Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Holy Crap Pilgrimage

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Issue 44 "SIMCHAT TORAH" 5766

Shalom! We are proud to present another issue of Kummunique - full of love
of Israel and Aliyah inspiration!

In this issue you will find:

1. "Netanyahu: No future For Diaspora Jewry" by Gil Hoffman
2. "Frustrated Immigrant: Stop Aliyah. Period" by Ashley Rindsberg
3. "Coming Home" by Iris Maimon-Toledano
4. "I'm Finally Home" by Iris Maimon-Toledano


1. "Netanyahu: No Future For Diaspora Jewry" by Gil Hoffman
From Jerusalem Post

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu questioned the future of Diaspora Jewry in a closed-door meeting with American contributors to the IDF's Nahal haredi program on Thursday morning.

He warned that assimilation and intermarriage would threaten the future of Diaspora Jewry and said the Nahal haredi program was the answer to the rifts inside Israeli society. Netanyahu told participants to do everything possible to prevent assimilation in their communities, but said Israel is what is keeping the Jewish people together.

"There is no future for Jews in the Diaspora, because of assimilation and intermarriage," Netanyahu said, according to participants. "The only future for the Jews is in Israel. The only hope for the Jewish people in the Diaspora is Israel."

Sources close to Netanyahu confirmed the quotes and said his point was to emphasize Israel's central role in maintaining Diaspora Jewry.

Netanyahu's comments surprised people in the room and Diaspora Jewish leaders.

Israeli politicians who deal with Diaspora relations compared Netanyahu's statements to those of President Moshe Katsav, who caused an uproar on September 10, 2000, when he said that Israeli leaders should no longer justify Jews living abroad.

"We have legitimized living in the Diaspora and have said it does not bother us," Katsav said at the time. "The only branch that can ensure the continuation of the Jewish nation is the Jewish state" and not Jewish education, which he said was a stopgap measure that "could at best last two or three generations."

Reached in Cordova, Spain, United Jewish Communities-Israel director-general Nachman Shai said he hoped "Netanyahu will be convinced that Diaspora Jews are not lost" when he attends next month's UJC General Assembly in Los Angeles.

"The fact that there is a Jewish state does not change the fact that Jews will always live abroad," Shai said. "I would like all Jews to come to Israel, but it won't happen. We have to bolster them and build relationships with Jews all over the world, especially with the Jews of the US, the most powerful Jewish community ever. Assimilation doesn't mean that the Jews in the Diaspora will suddenly disappear."

Former Diaspora affairs minister Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) said that statements such as Netanyahu's "turn people off to Israel" instead of encouraging Diaspora Jews to make aliya.

"It's a very unintelligent approach to the Jews of the world today," Melchior said. "As a staunch Zionist, I believe that Israel is the heart of the Jewish people and we have the potential for a more complete Jewish life here than outside the country. I would encourage every Jew to come on aliya with all my heart. But to say that there is no future for Jews outside Israel has no basis in reality. There are many flourishing Jewish communities, religiously, culturally and educationally, which are doing wonderful work to reinforce the future of the Jewish people."

Meretz leader Yossi Beilin, who initiated the birthright israel program, said that nowadays, no cause is more Zionist than guaranteeing that the Jewish people will thrive in their communities abroad.

"Netanyahu's comments are empty slogans with no policy behind them," Beilin said. "I find it strange that Netanyahu, who rejects the idea of the Diaspora, is the same Netanyahu who as prime minister and finance minister contributed so much to making Israel a less secure place to live, with socioeconomic gaps that recall the Third World."


2. "Frustrated Immigrant: Stop Aliyah. Period" by Ashley Rindsberg

Personal account of American Jew adjusting to life in Israel. Frustrated with widespread neglect of immigrants, he points out that aliyah is not rosy picture painted by Jewish Agency. His conclusion: Best to stay put and not come until Israel can absorb existing immigrants

Many of us have lived, at some time or another, in places all around the world. From Beijing, Bali, and Bombay to San Francisco, New York, London, and Melbourne. And, for those of us who have spent any amount of time in Israel, we can all agree that this strange and beautiful country is definitely not third world… but it's not quite 'first world' either.

Alfonso Rubin, a 59 year old former financial manager, experienced the effects of this in between-ness firsthand when he immigrated to Israel from New York 26 years ago.

Rubin came to make a fresh start. He was inspired by the glowing description his Jewish Agency representative, or 'shaliach', gave him—he would be welcomed open-armed, accepted by an absorption center brimming with people like himself. All he had to do was choose: Would you prefer the quaint seaside community of Ashdod, or the more bustling oasis of Beer Sheba? A room facing the park, or the sea?

He opted for Ashdod, sea-facing. He got something quite different. Rubin arrived in Israel, 36 years old, after leaving a job that paid him USD 50,000 (in 1979), full of the expectations that his shaliach filled him with.

The first sign of trouble was when there was no one at the airport to greet him. The next bad omen was the absorption center he arrived at (after taking at taxi from the airport)—it was closed for the day.

Black market Nearly 30 years later, Rubin's troubles in Israel have only multiplied. Today, he is sinking in a mire of debt, has been repeatedly hospitalized, and, somehow, spends a good part of each day avoiding the police who have a warrant for his arrest.

"I sit at home like a dog. I'm lost in the world," he confesses over an iced coffee. He takes another sip, and the story unravels.

The troubles began when Rubin was leaving his last apartment. He gave the landlord two checks that, he realized sometime later, would bounce. So, mindful of the financial practices of his former profession, he immediately went to the bank to cancel the checks and called the former landlord to inform him of the situation. Everything seemed okay.

Six months later Rubin received a phone call from an unidentified man in Tel Aviv informing him that he owed this man NIS 11,000 for the two checks. Rubin didn't understand and promptly told the man, in New York terms, to please go away.

The unidentified man did not go away. He brought a lawsuit against Rubin for NIS 52,000 - 11,000 for the first two checks, the remainder for interest and damages. The man, it turns out, had bought the checks from Rubin's landlord on the black market, not an uncommon practice in Israel.

Debts in hospital Soon after, Rubin needed treatment for an intestinal hernia, a potentially fatal condition if left untreated. While in hospital he faxed the court the proper forms to delay the trial.

Two of his cases (he is also being sued by a bank and a cellphone company for debt he couldn't pay on account of the first suit) sent him letters of approval, informing him that the delay was accepted. The third case, the black market check case, never responded. At least not until they served him with a notice informing him of his absence in court and the warrant that had been issued for his arrest because of that absence.

"I'm not a criminal who's trying to get away with things. I want to pay these debts. I've been hospitalized three times this past year. I'm backed up on my bills, I'm ill, and they want to arrest me."

Rubin, who works five nights a week at a Tel Aviv hotel, has reduced his lifestyle to only the barest of bare necessities. After struggling in Israel for more than 25 years he confesses that he's had enough: "I would leave Israel within 40 minutes at this point. But I don't even have the money to have pictures taken for my passport."

Determination, but what for? It's a low that, 25 years ago, he never thought he would sink to. When his optimistic shaliach reminded Rubin that, if he didn't like Israel, he could always come back, Rubin refused that mentality. "I said no, if I go with the mindset that I can come back then I will definitely come back. If I'm going, I'm going for good."

So when he finally got to the closed absorption center, he was still determined to stay. When his promised sea-facing room actually faced the building's garbage dump, he was still determined to stay.

When he had to share a room with a mentally ill Russian immigrant who threatened, with the little English he knew, that he was going to kill Rubin, he was still determined to see it through. But now, coming up on his 60th birthday, he's thrown in the towel.

"No one from the Jewish Agency ever pitched in to help me," Rubin says, reflecting on his years in Israel.

"I'm not saying that new immigrants should get everything for nothing just because they're new immigrants. They should work. But they need to be given the opportunity to work." And just as importantly, he explains, there needs to be a way for immigrants to get reliable, clear, and consistent information.

"You ask a question to 10 officials in Israel and you get 12 answers," he says. The confusion and opacity are, in part, what started the disaster with the sold checks. It turns out that in Israel, two parallel lines must be placed somewhere on the check in order to denote that the check can only be cashed by its addressee. Rubin (probably like most immigrants) did not know that.

"Two little lines," he says, "and now they're trying to arrest me. But what about the man who sold my checks? Isn't that illegal? Why don't they arrest him?"

It's all about the freedom

But, through all of this, Rubin has preserved enough perspective to point out some of the country's qualities that he still loves. He says about Israel that, "You have more freedom here than you have anywhere in the world."

He points to two teenage girls sitting by themselves at the café, at the late hour: "It's amazing, there is nowhere else in the word that girls can sit in a big city and feel safe and free like that."

He also returns to the comment he began the interview with, that the casual approach to things in Israel which has led him to disaster financially is something that he values socially.

Rubin is nearly glowing when he explains that in Israel you don't have to make an appointment to go see a friend. "It doesn't matter what time you come, day or night. You just show up and they'll welcome you in and make you coffee. That's phenomenal."

But returning to the issue at hand, Rubin remarks that, "This country needs more organization, from top to bottom. There should be one law for everybody. And for people who are not born in this country, they should be explained all the laws of healthcare, banking, communication, employment etc.

"But people - Russians, Ethiopians, Americans, are brought here and just dumped. Don't bring more immigrants until you can deal with those you have," he says with a serious look on his face. "Stop aliyah. Period."

It's a drastic statement but one that, given Rubin's experience, is perhaps understandable. It does not take into account the huge number of immigrant success stories within Israel, but it expresses a frustration that many immigrants, even the most successful, have felt at one point or another.

"If we want Jews to come here and live," he concludes, "we'd better change our ways."


3. "Coming Home" by Iris Maimon-Toledano

10 years abroad is a long time – too long. Still, it isn't easy packing up and starting again

A few weeks before I and my family return to Israel after ten years in Canada, we are in the throes of packing and checking – what do we have to do about health insurance and national insurance? What about import duty, education, and finding a new place to live?

We are closing our lives here, gathering up the things we'll need in Israel, and I my anticipation and my worries are keeping me awake just about every night.

Gripped by fear

But the panic that struck me today was different. Today, I was overtaken by fear, a debilitating panic so powerful I couldn't even concentrate on the things I was supposed to be putting in the cardboard boxes all around me. As I watched my children playing happily in the garden, by heart suddenly started racing, and for the first time in months I asked myself, "What the hell am I doing?"

And my standard answer – "I'm going home" – didn't work this time. Neither did my laconic answers, the ones constantly on the tip of my tongue like a mantra and come out almost automatically. "Because my children think Canada's their home. I want their only 'home' to be in Israel."

Or: "Because if I don't do it now, I never will." Or: "I've got to give Israel an honest chance. We've never lived there as a family, and Israel is supposed to be heaven for families." Or a host of other answers.

I don't have a lot of family left in Israel. Two sisters and their families, some uncles and cousins we see at family celebrations, and that's about it. The "glue" we all know so well is no more.

Even my return will not give me back the years lost, the time I wasn't by their sides. It also won't atone for feelings of regret and guilt.

Maybe it will be easier to mourn, and to connect to the loss. When you are far away, even the death of a parent can be considered so distant as to be unreal. When you are far away, it's amazing just how easy it is "to continue."

My Israel

I'm coming home to my beloved country, a land I love so much it hurts. My Israel makes my laugh and cry, it warms my heart and freezes me with shock and horror. My Israel gave me a stubborn root. Even if it were to be removed, nothing could replace the hole that would be left.

Israel is a mother, a daughter, a wise old man who has seen it all, and who sometimes dresses up in clothes that don't belong to it, adopts foreign customs that add nothing positive to the country or culture. No other country inspires its people to the same levels of anger and love, of loathing and admiration, happiness and sadness like Israel.

Israel's got everything, and yet the country is poor and shabby, and for some reason I am afraid that I and my children are going to live there.

Building tomorrow

Naomi Shemer wrote about a better, nicer "tomorrow." For the past year, I have been living inside songs such as "I have no other country" and "Songs from the land I love." Is the reality of my Israel to be found in these lines, or is the reality to be found in the prophecies I encounter day after day, year after year, when I sit down at my computer?

I want to come home so I can play a part in perfecting our society and creating that better "tomorrow" for my Israel. Over the past 10 years I have done this in a foreign country. Today, I have great dreams and faith in the power of my ability to do it all again.

The fear that has overtaken me came from a conversation I had with a dispirited Israel who somehow found his way to Vancouver. There are hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands like him around the world.

Kosher émigrés

I never closed my ears to all those "dispirited Israelis". We were Israelis who went abroad for "kosher" reasons – teaching, aliyah representatives, etc. These claims allowed me to survive for several years happily and with no pangs of a guilty conscious.

But the years go by too quickly. Our visions of serving the country abroad dimmed as we moved on to other positions. Eventually, the years catch up with you and you begin to feel uncomfortable.

The Israeli I met today caused me to feel radically uncomfortable. He ran away, he harbored a deep hatred. He had been broken by life in my Israel. When I told him my entire house was for sale, that I'd just packed up my 40th box, he looked at me like I was a fool. Not crazy, not innocent.

My beloved awaits

So I packed up my kids toys and bid farewell to my distressed friend. When I heard them babbling about the squirrel running up the tree and about the fact it was cold already, I was filled with fear, so much so that I couldn't think about anything else.

I went in the house, stared at 40 packed boxes in the corner and a lot more to go. There are Israeli passports to renew, a huge health insurance debt to repay, and a million other things to do.

10 years, a fool's happiness, a little girl killed by a shell in Gaza, another Pesach abroad, a child who calls me "Mommy." And my Israel, by beloved, awaits.


4. "I'm Finally Home" by Iris Maimon-Toledano

Israeli who moved back from Canada shares her experiences

Two months have passed since the day we landed in Israel overwhelmed by excitement mixed with some anxiety over the new beginning. The truth is that up until those first days in Israel we didn't quite realize how difficult the beginning might be, so difficult that in the past weeks I wasn't even able to sit down and write.

I also wanted to, a while ago, express my heartfelt gratitude for the touching words you wrote in response to my "I'm coming back home" column. During the difficult moments those responses reminded me again that I'm privileged to be a part of our special, genuine, and warm people.

Two days after landing in Israel, the war broke out and with it new family experiences, such as the need to respond to innocent questions by a child that doesn't understand what's going on.

A child that was born and raised in a vastly different reality. He was asking who in this war were the good guys and the bad guys, as if it was another episode of the Power Rangers. He didn't understand why we were crying while reading the newspaper, what's a funeral, and why I'm not excited the way he is over fighter jets flying above us constantly.

As we planned and dreamed back in Vancouver, we rented a nice house in the Galilee. Because of the war we didn't have the courage to go as far north as we initially wanted, but the lower Galilee was certainly no compromise. And so, by the end of the war we were driving around area communities to look for a home, while hoping not to encounter Katyusha rocket fire.

Now, when everything is calm, the hopes have become more practical and normal: That the northern job market would be kind to us, that the kids find friends in the neighborhood, and that we won't get discouraged when things get tough. On such days, an interested and encouraging phone call from the Absorption Ministry could do wonders – now here's something to think about.

Pre-move visits not recommended

Now that the squills are blooming and the cold night air carries with it the powerful scent of eucalyptus, it feels so much like home. Streets named after people, flowers, and places etched in the consciousness of this wonderful country still touch me. It will pass, because it's mine forever.

I'm glad I wasn't here for a pre-move visit, the kind you undertake to test the waters. Perhaps this is a recommendation to those who are thinking of moving back here and are very scared, convinced that a preparatory visit could help. I know some people in Canada who abandoned the idea of returning to Israel after such visits.

There are no surprises here. It's the same difficult country where many people are struggling daily. The bureaucracy, the foot-dragging, the shady deals, the low service standards, the July-August heat, the terrible poverty, fears of the enemy, fears about the future, the blatant discrimination and other social maladies that aren't new.

Before we returned to Israel we had naïve fantasies about success. Today my way of looking at things is more realistic. At the same time, I also see things that I forgot I missed so much during the 10 years I spent abroad:

The best friends that live here, the most delicious fruit and vegetables, the special and simple cheeses, the newspapers, entertainment, designs, arts, plays, and shows; the fascinating books that perfectly match my identity and speak to me without pretensions; the historical sites, the multiculturalism, the holidays on all their glory, the meaning, family, values, abundance, and kindness.

This is my Israel, with all its sorrows and joys. Every day I discover it anew and even if it's hard, I'm finally home.

Iris Maimon-Toledano returned to Israel after a decade in Canada.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Issue 43 "SUKKOT" 5766

Shalom! We are proud to present another issue of Kummunique - full of love
of Israel and Aliyah inspiration!

In this issue you will find:

1. "The spiritual significance of Sukkot" by Yishai Fleisher
2. "Right On: A Miracle Of Biblical Proportions" by Michael Freund
3. "The Aliyah Connection" by Cindy Sher
4. "Sixty Years After War, First Rabbis Ordained In Germany"


1. "The spiritual significance of Sukkot" by Yishai Fleisher
From Israel Insider

Succot is the most prayer- and mitzva-laden holiday on the Jewish calendar, full of the symbolism which makes Jewish life so rich.

A Succah, a booth of sorts, must have at least 3 walls, but its most striking feature is the schach.

Schach, the roof of the Succah, must be made of plant material like tree bark, bamboo, reeds, or palm branches. The Schach must come from the earth, yet be detached from the earth. The Schach is not meant to be a very useful roof -- you must be able to see sky through it. It is this unusual thing called Schach which make the Succah unique and filled with symbolism.

The Womb: The Succah, with its peaceful inner-sanctum and its semi-permeable Schach, resembles the womb. Inside its safety the Jew is protected from the slings and arrows of persecution, and manages to reproduce spiritually and physically generation after generation.

The Canopy: The wedding canopy [chupah] is the Succah of Peace which descends upon a bride and groom at their wedding day. So too, the Succah is the canopy of the marriage of the Jewish people and Hashem. The Holiday of Succot is the wedding which follows the cleansing period of Yom Kippur.

The Grave: the Schach above our heads, made of earth-grown plants, also symbolizes the earth itself. We are buried under the earth, and yet we are still alive. The message of Succot is the cycle of life: we are born, we marry, we die, and we continue on through the next generation and through our faith in Tchiyat Hameitim, the Resurrection of the Dead.

Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 37:
1. The hand of Hashem was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Hashem, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
2. And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
3. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord, thou knowest.
4. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah.
5. Thus saith the Lord unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.
6. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Hashem.
7. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.
9. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
10. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
11. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.
12. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.
13. And ye shall know that I am Hashem, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people.

It is because of this life cycle focus of Succot that we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) Chapter One, which laments this very cycle:

4. One generation goeth, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.
5. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to its place where it ariseth.
6. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it turneth about continually in its course, and the wind returneth again to its circuits.
7. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again.
8. All things are full of weariness; man cannot utter [it]: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9. That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

It is also for this reason that we invite the Ushpizin, the Holy Guests Avraham, Yitchak, Yaakov, Aaron, Moshe and Yoseph, into our Succah. Tzaddikim pass away, but they never die. They are bound up in the great cycle of life and they join us again and again every Succot.

The Seed: Looking up from our Succah we see the Schach, but now instead of being buried, we are planted. "A person is like the tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19) We are a seed planted beneath the soil, and rain is coming soon. G-d is giving us the gift of life, the chance to make the most of this world - to reach out of the Schach and into the world beyond.

The Bird Nest: Seeing Jews prepare for Succot is like seeing birds prepare their nests. Everyone is fluttering around looking for material for their nests. Indeed, we are but chicks, and it is Hashem who "Like an eagle arousing its nest hovering over its young; he spreads his wings, he takes it, he carries it on his wings." (Devarim 32:11)

Yaakov: Jacob is the forefather associated with Succot. Immediately after Jacob's successful duel with his brother Esau it is written: "And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him a house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth." (Bereishit 33;17) Jacob originally ran to Haran to escape his brother's wrath - coming to Succoth signaled the end of his personal exile and his return to the Land of Israel.

The Succah's characteristic is of an impermanent mobile structure. Jacob's characteristic too is always to be mobile -- always on the go: "How fair are your tents, O Jacob" (Bamidbar 24;5) Settling down is not for him, he goes from place to place in the Land of Israel and in the world -- his is always a spiritual journey.

Bereishit (Genesis) 28 reads:
20. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear,
21. and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God.
22. and this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house"

Yaakov asks for three things: food , clothing, and protection on the journey. But what is missing? A request for permanent housing of course! Yet this construction of permanent housing, Jacob reserves for He Who needs no housing -- for the Lord Himself. This is Succot -- we, the Jewish people, will live in impermanent dwelling all our generations so that our journey could lead to us to the construction of His permanent dwelling.

Mishkan and Mikdash - [The Tabernacle and the Temple]: the Succah resembles the Tabernacle in that it too was an impermanent structure, and sadly our Holy Temple in Jerusalem was impermanent as well for it was destroyed twice because of our sins. "In that day I will raise up the fallen Succah of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old" (Amos 9;11) The fallen Succah of David, is a term of endearment for the Temple - may it be rebuilt in our lives.

Clouds of Glory: Our rabbis tell us that the Succah represents the clouds of glory that escorted the Jewish people in the desert. The clouds kept our cloths clean, and kept danger away from us. These clouds were also a form of womb, raising a new Jew to enter the Land of Israel. They also directed us:

Shemot (Exodus) 40:
36 And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.
37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.
38 For the cloud of HaShem was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

The Holy Ark: The wings of the Cherubs above Aron Hakodesh [the Holy Ark] acted like the Schach of the Succah, protecting the Holy contents within. It is written in "And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening (Sochechim) the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubim be" (Shemot [Exodus] 25: 20) In the Succah, we are the Holy objects which G-d protects with his wings, we are the carriers of the living Torah.

Hashem sends His canopy to us to nurture us, to marry us, to protect us. Through the sliver of sky seen through the Schach we are reminded of G-d's nearness: "My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the windows, He is peering through the lattice. (Song of Songs 2;9) No wonder this holiday is called Zman Simchateinu -- the time of our happiness.

May we merit the words of the Sabbath prayer:

"Safeguard our going and coming, for life and for peace from now to eternity, and spread over us the Succah of Your peace. Blessed are you Hashem, Who spreads the Succah of peace upon us, and upon all of His people Israel and upon Jerusalem.


2. "Right On: A Miracle Of Biblical Proportions" by Michael Freund
From Jerusalem Post

In a few weeks' time, Sara Haunhar will at last fulfill a lifelong dream, one that she has been nurturing for over the past eight decades.

Together with her daughter Miriam, and some 216 other members of the Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, the 84-year old widow will board a charter flight next month, and finally begin the long journey home to Zion.

It is a voyage that began many centuries ago - 27, to be exact - when the Assyrian empire invaded the Land of Israel and cast most of our people into the darkest recesses of the exile.

It was the ancient equivalent of a Holocaust, a devastating blow in which the overwhelming majority of the world's Israelites - ten out of twelve tribes! - suddenly and mysteriously vanished.

Many thought they were gone forever, as they marched off into the mists of history, with little or no apparent hope of return.

But now, after so many years of wandering and dispersion, the descendants of these "lost Jews" are finally, triumphantly, coming back.

The significance of this should be readily apparent, even to the most hardened of cynics. After all, whoever heard of an ancient lost tribe returning to its ancestral homeland 2,700 years after their deportation? Without exaggerating, it seems fair to say that this is a miracle of Biblical proportions.

Sara Haunhar certainly thinks so. Last year, in September 2005, she sat patiently before a rabbinical court, which had been dispatched to India by Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to restore the Bnei Menashe to the Jewish people.

Previously, in March 2005, the Chief Rabbi had ruled that the Bnei Menashe are "descendants of the Jewish people," and he agreed to do what he could to help them to return.

The rabbinical judges peppered Sara with questions about Jewish life and lore, gently probing her knowledge of Judaism and her commitment to formally rejoining the people of Israel.

ONE OF the rabbis who was there later described the ensuing scene with great emotion. Impressed by Sara's sincerity and dedication, the judges informed her that they were pleased to welcome her back into the fold of Israel.

Naturally, Sara began to cry, with the flow of tears rolling down her furrowed cheeks moving all those present.

When one of the judges leaned over and asked her if she was alright, Sara composed herself and told them, "All of my life, I was afraid that I would die before I would merit to see God's Holy Land. But now that you have accepted me as a Jew, I know that I will soon be able to set foot on the land of my ancestors, the Land of Israel."

Growing up, Sara had always lived an intensely Jewish life, along with the rest of the 7,000-strong Bnei Menashe community, which resides primarily in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. The Bnei Menashe observe the Sabbath, practice circumcision on the eighth day, keep the laws of Kashrut and scrupulously uphold the rules of family purity.

Thanks to the tolerance which epitomizes Indian society, the Bnei Menashe have been able to build dozens of synagogues across the country's northeast, where they turn three times a day in prayer towards Jerusalem, longing to be reunited with their friends and family already living in the Jewish state.

In just the past decade, nearly 1,000 members of the community have made aliya. They are valuable and productive members of Israeli society, serving in the army, working hard and supporting their families, and raising adorable Jewish children.

Indeed, this past summer, at the height of the war, a dozen young Bnei Menashe men were fighting on the frontlines in combat units in Lebanon and Gaza, defending the land of Israel and the Jewish people. One of them, St.-Sgt. Avi Hanshing, a 22-year old paratrooper, was injured during a clash with Hizbullah terrorists in southern Lebanon.

"I had to fight to come to Israel," Hanshing said, recalling the inexplicable obstacles that Israel's government routinely puts in the way of Bnei Menashe aliya. "Now," he added, "I have to fight for the country."

THE ARRIVAL next month of the immigrants from India will mark a welcome turning point for the community. For the first time, a large group of Bnei Menashe immigrants will arrive here together, proudly, as Jews, with their heads held high and their hopes bright for the future.

As chairman of Shavei Israel, an organization that assists the Bnei Menashe, it is a day that I am looking forward to with a lot of very special anticipation. For years, we have lobbied, struggled and pressed the Bnei Menashe's case, in an effort to persuade the Israeli government to open the door for these wonderful people.

In June, we nearly had to petition Israel's Supreme Court to force certain government ministers to allow the aliya to take place, and it was only after we met with aides to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the final approval was actually forthcoming.

And so, I can not help but pray that this first batch of 218 immigrants next month will herald the arrival of many, many more in the years to come.

This special event will take place thanks in no small measure to the friendship, backing and support of Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who are teaming together with Shavei Israel to make this aliya a reality.

Pooling their resources, the Agency and the Fellowship will fly the immigrants here and enable them to be housed in Israel's north, in the towns of Karmiel and Upper Nazareth, where they will receive added absorption benefits thanks to the generosity of Christians and Jews alike.

There is something extremely fitting about this, too, for as the prophet Isaiah foretold some 2,500 years ago, the nations of the world would play an active role in the return of the Jewish people to their land.

In Isaiah 49:22, the Bible says: "Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the nations, and set up my standard to the peoples, and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders."

I have no doubt that the love, concern and practical help being provided by Israel's Jewish and Christian supporters worldwide is part and parcel of the fulfillment of this verse.

And it sends goosebumps down my arms when I think about how the vision of Isaiah is literally coming to pass before our eyes.

The aliya of the Bnei Menashe is a historic event. It is a timely and welcome example of just what Israel, and its wondrous rebirth, is truly all about: the ingathering of our exiles, not only from the four corners of the earth, but from our people's dark and often painful history, too.

And it should serve as a potent reminder that despite all the problems and difficulties this country may face, we should not hesitate to join Sara Haunhar and her fellow Bnei Menashe in declaring, "Thank God for the State of Israel.


3. "The Aliyah Connection" by Cindy Sher
From JUF

This summer, when the Lehrfield family made aliyah–immigrated to Israel–Debbie Lehrfield's husband, Yoni, told her, "I feel like we're home."

Many other Chicagoans have made their way "home" this year and even this summer amidst the newest Hezbollah attacks against northern Israel.

It's the Israel Aliyah Center's (a local grantee that receives a significant portion of their budget from the Jewish Federation) job to get them home. The center, affiliated with JUF's overseas arm, the Jewish Agency for Israel, facilitates the entire immigration process for Midwesterners considering making aliyah or staying in Israel long-term.

As the shlichat aliyah (immigration emissary) and the Midwest regional director of the Lincolnwood-based center, Wendy Keter just began her last of three years stationed in the Chicago area. Originally from Philadelphia, Keter made aliyah 35 years ago, right after graduating from high school. "I realized you can be active for Israel or active in Israel," said Keter.

She says she understands firsthand what olim (immigrants to Israel) are going through because she has walked in their shoes. Today, as a mother, she also empathizes with parents of children moving to Israel, especially since her son currently serves on reserve duty in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Most people who make aliyah, says Keter, have a strong religious identity. The Hebrew word aliyah comes from the phrase "going up" and describes the spiritual ascension of taking one's Jewish life to the highest level by moving to the Jewish homeland.

Being in Israel, it's something unique–you live in a country that celebrates your religion with you, said Rachel Slovin, originally from Lincolnwood, who made aliyah on July 20–a week into the Hezbollah fighting–and lives in Rechavia, a Jerusalem neighborhood. "Being in Israel is just a different feeling; you're proud to be a Jew. It's the land that was given to us and it's a great place to live.

Though there are many miles between Slovin and her family members back in Chicago, she says, they're always just a plane ride away.

Improved communication technology also helps bridge the distance for families separated by an ocean. When I made aliyah in 1971 there were no cell phones, there was no e-mail. I talked to my parents once every two weeks from the phone down Jaffa Road in the post office if I was lucky, said Keter. "With all the modes of communication today, you can literally be on the phone all day with your family and loved ones [in the States]. Between e-mail and "Skype" and "Voiceover" (both Skype and Voiceover are Israeli Internet technologies allowing people to talk free to people in other countries), you can be in constant communication."

The Lehrfield family, from Skokie, dodged the hurdle of separation altogether by relocating their whole family to Israel. For 24 years, Debbie and Yoni Lehrfield had talked about making aliyah, but life and responsibilities always got in the way. But now, as their four kids are getting older (they range from age 10-21), they realized that all of their children would eventually study in Israel, with or without them. The parents figured, why not move with them and keep the family together?

If we don't encourage them to stay in Israel, then chances are we are going to be scattered–some in the United States and some in Israel," said Debbie Lehrfield. "If we have any chance of keeping our family together, this is the time."

The Lehrfields made aliyah on July 5, one week before the violence broke out, and live in Maale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem. Despite the events that were unfolding in the north, the Lehrfields are there to stay.

It's sometimes frightening–when you walk around you have to keep your eyes opened," said Debbie. "On the other hand, it's our land, it's ours. And I can't exactly say that I felt 100 percent safe when my kids would walk around the Chicagoland area."

The Lehrfields weren't the only ones to pack up and move to Israel this summer. Immigration from Chicago has remained buoyant in the weeks since the Hezbollah violence erupted. We have not had one cancellation, ken ayina hora (not to jinx it), said Keter, but added that most Midwesterners and North Americans who made aliyah settle in central, not northern Israel.

Rather than discouraging potential olim, the surge in hostilities has strengthened the resolve of new olim because they believe that living in Israel is the most powerful way to support their Israeli brethren. "The phone is ringing off the wall," said Keter. "People call and say 'I've been thinking about [moving to] Israel and I realize this is the time for me to go.'"

Zaq Harrison, now a coach and manager for Israel's national Little League team, moved with his family from Skokie to Ra'anana, north of Tel Aviv, last year. He had made aliyah the first time around in 1982, at the height of the Lebanon War. Before that move, Harrison had wavered over whether or not to go to the Middle East during wartime. He recalls his father urging him not to derail his dream of living in Israel. "You don't go when it's convenient for you," his father told him. If it's important to you, you go! Make a difference!

More than 30 years later, his father's wisdom resonates today. "If something's important to you, if you have a family member who needs help, you don't pick and choose when you're able to help. You do it," said Harrison, who, in the wake of this summer's violence, has been volunteering in northern Israel by providing humanitarian aid to the sick, elderly, and poor.

The number of Chicagoans, like Harrison, making aliyah has been rising steadily since the beginning of the terror war in 2000. In 2004, 57 people from the Chicago metropolitan area made aliyah. This year, that number has nearly doubled, as more than 100 Chicagoans will make their way to Israel. And this summer alone, 65 Chicagoans will make aliyah. Keter says word-of-mouth has precipitated the jump in numbers because people who have moved to Israel tell their friends back in Chicago, "Come, it's good."

While aliyah numbers grew during the terror war, Israeli tourism suffered. Today, Israel-lovers are still striving to counteract the blow that Israeli tourism took during that time. "During the terror war, when the numbers of people didn't go, it caused serious economic times, [but] tourism this summer was amazing," said Keter.

"People are realizing that the best thing they could do is go to Israel, support tourism, and that will keep us going. Besides, it's the message that it sends to people in Israel that we're one people."

Maya Golan has taken her love for Israel to the next level–by joining the Israeli army, which is mandatory for everyone who lives in Israel up to a certain age. Maya lived in Israel with her family until the age of 8, when they moved to Rockford, Ill. Last year, Maya made aliyah, along with her older sister, Yasmine (now 18). Maya, now 17, lives in the northern Israeli town of Afula, where she is an Israeli Scout, volunteering in schools and at summer camps. Since the violence began, she has spent much of her time conducting camp activities for children inside bomb shelters.

Many young people, like the Golan sisters, make aliyah so that they can enlist in the IDF. "It's part of being in the country and being part of youth in Israel. Everyone has to go into the army," said Maya. "I want to feel like the rest of the Israeli kids and help the country in some way."

In order to further promote immigration and programs in Israel, the Jewish Federation established the Aliyah Council of Greater Chicago in the 1980s. Chicago is the only Federation in the United States to offer financial grants to all olim from Chicago, according to Keter. It is a message to olim that Chicago looks at their olim as strengthening the community, she said. This community sees it as a blessing.

For information about aliyah contact the Aliyah Council of Greater Chicago, (847) 674-8861, or send an e-mail to shalom1948@earthlink.net.


4. "Sixty Years After War, First Rabbis Ordained In Germany"
From the Guardian

Germany's Jews will today celebrate a remarkable stage in the slow and often painful recovery of the community that faced annihilation in the Holocaust - the first ordination of rabbis on German soil since the second world war.

Daniel Alter, Tomas Kucera and Malcolm Mattiatiani will today be ordained as rabbis at a synagogue in the east German city of Dresden. All three graduated yesterday from Abraham Geiger College, a progressive rabbinical seminary near Berlin set up to cater for more than 100,000 Jews in Germany.

Germany has the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe, second only in size to France and Britain. This is largely because of massive, and at times chaotic, immigration of Russian Jews to Germany in the 1990s from shattered pieces of the former Soviet Union.

Today's new rabbis include a middle-aged German, a Czech and a South African, who recently worked at a synagogue in Pinnar. They are the first to be trained here since the Gestapo closed Berlin's last rabbinical seminary in 1942, snuffing out a tradition of Reform Judaism that had gone on since the 1830s.

"I'm excited. I feel rather privileged," Malcolm Mattitiani, 35, said yesterday. Mr Mattiatiani - whose grandparents were Jewish Lithuanian refugees, and who lost a great-uncle in the Holocaust - will take up a job next week at a liberal synagogue in Cape Town. He said he did not think it strange to have done his studies in the country that carried out the Holocaust.

"We will never forget the Shoa. But we should remember that Jews have thrived in Germany for centuries," he explained. "Modern Germany is making an effort, and has succeeded in large degree, to correct the mistakes of the past. We need to start moving on as well."

British Jewish leaders will take part in today's ceremony, including Baroness Julia Neuberger, whose grandparents fled the Nazis. "It's fantastic," she said. "There was no German Jewish community to speak of after the war, with only about 12,000 left. Feelings towards Germany among Jews were very negative. Now we have a new community, largely made up of people from the former Soviet Union."

The immigration by Russian Jews since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been spectacular. Around 200,000 Jews from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have begun new lives in Germany. Reunified Germany's government, mindful of the country's historical guilt, and keen to atone, has offered the Russian-Jewish newcomers generous social benefits, flats, German courses and citizenship.

Some newcomers flourished - they include the Russian-Jewish writer Wladimer Kaminer. Others failed to get a job. A few vanished, prompting federal interior ministers to toughen up rules for prospective Jewish immigrants. Although 200,000 Russian Jews came to Germany the country's active Jewish community is officially put at 105,000. The discrepancy can only be explained by the fact that many Jewish newcomers were not in fact Jewish.

With four out of five German Jews now originally from Russia, established Jewish observers admit there have been tensions. "In many Jewish communities there are conflicts between older Germans and Russian immigrants," says Christian Böhme, editor of the Jüdische Allgemeine, Germany's weekly Jewish broadsheet. "There have been differences in perspective over the Holocaust. Many Russian Jews don't want to remember the Holocaust as the Holocaust, but instead prefer to celebrate Russia's victory over German fascism."

Active Jewish religious communities have sprung up across Germany. There has also been a renaissance in Jewish academic studies. As well as the Abraham Geiger College, established in 1999 in co-ordination with Potsdam University, new Jewish departments have been set up in German universities.

Yesterday, however, one Jewish leader suggested the community had a long way to go. "We need at least another 30 rabbis," Dieter Graumann, vice-president of Germany's Jewish Council, told a press conference in Dresden. "We are happy for these three, of course, but we shouldn't lose our sense of perspective. Germany is hungry for more rabbis."

Roman origins

Jews have lived in Germany since the Romans set up communities along the Rhine. At the end of the 19th century German Jews were prominent as bankers, lawyers and doctors. Nineteenth-century Germany was less anti-semitic than France or Russia. Some 120,000 German Jews died in the first world war

In 1933 when Hitler seized power around half a million Jews lived in Germany. About half got out. The Nazis' genocide began in 1938, with many German Jews deported to Polish ghettos, where they perished in concentration camps. Only 12,000 survived, including 1,200-1,500 Berlin Jews.

Holocaust survivors, and displaced Jews from across Europe, were joined in the 1950s and 1960s by Jewish returnees from Israel and South America. The biggest wave of emigration took place in the 1990s. Some 200,000 Russian-speaking Jews settled in Germany.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Issue 42 "NITZAVIM" 5766

Shalom! We are proud to present another issue of Kummunique - full of love
of Israel and Aliyah inspiration!

In this issue you will find:

1. "Choose Life" by Malkah Fleisher
2. "Trade Center Attack Spurred Survivor To Make Aliya" by Ruth Eglash
3. "Why Are French Jews Leaving France?" by Carl Hoffman
4. "Despite turmoil, many Jewish families in America feel pull to move to Israel" By Adrienne P. Samuels


1. "Choose Life" by Malkah Fleisher

Rabbis love parshat Nitzavim. With bittersweet whisperings of Moshe's grand finale, it's laden with biblical poetry and simple lessons - the stuff of soul-searching Torah speeches and calls for reflection. Remember the covenant! Seek the blessings! Get focused, people!

G-d gets pretty emotional in this portion – do wrong, and He'll throw every single awful thing He can conjure up at you (with the heaven and earth as witnesses!):

"… the Lord will not be willing to pardon him, but then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy shall be kindled against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven; and the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that is written in this book of law…"

However, worship G-d and follow His Torah, and you will inherit the Land of your forefathers, G-d will curse your enemies, and you'll be overflowing with livestock, fruit, and babies (Hashem, of course, throws in to this section that this overflow will be "for the good").

It seems pretty cut and dried. Sinning = major suffering, being a good Jew = wealth and happiness. G-d urges us to choose life (the blessings), not death (the curses).

So what seems to be the problem? Not that we're not getting any blessings these days, but it also seems like we're getting some curses. Are we not choosing life?

Many of you may gesture emphatically at the sadly large number of Jews who are Torah-ignorant. Most don't understand the potential of their relationship with G-d and the unfathomable amounts of happiness that are just waiting for them. Others, scarily, know and don't care.
However, what's more frightening is that there is a pretty substantial group of Torah observant Jews who, too, don't fully choose life. How can this be?

Aside from regular Torah observance, in this parsha, G-d clues us into the secret of fully "choosing life":

"…therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love the Lord thy G-d, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave unto Him; for that is thy life and the length of thy days, to sit in the land which the Lord swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

Just to reinforce His point, the next Torah portion begins with Moshe's sad acceptance that he sinned and "chose death" – he will die without entering the Land of Israel.

This year, don't be content with hovering between life and death – choose life! Choose Israel!

Malkah's "Good Life" Apple-Plum Cake

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 block of margarine (in America, use a whole stick) or butter
2 large eggs (or 3 small)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large apples, cored and sliced
3 plums, cored and sliced
cinnamon, powdered sugar, lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch pan (preferably round). In a food processor, mix the margarine, sugar, and vanilla. Pour into large bowl, add flour, eggs, a couple shakes of salt, and the baking powder. Pour mixture into greased pan. Toss fruits with a little cinnamon, a little powdered sugar, and a little lemon juice. Place the fruit slices on the batter. Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour.


2. "Trade Center Attack Spurred Survivor To Make Aliya" by Ruth Eglash
From Jerusalem Post

While many people around the world remember watching the horrors of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on their TV screens, for Aaron Fuerte the events of that day hit closer to home. For the Brooklyn native who worked then on the 93rd floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, they were a direct catalyst for his journey to making aliya last year.

Born to an Israeli mother and a Brazilian father, Fuerte, 34, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that he had always thought about moving to Israel but it was watching the Trade Center - where he had worked for the previous two years - crumble before his eyes and crush thousands of people that motivated him to begin the process of building a new life in the Jewish homeland.

Fuerte worked for Marsh & Mclennan, an insurance firm with offices on the 93rd to 100th floors.

"I had been voting in Democratic primaries that morning and arrived to work a little later than usual, around 8:45 a.m.," Fuerte said.

He took an express elevator up to the 78th floor and was planning to take a local elevator to the 93rd floor. He was about to step into the second elevator when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston slammed into the tower between floors 90 and 100, 12 stories above.

"I got blown back by the blast," said Fuerte. The elevator was sent crashing down 78 floors and he was nearly thrown down the opposite elevator shaft, he said. He heard people screaming inside another elevator and, together with other survivors, attempted to pry open the doors, but to no avail. To this day he does not know what happened to those inside.

Fuerte ran to a nearby emergency exit, but it was locked. He recalls entering the offices of Korean brokerage Hyundai Securities to ask if they knew where there was another emergency exit and being asked to leave. Fuerte's last image of the people there is of them working quietly at their desks.

He managed to find the stairs and started to make his way down the 78 flights.

"The stairs were dark," Fuerte said. "Only two people could move down, side by side. By the 50th floor, there was already quite a large flow of traffic and it was starting to become crowded."

As he reached the 35th floor, at around 9:15 a.m., he began to pass firefighters coming up.

"They were sweating from [carrying] so much equipment and we had to move into single file to let them through," he said.

Fuerte made it to the ground floor in just under an hour. There were FBI agents, police and reporters outside. Fuerte just kept on running.

"I looked up quickly and there was a large ring of fire above me," said Fuerte, who headed for a hospital. "Then I heard a woman scream and saw the south tower collapse."

"It was complete bedlam, everybody was on their own," he said. "There was a stampede across the Brooklyn Bridge and no way to use cellphones."

Fuerte was treated for injuries sustained when the elevator blew up in front of him - debris in his right eye and pain in his back and knee. He was also put on oxygen for four hours.

"While I was at the hospital I found a book of psalms in my bag and said my prayers."

It was at this point that he started seriously thinking about making aliya.

"Two years prior I had thought about it," he said, "but after the World Trade Center, I started to make serious plans. It took me a few years to get my act together, but now I am here."

Fuerte arrived, with the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency for Israel, on July 13, 2005. He married three weeks ago and will spend the fifth anniversary of 9/11 on his honeymoon.

"It brings back painful memories," said Fuerte, who worked directly with at least 70 people who were killed that day and said another 355 people from his office did not make it out alive.

As for the security problems in his new homeland, Fuerte, who works for a high-tech firm in the capital, said, "There is terror all over the place and Israel is the Jewish homeland. All Jews should think about coming here."


3. "Why Are French Jews Leaving France?" by Carl Hoffman
From Jerusalem Post

Ask people outside the French immigrant community why the Jews are leaving their country, and the usual answer is that they are making aliya to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Ask the French olim themselves, however, and the responses become more diverse and complex.

Many recent arrivals say in no uncertain terms that it was primarily anti-Semitism that brought them from France to Israel. Others acknowledge that while anti-Semitism has increased in recent years, the phenomenon has been due largely to the intifada and emanates mainly from young Muslim immigrant men, mostly from North Africa and poorly integrated into French culture and society.

Many French olim claim that fervent Zionism and a strong attachment to Israel have impelled them to leave France and establish new roots here. Others appear to be hedging their bets, making what has come to be known as "Airbus aliya," in which the family's wife and children live in Israel, while the husband keeps his job in France and commutes between the countries.

While the reasons for making aliya vary from one family to the next, no one disputes the assertion that being Jewish in France has become more difficult during the past six years. With a tradition of anti-Semitism that dates back to Medieval times and the Crusades, France became a virtual icon of anti-Semitism in the 19th century with the Dreyfus trial - often said to have been Theodor Herzl's inspiration for the creation of modern political Zionism - and the mass round-up of Jews by the Vichy government during World War II.

French intellectuals are unabashedly anti-Israel, and the French government has often displayed a pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian bias since Israel's resounding success in the 1967 Six Day War.

With the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, French Jews began to note a sharp increase in anti-Semitism with incidents and violent attacks unlike anything seen since the 1940s. Many of these incidents have been perpetrated by Muslim immigrants.

France's National Consultative Committee on Human Rights reported a sixfold surge in acts of violence against Jewish people, property and institutions from 2001 to 2002. In 2003, a popular Jewish DJ was brutally murdered in Paris, apparently by a radical Muslim youth organization. This was followed in 2004 by incidents. For example, a Jewish school bus was set on fire in Strasbourg; a concert by an Israeli singer in Macon was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of "Death to the Jews"; a 14-year-old boy wearing a kippa was beaten near the entrance to a Paris Metro station, with bystanders refusing to intervene; a female Jewish teacher was knocked down, beaten and trampled in central Paris; a University of Saint-Antoine medical school class was interrupted by four men shouting anti-Semitic threats and beating a Jewish student, while the class and professor looked on in silence; and a 12-year-old girl leaving a Jewish school was beaten by two men who carved a swastika into her face with a box cutter. Synagogues were torched, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, and Jewish institutions were vandalized, damaged or destroyed.

The number and virulence of these violent attacks have indeed been reflected in the number of Jews leaving France for Israel: 11,148 between 2000 and 2005, with a 35-year high of 3,300 Jewish immigrants in 2005. While statistics for 2006 are unavailable, every indication suggests another banner year for French immigration to Israel, despite the recent war in Lebanon.

On July 25, at the height of the war, no fewer than 650 Jews arrived from France - 500 from Paris and 150 from Marseille - marking the largest number of immigrants to arrive in a single day from France since 1971.

Much of the impetus to leave France for new lives in Israel has come as the result of deep internal soul-searching among French Jews. Many of them have concluded that there is simply no future for them in France.

As Simon Kohana, president of the largely Sephardic Jewish Citizens Forum said recently, "We have begun to ask ourselves if we can even stay in France. Are we really French citizens? We have the feeling that we are a people apart."

At the same time, however, critics charge that much of the motivation to leave France can be attributed to a concerted effort by the Israeli government to lure French Jews to Israel. With Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union having apparently dried up for the moment and the long dreamt-of influx of immigrants from English-speaking countries yet to materialize, Israel is looking to France's Jewish community - the second largest in Europe - to provide a fertile source of "warm bodies" to settle here and add weight to the demographic balance of Jews and Arabs.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon angered the French government in 2004 by urging French Jews to immigrate to Israel for their own safety, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently reminded French Jews of the anti-Semitism in their country and urged them to send their children to Israel.

Jewish Agency president Sallai Meridor said last April that Israel has a "national duty" to bring French Jews to Israel for their safety and security as the Agency stepped up its activities in France.

Yet not all French Jews are heeding the call to aliya or feel particularly receptive to the Israeli government's efforts to induce them to emigrate.

"France is not an anti-Semitic country," said Roger Cukierman, president of an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in France, in April 2005. "Out of a population of about 600,000, some 2,400 people making aliya is not very many, in spite of all the talk about leaving."

Other community leaders accuse the Jewish Agency of playing on French Jews' fears of anti-Semitism while knowing that there will simply not be enough jobs or employment opportunities waiting when they arrive in Israel.

Finally, many left-wing French Jews accuse the Jewish Agency of focusing their efforts on religious families while ignoring the secular members of the community, a charge that Meridor denies.

While the debate over why French Jews are leaving France may not be resolved any time soon, one thing remains certain: French Jews are leaving in steadily rising numbers, and most of them are coming to Israel.


4. "Despite turmoil, many Jewish families in America feel pull to move to Israel" By Adrienne P. Samuels
From the Sun-Sentinal

NEWTON, Mass. · He's the founder of a nonprofit Jewish agency. She's a well-respected rabbi and author. They live with their five children in a big house in a beautiful neighborhood.

But they are leaving for a new life in Israel, where they will face the risks of a region in upheaval.

The Abramowitz-Silverman family, like thousands of American Jews, are making aliyah -- or going to Israel -- despite tensions in the Middle East and the country's recent uneasy cease-fire agreement with Lebanon. The family of seven is moving to a communal-living town on a spit of desert wedged between Egypt and Jordan in southern Israel. Still, the constant threat of war and the ongoing worldwide argument over Israel's right to exist doesn't deter them.

"I think this is the right thing to do," said Yosef Abramowitz, 42, who recently stepped down as chief executive of Jewish Family and Life, a nonprofit publisher. "Not going is giving in to terror. It's also taking away our own dreams as a family. Why would we let that weaken the Jewish spirit and our own family's dream?"

Before year's end, about 3,000 North American Jews will emigrate to Israel, up slightly over last year despite regional uncertainties.

Far from being a cause for fear, the current issues between Lebanon and Israel seem to attract Jews, said Michael Landsberg, who heads the Israel Aliyah Center in New York.
"No one cancels aliyah," said Landsberg, who regularly accompanies immigrants to the airport in New York. "That's amazing, right? In fact, I see more people, especially young people, applying for an express aliyah."

Abramowitz and his wife, Susan Silverman, will be downsizing their lives in moving to Israel, living in a three-bedroom space in Kibbutz Ketura. They'll be required to pull their weight to keep the kibbutz running smoothly. Each dweller there has a job, from cooking a community dinner to washing the laundry.

Because the adults aren't taking on specific chores, they have agreed to give the kibbutz $35,000 a year. Silverman, 43, a Reform rabbi, said she wants to spend more time with her children and help improve the state of Israel.

"I'm not feeling like God wants me to go, but there is this sense of wanting to go and build the Jewish state," she said. "There are some things Israel is doing that I'm not proud of. ... I want to be a part of building that social justice."

The family's current furniture, many of their books, all of their winter clothing, and most of their nonessential possessions will be donated or given away, though a few prized possessions are going into storage. Then they'll head to New York with one-way tickets to Israel.

The move is intended to steep the children in their Jewishness and help establish them as insiders, not outsiders, the parents said, while their two adopted children, born in Ethiopia, might feel more at home in a place with many Ethiopian Jews, they said.

Abramowitz lived in Israel as a child from 1969 to 1972 and is a dual Israeli-US citizen. He was on the Israeli ballot earlier this year, as one-third of the Atid Echad political party, which lost an election bid for a seat in the parliament.

On the kibbutz, Abramowitz plans to continue writing for his organization and updating his blog, www.peoplehood.org . Silverman wants to complete her book on the relationship between adoption, her family, and God. The family will keep their vegetarian kosher lifestyle and hope that their new culture will drown the clutter of American life.

"When my 7-year-old said to me, `Mommy, I want an iPod,' I knew we had to leave," Silverman joked.

Though their children's music classes could be held in bomb shelters, the Abramowitz-Silvermans look forward to the transition.

"We're going from a very blessed, suburban, individualistic existence, and we're going to the opposite extreme of communal and nonmaterialistic," Abramowitz said. "We're going to focus on our family and our work."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Issue 41 "KI-Tavo" 5766

Shalom! We are proud to present another issue of Kummunique - full of love
of Israel and Aliyah inspiration!

In this issue you will find:

1. "Deuteronomy 26" by G-d Almighty
2. "Photo Essay: Seventh Summer Western Aliyah Plane Arrives Wednesday" by Ezra Halevi
3. "Pro Baseball Coming To Israel" by Jerry Crasnick
4. "Afterimages" by Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg


1. "Deuteronomy 26" by G-d Almighty

1. "Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it,
2. that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.
3. "You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, `I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.'
4. "Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.
5. "You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, `My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.
6. `And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us.
7. `Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression;
8. and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders;
9. and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
10. `Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.' And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God;
11. and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.
12. "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
13. "You shall say before the LORD your God, `I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments.
14. `I have not eaten of it while mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor offered any of it to the dead. I have listened to the voice of the LORD my God; I have done according to all that You have commanded me.
15. `Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.'


2. "Photo Essay: Seventh Summer Western Aliyah Plane Arrives Wednesday" by Ezra Halevi
From Israel National News

The summer's seventh planeload carrying Western immigrants to Israel arrived Wednesday. More than 3,000 Jews have arrived this summer from North America and England.

Wednesday's flight included, among its 240 passengers, 70 young single men and women, 45 families and 30 retirees – hailing from 23 US states and Canadian provinces. The flight was organized, as were previous flights, by the Nefesh b'Nefesh organization, together with the Jewish Agency.

Nefesh b'Nefesh co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass addressed the new immigrants, speaking about the experience of seeing Biblical prophecies being fulfilled. "Walking down the aisle of the airplane, seeing an 85-year-old and a 5-year-old share this same process; seeing a couple who survived the Holocaust filling out their paperwork; seeing single olim [Jewish immigrants] exchange numbers – it is truly a time of redemption."

Two of the newest Israelis, Oren and Ora Nidam, "knew forever" that they wanted to make Israel their home. The couple grew up in the American Jewish heartland – Ora is from Fairlawn, New Jersey and Oren grew up in Westchester, New York. They lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, but made all their decisions with Aliyah [immigration to Israel] in mind.

Now, with their two-year-old daughter Kliel Amukah Tehillim and five-week-old son Nachman Mizmor L'David, they have finally made it. Ora says she looks forward to acclimating to both life in Israel and two-child motherhood simultaneously in their new hometown – Jerusalem.

Over the past four years since its inception, Nefesh b'Nefesh has steadily increased the numbers of immigrants it has helped move to Israel. As crowds of soldiers, well-wishers and Aliyah enthusiasts cheered for the new arrivals, Rabbi Fass promised to bring unprecedented numbers home next summer.


3. "Pro Baseball Coming To Israel" by Jerry Crasnick

HINSDALE, Mass. -- On the site of the former Camp Wyoma, where an eighth grader named Dan Duquette once played volleyball and pitched horseshoes at his church picnic, 60 American ballplayers of various skills, ages and religious persuasions have gathered in pursuit of a common goal:

To play professionally in the Israel Baseball League in June 2007.

The good news: The morning signups, pre-workout salutations and several 60-yard dash trials are complete before the first ambulance is summoned.

Barely 10 minutes into the tryouts, activity ceases and hearts commence thumping when a camper mysteriously collapses on the grass. After several anxious moments, the camp trainer determines that it's nothing serious. The fallen player, more winded than injured, gets to his feet and hits the showers while the ambulance drives away.

Shortly thereafter the pristine, tree-ringed grounds of the Duquette Sports Academy are awash with a sense of bustle and hope. Infielders chatter, catchers' mitts pop, and too many hitters swing the bat with the authority of a rolled-up Boston Globe.

Duquette, who scouted in Milwaukee and ran the Expos' farm system before stints as general manager in Montreal and Boston, says tryout camps are a "truth serum" of sorts. When you dispense with the sprints and long-range throwing out of the chute, the rest is just a charade for lots of candidates.

As Duquette assesses the talent before him, he acknowledges that three or four positive reviews out of 60 would be a decent haul.

"You have to start somewhere," he says.

Exporting baseball
Near the end of the best-selling novel "Exodus," Leon Uris writes of Israel's magnetic pull for dispossessed Jews in search of refuge in the late 1940s.

"Many came with little more than the clothes they were wearing," Uris writes. "Many were old and many were ill and many were illiterate, but no matter what the condition, no matter what the added burden, no Jew was turned away from the doors of Israel."

Today's audition in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains has less to do with Zionism than the search for employment. The campers have hauled out their sweats and dusted off their dreams in hopes of playing a kid's game in a region that's too often rated NC-17 for violence.

All the ballplayers here have seen the images on CNN and Fox, of age-old hostilities festering to the surface and cross-border reprisals giving way to tenuous cease-fires. It's a near-constant loop of suffering and despair. But several profess not to be concerned.

"I would say 95 percent of the country is totally safe," says Jacob Schulder, a camper from New Jersey who recently visited Israel for the 20th time. "There are places in the Bronx you can't go and there are places in Israel you can't go. That's the way life is."

Baseball's quest to globalize has helped the sport make inroads in several new frontiers. When Jim Lefebvre is preaching the gospel in China, Lee Smith is teaching curveball grips to young pitchers in South Africa and Stubby Clapp and the Canadians are beating the tar out of the United States in the World Baseball Classic, the baseball landscape clearly is changing.

So why not Israel, a nation with a fondness for pizza, bowling, malls, reality TV, McDonald's, Home Depot and Blockbuster Video? Statistics show that Israel has the highest percentage of home computers per capita in the world, the highest ratio of university degrees and the second highest per capita output of new books each year. Shouldn't a society this enlightened embrace the most cerebral sport of all?

That sentiment mirrors Larry Baras' thinking when he hatched the idea last year of bringing pro ball to the Land of Milk and Honey. Baras, 54, owns SJR Food Inc., a Boston-based specialty baking company. While various newspaper profiles have referred to him as a "Boston millionaire" or "Boston baker," those descriptions make Baras wince.

"Don't let me anywhere near a kitchen," he says.

Baras' signature product is the "Unholey Bagel," which comes with the cream cheese already inside. Eight years ago, Baras thought he might drum up some business by dropping a bagel from the top of the Prudential Center in Boston and having Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek catch it on the street. But he couldn't negotiate a satisfactory price with Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, so the promotion died.

As an Orthodox Jew, Baras was interested in doing volunteer work in Israel last summer when the light bulb clicked. His son works for the Brockton (Mass.) Rox of the independent Canadian American League, and Baras was attending a game when it struck him how family-friendly baseball can be.

"Brockton is a tough town, but I would go to games and see families," Baras says. "There were teenagers with tattoos on their arms and balloon hats on their heads. I'm thinking, 'Here it is, Saturday night, and you have thousands of kids enjoying this most wholesome thing and having a blast. If I could take something like this and transfer it over to Israel, what a gift that would be.'"

Baras has spent the past year on a quixotic journey, making trips to Israel, soliciting sponsors and educating himself on the ins and outs of retrofitting stadiums. He has garnered media attention while navigating the inevitable bureaucratic hassles, dotting his "I's" only to stumble across an endless array of uncrossed "T's."

The Israel Baseball League hierarchy is full of heavy hitters. Baras' list of advisers includes Marvin Goldklang, who ran minor-league teams with Bill Murray and Mike Veeck, Smith College economics professor and author Andrew Zimbalist, and former Portland Trail Blazers president Marshall Glickman.

Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, brings credibility as the new league's commissioner. When Kurtzer's three sons learned he had been chosen for the role, they congratulated him for finally doing something worthwhile with his life.

Duquette, a Dalton, Mass., native and Amherst College graduate, is the league's director of player development. His camp has been designated as the U.S. training ground for the Israel initiative.

When Duquette was working for the Expos, former Montreal owner Charles Bronfman talked wistfully of expanding baseball to Israel one day. The Expos helped plant the seed for baseball in Canada by establishing two academies, and Duquette sees the same potential for Israel. About 2,500 youngsters and adults currently play organized baseball or softball in Israel, a country roughly the size of New Jersey.

"The Israeli culture is very Americanized and baseball is the American game, so there's a level of interest there," Duquette says. "If you can make your sport important to the people in the culture and have the kids look up to the professional players, you have a chance to succeed."

Given the abuse Duquette received in the Boston papers and on talk radio after allowing Roger Clemens to leave for Toronto and trading for Carl Everett, he's certainly accustomed to operating in a hostile environment. If anyone is equipped to help run a league in the shadow of Hezbollah, it's a former Red Sox general manager.

Calling all dreamers
Along with bringing pro ball to Israel, Baras and his group are pushing for an Israeli entry in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Rules permitting, they will explore the possibility of asking Jewish major leaguers to take part. That means Shawn Green, Jason Marquis and others could get a call.

Boston outfielder Gabe Kapler, who routinely wears a blue T-shirt with "Red Sox" inscribed in Hebrew letters, won't require much prompting.

"I would jump at the opportunity," Kapler says. "It would be an amazing, pride-building experience. I feel very strongly about my bloodline -- being Jewish as a culture, not necessarily as a religion. It's part of who I am, what my makeup is all about and how I'm perceived."

Until the big names come on board, this flick is a cross between "Bull Durham" and "The Bad News Bears Go to Tel Aviv." Roughly 80 percent of the candidates in Hinsdale are Jewish. Some have negligible talent and are here strictly on a lark. Others have played college ball at a decent level and see this as their best chance to continue.

Adam Crabb, a right-handed pitcher, flew all the way from Australia to try out. Crabb, 22, works in the agricultural industry buying grain from farmers, and during a recent slow day on the job he was trolling the Internet when he came upon the Israel Baseball League Web site. He bought a plane ticket to Boston, attended a Red Sox-Tigers game at Fenway Park, then took his long-limbed, funky motion and infectious smile to the heart of the Berkshires.

"He might be the new Graeme Lloyd," says Jacob Schulder.

Schulder, a former Yeshiva University rabbinical student, is pursuing his masters degree in real estate development from Columbia University. Jim Pierce, a shortstop for Division III Thomas College in Maine, plays summer ball in the Boston Park League.

Justin Prinstein, a former George Washington University pitcher, majored in international affairs and wants to learn to speak Arabic, but not before he runs out of chances to play pro ball. Prinstein has attended tryout camps run by the Pirates, Tigers, Brewers, Reds and Braves, only to be told that his 83-85 mph fastball is a tad short.

"It's an exhausting process," Prinstein says. "I've been all over the country. And the funny thing is, I still don't feel like I've explored all the options. There's a ton of leagues out there."

Just to set the record straight, Reggie Evans is not and never has been Jewish.

"When I found out you didn't have to be Jewish and you can be old, I said, "I'm there,'" Evans says, laughing.

A ready audience?
While basketball and soccer are extremely popular in Israel, some observers are skeptical that baseball will develop a following. It might be too slow, complex and labyrinthine in its nuances to resonate.

Amit Kurz, 18, a member of the Israeli squad that finished ninth in the European Cup tournament this year, elicits puzzled expressions when he tells his countrymen that he plays baseball.

"The first question people ask is, 'Do you hit or do you field?'" Kurz says.

When Daniel Kurtzer was Israeli ambassador and speaking to academics visiting the U.S. on fellowships, he urged them to do two things to understand American culture: (1) Visit a Civil War battlefield, and (2) Attend a baseball game. While many of the Israelis were captivated by Gettysburg or Appomattox Courthouse, they were confused or bored to tears by baseball. "We have work to do," Kurtzer concedes.

This is why Larry Baras hopes to emphasize the family angle that's made minor-league ball such a hit in the U.S. Parks at Israeli games will have barbecue grills, picnic tables with umbrellas and lots of between-innings diversions.

In the town of Bet Shemesh, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, there are 10,000 transplanted Americans and 240 kids in Little League. Baras is convinced the ballpark will be a happening place on summer nights. In the kibbutz of Gezer, where the first Israeli baseball field was built in 1979, the view alone might suffice. "It's the most beautiful field I've ever seen," Baras says.

For many American Jews, baseball is part of a cultural heritage forged through ancestors who emigrated to the U.S. from eastern Europe in the early 20th century. In the big eastern seaboard cities such as New York, Jews discovered that baseball could be an avenue of assimilation and a source of conversation at the dinner table.

"Baseball is a hard game to learn, but it's not unlike studying Talmud," Kurtzer says. "It's very complicated, but once you get it, it's interesting. You have a lot of statistics you can follow, and you can spend hours discussing it."

Just as Hank Greenberg was a role model in the 1930s and '40s, projecting an image of quiet strength when Adolf Hitler was calling the Jews an inferior race, Sandy Koufax made an enduring statement by refusing to pitch in the 1965 World Series opener because it conflicted with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

"In the Talmud, it is written that some attain eternal life with a single act. On Yom Kippur, 5726, a baseball immortal became a Jewish icon," Jane Leavy writes in her biography, "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy."

Larry Baras remembers growing up in Brooklyn and seeing Hasidic Jewish boys, in their black suits, side curls and wide-brimmed black hats, engaged in heated debate. Every so often, the indecipherable streams of Yiddish were interrupted by references to "Mays" and "Mantle" and "Snider."

When Baras was a boy, his father, Hyman, presided over Sabbath meals before retiring upstairs with a copy of The Sporting News. On Shavuout, a holiday that requires Jews to stay up all night learning, Hyman Baras graduated to bigger things: He went upstairs with the "Baseball Register."

"I think everybody has some kind of a story," Baras says, "whether it's their relationship with their parents, or something in school. Baseball was always the sport played most often among Jewish kids -- in part because they weren't tall enough to play basketball, and their mothers would never let them play football."

Decision time
There's something to be said for dressing appropriately, and it becomes evident on tryout day that some aspirants haven't chosen wisely.

"You can tell who the novices are," Larry Baras says at 7:30 a.m. "Dan Duquette is running the camp, and 20 guys show up wearing Yankees hats."

Shortly after 8 a.m., the aspirants line up to sign the necessary forms and confirm they've paid the $50 registration fee. Judging from the pre-workout speakers, excitement is building for the new league in Israel.

This is a recurrent theme: Israelis could use a new diversion from upheaval and stress. And by promoting a new venture, Baras and his group are showing a welcome confidence in the future of Israeli society.

Despite an early misstep or two, Duquette and his staff unearth a few ballplayers. Camper Nate Fish attracts attention when he steps in the cage and drives a batting practice pitch off the chain-link fence in left field. Fish deftly shifts from shortstop to third base to the outfield, then squats behind home plate and throws several strikes to second base from the catcher position.

Fish, who is currently studying creative writing in New York, played college ball at the University of Cincinnati with Kevin Youkilis, the starting first baseman for the Boston Red Sox. They remain close friends, staying in touch by text message and reminiscing about old times whenever the Red Sox visit the Yankees.

Like Gabe Kapler, Fish is intrigued by the thought of combining his love of baseball with his affinity for Israel, a special place in his heart.

"I've been there twice and I feel really comfortable," Fish says. "I think they'll be cautious and smart about when and where we're playing. I think they would cancel games if they had to."

At the end of the day, Duquette and his staff designate several players -- including Fish and Australian Adam Crabb -- to be invited back for another camp in the Berkshires next spring. The campers who weren't selected receive a certificate of participation and a souvenir Israel Baseball League ball signed by commissioner Dan Kurtzer.

More tryout camps are scheduled for Arizona and Florida in early 2007, and Duquette foresees adding collegians, independent leaguers and players released by professional organizations next spring. The end result: A six-team league that will begin a 48-game schedule on June 22.

The outlook is considerably brighter than three months ago, when Baras joked that the new league had everything it needed "except for stadiums, players and fans." But when the magnitude of his venture dawns on him, it still sends a shiver through his spine.

"I'm fine during the day,'' Baras says. "I have to admit at 2 o'clock in the morning, when I wake up, I wonder if I'm nuts."

Maybe he's just a visionary. According to Psalm 1:3, a praiseworthy man is "like a tree deeply rooted alongside brooks of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and whose leaf never withers."

This is one of the miracles of Israel -- that a nation perched on a desert is so abundant in date palms and fertile orchards. The trees are already in place. Now they'll try to grow a game.


4. "Afterimages" by Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg
From the Jewish Standard

On a day when Israel lay poised to unleash its broadest ground operation yet, and Britain uncovered a plot that was days away from replicating the carnage of 9/11, I went to the movies.

Not just any movie. I went to see "World Trade Center." I'm glad I did.

I know there are many reasons people will give not to see this film, and most of them are valid. Some say it's too early to make a film about this immense tragedy. Others feel that such a movie can't help being exploitative and invades the sacred spaces of those who lost loved ones. Still others object to the showbiz dramatization of an ineffable experience and point to patented theatrical devices, such as slow motion-sequences, that can convert the holy into the Hollywood. Finally there are those who have not forgiven director Oliver Stone for his treatment of the assassination of President Kennedy in "JFK." Perhaps the most convincing argument not to see "World Trade Center" is that it still hurts too much. I respect these views, and wouldn't presume to tell someone else whether or not to go. I can only share my personal reactions.

In the theater, emotions ran high. Although it was a late-night showing and the room was mostly empty, there was a policeman who shushed someone loudly, saying, "Those were my friends who died out there — show some respect." Some people left their seats early on, and did not come back, apparently unable to deal with their feelings.

I expected to feel the same way I do each year, when I force myself to relive horrors on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This turned out to be true, but at first I was surprised to find myself crying not during the disaster scenes, but during the interspersed family vignettes, which connected to the inner lives of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, the two trapped Port Authority Police officers around whom the story revolves. The fleshing out of the officers' relationships with their loved ones, made poignantly possible by their sudden, perhaps permanent absence, is what provides emotional depth. On second thought, isn't this exactly how the Bible highlights loss? The sale of Joseph becomes real when we see his aged father Jacob rending his garments, and the death of the Canaanite general Sisera is given finality through the image of his mother watching for him at the window.

There are many movies that explore relationships better, and plenty with better special effects. But this movie consciously chose to take one small square of the jagged mosaic — a square that deals with heroism, and risking one's life to do the right thing — and make it the center. Looming behind the two men who are rescued are the 2,749 who were not, but art makes choices in how to preserve both triumph and tragedy. Art is an essential way through which a society decides how to fit the most indigestible nuggets into its ongoing narrative — how and what to remember.

As Jews, we did the same thing just two weeks ago on Tisha B'Av, when we expressed our powerlessness through some of the most powerful poetry known to mankind — from biblical verses to prophetic exhortations to medieval laments, or kinot. When adrift on a sea of chaos, we sought out the order and beauty of poetry. In the same way, America has commemorated its war dead in the sleek lines and etched words of the Vietnam Memorial. Why do we respond to catastrophe with art?

One answer is that by preserving disaster as art, we take back control over it. The horrors will live on, but in the frame we set around them. And since art is produced by human beings, the evil will be reduced to human proportions, almost able to be encompassed by human minds and expressed by human means. The kinot are two-edged tools — speaking of randomness, while testifying to order, lamenting helplessness, while hinting at control.

"World Trade Center" takes a defining American moment that evokes fear and impotence and chooses to frame it in terms of courage and self-sacrifice. When Theodor Adorno wrote in 1949 that "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," perhaps he meant that the Holocaust was so huge that the standard devices for making tragedy digestible simply don't apply.

The concluding voiceover, in which the rescued men say that their experiences taught them the good of which man is capable, reminded me of others who chose to extract meaning from life's tragedies. I thought of the parents in Israel who set up charitable foundations to memorialize their children who fall victim to terror, and physicians who immigrated to Israel to fill some of the void left when Dr. David Applebaum was murdered. There is a part of the soul that propels us to wrest meaning from apparent randomness, and to intuit the presence of God when He is so far away. Deep down we believe that a good God implanted this power of soul within us, and that the order we make is real, not contrived.

Sitting in the darkened theater did not feel like a distraction from affairs in the Middle East, nor unrelated to the revelations coming from England. Five years ago the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans sounded the alarm that Islamic terror was on the march. An unpopular war in Iraq has muffled that clarion call. France and Russia are even now ready to restrain Israel from confronting the evil that spawned 9/11. We have been given three reminders that the danger is as strong as ever — war in the Middle East, the foiling of a new terrorist plot, and the debut of a movie. Pray to God that we need no further hints.

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