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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘betar’

Battir بتير – Ancient Jewish Heritage Site

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

UNESCO has declared the village of Battir, south of Jerusalem, with its 2000 year old stone terraces and irrigation system, as a World Heritage Site. The Arabs are claiming this as a victory for “Palestine” and calling it a “Palestinian Heritage Site”.

“Battir”, of course, is an Arab bastardization of the original name, “Betar”, best known as Bar-Kochva’s last stronghold against the Romans in the Jewish Revolt, the battle for Jewish re-independence from the invading Roman Empire, 2000 years ago.

It gets better.

The Arab village is built around an ancient site the Arabs call, “Khirbet el-Yahud“. In English that translates into… wait for it… “The ruins of the Jews”.

That’s right.

The Arabs, with their own naming, acknowledge their settlement is illegally occupying land that belongs to the Jewish People.

An ancient city and fortress of the Jews.

The town is also the burial site of the Tanna, Rabbi Elazar HaModai.

As you know, when the ancient terraces and irrigation system were built 2000 years ago, there were no “Palestinians” in the Land of Israel. Just us Jews and the Roman invaders.

The Romans are long gone. We Jews are still here.

Lag BaOmer: The Fire Burns

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The circle of men whirls around the fire, hand in hand, hand catching hand, drawing in newcomers into the ring that races around and around in the growing darkness. A melody thumps through the speakers teetering unevenly with the bass, the sound is both old and new, a mix of the past and the present, like the participants in the dance, the traditional garments mixing with jeans and t-shirts until it is all a blur.

It is Lag BaOmer, an obscure holiday to most, even to those who come to the fires. The remnants of the Jewish Revolt against the might of the Roman Empire are remembered as days of deprivation in memory of the thousands of students dying in the war, until the thirty-third day of the Biblical Omer, part of the way between Passover and Shavuot, the day when Jerusalem was liberated.

Deprived of music for weeks, it rolls back in waves through speakers, from horns blown by children and a makeshift drum echoing an ancient celebration when men danced around fires and shot arrows into the air. The fires and bows have remained a part of Lag BaOmer, even when hardly anyone remembers the true reason for them.

The new Yom Yerushalayim, the day of the liberation of the city, is coming up soon,  but the old Yom Yerushalaim, came thousands of years ago and ten days before it on the calendar. Time is a wheel, and, like a circle, everything comes around again. Hands pulling on hands, years pulling on years, on and on like the orbits of planets and stars. The Divine Hand of God pulls us along, and we pull each other in the dance of life.

The circle speeds up, men racing faster and faster, the children left behind, as the flames sputter and night falls. The rebellion, although bravely fought, failed, and Jerusalem fell again, and then Betar. The joy of the celebration turned to ashes, but, even in the shadow of the empire, their spirit endured. The stories were changed a little, the rebellion encoded into a story of Rabbi Akiva, the pivotal scholarly figure in the war, and of his students who perished because they had not been able to get along with one another. The failure of unity had been the underlying reason for the Roman conquest and the Jewish defeats. It is the ancient lesson still unlearned that the circle of the dance teaches us.

The Bar Kochba revolt was not the last time that Jews fought to liberate their land. It was not the last time that the gates of Jerusalem were thrown open to a Jewish army. The liberation of Jerusalem in 1967 was the fulfillment of a struggle that had been going on for nearly two thousand years, as empires and caliphates had claimed the land, planted their spears and rifles over its barren hills, and enforced their laws upon it. And if Jerusalem falls again, if Masada falls again, if we fall into the fire, then we will rise out of it again, less in number, less in memory, but still a circle.

Fresh from battle, the soldiers danced around the flames. They had defeated the legions of Rome, without any special training and with poor equipment, they had beaten the greatest army in the world. They had survived the flames and in an explosion of joy, they raced around the celebratory fires, tasting the momentary immortality of battle. Their names are forgotten, lost to memory. Lag BaOmer is associated now with two of Rome’s scholarly opponents, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who passed on the teachings and traditions that kept the circle intact even in the fire.

Wars are won and lost all the time. No victory, however significant, endures forever. There is no immortality in the victories of the flesh, only in the triumphs of the spirit. For all our losses, this circle is a victory, an ancient celebration of a spiritual triumph kept secret in the face of the enemy. The circle of clasped hands reminds us that against the dead hand of history, we have a Living Hand that guides us even in our darkest hours, in the smoke and flame, in the ash and fire.

Equating Zionist Pioneers With Arab Terrorists

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The film is grainy and amateurish, but the image is stirring: one-armed Yosef Trumpeldor, Zionist national hero, plowing a field in the Galilee in 1913.

By coincidence, the 100-year-old film clip of one of the most remarkable figures in Israel’s history was posted on YouTube shortly before Trumpeldor’s name appeared in the news in connection with the controversial study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks that was released in February.

The study – “Victims of Our Own Narratives?” – was funded by the U.S. State Department and carried out by a Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. Staff researchers examined books used in Israeli and Palestinian schools and concluded that both sides are equally guilty of incitement against the other.

The Israeli Ministry of Education called the study “biased and unprofessional” and three members of the international Scientific Advisory Panel overseeing the study rejected their colleagues’ methodology and conclusions.

One of the most controversial sections of the study dealt with the textbooks’ promotion of “martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” The study found passages in Palestinian books such as: “Every stone is violated, every square cries out in anger, every nerve is abuzz, death before submission, death before submission, forward!” and “With all this, the call to raise the overall performance to the level of shedding one’s blood becomes a sacred national right which it is difficult to relinquish or be lenient on.”

The study then argued that Israeli textbooks likewise promote “the value of martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” As evidence, it cited two books that described Yosef Trumpeldor as a hero and quoted his dying words, “No matter, it is good to die for our country.”

“Trumpeldor’s heroic defense of his home is a very different kind of ‘martyrdom’ from that frequently associated with the Palestinian movement,” notes Prof. Gil Troy of McGill University, author of the book Why I Am a Zionist. “To overlook that point, and implicitly compare Trumpeldor’s death in defense to suicide bombers or any kind of terrorism in offense – which Palestinians frequently call ‘martyrdom operations’ – is like comparing a policeman and an armed robber because both have guns. Trumpeldor died defending his home and country, not slaughtering innocents to advance a political goal.”

As a teenager growing up in Russia in the late 1800s, Trumpeldor was attracted to Zionism as well as the pacifism and communalism of the philosopher Leo Tolstoy.

“He did not have a trace of militarism in his character,” Prof. Anita Shapira, a leading Israeli historian of Zionism, has written. Nonetheless, Trumpeldor served with distinction in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, suffering wounds that cost him his left arm. Despite his injuries, he requested and was granted permission to return to the battlefront.

Trumpeldor arrived in the Holy Land in 1912 and, together with a small group of likeminded pioneers, settled at the Migdal farm, a fledgling Jewish settlement in the Galilee, on the site of what had been a Jewish town in biblical times. A harsh environment and primitive living quarters were the norm.

After the Migdal project broke up in 1913 over ideological disagreements and other problems, Trumpeldor traveled to Europe as a Zionist emissary. He served as a delegate to the Eleventh Zionist Congress, in Vienna, and then organized Zionist cells in Russia. Returning to Palestine in 1919, Trumpeldor volunteered to work at an Upper Galilee settlement called Tel Chai.

The small kibbutzim and other Jewish settlements in that region had few residents and fewer weapons, making them easy targets for local Arab terrorists. Attacks ranging from robbery to arson and murder were commonplace.

Some Zionist leaders favored sending aid to the northern border towns. Yitzhak Tabenkin argued, “If we withdraw from Tel Chai, we will retreat all the way to the desert.” But Menachem Ussishkin, chairman of the Zionist Commission, warned that “we would, by sending young men with arms, anger the Arabs unnecessarily.” Ussishkin eventually changed his mind and reinforcements were sent, but they arrived too late.

On March 1, Arab forces entered Tel Chai on the pretext of searching for illegal weapons, and a battle ensued. Six of the Jewish defenders, including Trumpeldor, were killed.

The last stand at Tel Chai, and Trumpeldor’s dying words, became an inspiration to the young Zionist movement. “This was the first time in Jewish history for two thousand years that Jews had preferred to die in battle rather than to retreat,” Prof. Shapira notes.

The Palestinians Reveal the Jewish Connection to Palestine

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

The Palestinians have inadvertently contributed to the truth of the historic relationship of Jews with the land of Israel.

How?  By asking the World Heritage Committee (WHC) of UNESCO to recognize Battir, a village about 5 miles west of Bethlehem, as a World Heritage Site and add it to the 936 sites already maintained by UNESCO.  Unwittingly, the Palestinians have given the world the opportunity to learn about a historic relationship.

The Palestinians in October 2011 were granted full membership in UNESCO, which they hoped would lead to international recognition of a state of Palestine.  As a consequence of this membership, they are a party to the proceedings of the WHC, which has 21 changing members, presently including Russia, Qatar, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates, but not including the United States or Britain.

The request regarding the recognition of Battir is connected with the Palestinian’s more ambitious claim to be accorded by UNESCO the heritage over the basilica of the Church of the Nativity, regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem.  Already, UNESCO has designated two Jewish sacred sites — Rachel’s Tomb, the burial place of the matriarch Rachel, the wife of Jacob, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron — not as Jewish holy sites, but as mosques.  Only the United States voted against this proposal that was approved by 44 of the 58 members of the board of UNESCO.

The claim made by the Palestinians for Battir to be recognized as a Heritage Site is ostensibly based on its unusual topography of historic terraces and its Roman irrigation system.  The Palestinian Authority (PA) asserts that that it is a “historically sensitive area … where a millenary irrigation system is still in use to water the vegetable gardens of Battir.”  The village, which has grown in recent years to a population of 4,000, does have seven natural springs, an old Roman bath, and an irrigation system that waters fruit and vegetables.

However, the reason for the Palestinian request is more political than aesthetic.  The PA argues that Israel is planning to build part of its security fence through the valley and that it will damage a site that it claims, in accordance with the UNESCO operational guidelines concerning the acceptance of World Heritage Sites, is “representative of a culture.”

The Palestinian complaint is that the Israeli fence will deny the ability of the residents to enjoy their natural heritage and sustain the land.  The village, they argue, should be maintained as a landmark of Palestinian and humanitarian heritage.  The complaint has gone to the Israeli Supreme Court, which will adjudicate the question of the exact route of the fence, whether it should be rerouted, and whether the route is in accordance with Israeli security considerations.

All will almost certainly acknowledge the pleasant nature of the village and its picturesque character.  Yet the Palestinians’ ambitious claim is deficient in a number of ways.  Though the Roman irrigation system is historically interesting, in fact, the village gets most of its water from the West Bank Water Department, the public water network established in 1980.  The village has grown substantially since then, and the natural heritage there is threatened more by increased housing development than by any Israeli action.  Moreover, pretty though the area might be, it does not meet the objective requirements of UNESCO — namely, that a Heritage Site be a place of beauty, of importance, and of outstanding universal value.

But most important, the Palestinians have unwittingly drawn attention to the historic Jewish relationship with and claim to the land of Palestine.  The original name of Battir was Betar, the last fortress of Bar Kochba (son of a star) in his revolt against the Romans in 132-135.  The revolt led to the creation of an independent state of Israel over parts of Judea for over two years before being crushed by the Roman army of six legions.  The result was the killing of thousands of Jews — perhaps half a million — and the loss of Israeli independence and of Jewish religious and political authority.  The Romans did not allow the Jews to bury their dead in Betar.

A Jewish entity was not again the center of religious, cultural, and political life until the 20th century, but Betar remained an important symbolic reminder of the Jewish past.  The Revisionist Zionist youth movement, formed in 1923 by Vladimir Jabotinsky, took its name from the fortress.  The movement played a role in fighting against Nazi Germany in World War II.  Interestingly, Jabotinsky’s main political opponent, David Ben Gurion, is said by some to have taken his Hebrew name from one of the generals who fought in Betar.

The Key to Greatness

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Most people never achieve their full potential, either, because they don’t really know themselves, and don’t know where their potential lies, or because they have some barrier in their way.

Meir Kahane knew himself. Even when he was a teenager, he knew that he wanted to help the Jewish People as much as he could. He recognized that Jewish identity and the true practice of Torah had been distorted by the exile and by life in foreign non-Jewish lands. Stemming from this, he recognized the great dangers of assimilation and yearned with a towering passion to cry out and warn his beloved brothers and sisters. He knew what he wanted. He understood his potential. But there was a barrier in his way. He stuttered. That’s right – Rabbi Meir Kahane, perhaps the most dynamic Jewish orator of our time, a speaker capable of inflaming hearts and inspiring the masses, a par-excellence TV debater who chopped the glib intellectual banter of opponents into tiny insignificant scraps, he had a bothersome stutter in his youth, which had to be mastered in order to fulfill his dream of reaching out to the Jewish People.

This is how he did it, as revealed in the gripping biography, Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought, written by his wife.

He overcame his barrier. Through his example, we can learn to overcome ours.

Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought

From Chapter Three

During his high school years, Meir began to stutter, or at least to become conscious of it. A classmate said he did not stutter when they were together in fourth grade; if he did she would have been aware of it, because her own brother stuttered.

When Meir was 20 and attending the Mirrer Yeshiva rabbinical seminary during the day and Brooklyn College at night, he decided to do something about his stuttering. In July 1952 he enrolled in the Martin Hall Institute for Speech Disorders in Bristol, Rhode Island. In a summary written for a therapist at Martin Hall, Meir related:

“When I was 9 years old my parents gave me a book for my birthday, titled, ‘So to Speak: A Practical Training Course for Developing a Beautiful Speaking Voice.” I did not know then why they gave me the book. In grade school I had no trouble. I recited in class and acted in plays. I recall going to the office, speaking to the principal, Rabbi Braverman, about skipping a grade, and to Mr. Hirsch about being the valedictorian. I was not afraid then.

“In high school I had no trouble, as far as I remember, during the first and second terms [the first year] – except that I would rather read [aloud] than speak in classes. I had trouble speaking in Rabbi Feivelson’s class, and I think he expressed surprise, but I had no trouble speaking to kids or teachers informally. Once in class, Farber poked me to say I stuttered in reading … even though I was better in reading than in talking…. The teacher definitely expressed surprise. I also had trouble in French class. (I think I was AFRAID.) I also had trouble in English at Lincoln giving reports.

“I spoke up in class, especially English … recited, etc. I approached Rabbi Zuroff about a Begin meeting. I was definitely much better conversationally than now, and had no trouble speaking to girls. My friend Victor confirms this.”

One of the most difficult things for a stutterer is making phone calls. Meir names the friends he phoned easily and those he was afraid to call. He has a fuzzy memory of being nervous about making calls for his father. He recalled a Betar meeting where he could not talk to two girls. He was afraid to speak up at the Betar convention, but he overcame his fear, and a friend assured him that he had not stuttered. In college, Meir’s fear of stuttering became worse. He wrote:

“I did do some speaking in class … though in History, I was afraid but wasn’t BODILY afraid…. I was afraid to give a report in economic geography, and walked out of the Bible Hebrew class. I was deathly afraid of speech in my last term. In fact, I dropped a previous speech class when the teacher said I stuttered. I had bad trouble asking for transcripts. I showed a paper to the guidance counselor [instead of speaking]. I stammered controllably at interviews. I had trouble answering when attendance was taken. I was afraid to talk up in sociology…. When I was 19, I couldn’t ask for a stapler at Macy’s.”

Some stutterers discover that they cease stuttering when they are distracted from their usual speech patterns. Almost any novel stimulus, such as tapping a finger, swinging the arms, or stamping a foot, can serve as a distraction (until the novelty wears off). Meir’s trick was to blink, as he did on various occasions in later years.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/the-key-to-greatness/2012/06/06/

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