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Post  Admin on Tue 19 Jan 2021, 9:41 pm
Shattering the Apartheid Canard
Jan 18, 2021  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmonsprint article
It’s time to call out the anti-Semitism and hypocrisy.

"Israeli human rights group says that Israel is not a democracy, it's an 'apartheid regime." This is the headline that recently blared on CNN

The fact that the charge comes from B'Tselem, a group the Israeli government has called out for “spreading lies, slander and incitement against the state of Israel,” was apparently lost amongst the onslaught of negative media coverage.

Closer to home, Yoseph Haddad writes of waking up “astonished to discover I was living under a racist apartheid regime… How dare they say that I, an Arab Israeli who served along with Jewish soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and managed hundreds of Jewish employees, live under an apartheid regime?... I look around at our neighbors in the region and thank God I was born in the State of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… the only country that grants minorities equal rights and the ability to influence their future.”

Haddad concludes: “B'Tselem, don't push your agendas at our expense.”

Just the Facts
What is the root of this tumult?
In the 1980s, a coordinated campaign against apartheid South Africa combined U.N. condemnations, diplomatic isolation, an arms embargo, economic sanctions, divestment, and a cultural boycott – creating the perception of a regime that was illegitimate and immoral, to the point where the world demanded it be dismantled.

The pressure worked and apartheid collapsed.

Today, the enemies of Israel – after decades of terror attacks and wars of annihilation – have shifted tactics to portray Israel as the new “apartheid regime.” The flagship program of this delegitimization campaign is the annual Israel Apartheid Week, which turns college campuses into an anti-Israel bash-fest: eviction notices are placed on the doors of Jewish students, and the campus quad is filled with taunts about the “murderous, apartheid Israel.”

Drop by drop, Israel’s enemies are injecting their poison into mainstream consciousness – whether through Congressional tweets or the unhinged rants of Roger Waters. In 2019, more than 200 Israel Apartheid events were held in 30 countries, with storied institutions like Harvard University’s undergraduate council voting to provide funding.

Media outlets have obligingly jumped on the bandwagon. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the headline “Israelis Adopt What South Africa Dropped.” Jimmy Carter’s 2007 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, earned the praise of Osama bin Laden. And multiple U.S. newspapers, including the Washington Post, published Robert D. Novak’s column, “Israel: Worse than Apartheid?” (His answer: Yes.)

Cartoon equates Nelson Mandela’s South African experience with Israel today.

Arab Rights
So let’s get down to the facts: Is Israel the next incarnation of apartheid?

In South Africa, blacks were segregated as second-class citizens. Interracial marriage was illegal. Blacks could not vote, could not attend white universities, or eat in white restaurants. Blacks had separate hospitals, beaches, buses, restrooms, drinking fountains and even park benches.

In Israel today, Jewish and Arab babies are born in the same delivery room, attended by the same doctors and nurses. Jews and Arabs share meals in restaurants and travel on the same buses and trains. They shop in the same malls, receive the same world-class health care, and participate equally in the political process.

Ironically, Arabs living in Israel enjoy more freedoms than Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East, where autocratic regimes regularly suppress freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. Which was the first Middle East country to grant Arab women the right to vote? Not Egypt, Jordan, Qatar or any of the 23 Arab states. It was Israel.

Israel has the freest Arabic press in the Middle East. As for religious freedom, Israel permits Muslims to build minarets, wear burqas and pray in the streets – better treatment of Muslims than in “progressive” Europe – as evidenced by these headlines:

"Swiss Voters Back Ban on Minarets" (BBC News)
"Dutch to Ban Full-Face Veils" (New York Times)
"France Burqa Ban Comes into Force" (Time magazine)
"Praying in Paris Streets Outlawed" (The Telegraph – UK)
In Israel today, Arabs are represented in all strata of society – IDF, police force, Knesset, diplomatic corps, business, entertainment, sports, etc. etc. An Arab has served as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, as Supreme Court justice, and as acting President of Israel. (In apartheid South Africa – unthinkable.)

Jewish schoolchildren in Israel study Arabic. At Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 30 percent of students are Arab. Hadassah Hospital – arguably the leading hospital in the Middle East, where one-third of the staff is Arab – was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its equal treatment of Israelis and Palestinians (including wounded terrorists).

If Israel is such an oppressive, racist state, why did a survey by the Arab Center for Applied Social Research find that 90 percent of Israeli Arabs would rather live in the Jewish state than anywhere else – a position so fiercely held that 73 percent of Israeli Arabs say they would violently oppose any diplomatic agreement to include them in a future Palestinian state.

So when people level the charge of “apartheid” against Israel, what possible explanation is there other than anti-Semitism?

Systematic discrimination in apartheid South Africa.

The Real Apartheid
If the UN, human rights activists, and the media are looking for discrimination today, it ought to focus instead on apartheid practices in Arab states:

Lebanon bans Palestinians from owning property and working in most professions.
Jordan has revoked the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians.
Kuwait has evicted a quarter-million Palestinians.
Where is the protest against gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, where women have been arrested for driving a car, have no independent right to leave the country, and make up just 5 percent of the workforce – the lowest proportion in the world?

In the realm of religious freedom, too, Israel is a beacon of light. Since 1948, Israel is the only Middle East country where the Christian population has increased – rising by more than 400 percent. The headquarters of the Bahai faith is in Haifa, for the simple reason that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where a Bahai Temple is allowed.

In 1967 after recapturing the historically-Jewish Temple Mount, Israel shocked the world with an unprecedented show of religious tolerance by handing Muslim religious leaders autonomy over the site. Incredibly, to further protect Muslim rights, the Israeli government passed a law forbidding Jews from praying at their holiest site.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid, with special roads and even entire cities for “Muslims only.” In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of any religion other than Islam is illegal, and non-Muslim religious activities carry the risk of arrest, imprisonment, lashing and deportation. A notice on the Saudi Airlines website (subsequently removed) prohibited the possession of any non-Islamic religious symbols – Bibles, crucifixes and the Star of David – mentioning them in the same breath as narcotics, firearms and pornography.

Arab treatment of Jews is severely biased: Most Arab countries refuse entry to Jews and Israelis, or even to anyone whose passport shows evidence of having visited Israel.

The Palestinian Authority regards selling land to Jews as punishable by death and has pronounced such a verdict dozens of times. Even in Egypt and Jordan – countries with longstanding peace agreements with Israel – it is illegal to sell or rent land to Israelis.

Where are the protests against this Arab-sponsored apartheid?

There are none. A Google search for “Israeli apartheid” returns 588,000 results; a search for “Saudi apartheid” returns 962 results – a fraction of one percent.

This hypocrisy was highlighted one evening in 2011 at Britain’s Edinburgh University, when a speech by an Israeli official was boycotted in protest of “Israeli apartheid.” Protesters disrupted the speech with chants and taunts, forcing the speaker to abandon the stage. The incredible irony is that the speaker was Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Arab-Muslim who holds a senior position in the Israeli Foreign Ministry – living proof of no “apartheid” in Israel, yet the target of protests against “Israeli apartheid!”

Ironically, anti-Israel activists never consider the immorality of Palestinians insisting their future state be Judenrein, the Nazi-era word meaning "cleansed of Jews." As reiterated by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas: "I do not agree... to have living among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land."

Pure Anti-Semitism
Israel’s human rights record may not be perfect, but it is doing its best in a difficult situation. If restrictions such as checkpoints and the security barrier are placed on Palestinians, there is genuine justification – unlike in South Africa, where black communities were not producing terrorists nor threatening to annihilate the white population. Apartheid-era South Africa was a repugnant regime intent on preserving white supremacy; Israel is a democracy intent on preserving itself from destruction. In other words, Hamas is not Mandela.

Kenneth Meshoe, a black South African Member of Parliament, set the record straight: “If anyone says to you there is apartheid in Israel, tell them the man who was oppressed by apartheid in South Africa says it’s a big lie. Coming from South Africa, it is laughable to draw a parallel. If the government of Israel is accused of being heavy-handed for wanting to wipe out terrorism, we are here from South Africa to say: You are not alone.”

Let there be no mistake: Those foisting the lie about Israeli Apartheid seek to portray the Jewish state as an illegitimate enterprise that, for the sake of humanity, must be terminated. That canard – even coming from a Jewish “human rights group” – is pure anti-Semitism.

Further Study:

Sarah Zoabi: Proud Muslim Zionist [video]
The False Charge of Apartheid

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Post  Admin on Sun 17 Jan 2021, 10:39 pm
 How to Talk to a Neo-Nazi
Jan 11, 2021  |  by Rabbi Hillel Goldbergprint article
How to Talk to a Neo-Nazi
The anti-Semitic skinhead couldn't believe the kind storeowner was a Jew.

Daniel Kravitz owns Denver's Home Again Furniture and, like he says, you never know who will walk in the door. Saying only that he toned down the language a bit, Kravitz tells the story of his encounter with a unique customer:

“I receive a phone call answering a classified advertisement I placed to sell a black bedroom set for $250. During the conversation the young man on the other end of the line says he has only $700 – and do I have enough furniture in my store to furnish his whole apartment?

"I ask how big his apartment is. Turns out in addition to the bedroom set, he needs a dinette, a sofa, tables and a lamp. I say, if you’re not picky, I can furnish the apartment for $700.

"He didn’t show up until the next day.

"A man walks in, shocking in appearance. He’s a skinhead. Tall. 6’2”. Trim. In his early 20s. Sleeveless T-shirt. Dark pants. Doc/Martin boots [made in England, very popular with the subculture, punk rockers, skinheads, etc.].

“On his arm are tattoos. I cannot help but notice what they say: Kill N***ers and Jews. I realize right away who this individual is.”

Are you Dan? We spoke on the phone yesterday. Do you still have the black bedroom set?

“I say: ‘You’re the young man who says you have $700 to furnish your apartment.' I show him the bedroom set. We walk around the store. I can give you this sofa, and these tables . . . in 20 to 30 minutes we figure out what he wants. I throw in some dishes – glad to get rid of them.

“We get back to my counter and desk. I write up a receipt, including the inventory and the regular prices. The total comes to about $1,000, which I discount down to $700. I hand him the receipt for him to sign on the bottom. He looks over the receipt and says, ‘Boy, you really gave me a big discount.’

“I say: ‘That’s the deal.’”

You won’t get in trouble for discounting this much?

“No, it's my own business.”

I really appreciate it.

“I say: 'I’m a man of my word,' and he pays in cash. I help him load the furniture onto a pickup truck. We work up a sweat. When we we're done, I ask him whether he would like to have a Coke, or something else cold to drink. I have no other customers and have time to sit with him. So I give him a can of soda, take one myself.

“Now, this whole time, I kept observing him to see whether he was carrying a gun or a knife. You see that kind of tattoo – he’s not a choir boy.

“When we loaded his furniture his shirt lifted up, and I saw there was no weapon in his pocket. I felt comfortable he didn’t have a weapon.

“So I say: ‘I couldn’t help but notice your tattoos. Do you really believe that?’”

Hell yes I do.

“Have you ever hurt anybody?”


“How many blacks and Jews do you know?”

I don’t need to know any. I know they’re bad. Blacks are trying to take over the white women. Jews are controlling the banks and the government.

“I say: ‘I hate to tell you – I disagree with your propaganda. I grew up in Park Hill around a lot of black people. Unless you know somebody you can’t make judgments about a whole culture.’

“I saw that he was not connected to what I said. So I say: ‘I bet you don’t talk to your mother and father – if my son had the tattoos on his arms that you have, I wouldn’t talk to my son. I don’t think you talk to your parents.’”

No, I don’t.

“I realized I hit a nerve.

“The next thing I say: ‘It wasn’t that many years ago that your mother held you in her arms, and she loves you. I’m a parent. I know that your parents are hurt and miss you, and don’t approve of your ways.’

“Then I say: ‘I want to share with you . . . I’m Jewish.’”

No you’re not.

“Why would I lie to you about that?"

You don’t look like a Jew.

“What does a Jew look like?”

Not like you.

“I point to my front door and show him my mezuzah, and tell him that Jews put it on their doorposts.

“And I have a siddur, so I open it up and say: ‘See, this is Hebrew.’

“I show him my store hours and say: ‘Notice, I’m closed on the Sabbath. I live as a Jew.'

“'What you think of Jews is not right. I pray with people who have numbers on their arms. You're part of a group of people who believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Not only did I lose family members, I pray with people who have numbers on their arms.'”

No, it's a Holohaux.

“'Absolutely not true. You know what? I think you’re a nice guy. I know by some of the things you’ve said to me how appreciative you are that I gave you a good deal. I know that your mother and father raised you with good values. Why you are a part of the neo-Nazis, I have no understanding.'

“'One of two things is going to happen to you. You’ll end up dead, or you’ll end up in prison and some huge bubba is going to take you for his wife. You need to think about what you’re doing. These are the only two possible paths if you keep on doing what you're doing.'

“'You told me you’ve hurt people. Do you want to hurt me?'”

No. You’ve been nice to me.

“'I’ve only been nice to you because you gave me an opportunity to be nice to you. You hurt people you don’t even know because of the color of their skin or their religion. You need to think about that. The people you hang around with don’t care if you’re in jail or dead. But your mother and father do care.'

“Then another customer walks in.

“'Listen, I can’t talk more now, but if you want to talk to me more I’ll be glad to talk to you. I want you to think about what I’ve said to you because everything I’ve said is true.'

“I didn’t know what he thought. But he came in with the prejudice that Jews are greedy and money-grabbing. He had to realize, here’s a Jew who just gave him a really good deal, helped him load his truck and sweated with him. I think what hit him was when I said: ‘It’s not long ago that your parents held you in their arms.’ He left.”

Months later, maybe a year later, he came back to Kravitz’s store.

“He says to me: ‘Do you remember me?’

“I say: ‘Of course.’"

At this point in the retelling, Kravitz tears up.

“He was dressed completely different. His hair was grown out – no more shaved head – normal hair. He didn’t look like a skinhead. He was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, jeans and sneakers. He looked like a whole different person.

“I ask: ‘Did you reconnect with your parents?’

“‘Yes I have.’

“He says: ‘I need to give you an apology. I realize now how offensive my tattoos were to you and how hurtful they are. I can’t afford it now – but I’m going to have those tattoos removed.'

“He gave me a hug and I’ve never seen him again.”

Reprinted from The Unexpected Road

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Post  Admin on Thu 14 Jan 2021, 9:03 pm
Martin Luther King’s Jewish Hope
Jan 9, 2021  |  by Rabbi Ken Brodkinprint article
Martin Luther King’s Jewish Hope
Inspired by Jewish prophets like Moses, Isaiah and Amos, MLK evoked their message of hope and justice.
The first time I went to Georgia was more than 20 years ago while I was dating my future wife. She suggested we visit Stone Mountain Park near her childhood home outside Atlanta. The name of the site was vaguely familiar.
As we climbed up the bare rock, I suddenly remembered where I recognized it: Stone Mountain was one of the heights Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referenced in his “I Have A Dream” speech. On that August day in 1963, King declared before 250,000 people, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia!”

Today, the site lies at the center of a national debate about the validity of Confederate monuments. The landmark features an enormous sculpture of three Confederate leaders: Robert E Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis. The Ku Klux Klan held annual gatherings there for 50 years, complete with cross burnings, which continued in King’s time.

King summoned that site and many other heights in his iconic speech. From the snow-capped Rockies, to the Alleghenies, to Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, King believed that one day freedom would ring “from every hill and every molehill in America.”

In our times of racial tension and division, we reflect on King’s vision of a future when all Americans – regardless of their skin color – will “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
This week, we will mark MLK Day. In our times of racial division and national tension, we reflect on King’s vision of a future when all Americans – regardless of their skin color – will “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

Today, that vision is more urgent than ever. As Americans reel from last week's unprecedented mob attack on the US Capitol, King's unifying message of hope and optimism beckons us. He taught us that it is possible "to hew a stone of hope from a mountain of despair."

Martin Luther King Jr. was raised in Atlanta, Ga. He was the son of a Baptist minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. As a boy, he not only heard his father preach – he witnessed him protest. Once, while buying a pair of shoes in Atlanta, the boy’s father refused to sit in the back of the store, asserting that he would never accept the system of segregation.

Although Martin questioned religion in his youth, he went on to become a minister. From his pulpit, he saw and experienced the travails and injustices afflicting American blacks. King believed that all people deserve justice. A great supporter of Israel, King once observed that opposition to Zionism is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

When King stood at the Lincoln Memorial during his “I Have A Dream” speech, he spoke about “the sweltering summer of injustice.” Like many who had come “fresh from narrow jail cells,” King personally experienced tribulation. Yet, he believed that “the bank of justice was not bankrupt.” What was the source of his optimism?

On one level, King believed in the promise of America. He believed that the Declaration of Independence made the promise of unalienable rights to blacks as much as to whites. He believed that his dream was the American dream. But King also reached further back in history for his vision.

As a child, he memorized verses of the Bible. He was inspired by Jewish prophets like Isaiah, who continually advanced the hope for Tzedek and Mishpat (righteousness and justice). King was stirred by the vision of Amos, who foresaw a time when justice will “roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

This hope – a hope rooted in Jewish scripture – was a vision King advanced until his final day. King was murdered on April 4, 1968. The night before, he spoke at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn. In his final speech, he decried the racial injustice in the city.

While King knew that difficult days lay ahead, he invoked the image of Moses, telling his listeners that he, like Moses, had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. While he couldn’t predict that he himself would cross the Jordan, King knew that “we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

King was a devout Baptist, yet, as Jews, we can learn from King’s insight into our prophets. King evoked their message of justice as he inspired his generation.

King taught us to hope and that words – prophetic words – have the power to shape our world. Without any position of authority, King's vision became the basis for the landmark civil rights laws enacted in the 1960s.

Climbing that day at Stone Mountain, my wife recalled a time when Jews did not feel comfortable at the park. When her family frequented the site as she was growing up, her brother and father wore baseball caps to remain inconspicuous as Jews. That day, looking at the Atlanta skyline from atop the mountain, I thought back to how King struggled for his community – and for ours.

This MLK Day arrives in the shadow of an attack on the US Capitol. As we look toward brighter days for our republic, let us learn from the legacy of a leader who believed deeply in the promise and hope of America. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. climbed to the top of the mountain. From its height, he showed us the promised land.

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Post  Admin on Tue 12 Jan 2021, 10:34 pm
The Smile Behind the Mask
Jan 9, 2021  |  by Rabbi Efrem Goldbergprint article
The Smile Behind the Mask
What milk does for the body a smile does for the heart and soul.

While necessary, wearing a mask is miserable. It's difficult to breath comfortably with a mask on and it is even harder to deliver a speech. And yet, those aren’t the hardest parts for me. Countless times over the last few months I find myself spotting someone across the shul or in a store, smiling at them and wondering why they aren’t smiling back or acknowledging my bid for connection. Each time it takes a moment to remember that they aren’t ignoring me and it isn’t their fault. They never saw my smile because of the mask that covers half my face.

Being deprived of the ability to exchange smiles is a relatively small price to pay for protecting one another and preserving our collective health, but make no mistake, the lost smiles are also unfortunate casualties of this pandemic.

We need to smile and be smiled at. In complimenting and blessing Yehuda, Yaakov says, “His teeth are whiter than milk.” Of all virtues, why is Yaakov highlighting Yehuda’s teeth? The Talmud (Kesubos 111b) explains that Yaakov saw a quality in Yehuda he greatly admired and benefited from. Yehuda had a habit of smiling, of flashing the white of his teeth when seeing others. Indeed, the Talmud concludes when a person shows the white of his teeth to another by smiling widely, it is more beneficial than giving a cup of milk to drink. Why the comparison to milk?

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explains that milk nourishes and nurtures growth. What milk does for the body a smile does for the heart and soul. He writes that just as plants require sunshine to live, converting the rays of the sun into nutrients, people convert smiles into energy and strength, and without it they wilt and perish. Dogs and cats can’t smile. Smiling at one another is part of what differentiates us as humans.

While our panim, our face, reflects our pnim, our internal thoughts and feelings, it also has an impact on those around us. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter famously said a person’s face is not his or her personal property; it is part of the public space. If you project a sour and negative disposition and countenance, you have placed a dangerous pit in the public thoroughfare. If instead you flash a smile, you can bring happiness to those around you, literally.
Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician at Harvard Medical School, authored a study concluding that happiness is contagious. The same one person yawning sparks a chain reaction of yawning from others, when one person smiles or is happy it leads to others’ happiness and draws smiles from others as well. Perhaps the greatest and most direct example of this phenomenon is a baby. When you smile at a baby they light up, but if you frown or make a sad or angry face, he or she will start crying.

Shammai teaches: receive all people with a pleasant countenance (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:15).

Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura provides a powerful interpretation: “When you bring in guests to your home, do not give to them while 'your face is buried in the ground;' as anyone who gives and 'his face is buried in the ground' - even if he gave all of the gifts in the world - it is counted for him as if he did not give anything.” If you give someone, even generously, but you don’t smile, it is as if you gave nothing. The smile is more valuable than the resource you shared.

Don’t wait to be happy to smile; start smiling and you will be happy.
But don’t just smile because it will positively impact others. Smile because of the benefit it will bring you. A study from the University of California, Irvine recently showed that a genuine smile, the kind that brings up the corners of your mouth and produces creases around the eyes, can lower your heart rate and reduce the pain of a needle injection by up to 40 percent.

One of the researchers, professor of psychological science Sarah Pressman, said that they don’t yet fully understand why displaying a smile can help reduce pain and stress, but they have a theory they call the “facial feedback hypothesis”. “The thought is that the nerves in your face, that when those muscles are activating they actually send a message to your brain that’s telling you that you’re happy. … The basic premise is that somehow that expression is sending signals back to your mind, and it’s altering your emotion in some sense.”

Though there is much to be grateful and happy for, there is also much sadness and concern in these unprecedented times. Now more than ever, don’t wait to be happy to smile; start smiling and you will be happy and you will bring smiles and happiness to those around you.

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Post  Admin on Mon 11 Jan 2021, 3:52 pm
Real-Life “Fauda” Spy Passes Away
Jan 9, 2021  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Real-Life “Fauda” Spy Passes Away
Renowned Israeli spy Isaac Shoshan infiltrated Arab communities for years.

Fans of the blockbuster Israeli TV series Fauda have followed the adventures of Israeli spies who pretend to be Arab, infiltrating terror cells, gathering intelligence and stopping attacks. These fictional tales are incredibly nerve-wracking, yet they can’t compare to the real-life exploits of Israeli spies who successfully do manage to infiltrate Arab terror cells and society, at enormous risk to their lives.

Isaac Shoshan, one of the first and greatest Israeli spies to ever penetrate Arab cells and gather intelligence for Israel, has recently died at the age of 96.

Shoshan spent years disguised as “Abdul Karim,” a bloodthirsty would-be terrorist who wanted to kill Jews, and the story of his real-world exploits seems even more incredible than Fauda and other shows.

Isaac Shoshan was born into an impoverished Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, in 1924. At the time, Aleppo was home to a thriving Jewish community 10,000 strong. Though Jews lived in the city for over 2,000 years, anti-Semitism was never far away. With the return of Jews to the Land of Israel, anti-Jewish hatred rose, both in Aleppo and in the wider Arab world. (When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, rioters in Aleppo – urged on by the government – burned sores of Jewish shops, synagogues, Jewish schools and private homes.)

Isaac Shoshan, left, at 13. Aleppo, Syria, 1937 

Shoshan’s family scraped by in poverty; Isaac’s father worked as a janitor in a school. Isaac attended Aleppo's Alliance Israelite school and joined Zionist youth groups. One day, a new teacher named Monsieur Pedro arrived in his school. M. Pedro had lived in Israel and described the new Jewish communities that were developing there to his students. “We understood that what we read about in the Bible really existed,” Isaac later recalled. “It wasn’t in heaven.” Isaac and his friends decided that they too would join the exodus of Jews from around the world travelling to the Land of Israel and working to build a Jewish state.

In 1942, Isaac and a friend packed their meagre possessions and made their way to a suburb of Damascus, where they joined over two dozen other Syrian Jews who were staying in a local synagogue, waiting for smugglers to take them over the border. It was a diverse group: men and women, young and old, all were yearning to leave the dangers Jews felt in Syria and find freedom and opportunity in the Jewish homeland.

Finally, one night a smuggler told them to disguise themselves in Islamic garb and to hide anything that might identify them as Jews. He would lead them over a path into Israel. At one point during the night, an old rabbi dropped one of the precious Hebrew books that he was trying to bring with him. Though the smuggler was irate, the rabbi insisted on retrieving his book, one of the few possessions he owned. Isaac crawled around the ground in the dark until he located the book and the group could proceed.

Finally, after hours of walking, the group of Syrian Jews arrived at a kibbutz. They were amazed to hear fellow Jews speaking Hebrew, and offered them tea, bread and jam. Years later, Isaac remembers being “shocked” to meet Jews working to build a Jewish state.

Isaac settled in a kibbutz, working on the collective farm. One day, some men arrived at the kibbutz looking for Arabic speakers. They were from the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Haganah, which was the underground army that Jews in the land of Israel formed in the years of British control of the land, and which later formed the foundation for the Israel Defense Force. Isaac volunteered to be part of the Palmach, and soon was one of a small group of Arabic-speaking Jews who formed a top secret elite unit, dedicated to collecting intelligence, sabotage and other actions in Arabic-speaking communities.

The group became known as the Arab Platoon. Made up of Jews who’d grown up in Arab-speaking environments, its members learned about Arab customs. Historian Matti Friedman notes: “The recruits were from the Islamic world, but at home they had known little of the majority religion beyond the dangers it posed to people like them. Now they learned laws, scripture, superstitions, and figures of speech.” (Quoted in Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel by Matti Friedman: 2019.)

If any of these Jews’ true identities were discovered, they'd face certain death. The Jews living in present-day Israel were ruled by Britain before 1948, and were barred from raising their own army. The Palmach was an underground organization. As Matti Friedman notes: “They (the fighters of the Palmach’s Arab Platoon) had no country – in early 1948, Israel was a wish, not a fact. If they disappeared, they’d be gone. No one might find them. No one might even look. The future was blank. And still they set out into those treacherous times, alone.”

If their true identities were discovered, they'd face certain death.
Isaac was soon ready to work as a spy. His first missions were within the land of Israel. In one operation, he disguised himself as an Arab Muslim and attended services in the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he heard a sermon calling for local Arabs to rise up and wage a war against Jews.

In Spring 1948, Isaac was given his most dangerous order yet. Arabs were streaming out of Haifa, heading north into Lebanon ahead of an anticipated declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. Isaac was to pretend to be one of them. Adopting the name Abdul Karim, he caught a bus from Haifa going to Lebanon, alongside another Arabic speaking Jewish spy, Havakuk Cohen.

The two men had only one gun for defense. Once they crossed into Lebanon, a group of Arab military officers stopped the bus. Seeing two able-bodied young men, the Arab officers demanded to know why they weren’t fighting Jews. “We leave our homes, our wives, our kids, to help you fight the Jew, and you are running away?” they asked. Isaac reacted quickly. He showed the soldiers his gun. “We’re not escaping,” he told them in Arabic, “If this gun had a mouth, it would tell you how many Jews it killed.” Isaac’s local dialect and accent in Arabic was perfect. The officers never suspected they were speaking with a Syrian-born Jew, not a locally raised Arab man, and let Isaac and Havakuk go.

Isaac Shoshan (foreground) and Havakuk Cohen in Lebanon, around 1949

In Lebanon, Isaac and Havakuk observed the Arab Legion’s military convoys. Another Jewish spy brought them a wireless radio transmitter hidden inside an ordinary radio, and Isaac set up a makeshift intelligence center inside the small apartment he’d rented in Beirut. He began describing the military technology that Jewish fighters would soon be facing – and he heard a wondrous piece of news. Israel had declared itself a Jewish state. It was the first time he’d heard of the existence of his new country. He also learned that five Arab states had immediately declared war on Israel, and the new nation was desperately fighting for its very life.

Soon, Isaac and Havakuk were told that a car bomb was being assembled in a garage in Beirut and were tasked to stop it. The men asked a garage worker if they could come in to use the restroom. In the few minutes they were able to be inside the garage, they set a bomb, which destroyed the building, as well as some surrounding structures. Five people died in the bombing, and although he’d been acting to save Jewish lives in the course of Israel’s War of Independence, Isaac was profoundly shaken by the loss of life. Later on, still in disguise, Isaac met a man who’d lost both of his sons in the explosion. He often spoke about the experience and began to advocate for Israel to use less deadly means of spying and sabotage.

“Although we were sent to gather intelligence,” Isaac Shoshan later recalled, “we also saw ourselves as soldiers, and we looked for opportunities to act.” He and Havakuk set up a small snack kiosk in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, which they used as a cover for their spying activities. Isaac also drove a taxi part-time.

In 1948, Isaac and Havakuk were sent a coded message from Israel: a ship had docked in Beirut's harbor and Israeli sources indicated it might be there in order to be fitted with a cannon and used to attack the port of the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Isaac and Havakuk had to find the boat’s location.

This wasn’t any ordinary ship. Called the Aviso Grille, it had formerly been Adolf Hitler’s personal property. He and other senior Nazis enjoyed sailing in it, and Hitler planned to use it to travel to London in the event that he managed to defeat the British military. After the war, a wealthy Lebanese Christian bought the ship and sailed it to Beirut. Isaac managed to locate its whereabouts, and one dark night, he and Havakuk welcomed another Syrian-born Israeli Jew, Eliyahu Rika, who was dropped off along the Lebanese coast and swam to shore carrying two mines. With Isaac’s help, Rika swam to the ship and placed the mines on its hull. The resulting explosion – days later – rendered the boat inoperable.

The Aviso Grille, 1935 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1950 Isaac Shoshan, along with Havakuk Cohen, was relieved by yet more undercover Israeli Arabic-speakers. Isaac returned to Israel and helped other Jews infiltrate terror cells disguised as Arabs. Isaac helped create the cover for Eli Cohen, one of Israel’s most famous spies, who infiltrated the upper echelons of Syrian society in the 1960s – and who was discovered, tortured and executed in Syria in 1965.

“Generations of warriors learned their trade at his feet,” explained Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister and a former elite spy. “Me too,” he added, upon learning of Isaac Shoshan’s death.

Isaac continued to go on missions well into old age. He found that the persona of a helpless old man was a useful one for a spy. He also worked with Arab spies who cooperated with Israel. “He turned out to be blessed with a talent for this job too,” explained Rafi Sutton, a fellow intelligence officer with whom Isaac Shoshan wrote Men of Secrets, Men of Mystery (1990). “Agents are a problematic lot, and you have to know when they are lying to you or telling the truth, and how not to allow them to extort you and take control of the relationship between you, without damaging their readiness to work with you,” Rafi Sutton explained. Isaac was able to cut through the lies and recruit high quality spies, and support their work.

Most of the world will never know how many missions Isaac Shoshan went on, nor how many lives his decades of heroism saved. After his death at the age of 96 was announced on December 28, 2020, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak recalled that Isaac had “risked his life again and again” for the Jewish state.

Isaac Shoshan leaves behind a legacy of helping build and defend our homeland against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Saving America
Jan 9, 2021  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blechprint article
Saving America
I tremble at the thought of the country perishing from within. We must find a way to return to the values and the ideals which were the original source of our greatness.

The events of the past week were the latest and most shocking demonstration of a country aflame, divided by hatred that makes a mockery of the descriptive name United States of America. After a summer of riots and protests that pitted neighbors against neighbors, friends and family against each other, it at last has come to this – an attack on the Capitol at the very moment that its elected representatives sought to carry out their constitutional duty to determine the democratically elected leader of the nation.

I tremble at the thought of this country, blessed by God as no other in recent history, being destroyed not by external enemies but – as so many empires in the past – perishing from within, a suicide of self-created madness and insanity.
We must find a way to move forward that will return us to an appreciation of the values and the ideals which were the original source of our greatness.
The miracle we need today is the one God chose as he made his first appearance to Moses and appointed him to become the leader of the Jewish people. To make himself known, God chose to appear in a bush which was burning and yet miraculously was not consumed. This was a message. Moses had fled Egypt while his people faced the flames of hatred and servitude. Perhaps, Moses feared, his people had perished. So God reassured him from the midst of the bush that a miracle of survival against all odds was possible. As long as the Hebrews continued to hold onto their belief and heard the message of the Almighty in their own lives, the fire would not be a fire of destruction.
The bush was called sneh in Hebrew. That word would give the name to the single, most important location as a source for ethics, morality and civilization. The very spot where God chose Moses and taught him the way to miraculously assure survival would later become better known as Mount Sinai – Sinai from the word sneh.
What made America different and assured its divine blessing was clearly understood by its founders.
Benjamin Franklin summarized the futility of trying to build a nation by man’s power alone, and the need for God’s assistance: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His concurring aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that ‘except the Lord build the house they labor in vain who build it.’ I firmly believe this, and also that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”

John Adams, in 1756, put it beautifully: "Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God ... What a Utopia, what a Paradise would this region be."

Here are the words from George Washington’s farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.... And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion ... Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle.”

These are the ideas enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; … And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

In all of the countless responses to the horrible events which today threaten our democracy, I do not find emphasized the words of our founders. We need to put in the forefront the idea that “all men are created equal” for it is the recognition of our shared uniqueness as creations in the image of God that requires us to come together in mutual respect and goodwill.

After last week’s tragedy, it is no longer politicians who can assure our survival. America needs a powerful affirmation of its spiritual uniqueness. It is spiritual leaders with the message of faithfulness to the ethical and moral messages of Sinai whose voices need most to be raised – and to be heard.

We need to lower the volume of hate and recrimination that blare forth from the headlines and amplify the still small voice that seeks to remind us of our obligation to see the Almighty in the midst of the flames of the burning bush. That is the vision which will ensure that we and the dream of America’s founding fathers will not be consumed.

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Post  Admin on Thu 07 Jan 2021, 10:15 pm
Life, Refashioned
Jan 2, 2021  |  by Kat Bautistaprint article
Life, Refashioned
How Judaism got an ex-Catholic prospective convert to love clothes – and enjoy life.

When I was a child, I was all dolled up, my hair put up in ponytails or woven into braids. I wore the pretty little-girl dresses my mother bought.

When I reached my teens, the fussing stopped but my mother continued to buy me clothes. Why I hadn’t asserted my independence at an age when people generally started to I can’t quite explain; I chalk it up to the agreeable, passive temperament I had. The trajectory of my later relationship with clothing, however, wasn’t evident at this time. I had attended an all-girls Catholic school in the Philippines that required us to wear school uniforms. As a result, I was left without much room to choose what I was going to wear.

And then I entered college. By this time, my mother had stopped dressing me and I became, for all intents and purposes, a slob. Gone were the attractive blouses I had worn and outgrown as a teenager. I wore ugly T-shirts and polo shirts to university. I just didn’t care.

Eventually, I graduated and got a job as an English language tutor for Koreans. In the office I wore collared shirts, black slacks, and flats – nothing fancy, but I was presentable again.

I eventually quit that job because I wanted to become a freelance writer; but now that I was to work from home, I saw no need to dress well. I stored my work clothes away in a closet and whenever I went out, I wore my college clothes.

I felt that women only cared about looking pretty to get noticed by a man, and I wasn’t interested.
I wasn’t interested in looking good; I just didn’t care about it. I felt that dressing up merely fed into the larger agenda of marriage, that women only cared about looking pretty to get noticed by a man. I wasn’t interested in getting married, or even in having a relationship; I was fixated on succeeding as a fiction writer and thought relationships were mere distractions from my career.

Then came Judaism. I had wanted to include a Jewish character in a story I was writing and to help me build the character, I researched Judaism – and was drawn to its ethics and worldview. I came to believe that the Torah was true and after talking to the rabbi in Manila about conversion I became a Noahide, someone who remains a non-Jew but, in recognizing the reality of Torah, keeps the 7 commandments given to Noah that all non-Jews are obligated to observe. Even though I do ultimately want to join the Jewish people, I have thrived being a Noahide. I have a newfound direction and a means of developing a relationship with God, something I never really had before.

Throughout this period, I continued to wear the schlumpy clothes that were my trademark. But Judaism eventually brought clothing to my attention. With new rules to follow, I began to wonder about what I was going to wear. Though I had no problem adjusting to the modesty rules, I still had to change what I wore – after converting I would need tops with longer sleeves, for a start, but the turning point of it all was the moment I absorbed that I would have to wear skirts.

At first, I was repelled. I haven’t worn skirts since I left high school (under which I wore shorts), preferring the practicality of pants. But soon after, I adjusted. Skirts would be so comfortable, I thought. And airy! And I would enjoy swooshing them around when I skipped around barefoot in the house. Now, a question emerged: what would I pair them with?

I tucked this among the things I idly wondered about, and then "coincidentally" a skirt outfit on my Pinterest feed appeared, a 3/4-sleeved top paired with a pleated midi skirt and knee-high boots. I liked it, and followed where it led...and down the rabbit hole I went. I soon learned how I liked to wear skirts – with pumps and heeled sandals, and long- or 3/4-sleeved tops and cotton shirts.

For the first time, I voluntarily walked into a clothing store. I discovered my love of color, dresses, florals (!) and lace.
Thinking I had to start preparing for my conversion as early as possible, I moved on from gathering pictures on Pinterest to actively looking for clothes. I first looked online for modest clothing stores and found a whole industry, and then I looked for modest options in the clothing stores that were available in the Philippines. For the first time, I voluntarily walked into a clothing store. I discovered my love of color, dresses, florals (!) and lace. I bought my first-ever blouse, something my mother approved of, and before the pandemic, I started wearing dressier tops and sandals on our Sunday trips to the mall. I also bought my first dress, which startled my mother, and I’m planning to buy my first heeled sandals in the near future (which I’m sure will startle her again).

One Jewish concept I had been attracted to is the emphasis on this world, this life, rather than the next, because this life, as a creation of God, is good. The world is not something you detach yourself from. This world is something to be engaged in and celebrated. So go have all these kosher pleasures – material, relational, spiritual.

And as I waded more and more into fashion, I began to absorb the other implications of that teaching: namely, that God in Judaism is more generous and parental than I had believed; He wants us to have pleasure and live fulfilling lives – what all parents want for their children. I now want to look good for myself, and feel that life has opened up for me and that I am a participant in it.

As a child of God, you should live with dignity.
Judaism has also given me the prospect of a richer life. I learned I have a unique mission in life, and that among life’s necessities, it was clothing I had a particularly unhealthy attitude to. I also came to reconsider my ideas about marriage and relationships, and now believe that marriage helps make you become a full human being. I began to see my hyperfocus on achievement and success as myopic. I've realized it's one important ingredient rather than the only element of a fulfilling life. Now, I want to have it all – beautiful possessions, marriage to a good man and relationships with good people, success as a writer, meaning in life, and a relationship with God.

I used to scoff at fashion, dismissing it as a shallow pursuit. Now, for me, fashion is not a superficial interest; it’s about minding how you present yourself to others, and how you affect others by how you present yourself. You are responsible for the body God has loaned to you, and you, as a child of God, should live with dignity. Clothes also allow you to take pleasure in the world – look attractive and savor life! God, after all, had created this world out of love and generosity; we in turn should be loving and generous towards ourselves.

From a woman who didn’t know how to truly enjoy life, I have come, at last, to embrace it.

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Post  Admin on Wed 06 Jan 2021, 12:00 am
The Shabbat Meal that Rocked My World
Jan 2, 2021  |  by Jody Berkelprint article
The Shabbat Meal that Rocked My World
Sometimes small acts have huge outcomes. I know. My life's trajectory was changed by one.
I was lying in bed in December, 2010 when I felt my heart beating in a way that I had never felt before. As quickly as it started, it stopped. But then a few minutes later it happened again: my heart was beating as if I had just run a 100-meter dash or finished a high-energy aerobics class. But I wasn’t running or exercising; I was lying in my bed! Yet I felt my heart was literally beating out of my chest.

And then, just like before, after a few minutes my heart went back to beating regularly. This continued into the evening. Realizing that something was wrong, I drove to the closest hospital to check it out. They immediately hooked me up to an electrocardiogram (ECG), which checks how your heart is functioning by measuring its electrical activity. After being hooked up for 10 minutes, the technician came in and said, "Everything looks normal, go home."

Because the irregular beating wasn't consistent, the first ECG didn't catch it and they sent me home. The next morning, I could barely walk up the stairs. My husband immediately drove me to the hospital and this time the ECG did catch the irregular heartbeat. Turns out I was experiencing something called atrial fibrillation (AFib), and the first question the doctor asked me was, "This is very uncommon for someone your age. Are you currently taking drugs like cocaine?"

He can’t be serious, I thought to myself. "No, I'm not taking any drugs," I replied.

"Are you sure? Because it’s quite rare to see someone your age with these symptoms, other than someone who has a drug addiction."

After finally accepting that I was an anomaly, and the fact that there was inconsistency with the AFib, the doctor gave me a requisition for an appointment with a cardiologist and a recommendation to come back if I feel unwell again.

Not long after, a third trip to the Emergency was in order where they immediately connected me to the ECG which once again didn't catch the AFib. I was sent into the emergency waiting room where I waited for over 2.5 hours. Finally fed up, I approached the nurse and said, “Something is very wrong with my heart and I need to be hooked up to a machine right away!” A room somehow magically opened up and the nurse hooked me up to the machine. The moment she took her hands off the electrodes, the alarm for CODE BLUE began to sound throughout the emergency room! Doctors flew into my room to see the heartrate monitor read over 160.

I spent the next week in the hospital and ran through a gamut of tests, including being awake while a camera was lowered down my throat to see my heart. The most frightening day occurred when a nurse rushed me to have a CT scan because the doctors were worried I had a blood clot. Even though speaking to God at that time in my life wasn't something I was comfortable with, my first words out of my mouth were, “Please God, I have two children who need me! Pease, please let me be okay!”

Thank God no blood clot, and after a myriad of tests, doctors had no explanation as to why I was experiencing AFib. I was sent home on a Friday evening with medication and continued cardiac care. When my husband and I walked into our home we saw an unfamiliar sight. Foil containers covered the counter. I peeked into one and saw roast chicken. I slowly lifted the lid of another – green beans in soya sauce. A third – roasted potatoes. Beside them sat four beautiful challahs, grape juice, and brownies for dessert.

"Where did this come from?“ I asked my mom who was home watching the kids.

"One of the teachers from Presley’s school dropped it off for you,” she replied.
“Presley’s teacher?”

“No, another teacher from the school.”
It was as if the words of the Torah lifted off the pages and were brought to life, my life. Something so heavenly was brought down to earth and made deeply personal.
The tears immediately began to flow. A stranger did this for me? I thought to myself. I was completely dumbfounded. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. I couldn’t stop crying. Who does this? What type of people drop off a meal to someone they barely know? Turns out it was Rebbetzin Esther Gitlin, of Chabad of Markham in Toronto, who made this Shabbat dinner for our family.

At that time I had already been attending many Torah classes and learning a lot about Judaism, but I wasn't yet ready to actually start practicing and increase my observance. At that moment, seeing this breathtaking act of kindness, it was as if the words of the Torah lifted off the pages and were brought to life, my life. Something so heavenly was brought down to earth and made deeply personal. God wasn’t "out there"; He was right here with us, revealed in the world by the actions of caring individuals. Standing there in my kitchen, I knew this is who I wanted to be when I grow up.

Rebbetzin Gitlin's kindness enhanced my interest to grow Jewishly, to learn more, and most importantly start doing. I always had a desire to make the world a better place, only now I made the connection that this was a deeply Jewish act, the God-given mission of the Jewish people. "Olam chessed yibaneh – the world is built on loving kindness" became my personal mantra. I began taking every opportunity I could to get my family involved in volunteering in my community, to give back.

We wrapped gifts for children fighting illness; we baked challah for the elderly; we raised money for Israel, baked sandwiches for the homeless, made muffins and cards for fire-fighters and made meals for people in need. One of the most memorable experiences was going as a community of Chabad of Markham to visit a number of homeless shelters in Toronto. We delivered hats, gloves, scarves and hot chocolate. As I handed winter hats to a family who were living at the shelter, I realized that it’s not our job to understand why bad things happen to good people, it’s our job to help when bad things happen to good people.

Over the years, a dream was building inside me, a dream of bringing women together to create a sisterhood of kindness.  Just prior to Covid, I brought my dream of bringing women together to give back to fruition. Through NCSY, I created a program called Live2Give Moms where we partner with different organizations each month and volunteer our time, our money and our heart. This has been such a labour of love for me and has brought my personal passion to my professional life.

Over the years, many people have asked me the reason for our family’s embrace of Torah Judaism. I often share with them it was through our gratitude to God for all the blessings in our life that was the catalyst for this change in our lives. We fell in love with the beauty and depth of our heritage. But truth be told, the reason is far more simple than this. The reason is kindness.

You see, when Rebbetzin Esther Gitlin made that Shabbat meal for our family, she set in motion a trajectory for me that looking back I could have never anticipated. It's been over 10 years since that Shabbat meal, and all my volunteer work that I have merited to do stems from the one act of kindness. There is a concept in Judaism called mitzvah goreret mitvah, one mitzvah leads to another. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples go on and on. This mitzvah changed my life, and in turn, has given me the opportunity to touch the lives of so many others. My gratitude for this knows no end.

People think it takes a lot to change the world. It doesn’t. We don't need to redeem the whole world all at once. As I repeatedly learned from Rabbi Sacks zt”l, “We heal the fractures of the world, one day at a time, one person at a time, one act at a time. A single life, said the sages, is like a universe. Save a life and you save a world. Change a life and you begin to change the world.”

We are here to make a difference, to take our experiences and use them in service of others. Someone else’s physical needs are my spiritual obligation. Just as Rebbetzin Gitlin responded when she had heard that a mom of one of the students was hospitalized and took action, so too, I keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities to reach out to those in need and use my God-given abilities to make the world a better place.

Our actions affect those around us in immeasurable ways. I do not know why God sent me this trial with my heart, but I do know that there is meaning to be found in every experience in life. Perhaps the lesson is that the greatest distance is the distance between the head and the heart, and when we put what we learn into action, our ability to touch the lives of those around us takes form. As Rebbetzin Dena Weinberg says, "Torah is not education; it's transformation."

Sometimes embracing a challenge can launch us to greater heights far beyond what we thought was possible. Our actions make a difference, sometimes all the difference in the world.

Dedicated to the incredible Rebbetzins, Rabbis and teachers at Chabad of Markham, who have shaped my life in ways I would have never imagined. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Post  Admin on Sun 03 Jan 2021, 9:10 pm

Jews and Morocco: 10 Fascinating Historical Facts
Jan 2, 2021  |  by Adam Rossprint article
Jews and Morocco: 10 Fascinating Historical Facts
As Israel and Morocco establish full diplomatic ties, take a look at some of Morocco’s epic Jewish history.

1. Oldest archaeology
There have been Jews in Morocco for at least 2,000 years when some 30,000 Jews fled to North Africa following the destruction of the Second Temple. It is believed there had been Jews there even earlier too, perhaps as long ago as 2,500 years. The oldest known evidence of Jewish life in the country are two menorah shaped oil lamp from the 3rd century, found at the site of Volubilis, a once Roman city located at the southwest extremity of the Empire, today near to the city of Fez. Jewish gravestones, some in Hebrew and some in Greek, were also found, with one referring to the head of the synagogue.

One of two oil lamps found in Volubilis, now in the Rabat Museum of Archaeology
2. Golden Age of Tolerance and Jewish study
Following the first Arab conquest in 703, Morocco and especially Fez a spirit of tolerance pervaded attracting a diverse kind of population, including many Jews who contributed their commercial capabilities. A thriving and vibrant community developed in the old city, known as the Medina. This beckoned in a golden age for the Jewish community which lasted for almost 300 years, from the 9th to 11th centuries and saw the creation of yeshivahs, attracting and producing brilliant scholars, poets and grammarians. The tolerance of this period left a powerful imprint in Moroccan culture. Today, the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in suburban Casablanca is the only museum on Judaism in the Arab world.

The Ibn Dahan synagogue, Fez
3. Darker times
One of the periods of harsh persecution of Jews in Morocco was during the reign of the Almohads dynasty, (1121- 1269) a radical Muslim dynasty bent on enforcing a strict and pious observance of Islam's rituals and laws. Jews were faced with conversion to Islam or death, compelling many to convert, or at least pretend to (which was possible due to the many similarities between Jewish and Islamic practice). In 1557 Spanish Jewish historian Joseph HaKohen wrote about the fierce persecution that “no remnant of Israel was left from Tangier on the northern tip of the country, 100 kilometers south to the port of Mehdya.”

The later Almohads were not content with Jews stating they had accepted Islam upon themselves and forced them to wear a yellow cloth for a head-covering, making them the focus of even greater scorn and attack.

The Bet El Temple in Casablanca, Morocco

4. Home to Maimonides
Rabbi Moses Maimonides, one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars in the Middle Ages, lived in Fez from 1159 to 1165. Originally from Cordova in Spain, he had fled with his family to escape the Almohad persecution of Jews. (Later this same persecution would see him leave Fez, eastward for Egypt) It was in Fez that Maimonides, as well as serving as working as a physician to the Sultan, wrote his monumental 14 volume explanation of Jewish Law, Mishna Torah. The stone home where he lived, still stands.

Maimonides home in Fez, where he lived and wrote the 14 volume Code of Jewish Law
5. Mellah, the Moroccan Jewish quarter.
The first mellah, a forced quarter for Jews, was created in 1438 in Fez and continued to recent times. The original pretext given was that the tomb of a Muslim saint had been located in the Medina. By royal decree, all non-Muslims were ordered to leave and resettle elsewhere. The word mellah means salt, because the new Jewish quarter was based on salt deposit. It was the first of dozens of such areas, which due to Jewish commerce became busy areas for markets and trade. A mellah was often surrounded by a wall with a fortified gateway and usually situated near the royal palace or the residence of the governor, in order to protect its inhabitants from recurring riots since its inhabitants played a vital role in the local economy. To this day, Mellah’s have bustling and lively markets, with many of their road names bearing the memory of once bustling Jewish populations.

The entrance to the Mellah of Fez

6. Jewish prime minister
Aaron (Harun) Ibn Baṭash, was just one of many Jews to reach the highest position of vizier, in Morocco. A courtier and confidant of Sultan Abdel al-Haqq, Ibn Batash had moved to Morocco on account of the Inquisition in his native Spain and settled in Fez. After a prolonged association with the court as a banker or tax collector, he was appointed vizier in 1464. As a result of his influence, Saul Ibn Batash, a close relative, was appointed chief of the police and director of the sultan’s palace.

Ibn Batash imposed heavy taxes on the population but was accused by the Muslim leaders of using the money to support the impoverished Jews of the town. In addition, he was perceived as violating the code for dhimmis (non-Muslim minorities) by serving in such a high office, riding on horseback and wearing a sword. In consequence Muslim leaders incited the mob to attack the Jewish quarter. The sultan and his Jewish vizier were both assassinated.

The Jewish cemetery of Marrakhesh,

7. Giants of Kabbalah
Morocco was home to some of the greatest kabbalists of the Jewish world including Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, also known as the Or ha-Ḥayyim (The light of Life) after his kabalistic commentary on the Torah. Rabbi Abraham ben Mordecai Azulai (c. 1570–1643) was another such giant who wrote a commentary on the Zohar.

Among the pilgrimage sites for Jewish travelers in Morocco, the most popular is the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Attar in Fez (1655–1733), who served as the chief rabbi of Fez. A saintly and pious man, he was known as a miracle worker and was revered by the local Jews and Muslims alike, who refused to accept a salary from the community.

It is told that Rabbi ibn Attar was put into prison and left there until the Jewish community paid a heavy ransom to free him, but the amount was too great. The rabbi remained in prison until the governor decided to throw him into the lions’ den. Rather than being mauled, the guards witnessed him sitting quietly on the ground and pursuing his studies with the lions respectfully crouching around him. As soon as he was informed, the governor liberated the rabbi and accorded him great respect.

The tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Attar, Fez
8. Protecting its Jews
As a French colony, Morocco was subject to antisemitic decrees from Nazi-allied Vichy France during the Second World War. In 1941, Sultan Mohammed V refused to deport Morocco’s 250,000 Jews to the killing factories of Europe. Despite this stand to shelter the Jewish community, some antisemitic laws were imposed on Morocco, with Jews working in colonial administration, physicians, bankers, pharmacists, journalists, teachers, hospital nurses and others forced to abandon employment positions. On November 7, 1942, American forces landed on the shores of Morocco as part of Operation Torch and quickly took control of the country.

9. Largest Jewish community in the Muslim world
In 1948, before the majority began moving to Israel, the Jewish community of Morocco numbered 265,000 making it the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. Three reasons can explain this. Firstly, the continued presence of a Jewish community without expulsions, secondly the large influx of Spanish Jews from the inquisition there in 1492 and lastly, aside from the notable exception of the Almohad rule, Moroccan Jews were not forcibly converted with minorities or Dhimmis, receiving protection from the King in return for protection dues.

10. Establishment of the State of Israel

Today, there are almost one million Jews of Moroccan descent in Israel
The establishment of a Jewish State in 1948 was met with riots in the north east towns of Oujda and Jerada where 43 Jews were killed and approximately 150 injured at the hands of local Muslims. This, prompted Jews to flee from the country. In 1961, Israel launched Operation Yachin, named after one of the pillars of Solomon’s Temple to aid the aliya (immigration) efforts. By 1964, more than 97,000 Jews had left Morocco, mainly to Israel where today there are almost 1,000,000 Jews of Moroccan descent.

Today there are 2,500 Jews living in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca. The community has good relations with King Mohamed VI who encourages religious tolerance. Morocco has dozens of beautifully preserved and active synagogues.

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Post  Admin on Thu 31 Dec 2020, 12:38 am
Valley of Tears: The True Story of Outpost 107
by Shlomo Horwitzprint article
Valley of Tears: The True Story of Outpost 107
During the Yom Kippur War, 19 Israeli soldiers fought for 100 hours against overpowering Syrian forces and survived.
Amos* and eighteen of his fellow IDF soldiers were spending Yom Kippur just meters away from the Syrian border when the 1973 war broke out. They fought for 100 hours straight against an overpowering enemy and unrelenting firepower, and survived.

They are the heroes of Outpost 107. This is their story.

Outpost 107, code-named ‘Portugal’ was the closest IDF outpost to Syria in 1973. It was next to Quneitra in the Golan Heights. Amos and his fellow soldiers were from Battalion 13 of the Golani brigade. Amos was a mortar man and he reported to Avraham Elimelech, the platoon commander.

The outpost consisted of a series of bunkers with observation points and gun positions. The platoon’s main job was to observe Syrian activities on the Syrian side of the Golan. There was a small tank company nearby to aid the men in repelling any ground attack from Syria.

The war started that day with a barrage of artillery on the IDF outpost. Most of the outpost’s positions were destroyed, including the large supply of drinking water. Four tanks led by Shmuel Yachin from Battalion 74 of the 188th Brigade opened fire and destroyed eight Syrian tanks that were attempting to cross the border to attack. Trucks laden with Syrian infantry raced towards the outpost. The Golani platoon destroyed them all using their heavy machine guns and mortars.

That night, the men spotted a convoy of Syrian military vehicles, carrying anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. Their commander, Elimelech, radioed a warning to the IDF tank as Nissim Avidan manned the heavy machine gun and Amos fired an illumination round from his mortar to light up the theater. Nissim opened fire and the lead truck in the convoy exploded. The IDF tanks joined the fray and the Syrian convoy was destroyed. Later that night two of the IDF tanks drove to recover two Israeli fighters and one Syrian POW, bringing the three men back to the outpost. They had been fired upon, and one of the tank’s treads was aflame. The men of the outpost stood guard over the tanks all night, protecting them from Syrian commandos armed with Sagger anti-tank missiles.

Elimelech Avraham
The next morning, October 7th, the platoon successfully repelled another Syrian infantry attack. But the tanks were now very low on ammo. The outpost was cut off and surrounded; no fresh ammo or supplies could be delivered. Some of the IDF tanks recovered unused shells from stricken Israeli tanks.

More artillery barrages rained on the outpost. Syrian soldiers got as far as the outpost gates when the Golani men succeeded in wiping them out. The Golani platoon destroyed additional Syrian tank-hunters.

On October 8th, the outpost was attacked at dawn by six Syrian tanks. Five of the tanks were destroyed and the sixth tank sneaked up so close to the eastern side of the outpost that the IDF tanks could no longer safely fire on it.

Yossi Zadok
Yossi Zadok, a Golani corporal who had arrived on Yom Kippur right before the war started, had received some training in using a bazooka a couple of years prior but hadn’t been known as a good shot. There was no time to think or plan. Yossi had to act fast. He quickly jumped up with his bazooka and fired at the tank. It was a direct hit; the tank was destroyed.

At 11:00 am, 15 Syrian T-62 tanks rushed at the outpost. It was part of a brigade commanded by Rifat Assad, the brother of the Syrian dictator, Hafez al Assad. Shmuel Yachin and his tank platoon jumped into the fray, destroying 13 of them. Two managed to hide undercover, and tried to escape when darkness fell. One of them was destroyed by the IDF forces; the other managed to get away.
The men were running low on ammo but there was no way to resupply them under this onslaught. That evening, the outpost was stormed by a Syrian armored personnel carrier. As it entered the perimeter, it set off a mine, killing its occupants, except for one Syrian soldier who was taken prisoner.

Portugal: Outpost 107

Then came bad news: Shmuel’s tank platoon was needed to reinforce Israeli forces in a ferocious tank battle taking place elsewhere in the Golan. The remaining Golani soldiers were left unprotected by tanks. Their ammo and food rations were dangerously low and there was no help in sight.

The following day, through their binoculars Amos and his fellow soldiers watched one Syrian tank rise on the hill that overlooked their position.

Another Syrian tank soon lined up next to the first one. Then another one.

Three hours went by and there were 110 tanks – nearly a full armored division – on the hill threatening their position.

The Golani platoon didn’t stand a chance. The tanks roared and the ground literally shook. “Zeh avood – all is lost!” some of the men yelled in great despair. “Don’t give up!” Amos said. “Stay below ground! Who knows what the cruel Syrians will have in store for us if they take us alive.”

Elimelech radioed the Northern Command. “I need air support!”

“Negative,” came the reply. “No planes are available.”

“Then I need armor support!” The desperation in his voice was obvious to the entire network.

“Negative. All tanks are fighting southwest of your positions."

“Then give me artillery support!” he shouted.

“None is available.”

“I’m making sure that someone will remember us when the Syrians kill us all!”
One soldier took a shell casing and etched the 19 names of the soldiers into the bunker wall. “What are you doing?” Amos asked.

“I’m making sure that someone will remember us when the Syrians kill us all!” the soldier replied.

Amos, in the middle, at Outpost 107

The men noticed jeeps carrying Syrian officers following the massive tank convoy. They stopped and opened tables to study terrain maps and plan further attacks against Israel. Elimelech ordered Amos to fire his last two mortar rounds at the officers. They scattered and realized the Israeli outpost had not yet been destroyed.

The tanks moved forward to wipe the men out. That’s when Nissim, the heavy machine gunner, did something insane.

He fired his .50 caliber machine gun at the lead tank. The bullets bounced off the tank harmlessly. They could not pierce armor. No one knew what Nissim was thinking.

The lead Syrian tank swiveled its main gun at Nissim’s position and fired, scoring a direct hit on his gun emplacement. It exploded in a swirl of flame and smoke. Nobody could have survived a blast like that. The others could only imagine what was left of their friend.

Amos ran over to the position, shouting “Nissim! Nissim!”

To Amos’ great shock, Nissim responded, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” He appeared slightly dazed, but lived through the onslaught without a scratch.

Most of the Syrian tanks began moving westward to engage Israeli tank forces, but some of them turned south to storm the outpost. The Golani men were now facing destruction from the enemy’s massive firepower. They were down to almost no ammunition. All seemed lost.

Yossi still had his bazooka, with only a few rounds that could do any damage.

A bazooka is a powerful weapon. It fires single rockets that can disable a tank, but it has a serious limitation. The weapon is fired while held on the operator’s shoulder and it has a fiery backblast of several feet when the projectile leaves the barrel. It must therefore be fired in an open area, otherwise the backblast would engulf and incinerate the operator.

Yossi and Amos were below the surface of the ground in a maze of bunkers. There was no way to fire the bazooka without exposing Yossi as a target to the vast number of forces now threatening the outpost. How could they get off a proper shot, well-aimed, in defense of their position?

It was reckless and against orders. They did it anyway.
Yossi and Amos came up with an idea. Amos would put a helmet on top of a rifle, and gradually raise the helmet over the surface of the ground. If it drew fire from the tanks, he’d quickly lower it, knowing that this spot is too hot from which to fire. He’d then move to another spot and try it again. If Amos received no fire, he’d jump up with his binoculars, determine the range of the target tank, and quickly tell Yossi. Yossi would then jump up, completely exposing himself to the enemy, and take his best shot.

It was reckless.


Against orders.

They did it anyway.

Amos held up the helmet. It immediately drew fire. He and Yossi moved 20 feet away and Amos tried it again. No one fired, so he quickly grabbed the binoculars and inched upwards to identify a target. Amos saw a tank and barked the range and position to Yossi, who jumped up and took a shot. Amos heard the whoosh right by him and felt the tremendous heat of the backblast passing overhead. Yossi jumped back down.

IMPACT. A direct hit! The shell penetrated the tank and some of the enemy were killed or wounded. One tank down.

“Amos!” Yossi cried. “Move! Let’s go further down and try it again!”

Amos moved. They did it again. And again.

With Amos’ courageous range finding, Yossi destroyed four tanks in one day. The other tanks rained murderous fire at their position, furious that the meager Israeli outpost was killing their vaunted Russian-made battle tanks.

The next day, the barrage continued. Over the din of incoming shells, Yossi yelled, “Amos, let’s take out more tanks!”

“We’re out of armor-piercing rounds! Nothing we have will take out a tank!”

“What other rounds do we have?”

“White phosphorus.”

Yossi made a face. He and Amos knew that white phosphorus (WP) was powerless against the Syrian tanks. It was normally used to illuminate a target area, create thick smoke, or burn fuel and ammunition, but it would not inflict any damage. Why bother with it?

“Amos, let’s try firing them anyway. Maybe it’ll scare them!”

“Okay,” Amos said. He rammed the WP shell into the tube of the weapon. Yossi was ready.

“Find me a target!”

Amos raised the helmet on a rifle. Nobody shot at it. He quickly inched up with his binoculars and yelled out the range and position to Yossi over the sound of the constant firing.

Yossi fearlessly jumped out and fired the bazooka. Another direct hit, but they both knew it was a joke. A huge white spray blanketed the tank with thick smoke. No penetration. No danger to the Syrian tank crew.

Amos and Yossi watched in shock as the enemy crewmen abandoned their unscathed tank.
But something amazing happened. Amos and Yossi watched in shock as the enemy crewmen abandoned their unscathed tank! Evidently they were terrified by the blast and smoke, and the knowledge that the Israelis had destroyed four tanks the day before. They poured out of the tank and fled on foot towards Syria. Another tank down.

The other tanks proceeded to leave the area, leaving the outpost alone. They were engaged by what was left of the IDF 188th and 7th Armored Divisions in some very difficult fighting.

Yossi was the only soldier injured in Outpost 107. He was seriously wounded in the chest by shrapnel shortly afterwards and was evacuated to a hospital. All other 18 men were unscathed, despite being under nonstop attack for 100 hours.

Yossi took months to recover from his wounds. For his heroism in this battle, Yossi was decorated with the Itur Hamofet, Israel’s third-highest award for bravery. He and Amos have remained as close as brothers for the last 45 years.

After the war, Amos felt that he could not deny the miracles he had seen. Nissim’s survival. Yossi’s one-man onslaught, with his help. Destroying the far more powerful enemies of Israel despite their minimal weaponry and scant ammunition.

This made him rethink his life and his priorities, and Amos eventually decided to deepen his Jewish commitment and go to a yeshiva.

Even today, Amos has tears in his eyes recalling when he saw God’s Hand. As one of the heroes of Outpost 107.
* This article is based on an interview with Amos who, due to his humility, only agreed to speak on condition his last name and current photo not be included.
Muslim Indonesian Woman Hopes for Peace with Israel
Dec 26, 2020  |  by Hila Timor Ashurprint article
Muslim Indonesian Woman Hopes for Peace with Israel
Braving raging controversy, Azka Daulia thinks it's high time for Indonesia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
Azka Daulia is one of few Muslim Indonesians who openly support Israel. Her story began the day after Israel signed a peace deal with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and as it turned out, Sept. 15, 2020, was to be a day she will never forget.  
"The ceremony was not broadcast on [Indonesian] television," Daulia said in an interview with Israel Hayom. "Whosever job it is to determine what gets broadcast did not show the public the wonderful Israeli news.

"The ceremony took place at 11 p.m. Indonesian time, and I was already asleep. But the next morning I went to the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Facebook page and watched the recording of the ceremony, heard Prime Minister Netanyahu talk about King David, and I said to myself, 'This is a nation that believes in God, and I think it's something positive to bring to people.' I was so excited, I cried.

"I told my father about the ceremony, and he said it was wonderful news. Many Muslim Indonesians love Israel, and I wanted people to see for themselves and enjoy the peace and the hope, how inspiring it is. I decided to share the recording of the ceremony on my Facebook and Instagram. I wrote to my Indonesian friends that I didn't film or edit the video, and I just wanted them to see the ceremony, that they should see the hope for peace."

Daulia added to her post an appeal addressed to Indonesian President Joko Widodo "in the hope that Indonesia will follow in the footsteps of these countries [UAE and Bahrain] and will establish diplomatic relations with Israel too.

"I was raised as a Muslim but have always been curious about Judaism," she said. "My grandfather is a devout Muslim. He is 101 years old and he has never spoken about Judaism. I have always felt uncomfortable asking him about it. But when I was a child, my father told me that if I wanted to know more about [the Prophet] Muhammad, then I should read the Torah. Also, my brother has a son who he named from the Torah, Eliezer."

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. It gained its independence in 1945, previously having been under the Netherlands' rule. It was not until 1949 that the Dutch recognized Indonesia's sovereignty following an armed and diplomatic conflict between the two.

Daulia and her parents

Indonesia held its first elections in 1999 when a constitution was enacted. The country is part of The Non-Aligned Movement, members of which do not formally align with or against any major power bloc, but Indonesia is known for supporting the Palestinian quest for statehood. There has been an increase in the number of extremist Islamic groups in the country in recent years, but most of its inhabitants are of moderate views.

There were attempts to establish diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel in the mid-1950s, but it failed due to pressure from other Arab countries. The following decade saw reports of Israeli arms sales to Indonesia, as well as clandestine negotiations to establish trade relations. Formally, entry restrictions for Israelis were lifted in 2018, and vice versa, but Israel's travel warning to the region remains in place. 

There are only a few Jews in Indonesia, some of whom maintain a secret synagogue in the city of Mendo in the country's east.  

This makes Daulia's post even more courageous. As expected, it sparked raging controversy in Indonesia and worldwide and received hundreds of shares and comments, including some harsh replies from Indonesians. 

"Israel is Jews, my sister," someone commented. "It does not matter if the enemy is big or small; it is still an enemy. This is not what the Prophet Muhammad wanted. We need to build our own economy and army, and the laws of Islam will rule the Dome [of the Rock]."

Another person wrote, "Open your eyes, my sister, to how many Palestinian Muslims are being persecuted by Israel!" 

Daulia's Facebook status read that she "has stepped up to fight for the diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel." Next to the caption are the flags of Israel and Indonesia with a red heart connecting the two. 

"I have always dreamed of having a connection to Israel," she says. "It stems from the education I received at home and at school. After the Abraham Accords, I realized I needed to make my personal aspirations public. I realized that in the new reality, it is no longer a dream. And I have to fight for it."

"I show my support for Israel because I want to spark a dialogue [among Indonesians]. Let them discuss, argue, take acting. I used a picture of a glass box in one of my posts: everyone can see what's inside, but people do not look inside the transparent box. Inside it has information about Israel, and therefore I open the box, and magically the truth comes out, and everyone can see it and be inspired to receive hope for our country to enrich Indonesia with knowledge and technology. 

"People do not know the facts, and the important thing is how do we educate them to remain objective, question the validity of facts. It is important that they be in a constant search for truth."

Daulia's post continues to send shockwaves across Indonesia. 

"Miss Azka's hopes for the chosen people are good and very optimistic. Cooperation with Israel will certainly benefit Indonesia. The question is whether such hope is acceptable in our [Indonesian] community. Even more, we need to look into what kind of [wrongful] acts Israel committed when it was conquering the Promised Land", one person wrote. 

Q: What did you answer them?

"That my dream is for Indonesia to prosper even more. That unity, love, and affection among Indonesian people should increase. That we should have more good things. I wrote that this could be anyone's dream. I am sure that there are many good things Indonesia can do with Israel to achieve this dream.

Q: Isn't that perhaps a little bit naive?

"Obviously, it's not going to be easy. I have 4,000 Facebook friends, and very few dare to support me openly. I'm not saying that the Palestinian debate should be suppressed. On the contrary, it should be conducted, but in a dignified manner, based on facts. 

"Someone commented on my post saying that Israel established its settlements in direct violation of international law. I responded that I see Israel as a country that has always belonged to the Jews. It's a known fact that Jews have had a presence in Israel for all of history and that it is not a Palestinian country. I recommended that person some knowledgeable sources to learn more about the subject," Daulia explained.

"Another person asked me if I wasn't afraid to be considered a Zionist. I pointed out that there are so many things we can learn from Israel that can benefit the Indonesian people, that, in fact, I can't wait for people to say that I am a Zionist."

Q: Aren't you scared that others will try to silence you?

"No, I'm not. What I am scared of is foolishness, ignorance, and the coronavirus. I have the right to speak my mind. 

Daulia is the fifth of seven children. Her parents chose her name, Daulia, after the beautiful Indonesian Dahlia flower.  

Her parents, Muhammad Nordin and Aka Mastikawati – most Indonesians do not have last names – are owners of an Indonesian frozen fruit business and a small art and gift gallery in Jakarta. Her father volunteers as an educator on the board of directors of the El Zeitoun boarding school located on Java island that Daulia herself studied in. Since the beginning of the outbreak, he spends all his time at the school and rarely returns home. 

"The school has a vision. Not an Islamic, Christian, Jewish, or any other religious one, but a vision of education, culture, tolerance, and peace. I worked as a teacher in that school for two years before I started university."

The boarding school is attended by 2,500 students, girls and boys, from all provinces and islands in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Africa. 

"The school choir sings songs in Hebrew which the school principal taught them because they contain messages of peace. At the Muslim New Year celebration, one of the biggest events of the school year, we also sing Jewish songs like Hineh Ma Tov and Hava Nagila. 

Daulia's connection to Israel began two years ago when she applied to study for a master's degree in architecture at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, an institution Daulia considers "the best in the world." Daulia traveled to Singapore to send in her application as Indonesia bans all Israeli websites. 

"Unfortunately, my application was denied. I was told that the school could not accept me as there were no diplomatic ties between Israel and Indonesia," she said.

On the last day of her trip to Singapore, Daulia went to pray at the local Chabad house and stayed for Shabbat dinner. "The rabbi approached our table, acquired who I was, and introduced me to his wife. I told them I wanted to learn Hebrew, and they recommended an online course. I exchanged emails with an Israeli guy, and we corresponded for a year. During that time, I studied Hebrew online at the Rosen School of Hebrew. 

Daulia and her brother holding a sign in Hebrew

At the same time, Daulia began following the Facebook page of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the page of pro-Israel advocate Hananya Naftali. Naftali served in the Armored Corps during 2014's Operation Protective Edge and began to speak out on Israel's behalf after his release from the military. 

"It is very exciting to see an Indonesian Muslim woman use social media to promote peace and friendship between our peoples," Naftali told Israel Hayom. "Peace brings with itself peace, and love leads to even more peace. Indonesia needs more pioneers like Daulia to promote peace with Israel, something that will benefit both Israelis and Indonesians."

Q: Why is the normalization of ties between Israel and Indonesia important for you? 

"It is important for my country. Israel does not really need Indonesia, but Indonesia needs Israel. You have a lot of intelligent people, modern technology, high-tech, sustainable energy. We have a lot in common, and we can learn a lot from you in order to promote our country."

This article originally appeared in Israel Hayom.

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Post  Admin on Sun 27 Dec 2020, 9:37 pm

When Covid is Over: The Hidden Blessings of 2020
Dec 26, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blechprint article
When Covid is Over: The Hidden Blessings of 2020
There are blessings waiting to blossom in the aftermath of our global confrontation with the angel of death.
Regarding the unprecedented development of two new vaccines in less than a year with over 90% efficacy, with the promise of eradicating the coronavirus global pandemic in the very near future, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the moment “nothing short of a medical miracle”.

Jews could not help but note the startling coincidence that both the Pfizer as well as the Moderna vaccine miracles received approval during the holiday of Hanukkah, the festival which annually affirms the power of light over darkness and hope over despair as a result of miraculous divine intervention.

Dreadfully, the plague has not as yet ended. Sickness and death are still with us in unbearable numbers. But with the discovery of the vaccine, the darkness of night promises to be followed by the light of dawn and the joy of sunrise.

Hopefully it is not too soon to ask: How will our lives change in the aftermath? Can we ever return to the “normal” that preceded the pandemic? And perhaps most important of all – are there any things that we learned from the days of horror that might bring with them seeds of wisdom and blessing for the future?

It is our response to tragedy that defines us.
We cannot undo what happened, nor do any attempts at theological justification suffice. We are no wiser than Job who was simply reminded by God of the limitations of human intellect. Tragedy remains tragic. But as Robert Kennedy so perceptively put it, “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” And perhaps, as Richard Bach beautifully wrote, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.”

It is our response to tragedy that defines us. The Torah gives us the initial illustration of a common but foolish reaction. Noah was the first to witness global destruction. No sooner did he leave the ark and bear witness to the world’s devastation than he “planted a vineyard and drank of the wine, and was drunken” (Genesis 9:20 – 21). Escape – wine, drugs, licentiousness – invariably attempt to ease our pain since Noah’s time, with equally unsatisfactory results.

Some think the post pandemic era will suffer a similar fate. Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, in his new book “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live” claims society will make up for lost time as soon as it’s safe to do so, with hedonism and profligacy “plunging humanity into an era of vice and indulgence.”

But that is not what contemporary polls and research are showing.

There are blessings waiting to blossom in the aftermath of our global confrontation with the angel of death.

In a remarkable piece in The New Republic, “Imagining a Better Life After the Coronavirus”, Jonathan Malesic posed the following question to his Twitter followers: “Are there any ways your life is better in this situation?” From around the country responders stressed they found a number of positives in their new reality – more time to spend with their families, less work pressure and more flexibility in their working hours. None of them want to go back to “the old way of normal.”

People also report a renewed appreciation for talking to their loved ones – 72% say the pandemic will have a positive impact on how we communicate in the future.

"I think there will be some upside” to this disruption that workers will want to preserve, says Debra Dinnocenzo, the president of VirtualWorks, a consulting firm that advises companies on transitioning to telework. “People, families, are going to be spending more time together,” she says. “I think people will be more adamant that they want more time to work at home and not go back to all the crazy commuting they were doing before."

For many, that will sit well with their bosses. Nearly three-quarters of corporate finance officials surveyed in late March by Gartner, a business research and consulting firm, said their companies plan to move many of on-site workers to permanent remote status as part of their post-COVID cost-cutting efforts.

By now, everyone has a list of things they once took for granted but now miss dearly, or things they’ve discovered and fallen in love with during this period of staying at home. These are the people, places and things for which we have a newfound or renewed appreciation. We’re sorry we didn’t appreciate them before the pandemic and we promise ourselves that we won’t make that mistake again when things return to normal-ish.

Roughly 90% of Americans say the COVID-19 pandemic “is a good time to reflect on what’s important to them,” according to a recent survey conducted by National Research Group
The pandemic has brought to light many failings of our society and values, among them the religious devotion to work: the very American notion that only through labor do our lives have meaning. The Kinder Institute for Urban Research concluded that “Our culture often forces us to choose between our work and the people we love.” The pandemic for many taught us which one is the better option.

“Without commuting as well as the wasted time in office nonsense, I find myself able to read, to study and to learn far more than I’ve ever done before” was the response of the great majority.

One New York Times reader wrote, “It is part of the human condition to not appreciate something until it was taken away. When our lives to return to normal – sooner I hope rather than later – I will never again take for granted the joy of hugging and kissing my children, my sisters my friends.”

These insights echo what Jewish traditions can powerfully teach us without the need for learning from tragedy. Shabbat, the day not simply of rest but rather of human purpose, emphasizes that we do not live to work but that we work in order to live lives of meaning and connection, and contact with the Divine.

Perhaps in some measure these values will become part of the lesson of the pandemic after we heal from its curses. Perhaps, too, we will at long last grasp that the greatest tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we begin it so late.

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Post  Admin on Tue 22 Dec 2020, 5:13 pm
The Christmas Tree
Dec 19, 2009  |  by Jonathan Rosenblumprint article
The Christmas Tree
A Jewish family comes home to discover their house festooned with holiday lights.

Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. After introductions had been made, the editor told him the following story.

His mother, Mary, had immigrated to America from Ireland as an uneducated, 18-year-old peasant girl. She was hired as a domestic maid by an observant family. The head of the house was the president of the neighboring Orthodox shul.

Mary knew nothing about Judaism and had probably never met a Jew before arriving in America. The family went on vacation Mary's first December in America, leaving Mary alone in the house. They were scheduled to return on the night of December 24, and Mary realized that there would be no Christmas tree to greet them when they did. This bothered her greatly, and using the money the family had left her, she went out and purchased not only a Christmas tree but all kinds of festive decorations to hang on the front of the house.

When the family returned from vacation, they saw the Christmas tree through the living room window and the rest of the house festooned with holiday lights. They assumed that they had somehow pulled into the wrong driveway and drove around the block. But alas, it was their address.

The head of the family entered the house contemplating how to explain the Christmas tree and lights to the members of the shul, most of whom walked right past his house on their way to shul. Meanwhile, Mary was eagerly anticipating the family's excitement when they realized that they would not be without a Christmas tree.

"In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did."
After entering the house, the head of the family called Mary into his study. He told her, "In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did." Then he took out a $100 bill -- a very large sum in the middle of the Depression -- and gave it to her. Only after that did he explain that Jews do not have Christmas trees.

When he had finished telling the story, the editor told Rabbi Wein, "And that is why, there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and never will be as long as I am the editor."

The shul president's reaction to Mary's mistake -- sympathy instead of anger -- was not because he dreamed that one day her son would the editor of a major metropolitan paper, and thus in a position to aid Israel. (Israel was not yet born.) He acted as he did because it was the right thing to do.

That's what it means to be a Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify God's Name. It is a goal to which we can all strive.

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Post  Admin on Mon 21 Dec 2020, 12:58 pm
Online Anti-Semitism is Soaring
Dec 20, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Online Anti-Semitism is Soaring
Foreign trolls and other extremists are targeting Jews on social media.

Terrorists and foreign trolls are driving anti-Semitic hate online in the United States and elsewhere, posting negatively about Jews and driving hatred of Jews and Israel.

A new study analyzed 250 million extremist anti-Jewish posts and found that anti-Jewish posts increased sharply during times of political uncertainty and unrest. Much of the anti-Jewish hate that’s being posted on social media seems to originate with domestic terrorists and foreign “trolls” in Russia and elsewhere: anonymous and misleading actors who are deliberately trying to stoke hatred towards Jews and foment divisions within the United States.

Prof. Ari Lightman, an expert in online extremism at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, recently spoke with about the anti-Semitism that extremists are bringing into American online message boards and conversations – and what we can do to stop it.

He cautioned that it’s often impossible to know the true origin of social media posts and memes. What’s clear from his research, however, is that a plethora of social media users from hate groups, terrorist organizations, and hostile state actors are deliberately concealing their identities and posting anti-Jewish comments and memes, disguised as “ordinary” social media users.

A plethora of social media users from hate groups, terrorist organizations, and hostile state actors are deliberately concealing their identities and posting anti-Jewish comments and memes.
“In my research, a number of Russian fronts are covering for the old school KGB,” continuing that notorious spy agency's attempts to harm and destabilize Russia’s historically enemies – including the United States. “In order to create a positive image of Russia, they promote anti-American feelings to cause unrest.” The fact that the United States is a strong ally of Israel, and that Americans hold broadly pro-Israel feelings, means that attacking Israel – and by extension Jews – can be seen by America’s enemies as a mode of attack on America itself.

According to Dr. Lightman, it’s not only state-sponsored actors who are attacking Jews and Israel on American social media. “There are a lot of large monetary interests in Russia,” he explains. “There are oligarchs who have oil, shipping, arms contracts…. By stoking anti-Israel sentiment, there’s a possibility that it helps them sell more arms, more oil, more shipping to Middle Eastern countries… You can see how disinformation can benefit Russian political interests and monetary interests within Russia.”

The recent report, by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) at Rutgers University in New Jersey, found that anti-Jewish and anti-Israel posts draw on age-old canards that Jews have too much power and money and are somehow able to bend others towards their wills. Jews are portrayed as uniquely evil and even as having almost superhuman powers which they use to harm others.

Instead of attacking Jews in general, the Institute found that classic anti-Semitic stereotypes are applied to prominent Jews, then spread as conspiracy theories about those individual Jews – with the tacit understanding that these vial smears lower people’s opinions about all Jews in general. Two popular targets are the Rothschild banking family and the financier George Soros, who is a prominent donor to liberal causes. The NCRI found a clear correlation between the online hate that’s directed towards these prominent Jews and real-world attacks against Jews and Jewish interests.

Take George Soros. The Institute found that most attacks against Soros accuse him of being a globalist. He’s routinely accused of subverting “domestic sovereignty (and giving it) over to an international order while (it’s) being undermined internally by immigration and internationalism.” On a typical day, the NCRI found between 2,000 and 3,000 posts attacking George Soros on the sites it monitors. Many of these are posted in coordinated ways by foreign internet trolls and by domestic American extremists and hate figures.

Yet in the days leading up to the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018, the number of anti-George Soros posts rose dramatically to 14,000 a day. While it’s hard to prove that this was linked to the shooting, much of the rhetoric found online about George Soros seemed to echo the social media posts of the shooter, Robert Bowers.

Bowers explained his actions by saying that he blamed Jews for bringing immigrants into the United States. A few hours before he entered the synagogue and murdered eleven Jewish worshippers, he posted on the social network Gab about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which helps aid (legal) immigrants in the United States: “hias (sic) likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw our optics, I’m going in.” It was an echo of the anti-Semitic smears against George Soros that were filling the internet, and an uncanny example of online hate stoking real-life murder.

Some of the examples of online Jewish hate bear the hallmarks of sophisticated campaigns meant to demonize Jews and Israel.

Some of the examples of online Jewish hate bear the hallmarks of sophisticated campaigns meant to demonize Jews and Israel.
In 2020, people searching Google for the phrase “Jewish baby strollers” found sickening images of ovens on wheels. The NCRI was able to track down a series of messages on the popular extremist message board 4chan in which users boasted that they’d succeeded in manipulating Google’s search algorithms to post the images. While it’s impossible to discern the true identities of the people behind this and other malicious anti-Jewish posts, the NCRI found that both Russian trolls and American extremists sometimes coordinate their posts, sharing content and posting anti-Jewish memes and comments at the same time.

Who is behind this massive rise in anti-Semitic posts? Prof. Lightman cautions that there are many actors, and that they carefully conceal their identities when posting negative comments about Jews. Social media posts, cartoons, graphs and charts, memes and other content that we might assume was posted in good faith by ordinary people was often deliberately created in order to frighten us, inflame our passions, and stoke hate.

It’s “the usual suspects,” who are fomenting anti-Jewish hatred online, Prof. Lightman notes. “The KKK, any of the white supremacist groups, the Proud Boys… Also folks who you might not believe are directly in league with these white supremacist organizations.” These might be anti-Immigrant groups or anti-Israel interests, or even racial justice campaigners who oppose Israeli occupation of Judea and Samaria, the regions known as the West Bank of the Jordan River. These extremists “don’t really care about the collateral damage to an entire ethnic group” that hateful posts might engender, Prof. Lightman explains.

Prof. Lightman warns that online hate speech is increasing at an accelerating rate. “Misinformation is being designed to be subjective and misconstrued: it’s designed to deceive the public.” Alarmingly, extremist social media posts are proliferating even in mainstream social media sites – and our own behavior is making us vulnerable to being deceived.

One problem is the emergence of what academics studying online extremism call echo chambers: these are structural ways that social media sites allow us to keep out other people who might have different views from our own. “If we become friends on Facebook,” Prof. Lightman explains, “and we share a lot of beliefs, we might exclude others (from our online friend group). This reinforces each other’s beliefs to the exclusion of others.” Surrounding ourselves only with opinions that agree with ours online makes us uniquely vulnerable to believing ever more extreme variations of our existing political tenets.

Another problem emerging in social media is the existence of “filter bubbles” that are built into social media sites. Based on our behavior online – what we watch, comment on, click on or “like” – social media sites’ algorithms will feed us similar content. In time, this content can become ever more extreme.

In May 2020 the Wall Street Journal uncovered an internal study that Facebook commissioned – then buried – that showed the site’s algorithms was indeed feeding users ever more extreme content, effectively radicalizing them.

The NCRI report found a worrying increase of extremist anti-Jewish posts on ostensibly mainstream online sites. While extremist posts might originate and proliferate on marginal social media sites that are known for fostering hateful dialogue, these posts and the ideas behind them can migrate for more mainstream discourse online. Newly popular sites like TikTok and Parler have seen particularly high levels of anti-Semitic posts, Prof. Lightman notes.

Periods of civic unrest and transitions of power render people vulnerable to succumbing to online hate.
A key condition for that to happen is stress. Periods of civic unrest and transitions of power render people vulnerable to succumbing to online hate. The NCRI found that “anti-Jewish disinformation by conspiracy groups...peaked on Twitter at the onset of the Floyd social justice protests in May 2020, and remains higher now than it was before the coronavirus pandemic.” One day during the George Floyd protests, the NCRI documented 500,000 Tweets concerning George Soros in one day.

As we all endure the uncertainty of the pandemic, political unrest, and changes in political leadership, the conditions for higher levels of anti-Jewish hatred remain ripe. “We’re all targets for misinformation,” explains Prof. Lightman, “especially when we’re under duress – and we’ve all been under duress for ten months.” He calls misinformation the second pandemic that we’re all currently living through, and being grievously harmed by.

In the face of such coordinated anti-Jewish attacks – and the conditions that help people be more open to believe them – what can we as individuals do to stop online hatred for Jews and Israel and for other marginalized groups?

“We have to be incredibly skeptical and diligent in association with the information we get,” Prof. Lightman cautions. Keep in mind that seemingly authentic sources of information might be completely fabricated. Studies can be biased, graphs that we see online might be wrong, and posts that seem as if they originated with a real-world person might have been written by a terrorist, or by a neo-Nazi, or by a person who’s being paid by a foreign government to impersonate Americans and write hateful posts. “Think like a journalist,” Prof. Lightman urges. Don’t be quick to believe what you read online.

Elderly people and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to misinformation, he notes, and are often targeted on social media. “We have to be skeptical of all the information we consume online." This is a lesson that’s crucial to teach to our kids, who often engage in social media sites where misinformation and hateful posts are rife.

It’s an uphill battle. Most of us are consumers of social media and are exposed to the misinformation and anti-Semitism that fills our screens. We each have an obligation to do what we can to educate ourselves, to speak out when we see incorrect or hateful posts, and to limit our own social media consumption.

In a world with so much hatred and division, perhaps turning away from our computers and phones and making an effort to engage with people in the real world instead is a good place to start.

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Post  Admin on Thu 17 Dec 2020, 11:45 pm
The Marriage Vaccine: Stop Criticizing
Dec 5, 2020  |  by Sara Yoheved Riglerprint article
The Marriage Vaccine: Stop Criticizing
Proven 84.6% effective in reducing marital ailments.

Is there one thing a married person can do to prevent most of the ills of marriage? Is there a single practice that will eliminate the fever/chill cycles that plague most marriages?

Indeed, there is. However, “one shot” is not enough. Even two or three injections won't suffice. This is a practice that must be undertaken daily, perhaps several times a day. But its effectiveness has been proven, and the results are impressive beyond expectation.

What is this practice? Stop criticizing!

Criticism destroys more marriages than infidelity. It whittles away at the bond between husband and wife, feeds the negativity of the criticizer, and undermines the self-esteem of the criticized.

Studies have shown that the human brain is hard-wired to negativity. Psychologists call this, “the negativity bias,” the congenital tendency to notice and remember the negative more than the positive. It’s why a wife will remember the times her husband forgot her birthday more than the times he actually gave her a card or gift. It’s why a husband will focus on his wife’s one extravagant expenditure in a credit card bill filled with her necessary, no-fun purchases of food and supplies for the family.

After just two weeks of their refraining from criticism their marriage improved dramatically.
Noticing the negative is our default starting point, but personal and spiritual growth requires that we move toward focusing instead on the positive, towards what’s good in every situation and person. The half-empty glass always leaves the one who drinks it thirsty, dissatisfied, and unhappy.

Participants of my spiritually-based marriage program for women that I've been teaching for over a decade report to me that their marriage improved dramatically after just two weeks of their refraining from criticism. (Of course, there are some marital problems that do not respond to this vaccine; that’s why it’s only 84.6% effective.)

Spouses criticize because they see their husband or wife doing something wrong, and they want to stop the egregious behavior. Never are intelligent people more prone to folly than when they criticize in an effort to improve their spouse, because no one ever improves from criticism. Husbands still leave their socks on the floor after decades of nagging. Wives still spend too much time talking on the phone despite their husbands’ repeatedly pointing out what they should be doing instead.

Repeated criticism proves the adage, “Insanity is doing something over again and thinking you’ll have a different result.” In my marriage webinar, wives complain, “For thirty years I’ve been telling my diabetic husband what he shouldn’t eat.” For thirty years you’ve been telling him? And you expect a different result this time? Insanity!

Worse than Futile
Criticism is worse than merely being ineffective to change your partner. Criticism creates a toxic atmosphere in the home. No one likes to be criticized. Criticism estranges the criticized party, who is likely to retreat emotionally or even physically, finding manifold excuses not to come home. Criticism also harms the criticizer, who gets caught in a vicious cycle of focusing on the negative, of finding endless reasons to be unhappy and angry. Criticism erodes the marriage bond as surely as acid dripping on a rope weakens its fibers.

Criticism never helps and always hurts.
One of Judaism’s most sublime concepts is that the Shechina, the presence of God, rests on the Jewish home when Shalom Bayit [marital harmony] prevails. Marital friction drives the Shechina away. Criticism is a violation of the Torah’s prohibition of onaas devorim, speaking words that hurt another person. You may rationalize that you are criticizing your spouse in order to help him/her, yet criticism has never caused anyone to improve any more than a blowtorch has ever caused a rosebush to bloom.

How to Stop Criticizing
So how do you stop criticizing? Simply stop criticizing. Go on a “criticism fast.” Every time you are about to criticize your spouse, stop and say to yourself, “Criticism never helps and always hurts.”

The Mussar masters advise using a chart to change ingrained behavior patterns. Make yourself a chart with a box for each day. Every time you are tempted to criticize your spouse and you stop yourself, give yourself a check on the chart. When you get 10 checks, buy yourself a small reward that you'll enjoy. When you get 25 checks, buy yourself a big reward. A full-body massage will keep you on your criticism fast for at least a couple of weeks.

When you fail and blurt out a criticism, don't give yourself an “X.” Just pick yourself up and keep on going. As a wise person said: “A successful life is when you get up one more time than you fall.”

Here is a true (pre-Covid-19) story from one of the members of my Kesher Wife Webinar:

I am married for two years, and my husband and I are very careful not to go out at night without each other too often. This past Saturday night, one of my husband's best friends decided to plan a night out to Atlantic City with all the "guys" to celebrate his bachelor party. I was so upset when I heard about this. I said to myself that Atlantic City, the mecca of gambling, drinking, risqué shows, and single women on the prowl, is not a place for a married man without his wife. What made me more upset was that my husband was going to be out all night and come home in the morning. The following day was our anniversary, and I knew he’d be too exhausted to celebrate it properly. I was furious.

My husband was SO excited. I felt utterly disrespected that my husband thought that it is appropriate to be out all night and especially in Atlantic City. When Saturday night came, I was very grumpy but I did not criticize him because I am observing a criticism fast for one month.

When I woke up on Sunday morning around 6:30 AM, my husband still wasn't home. I began to cry. I was so emotionally overwhelmed. My husband came home half an hour later. I wasn't ready to greet him pleasantly without criticism, so I pretended to be asleep. He fell asleep until 11 AM. When he woke up, I was puttering in the kitchen. I resolved to hold tight to my criticism fast, because I knew this argument could get very ugly and ruin our anniversary.

When my husband came into the kitchen, I resolved not to let any criticisms escape my mouth. I smiled at him and asked him if he had fun. I listened to the entire story of his night before I expressed to him how I felt, in the nicest way possible, without criticizing him. I said, "I missed you last night. I felt very lonely sleeping in this big bed by myself, and I feel very uncomfortable with the idea of one of us being out all night." He right away apologized, and told me how he perfectly understood and would be more considerate next time.

After that, we spent the entire day together. We went for a walk in the park and then drove into the city for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. It was actually the best day we have ever had together since we got married! I felt so close to my husband, and I felt so proud of myself.

On the way home, my husband thanked me for "letting" him enjoy his night with his friends, saying that he had a lot of fun but had been looking forward to coming home all night, just to be with me. I know how miserable our anniversary would have been had I criticized my husband. The rewards of refraining from criticism are priceless.

PS: Did I mention that my husband gambled and won money and insisted that I spend it on getting new clothes for myself? YES, the rewards are that good. Smile

Covid-19 restrictions mean that many couples are spending more time than ever confined at home together. Whether that turns out to be a blessing or a curse depends on whether or not you choose to focus on the negative and voice it. In this particular test, being “positive” is the best outcome.

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Post  Admin on Tue 15 Dec 2020, 8:22 pm
Is the Vatican Hiding the Menorah?
Dec 12, 2020  |  by Unpacked
What happened to the menorah, the iconic Jewish symbol that once stood in the First and Second Temples?

The question that has caused speculation for generations. One of the most popular theories claims the menorah is buried deep within the Vatican. Is there any truth to this enduring rumor or is there another explanation for why the menorah vanished from history?
Lilith: The Real Story
Dec 12, 2020  |  by Rabbi Menachem Levineprint article
Lilith: The Real Story
Why it's a mistake to make Lilith an icon of Jewish feminism.

“Tis Lilith.
Adam's first wife is she.
Beware the lure within her lovely tresses,
The splendid sole adornment of her hair;
When she succeeds therewith a youth to snare,
Not soon again she frees him from her jesses”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his 1808 play Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy

Goethe was one of the early major writers to popularize Lilith. Since the 19th Century, Lilith has become popular across the Western world. She is portrayed in books, movies, television shows, video games, Japanese animes, comics, and music.

The modern feminist movement found inspiration in the vision of Lilith as a powerful female in Jewish folklore, visualizing her as a woman worthy of emulating. In 1972, Israeli American journalist and writer, Lilly Rivlin published an article on Lilith for the feminist magazine Ms., with the aim of redeeming her for contemporary women. The Jewish feminist magazine Lilith, founded in the fall of 1976, took her name as their own, because the editors were galvanized by their interpretation of Lilith’s struggle for equality with Adam.

Since then, interest in Lilith has grown among Jewish and non-Jewish feminists, as well as by listeners to contemporary music by women, as highlighted in the Lilith Fair. As Lilly Rivlin writes in her afterword to the book Whose Lilith? (1998), “In the late twentieth century, self-sufficient women, inspired by the women’s movement, have adopted the Lilith myth as their own. They have transformed her into a female symbol for autonomy, sexual choice, and control of one’s own destiny.”

If you’re looking, Lilith seems to be everywhere in popular culture, and perhaps you would assume she has a leading role in the Bible. Yet Lilith is in fact rarely mentioned in classic Jewish texts.

A Dubious Source
The most quoted book in contemporary sources about Lilith is also the least reliable.i A medieval book called The Alphabet of Ben Sira (not to be confused with the 2nd century BCE apocryphal book The Wisdom of Ben Sira) claims that God created Adam and Lilith at the same time from the dust of the earth. According to this book, Lilith refused to subordinate herself to Adam in their intimate relationship, and she ran away from him using the Ineffable Name. Angels tried to force her to return, and she fought back and refused to go to Adam. The story continues that God then made Adam a second wife, Eve, who was content to stay with Adam.

Lilith is mentioned at least four times in the Babylonian Talmud. In none of these cases is she referred to as Adam’s wife.
However, the book The Alphabet of Ben Sira is in fact not an authoritative source in Jewish literature at all. Perhaps because it bears in its title the familiar name of Ben-Sira some believe it to have authority, but even a cursory reading of the book by one familiar with Jewish texts will demonstrate that this is not a Jewish classic. On the contrary, it is a work filled with demeaning and lewd variations on Biblical accounts and satirical portrayals of Biblical characters. The book is not and never was part of mainstream Jewish literature.ii

Textual References to Lilith in Jewish Sources

The only actual scriptural reference to Lilith is in Isaiah 34:14. It refers to Lilith as being among the beasts of prey and spirits that will lay waste to the land on the day of vengeance. It makes no reference to Adam.

Lilith is mentioned at least four times in the Babylonian Talmud. In none of these cases is she referred to as Adam’s wife. The Talmudic passages discuss Lilith in terms of warning that a man should not sleep alone in a house lest Lilith fall upon him in his sleep, that she could influence the outcome of a pregnancy and describing how Lilith can appear.

The text in which there are many references to Lilith is in the Zohar. In examining some of the references, we can gain a further understanding of what and who Lilith is and is not.

In Medrash Haneelam, a section of Zohar it says:

Rav Yitzchok said in the name of Rav: Adam was created together with his mate, as it says, “Male and female He created them” (Gen. 5:2), and God separated her from him and brought her to Him, as it says, “And He took one of his sides (ribs)”.
Rav Yehoshua said: There was an Eve before this that was taken away because she was a harmful spirit, and another was given in her place.
Said Rava: The second one was physical, the first was not, but was rather made from filth and impure sediment.

The Zohar is clear that this being that preceded Eve was not a person but rather a spirit, a harmful spirit that was impure.

Another passage in the Zohar, on Vayikra 19a, is even more explicit on Lilith’s creation and her connection to Adam:

Come and see: There is a female, a spirit of all spirits, and her name is Lilith, and she was at first with Adam. And in the hour when Adam was created and his body became completed, a thousand spirits from the left [evil] side clung to that body until the Holy One, blessed be He, shouted at them and drove them away. And Adam was lying, a body without a spirit, and his appearance was green, and all those spirits surrounded him. In that hour a cloud descended and pushed away all those spirits. And when Adam stood up, his female was attached to his side. And that holy spirit which was in him spread out to this side and that side, and grew here and there, and thus became complete. Thereafter the Holy One, blessed be He, sawed Adam into two, and made the female. And He brought her to Adam in her perfection like a bride to the canopy. When Lilith saw this, she fled.

The Zohar here states, based on the verses in Genesis, that Adam was created as male and female joined at the side/rib, the female side to be known as Eve. Lilith was a spirit that was with Adam before he and Eve were separated. Once the two halves of Adam and Eve were separate and subsequently married, Lilith fled. In this passage as well, it is clear that Lilith is a negative spirit and not an actual physical person.

The great Kabbalist, the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572) writes that Samael is in charge of all the “male” demons, called Mazikim, while his “wife” Lilith is in charge of all the “female” demons, called Shedim (Sha’ar HaPesukim on Psalms). He further associates Lilith with the sword of the Angel of Death. The Arizal understood Lilith as a spirit of lust, that is still around and dangerous.

As the female partner of Satan, the Zohar identifies Lilith as “the ruination of the world,” for her role is to bring immorality into the minds and actions of humans.
Based on the Arizal’s understanding, the two above passages in the Zohar can be understood. In the first passage, it describes Adam as having a “harmful spirit” that was removed when Eve was created. The “harmful spirit” of lust was removed when he was married and able to direct his sexuality in a holy and proper manner through connection to his wife. In the latter passage, the understanding is the same. Lilith, representing lust and sexual desire that is directed negatively, “fled” when Adam was joined in marriage to his bride, Eve.

The End of Lililth
The Zohar (ibid) quotes the verse in Isaiah 34:14 that speaks of Lilith. and expounds that when Messiah comes, Lilith will finally be expelled forever:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring about the destruction of the wicked Rome, and turn it into a ruin for all eternity, He will send Lilith there, and let her dwell in that ruin, for she is the ruination of the world. And to this refers the verse, and there shall lie down Lilith and find her a place of rest (Isaiah 34:14).

Based on the Arizal’s explanation of Lilith as the female partner of Satan, we can understand that the Zohar identifies her as “the ruination of the world,” for her role is to bring immorality into the minds and actions of humans. For this reason, when the Messiah comes and the world will reach its perfect state, Lilith, as well as Satan, will be completely obliterated.

With an understanding of Lilith based on authentic classic sources, it should be obvious how distasteful it is to make Lilith an icon of Jewish feminism. After all, what would you think of a man who chooses Satan as his role model?

There are those who assume that the story found in Alphabet of Ben Sira is based on the concept of the “First Eve” found in two places in Genesis Rabbah, a collection of midrashim about the book of Genesis.

According to Rabbi Chiya, this First Eve "returned to dust" (Genesis Raba 22:7, Zohar 34b), and God proceeded to create a second Eve for Adam (Genesis Raba 18.4). The Commentators note that these Midrashim (like many other Midrashim) might not be literally true but rather serve to teach Kabbalistic ideas. Either way, nowhere does the Midrash talk about Lililth or anything like the story of the Alphabet of Ben Sira

Some argue that the work was merely as an impious digest of risqué folktales or an anti-rabbinic satire. Other authorities have suggested that it was a polemical broadside aimed at Karaites, or some other dissident movement.

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Post  Admin on Sun 13 Dec 2020, 11:03 pm
Resisting the Nazis: Unknown Stories
Dec 5, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Resisting the Nazis: Unknown Stories
A London exhibit highlights little known stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

A major new exhibit in London is shedding light on Jewish resistance to Nazi tyranny, exposing some stories of ordinary people’s acts of resistance for the first time. “Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust” is being displayed at the Wiener Holocaust Library in London through January 2021. “We want people to understand the scale and variety and range of Jewish resistance across Europe during the Holocaust," explained Dr. Barbara Warnock, Senior Curator at the Library, in a recent interview. “Some of the individual stories are so incredible.”

The exhibit, which Dr. Warnock and her team painstakingly put together while working from home during Britain’s total lockdowns in the spring, draws on eyewitness accounts collected by the library in the months and years following the Holocaust. Here are four Jews highlighted in the exhibit.

Have Groisman – Saving Children in Belgium
One incredibly brave Jewish woman highlighted in the exhibit is Have Groisman. Born in Bessarabia, in present day Moldova, in 1910, Have came to Belgium for college and stayed, became a social worker, and married fellow Bessarabian Jew Hertz Jospa in 1933. Together, Have and Hertz helped support the anti-Fascist fighters in the Spanish Civil War, housing refugee children and shielding international anti-Fascist fighters from the authorities.

Hertz and Have Jospa
When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, Have and Hertz joined the Belgian underground resistance; Have was given the nom de guerre Yvonne. She helped found the top secret Comite de Defense des Juifs, or Committee for Jewish Defense, dedicated to hiding Jewish children in convents, orphanages, and with sympathetic Belgian families. Have manufactured counterfeit food ration books and identity papers for Jewish children and adults, and kept detailed records of the exact location of each and every Jewish child, so that one day their families might be able to reclaim them – even if the children no longer remembered their biological parents and Jewish relatives.
Have described the vastness of her project to the Wiener Library: “Each child was provided with a false name,” she recalled. “It was vital that we should be able to identify actually each child hiding under a borrowed name, for certain very young children knew only their alias. Equally, our service needed to know exactly where the children were lodged. In order to meet these important requirements, I set up an office with coded documents bringing together all the necessary information…I thought that whilst we the physical safety of the children was our prime concern, we should also as far as possible ensure their peace of mind and mental stability, and meet their need for affection by maintaining contacts with their parents…"

Danger was a constant companion; the Committee’s hiding places were often raided, and the underground Committee members faced certain arrest if they were ever found out. In 1943, Hertz was arrested and sent to Buchenwald. For two long years, Have believed he’d been murdered; he miraculously survived and was liberated in 1945.

A photo taken at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Hertz Jospa is in the top row in the center. (Courtesy of the Jospa family)
Have is credited with saving 2,400 children. She continued to lead former resistance members until her death in 2000. Documents she and her husband wrote describing their wartime activities are held by the Wiener Library and tell her remarkable story in her own words.

Tosia Altman – Organizing Secret Jewish Resistance in Poland’s Ghettos
Born into a Zionist Jewish family in Poland in 1918, Tosia Altman joined the Hashomer Hatzair (“The Young Guard”) Zionist youth movement as a teen. In 1935 she began to prepare to make aliyah, moving to the Land of Israel. Tosia was enthusiastic and popular, and in 1938 the youth group asked her to delay her plans to move to Israel and travel to Warsaw instead, where she’d be in charge of youth education. The assignment ultimately cost Tosia her life – she became one of Poland’s greatest Jewish leaders, continually risking her life to help her fellow Jews.

Tosia was blond and fluent in Polish; at first, her “Aryan” appearance allowed her to move among Jewish communities. Hashomer Hatzair asked her to smuggle information, papers and weapons, and to organize armed resistance groups. From 1939 to 1940, Tosia and other Hashomer Hatzair members travelled around Poland and Lithuania strengthening Jewish morale and resistance. In 1940, the Nazis began moving Polish Jews to heavily fortified ghettos.

Tosia Altman (Courtesy Moreshet Archive)
Defying nearly impossible odds, Tosia managed to smuggle herself into and out of several ghettos, bringing weapons and plans to help foment Jewish resistance. She was part of the planning committee organizing a revolt in the Vilna Ghetto, and subsequently spread that message of armed resistance to the Jewish ghettos in Grodno and Warsaw in Poland.

In 1943, Tosia aided Hashomer Hatzair and other Zionist groups in organizing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a major act of resistance in which Jews fought the Nazis for nearly a month in April and May 1943. Tosia made secret contacts with non-Jewish Communist resistance groups outside the ghetto, and managed to smuggle precious grenades into the ghetto. She fought in the uprising and had made it out of the ghetto alive, when a fire broke out in the factory attic she was using as a hiding place. Tosia jumped out of the burning building and she was arrested by Polish police, who promptly turned her over to the Nazis. Tosia died of the injuries she sustained in the fire, as was likely tortured at the hands of the Nazis, on May 26, 1943.

In her final letter to her comrades in Israel, Tosia recalled the enormity of the tragedy that was befalling the Jewish people: “Jews are dying before my eyes and I am powerless to help. Did you ever try to shatter a wall with your head?”

The Baum Group – Resisting Nazis in Berlin
When the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933 Herbert and Marianne Baum, a young Jewish couple living in Berlin, began organizing secret meetings to strategize how to oppose the new regime and counter its propaganda. Soon, scores of young Jews were attending the gatherings, and the group started calling itself the Baum Gruppe – the Baum Group. They wrote, printed and distributed anti-fascist literature.

Herbert Baum c. 1935. Baum was probably murdered by the Nazis in prison in 1942.(Weiner Holocaust Library Collection)
When World War II broke out, they continued and tried to organize resistance among Berlin’s Jews. In 1940, Herbert Baum was arrested and forced to work for the Berlin-based engineering company Siemens as a slave laborer. Even there, under the most dire circumstances, he organized a group of Jews who resisted Nazism and facilitated some workers’ escape so they could join the Berlin resistance.

In 1942, Baum Gruppe members set fire to a Nazi art exhibit in Berlin. In retaliation, the Nazis went on a major manhunt, uncovering the identities of the group and arresting them, as well as hundreds of other Berlin Jews. Some were executed immediately, and the others were sent to concentration camps and killed later on. Herbert Baum was tortured to death.

“With the Baum Gruppe, we have some accounts that haven’t been shown before,” explains Dr. Warnock. “There weren’t that many survivors of the group," she notes. One member did manage to escape. She was very ill when she was arrested and the Nazis transferred her to a hospital from which she managed to escape. Later, she was able to give eyewitness testimony to Wiener Library researchers.

“At that time (1942) it was especially difficult for Jewish anti-fascists to live clandestinely,” the survivor described. “The Gestapo was gradually able to arrest the whole group. There were three trials in which 22 death sentences by hanging were delivered. These executions took place and the other members of the group who had been arrested were murdered in various concentration camps. Not one of the victims in the Baum group lived to see thirty. The youngest among them were not even eighteen years old.”

Philipp Manes – Resisting Despair Through Culture in Theresienstadt
The Wiener Library is home to the extraordinary diary of Philipp Manes (1875-1944), a Jewish writer and businessman who resisted the Nazis, not through taking up arms but by buoying the spirits of imprisoned Jews and asserting the ability of Jewish prisoners to think freely and creatively.

In 1942, Philipp and his wife Gertrude were arrested in Germany and sent to the notorious “model” concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.  In Theresienstadt, Jews were given slightly more freedom and better treatment than in other concentration camps: Theresienstadt was run as a “model” concentration camp and used for Nazi propaganda to show the world and international visitors that the Nazis were supposedly treating Jews well.  

Portrait of Philipp Manes drawn by fellow prisoner Arthur Goldschmidt in 1944. (Courtesy Wiener Holocaust Library Collection)
At Theresienstadt and in other camps, Jews resisted Nazi degradations in myriad ways: artistically, culturally, and spiritually.  By maintaining an intense private life, Jews were able to continue Jewish life, despite their dismal surroundings. Many Jews continued to pray and even hold religious services in secret.  Jews continued to create music and art and to hold on to their Jewish identity even under the noses of the Nazi guards.

When Philipp Manes found himself in Theresienstadt, he asserted his resistance to Nazism, rebelling where he could. He ran the concentration camp’s “Orientation Service,” which helped new Jewish prisoners settle into the camp. Soon, Manes began organizing regular cultural events. He invited well known prisoners to deliver lectures, organized concerts, and arranged dramatic readings. In all, he organized over 500 of these cultural events which allowed prisoners to feel free, if only for a moment, as they were distracted from their horrific reality, escaping into art and culture. The prisoners who attended these events called themselves the “Manes Group.”

Philipp Manes kept copious diaries that eventually filled nine journals. In addition to recording his own thoughts and experiences, he included interviews with other prisoners. He also recorded factual testimony of regular deportations from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. His final entry stops mid-sentence: on October 28, 1944, Philipp and Gertrude Manes were sent on one of the last transports from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival. His diaries survived him and were eventually sent to his daughter Eva, who donated them to the Wiener Library, which is now displaying these precious works in its exhibit.

Understanding Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust
For Dr. Barbara Warnock, “Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust” is crucial to our understanding of the Holocaust, and the myriad ways Jews resisted. “We want people to understand the scale and variety of Jewish resistance across Europe,” Dr. Warnock explains, noting that people don’t always think of Jews when they envision resistance during World War II. Despite popular misconceptions, Jews were at the vanguard of resisting Nazi tyranny.  Jews resisted in any way they could: some fought Nazis physically in pitched battles, while others resisted spiritually, insisting on reciting Jewish prayers in secret when they could.  

“What struck me in researching the exhibition is the sheer range and quality (of the Library’s holdings), and diversity of Jewish resistance across the continent. There are so many stories,” Dr. Warnock observes.

“Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust” is currently scheduled to run at the Wiener Holocaust Library in London through January 2021. For more information, and to see some of the Library’s extensive holdings online, visit

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Post  Admin on Thu 10 Dec 2020, 9:32 pm
Why Only Hanukkah Is Celebrated as a Family
Dec 10, 2020  |  by Eitiel Goldwicht
Judaism places the value of a happy marriage more than military victory, children more than soldiers, and the home more than the battlefield.
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I have this sweet childhood memory from Hanukkah that I take with me until today. My father would light the candles and then the entire family would sing the Hanukkah songs together. And then we'd sit on the carpet, all cozy, around my mother and father, and play family games in the glow of the menorah. It was pure moment of fun and laughter, not running anywhere, just enjoying the moment together as a family.

There is something special about Hanukkah, it’s the only holiday we perform as a family. Matzah we eat individually, shofar we blow as a community, but the Hanukkah candles are lit as a family. Why is that?

Perhaps the answer lies in a fascinating law about the Hanukkah candles. If one has only one candle as the Shabbat of Hanukkah is about to begin – he should use it for the shabbat candles and not for the menorah. Shabbat takes precedent.

You see, Hanukkah commemorates one of the greatest military victories in Jewish history, but the Greeks didn’t just try to defeat us, they tried to break us. They knew that the secret of Jewish continuity lies in the Jewish home. That's why they tried to destroy the Jewish home with their decrees, but the Maccabees didn’t give up.

The Shabbat candles symbolize peace at home. This is why the Shabbat lights take precedence, and why uniquely Hanukkah is celebrated as a family, because peace and connection in our Jewish homes is THE secret of Jewish survival and is the mission of the Jewish people as Maimonides put it – “the entire Torah was given in order to make peace in the world.”

This is part of the reason why Judaism alone survived the ancient world – because Judaism places the value of a happy marriage more than military victory, children more than soldiers, and the home more than the battlefield.

As you light the Hanukkah candles, stop for a moment to appreciate and celebrate your Jewish family. Allow the light of peace and harmony, of children and family into your home, because the future of the Jewish people depends on it.

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Post  Admin on Wed 09 Dec 2020, 12:10 am
Flames of Hope: The Power of Hanukkah
Dec 6, 2020  |  by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen
The menorah represents the faith and hope of the Jewish people that cannot be extinguished.
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It was the first night of Hanukkah in the Janowska concentration camp and Rabbi Yisrael Spira was desperate to light the Hanukkah candles for the 500 people in his barracks. He managed to quickly collect strands of uniform fabric to be used as wicks as well as shoe polish to be used as oil.

That night, Rabbi Spira gathered everyone together from his barracks. He lit the menorah and made the first blessing on the kindling of the Hanukkah lights, followed by the second blessing of, “She’asah Nissim l’avoseinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh” – that God made a great miracle for our ancestors in those days and at this time. Rabbi Spiro paused for a moment and then proceeded to make the 3rd and final blessing, “She’hechiyanu v’kiyimanu vihigiyanu lazman hazeh” – that God has kept us alive, has sustained us and brought us to this time. The entire group sang Maoz Tsur together with tears streaming down their cheeks.

After the singing, a young man came up to Rabbi Spiro and said, “Rabbi, something is bothering me. I understand that you could make the blessing over the Hanukkah lights and on the miracles that God performed for our ancestors. But how could you recite the blessing of ‘Shehechiyanu’ with such passion as you utter the words, “God has kept us alive and has sustained us”? Look at us! Look at where we are. This is how he has sustained us?” Rabbi Spiro turned to him and replied, “I asked myself this very same question, which is why I paused before reciting that blessing. But as I looked up, I saw that the eyes of every person in this barrack were filled with hope and faith as they stared at the flickering candle. And I thought to myself, if during such times of darkness, these people could be filled with hope, then I can confidently say She’hechiyanu – that we are grateful to be living. Because it is precisely our faith and hope that has kept us alive throughout our nation's journey.

We are approaching the Holiday of Hanukkah. When we think of the Hanukkah story, we remember the two miraculous events that took place. First, the military victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks and then the miracle of the oil that should have lasted one day but instead burned for eight.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, once pointed out that what many of us don’t realize is that the Hanukkah story continued centuries later. After the destruction of the second Temple, when all the work of the Maccabees now lay in ruins, some rabbis at the time believed that Hanukkah should be abolished. Why celebrate a freedom that had been lost? Others disagreed, and their view prevailed. Freedom may have been lost, but not hope.

From there, hope became the essence and theme of the holiday; with the Menorah as it’s symbol. Hanukkah became a holiday of light within the Jewish home symbolizing a faith and hope that could not be extinguished.

Hanukkah reminds us that hope gives our people the strength we need to survive tragedy and rebuild shattered lives. The Jewish people survived all of the expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up their faith and hope that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear.

During these times, when there is still immense darkness in the world, it is our opportunity to strengthen and renew our faith in a brighter and hopeful future. This Hanukkah, as we ignite the flames of our menorah, let us discover our inextinguishable hope and spread that light to the entire world.

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Post  Admin on Mon 30 Nov 2020, 3:42 pm
My Life with Dystonia
Nov 28, 2020  |  by Cheri Tannenbaumprint article
My Life with Dystonia
Miracles do happen… at their prescribed time.

In the 1960s, like so many around me, I was becoming a full-fledged flower child. While I was in the throes of my hippiedom, my mother took me to San Francisco, where it all began. I was not enthralled. Thinking about the "me generation" provoked the question: Is this what I want my life to look like? My conclusion was a heartfelt no.

My brother and two sisters had already become observant Jews. I had taken so many journeys already, my mother suggested that I should check out my own religion as well. I started learning with Rabbi Hier and was soon hooked. However, as the second half of my enchanted year at Stern College began, my handwriting suddenly became totally illegible, for no reason that I could ascertain. My voice inexplicably became monotonic, also apparently without reason.

One day that summer, as I was walking out of my class down the grassy path of the campus, my right leg began to kick my left ankle. Since this only happened occasionally, I thought that perhaps I was unconsciously adopting some of the symptoms of the cases that I was learning about in my psych class. But to my horror the kicking started to occur with every step I took.

I went through a gamut of neurological tests, only to be told that I was the epitome of health who just so happened to be unable to walk or talk.
At the end of the summer, I returned to Vancouver and tried to figure out how to fill my days constructively while waiting for my boyfriend Harvey to propose. One night, I was in the kitchen with my mother. When she spoke to me, I suddenly found myself unable to answer her. My lips were frozen and would not move. When I finally managed to speak, my words came out slurred; they were unintelligible. My family thought it was a joke and started imitating and making fun of me, until they realized I was not joking.

Now unable to speak, with my feet still kicking, I realized it was time to see my physician. He had no idea what was wrong with me, so he sent me to several neurologists for a slew of tests. The results all came back indicating that my health was normal. My physician reiterated that I was in perfectly good health. Nobody could identify the cause of my problems, so they attributed it to "conversion hysteria" – today this is called conversion disorder – connecting my symptoms with my newfound interest in religion and my strong reactions to the suffering of the Jewish people throughout history.

My doctors referred me to a psychiatrist. Twice a week, over the course of about a month, I sat in his office where he would converse with me, trying to figure out the root of the problem. I simply bawled my eyes out. I could not understand why I was there. To me, it seemed perfectly obvious that the problem causing my suffering was physical and not psychological. I was totally sane.

Finally, A Diagnosis
Basically, I was nonfunctional. I felt as if a hose in my gut was siphoning off every bit of strength I had, which wasn’t much. It tore Harvey apart to see me like this, but he continued to feel totally helpless and was unable to help me. Harvey was a very eligible and popular bachelor, and despite my mystery illness, he remained committed to me and we got married in June, 1974. We spent our “honeymoon” at the Scripps Clinic, still searching for answers, being told the exact same thing: all the test results were normal and all I had was hysteria.

I went through the whole gamut of neurological tests available at that time, only to be told over and over again that I was the epitome of health, who just so happened to be unable to walk or talk. Finally I found another neurologist, Dr. Andrea Nash, who told me that she was convinced that I had a physical illness – although she could not identify it – and referred me to her superior, Dr. John Menkes.

I tried to make an appointment, but Dr. Menkes was booked up for months, with his only opening on Saturday, Shabbat, when religious Jews may not travel or do any creative work. I consulted with my rabbi and he said that I could walk there. It took two miles and two hours of my feet kicking each other down the street to reach his office. After examining me, Dr. Menkes diagnosed me with a rare neurological condition called dystonia musculorum deformans.

Finally, it was confirmed: it was not hysteria, and i was totally sane. I had a  physical illness. My initial indescribable elation at finally finding a medical reason for my condition was shattered when the doctor proceeded to tell me how rare it is, that there is no known cause, and, thus, no known treatment or cure.

It was a huge relief that I wasn't suffering from hysteria but it was devastating to know that we'd have to deal with a chronic, incurable illness.
Poor Harvey! All his hopes, dreams, and visions, all his goals and fantasies for a new marriage and a new life were obliterated instantly with the word dystonia. He was totally shattered, and so was I. On the one hand, it was a huge relief that I was not suffering from hysteria; on the other hand, it was devastating to know that we would have to deal with a chronic, incurable illness…possibly, for the rest of our lives. My husband at first was upset and embarrassed by my condition, but eventually he got over it and together we struggled through this as a team.

Facing the World
If you want a small, bitter taste of what it feels like not being able to speak to others, try the following experiment (and don't tell anyone of your plan): The next time you meet with friends, do not say a word. Let it be as if your mouth is sealed. As the conversation flows from topic to topic, do not say a word. If you can manage to do this, you will gain a slight understanding of the constant emotional pain and seclusion of those with speech disorders.

My voice was totally without inflection or expression – a monotone – and my speech was completely unintelligible. I tried another speech therapist, who suggested that I hold my nose when I spoke, to prevent the air from escaping and help make me a little more coherent. Doing this did help me become a little more intelligible, but everywhere I went, people asked me if I needed a tissue.

Whenever I went out into the world, I was armed with the trusty note that I had printed in Hebrew and English. It said, “Hi. My name is Cheri Tannenbaum. I have a neurological condition called dystonia, which affects my speech. I hold my nose when I talk because this helps me to talk a little better. (No, I do not need a tissue!) You need to listen to me very carefully to understand me. Please ask me to repeat myself over and over again until you do. I am not deaf or retarded.”

Whenever I would raise a finger to indicate that I wanted to say something, everyone would say, “Please be quiet! Cheri is going to try to say something!” Then everyone would be watching me, expectantly waiting for me to try to painfully eke out some sounds that might or might not be understood. This was a great purifier of my speech. I learned to consider very carefully whether something needed to be said: most things are not important enough for the monumental effort it would take to try to say them.

At the same time, I had to learn that when there was something truly important for me to say, I needed to be really tenacious and insist that people listen to me.

Not being able to talk bestowed a great advantage on me, as I developed the best listening ear. With pride, I loved it when my friends told me that they felt comfortable telling me their deepest, darkest secrets because they knew that I could not and would not tell a soul.

Growing Family
I didn't want to miss out on being a mother and raising children. My doctors at the time told us that my dystonia was genetic, so there was a 50-50 chance that we would have a child who was ill. I could barely take care of myself, how would I be able to take care of a sick child?

My husband and I wrestled with the issue, and we eventually decided thought God is the ultimate doctor and He knows what we need and what would be best for us. We placed our trust in Him, and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl we name Orit.

After we moved to Israel, I really wanted to have more children. But the doctors told us that with each child the chances of having a sick child goes up. The Almighty gave us another solution. At age 41 the doctors told me that my dystonia isn't genetic! I had another girl at age 42, and a son at 44. Thank God all my kids and grandchildren are healthy!

The Tannenbaum family

I am sure that my children were embarrassed by me, but they never said so outright. I always told them that when they brought friends over, they should explain my issues to them so that they would feel comfortable and not be afraid. This, my children agreed to do. Once, my daughter Nechama brought a friend home and forgot to tell her. The friend started screaming and crying hysterically, and phoned her mother to come and pick her up immediately. It was terrible for all of us. The children I met, including my nieces and nephews, would scream and cry, and run away as soon as they saw me. I would go home and look in the mirror. What I saw was not some kind of monster. I just did not see what they saw, but this is what I was up against.

Laughing Attacks
In August 2014 – as if all this was not burdensome enough – I started having crazy laughing attacks. I would laugh hysterically and uncontrollably, right from my gut. It felt exhilarating and liberating. My laughter would come at any time: alone, with family members or groups of other people, and would last varying amounts of time.

He prescribed a different medicine that had the worst side effect: suddenly I could talk!
Finally, Harvey had had enough and took me to my neurologist, Dr. Avi Reches, who diagnosed me with a rare form of laughing epilepsy. Rare? So what else is new. After prescribing a medicine that disagreed with me, he tried another, and it had the worst side effect in the world: suddenly I COULD TALK.

Yes, God works in very mysterious ways. Yes, there are miracles – they may just take a very long time to happen. At the end of the day, we always end up getting our just due. Never give up. Your situation can change in the blink of an eye, in the snap of a finger, or you may have to wait a while. Perhaps in the end, however, it is worth the wait.

Embracing Life
Happiness is a choice.

I must take life every second as it comes. I know that my day will be a constant struggle and full of humiliation. I try to surround myself with positive, supportive people. I take help from others when I need it. (I always say, “I’m not helpless. I just need some help.”) I try to give to someone else, to transcend my own self-absorption. I hear the call of God: “See how I am helping you to bring out your greatness so that you can be an inspiration to others.” I hear the call of my husband, loving me and rooting for me, and saying, “I still need a life partner despite your disability.” I hear the call of my children loving me and rooting for me, and each saying, “I still need you.” I hear the cry of the people I know loving me and rooting for me and saying, “We all still need you.” I hear my creative spirit calling me and saying, “There is still more beauty that needs to be put into this world.”

After I made aliyah to Israel, a Jerusalem Post reporter wrote about me, “Armed with intelligence, creativity, a sense of humor and an indomitable spirit, there are no challenges Cheri has not been able to meet head-on and prevail.” I try to make sure that continues to be true.

I ask God to give me the strength to cope. I live life one second at a time.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, at any time or in any place, if you are in the moment, doing what is called for wholeheartedly, you are fulfilling your purpose at that time.

Excerpt from Cheri Tannenbaum, Woman of Few Words: My Creative Journey with Dystonia (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2019), ISBN: 978-965-229-973-4

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Post  Admin on Thu 26 Nov 2020, 6:16 pm
This Scares Me More Than Antisemitism
Nov 21, 2020  |  by Rabbi Efrem Goldbergprint article
This Scares Me More Than Antisemitism
The statistical threat of antisemitism pales in comparison to the damage we are doing to ourselves that is spurring the disappearance of our people.

Several years ago, I was standing with our new assistant rabbi, who had just moved here from South Africa, when a stranger came over and engaged us. In the course of our conversation, the man mentioned something about his non-Jewish wife. When he walked away, I looked over and the new rabbi was visibly shaken. I asked what was wrong and he told me it was the first time he had ever met someone who is intermarried. Coming from a Jewish community in South Africa where even those who aren’t observant are overwhelmingly traditional, he had never personally encountered someone who married out of our faith and it left him startled and shaken.

I, too, was startled that day, but for an altogether different reason. I was startled by how not startled I was. Intermarriage has become so “normal” and “mainstream” in America that we meet or hear about someone married to a non-Jew and we don’t flinch.

Indeed, I thought about this story recently when I saw a headline, “Kamala Harris and Douglas Emhoff made history for interfaith families. All Jews should celebrate that.” Politics aside, many have expressed excitement over Kamala’s step-children calling her “Momala” and how Doug broke a glass at their wedding. Others have kvelled that all of President-Elect Joe Biden’s three children, who are Roman Catholic, married Jews.

According to a 2013 Pew survey, 44% of married Jewish respondents, and 58% of those who have married since 2005, are married to a non-Jewish spouse. The rate of intermarriages among non-Orthodox Jews, who make up the majority of the American Jewish population, was a staggering 71%. This data is seven years old and I shudder to think what the numbers look like today.
Correctly, we are all outraged by and concerned with growing antisemitism. This week, the FBI published its 2019 hate crime report, which found that antisemitic hate crimes rose by 14% last year and once again comprised the overwhelming majority of hate crimes based on religion. (60.2% of all hate crime victims were targeted because they were Jews; next on the list were victims of anti-Islamic bias, who comprised 13.2% of the total.) Last year saw a series of lethal antisemitic attacks in Poway, Jersey City, and Monsey that created understandable concern and worry.
Nevertheless, as disturbing as these horrific incidents and troubling trends are, when it comes to Jewish continuity, the statistical threat of antisemitism pales in comparison to the damage we are doing to ourselves and our contributions to the disappearance of our people.

We should continue to make all Jews feel loved, welcomed, and secure with the knowledge that they always have a place within our people.
In his blueprint for sustainable synagogues, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism said, “Interfaith families are now the majority of the movement. Audacious hospitality says, ‘You know what? We’re not going to be just nice and let them in. We’re going to say we can’t be who were meant to be without them.’”

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting we make those who choose differently feel rejected, alienated, or marginalized, or believe that they have no place or future in our people. We should continue to make all Jews feel loved, welcomed, and secure with the knowledge that they always have a place within our people. We should not only leave the door open but welcome them to walk through it.

At the same time, we must not provide hospitality by diluting our values, distorting our principles, or worst of all, compromising on our continuity. The rampant assimilation and growing intermarriage won’t be solved by moving the goal posts, offering a new and convenient definition of who is a Jew or what is a Jewish family, any more than an accountant can solve a bad quarter by cooking the books. We must find a way to simultaneously be hospitable to all Jews while inhospitable to some decisions.

We must love all Jews, and we must also love the Almighty, feel His pain, fight for His values and vision and pursue His blueprint for the Jewish people in His world.

Intermarriage is not a Reform or Conservative challenge, it is not the problem of the “unaffiliated” or “secular.” Too many Orthodox parents have reached out to me about their children who have gone through a robust Jewish education and grew up in observant homes who have met someone non-Jewish and are building a life with them. We are one people, one nation, and we are watching our family hemorrhage.

We need to celebrate the joy of being Jewish in our homes and be willing to sacrifice in our dedication and devotion to Judaism.
This is a time for all of us to dig deep, to draw from the wellsprings of our heritage and our timeless Torah. We must bring God back into the conversations in our homes, celebrate the joy of being Jewish, and be willing to sacrifice in our dedication and devotion to Torah lifestyles.

To be clear, there are parents who are excellent role models, who are deeply and profoundly devoted to Jewish life and living and whose children nevertheless make their own choices about life and about religion. There are no guarantees in life. I share these thoughts not to assign blame or promote guilt or cast aspersions on anyone, but to motivate action and inspiration.

Someone once asked me to meet with a man and his son whom I didn’t know. The son was in a serious relationship with a non-Jew and the father was devastated. He was hoping I could meet and “talk some sense” into the son. I will never forget the conversation in my office. The father began by describing how betrayed he feels, how pained he is and what a mistake his son is making.

When he was done, the son turned to his father and said, "Dad, you speak so self-righteously, you claim to care so much about Judaism and Jewish continuity, but what sacrifices are you making for your Judaism? You have a casual attitude towards Jewish law, you pick and choose as you see fit, you are not consistent about praying or study. You aren’t willing to give up the foods you love, the things you want to do, your time or energy and you want me to give up a girl I have fallen in love with who will make a wonderful wife and mother?"

I was floored. The son had made an articulate and compelling case, not in defense of his tragic choice, but rather as an indictment of a father he believed had no right to be surprised or upset.

If we have a casual and selective attitude towards our Judaism, what can we expect from our children and grandchildren. We need to return to the wells that have sustained us and kept us hydrated throughout our history. We must double down on lifestyles of deep commitment to Jewish law, Jewish life, Torah study, character development and lovingkindness. We must work to share our treasured Torah with Jews around us making outreach a priority, not only for outreach professionals but the responsibility of every concerned Jew.

Hearing about intermarriage, whether in the highest office in the land, or anywhere else, is not something to “celebrate” or admire, it is something to grieve, to be pained by, but most of all, to be driven to do something about.

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Five Ways to Build Your Gratitude Muscles
Nov 21, 2020  |  by Sara Debbie Gutfreundprint article
Five Ways to Build Your Gratitude Muscles
This has never been more important than it is now when so much seems to be going wrong in the world and in our lives.

Like any muscle, we need to work on building our gratitude muscles every day. A runner I know – he runs 14-16 miles a day – said that people assume he gets up every day excited to run, but he actually hates running. Every morning he forces himself to overcome the resistance to stay in bed. When he's tired, he runs anyway. When people ask him what he's training for now that so many races are canceled, he replies, "I’m training for life. Because life is so often about forcing ourselves to move forward when all we want to do is give up."

This has never been more important than it is now when it seems so much easier to complain about everything that's wrong in our lives and in the world around us. Training ourselves to be grateful every day requires us to pause and focus on the goodness in our lives. As Thanksgiving approaches, here are five ways for us to build our gratitude muscles.

1. Express authentic gratitude.
It’s easy to be grateful when everything is working out just the way we want it to. It's a lot harder to be grateful when it seems like nothing is going right. So don’t try to pretend to feel grateful for your children when you are struggling with parenting challenges. Don’t try to force yourself to be grateful for abundance when you have just lost your job.

Focus on the one or two things today that you can genuinely feel grateful for in this moment. It could be something small, like a detail in your room you don’t usually pay attention to. Or a beautiful sunrise. It could be the smell of your coffee in the morning. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s authentic.

2. View gratitude as a responsibility.
Sometimes when I don’t wake up feeling grateful, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am responsible for my outlook on the world. I am responsible to thank those around me. It really is a miracle that our lives work the way they do each day. The lights turn on. Packages are delivered. There is hot water in my shower. There are groceries in the store. I can’t begin to thank the countless people who make all this possible, but I can be responsible to at least thank the person right in front of me.

3. Turn gratitude into action.

Small actions count. Everything we do matters. If we are in a difficult situation, there is always something we can do to make things worse. And there is always something, however small and seemingly insignificant, we can do to make things better.

To be more grateful, what can we stop doing that is blocking our gratitude? Maybe it’s no longer complaining about things that we can’t control or letting go of a habit that limits our capacity to appreciate our lives.

And what small action can we do to feel more grateful? Maybe it's going outside and looking up at the stars. Maybe it is writing a thank you text. Maybe it is saying a blessing over our food. Maybe it's giving a family member a hug. Every action matters.

4. Practice gratitude for those we are missing this year.
For many of us, this is the first Thanksgiving that we will be not be getting together with family members. Not only do I miss my relatives, but now that we can only see each other on FaceTime I realize how many years I took our Thanksgiving dinners for granted. I took for granted the warmth and the laughter and the connection that we only feel when we are with our families.

This year is an opportunity to feel especially grateful for our families as we feel their absence around our tables.

5. See the bigger picture.
Our lives today are so much easier compared to those who have come before us that we often lose sight of how fortunate we are to be living at this time in history. Though many of us are lonely and stressed during this pandemic, we are also relatively safe and comfortable within our own homes. We have called many events during 2020 "unprecedented", but most of the generations before us have struggled with this and far worse. They struggled with flus and plagues before we were blessed with modern medicine and sanitary hospitals. They faced war and famine and the constant battle just to survive another day.

We can have our groceries delivered to our doors, and the temperature regulated in our homes. We may be stressed about our jobs but most of us are not worried about how we will eat tomorrow. There is a lot of pessimism about the state of the world today and not nearly enough gratitude for how amazing our lives really are. Technology has given us more free time than any other generation in history. We can communicate with each other in ways that only decades ago we could have never imagined.

The question is what are we going to do with all of our freedom and abundance? It's easy to complain and stay stuck in our views of the world. It's harder to train our gratitude muscles when we don’t feel like it. But as an anonymous quote I recently saw said: The grass isn’t greener on the other side - the grass is greener where you water it. Our ability to feel grateful can grow stronger every day when we focus relentlessly on the beauty in this one, precious life.

We're always training for life. Let’s train our gratitude muscles today.

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Post  Admin on Mon 23 Nov 2020, 9:58 pm
The Jewelry Thief in a Labor Camp in Poland
Nov 21, 2020  |  by Eliezer Shoreprint article
The Jewelry Thief in a Labor Camp in Poland
Elijah the Prophet can come in all types of guises.

If I were to tell you all that happened to me during World War II – how it began for me and how it ended, how I survived and how many times I almost died, the friends I lost and the friends I found – it would fill more volumes than there are years of my life. Some stories do stand out in my mind, though, and this is one of them.

It was 1944 and I was fifteen years old. When the Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated, I was sent to the Budzyn labor camp in Poland, along with 800 other Jews. There were about 2000 of us in the camp altogether, including women and children. Most of us worked until exhaustion or death at a military-industrial complex nearby; some labored as servants in the homes of local Poles.

The trick to survival, I quickly learned, was to maneuver oneself into a job “with benefits” – that is, where the workload was not as heavy, or the supervisor not as blood-thirsty, or food was attainable, even by theft. If any one of those factors were missing, death would come within days.

I had been working in an arms factory. It was difficult and exhausting labor. One day the Polish supervisor motioned to me to follow him to a new location – a spacious, brightly lit warehouse nearby. In the center, propped up on wooden stands, was a large wing from a German fighter plane – fifteen feet long and five feet wide. Other plane parts were lined up along the walls, while cans of gray, green and brown paint were scattered around the room. The Pole showed me what to do. I was to use pressurized spray cans to paint the wings and other parts as evenly as I could, all according to specifications. In my heart, I was delighted, though I dared not show it on my face. It didn’t look like hard work at all, but something that one person could do alone. I thanked God for the work.

Unfortunately, my joy soon turned to despair. The paint had a strong acetone base, and as I sprayed the plane wings, I found myself at the center of a cloud of noxious vapor that burned my lungs, stung my eyes, and confused my thoughts. I tried my best to cover my mouth, but the dirty cloths lying around the room, with their pungent turpentine smell, offered no protection. My hands and face were speckled from the paint, and my head was swimming.

Each morning, before I entered the hall, I would take several deep breaths of clean, fresh air, hoping that they would suffice for the entire day. From then until evening, I took as shallow breaths as possible. Of course, it didn’t really help, and within a short time, I was inhaling the fumes again. It took immense effort to concentrate on the work, though I dared not stop. My thoughts became confused and I often hallucinated. Sometimes, I thought that I heard voices in the empty room, only to realize it was my own voice; I thought I saw people standing around me, though they would vanish when I turned to look. I was alone in the room, save for a Polish supervisor, who sat at the far end of the warehouse, either half-drunk of half-asleep. He never even glanced in my direction.
This went on for two weeks, without a break. As soon as I finished one wing, they would bring another one in its place. It got to the point that I could no longer continue. I felt like I was going to die. I thought that a gas chamber would be better than this slow death by poison.

You can bring me my mother’s jewelry. They’re hidden in the graveyard in Warsaw.
It was on one of those days that the supervisor unexpectedly rose from his chair and approached me. Tall, blond and blue-eyed, the vodka on his breath mingled with the other chemical smells in the room. I shook my head and tried to concentrate on what he wanted from me. I felt like I was swimming through some dense, dark liquid, struggling for the surface.

“Jew,” he said, “what can I do for you?”

I couldn’t understand what he meant and took a step back. But he moved in closer, his bloodshot eyes staring at me as though through a fog.

“Jew,” he said again, “what can I do for you?”

“Just let me die,” I said to him, struggling to hold back my tears.

“No,” he said, “tell me what I can do for you. Can I bring you something?”

Bring me something? The words spiraled down into my brain, as though through some muddy whirlpool. The answer I gave him came out by itself. Until today, I don’t know where the words came from.

“You can bring me my mother’s jewelry. They’re hidden in the graveyard in Warsaw.”

“Where? Where?” he said, his filthy hand grabbing my wrist. “Where can I find them!?”

That night, as I made my way back to the bunker, I reviewed what had happened earlier that day. Did the Pole really approach me or was it a hallucination? Did I really tell him about my mother’s jewelry or was I just imagining it? And if I did tell that thieving murderer about it, how could I have been so stupid? My mother’s precious jewelry – now I would never see it again.

The next day, I returned to work, and it was as though nothing had happened. The Pole sat in his corner seat, drunk and half-conscious, and never glanced in my direction. A new plane wing was waiting for me, with no time to waste. What I remembered of yesterday must have been a hallucination. I returned to the suffocating job of painting the wings.

About a week passed. I kept on working in the hangar; the situation did not improve.

One day, the Pole rose from his seat and approached me again. I stopped working to focus on him.

“Jew, take!” he said, and pressed a small, round loaf of brown bread into my hand. Then he turned and went back to his seat.

A loaf of bread! In Budzyn this was more precious than gold! I was so famished, I could have eaten it all in one bite. But I decided to bring it back to the camp to share with my uncle, and my friend, Simcha Holtzberg.

Reentering the camp that evening, I hid the loaf under my shirt. Later that night, lying between my uncle and Simcha on the bunks, I took it out and showed it to them. They couldn’t believe it either; my uncle wanted to hold it, to make sure that it was real.

“Maybe that guard is Elijah the Prophet,” Simcha said with a smile, but I didn’t respond. To be honest, the idea had occurred to me, too. From all the children’s stories that I remembered, he looked like Elijah, with his blue eyes, square jaw and wavy blond hair.

The entire loaf was hollow. Inside was some of my mother’s jewelry. It saved our lives.
We decided that we would eat the entire loaf right there, rather than divide it into small pieces to make it last for days. I broke open the loaf as quietly as I could, so that none of the other prisoners would hear. Suddenly something small fell out of it. I looked and saw that the entire loaf was hollow. Inside was some of my mother’s jewelry. All three of us stared in disbelief. Had that Pole actually traveled 250 miles to Warsaw to unearth it? And why in the world would he give it to me? Was he really Elijah the Prophet?

Of course, we ate the loaf, but more importantly, that jewelry saved our lives. We traded pieces of it for food, clothing and other means of survival. Once, I traded a piece for a slice of bread, and then traded a bite of that bread for the opportunity to put on tefillin that someone had found in the camp. “You have an extra slice of bread today,” my uncle told me. “You can trade a bite to do the mitzvah.”

I continued working in the airplane factory, though the supervisor never looked or spoke to me again, nor I to him. After a few weeks, I was transferred out of there to a new task and location. I could breathe deeply – for a while.

It would be nice to end the story there. To leave it as a mystery, as incomprehensible as my entire survival during those bitter years. But there’s a second part to this tale that needs to be told. It happened years later, after I had already settled and raised a family in Israel.

It was a Saturday night, following the bar mitzvah of our twin sons, Betzalel and Menashe. Our house had been a bedlam of guests, food and gifts the entire day, and my wife and I were finally cleaning up. She was tidying the living room and I was in the kitchen, doing the dishes.

“Enough, Avraham,” she said. “We’ve done enough today. The work isn’t going anywhere, it can wait until tomorrow. There’s supposed to be an interesting lecture in the community center. Let’s go.”

We drove downtown and took our seats. I can’t say whether the speaker was interesting or not; I was so tired that I fell asleep almost as soon as we sat down. Suddenly, though, a comment from someone sitting behind us startled me back to awareness. “Yes, he was in the cemetery in Warsaw.”

“What?” I thought. “Who are they referring to?” When the war broke out, I, too, had sought refuge in the Warsaw cemetery. I sat up in my chair and stared closely at the speaker. I recognized him! It was Yorek, who had hidden there together with me. He was noticeably older, and now a distinguished scholar. He had even authored a book on the Holocaust – the topic of his lecture. When he finished speaking, I approached him.

“Aren’t you Avraham Carmi?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s me!” I replied.

He laughed and embraced me. And then, before I could say anything, he whispered in my ear, “You know, Lieberman stole your mother’s jewelry.”

“Lieberman? Who’s Lieberman?”

“You don’t remember him? Tall, blond, with light-blue eyes. He came to the cemetery and said that you had sent him. He asked for someone to help him find the red mausoleum in the Jewish section.”

That drunken Pole, sleeping all day in the corner of the airplane factory, had really been a Jew, disguising himself to survive the war.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. That drunken Pole, sleeping all day in the corner of the airplane factory, had really been a Jew, disguising himself to survive the war.

“He wasn’t a thief,” I said in a voice, trembling with emotion. “He was Elijah the Prophet!”

“He was to you,” Yorek replied, with an ironic smile.

To make a long story short, this Lieberman also survived the war and made his way to Tel Aviv, where he ran a small factory. Yorek gave me his address, and several days later, I went to see him. As soon as I walked in, I recognized him – though he no longer smelled of alcohol. He greeted me casually, as though we had seen each other just the day before. “Come,” he said, leading me to his office, “I have something for you.” He opened the drawer and took out a small metal tin – my mother’s jewelry box. It was empty, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that the two of us were alive, sitting face to face, in an office in Tel Aviv.

And so, my Elijah was a man of flesh and blood, and a Jew! Yet, he saved my life. To me, he was and will always be an angel in disguise.

This story originally appeared in My Portion in the Land of the Living: The story of Abraham Carmi, by Efrat Hiba. It was translated and adapted by R. Eliezer Shore, in his book Meeting Elijah: true tales of Eliyahu Hanavi (Tehiru Press, 2020), available on Amazon. Click here to order.

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Post  Admin on Thu 19 Nov 2020, 4:24 pm

Why Are the Jewish People Compared to Stars?
Nov 14, 2020  |  by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen
Each of us is a source of incomparable radiant light.


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Post  Admin on Thu 19 Nov 2020, 4:23 pm
Off the Grid: Joshua Safran’s Childhood Was Nothing like Yours
Aug 12, 2017  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmonsprint article
Off the Grid: Joshua Safran’s Childhood Was Nothing like Yours
One boy’s improbable journey from witches’ commune to Jerusalem.

For a Jewish kid growing up in 1980s America, Joshua Safran's childhood was unconventional to say the least. Much of it was spent hitchhiking with his free-spirited mother Claudia across the rural west – living intermittently in a commune, a dilapidated ice cream truck, and on the forest floor without electricity, running water, toilet, or refrigeration.

With great resilience and a sharp mind, by age 25 Joshua was a top-10 law school graduate, happily married, and an observant Jew.

This is his incredible journey.

In the Beginning
Joshua Safran was born in 1975 into a commune of witches in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Rather than cackle over caldrons, these wymyn – the extreme wing of the feminist movement – channeled pagan spiritual energies to "rescue the goddess and heal the world."

Joshua plays fife in the New Mexico desert

"My mother is an incredible idealist," Safran told from his home in Portland, Oregon. "She was in search of utopia and brought me along for the ride."

His mother Claudia was a "red diaper baby" – the term for children raised as American Communist. Her father was blacklisted by McCarthy for encouraging the downtrodden proletariat to rise up in a Marxist revolution and overthrow the U.S. government. "They were willing to sacrifice for a utopian ideal," Joshua explains.

When Joshua was 4, Ronald Reagan was elected president. Claudia anticipated nuclear war and took to the hills of the Pacific Northwest to "keep the struggle alive." Mother and son spent the next five years off the grid and on the open road. Joshua had no rules, no father, and no stability.


This tenuous childhood declined further when Claudia married a Marxist guerilla commander from El Salvador – an occultist who also turned out to be a violent alcoholic. Amidst regularly beatings of his mother, young Joshua would hide under the covers, terrified to confront the monster. By age 12, Joshua's soul was so desperate for justice that he plotted to kill his stepfather.

Stirrings of Spirit
Joshua describes his early years as "nominally home-schooled," his mother opposing public school for "teaching bad values of capitalism, violence and competition." When his formal education began in sixth grade, Joshua could read and write at a college level, and was expert in Russian literature, Marxist theory, geography and geopolitics. Yet he was ignorant of basic math and science.

Joshua's social transition was difficult, as the other kids mocked his hippy style. "The paisley patches on my thrift store clothing and tree sap in my hair made me a prime target for redneck bullies of the rural west," he demurs.

One evening, Joshua and his mother were hiking to their home – a tarp in a temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. They met a man who took one look at Joshua and said, "He's got a rabbi's nose!"

Joshua later asked his mother to explain. "Oh, I never told you we're Jewish?" she said, describing it as a family they shared with Freud, Marx and Einstein. Joshua was shocked to find he had deep roots, "that I belonged somewhere." When he pressed for more information about being Jewish, his mother gave a classic Jewish answer: "Let's go to the library and look it up."

The Jewish story mirrored Joshua's life: Outcast, wandering, adversity, seeking higher purpose.
Starting with Encyclopedia Britannica, Joshua discovered he was "descended from an ancient tribe that emerged from the mists of prehistory to teach the world about ethics and God." He looked at the portrait of Maimonides and had a visceral sense this was his personal family photo album.

He also learned that the Jews – scattered to the wind, oppressed and demeaned – soldiered on, believing in their cause and making an impact wherever they went. "On some level this mirrored my life story," Joshua says. "Outcast, wandering through adversity, seeking a higher purpose."

At age 12, Joshua heard the stirring words of Bob Marley's "Corner Stone":

The stone that the builder refuse,
Will always be the head cornerstone.
Joshua and his mother Claudia

These words of rejection and ultimate redemption resonated deeply with Joshua, inspiring him that "all this adversity was somehow laying the foundations of a wonderful life." When his mother claimed those words were written by King David, Joshua pored through the entire book of Psalms to disprove her. "I discovered, to my surprise, King David speaking to me across three millennia."

From there Joshua took refuge in the public library, where he "rode the reading room through space and time," soaking up history books and the Bible, and as a bonus finding refuge from his violent stepfather at home.

"I was deeply affected by Moses," Joshua says. "Moses grows up disconnected from the Jewish people, goes into the wilderness to find God, and is later reunited with his people. For me, this was an important invitation to reclaim my heritage."

Coming Home
Joshua excelled at school and earned a full scholarship to Oberlin College, where he studied Politics, Environmental Studies, and Judaic/Near Eastern Studies. Joshua's research of anthropology, spirituality and philosophy led to the conclusion that his mother's road to utopia – expressed in Wiccan spirituality and Marxist politics – were fabricated fads, incapable of true personal and societal transformation.

Joshua craved authenticity, what he calls "the one and only original, no imitations or substitutions." Seizing on his Jewish roots, he visited the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and – pre-Birthright – wrangled a free ticket to Israel.

Searching for the core of the 4,000-year-old Jewish story, Joshua connected in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he stayed at the Heritage House youth hostel and enjoyed Shabbat meals with the Machlis family. "Every square space was filled with upwards of 100 people," he describes. "I felt the wave of simcha as we walked in."

What impressed him most was the Abrahamic hospitality and sense of inclusion. "I looked pretty weird with my long hair and flannel shirt. In America, they'd call the sheriff. In Israel, people fought over the honor to host me in their home."

early trip to Israel

Joshua's breakthrough experience came while attending a High Holidays beginner's service at Aish HaTorah overlooking the Western Wall. He recalls: "The rabbi announced: 'It's time for the Priestly Blessing. Are there any Kohens here today?' So the guy in front of me – a London gutter punk with orange dreadlocks and a safety pin though his nose – raises his hand. I'm thinking, This will be so embarrassing when security has to escort this guy out.

"But they brought him up front, unfurled a prayer shawl over his shoulders, and all of us, including the esteemed rabbis, stood back to receive the Priestly Blessing. At that moment of acceptance and unity, I knew I was home."

When Joshua returned from Israel, his mother pointed out the irony of – growing up with no rules and no father – and now subscribing to a ‘rule-based patriarchal system’.

“From a young age I felt by a tangible paternal presence, guiding me through life-and-death situations. I was swept by waves in California and almost drowned; I fell out of a massive tree, and I careened down a cliff in a car with no brakes. Each time I felt a calm, omniscient presence coaching me out of it.”

I'd seen the contrived spiritual systems fail.
Joshua was on a spiritual search, knowing very little except that he didn't want a derivative knock-off product. "I'd seen all the contrived spiritual systems and how they failed. As the original monotheistic faith, Judaism has full legitimacy and authenticity. And if it's all an elaborate scam to get me to behave like an ethical, compassionate human being? That's an excellent 'worse-case' scenario!"

After graduating Oberlin, Joshua spent a year studying in the mystic Israeli city of Tzefat. The clean mountain air, storied cobblestones and ancient Jewish wisdom illuminated Joshua's return to his Jewish roots. At Yeshiva Shalom Rav, he discovered Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld's zt"l approach to Torah life – emphasizing inclusion, and not judging people with different traditions or backgrounds. "It uses warmth to show what Judaism can be," Joshua says. "That spoke to my heart."

Crime after Crime
In looking toward a career, Joshua saw lawyers as exemplars of success in America – both financially and in their ability to assist the poor and powerless in a chaotic legal system. Joshua applied to prestigious Berkeley law school and was accepted. That set into motion a new life direction – marriage to his soul mate Leah, fatherhood, a home in trendy North Berkeley, and a corner office at a corporate mega-law firm.

"After living for so long on the margins of society," he says, "I wanted to experience the 'American dream.' Representing Fortune 100 companies, with my own secretary and a hefty salary, I felt I'd finally arrived."

Yet that feeling lasted for six months; the material pleasures failed to satisfy his thirst for a meaningful life. "You're deeply entrenched on a hamster wheel, working ungodly hours," Joshua says, "You're either on the partner track or you're fired. Because of how I grew up, I felt I had to prove that I could compete and succeed as well as everyone else."

"At the law firm, the average burnout rate of an associate – from his first day on the job until the time he either collapses or quits – is 18 months. I lasted for 8 years, and without question what saved me was the mandatory weekly recharge of Shabbat."

Crime After Crime ad

Around this time, California adopted a new law to assist women who'd been sent to prison after defending themselves against an abusive intimate partner. With another lawyer, Joshua took on a pioneering case that tested this law and unknowingly stumbled into a 7-year ordeal that led him to confront the demons lurking from encounters with his own abusive stepfather.

The case centered on Deborah Peagler, a sweet and dynamic woman who led the world's largest women’s prison gospel choir. At age 15 she'd been taken by a pimp and drug dealer in south central Los Angeles, forced into prostitution and horrifically abused for six years. When the pimp was found dead, Deborah was falsely charged and convicted of murder. By the time Joshua entered the picture, she'd already languished 20 years in prison.

The case caught the interest of Yoav Potash, Joshua's friend and filmmaker who agreed to document the case. In the seven-year process to obtain freedom ("a nightmarish, bureaucratic rabbit hole of injustice"), Joshua exposed deep corruption in the LA District Attorney's office and attracted nationwide media attention.

"I'd plotted to kill my abusive stepfather. That could have been me sitting in prison."
For Joshua, the case became personal when Deborah explained how the pimp, after a beating, would use raw steaks to heal her wounds. The words hit Joshua like an anvil, conjuring up his darkest childhood memories of his mother being beaten by the Salvadorian revolutionary. "Deborah was a metaphorical extension of my own experience," he says. "I'd plotted to kill my abusive stepfather. That could have been me sitting in prison."

Joshua subsequently shared his experiences with Deborah, the first time he'd ever discussed them openly. "I had therapy sessions with a convicted murderer at the maximum security prison," he says wryly.

Employing legal creativity and prodigious tenacity, Joshua eventually obtained Deborah's release from prison. The case – especially Joshua's unique involvement – was immortalized in the documentary Crime After Crime, winner of dozens of awards and featured at the Sundance Film Festival and Oprah Winfrey Network.

For Joshua, this entire ordeal was a tikkun, a spiritual repair of sorts. "For years I'd been carrying the burden of my own cowardice when my mother might have been killed and I didn't do anything to protect her," he says. "The fight for Deborah's freedom helped prove to my 10-year-old self that I finally had the courage to stand up against domestic abuse."

Free Spirit book cover

Out of this caldron, Joshua produced a memoir of his childhood, Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid. Critics called it “beautiful, powerful, introspective, hilarious, heartbreaking... and a remarkable account of survival despite the odds."

Joshua is now a nationally recognized expert on domestic violence and wrongful imprisonment, and a regular on the Jewish lecture circuit. His message is one of liberating people from stigmas that ruin their lives. "With my own childhood, I needed the courage and permission to confront my experiences, to talk about it, and not be ashamed," he says. "Everywhere I go I get pulled aside by people carrying around these lifelong secrets."

Today and Beyond
Joshua's childhood left him with jagged edges, and he is determined to provide a more "normal" life for his three daughters, ages 10-14. "Everything I do as a father, I view dramatically as a tikkun for my own childhood," he says. "I'm trying to navigate this middle path, where my children gain the resilience I had growing up – but without the difficult experiences that gave me that training."

Joshua and his wife are applying ancient Torah wisdom to navigate life's core areas: marriage, parenting, community, and spiritual growth.

Joshua today

Viewers of the domestic abuse film see how Torah ideals impact Joshua's devotion to the cause. The film shows Joshua at morning prayers, praising God for "releasing those who are bound" (matir asurim). Joshua tells the camera: “If someone is wrongfully imprisoned, we have an obligation to fight to free them, to liberate them.”

With sensitivity guided by Torah, Joshua’s role in this story is a Kiddush Hashem. Joshua says he was particularly inspired by the stories of Rabbi Aryeh Levin (A Tzaddik in Our Time), a Jerusalem holy man who dedicated his life to helping prisoners. "Every inmate prays for the day when a team of lawyers will show up and fight for their release," he says.

As for domestic violence, it is an issue that remains close to Joshua's heart. "I always wondered why my mother would allow herself to be beaten. I later discovered that the problem extends back to my great-great-grandfather who became an orphan when the Cossacks murdered his parents while he hid in a closet. He was devastated and raged out violently like a family lightning rod, starting a chain passed down through each generation. Here I am, five generations later, experiencing the fallout of that pogrom."

"My Communist grandparents had strong Messianic yearnings."
Meanwhile, Joshua is grateful for the sense of idealism he inherited from his Jewish grandparents. "They were raised with traditional eastern European Jewish values, so had strong Messianic yearnings. Yet they applied our 4,000-year-old yearnings onto Communism, the popular 'ism' of the time."

Joshua's mother inherited both this idealism and lightning rod syndrome, heading for the hills in what Joshua calls "the last woman standing, seeking a higher truth, and called to sacrifice for the good of humanity."

Safran is not Joshua's given last name. He and his wife chose it together, based on the root sefer, book. That's where this whole story begins, as the People of the Book, and reversing a generational search for utopia – from one direction to a traditional Jewish ideal. His three daughters attend Jewish day school, one a recent Bat Mitzvah was a family first in 110 years.

Joshua reflects: "If I could do it all over again, I'd choose the experience slogging through muddy trails at my mother's side, over the cushy sugar-and-television suburban life I'd once dreamed of. At Oberlin, I met kids from suburban families who were clinically depressed, on medication, suicidal, and complained their parents never cared about them. The grass is always greener. So I enjoy the small pleasures like a hot shower and I get excited when the utility bills come."

For Joshua Safran, it's all part of his miraculous storybook adventure.

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Post  Admin on Tue 17 Nov 2020, 11:22 pm
Demonizing Pfizer’s Jewish CEO
Nov 17, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Demonizing Pfizer’s Jewish CEO
A Greek newspaper is attacking Albert Bourla with anti-Semitic tropes.

On Monday, November 9, 2020, the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made a welcome announcement: a vaccine they were working on, along with the drug maker Biontech, has shown promising results in clinical trials, blocking over 90% of Covid-19 infections during trials to date. The news sparked exhilaration: Pfizer’s stock soared and billions of people around the world dared hope that Pfizer might soon help end the Covid-19 pandemic.

But relief and hope were in short supply in the offices of Greece’s Makeleio newspaper. Instead of covering Pfizer’s good news, the small paper zeroed in on the Greek Jewish heritage of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who was born in Thessaloniki, a port city in Greece which was once a major Jewish center, known as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans” before World War II.

The newspaper claimed that Bourla is evil and the vaccine that Pfizer is working on is actually deadly. The paper juxtaposed a photo of Bourla with that of Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele, who conducted gruesome experiments on Jewish prisoners. In case any readers missed the Holocaust reference, the paper included a picture of Nazi-era striped concentration camp uniforms. Albert Bourla wants to “stick the needle” into Greeks, delivering what the paper described as “poison” in the guise of a vaccine.

After receiving criticism for this bizarre anti-Semitic headline, Makeleio published another hate-filled article three days later, describing Bourla as a “Greek Jew” who was in thrall to a made-up, sinister-sounding “Israel Council”.

Echoes of Nazi Slurs

The newspaper’s slurs wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Nazi times. Leveling such anti-Semitic slanders at a Jew from Thessaloniki is an ironic repeat of history, echoing the days when Thessaloniki’s Jews were targeted and smeared, accused of being evil and of having almost superhuman powers to harm non-Jews.

In the years following the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492, about twenty thousand Jewish refugees moved to Thessaloniki (formerly called Salonika). It became the largest Jewish center in all of Greece; by 1939 about 55,000 called the city home. When German troops occupied the city in 1942, they plundered the city, sending the Jewish inhabitants to concentration camps and seizing tens of thousands of pieces of art and other property back to Germany. Only 4% of Thessaloniki’s Jews survived.

Albert Bourla

For years after the Holocaust, Thessaloniki’s residents seemed to do their best to obliterate their city’s Jewish heritage. A new university, Aristotle University, was built atop the town’s Jewish cemetery, destroying generations of Jewish graves. It was only in the 1980s that Thessaloniki first erected a monument dedicated to the memory of the over 50,000 of the city’s Jews who’d been murdered. Today, approximately 1,000 Jews live in Thessaloniki. Jewish life there is more visible today, but it’s not easy.

High Levels of Anti-Jewish Hatred in Greece
Despite being home to a very small Jewish community – just 5,000 out of a national population of nearly 11 million – Greece harbors intense anti-Jewish feelings. A recent poll by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that 69% of Greeks harbor anti-Semitic opinions, as compared to 24% in Western Europe and 26% of people globally. Greek levels of anti-Jewish feeling were higher than anywhere else in the world outside of the Middle East.

A whopping 80% of Greeks agreed with the statement that Jews have too much power in the business world, and 82% agreed that Jews have too much power in financial markets. 74% believe that Jews have too much power over world affairs, and 69% assert that Jews have control global media to an unacceptable degree. In 2018, only 39% of Greek respondents said they had a positive view of Jews; that number had declined from 44% just two years previously.

Media coverage is a possible driver of these hateful attitudes. Some Greek newspapers routinely slander Jews and the Jewish state using horrendous anti-Jewish stereotypes. In fact, the week before Makeleio printed its outrageous slanders against Albert Bourla, it was ordered to pay a fine by a Greek court for insulting Greek Jewish community leader Minos Moissis, whom a columnist called a “crude Jew” who stole money from “poor Greeks”.

Makeleio is a smaller newspaper, commanding only about 8% of the market share in Greece, but anti-Jewish slurs are common in other papers as well. In 2018 the left-leaning, more prestigious newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton, which usually is critical of anti-Semitism within Greece, published an outrageous cartoon depicting Israeli soldiers as Nazis, leaving bloody handprints on the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred site.

On August 7, 2018, the extremist newspaper Eleftheri Ora accused “Zionism” of causing the deadly forest fires near Athens that killed over 100 people.

While many Greeks condemned the outrageous Makeleio headlines, their damaging message continues to resonate with thousands of readers. “The identification of the CEO of Pfizer with Mengele, the so-called butcher of Auschwitz, is an appalling and unethical assault against Albert Bourla only because he is a Jew,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) declared. Greece’s Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs condemned the articles as “the most vile antisemitism which brings to mind the Medieval period when Jews were accused of every disaster, illness or defeat.”

Yet with tensions running high due to the global pandemic, Jews are once again finding themselves in the cross hairs, accused of nefarious actions and subject to conspiracy theories much as we were during the Middle Ages.

Blaming Jews for Covid-19
A May 2020 report by American Jewish Communities (AJC) found that Jews were being blamed for the coronavirus pandemic around the world.

A Lebanese-American professor at California State University, Stanislaus, falsely tweeted that Jews would use the Covid pandemic to justify mass imprisonment of “non-Jews”. In Turkey, a retired intelligence official made the false charge on President Erdogan’s television network that Jews and Zionists had invented Covid-19. The Palestinian Authority (PA) issued untrue official communications that falsely claimed Israeli hospitals were only treating Jewish patients with Covid-19 – even though Israel at the time was supplying the PA with medical training, test kits and other medical equipment and PPE.

This steady drumbeat of blame has had a chilling effect. A study in May 2020 by Oxford University found that fully one in five English people believed the completely untrue claim that Jews created Covid-19 in order to bring about global financial collapse and to profit financially. The Community Security Trust CST) in England has documented multiple anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that have become popular, blaming Jews for supposedly inventing or spreading Covid-19.

Countering anti-Jewish Conspiracy Theories
“Conspiracy beliefs have...been linked to feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, isolation and alienation,” Dr. Aleksandra Cichocka, a political psychologist at the University of Kent in England and an expert in conspiracy theories, notes. “Those who feel that they are insignificant cogs in the political machinery tend to assume that there are nefarious influences at play.”

That’s why it’s more crucial than ever to stand up now and counter false assertions whenever we hear them. The bizarre attacks on Albert Bourla by Greece’s Makeleio newspaper might sound so far-fetched that it’s impossible anyone would actually believe them. Yet hearing this sort of anti-Jewish slur does have an effect, causing people in time to suspect Jews and to harbor negative feelings and fears towards us.

Now is the time to take a stand against conspiracy theories and anti-Jewish slurs. When you hear of anti-Semitic articles or insinuations, speak up. Post on social media. Write letters to the editors of news outlets that engage in attacks on Jews or others. In this parlous time, we all have an obligation to make sure that we are beacons of reasoned discussion, and to make our reasoned opinions heard.

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Post  Admin on Sun 15 Nov 2020, 7:02 pm
A Rabbi’s Confession: What I Discovered by Not Going to Shul
Nov 14, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blechprint article
A Rabbi’s Confession: What I Discovered by Not Going to Shul
I prayed and learned Torah at home, but there was no way I could replace the communal aspect that only a synagogue supplies.

Who would believe that I would admit to this publicly?

Praying is an essential part of my life. I’ve always been profoundly moved by the beautiful explanation given by rabbinic commentators as reason for why we pray three times a day: If our bodies need the physical nourishment of breakfast, lunch and dinner for a healthy lifestyle then our souls similarly require the spiritual sustenance of Shacharit, Minchah and Ma’ariv. Going to shul is not just a mitzvah, it’s almost a medical requirement.

And yet with just a very few rare exceptions on the High Holy Days – made possible by outdoor prayer on a temporarily closed for traffic city street- I haven’t been able to pray in a synagogue since the start of the global pandemic. For the longest time the local shuls were shut down by city edict. When they finally were permitted to reopen with strict guidelines for number of attendees, age restrictions for the elderly as well as my own doctor’s orders have forced me to continue my personal spiritual quarantine.

So it is now more than half a year that I haven’t been able to talk to God in the sanctity of my otherwise “second home” – a synagogue that allows me to feel kinship not only with the Almighty but with my fellow community of Jews as well.

This period of personal deprivation has taught me a crucial lesson about the blessing of synagogue life. In Jewish tradition a synagogue is known by three different Hebrew names. It is commonly called a Beit Tefillah – a house of prayer. Others frequently prefer to refer to it as a Beit Midrash – a house of study. Finally, and perhaps most often, it is known as a Beit Ha-Knesset, a house of communal gathering.

The three names emphasize the three different purposes of the place Jewish genius created to serve as substitute for the holy Temple after its destruction. A synagogue, the Talmud tells us, is a mikdash me’at – a mini sanctuary and perhaps more than anything else it was historically responsible for the preservation of Judaism and the Jewish people.

Each of the three Hebrew names for a synagogue emphasizes a different important aspect.
Yet each of the Hebrew names for a synagogue emphasizes a different important aspect. Obviously, prayer is one of them. Of course it should be called a Beit Tefillah, a House of Prayer. Yet, a synagogue without an emphasis on the study of Torah surely lacks a crucial component. It was Rabbi Kook who famously said that the difference between prayer and Torah is that in prayer man speaks to God and in Torah God speaks to man. The synagogue needs to emphasize both of these conversations and its Hebrew name can certainly reflect one or the other.

But the third name, Beit Ha-Knesset, a house of communal gathering, focuses on a different dimension of synagogue life: community. A synagogue is other people. A synagogue is friendship. A synagogue is sharing in the lives of others. It allows for communal celebrations of joy, commemorations of achievements, exchanging of Mazel Tovs. It makes possible offering condolences, helping others get through times of grief and of sorrows, showing other people with a hug or a handshake that they are not alone.

Yes, we are permitted to pray by ourselves, but it is not ideal. Prayer should take place with a minyan – at least nine other people. As a Hasidic rabbi beautifully put it, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” In the United States, a recent issue of Psychology Today tells us, loneliness is currently at epidemic levels. A recent Cigna study of 20,000 U.S. adults found that nearly half of Americans feel like they are alone. There is no doubt that loneliness is on the rise. And it affects people of all ages. A survey by AARP, showed that more than 42 million U.S. adults over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.

In the Torah, after reading of the creation of mankind, the Torah tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). A beautiful rabbinic commentary I once heard on this verse is that it is meant to be an addendum to the previous seven times when God, evaluating His acts of creation, uttered His conclusion that “it is good.” Yes, the world and all that God brought into being “is good”, but that is only on one condition. It is good when it is shared. It is beautiful when it is not viewed in isolation. “Lo tov” – it is not good when we are alone, separated from any sense of communal life, estranged from others and condemned to what criminologists recognize as the cruelest form of punishment – solitary confinement.

A synagogue is primarily referred to as a Beit Ha-Knesset. It is where loneliness is exchanged for community, isolation is transformed into the holiness not only of prayer and of Torah study but also of friendship, of shared values, and – yes – even of the kiddush at the end of the services.

Life when not shared with others is unbearably desolate. And frankly, I'm lonely.
So here's my confession. I survived seven months without being in shul. But while I sorely missed my House of Prayer, I prayed at home and still found a great deal of spiritual connection with God. I did not hear the reading of the Torah in a Beit Midrash – but I managed to learn quite a bit on my own with the Torah commentaries in my personal library. But the one thing I could not replace was the Beit Ha-Knesset.

Now I truly understand why Beit Ha-Knesset remains the most universal way people refer to a shul. Life when not shared with others is unbearably desolate; none of us can be truly human in isolation. Our service of God requires that we relate to other people. Frankly, I’m lonely.

And when the day will come, please God in the very near future, when the plague will be but a bitter memory, I will treasure as never before the blessings of community, friendship, and of togetherness that only a Beit Ha-Knesset can provide.

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