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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Holy’

Vandals Desecrate Jewish Holy Site in Ukraine with Pig’s Head, Blood [video]

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Ukrainian vandals placed a pig’s head on top of the Uman gravesite of Reb Nachman of Breslov early Wednesday morning, according to Breslover Hasidim who arrived to pray at the site. The vandals screamed out anti-Semitic slurs, which, apparently, is how the violation of the site was discovered.

The pig’s blood was smeared on the floor and the walls of one of the most revered sacred sites in eastern Europe, renowned for the multitudes that spend Rosh Hashanah there each year. The pig’s forehead was carved with a swastika. The synagogue that adjoins the tomb was smeared with red paint.

Beslov Live

Beslov Live

Ynet quoted one Hasid who said, “We were saved from being murdered only by the grace of Heaven.”

MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) contacted the Ukraine ambassador Wednesday morning and called on his government to investigate the crime, as well as act to protect Israeli visitors in Uman.

David Israel

Our Anti-Semitism Ambassador’s Curious Silence Over Attacks On Jewish Holy Sites

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

When Jewish holy sites in Europe or South America are desecrated, the U.S. government’s special envoy for combating Anti-Semitism issues angry denunciations, calls urgent meetings, and sometimes even flies to the country in question to meet with the authorities.

But for some reason, he does not seem to exhibit the same sense of urgency in his response to Palestinian desecrations of Jewish holy sites.

The envoy is Ira N. Forman, formerly executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council and Jewish Outreach Director for President Obama’s reelection campaign.

I admire Ambassador Forman’s energy in challenging attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in Hungary and Argentina. I just wish he would show the same level of interest when Palestinians are involved.

Last week, arsonists – police suspect Palestinian terrorists – set fire to the Tomb of Avshalom and the Tomb of Yehoshafat. They are located at the Mount of Olives, in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The attack caused extensive damage. I have not heard any response from Forman to these latest outrages.

Throughout this past year there have been numerous Palestinian attacks on Jewish holy sites.

They have thrown bombs at the Tomb of Rachel, near PA-controlled Bethlehem.

They have assaulted Jews who were on their way to recite prayers at the tombs of Itamar and Elazar, in the PA town of Awarta.

They have tore down the mezuzah from the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron.

They have thrown rocks and firebombs at Jews trying to pray at the Tomb of Joseph, in PA-controlled Nablus (Shechem).

They have thrown rocks from the Temple Mount at Jews visiting the Western Wall below.

Does anybody remember the elderly Jewish woman who was struck in the head by one of those rocks, on June 28? Or has she already been forgotten?

David Weinberg, writing in the Jerusalem Post in 2011, reported that the PA “has allowed villagers to encroach upon the important synagogue remains in Eshtemoa in the southern Mount Hebron area” and is permitting Palestinian real estate developers “to build practically atop” the ancient Naaran synagogue, in PA-controlled Tulul Abu el Alayiq.

That evokes painful memories of the Jordanians bulldozing hundreds of ancient Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives between 1949 and 1967 and building roads on top of them.

Ambassador Forman’s report on anti-Semitism around the world each year is included in the State Department’s annual country-by-country report on “International Religious Freedom.” The most recent report contains some scattered references to Palestinian attacks on Jewish worshippers or religious sites. But they tend to be couched in ambiguous or rationalizing language.

For example, the Palestinian attackers are characterized as “protesters” and “Muslim worshippers,” and their assaults are described as “clashes.” When Forman writes about Palestinians attacking Jews at the Tomb of Joseph, he says they “reportedly” threw rocks, seemingly going out of his way to inject an element of doubt.

Forman’s report also includes this incredible passage: “Palestinian youths reportedly committed arson and vandalism against the Mount of Olives cemetery, the Pitchei Olam Synagogue, and Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.”

What differences does it make if the Palestinian attacks are motivated partly by “ethnicity” and partly by “religious identity”? Does Forman really think the attackers sit around, discussing the fine points of such distinctions? Why won’t the ambassador simply acknowledge that Palestinians who attack Jewish worshippers and Jewish religious sites hate Jews?

Equally troubling is Forman’s failure to acknowledge the connection between these attacks and the Palestinian Authority’s constant incitement to hatred and violence against Jews. It’s as if the Palestinians who burn down Jewish holy sites or stone Jewish worshippers are operating in some kind of a vacuum, insulated from the rest of Palestinian society. But they’re not. They’re surrounded, every day, by the incitement to anti-Semitism that saturates the official PA newspapers, television, radio, and schools.

I don’t want to speculate as to the motives behind Forman’s reluctance to confront Palestinian anti-Semitism. I simply want to plead with him: in your final few months in office, Mr. Ambassador, you will compile one last report on anti-Semitism around the world (covering the year 2016). Please: tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Palestinian anti-Semitism.

Stephen M. Flatow

Matchmaking: Holy Task

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

We think of the many things we do in our lives and the remarkable pressure we feel to perform. We come up to bat in the bottom of the last inning, two outs and runners in scoring position; we sit in classrooms with our palm sweating, waiting to take an exam; we argue in courtrooms and make investment decisions; we move our families from one community to another… the list goes on and on. There is so much we have to do, and so much we have to get right. Imagine then the incredible pressure Eliezer felt when he was sent out by Abraham to find a wife for his beloved son, Isaac!

What decision can we make that is more fateful than the choice of a lifetime mate? From that decision unfurls years of happiness, successful child-rearing, the blessing of a home filled with learning, respect and holiness.

Or not.

Finding the right mate can be fraught with uncertainty; a decision of remarkable moment. So important, so weighty, so meaningful the decision that it is sometimes a wonder that any of us manage to cross that threshold!

Our tradition is clear when it comes to marriage. We do not share the “transactional” perspective of, say, the English gentry, where a marriage is first and foremost a matching of wealth and stature. For us, a marriage is not simply the wedding of families and assets, a brokering of business and power. No, Jewish tradition is clear that marriage is a holy union, one that God takes special delight in. We hold that, in fact, each one of us has a true soul mate with whom we are to share our lives, a soul mate that God has chosen for us.

However, the task of recognizing who that special person is and engaging in the act of bravery necessary to make the connection is not for the weak of heart! Our perfect match might cross our path a hundred times a day. Or she may happen to be visiting family and crosses our path but once. We might share a plane, a railway car. We may fail to look up from a text at the exact right moment to find ourselves looking into the eyes of the one God has chosen as our beloved.

Our beloved may be right there in front of us but we do not see her.

There are so many opportunities to miss the moment when we might realize our perfect match.

As Jews, the risk of not finding the perfect match is too great to leave to chance encounters; the great personal relationship drama of our lives is too essential to trust even our own transitory passions, the sudden lightness in our hearts or our own fleeting hopes and dreams. So, in our tradition, just as Abraham turned to his trusted servant to find a match for Isaac, we turn to the matchmaker, the shadchan, to ensure our perfect match.


* * *


In this age of J-Date, bar scenes, parties it seems that finding a mate is near impossible. But do we really believe that finding the life mate God intends for us is any more or less difficult now than in the past? Imagine how difficult must it have been for Abraham seeking a mate for Yitzchak? Living so far from his kin. Seeking the mate who could perpetuate values, morals and ideals with which to create a Godly nation.

After the early promise of becoming the father of a great nation, Abraham waited a lifetime before being privileged to have a son. Abraham knew he would have to find for him a life partner wholly committed to the ideals Abraham and Sarah had instilled in Yitzchak.  How to find such a mate? Who could he send in search of that perfect, God-chosen match?

In Abraham’s eyes, there could be no Shadchan as trustworthy as Eliezer. Who but his own loyal servant could find the right girl? Who but Eliezer fully understood the role Yitzchak’s wife would fill as the second of our imahot?

Trusting Eliezer to find the perfect wife for Yitzchak, Abraham instructed him where to go and what to look for. Preparing to go out to fulfill his master’s directive, he paused to ask what even now seems to be a logical question, “Perhaps (ulai) the woman will not go after me?”  Perhaps, he wondered, even if he found the perfect woman for Isaac, she would decide not to return with him!


This “perhaps” speaks to so much that is fraught in the finding of a match!

Rashi cites the Midrash which focuses on the spelling of ulai (alef, lamed, yud) and notes those same letters could also be read as eilai – “to me”.   Could there be any consequence to the “missing” vav? Our tradition suggests that every letter, every space of Torah has meaning and is there for a reason so certainly this “missing” vav teaches us something about the narrative, about Eliezer, and about matchmaking itself!

The Midrash teaches that even as Abraham sought to find a match for Isaac, Eliezer had a daughter he sought to marry off, and that he was attempting to draw Avraham’s attention to his own family. “Why,” he was asking, “send me out on a long trek to find a shiduch? Look right at me (elai)  I have a daughter for Yitzchak to marry.”

Imagine! The most prominent member of the community assigning a task to his trustworthy Shadchan only to have the Shadchan act in a self-serving manner and suggest his own daughter, overlooking his own deficiencies emanating from the cursed Canaan! What chutzpah!  What disloyalty! But why does the Midrash attribute such disloyalty to this most loyal of all servants, to one who lived in Abraham’s tent and imitated his ways? Just because of the letter combination ulai /elai?

This is not the accusation of an innocent, honest shadchan. Quite the opposite. As we learn, Eliezer used phraseology which gave away his true intent.

Often, it is the use of a single word rather than another which betrays our deepest thoughts and intent. A single word can convey an entire message; just one word ….

The Gaon of Vilna explains that there are two words in Hebrew both meaning “perhaps” – ulai and pen. Although both mean “perhaps” there is an important difference in connotation between the two. When one uses the term pen, he is suggesting that he hopes that the possibility spoken about does not take place, as in God’s warning against idolatry – hishamru la’chem pen yifte le’vavchem (Beware, lest your hearts will become seduced.) It is clear that God hopes that we not go astray and follow idolatry – pen.

However, when one hopes and anticipates that the option he mentions should occur, he uses the word ulai, as when Avraham beseeched God not to destroy Sodom, “Ulai – perhaps there are fifty righteous people…”

And that is why Chazal were critical of Eliezer’s true intent.  He did not use the word pen. Instead, by using the word ulai, we learn that he did not want the woman to follow him. Instead, he hoped that by her not following, the result would be that Avraham would have no other option but to marry Yitzchak to Eliezer’s daughter.

Many might assign deviousness to Eliezer’s thinking here. But Reb Yitzchak of Vurka suggests another thought – as long as Eliezer was in Abraham’s company it never entered his mind to contemplate a marriage for his daughter to Avraham’s son. It was only when sitting in the company of Bethuel and Lavan, seeing and experiencing who these mechutanim are that he thought to himself, “I am good enough for these people; I am certainly worthy of such a shidduch…” and began to imagine his own daughter married to Isaac. Oh how our minds play tricks on us! How we rationalize and compromise, finding all manner of explanation as to why things should be the way we’d like rather than the way God intends!

If the task of being a good and true shadchan was difficult for Eliezer, how much more so must it be for those in our own times who fulfill this sacred role? With so much license and power, twisted logic and devious thinking has the potential to wreak havoc and ruin lives!

Though the ways of man are wily, the ways of God are true. When God determines a match “made in heaven”, even the trickery of man cannot keep the two apart.



* * *


We would be foolish to believe that the need for a wise and insightful shadchan has lessened in our modern age or that the potential for deviousness and trickery amongst the shadchanim has lessened. We would be even more foolish to think that the pitfalls of finding an honest marriage broker have lessened since Eliezer uttered his “ulai/eili”.

When I shared with my colleagues my intention to write about shadchanim I received a great deal of advice, most of it direct and to the point. “Tread lightly!” I was advised, as colleague after colleague shared horror stories of matches gone wrong.

More than what goes wrong, how can we highlight what goes right when this difficult, sacred task is engaged?

Aish.com suggested fifty ways to be a good matchmaker in an article. Some of the suggestions seem obvious (“Being single is hard enough, so be nice to people.) Others, more insightful (Your tone of voice matters. Speak nicely – especially when someone declines your awesome date idea.) But in order to really understand the challenges and the joys of being a good, modern shadchan nothing quite suffices as meeting one!

Tova Weinberg, whom I vividly recall from my Pittsburgh days as dynamic and vivacious, has been a matchmaker for quite a while. When she meets someone for the first time, her initial question is inevitably, “Are you Jewish?” followed quickly by, “Are you married?” She holds in her head and heart a bursting – and virtual – Rolodex of the names of single Jews to be matched.

Over the years, she has introduced well over two hundred couples who have gone on to get married. That number does not include the many others who met online on the matchmaking website she helped found, SawYouAtSinai.com (the name, of course, speaks volumes about what matchmaking means to her.)

Hardly born into matchmaking, she discovered her “gift” when she first came to New York, sent there by her mother to find a mate! There, an older friend, dedicated to matchmaking, asked Ms. Weinberg to help organize a singles party.

As she related the incident in a New York Times article, “At the party,” Ms. Weinberg said, “I meet this girl named Debbie, and I said, ‘You don’t know me, but I have this feeling you’d be perfect for my friend Mark Goldenberg.’ ” The woman was reluctant to meet a stranger. “There were so many hijackings, there was David Berkowitz,” the Son of Sam killer. “She said, ‘How do I know you’re not a mass murderer?’ I got on my hands and knees and said, ‘Do me a favor and have dinner with him.’”

The day after the couple’s first date, Ms. Weinberg heard from the man. “He called me and said, ‘I’m going to marry her.’ And they just married off their last child.”

There is no “ulai” in Tova Weinberg’s matchmaking. Just joy and dedication to helping others find the match that was dedicated to them at Sinai!

She shared with me the “Five P’s” of being a good shadchan – Be Patient, Positive, Persistent, Persuasive, and Pragmatic. These Five P’s, combined with the following eight rules add up to the perfect mix for becoming (and recognizing in someone else) the perfect shadchan:

1) Every time you meet someone, who is not married, you are impressed with think of who you can set them up with, write their name down and contact info.

2) Keep a list of everyone you know that is single, and add to it as you meet new people, make two lists one for me and one for women and write down what you liked about them.

3) Be proactive on behalf of your single friends

4) Be Persistent- always follow through with an idea

5) Put some thought into your match ideas

6) Be respectful of the decisions that singles make, and do not second guess them or give unsolicited advice. Do not push them into dating someone that they do not want to go out with and don’t ever make them feel that if they don’t go out with this person they will never marry. Value their judgments.

7) Be discrete, guard the privacy of the singles that you are helping and do not repeat details of their dates to others.

8) Don’t think you have to be a proven matchmaker in order to set people up. Anyone can set up a match, as long as you persevere and use common sense and compassion.

Every single match comes from Hashem; sometimes he makes us the messenger and sometimes he does not.

Abraham’s experience with Eliezer teaches us the gift – and potential pitfalls – of the shadchan. Tova Weinberg teaches us that in our modern age, despite all the wondrous technology surrounding us, we are still as we were generations upon generations ago – human beings and Children of God, who benefit from a wise, honest and loving guide in finding the match God intends for us.

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

HOLY COW: Huma/Weiner Computer Had 650,000 Emails

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Man oh man, talk about not cleaning out your mail box. The computer shared by Huma Abedin and her soon to be ex-husband Anthony Wiener had around 650,000 emails on it’s hard drive according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, which is why it will take a long time to sift through the documents.

While the emails haven’t been read as if yet, a search of  the “metadata” turned up thousands of hits to state.gov addresses, and those of her private email server.

So while the Democrats are demanding that the FBI release all the emails ASAP,  It will take weeks, at a minimum, to determine whether those messages are work-related from the time Ms. Abedin served with Mrs. Clinton at the State Department; how many are duplicates of emails already reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and whether they include either classified information or important new evidence in the Clinton email probe.

At the time however, the FBI had permission to search the computer for emails related to Weiner’s sexting and child pornography, but not the Hillary email case so they had to wait for a court order to begin looking at the Hillary related emails.

In their initial review of the laptop, the metadata showed many messages, apparently in the thousands, that were either sent to or from the private email server at Mrs. Clinton’s home that had been the focus of so much investigative effort for the FBI. Senior FBI officials decided to let the Weiner investigators proceed with a closer examination of the metadata on the computer, and report back to them.

At a meeting early last week of senior Justice Department and FBI officials, a member of the department’s senior national-security staff asked for an update on the Weiner laptop, the people familiar with the matter said. At that point, officials realized that no one had acted to obtain a warrant, these people said.

Mr. McCabe then instructed the email investigators to talk to the Weiner investigators and see whether the laptop’s contents could be relevant to the Clinton email probe, these people said. After the investigators spoke, the agents agreed it was potentially relevant.

Not all the 650K emails are relevant but agents believe tens of thousands of them are relevant. So many were relevant that Comey could not help but reopen the investigation.

McCabe is the agent whose wife was given over $675K in campaign donations by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime member of team Clinton. The move didn’t break any laws, it just lack demonstrated the lack of sensitivity to the very appearance of being ethical in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

On Thursday, Comey was given an update, decided to go forward with the case and notified Congress on Friday, with explosive results.

 It was reported that Senior Justice Department officials had warned Mr. Comey that telling Congress would violate policies against overt actions that could affect an election. Except an investigation by this site turned up at least seven examples of the DOJ breaking that policy in the past 54 years.
Jeff Dunetz

‘Holy Trash’ Exhibition Turns Lost Synagogue Books into Stone [video]

Friday, October 28th, 2016

“Holy Trash: My Genizah” is a new project by fine arts and performance artist Rachel Libeskind created especially for the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) exhibition space in the great hall of the Center for Jewish History.

According to Solomon Schechter, Genizah is “the storeroom or depository in a synagogue a cemetery in which worn-out and heretical or disgraced Hebrew books or papers are placed. In medieval times…their sanctity and consequent claim to preservation were held to depend on their containing the “names” of God.” What’s between the Genizah and today’s Jewish archive?

My Genizah presents a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Genizah. Crafted with texts and objects formerly belonging to the AJHS collections, My Genizah is a hard-edge, personal commentary on the making of the Jewish archive from the documents of the Genizah, and on today’s archival procedures of sorting, cataloguing, and organizing history.

“I think it’s interesting to look at the inventory of things that make up our lives,” Libeskind News1 NY. “Some of them are holy, and some of them are definitely not holy, and we just think of them as trash, and some we’re just not comfortable throwing away. It’s kind of an endless idea.” said.

On view through December 1, 2016.

Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011, Tel: 212-294-6160

Visitor information.


Expanding The Holy City’s Reach

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Jerusalem is constantly growing and expanding, more and more visitors are arriving, and its stature is ever increasing. What more can Jerusalem lovers expect?

For some of them, it’s very simple: They want to shape how it will grow, what it will look like, and how far it will reach as Israel’s largest metropolitan area. To this end, philanthropist and Israel lover Kevin Bermeister has initiated the plan called Jerusalem5800, which seeks to draw the contours of Jerusalem from every standpoint 30-35 years into the future.

(Why 5800? Because the Jewish calendar will hit 5800 years only 24 years from now, in the year 2040. Still, the plan addresses itself to the year 2050 – for what’s a decade when talking about the eternal Holy City?)

To introduce Bermeister, we’ll just note that he came to the rescue of a nearly doomed Jerusalem neighborhood in 2011. Nof Tzion, near the famous Talpiyot promenade, was on the verge of being sold to an Arab developer, even after dozens of Jewish residents had moved in – but then he and supermarket chain owner Rami Levy made a purchase offer that couldn’t be refused, and the neighborhood remained in Jewish hands.

“We are in a generation that can turn Jerusalem into a city of the world,” Bermeister has said. “Our goal is to preserve Jerusalem as Jewish, united, and large.”

Along these lines, the KeepJerusalem organization sees Jerusalem5800 as a project of great historic and strategic importance: a practical and well-researched plan designed not only to preserve and increase the Jewish majority in Jerusalem, but also to develop Jerusalem as an integrated metropolis of the future – the truly undivided and eternal capital of the Jewish people.

At a Policy Paper workshop organized by KeepJerusalem last week, Jerusalem City Councilman Aryeh King presented the outline of Jerusalem5800. “It is not a political plan,” he explained, “but it certainly is dependent on, and can shape, political developments.”

It’s not a plan for amateurs. A coordinated team of experts and researchers in the fields of urban planning, tourism, economics, cultural preservation, demographics, transportation, and more have long been hard at work, planning every detail.

The main revolution spearheaded by Jerusalem5800 is that it addresses not only the city itself, but the greater metropolitan area comprising a very large surrounding expanse planned as an integral unit. Its reach is far: from the Jordan River and Dead Sea in the east, Beit Shemesh in the west, Beit El and Ofrah in the north, and Gush Etzion to the south. Jerusalem becomes the very center of a large area, encompassed by suburbs and small communities that relate to Jerusalem as their “primary city.”

The plan foresees an international airport, even larger than Ben-Gurion, in the Judean Desert southeast of Maaleh Adumim. One of the main objectives of the plan is to increase Jerusalem’s tourism from the current amount of some 2.5-3 million visitors a year to possibly 10-12 million – and a sufficiently large airport is critical to this end. (To see a simulation of the planned airport, see pages 82-83 at www.Jerusalem5800.com)

“The end plan is to build a beautiful city, a Jewish city that is culturally rich, attracts more tourists, and is connected to the other cultural centers around it,” according to Bermeister.

Other elements in the plan call for stepped-up, large-scale hotel construction in and around Yerushalayim, and a sweeping transportation scheme including subways, national train routes, and new highways – some of which are already in place. Archaeological and other sites in the greater area are to be developed and highlighted.

A fascinating aspect of the plan is a program known as Gates of Jerusalem. “Why should visitors be welcomed to the city only just as they are about to enter downtown?” asks Aryeh King, referring to the impressive sign that appears just a couple of hundred meters from the central bus station. “We envision visitors receiving a grand welcome to Greater Jerusalem already upon their arrival in Gush Etzion. And the same in the Binyamin Region, and before Givat Ze’ev, near Latrun, and east of Maaleh Adumim. This will give people a sense of what Yerushalayim really is.”

Religious tourism, too, will be highlighted for the many millions of people around the world who view Israel as the Holy Land. GPS technology will enable visitors to hear accurate, pro-Israel explanations over their phones, based on their location. The plan makes no specific provisions for the growth and development of Torah study centers in the Holy City, but the assumption is that wherever there are Jews, yeshivot sprout and grow, self-powered by the very essence of the Jewish people.

The planners do not minimize the political difficulties of implementing such a plan. King said there must be vision in order to hope to effect change. The designers of this plan, he explained, “approached it from a purely professional standpoint, without politics. They realized that until now, Jerusalem has been seen as a dead-end city – but that this much change, and it must expand to the north, south, and east. This of course means that the city must not be divided.”

One major stumbling block in the way of Jewish development of Jerusalem, he said, is the slow rate of Jewish construction: “Most unfortunately, Jerusalem is the most expensive city for Jews, and the least expensive for Arabs. An Arab resident can get a four-room apartment for just $100,000, while for Jews it is several times that amount. Jews must be permitted to build at least as much as Arabs.”

Are the powers-that-be in favor, or against? According to King, government ministers have shown considerable enthusiasm, “unlike in the municipality itself, which sometimes seems to be acting as if division of the city is a foregone conclusion.”

However, the planners appear to sense that Jerusalem5800 will be around longer than the current municipal leadership, and remain confident it can be implemented as a glorious milestone on the historic timeline of Jerusalem:

832 BCE – First Temple;
70 – Destruction and exile;
135-1948– Relative desolation under Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman, and British rule;
ca. 1948 – Capital of Israel;
1967 – Reunification;
2040 – Jerusalem5800!


You can get involved by visiting Jerusalem and participating in our bus tours in strategic areas (e-mail tours@keepjerusalem.org), and by learning to become an effective advocate for keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. Visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.

Hillel Fendel and Chaim Silberstein / KeepJerusalem.org

Respectful Dialogue, Nuanced Views: New Visions for Peace in the Holy Land

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Recently, at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center a forum hosted by the Home/Bayit organization, had a candid and wide-ranging discussion on ways to solve the conflicts in Israel between the Israeli’s and Palestinians and create something new and better for everyone in the Holy Land.

The fact that discussion of volatile issues could take place in such an atmosphere of respect was even more impressive than the solutions proposed. Inon Dan Kehati is chairman and founder of Home/Bayit, and his insistence on respectful and open dialogue really worked. One panelist quipped, “how many conferences have you all attended where everyone stays for four hours?” The energy was hopeful despite the potential for rancor. The respectful atmosphere meant that each participant could express the nuances of their views, which lessened the potential for polarization.

For example, Sami B Awad is a member of the Arab Christian community in Bethlehem, and one of the panelists. He indeed supports the BDS movement as a means to pressure Israel to address the grievances of the Palestinian population here, and decidedly not as an effort to displace or threaten Jews. He sharply criticized parts of the BDS movement for harboring antisemites who have no interest in Israel, but are joining BDS due to their distaste for the Jewish people. This he rejects outright, and in the strongest language. So as threatening as the actions of BDS can be to many, it was refreshing to see this nuanced approach.

We need more of that. And there was.

Sheikh Abu Khalil Tamimi of Ramallah has a bearing both regal and low-key. He rejects the mixing of religion and politics. He has studied under the Tablighi Jamaat movement, a pacifist Muslim movement founded in India nearly a century ago, which emphasizes the importance of one’s personal character improvement and rejects involvement in politics. True to his position, he maintains that it matters less whether there is one or two states, what is essential is freedom of movement for all people of the land in the entire land. Arab and Jew should be able to travel and live wherever they like. Rights for all, everywhere. And he added, “according to the Qur’an, the Jews will gather here in this land at the End of Days. And this is what we are witnessing!”

The Sheikh spoke in Arabic, with Sami B Awad translating. It was just part of the beautiful atmosphere of the evening – a Christian translating as a Sheikh quoted the Qur’an.

Oslo is dead was pretty much the consensus, the majority in attendance seemed to agree that a two state solution simply does not meld with the aspirations of the people actually living here. Both Arab and Jew love the entire Holy Land. Both Arab and Jew yearn for freedom of movement in its entirety, in the entire land. The concept of – “you go get your rights over there, and not here” was held up as a mockery of justice and a solution unacceptable to both Arab and Jew alike.

Freedom of movement for all, everywhere in the land

The desire for freedom of movement for all was echoed repeatedly throughout the evening by most of the panel. Ahmed Maswade, law student from Bir Zeit university and resident of East Jerusalem, put it this way, “I want Jews to be able to go to Hebron and Arabs to be able to go to Jaffa.” He does advocate for a Palestinian state, but with porous borders with Israel and one in which Jews can live freely. Sami stated, “it cannot be that the only way I can express my Christianity is on Christmas day in Bethlehem. I want to be able to visit Christian sites up in the Gallilee, and to visit the churches in Jerusalem.” Sheikh Abu Khalil Tamimi, trained to eschew both politics and state borders, echoed this need – and we heard the same expressed by Jewish leaders as well.

Rabbi Gabriel Reiss of the Lavi organization lives in the Judean Desert with his family. With his trademark gritty passion and big-hearted concern for all, he addressed the Arabs present by apologizing “on behalf for myself at least, because how, 60-plus years after the founding of the state of Israel, can there still be Palestinian refugees living in camps?” Applause stole some time off of his ten minute slot. An advocate for Jewish sovereignty in the entire land, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, sovereignty means responsibility for all inhabitants of the Land. Two state solutions amount to a certain schizophrenia, in which no leaders need take responsibility: the state of Israel can claim, why should we invest in areas that we are destined to give up? And leaders from the PA can claim, the occupation is preventing us from improving the lives of the Palestinians. That leaves people suffering in the middle. A one state solution would mean responsibility and a better life for all.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen of Alternative Action echoed the call for sovereignty-cum-responsibility for the entire land by decrying the current water shortage in Bethlehem. “It should be considered an embarassment that anyone lacks water in the Jewish homeland.” Echoing the discussion about identity, he emphasized the importance of expanding the narrative of each community, so that all residents of the Land have a real awareness of the aspirations and experience of each other.

Abrahamson Panel

Rabbi Yishai Fleisher is spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron. He combines a sense of humor with a broad knowledge of history and law. His humor is admittedly tinged by a certain sadness; he explained that he is part of a movement of those holding on tightly to what they value most, and feeling under constant threat from many directions. “We are like roots, holding on tight, and roots are not always pretty.”

“Hebron!” He teased, throwing out that word to the audience, “what do you think of when you hear that word? Settlers, land-grabbing, violence? What we should think of is – this is the place where my forefathers and foremothers are buried….Think about it – the members of Hebron have a religious ideology, are armed, you would think we would be shooting every day and we are not.” And later on, attorney Jonothan Kittub, Palestinian Christian and human rights activist, decried the way the residents of Judea and Samaria have been portrayed in the media. “In order to push Oslo, the efforts of the settlers had to be put in a negative light.” An unfair portrayal he rejects outright.

And for even more nuanced views, Attorney Kittub decried ‘puppeteering’ in the form of democracy. He put it bluntly – people do not need a “parliament,” they need the representation and civil rights, not some body that marginalizes anyone who disagrees. We do not need a “state,” we need self-determination, not a sham government.

Palestinian self-determination is still part of the vision of the Arab panelists who were present, but this would not come at the expense of freedom of residency and movement for all. Their vision is that two states would have porous boundaries with Jews living freely in Judea and Samaria, and Arabs within the ’67 borders, members of both populations free to travel and work where they wish.

A representative of J Street represented her view against the occupation of Judea and Samaria very aptly, and it was moving to hear her family’s personal story which proved her love for the state of Israel and heartfelt concern that the state live up to democratic principals. When members of the Arab community from Judea and Samaria expressed willingness to live under Jewish sovereignty, as long as citizenship and civil rights were granted, she did not capture the nuanced mood of the evening. Israel must withdraw from those territories was her final word, no compromise. This was, in her words, in order to preserve Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state. Good for Inon for inviting her and really living up to freedom of dialogue among different views; I was taken aback at her inflexible stance. That may change.

What she was hinting at was preserving a Jewish majority within the green line – what Yehuda HaKohen refers to as “demographophobia.”


Activist Emanuel Shahaf mentioned that now that Israel does not rule Gaza, we need not fear a demographic threat. Jews will remain in the majority, even including Judea and Samaria. Murmurs of of disagreement with his basic premise followed. Yehuda HaKohen has spoken against the whole concept of “demographic threat”, stating that neither side should fear a member of the other population having this or that number of babies. We need a paradigm that jettisons this fear.”Demographic threat” is the main reason some want to relinquish Judea and Samaria – it is to remain in the demographic majority within the green line. Population numbers as a factor in democracy just does not work in the middle east. It may seem generous to give up territory, but this really means giving up people – we do not want to know from you, go get your rights over there and not here – not real generous after all. Many in fact actually want to live in harmony, together.

Jonothan Kittub added that given Jewish sensitivities about security, no matter what the demographics, Jews need to run the security establishment. This was a perfect example of someone who was able to conceptualize what is essential to another community – the expanded narrative that Yehuda HaKohen is advocating for. We can create paradigms that are uniquely suited to the fabric of middle east culture. One is the need to embrace overlapping identities and an expanded narrative. And fears of a “demographic threat” have to be jettisoned.

Inon Kehati graciously gave me the floor to propose the concept of Muslim and Jewish religious courts that will work in parallel and unison to adjudicate conflict and to guide our peoples philosophically. The courtroom of the media will be replaced by the adjudication of G-d fearing leaders who will rule on the issues and rumors that divide our peoples. I am quite serious – the first meeting of Sheikhs and Rabbis is scheduled in a month’s time!

This was but one example of efforts to acknowledge the Other, an effort we were all making that evening, despite our differences, getting towards a unified narrative that will serve all peoples that dwell in the Land.


Rebecca Abrahamson

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/respectful-dialogue-nuanced-views-new-visions-for-peace-in-the-holy-land/2016/08/29/

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