holy use there. She didn’t urge him to do anything very different or make radical changes in himself. Instead she identified what his strengths were and encouraged him to make the most of them.

Under her guidance, Lapidot began to make innovation in his wicks, boosting the light at the sanctuary in Shiloh. Deborah skillfully encouraged her husband to maximize his best qualities, and put them to ever higher use. This was the wisdom of her judgment: discerning the strength inside people and encouraging them to use them for good.

Shlomtzion, Queen Salome Alexandra
The fact that Queen Salome Alexandra was called “Queen” at all was controversial: her husband, Judah Aristobulus I, led the Jewish people during a tumultuous period of internecine fighting and strife in the First Century BCE. He was the first leader of Israel since the destruction of the First Temple to claim the title “King” for himself. When Judah Aristobulus died, Salome married his brother, Alexander Jannai, a cruel and wicked ruler.

For years, Alexander Jannai was absent, off fighting in foreign wars, and Queen Salome ruled in Israel alone, a wise and judicious ruler. She removed blasphemers from positions in her government, replacing them with the greatest rabbis and scholars of the day, including her brother, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach. Rabbi Shimon, along with Rabbi Joshua ben Gamla, instituted a rule that became a model of Jewish life for thousands of years, mandating that each town and city set up Jewish schools to educate all the local children, educating poor children for free if they could not afford tuition. So popular was Salome that she soon became known as “Shlomtzion”, or “Peace of Zion”.

Alexander Jannai did return to Israel and took power from his wife. He used his time in power to reverse many of her progressive decrees and put hundreds of Jewish scholars to death. After Alexander Jannai died at the age of 76 BCE, Queen Salome regained power and ruled for a further nine years until her death in 67 BCE. She strengthened Israel’s military, built fortresses, and Jewish tradition recalls her reign as a time of peace and prosperity, when the crops were miraculously abundant and prosperity reigned.

Sarah Aaronsohn
Sarah Aaronsohn was part of a large family that escaped anti-Semitic persecution in Romania by moving to the land of Israel, settling in and helping to build the nascent Jewish town of Zichron Yaakov in Israel’s north. Sarah was born there in 1890, and grew up cultured and educated, fluent in several languages; she was also an accomplished rider and a skilled shooter. Her older brother Aaron became one of the world’s foremost agronomists, and Sarah often accompanied him on trips to gather plant samples and help him with his research.

During her childhood, the Ottoman Empire ruled over what is present-day Israel, and the local authorities were ill-disposed towards Jews, making life as difficult and possible for the Jewish community there. As an adult, Sarah got an even more visceral insight into the cruelties of the Ottoman Empire. Travelling by train from Istanbul to Zichron Yaakov in 1915, she saw first-hand the violence in what would soon become the Armenian Genocide, in which one million men, women and children were murdered by Ottoman forces.

By then World War I was in full force, with Turkey fighting on the side of Germany. Sarah Aaronsohn was convinced that if they won the war, Turkey would kill the regions Jews, just as they had murdered their Armenian minority. Sarah, her brother Aaron, their siblings and some friends decided to form a secret espionage network to spy on Turkish military movements and relay information to Britain. They named their group NILI, an acronym for Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker, “The Glory of Israel Does Not Deceive” (I SAmuel 15:29). Soon, NILI was the largest pro-British spy ring in the entire Middle East.

Unsuspected by Turkish authorities, NILI’s young members took note of troop and ordinance information and sent encoded messages to British forces. When her brother Aaron left to aid the British in Egypt, Sarah took over NILI, running the spy ring from her family’s home. In 1917, one of NILI’s secret messages was intercepted by Ottoman authorities. Sarah refused British advice to leave and save herself, and remained in Zichron Yaakov. She was arrested on October 1, 1917, and brutally tortured for five days. She refused to divulge the identities of other NILI members.

Finally, on October 6, 1917, Sarah was told she was to be transferred to Damascus for yet worse torture. Fearing she might break down and betray her fellow spies, Sarah asked for permission to return home one last time. As she was led down Zichron Yaakov’s main street, she sang a song about a little bird flying away: a secret message to her fellow NILI spies that their ring was broken. Once in her house, she secretly removed a hidden pistol from its hiding place in the wall, locked herself in the bathroom, and shot herself.

Following Britain’s victory in World War I, Britain formally thanked NILI, saying that without their activities, Britain would not have been able to win the war.

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Post  Admin on Mon 05 Mar 2018, 5:13 pm

The Secret to Esther’s Beauty
How did Esther suddenly become the new "It Girl"? It wasn’t just her good looks.
by Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale 
With Purim coming up, let's review the background to the holiday through a quick synopsis of the main players in this drama:

King Achashverosh – King of Persia on the hunt for a new woman in his life after he rids himself of his wife, Vashti for refusing to appear with not much more than her crown in his attempt to display her beauty in front of his buds (who probably had imbibed a few too many Buds themselves).

Mordechai – The Jewish leader who stubbornly refuses to bow to Haman and thereby sets in motion a series of events that eventually caused Haman to draw a lottery – pur in Hebrew, hence the name Purim. The lottery was to set the date of a planned genocide against the Jewish people.

Haman – Real bad guy who is having major inferiority issues. Wants to wipe out an entire people because one of them doesn’t give him the respect he thinks he deserves. He tells his wife and friends that he has wealth, children and power but that it's all worthless as long as that Jew, Mordechai refuses to get on his knees and bow to him.

Esther – our reluctant heroine. The poor girl did not want to take part in the Persian version of America's Next Top Model that King Achashverosh created to find himself a new wife. When her turn arrives to meet the king, she is the only one who is not interested in the M*A*C goodie bag to make herself up. All the other girls get an AMEX Platinum and a day at the mall. Esther tells them, "No thanks." She wins the contest anyway.

Of all these lovely ladies, how did Esther suddenly become the new "It Girl" and get thrust into the limelight and palace? Was she so stunningly beautiful that even without any make-over she still looked way better than all the other contestants?

The Book of Esther reveals her secret by mentioning that the king loved her more than any of the women for "she had grace and kindness over all the others." Apparently it was not just her good looks but this "grace and kindness" that did the trick in securing her victory.

And herein lies the secret to real beauty. There is no denying that pure physical beauty has a certain power and magnetism that makes heads turn. But this alone is not enough to make one an extremely attractive person that can capture the heart and imagination of a king upon first sight. Indeed we have all met very good-looking people who quickly become ugly as soon as they open their mouth.

The Talmud relates that anyone who met Esther thought that she was from that person's nation. If you were from the USA, you thought she was American; if from the UK, you thought she was a Brit. Slovak, Russian, African, it made no difference – you thought Esther was your landsman. This is difficult to understand; people from different countries each have their own unique look, language, customs and nuances. How was Esther able to pull this off? Was she such a chameleon?

Esther was one of those rare people who have the unique talent of allowing others to feel as if she is one of them by instantly connecting with and relating to whomever she meets. She knew how to listen, see another's needs, quickly intuit a person's hot-button, and concentrate on the other and not herself. By giving another this total and undivided attention, every person who came in contact with Esther felt she knew and understood them so well that she must have come from their locale.

In Hebrew the word for charm is chain. Its root is from the word, chinam which means gratis. People will like you, for no apparent reason at all and freely, if you make them, and not yourself, the focus during your interaction with them. This is the "grace and kindness" that King Achashverosh and everyone else, immediately felt upon being in her presence.

Furthermore, Esther's reluctance to be the Queen was a crucial factor in winning over the King. She did not want, nay did not need, to be Queen because she knew it was not necessary to have that title and position. She exuded such confidence in herself from already knowing of her true royalty that came with her talents, morals, integrity and leadership – that it was completely unnecessary to have any formal recognition of it. She was not the least bit interested in formally being declared a Queen because she already knew that she was one.

In complete contrast to Esther was Haman who wanted so badly to be like a king. The problem was that he did not have any of the charm and grace of an Esther; a crucial quality for a King to relate to his many different subjects. Knowing deep down of his personal failings, his insecurity was so great that even though he had managed to amass tremendous power, it became meaningless if but one person would not recognize it. It only took one individual's refusal to bow to Haman to shatter his fragile ego and expose the fact that all the love and obedience shown to him was forced and false because it came through deception, lies and favors. Such is the frailty of the ego of a person who knows that all his success, admiration and wealth are a sham.

The irony is that those whose egos are so sensitive and in constant need for validation never really get the respect they so crave. However, those who are secure and happy in their knowledge of themselves, who need no accolades, who have enough love and confidence of self that they can easily share it with others – those people always end up becoming honored Kings and Queens in the eyes of family, friends and anyone who might have the good fortune to be in their presence.

As the Talmud so aptly puts it:

One who runs after honor, honor flees from him.
One who flees from honor, honor runs after him.

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Post  Admin on Mon 05 Mar 2018, 3:38 pm

Three pieces of advice from ancient Jewish wisdom.
by Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale 
Like it or not, life is full of disagreements and disagreeable people. The Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers sheds light on how to deal with people who can or have wronged us:

Nittai of Arbel says: Keep far from a bad neighbor, do not become connected to an evil person and don't ever give up on the notion of reward and punishment (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:7).

This Mishna is offering advice on three different levels of dealing with unsavory people.

The first and optimum choice is to avoid them altogether – "Keep far from a bad neighbor." Some people we cross paths with are simply bad news, negative and toxic. The best advice is to try to completely avoid them. As I often tell my kids, “Nothing good can come from this." If you see a guy driving erratically on the highway, don't try and teach him a lesson, don't flash your lights or try to box him out. Let him go on his way and keep your distance so you don't get hurt by the collateral damage of his recklessness. Don't engage such people because "nothing good can come from this."

Every morning we say an important prayer: May it be Your will, My God and the God of my forefathers that You spare me today and every day from brazen and shameless people, from a bad person, a bad associate and a bad neighbor... from a difficult trial and a harsh litigant...

When it comes to being sued, very little good can come from it. Often when it comes to trials, court cases and the like, the best we are trying to do is get back to zero and limit the negative fallout. Nothing gets into the positive side of the scale in these situations and this is what this prayer and the first part of the Mishna are getting at: first and foremost we should do whatever we can do keep these people from entering our lives, including praying for it.

Unfortunately we can’t always avoid negative and toxic people. They may be family members, co-workers or your next door neighbor. That’s when the second statement of the Mishna comes into play. "Do not get connected to an evil person" is telling us that for those harmful people we cannot escape from, we need to keep our relationship with them to a bare minimum. Be cordial, be businesslike, don't look to pick a fight, and don’t do anything social with them unless forced to because of circumstances, and as the Mishna says, do not befriend or connect with them. You might have to share space with these people, but keep your distance emotionally and mentally.

And finally we have the third statement of the Mishna that, at first blush, does not seem to fit in: “Don't ever give up on the notion of reward and punishment.” The Mishna is addressing the situations when we can’t separate from bad people and, try as we might, they are in our lives and have had their negative impact on us. We are the victims of someone else's bad behavior, bad decisions, evil designs and the like. We have suffered financially, emotionally, materially or physically from the rotten choices of rotten people. No matter how much we would have preferred to avoid them altogether (Mishna statement 1) or kept it to a minimum (Mishna statement 2) sometimes it’s a sad fact of life that other people's garbage stinks up our lives.

So what are we to do? Hold a grudge forever? Jewish tradition tells us that there is a God, there is Ultimate Reward and Punishment and that we should never lose sight of that fact. What goes around comes around; measure for measure is built into the fabric of Creation and the righteous will eventually prosper while evil withers. away. 

We can see that on a national level where our enemies have disappeared to the trash heap of history while the Jewish People continues to grow strong and successful. The same is true on an individual level; eventually the good guys come out on top and the toxic negative people will self-destruct.

If we have suffered injustice, it will be addressed. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year maybe not in 10 years - but it will, if not in this lifetime, then certainly in the next. And if it's any consolation, how often have we seen situations where someone did something terrible to us, we ended up hating them at the time but then years later, in retrospect, we saw the good come out from this.

Life is not perfect and unsavory people insinuate themselves into our lives. Stay away if you can, keep them to a minimum if you cannot and when all is said and done don’t forget that there is a just God who never forgets the evil done to you by another. Take a measure of comfort in that.

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Post  Admin on Wed 28 Feb 2018, 11:26 am

Poland, Purim and Masking the Truth
Just when evil people and destructive ideologies seem to dominate the world, the darkness can turn into light.
by Emuna Braverman 
I used to think that it was silly to fight Holocaust deniers. What’s the point? Their viewpoint is so absurd and ridiculous. No serious person would believe them anyway.

But as I watch the Polish government deny the role of the Polish people in the Holocaust, I see that I am watching history being revised before my very eyes. It’s something that would have been unimaginable 30, 20, even 10 years ago. And yet now they are saying with a straight face that it was all the Germans, that they had no complicity. They are making it illegal to even suggest such a thing.

How is this possible? As absurd as it is to us now, for their children and even, God forbid, for ours, it will become the new “reality.” I use the term reality loosely since that is the way they seem to use it!

All the horror stories we were raised on, all the books we’ve read, all the articles we’ve researched about the abhorrent behaviors of the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians are all going to be whitewashed? Banned? Destroyed? Did anyone in the Polish government see the documentary Shoah? The Poles themselves speak of their complicity, what they did, what they saw, what they heard.

And yet their governments are desperately trying to alter this reality, to use dishonest words to change facts, to challenge truth, to (and this is the crux) absolve them of blame and make them feel better about themselves. Unlike the Germans who at least have had the decency to acknowledge their evil, to document it and create memorials and come to some kind of uneasy reconciliation with their past, these other peoples are trying to recreate it, to make a new history for themselves, to do the seeming impossible.

When the world seems to be the most upside down, the Almighty reveals His Hand intervening behind the scenes and turns it all right-side up again.
In our confused world, this behavior is no longer deemed impossible. They seem to have bided their time and waited for the moment when there are so many untruths in the world – about the role of the Israelis in 9/11, about the facts on the ground in Israel, even about whether people actually walked on the moon (Google it and you will find multiple conspiracy theories suggesting it never happened!) – that they could just slide this one in.

Purim is fast approaching. We are taught that at the time of Purim the world was hanafoch hu, upside down – evil was ascendant and good was declining. But one of the true messages of the story is that just when the world seems to be the most upside down, the most backwards, the most confusing, the Almighty reveals His Hand intervening behind the scenes and turns it all right-side up again. It’s at the moment of greatest confusion that He can bring the greatest clarity.

Every year at this time something happens to reinforce this idea. The world seems to have lost its moorings. And then the ship is righted again.

It’s hard not to read the news these days and feel like we have fallen down the rabbit hole. But the story of Purim gives us hope. Just when the world seems to be at its darkest, just when evil people and destructive ideologies seem to dominate the world, the Almighty flips the switch, as it were. He turns darkness into light; good triumphs and evil is destroyed. Sometimes it’s so clear, sometimes it’s a little less obvious. But He’s always there.

It seems like this year we could use the more “obvious” intervention – but the Almighty knows best. I just pray that His intervention (covert or overt) occurs soon – before these damaging and dishonest ideas become, in what can only be the most appropriate use of the word, the ironically “new” version of history.

The Olive Branch on the Temple MountRabbi Benjamin BlechThe Olive Branch on the Temple Mount
Two American Congressmen discover it’s a crime to bend down and pick an olive branch on this sacred spot.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech 
Two American Congressman on a fact-finding mission to Israel last week found out far more than they ever expected when they visited the site of the Temple Mount.

Just before a planned visit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Congressman David McKinley of West Virginia and Congressman Scott Tipton of Colorado decided to preface their meeting by going to the spot which for Jews is the holiest place on earth. They wanted to see for themselves what Jews experience on this most sacred site which, in the interest of peaceful relations with the Muslim world, Israel conceded to the control of the Waqf, the Islamic religious authority.

What happened to them is almost beyond belief.

The Congressmen, like tourists everywhere, thought it might be nice to bring home a souvenir. Spotting an olive branch on the ground, Congressman McKinley bent down to pick up the universal symbol of peace. The Waqf, the Muslim organization given authority over the Temple Mount, forbid people who are not Muslim from bending down, the equivalent of bowing. Similarly, nothing may be taken off the Mount by outsiders, whether it is an olive branch or even a stone or pebble.

So the Muslim Waqf insisted that the Congressmen be detained by the police, turning the olive branch into a symbol of irrational hatred.

The source of the olive branch as a symbol of peace comes the Torah. In the aftermath of the great flood, Noah sent out birds from the ark to check if the waters had receded sufficiently in order to return to dry land. The raven he sent out first found no place to rest and returned, alerting Noah that the time had not yet come. Next he sent the dove, but with similarly disappointing result. Finally, on the 301st day of the great flood, Noah sent the dove once more, and this time “the dove came unto him in the evening, and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off, and Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth” (Genesis 8:11).

It was a sign, too, that God’s anger had been appeased. It meant the end of destruction and devastation. God had completed his punishment of the generation that worshiped violence and was filled with corruption. It was time for a new beginning.

So the olive branch became a symbol of peace and good tidings. In ancient Greece, olive wreaths were awarded to Olympic victors. On July 4, 1776, a resolution was passed that allowed the creation of the Great Seal of the United States. On the Great Seal, there is an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon. The olive branch has 13 olives and 13 olive leaves to represent the thirteen original colonies.

However the American Congressmen learned that extending an olive branch of understanding, of love and of brotherhood on the Temple Mount is not part of the vocabulary of the mount’s present managers. Congressman Tipton summed up the status on the Temple Mount and the Middle East quite clearly when he stated that “The irony isn’t lost (that) they (the Muslims) have a problem with the olive branch.” The Congressmen strongly denounced the manner in which the Muslims forbid freedom of worship to non-Muslims. They were appalled, they said, when they saw that Jews are literally treated like herds of cattle – on the holiest site to the Jewish people. What made this even more painful to them was witnessing firsthand how Muslims treat the Temple Mount with total disrespect, discarding rubbish and debris everywhere and acting with total disregard to the sacredness of the area.

In this era of so-called peace talks it would be wise for us to acknowledge another message the Midrash teaches in connection to the dove bringing back the olive branch to Noah. What is the deeper significance of the olive branch, the rabbis ask, and why do we need to know that the dove held it in her mouth? Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki , the foremost biblical commentator, better known simply as Rashi (1040-1105) quotes the following teaching of the Talmud: “The dove said, ‘Better, let my food be as bitter as an olive from the hands of God and not as sweet as honey from the hands of flesh and blood.’”

The message is clear: The olive branch teaches us that rather than placing our trust in the promises of peace from man, we should place our trust in God. Even if in the moment, that may seem a bit “bitter,” ultimately, it is this promise and covenant that will prevail.

And it is God Almighty who promised us that the site of the first and second temples will eventually be host to the third – under Jewish control but enlightening the entire world with its message of peace and of love for all of mankind.

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Post  Admin on Fri 16 Feb 2018, 12:37 am

The Choice of Adar
Purim teaches us to appreciate the world's awesome beauty, amidst so much chaos and horror.
by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 
Everyone knows that the Jewish year begins in Tishrei, with Rosh Hashana. But surprise, surprise -- there are actually two ways of calculating the order of our calendar. The more familiar version follows the calculations made by Hillel the Elder in the Talmudic era, and refers to the months by their Babylonian names -- Tishrei, Cheshvan, etc.

The other method is that used by the Torah itself. The Torah text does not assign names to the months, but rather refers to the "first month," "second month," etc. The "first month" is Nissan, featuring Passover, the anniversary of our liberation from Egypt. In the other calendar, Nissan would be the seventh month!

Jews seem to have a knack for complicating things. Actually, it is the natural result of looking at things deeply. From that perspective, something fascinating emerges from the two ways we count time:

Tishrei is the month that marks the creation of mankind. For us mortal beings, this is the central event of human history. Thus, Tishrei is the first month.

God, however, sees things from a different angle. As expressed by His Torah, the emergence of the Jewish nation is the beginning of meaningful history. Thus, Nissan is the first month.

Adar, the last month, is often described as the "month of darkness." Through the miracle of Purim, the darkness turned to light.
Which brings us to Adar, the month of Purim, the month that directly precedes Nissan. From the Torah's perspective, Adar is the last month of the Hebrew calendar. Adar is often described as the "month of darkness," because during Haman's time we were closer than ever to suffering total annihilation. The light of Nissan, the light of liberation, could have been extinguished, had Haman's plot succeeded. Through the miracle of Purim, the darkness turned to light.

Fish and Fertility

Adar is the Jewish month of good fortune. In fact, Purim is the most joyful time of the entire year. "When Adar arrives, we increase our joy," say the Sages. How did Adar get its well-earned reputation for joy?

The astral sign of Adar is the fish (Pisces). Fish are very fertile, and for that reason are seen as a sign of blessing and fruitfulness. The Hebrew word for blessing is bracha, from the root letters bet, reish, kaff. In Jewish numerology (gematria), the letter bet has a value of 2, reish is 200 and kaff is 20. Each of these is the first plural in their number unit. What this tells us is that the Jewish concept of "blessing" is intertwined with fertility, represented by the fish of Adar. After all, if there is something good, why not let it increase?

The opposite of blessing is constraint or limitation. Adar is the month in which Haman threatened to not only limit our presence, but to erase it entirely. But destiny had a different plan.

Moses' Birth and Death

At the time of the destruction of the First Temple, the Jews were exiled to Babylon, which was later ruled by the Persian Empire. This empire eventually included most of the known world, placing the entire Jewish population under Persian authority, regardless of where they lived.

Haman, the wicked prime minister of Persia, threw lots and came up with a designated day to make his entire kingdom Judenrein, cleansed of Jews.

Haman's "lucky day" was the 13th of Adar. And when he observed that this day came up, seemingly by chance, he rejoiced -- because the 7th of Adar was the day that Moses died. Moses was the quintessential Jew; the Sages say that he is equal to the Jewish people collectively -- the head that controls the "body" of the nation, providing it with vision, articulation and direction. To Haman, the lot falling in Adar meant that his plan to destroy everything that Moses built was bound to succeed.

What Haman didn't know, however, was that the same 7th of Adar was also the day that Moses was born. What Haman presumed would be the day of Jewish national death, turned out to be a day of national rebirth.

Humility and the Fish

There is yet more significance to the fish as the astral sign of Adar.

Fish live their entire lives underwater, unobserved by the human eye. Our Sages tell us that blessing does not come to something that is under close observation, but only to something that is hidden from the eye. This is due to the direct relationship between modesty and blessing.

Of course, from a Western view, where fame and success are identical twins, modesty seems inversely related to blessing.

The Torah teaches, however, that the cost of all this exposure -- rather than a blessing, i.e. maximizing oneself -- is to risk becoming the sort of person who has no self, other than the mask that is donned in order to be the person that you think others would like to see.

Moses is described in the Torah as "the most humble person." He lived with modesty, and this became engrained in our national Jewish identity. We have always prized humility over pride. For this reason, the fish, the sign of Adar, is the penultimate sign of the Jewish people.

Celebration of Hidden Miracles

One might expect the Megillah to be replete with descriptions of the miracle of Haman's defeat, giving credit to the Author of all miracles. Yet what we find is very different. God's name is not mentioned even once in the entire narrative. The Megillah is a great dichotomy, where the Hero is always off stage, but yet the most central figure of the entire drama.

Of course, not everyone who reads the Megillah will notice God's subtle yet compelling presence. The events that He orchestrated are covered with many layers of seeming coincidence, political machinations, natural cause and effect. The Sages refer to this event as a "hidden miracle," meaning that it is within our ability to appreciate the multi-layered reality unfolded before us -- or just as easily to deny it and attribute everything to chance.

Which brings us to an important question: Why would God simultaneously conceal and reveal His presence? Why not rescue the Jews through a thunder and lightning extravaganza that would merit an MGM movie on the scale of The Ten Commandments?

To answer this question, we must first ask a far more fundamental one: Why is the world so complex, so full of apparent contradictions? The world has intricate order and awesome beauty, yet at the same time there is so much chaos and unspeakable horror. Why?

The answer is that the choice is up to us to look deep and acknowledge both aspects of reality. It is tempting to take refuge in superficial simplification, to ignore the cracks in the facade of perfection that we like to see when we look in the mirror. Of course, this requires its own bit of effort, like avoiding the news and ensconcing ourselves in the secure refuge of our comfortable cars and homes. All this entails some major denial.

Every so often God opens the gates wide enough to give us a message that can sustain us when things seem hopeless.
The opposite approach is to take masochistic pleasure in painting the world black. The toll that such people pay in bitterness and jaded cynicism is high, but they feel they are getting something precious in return, which is "seeing things as they are." The problem is that such people are as much in denial of reality as the first group.

The Jewish view is to see that chaos and order in fact do co-exist, and that each one has a purpose. We are meant to meet the challenges presented by life's hard side, and to find inspiration in the beauty and joy that we see just as readily when our eyes are open. Every so often God opens the gates wide enough to give us a message that can sustain us when things seem hopeless. The message is: "I am here now, as I have been all along, and I will always be here for you. Not just when the sea splits, or when My presence overwhelms you, but when you elect to choose to see Me."

And this is the essential message of Purim. It is about making that sort of choice -- the most significant and joyous choice you will ever make.

Purim Practices

1) We read the Megillah twice, both at night (to celebrate the faith that we found in the midst of darkness) and during the day (to celebrate the fact that our faith was validated openly and joyously).

2) We give two kinds of food to at least one friend. This gift is not meant to alleviate need, but rather to create unity. We celebrate being part of a people who lives on miracles.

3) We give money to the poor. This spreads the pleasure of feeling cared for, and opens the hearts of both giver and recipient.

4) We strengthen our belief in God's presence in the real world by having a whopper of a feast. Invite all your friends. Wear a costume to celebrate the fact that things are not always as they seem. Drink until you are so intoxicated that you recognize there are no longer heroes and villains -- just characters in God's unending play that reveals His love and presence.
Click here to learn more about Purim. http://www.aish.com/h/pur/

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