Yom HaZikaron – A Day to Remember

Today was a very bittersweet day. Living in Israel is a paradox. It’s a country where there is a huge sense of faith in Hashem, in G-d, but also many people that run away from their Jewish identities. It’s a country where every young boy goes to the army as soon as he is old enough, and fights to protect our country from the enemies that surround it. Today was Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance.

In America, Memorial Day means a lot to a select few. In Israel, today means a lot to everyone. There is no one who doesn’t know someone who fell, or at the very least, someone who knows someone who fell. Today, I heard a very moving story that I am going to try to remember here.

A Rosh Yeshiva survivor of World War II had a teacher at his school who had a son serving in the army that fell during the first Lebanon War. After the Levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to the bochurim (yeshiva students) in the van taking him back to school and said, “He was Kadosh.” He was holy. One of the other students in the van turned to him and questioned, “Rebbi, even the non-religious soldiers?” Without hesitation he responded, “They were ALL kadosh.” Then, without explaining himself he asked the driver of the cab to take him directly to the house where his colleague was sitting shiva, mourning for his son.

His colleague was shocked at the arrival of the Rosh Yeshiva, who was never known for spending any extra time out of his Torah learning, and said to him, “Thank you for coming, but it is time for you to return to Yeshiva.”

His superior turned to him and relayed the following story:
“You don’t know this about me, but I had a son who was taken out of my arms and executed. He was five years old, and I was not able to do anything to save him. Later, I traded my five-year old son’s shoes for food, but I could never eat it. I gave it away to someone else. When my son was taken, I knew he was a tzadik (righteous) but he went singularly; he didn’t save anyone else in the process. Your son was also taken from you, but he did so saving the lives of all of the Jewish people that live in the Land of Israel, making him a tzadik in his own right. I know that in shamayim (heaven) right now, my son is welcoming your Shlomo to a heavenly minyan, where your son is the Shaliach Tzibur (the leader of the group) in heavenly prayer. I never got to sit shiva properly for my own son, so please let me sit here with you for a little while longer.”

The Rebbe (teacher) replied, “Rebbi (my teacher), I didn’t think it was possible to be comforted, but you just comforted me.”

Two sirens sound on Yom Hazikaron, one in the evening and one in the morning. The sirens evoke emotions that are larger than life, bringing in images of soldiers knocking loudly on doors to deliver news that no one wants to receive; wails of mothers burying their sons, and an intense silence falls over the country: the silence of laughter that will never be heard again; the silence of a wedding that will never occur and children and grandchildren that will never be born.

The director of my school said that while the national response to these sirens is to stand in a moment of silence, she doesn’t think that it’s a very Jewish response. She said that a much more Jewish response would be to stand up and to pray to G-d on behalf of the fallen soldiers, to say tehillim for their souls to help them elevate higher and higher; that our prayer should enable them to daven in their own heavenly minyan.

People often criticize the religious population in Israel for being unwilling and ungrateful to the soldiers of the land of Israel, but this powerful story shows that the opposite is true – we ALL owe our lives to them. We owe our safety to them. Our ability to daven at the Kotel to them. But we also owe it to Hashem, our Father in Heaven, who made it possible for them to strengthen this country to be able to defend itself from it’s foes. Without this understanding; without soldiers in the army and soldiers learning Torah, the Jewish state loses all of it’s Judaism – it becomes a secular state with a mainly Jewish population, the antithesis of anything Jewish. that is the essence of Yom Hazikaron, which always falls during a time of mourning for the Jewish people. It’s not a coincidence that the date is during sefira, the counting of the Omer, when we are challenged with working on our character traits specifically concerning “ben adam l’chavero,” between a man and his friend. During this time it is essential that we recognize the kedusha, the holiness, of each and every one of the soldiers defending Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), and also that we realize that ultimately, everything is in Hashem’s hands.


A Little Peace and Thanksgiving

Baruch Hashem, it’s been quiet here for the past week. We all had a few mixed feelings when the cease fire was announced last week, because we partially wanted Israel to just go in and finish the job they started, but thankful that we wouldn’t hear the wail of the siren in the coming days.

We were unhappy for several reasons. First of all, Hamas learned some lessons during this war that are not beneficial to Israel. Primarily, they learned that they can fire over 1500 rockets into Israel in an 8 day period and not get so much as a potch (smack) on the wrist. They also learned that Egypt (see below: the real winner of the “war”) and the United States will push for a cease fire and try to get Israel to not ‘invade’ by foot. (I put the word invade in parenthesis because can a country ‘invade’ a part of their own borders? Would the U.S. be ‘invading’ Puerto Rico? Arizona? Just something to think about.)

Egypt really won this war because the world recognized their leader (an open member of the Muslim Brotherhood) as a vital contribution to the “peace” process between Israelis and Palestinians. No surprise that less than a week later, he declared himself a dictator by saying that none of the courts can contradict any decision that he makes as leader.

As for the amount of quiet we’ve had, there’s still some unrest along the Gaza/Sinai border, and not all of the soldiers that were called up from the army have gone home. Most recently, there was some distress on the Gaza/Israel border (see above comment for why I sigh/roll my eyes while I write this) and Israeli soldiers were needed to calm down the situation. We haven’t had a siren in Jerusalem, and I don’t think there have been sirens in the south since the day after the cease fire either.

Even throughout the whole ordeal, we weren’t fearful. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t afraid, but we weren’t full of fear. A friend of mine, who I’ll tell you about in a second, almost found herself outside during the second siren, because she had to go to the butcher. Once the siren was over, she ran out, and while she was waiting for the butcher to ring up her food, she let out a sigh, almost as if she’d been holding her breath the whole way there, afraid there would be another siren. The butcher (a Chassidic man), told her it’s okay to be scared. He said, “You can be scared because it’s scary. But to be paralyzed in fear is not good. To not do things because of the fear is bad.” In other words, being paralyzed because of fear makes you think that you are in control. To be aware but unparalyzed is to see that you are most certainly not.

We’re coming to visit America next week for two weeks, and my mom asked me if we’d had a conversation about not going back because of the war. I told her no. She asked if we would be having that conversation — and I told her it wasn’t in our radar. That it was a conversation that would not happen.

There is a clarity that comes from being in a time of crisis. Over the past week, we were scared, but we still felt safe. We’d have to be idiots to not feel safe after seeing all of the miracles that happened all over Israel. To say that over 1500 rockets fell in and around highly populated cities all over a country that’s the size of New Jersey and only six people died is miraculous. A bus blew up in Tel Aviv and only injured some of the people on board. That rockets aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem landed in Arab territory; there’s no other way to understand it. The army might say it’s because of the Iron Dome, that they are strong, and able, but we know that it’s because there’s a greater “Iron Dome” out there, looking out for all of us. We have to hold on to this clarity.

These are all things to be thankful for. Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Israel (not even in Har Nof, which is made up of A LOT of Americans!), our group of friends from Philadelphia decided to get together for a Shabbaton and eat Thanksgiving-themed food. Everyone made a dish or two, and it was a lot of fun. Jonathan and I made the turkey and gravy, and others contributed stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and onions, butternut squash soup, and salad. For dessert, we had our choice of either lemon meringue pie, pecan pie, pumpkin bread pudding with a dulce de leche sauce, or chocolate chip cookies. To say that we were full at the end of Shabbos would be the biggest understatement of the year, probably.

Throughout the whole experience, all I could think about is how grateful I am that all of our best friends got the opportunity to come to Israel at the same time, and that we’re all quite literally in this together. Just to give you a little bit of background: In college, I met two girls who very quickly became my best friends. They are now here, in Israel, with us. One of those girls, Hannah, is married to a guy that I grew up with, from kindergarten through college. Obviously, he’s here too and he is one of Jonathan’s best friends. Another one of our very good friends from college is here also, along with one more couple. And we all went to college together. Now, we’re all in seminary together. Quite literally, Hashem gave us this incredible support system in college as we were becoming more observant together, and continued to give us this support system through getting married (for some of us, and for others, soon!), and now, going to Israel.

So when we want to go to the supermarket and have to take those four buses to do so (and to share a cab home!), there’s someone to do it with. When we want to go shopping for a skirt, or for gifts for family and friends, there’s someone there. Need to vent? Not a problem. Missed a class? Here’s the notes. And all coming together for a meal that we all had a part in was a beautiful materialization of that reality. And it was a lot of fun.

We missed our family and friends in America, but we’re lucky to have a kind of Philadelphia, mismatched, quirky, and fun family here. And a lot of things to be thankful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for.

Update from Israel

We weren’t here when the sirens wailed on Shabbos. We, with my seminary, went away to Moshav Matityahu, a mostly American closed community somewhat like a kibbutz, but without the communist ideology and specialized industry.

My best friends were here, though. And they heard the siren for the first time. Jerusalem heard it for the first time since the Gulf War, and many people didn’t know what to do. Was it a mess up? The Shabbos siren had just wailed fifteen minutes previous to announce the start of the holiday. Where should they go? How long to stay?

Lessons learned quickly in times of war.

But it’s strange, because in Jerusalem, at least where we live in Har Nof, it doesn’t really feel like a war. We’re closed, in our small neighborhood, we have buses that are safe, and we don’t hear the wail of sirens every few minutes like they do in the South. We think constantly about Jonathan’s aunts and uncles and cousins who were called into the army, who are mobilizing on the border of Gaza waiting for further commands. We cried when we heard about the three people who died in Kiryat Malachi, we say tehillim (psalms) and daven every day for the safety of the Jewish people in Israel, and all over the world.

On Shabbos, Jerusalem got a tiny nibble of what it must feel like for citizens closer to the “danger areas.” We unlocked our Miklat (bomb shelter), made sure we knew what to do, and discussed what we would do if we weren’t together at a time when the siren started to wail.

Over the past few days, I’ve thought about a lot, but mostly — what is it like to be at war with a country that doesn’t exist? What is it like to be at war with a group of people that don’t believe that you have a right to exist? With a people that have so little regard for the sanctity of life, even of their own people, that they haphazardly aim missiles at crowded cities and celebrate when they hit the fields of people who share their culture? The answer is, it’s terrifying. Much more for Jonathan’s family and the Israelis and Arabs (and Bedouins) that live in the South; for the people that have less than 30 seconds to get themselves into a bomb shelter before they hear the boom, and usually have to stay there all night.

But, we have the best army in the world, and one video can illustrate that fact to the utmost. In this video, which was shot today – Israel bombs (from an airplane) a rocket launch center located next to a mosque, and hits it with surgical precision. You can see the shrapnel flying from the rockets, the black smoke caused by the detonation of the explosives, and the mosque – which remains unharmed. Would any other army in the world even bother with this kind of precision?

We’re safe — I’m going to update as much as I can to keep everyone informed, but really, our lives haven’t changed much. We’re staying low, keeping out of crowded areas (not for fear of rockets, but for fear of demonstrations), and avoiding buses that go through Arab neighborhoods, which are most likely to be stoned. Please keep Israel in your prayers.

As usual, here’s some food for thought.

Spare Us the Pieties on Gaza

Say what you want about Dennis Prager – his politics, his beliefs; he hit the nail right on the head with this one.

Media Bias

In a blog update last year, I mentioned the unfortunate tendency that media outlets have to sensationalize political situations surrounding Israel, as well as their consistency in creating “media-hype” that victimizes Palestinians while making Israel seem like the bad guy. The blog I wrote was about what ended up being an isolated incident where an Egyptian was referred to as “Superman” several times in an article because he scaled the Israeli embassy in his country, removed the flag, and threw it to the ground in flames, giving him a new superhero name, “Flagman.”

For the past few weeks, Israel has been experiencing a tirade of rockets parading down on it’s southern cities, including Beer Sheva, where a lot of Jonathan’s family lives, killing three people this morning. For the first time since 1991, sirens wailed in Tel Aviv as rockets threatened the huge metropolis. This has prompted Israel to launch a military response, to assassinate Hamas’ largest military leader, Ahmed Jabari (who commanded the operation to capture Gilad Shalit), and to deal with a lot of unwarranted media bias from the world news.

Israel has been targeting only the areas where Hamas manufactures its weapons, the people who manufacture them, and the tunnels through which they are smuggled from Egypt. They drop pamphlets before they attack, send mass warnings to civilians of Gaza, who are trapped under Hamas’ rule, an internationally recognized terrorist organization that currently rules Gaza. They choose to build their military facilities next to and/or IN elementary schools, hospitals, libraries, mosques, and other civilian buildings.

A sample of the pamphlet the IDF drops in Gaza before every military operative.

Hamas claims that Israel cages them, puts them inside large fences, prevents them from traveling to their holy cites, withholds necessities that they need to survive, and fails to provide them with equal representation in the government. Let me clarify a few of these misconceptions:

  1. Israel left Gaza in 2005 — removing ALL citizens (it is actually illegal for an Israeli citizen to enter Gaza) — in the name of peace. Our reward: rocket fire from Gaza into Israel — over 850 in 2012 alone!
  2. Israel still provides electricity to Gaza (paid for by Israeli citizens/taxes as opposed to — you know — the people who USE it!)
  3. There are (thank G-d) far fewer Israeli casualties than Gazan casualties for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which are: a) we build bomb shelters and USE them, b) we cancel school and non-essential work in the name of protecting our citizens, c) Hamas uses dense population centers from which to launch attacks, thus using their own citizens as shields.
  4. Multiple Israeli rescue and/or philanthropic organizations consistently send aid (in many forms) to global locations struck by natural or man-made catastrophes. Now compare this to the reaction of the Palestinians on/after 9/11 (the streets of Ramallah and Gaza were filled with people celebrating the attack on the “Great Satan” — or have you already forgotten?).
  5. Israelis are prevented from traveling to and living in many of our holy cites, such as Hevron, where the tomb of the forefathers and foremothers is — it’s only open at certain times of the year, and even then, it’s dangerous to go to.
  6. Israel has agreed to countless numbers of “peace talks,” has given back land that more than equals the size of the small country, and has withdrawn military presence countless times for the sake of peace with a country that REFUSES to recognize Israel as a country, let alone recognize that the country has a RIGHT to exist. Here’s a visual:

This was the proposed U.N. Partition plan. Israel would have received an indefensible portion of land that was mostly desert and swampland, with very little access to water and other resources. They agreed to the plan. The Palestinians said no, and 7 Arab countries attacked Israel on the day of it’s Independence. With no mobilized army (the majority of the Army consisted of Holocaust survivors – remember, this was 1948), no budget for weapons, and no machinery, Israel miraculously won the war.

Following the 1967 War, where Israel captured Sinai, these are the concessions of land Israel made for peace, most recently with the disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

People who like to criticize Israel throw around words such as “occupation,” “apartheid,” and urge universities and companies alike to boycott, divest, and sanction thousands of products because they (or a fraction of the product) were made in Israel, by Israeli companies, or Israeli people. Before you get sucked into the hype of BSd, check out this video.

When I taught Hebrew school, many of my students were confused about why Israel would attack their neighbors in Gaza in 2008, and since they got most of their information from the news, they were very influenced by the media bias I want to encourage all of you to avoid. They didn’t understand the damage a few rockets could do. Surely they aren’t made out of sophisticated materials! Surely, they can’t do much damage! Obviously, Israel’s expensive military machines can cause much more, and they do, right?! So I put it in terms I think they could understand.

A brother and sister are on a car ride, stuck in the same place for a very long period of time. The brother starts to play a game my sister LOVED – poke with your finger. On the arm, and he continues to poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, and poke. This goes on for hours, and it starts to hurt. After a little while, the area becomes red, then redder, then redder, and swollen, and more sore. After a few more hours, there’s a bruise starting to appear, and the sister just can’t take it anymore. How does she respond? Does she simply “poke” back? No – she slaps him across the face – the only thing that can get him to stop. If that doesn’t work, she has to try something else, and may even result to kicking him out of the car. This is Israel’s position, except the rockets launched from Gaza, while unsophisticated, HURT. They do damage. They break buildings, burn down cars, and kill people.

Here is a list recommended reading and watching. I urge you to heed the advice of Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesperson, and be careful about where you get your information.

As for us, we’re safe in Jerusalem.

Recommended Reading:

One thing I agree with Eric Yoffe About:





Hope and Change

We’re living in scary times. Living in Israel, it feels sometimes scarier than when we were in the United States — feels like all eyes of the nations are on us, waiting for what may or may not be a war.

When a drone entered Israeli airspace last week, there was very little public media surrounding it. As one of my friends posted on her facebook status:

I used to love talking about politics. Even today, give me a topic: let me talk about social welfare, the media’s sway over public opinion, the economy; chances are I probably have an opinion. And I could talk your ear off. But ask me about today’s leaders or current international relations and I’ll probably shy away from sharing ANY sort of opinion I have. And that’s because I’m quite honestly fed up.

There has been a video circulating around the internet for a few weeks which has gotten over 2 million views on youtube and has been featured in many other news articles, and I think it speaks for itself.  If you have time, I highly recommend sitting through this 19 minute video, where politicians from across party lines speak about some of their concerns with the Obama administration.

I can identify with this woman. Like her, I was also inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change, and I was excited to see him implement the new economic plan he outlined during his campaign, felt optimistic about socializing health care, and thought that he would bring the walk to follow the talk once he was in office. This is why I attended rallies and proudly cast my ballot for Barack Obama in the 2008 primary and presidential election. In hindsight, I feel duped.

Many might accuse me of being a one-issue voter because Israel is so high on my list of voting priorities, but I need to set this misconception straight.

Supporting Israel is not ONE issue. It’s MANY issues. It has to do with posterity, the preservation of democracy in the Middle East and around the world, and making sure that America has an ally in the region. It has to do with preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, something that is in everyone’s best interest, and something that this current president has on his priority level BELOW getting re-elected. The time bomb is ticking (pun intended), and Israel is not the only country that’s on the hit list.

To illustrate this point even further, the day after the Benghazi and Cairo attacks, Obama went to a political fundraiser in Las Vegas and was in a jolly mood, not choosing to mention the fallen diplomats or their security team that were brutally murdered. In response to what many countries would interpret as an act of war, Obama apologized for a defamatory video that was later proven to have zero connection to the attacks in the first place, and still can’t give a solid explanation about the attacks, including whether the administration had any previous knowledge of it, or present a plan of action for the future to the families who lost their loved ones in the terrorist attack, let alone to the country.

Just to be clear: I am not only voting based on fears about Israel. Our economy has not improved at all since Obama took office; we are are more in debt as a nation than we were when he was elected. My generation is facing the worst consequences to this current financial situation, and under the Obama administration, thanks to Obamacare taxes are going to increase for everyone, not just the “1%.”

Voting democratic to support a woman’s right to choose is noble, but a republican president won’t have much success even if he vows to overturn Roe v. Wade. They don’t get overturned by veto or by chance — and no president can just snap his (or her) fingers to remove such long-standing freedoms. Voting based solely on such an issue, my friends, would make you the one issue voter.

Obama fooled me once — and as the old adage goes — fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That’s why when my absentee ballot comes in this week, I’m going to be doing something I never envisioned myself doing. Something that, if you told me five years ago I’d be doing today, I would have never believed you.

I’m voting republican. I’m voting Romney.