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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.

Original Jewish Press Video: Beauty and Joy of Israel’s Heart – Jerusalem

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

The streets of Jerusalem on the special day commemorating the city’s reunification. A celebration of youthful energy, enthusiasm, and love of the Jewish homeland. Everyone is included and dancing together from all backgrounds in an overflowing expression of unity. Original footage 2012 shot by JewishPress.com’s Jerusalem based videographer Natan Epstein. Music by Shlomo Katz, “There Will Be Heard”. Shlomo is seen performing at the concert next to the kotel (Western Wall of the Temple Mount) at the end of the video below.

If you are wondering where all the women are at the Jerusalem Day celebration, you can see them in the video made last year at the event by the Jewish Press’s own Yishai and Malkah Fleisher who captured the ladies side of the festivities in 2011.

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part VIII)

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Scholars have debated where precisely the Baal Shem Tov was born, few giving credence to the tiny village of Okopy (pronounced Akup). Most likely he hailed from Kolomyya on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains and on the banks of the Prut River. Nearly 300 years have lapsed since the passing of the Baal Shem Tov and all the while the stories of his miraculous abilities have increased. Yet all fail to fully portray his greatness.

Orphaned from both of his parents at a very young age, he was nonetheless deemed a wonder-child by all who observed his unusual ways.

In his youth he was hired as a “behelfer” in a cheder, meaning he would escort young boys to their teacher and to shul in order to say “Amen” and “Yehei shemei rabba.”

His love of his fellow Jew – even toddlers – by that point nearly defies description. The Maggid M’mizretch commented upon those days, “Hallevai, if only we would kiss a sefer Torah on Simchas Torah with a fraction of the love the Baal Shem would kiss the young students.”

When he turned 18 years old, legend has it, he went out to the forests, as he was accustomed to doing, for special introspection in honor of his birthday. It was there that he met Elijah the Prophet, the first time that he had seen him alone and not in the company of hidden saints. And it was then that a new path in serving the Almighty was hatched, to be known as chassidus.

Yisrael (the Baal Shem Tov) saw his mission as encouraging the masses to have simple and pure faith and to pray with intense concentration. Critical was ahavas Yisrael and allegiance to pious Torah leaders. And everything was to be done with paramount joy and a constant awareness of G-d’s presence in all of life’s facets.

The Baal Shem Tov and a group of devoted followers would travel to the most faraway townlets to teach the children aleph-beis and rudimentary Judaism. They would establish educational systems for the youth and pay equal attention to their parents.

Focusing first on the lower classes and those most hard hit from the massacres and the pogroms, the Baal Shem Tov would not only raise their spirits but assisted in their livelihoods. Only then would he tend to the scholars who also sought his counsel.

The Baal Shem Tov’s message was not only tailor-made for the people, but it was precisely what they desperately needed to hear. Without fire and brimstone, righteous indignation or even a hint of castigation, he built up the bitter souls with a message of love.

Love for one Jew toward another, and unrestrained love of the Lord.

With boundless love and compassion, the Baal Shem perceived a spark, although sometimes dormant, of holiness in every Jew. It was this ember that he constantly tried to ignite. He never threatened or instilled fear, invoked purgatory or employed righteous indignation. His message was clear, simple and short: a fulfillment of the Talmudic dictum, “G-d desires the heart.”

Another principle that was drilled was that “no place is bereft of G-d’s Presence.” A philosopher once stated, “I took apart the world and didn’t find G-d.” In response, a violinist remarked to him, “That’s akin to me saying I took apart my violin and didn’t find music.” A person needs to look at the harmony of the whole world in order to behold G-d.

The result of the Baal Shem’s approach was magic. The masses flocked to him and found comfort and hope in lives that had been previously miserable and desolate. A heavy burden was lifted from their shoulders.

The Baal Shem Tov’s enthusiasm and pleasant countenance was contagious, and villagers freely welcomed guests into their modest hovels – fulfilling the Talmudic adage, “hospitality is greater than greeting the Lord.”

The concept of evil was thoroughly foreign to him. “What shall I do with my son? He is so wicked!” asked a despairing father. “Love him all the more,” was the characteristic counsel of the Baal Shem who shunned reprimands.

The Baal Shem mesmerized whomever he met, and seeing him meant falling under his spell. His repertoire of anecdotes, parables, metaphors and aphorisms was endless, and he appealed to the heart as well as to the mind. The Baal Shem Tov captured the hearts of the poor and the humble; everyone could approach him. The stories and legends of the Baal Shem Tov shine and sparkle in the darkness.

Farmers to Scholars – The Journey of Adiso and Yonatan Jambar

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Sitting with these two youths in Jerusalem, it is hard to believe their story is true. The two brothers, Adiso and Yonatan Jambar, aged eighteen and sixteen, emigrated from the village of Achfar in Ethiopia five years ago.

A family of eight children, they were the only Jews in the village. Their father made a living as a farmer and as an agricultural tools merchant. Yonatan can’t forget the Anti-Semitic attacks they suffered. The family was aware of their Judaism, but did not really lead a Jewish life. Their uncle was a well established land dealer. At some point he ran into difficulties, his house was burned and he was forced to leave the village. The rest of the family was forced to follow suit, selling their possessions at a very low price. They had to walk to the city of Gondar, seven hours away. Here, they attended a Jewish school, still suffering from various Anti-Semitic attacks. Yonatan remembers one incident when he was playing soccer with other boys, and they began to ridicule him for being a Jew. On the way back from school, he was attacked. The family lived in Gondar for five years, and them decided to make Aliya – to move to Israel. The family’s grandfather had already moved to Israel, and they joined him in 2007. Yonatan tells of a certain sense of shock when first arriving in Israel, but the family quickly adjusted to their new lives.

They first stayed at an absorption center, and later moved to Kiryat Yam in Northern Israel. After only half a year, they had a good command of the Hebrew language. The two brothers began to study at a Yeshiva-high school. “After learning Hebrew, we joined the regular class and there we found friends, good friends.” Yonatan began at a fifth grade level, but rapidly progressed and was moved into the seventh grade. While he was in the seventh grade, their family became closer to the Jewish tradition and began to lead a religious life. In Israel, they felt more secure about their Judaism and their bond to Jewish values and heritage became more prominent in their life. After two years in the Haifa area, the family decided to move to Ma’aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem.

The parents did not have an easy time finding a source of income, having to work at difficult jobs; but they constantly had their children’s education in mind. Today, the boys study at Ma’aleh Adumim Yeshiva-high School, Adiso in the twelfth grade and Yonatan in the tenth. They spend much of their time studying for the matriculation exams. Both have achieved impressive results, an outcome of difficult and prolonged efforts on their part, as well as special attention given by the school staff. Their day is long and crammed, starting at eight in the morning, and ending at six or seven o’clock at night. Their program is very intensive, including religious studies, math, English, physics, biology, technology and electronics, history. One of their teachers, Itamar Golan, said, “Today, they are first rate students in the Yeshiva. Studies at the Yeshiva are intensive and grueling. With the close accompaniment of the staff, they are both very successful, despite all the obstacles they have encountered.”

Their parents constantly encourage them, pushing them to fulfill their potential. They want Yonatan to become a doctor. He excels in biology, and hopes to become a vet. His grades are high, but he would rather not talk about himself. He believes one should be judged by their values, identity and personality; not grades.

Adiso, a top notch student as well, believes in influencing and contributing through social activities. He joined the Ariel youth group a short time after joining the Yeshiva. He became a leader in the group, and his dream is to influence Israeli society, generating a positive change. Yonatan joined the youth group with Adiso, becoming a youth leader as well. They are both involved in youth activities, educating the members of their group on the values of mutual accountability. They believe they have the power to minimize and even eliminate violence among youth. Through activities and games, they teach proper methods of communication between the youth, showing that violence is not necessary.

The brothers believe more can be done to further promote and assist the Ethiopian community in Israel. Today, the younger generation of Ethiopian immigrants serves as a guide to the older generation, helping them to integrate. Yonatan and Adiso have encountered some prejudice, but don’t dwell on them, preferring to look to the future.

Yonatan has fond memories of Achfar, but believes his life is better today, in Israel. His way of life and religious values are important to him, as well as his sense of belonging to the Jewish Nation, which he feels in Israel, and the security the Ethiopian immigrants feel. “In Israel, when I compare my life to the one I had in Ethiopia – it is better here. Our basic needs are the sense of security and the feeling of a belonging to an entity we believe in, leading the life the way we want. We find these basic needs met in Israel.”

It’s My Opinion: The Rush To Judgment

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida has riveted the attention of the entire nation. Martin, a Miami Gardens teenager, was shot dead by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Many believe race played a role in the shooting. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

Media reports portrayed Zimmerman as an overzealous busybody. Trayvon was seen as the victim of racial profiling, a black teen in a hoodie who accidentally wandered into the cross hairs of a frustrated cop wannabe.

Zimmerman had called police to report a young man who he claimed looked drugged and suspicious. Media portrayal of Zimmerman’s subsequent actions pointed to a misguided vigilante who hunted down and killed an innocent youngster.

The occurrence has taken on disturbing overtones. The unfortunate youth has become a symbol of racial unrest. He has been called a “martyr for the cause.” It is, of course, possible that Trayvon’s race was a factor in this tragedy. But not every act of violence perpetrated against blacks is necessarily racially motivated, just as not every act of violence against Jews is necessarily fueled by anti-Semitism.

A lynch mob mentality has emerged. The “new” Black Panther party has offered a reward of $10,000 for a citizen’s arrest of Zimmerman. The Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have done whatever they can to fan the flames. Sharpton sees the event as an indication of “open season on us.” Jackson points to an undercurrent of anger in the black community caused by police, banks, insurance companies and “people in striped suits.” President Obama added an emotional component when he said that if he had a son ”he would look like Trayvon.”

We Jews have long been victims of unfounded accusations. But this phenomenon is not unique to the Jewish world. Recall the charges made by Tawana Brawley, the allegations against Atlanta Olympic Park security guard Richard Jewell, and the attempted framing of the Duke Lacrosse Team.

I certainly am not an advocate for George Zimmerman. I am an advocate of not rushing to judgment.

A True Jewish Hero

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Stories of the heroes of our Jewish nation are heartwarming, eye opening, encouraging, and sometimes even frightening. When we hear such stories, we salute those people (most of whom we have never met) for their courage and perseverance, but most of all for their commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.

One such story was outlined to my children at a Seder several years ago.

Hirsh was born in the small village of Kaydanovo, Belarus (White Russia) in 1913. His father, Reb Dovid, gave him a Jewish religious education, instilling in him an appreciation for the beauty of Yiddishkeit. In addition to learning in yeshiva until his late teens, Hirsh attended public school until 8th grade. He always ran home to his father and to his rabbis and teachers to absorb all he could about Judaism.

Hirsh learned to lein for his bar mitzvah, which was a small, quiet gathering celebrating his love of learning.

Times were not so easy for Hirsh’s family in Russia in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Just after his bar mitzvah, Hirsh started working in a metal fabrication plant.

Not long after Stalin rose to power in Russia, Jewish education and practice became illegal. On February 26, 1938, about a year after Hirsh was married, he was arrested for “being an active member of a counterrevolutionary national Jewish organization.” At trial, the prosecution depicted Hirsh as “…an enemy of the Communist Party and of the Soviet Power who carried out anti-Soviet propaganda and made comments betraying the fatherland.”

Hirsh was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in Siberia for one reason: He was Jewish. While serving his sentence, Hirsh learned his wife had given birth to a daughter. Some years later he also learned that his wife and daughter both perished in the Holocaust.

The sentence, it turned out, had actually saved Hirsh’s life, as he was in Siberia while the Holocaust decimated European Jewry.

As we sat around the Seder table a couple of years ago, we asked the kids if they could relate this story to Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. After thinking for a moment, they replied, “We guess we could. But Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim. Did Hirsh leave Siberia?”

Hirsh was released on February 6, 1948. He settled in the city of Kutaisi, Georgia, where he worked as a carpenter. He married a woman named Necha Kronghaus. On August 19, 1949, their son, David, was born.

Although Hirsh served ten years of hard labor for being Jewish, he continued to learn, teach, and honor the Jewish tradition that we all hold so dear. But the nightmare did not end. Before David’s first birthday, on June 29, 1950, Hirsh was again arrested for “…participating in a counter-revolutionary national group and continuing to engage in anti-Soviet activities.” This time the sentence was not ten years of hard labor but permanent exile to the Krasnoyarsk region of the USSR.

The kids stopped the story right there. “It’s not fair!” they shouted. “Bnei Yisrael did not have to go back to Egypt!”

Hirsh, Necha and David lived in the small village of Dolgi Moste among criminals who were serving sentences for real crimes. But Hirsh gave all the laborers respect and in return those men saved him on a number of occasions from physical attacks. While in Dolgi Moste, a daughter, Anna, was born to Hirsh and Necha.

After Stalin’s death, the political prisoners in exile danced in the streets. Hirsh prayed. On September 13, 1954, Hirsh and his family were released from the Krasnoyarsk region. They settled in the city of Rostov. Hirsh received a full pardon on September 13, 1957. In Rostov, Hirsh quietly became the chazzan and ba’al koreh, read the megillah on Purim and blew the shofar on the High Holidays.

The story of Hirsh can be summed up by the four expressions of redemption represented at the Pesach Seder by the four cups of wine: vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vegoalti, and velakachti.

As most of us know, there is a fifth expression of redemption in the Torah: veheiveiti.

Hirsh and his family repeatedly and unsuccessfully applied for exit visas to Israel. Hirsh had a sister, Tzila, living in Montreal. Every Pesach Tzila sent “care packages” to Hirsh in Rostov that contained matzot. In 1971 Tzila advised Hirsh to apply for an exit visa to Canada. Tzila was granted a meeting with an administrative assistant to Canada’s then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, and asked if Trudeau would discuss Hirsh’s situation during a forthcoming visit by then-Russian prime minister Alexei Kosygin.

The application for an exit visa to Canada was granted. Hirsh and his family immigrated to Montreal just before Pesach 1972.

The kids sat in awe. “They came to Canada right before Pesach? They left Russia just like the Jewish people left Mitzrayim!”

Every year since then, we discuss modern-day stories of Yetziat Mitzrayim during the Seder.

UNRWA Press Release: US is UNRWA’s Largest Bilateral Donor

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

UNITED STATES PLEDGES ADDITIONAL USD 10 MILLION TO SUPPORT UNRWA

Ronan Farrow, Special Advisor on Global Youth to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announced at UNRWA’s “Engaging Youth” conference an additional contribution of USD 10 million to the Agency‚s General Fund, which brings the United States government’s total contribution to UNRWA thus far in 2012 to USD 65 million.  The conference was held on 19-20 March in Brussels.

Contributions to the General Fund are a critical means of supporting UNRWA’s work with Palestine refugees, particularly youth. Sixty per cent of UNRWA’s General Fund budget is dedicated to meeting the educational needs of the over 480,000 children who attend UNRWA schools.

Mr. Farrow called on UNRWA to give young Palestine refugees a seat at the table in discussing UNRWA’s critical programmes and initiatives. He highlighted the importance of education as a tool to empower youth as they prepare to enter the job market and to be a force for positive change.

Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Filippo Grandi, expressed his gratitude for the crucial support extended by the United States. “I’m heartened that this donation came during such an important conference. The United States remains UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor  and this latest contribution again demonstrates America’s strong support to the Agency and its activities, of which improving the lives of Palestinian refugee youth, and the opportunities open to them, is such an important part.”

The United States is UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor, and is a consistent supporter of both the General Fund and programmes targeted more specifically to address the needs of Palestine refugee youth.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/us-news/unrwa-press-release-us-is-unrwas-largest-bilateral-donor/2012/03/27/

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