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Haredim, Wake Up and Toughen Up

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

When Jews are attacked in broad daylight in the world’s holiest city, something is horrifically wrong in Israel. Rashi, for example, comments on Yechezkel 39:7 that “Israel’s degradation is a profanation of His Name.” Such a Chilul HaShem recently occurred in Yerushalayim when Arab youths hurled snowballs at two Haredi Jews’ faces and mocked them.

Police who excel at arresting young Jewish women and elderly rabbis were nowhere to be found in this case. If the dereliction of the police is sickening—and that dereliction is ongoing in Yerushalayim and Lod and elsewhere—then sickening too was the defenseless reaction of the victims. The video of the snowball attack brought to mind these verses from Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter,” about the 1903 Kishinev pogrom:

…the heirs Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees, Concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees! The seed of saints, the scions of the lions! In December, another group of Arabs in Yerushalayim attacked a Haredi yeshiva student. Before that, thugs in Ashdod beat a Haredi man on Shabbat. This aggression dovetails with a vicious media and political culture which has demonized Haredim in ways that look modeled on the Nazis. Likewise, inciting murder against other religious Jews results in no prosecution, whereas condemning an IDF officer for supporting the destruction of Gush Katif in 2005 results in conviction for “insulting a public servant.”

Haredim need to wake up to these realities and toughen up. As Rav Kook zt”l wrote in Orot:

Israel’s physical restoration is of cardinal importance. Our spiritual emphasis ignored the sanctity of the body, physical health and vigor. Let us remember that the Jew possesses a Divine body no less than a Divine spirit…Our regeneration entails a synthesis of the spiritual and physical, vibrant flesh and blood, sturdy organs and a glowing spirit sustained by firm muscles. The problem is that Haredim remain in Galut when it comes to this restoration. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim notes in this vein, “It’s possible to physically be in Eretz Yisrael but spiritually, psychologically, to be elsewhere. You don’t have to look very hard to understand what I’m referring to.” (See 57:15 here.) It’s urgent that Haredim begin to develop physical strength and preparedness in the tradition of Chushim ben Dan, Yehoshua, Shimshon, David HaMelech, and the Hashmonaim. There is nothing noble and everything disgraceful about being victimized in the same land where these great Jews of action lived.

In terms of specific forms of preparedness, self-protection through firearms is a very remote option for Haredim due to Israel’s highly restrictive gun ownership policies, which extends to the life-endangering disarmament of Jews. (Meanwhile, there are enormous amounts of illegal weapons among the Arab population.) Nevertheless, available means of self-protection and training should be utilized immediately. What Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d wrote in 1971 to an American audience in Never Again! has all too much relevance to Israel today:

The Jew, with his persistent image of weakness, unwillingness and inability to fight back is   open to constant physical attacks on the part of non-Jews. A youngster wearing a skull cap and returning from a yeshiva is fair game. Jews walking in a park or playing ball in a playground are open to attacks. Such things must be met in the one way that is most effective—a feeling on the part of the attacker that he stands an excellent chance of being severely beaten himself. Jews must be taught to defend themselves physically. This is the surest deterrent to attacks upon them.

Postcard From Israel: Stormy Weather (Photos & Video)

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

As readers may have heard, Israel (along with other countries in the Middle East) has been experiencing unusually stormy weather this last week with high winds and heavy rains. The more unpleasant aspects of these comparatively rare events have included disruptions to the transport system and homes affected by flooding, with the IDF’s search and rescue teams being called in to evacuate people trapped by flood waters both in Israel and in the PA-controlled areas .

The weather system culminated with much anticipated snow in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and many of the higher areas throughout Israel – including the Negev desert – causing great excitement in a country where this is a fairly rare occurrence.  Equally exciting has been the dramatic rise in the water level of the Sea of Galilee, which climbed by almost 70 cms between the storm’s beginning last Friday and its subsidence on Thursday.

The short film below, made by Oz Segev of Ma’ale Gamla on Monday morning, shows some of the swollen streams of the south and central Golan Heights which all drain into the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). In order of appearance the film shows the Daliyot stream, the Yehudia stream, the Meshushim stream, the Jordan Park junction at the top of the lake, the upper Meshushim stream, the Aiyt waterfall, the Bnei Israel reservoir and a view from Ma’ale Gamla.

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Tsfat (Safed) with a dusting of snow

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Seeing to the Needs of IDF Soldiers (Sponsored)

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

As snow began to fall in the Jerusalem area Wednesday afternoon, an IDF soldier placed one last call. He explained that there were over 2,000 soldiers stationed near the northern border, in response to the civil war raging in Syria. The soldiers were freezing, living in makeshift quarters and in desperate need of gloves and thermal underwear as soon as possible. He explained that he had approached other organizations who support the IDF and they flatly turned him down, each one explaining that their budgets were being used for “other things.” He was desperate and didn’t know where else to turn.

David Landau, the Director of Standing Together, listened to the soldier explain the situation. Only hours ago he was sitting in his warm home, watching the news of the impending storm while his Facebook page filled up with photos and weather-related anecdotes. But now he realized there was work to be done.

Since making aliyah over thirty years ago, Mr. Landau has spent countless nights delivering packages as gestures of gratitude to the young soldiers on duty in order to make their service more pleasant. In 2003, he founded Standing Together to expand this mission and to enable others to express appreciation to these heroes throughout Israel.

Standing Together typically delivers late-night snacks to soldiers stationed at checkpoints and bases throughout Israel. With two mobile canteens – dairy and meat of course, which Mr. Landau calls “hospitality trailers” – that are laden with equipment and food, he brings volunteers, tour groups, and visiting families to the soldiers so they can help distribute these tokens of appreciation.

IDF soldiers recharging their cell phones, among other things, at the recharging station during Operation Cast Lead.

In times of crisis though, the mission of the organization changes. During the Lebanon War in 2006, Mr. Landau’s frequent trips North provided soldiers with socks, which had become a scarcity. During Operation Cast Lead in 2009, the trailer’s electrical recharging station gave soldiers a chance to speak with loved ones back home. Most recently in Operation Pillar of Defense, it was the Standing Together trailers that sometimes brought soldiers their first meal in a day.

“It isn’t that the IDF is unprepared or disorganized, chas v’shalom [“Heaven forbid” -Ed.]” Mr. Landau explained. “The IDF faces very real threats from our enemies who surround us, and that’s where the money goes.” So while thermal underwear might seem like a trivial expense in a budget that measures in the billions, given the choice between that or ammunition, the IDF has to choose the latter.

Mr. Landau takes pride in the fact that Standing Together is so agile, delivering pizza one night and personal essentials the next day. “Larger organizations can reach more soldiers at once, but it takes time for them to get moving. We can reach the soldiers much more quickly. And we do it much more personally,” he added, grinning. When asked about the administrative overhead for the organization, he explained that because they were funded by charitable donations, 100% of the funds donated for specific causes – such as the cold weather clothing campaign – go towards that campaign. He draws no salary from the organization.

Mr Landau assured the major that he would be able to get warm winter clothing to his soldiers and hung up the phone. Within hours, Standing Together’s online campaign to purchase military-approved special gloves (thermal fleece with trigger-finger slits, pictured above) and thermal underwear for these soldiers was underway. The speed and generosity of the response to the campaign was overwhelming, and the first order for gloves was placed.

To donate to Standing Together for the Golan Winter Clothing campaign, visit http://www.stogether.org/golanwinter

The Blessings of Rain

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

It starts to rain in Israel, if we are lucky, some time in late October or November. If we are less blessed, it will start in December. January sees rainfall, as does February. By March, we know we’re near the end and by April it’s over. May, June, July, August, September (and usually October) – no rain – often not a single time, once in a while there’ll be a short rain – sometimes not even that.

The winter in Israel is spent watching the level of the Sea of Galilee – as it rises, we know we’ll have water for the coming dry months. Early in the winter, meteorologists will predict a wet winter, a dry one, a warm one, a cold one. Sometimes, you don’t even hear their prediction. This has been a good year – so far…though  much is still needed to take us out of the perpetual drought we have been in for over a decade. In all of the years I have been in Israel, not once has the level of the Sea of Galilee reached over capacity. There are provisions for this happening – huge flood gates that can be opened, sending water down through the Jordan Valley and into the dying Dead Sea.

Last year was adequate – this year, we still wait to hear. The winter is probably about half-over but we think in terms of days. In the last few days, the Sea of Galilee has risen an amazing 22 centimeters – I don’t know if you can imagine what that means. Yesterday it rained; today it is raining. Tomorrow and the next day, they are predicting more rain and even snow in some areas.

People are complaining about floods and traffic and the cold and through it all, there is this amazing joy. People will say, “it’s miserable out there, thank God.” Each drop is a blessing, a gift. In Israel, from a young age, we teach our children two things about water – don’t waste it, and always carry it with you. My children go with bottles of water – the heat in the summer can be very dangerous and they need to carry water with them. They shut the water when they soap themselves up in the shower; they shut the water when they are brushing their teeth. You don’t waste water in Israel. If you peel potatoes into a pot of water so they don’t turn colors – you walk outside and pour the pot of water into the garden.

As we drove into Jerusalem today, the water was flowing over the hills, pouring down the rocks, forming a river on the side of the road. Lauren tried to get a picture but the camera focused on the drops on the window instead. “Open the window,” said Davidi.

Both my daughter-in-law Lauren and I thought that was a bad idea – she’d be soaked, as would the car! But a neighbor managed to capture the power of the water. This is today’s blessing from God to a land that He loves, and a land that loves Him.

Postcard from Israel: Winter Fruits and Flowers

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Here we are in mid-December, just one week away from the shortest day of the year, and so far Israel has had quite a reasonable winter as far as rainfall goes. My morning update on the status of the Sea of Galilee waterline (courtesy of the indispensable @kinbot) tells me that it is 140 cms higher than it was this time last year and the first snow of the season fell on Mount Hermon this week.

Winter flowers are already blooming, led of course by the dainty little Persian Cyclamen (Rakefet) which peeps out from under rocks in varying shades of pink and the mysterious Autumn Mandrake (Duda’i ).The remnants of late summer fruits lie rotting but winter’s citrus bonanza is now coming into its own with grapefruits, lemons, mandarins and kumquats and the heady sweet smell of loquat blossom filling the crisp air.

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