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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

Their Heroes and Ours…

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

I know I have said this before, but I have to say it now. This morning. Now. Last night, we released 26 murderers – cowards, terrorists. The most pathetic of “men.” Really, to call them men is to insult 50% of the world. These are not men by any stretch of the imagination.

The government of Israel understands how sickening, how disgusting it is, how painful it is for Israelis to watch the Palestinians celebrate the return of these sniveling things and so it arranged to release them at night. How pathetic, how stupid. Did you really think the Palestinians wouldn’t come out to celebrate because it was at night? Seriously?

Let me tell you about the heroes of Israel. We have many…

Natan Sharansky has always been one of my heroes. He’s a quiet man, brilliant. He’s short…really short…and yet he is one of the tallest of men because unlike many (including most of the ministers in the government), he stands straight and tall. He risked imprisonment in the Soviet Union to be who and what he was…

His application to marry Avital was refused by Soviet authorities. He married her in a Jewish ceremony which was not recognized by the government. Today, the Soviet Union is no more; their marriage remains and they are now grandparents. Within 24 hours of that wedding, Avital had to leave the Soviet Union.

Three years later, Natan was arrested and convicted for his ongoing activities…mostly centered around maintaining his Jewish identity and trying to leave the Soviet Union to join Avital in Israel (and to get that right for millions of other Soviet Jews). For 13 years, Avital fought for Natan… and Natan fought for Avital and their life together. In 1986, Sharansky was finally freed. They came home to Israel, where they were greeted by thousands.

On July 4, 1976, Israeli soldiers flew to Entebbe and rescued more than 100 hostages. For days, the drama of the kidnapping of an Air France flight had held the world’s attention – but nowhere more than in Israel. The hijackers – German and Palestinian – separated Jew and non-Jew, releasing the non-Jews and holding the Israeli/Jewish passengers. The crew of the jet, though not Jewish, refused to leave their passengers and remained hostages as well.

The lives of the passengers were threatened and in a daring raid, Israeli fighters flew over 1,000 miles to rescue them. In the battle that followed, Yoni Netanyahu, the leader of the operation, was killed. The only casualty. He had given orders that wounded among the forces were not to be treated until the hostages were rescued – that all focus must be on saving the Jews in that terminal. Yoni was in the front, running towards the terminal where they were held, when he was hit.

Within hours, the planes were loaded and flying back to Israel. Thousands met them at the airport and celebrated their return. These are our heroes – Natan Sharansky, Yoni Netanyahu, the passengers of the plane who held on, knowing Israel would never abandon them.

For these, thousands come out to welcome them home.

The obvious connection here is to compare what Gaza and Ramallah came to welcome last night. I can’t make the comparison – or maybe I have already. For me, I am filled with gratitude that my heroes are men who lived with honor, not cowards who stabbed women and axed men to death.

I know the so-called peace talks will continue – personally, I couldn’t even look at these negotiators or be in the same room with them. They sicken me; their culture of death sickens me. There is inside of me a part that thinks our greatest victory, even if the world does not recognize it, is simply that we are not like them. That when we come out in the thousands to welcome someone home – it is for a man who has fought for freedom; a man who has died for others…not killed for his religion.

At the end of the day, I would rather belong to a people who mourn the death of Yoni Netanyahu, than one that celebrates the life of Samir Kuntar or the 26 miserable murderers we released last night.

What Would Stalin Say?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Rabbi Berel Lazar

My relationship with Reb Shmuel Rohr started about twenty years ago, in the early 1990s. He was visiting Russia on a business trip, looking for investment opportunities.

Truth to tell, I looked at him kind of quizzically: “Investment? In Russia!?” This was a country that everyone was trying to get out of, figuring that it had no future. A dank and dreary place, where the store shelves were empty and there was nothing to eat; the only kind of economic activity was that of émigrés selling their goods and leaving the country with the little money they had gotten for them. Now this man is coming to invest? When does he ever expect to see any profits from this?

So I asked him, “Reb Shmuel, what are you doing?”

“I myself may not see any profit from it,” he replied, “but my children and grandchildren will. I’m investing for their sake. Now, when everything is collapsing here, when no one sees a future for the country—that’s the time to enter the market here. It’s a window of opportunity that opens only once in many decades. So, yes, it’s unlikely that in the near future I’ll see any benefits from this investment, but my grandchildren will see it.

“And this is just as true in spiritual matters, in matters of Judaism, as it is in business,” he continued. “On the face of it, there seems to be no future here: everyone is getting out as fast as possible, going to Israel, or America, or Western Europe. But I do foresee a future here—a bright future. Again, I may not get to see it, but my grandchildren most definitely will. Time will come when Russia gets back firmly on its feet, both economically and Jewishly!”

As Reb Shmuel spoke, I saw before me a Jew with great vision, a person with enormous foresight. He envisioned a revolution—and he took a leading role in making it happen. He was the Nachshon ben Aminadav who jumped into the swirling waves, into a sea where no firm footing could be seen—yet he walked into it with head held high and eyes affixed ahead, toward the future.

He encouraged, cajoled, pushed and worked on having shluchim sent to Russia. He not only talked the talk, but walked the walk—supporting them financially from the start.

In the many conversations I had with him, he’d often refer to his underlying inspiration. What indeed motivated him to spend such a fortune on behalf of Russian Jewry? His yardstick, he said, was simply this: “If Stalin could see this, he’d roll over in his grave!”

This idea was expressed in the wide variety of activities he funded, in each of which he saw the ultimate revenge against Stalin. A few come to mind now:

Return of Synagogues

Whenever Reb Shmuel would hear about a synagogue that had been nationalized by the Communist government and that there was a chance to have it returned to the Jewish community—he’d exert all possible efforts to make it happen.

That was his sweet revenge. A building that was seized by Stalin’s goons en route to ensuring the ultimate defeat of the Jews—to think that in that same building Judaism would be rebuilt and blossom anew—that would definitely make Stalin roll over in his grave, if he could only see it. So it must be done!

Bris Milah (Circumcision)

During that early period of Jewish awakening after seventy years of communism, there was a particularly urgent need to find mohalim who could arrange circumcisions in an orderly fashion.

One day I approached Reb Shmuel excitedly and told him that we identified an expert mohel, who was also a credentialed surgeon, who would be perfectly suited for performing adult milah.

After committing certain funding, Reb Shmuel told me, “The real revolution, the real Jewish victory, is performing a bris on an eight-day-old infant, a bris in its proper time. That’s what will make Stalin roll over in his grave.

“You see,” he continued, sounding like a sagacious chassid, “Stalin wanted to break the Jews’ intrinsic connection to G‑d. When an adult undergoes a bris milah, that’s on his own initiative: he’s weighed the pros and cons, and decided rationally that he needs to be circumcised. He’s taken Stalin’s view into consideration and ended up rejecting it.

In Sderot: ‘We Can’t Sleep’

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

To make someone miserable it’s not necessary to inflict bruises or shed blood. Just ruin their ability to rest.

In my last post, I discussed the vital importance of sleep for health. Malignant forces such as the Soviet Union and East Germany have long understood the inverse power of targeting sleep to disorient and demoralize people.

It seems that Gaza’s terrorists understand this also.

Thousands of rocket attacks perpetrated against the Sderot area in recent years have murdered several Israelis and maimed others. Numerous more citizens have been internally damaged in a form that would make the KGB and Stasi proud.

A husband and father from Sderot said in 2005:

“We can’t sleep; we are always afraid that a Qassam will hit the house.” Another resident said the following year, “We can’t live like this anymore. We can’t sleep at night.”

The current mayor of Sderot wrote in April:

“On the last day of the Passover holiday, I slept fitfully, feeling anxious and despondent as my own children prepared to go back to school. Their walk to school was accompanied by rocket alerts and distant explosions, which have long provided the soundtrack of their childhoods.”

It has been noted that every rocket attack is attempted murder. That is true, but I think the perpetrators feel victorious whatever the result. Do you think Hamas doesn’t know that its aggression has caused widespread anxiety, depression, hypertension, increased miscarriages, and other sickening phenomena? There is no such thing as a rocket attack without victims, because each siren and blast re-traumatizes brains and bodies.

And why have so many citizens been neurologically and physiologically wrecked this way? Because one of the world’s strongest states chose to let them be wrecked by Islamist neo-Nazis as that state pretends to learn from the Holocaust. Showing blasphemous contempt in this regard, Hamas launched rockets on Yom HaShoah in 2008 and this year.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l wrote in the context of Tisha B’Av that “the enemies of the Jewish people are the enemies of Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu.” May an authentic Jewish government rise in Israel that enforces this truth and enables the citizens of Sderot to heal.

Savages of Socialism

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

In Venezuela, savvy shoppers are hunting down scarce supplies of toilet paper with a smartphone app. The smartphones, compact packages of electronics, are several generations more advanced than the white square, but they are available when the toilet paper isn’t, because unlike the toilet paper they aren’t subsidized and price controlled.

While Hugo Chavez did at one point unveil a Chavezphone for the poor, he succumbed to the wonders of Cuba’s Socialist medicine before they could become as big as Obamaphones. But if Venezuela ever falls to the dumbphone, then there won’t be a smartphone app to find a smartphone with.

The sight of modern men and women hunting down toilet paper with smartphones seems like the Soviet Union as reimagined by William Gibson, but it’s a common enough outcome in an economy that is really a patchwork of uneven subsidies.

The Arab Spring was fueled by the social media apps of smartphones and anger over insufficient subsidies for staples such as bread and fuel. The smartphones may bring you the revolution, but it’s the toilet paper and bread shortages that set them off.

The problem is a commonplace one that Americans will shortly begin experiencing with the subsidized medicine of Obamacare.

Most governments subsidize or price control some necessities to win over the underclass… or at least keep them from burning down everything in sight.

The Arab Spring took place in countries where government subsidized food and fuel existed side by side with monopolies over nearly everything held by cronies if the ruling class. Bread was temporarily cheap, but nearly everything else was either substandard or nonexistent… except for the American-designed and Chinese-built smartphones being used to document the food and fuel revolution.

A society stuck somewhere along the way in the transition between Socialism and a free economy finds itself in these savage intersections in which high technology is available, but the basic needs which the underclass is bought off with aren’t.

Manhattan, that glittering island of towers rising between the waters of two rivers that are one, values real estate above gold. A square foot of dirt in Manhattan might as well be marble for what it fetches.

Finding an apartment in Manhattan is a challenge worthy of a treasure hunter and Bloomberg recently unveiled a plan for micro apartments that would be little more than closets with kitchen sinks.

Manhattan is a small and narrow strip of land which accounts for some of the high prices, but its real estate is also a crazy quilt of wildly overpriced market housing and subsidized housing projects. In some tenements rent-controlled apartments that cost less than anywhere else in the city coexist with 5,000 dollar a month pads and the only difference between them is regulation.

Downtown grim blocs of housing project towers crowd out riverfront views that would be worth hundreds of millions while the bankrupt city Housing Authority fights pitched battles with residents to sell a few scraps of empty land to developers to finance the welfare castles.

Uptown, large lots sit empty and bound to a covenant of affordable housing signed during the city’s lean years that now make the land worthless for anything except growing weeds.

A booming housing market in the city is built on runaway prices caused by artificial shortages. Manhattan is really two islands, one is being built up and torn down again every few years, while the other is stuck in a state of permanent slumhood since the seventies. One pays for its organic grapes with smartphone apps and the other buys everything with food stamp cards.

The gap between these extremes is where the shortages form and the Middle Class eventually falls into that hole between the extremes of the liberal poor who want to be subsidized and the liberal rich who want someone to do something about the poor. The welfare class is relieved not to be burdened with the slog to the Middle Class and the crony capitalists are not interested in more competition. Both agree on a static society managed with subsidies and monopolies. This system had more than a passing resemblance to the dysfunctional countries of the Middle East. The only difference is that America still has a Middle Class for the system to drink dry.

We Have A Lot To Learn From The Soviet Jewry Movement

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The greatest Jewish success story in a quarter century has become unknown to many in less than a generation.

On Dec. 6, 1987, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in Washington, more than a quarter-million American Jews – Democrats and Republicans, observant and secular, and individuals representing the entire spectrum of Israeli politics – gathered on the National Mall with a single unified message as old as the Exodus story: “Let our people go!”

“Our people” were the Jews of the Soviet Union who were being discriminated against, deprived of their freedom of expression and religion, and prevented from emigrating. After the Six-Day War, brave Soviet Jews began to risk their careers, loved ones and lives to protest the denial of these freedoms and to advocate for their basic right to immigrate to Israel.

Refuseniks – Soviet Jews who had been denied an exit visa – cried out for help from other Jews. Israeli and American Jewish activists responded, saying “Hineni – Here I am.”

The gathering on that cold December morning 25 years ago was the culminating event of a generation-long struggle by American Jews to win the freedom of their Soviet brethren. Commonly known as the Soviet Jewry movement, it was led by activists who came from every corner of the Jewish community. Their stories and impact continue to resonate with us as Jews and Americans.

The movement’s real engine was at the grass-roots level across America. In the mid-1960s, college students, housewives, dentists, rabbis and teachers orchestrated letter-writing campaigns, local rallies, b’nei mitzvah twinning programs and more. And they persisted in their activism on behalf of Soviet Jews for decades. American Jews from major cities traveled to the Soviet Union with books, messages of support and hidden religious articles.

What was the net result? More than 1 million Soviet Jews became Israeli citizens. Jews from the former Soviet Union transformed intellectual fields in Israel from physics to economics to engineering and the medical sciences – and were recognized with Nobel Prizes no fewer than five times.

Former Soviet Jews have changed the way we work and live through various high-tech innovations. Google, co-founded by Moscow-born Sergey Brin, who immigrated to the United States, might not have been created without the Soviet Jewry movement.

In stark contrast to the lack of political clout and cunning among American Jews during the Holocaust era, this generation of Soviet Jewry activists, reared in the struggle for civil rights for minorities in America, took a universal message of inherent rights and freedom from kitchen tables and university squares to the White House. They confronted political leaders with a moral imperative based on many of the fundamental values, such as religious liberty, that were the foundation of America itself.

In his award-winning book When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone, author Gal Beckerman notes that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which tied U.S.-Soviet trade to the basic right of emigration, marked the first time that a fight against the human rights abuses within another sovereign country was directly incorporated into American foreign policy.

In fact, members of the Reagan administration credit activists of the Soviet Jewry movement for personalizing the philosophical differences between the countries, revealing contradictions that served to weaken the foundations of the Soviet Union itself. Within four years of the Freedom Sunday March, the Soviet Union was no more.

And yet this success story has not been integrated into our contemporary Jewish narrative or our understanding of American history. Few under the age of 30 know it ever happened.

We formed Freedom 25 to rectify this incomprehensible situation. Our coalition of more than a dozen nonprofits and Jewish organizations is committed to help refocus Americans generally and North American Jewry specifically on this history and its lessons.

Leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Freedom Sunday March, we will be creating a “virtual march” featuring online events, petitions and educational programming. Our goal is for 1 million people online to celebrate this defining moment in Jewish and human rights history. We also will work collaboratively throughout 2013 to ensure that the movement and its vital legacy become part of classroom curricula and, more important, join the stories we tell our children and grandchildren with pride.

Former PM Shamir Remembered For Saying Little, Standing Strong

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

WASHINGTON – When Yitzhak Shamir was Israel’s prime minister, he liked to point American visitors to a gift he received upon his retirement after many years serving in the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service.

It was a depiction of the famed three monkeys: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

“He didn’t say anything,” recalled Dov Zakheim, then a deputy undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration. “He just smiled broadly.”

Shamir, who died Saturday at 96, had the reputation of a man who said the most when he said nothing at all, his American interlocutors recalled. He used that reticence to resist pressure from the George H.W. Bush administration to enter into talks with the Palestinians and other Arab nations.

“He was the most underrated politician of our time,” Zakheim said. “He sat on the fence on issues until the fence hurt.”

Shamir’s willfulness was borne of the conviction that his Likud Party’s skepticism of a permanent peace with the Arabs represented the majority view in Israel, and that the world had to reconcile itself to this outlook, said Steve Rosen, who dealt with Shamir as the foreign policy chief for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“He would argue that the world will never prefer us – the Likud – over Labor, but when the world sees that we are the Israeli majority, they will have to deal with us,” Rosen said. “We will not succeed in being more popular than the others, but we are right.” There was inevitably a personal element to his clashes with the elder President George Bush, said Zakheim.

“He had his difficulties with the United States in part because he came from such a different place than George H.W. Bush,” he said. “One was a product of old-time Jewish Lithuania whose father was shot in the face by the neighbor when he was looking for protection from the Nazis, the other was an aristocrat. Since most relations at that level are personal, that always complicated matters.”

His detractors, while praising Shamir’s patriotism, also fretted that his steadfastness cost Israel during his terms as prime minister.

Douglas Bloomfield, in 1988 the director of AIPAC’s legislative arm, recalled in his weekly column how Shamir, then the prime minister, was blindsided by President Ronald Reagan’s decision in his administration’s closing days to recognize the reviled Palestine Liberation Organization.

“The premier’s chief of staff immediately phoned his contacts on Capitol Hill urging them to ‘start a firestorm of opposition’ to block the move,” Bloomfield wrote. “It was too late. Too many members of Congress shared the Reagan administration’s frustration with what they considered Shamir’s intransigence and did not seriously object when Reagan decided to recognize the PLO on his way out the door as a favor to his successor.”

During his tenure, Shamir clashed with much of American Jewry when he flirted with changing the Law of Return to define Jews according to strictly halachic terms to satisfy potential Orthodox coalition partners, and also because of his insistence on settlement expansion.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said Shamir – unlike other contemporaries like Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon – had little experience with or understanding of American Jews.

“Shamir was a whole different story, these weren’t issues he cared about at all,” recalled Yoffie, who at the time Shamir was prime minister headed ARZA, the Reform movement’s Zionist wing. “He had no experience with them, he had far less contact with American Jewry, it wasn’t part of his background, he didn’t spend a lot of time here giving speeches.”

Yitzhak Shamir

Shamir was a politician dedicated to advancing his principal goal, which was maintaining Israeli control of the lands won in the 1967 Six-Day War, Yoffie said; when reaching out to the Orthodox advanced that goal, he did so, and when backing away from changing the Law of Return made more sense in order to preserve the alliance with U.S. Jews, he did that too.

“When he realized there would be this profound breach, he backed away,” Yoffie said. “When you’re a hardheaded realist and Greater Israel is your goal, you need allies.”

‘I Will Absolutely Fight For You’: An Interview With Would-Be State Senate Candidate David Storobin

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

If the stars are aligned in his favor, attorney David Storobin will become the first immigrant from the former Soviet Union to serve as a New York state senator. Born in Russia in 1979, Storobin hopes to run for the State Senate seat left vacant when Carl Kruger resigned last month due to federal corruption charges.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has neither announced a date for the special election nor stated whether he even plans on holding one (if not, Kruger’s district will remain unrepresented until January 2013). Nonetheless, most pundits believe Cuomo will declare a special election for some time in March or April. The presumptive candidates are Storobin (Republican) and New York City Councilman Lew Fidler (Democrat).

The Brooklyn district Storobin hopes to serve – the 27th – covers Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush and Midwood, among other neighborhoods.

The Jewish Press: Why are you seeking Kruger’s Senate seat?

Storobin: Because I believe what’s been happening in recent years is shameful – for multiple reasons. One is corruption. We keep on having people in the Democratic Party arrested for bribery, corruption, and other ethical violations.

I also think that pushing through gay marriage was an outrage. People representing very socially conservative areas such as Boro Park, Flatbush, Midwood, Brighton Beach and so on voted completely against the people they’re supposed to represent.

We need somebody who’s going to be [in the State Senate] – not to take bribes or promote some agenda that nobody in this part of Brooklyn wants – but to actually support the people and represent their ideas.

Do you think you can beat Lew Fidler? Some people argue he has done so much for the Orthodox Jewish community that you don’t stand a chance.

The people who say that are affiliated with Fidler. He takes credit for every law he has ever voted for, but the reality is that when he had to take sides, Fidler didn’t side with the observant Jewish community or the Russian Jewish community – which are the two dominant communities in this district.

He’s taken sides with the LGBT community, but that’s not what this district is predominantly about. He’s far to the left of the average person in this district. He’s even far to the left of local Democratic politicians. I’m actually having a hard time thinking of one other person on the City Council who has really taken the charge [on gay marriage] as much as Lew Fidler.

So you believe you can beat him?

Absolutely. This district was the second most Republican district in all of New York State during the 2008 presidential elections. There were only two districts in the whole state where Republicans won by double digits. This was one of them.

If you look at the election for Congress where Bob Turner ran against David Weprin, Turner wound up winning two-thirds of the vote [in this part of Brooklyn]. If you look at the race for mayor, governor, attorney general, comptroller – race after race after race, this district goes Republican.

Some people claim the only thing most New York Orthodox Jews care about in local elections is entitlement programs and government funding. Republicans generally oppose entitlements. How, then, do you expect to garner the Orthodox vote?

There’s certainly a need to protect and support things like Social Security, education, and support for yeshivos and non-profits. All of those things are necessary, and if I am elected I will absolutely fight for all of those. What I’m against is waste, fraud and outright punishment of successful people.

In addition, [I would remind people that] a state senator is more able to help in the majority than in the minority. Republicans, I believe, have controlled the State Senate for 40 of the last 42 years, including right now. [I will be] able to work with the majority, which will be a big, big benefit to the district. Lew Fidler will not be in a position to do that.

Aren’t Republicans supposed to oppose entitlement programs?

It’s wrong to suggest that Republicans just want to cut and don’t want to help. Obviously every Republican is different. I don’t speak for the Republican Party. I speak for myself.

An article on Yeshiva World News claims that Dov Hikind and David Greenfield plan to endorse Fidler. Does that concern you?

I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. I think a lot of the reports may not necessarily be accurate.

But what if you don’t get their endorsements?

I would definitely prefer to have their endorsements, particularly Dov Hikind’s. I met Dov Hikind for the first time when I was a child. I’ve always respected him. I think he’s a great man, so I would definitely want his endorsement.

What would you say to someone who asks himself, “Why should I vote for Storobin? I never heard of him before. Who is this fellow?”

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