Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank You!

I just wanted to thank all of you who kindly donated to Alyn for my wife's Tel-aviv to Jerusalem bike ride.

she brought in $1915.04 for Alyn, and the charity raised well over $2 million.

One wonderful story that aliza told me was that there were over 600 riders at the starting line just waiting to speed away. And then someone got on the PA system and said tefillat Haderech and the entire throng responded with a resounding "Amen!". This was not a religious group by any means, and yet this is Israel, and before they set out, Tefillat Haderech was said. A beautiful kiddush Hashem.

To everybody who supported Aliza's ride, thank you and tizku lemitzvot.

(Next year I think she is going for the 5-day ride. she has caught the bicycle bug! )

Monday, November 26, 2007

Annapolis - Part 2

In our parsha (Vayishlach) we read how Yaakov prepared for a threatening adversary with unknown intentions in three methods: Prayer, Diplomacy, War.

1.Olmert is doing the diplomacy.
2. War: I sincerely hope that the army is prepared.
3. I guess that I just have to pray!

Whether one is left-wing or right-wing there is what to pray for. We don't need to tell God what the outcome should be. But we can pray that it be the best possible result for the Jewish People.

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל ...הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ וּפְרֹשׂ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיה, וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.

Annapolis Thoughts Part 1

I am genuinely confused as to what to write regarding Annapolis. In theory it could be nothing - simply a photo-op - and on the other hand they can potentially make an agreement there to make me homeless and give back the entire West Bank - even the Old City!

The greatest probability is that they will declare the kick-off of negotiations with a year-long schedule to reach a "final" Peace Agreement.

So, what is there to say?

Today I went through a very comprehensive video presentation on Guardian website. (link) Look at it. I have a couple of comments.

1. I find the Palestinian positions so extreme, that I think we need to listen more closely to Palestinian speakers. They won't compromise on Jerusalem. They won't compromise on the "right" of return. what exactly will they give us?

2. Kasaam: Nothing is mentioned about Kasaam rockets. For me this is my central worry. Nothing is mentioned about the fact that with the West Bank in Palestinian hands puts all central Israel under Hamas rocket fire. With the best intentions can it work?

Did you see Nadav Shragai's piece in HaAretz (link)? He shows how a split Jerusalem signals the end of Jerusalem. worrying to say the least!

Did you know that today (Monday) TWO kassam rockets fell on Sderot. Just an average day for a border town.

3. How can we make Peace with Fatah when they have no power over Hamas who control Gaza? We envisage democracy for the West Bank and the future Palestinian State. And if Hamas is voted in? they will simply revoke all signed Peace agreements!

Today's headline from Hamas: ""The Land of Palestine ... is purely owned by the Palestinians," senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said in a speech. "No person, group, government or generation has the right to give up one inch of it." "Anyone who stands in the face of resistance or fights it or cooperates with the occupation against it is a traitor,"

4. On the other hand, can we really let the situation just "sit"? We all know the demographic equation. We all realise that the more time progresses, the more a solution becomes difficult. No one wants to rule over a million Palestinians who don't want us. Do we want to be manning roadblocks for the next 40 years? Do we want to be an occupying army for the foreseeable future? Maybe we have to make a painful cut and just have it be over and done with.

But at what price? Land? the Old City? the Kotel? at the price of missiles in our cities?

5. I fear that the Palestinians do know what it means to stop this. They will agree to something and then press on with further claims and more and more. And the world will simply back them.

See the post with Shlomo Ben Ami (below)

I fear that Olmert is doing this to gamble that he can strengthen Fatah over Hamas. Haven't we learned (from Lebanon and PA) that we are powerless to manoeuvre and meddle in Arab politics?

I fear that some of this is about Iran. Olmert thinks that if we "solve" the Palestinian "front" it will give no justification for Iran to threaten us with Nuclear Weapons. I think he is fooling himself. They will simply cook up a reason.

As you can see, I am rather fearful of this conference.

Palestinians Unable To Compromise?

On the eve of the Annapolis conference, please see this excerpt by Shlomo Ben Ami. He was the chief negotiator and FM at Camp David in 2000, the last , failed Peace Summit. he is a unfailing left winger and Peace Activist. This is what he said in a Haaretz interview on Sept 13 2001 about the failure of Camp David:

"Intellectually, I can understand their logic. I understand that from their point of view, they ceded 78 percent [of historic Palestine]at Oslo, so the rest is theirs... But when all is said and done, after eight months of negotiations, I reach the conclusion that we are in a confrontation with a national movement in which there are serious pathological elements. It is a very sad movement, a very tragic movement, which at its core doesn't have the ability to set itself positive goals.
At the end of the process, it is impossible not to form the impression that the Palestinians don't want a solution as much as they want to place Israel in the dock of the accused. They want to denounce our state more than they want their own state. At the deepest level they have a negative ethos. This is why unlike Zionism, they are unable to compromise...."

His comments (BTW that relate to Fatah) basically relate to the fact that the Palestinians do not have a positive State building culture. Their entire national mindset is based upon the psychology of the victim. The world Bank have given them billions. we gave them Gaza. They didn't transform Gaza into housing projects, rivieras and Hi-Tech development parks as they promised. Where is the infrastructure, the institution-building? But they DO have a pathetic culture of self-victimisation. Can they emancipate themselves from it?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Israelis ARE connected to religion!

Some people, and much of the Israeli political elite and media like to think of Israel as a cosmopolitan, liberal, secular country. Well, in a recent study it is absolutely clear that a vast majority of Israelis have a significant connection to religion. (see the study here).

HaAretz put it this way:

Just 20 percent of Jews in Israel describe themselves as secular, according to a recent poll. Since the early 1970s, surveys that have measured Israeli Jews' affinity to tradition have fluctuated among various communities. But the recent figures represent a new low point for the secular community. For example, in 1974, the number of those describing themselves as secular stood at more than 40 percent. The new Democracy Index conducted by the Guttman Center at the Israel Democracy Institute, is based on 1,016 interviews.

... (amongst the population those who claimes) some form of religious affiliation (Traditional, were) 93 percent of Mizrahim (sephardi Jews) and 64 percent of Ashkenazim.

I found another statistic fascinating. Of those BORN in Israel today, 85% stated that they have some connection to Judaism. Of those 36.7 say they are Dati, and 48.3 are Masorti (Traditional.)

To me, there is enormous potential here. anyone who sees Israelis as "secular" or devoid of religion is certainly making a mistake. However, we should also not get carried away here. Even the religious will be easily deterred with religious coercion, a bad religious educational system, religious role models that are corrupt. Without insistence upon a principled, moral, sensitive, loving and caring, rigorous and intelligent Judaism, religion will still lag far behind in the public consciousness.

Shavua Tov!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When To Speak Out

"Shimon and Levi are brothers;
Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.
Let not my person be included in their council,
Let not my being counted in their assembly.
For in anger, they slew a man,
And they uprooted an ox.
Cursed be their anger so fierce,
And their wrath so relentless.
I will divide them in Yaakov,
And scatter them in Israel." (v.5-7)

These are Yaakov's words to his two sons, as he lies dying on his death-bed. This is his parting message and it is quite the indictment! Yaakov curses Shimon and Levi, or more accurately, he curses their anger and violence. He tells them that they should be scattered and dispersed in Israel. This is a damning condemnation.

If the issue is so clear to Yaakov, then why does Yaakov remain so silent in our parasha? Why does he speak only years later? If Yaakov seems so sure that their acts were harmful, immoral, then he should have said something at the time that the atrocity occurred, not to wait forty years![1]

One approach might suggest the following resolution. The true moral voice is Bereshit 49 in which Yaakov's condemns Shimon and Levi. As for his silence at the time, it might simply follow the proverb that we know from Pirkei Avot:

"Do not (try to) placate a friend in his moment of anger;
Do not (attempt to) comfort him while his dead relative lies before him." (Avot 4:23)

In the heat of the moment, one cannot discuss the moral implications. Shimon and Levi will not be open to Yaakov's ethical rebuke. Years later, when the passions have calmed, Yaakov takes his final moments to sound a clear moral message for all time, putting his personal moral opinion before his sons, and with the writing of the Torah, before all of Am Yisrael. There is no ambiguity here, no hesitation. One simply has to find the correct moment in which to issue a rebuke of this magnitude. Yaakov knew that he had to wait for such an opportunity. He found it only on his deathbed.

So this is one possibility.

Rav Yehudah Shaviv (a prolific writer, who lives and teaches in the Gush,) saw the dichotomy differently. He focuses upon Rashi's comments to verse 6:

"For in anger, they slew a man: This is Sh'chem and Chamor
And they uprooted an ox: They sought to uproot Joseph, who is called an Ox (Deut 33:17)"

Here Yaakov draws a direct connection between the Sh'chem episode and the sale of Joseph. At the time, Yaakov saw certain justifications for the actions of Shimon and Levi. He didn't condemn their actions. Maybe there is a certain guilt to a town that harbours criminals, not bringing them to justice.

But after the Joseph affair, Yaakov sees things differently. Once you have murdered, a further murder seems less intimidating. Murder becomes a realistic option, not an unthinkable crime. The fact that Shimon and Levi had killed Sh'chem allowed them to consider murdering Yoseph[2]. They had learned that they could channel insult and indignation in the direction of violence, homicide. They began by killing criminals, they tried to kill their brother.

At the time, their actions seemed justified. In hindsight, the violence in Sh'chem came to be viewed as the moment in which the brothers lost their innocence, they became jaded and morally clouded[3]. It was indeed, a crime.

Yaakov realises that a direct linkage connects the Sh'chem killings, with the attempted murder and subsequent sale of Joseph.

According to the first explanation, Jacob was correct in not issuing a rebuke in our parasha. According to the second argument, Yaakov's lack of response was a total lack of moral guidance, which was in error. The devastating effects of his silence became clear only much later.


[1] At least 40 years, and probably longer. 22 years of Yoseph's exile and a further 17 years during which Yaakov lived in Egypt. There are at least 40 years between the Sh'chem affair and Yaakov's death.
[2] Rashi in Bereshit 42:24 suggests that Shimon and Levi were the prime instigators in suggesting the option of murdering Joseph.
[3] If I recall correctly, Rav Shaviv intimated that had Rabbis been more forthright in absolute condemnation of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Arabs, the legitimacy would have never been found for Yigal Amir's assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Or – if we are quiet when a Jew kills a non_jew (Shchem), then the next stage will be a Jew killing a Jew! (Yoseph)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Northern Exposure

In Shabbat's Haaretz, there was a worrying article by Meron Rappaport. (I have searched for the article online and not found it ... I wonder why they chose not to post it?) The article says something like this.

The govt. is offering lots of incentives to move to Yishuvim (villages) in the Galil. This, all with an aim to Judaise the Galil. Nice idea, don't you think? Well, listen to this!

What is REALLY happening is that most people who take these benefits are not from Tel Aviv. They are actually already living in Galilee towns. They are moving out of Carmiel and Natzeret Illit and Maalot to nice houses with gardens in nice moshavim and yishuvim.

And who is buying their homes in the cities? Arabs. So the worry is that if this continues, Natzeret Illit, Maalot and Carmiel will soon be "mixed" towns. Or as one Galil Arab put it, in 10 years time, there will be an Arab mayor of Natzeret Illit!

already 62% of children born in the Galil are Arab. Worrying to say the least. Here we are discussing the West Bank and annapolis and before our very eyes, the Bedouins are populating the Negev and the Israeli Arabs are moving into our prime Galilee towns. And even the govt. initiative is backfiring!!

And do you know what the mayor of Natzeret said when faced with these statistics? - "Don't worry, we'll open a neighbourhood for Haredim... look what they did in Beit Shemesh?"

Anyhow, yet another worrying phenomenon in our lovely land. (in case you were feeling like theer was nothing in particular troubling you today.) Boy! sometimes the sheer number of challenges seems way too much!

UPDATE (Nov 21) - see this article in Jpost. Demographic threats. Worrying indeed! Most worrying line says that in TWELVE years "Jewish and Palestinian population figures in about 12 years from now will be equal, he said, but two years later, the Jews will be a minority. " What implications does this have for the Peace process?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

King and Country

I was amazed this week to read about the marriage, 60 years ago, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. This is what the archives - recently opened - tell us about their wedding:

"Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten were married at the height of postwar and rationing; like all brides at the time the Princess had to save up her clothing ration coupons for her wedding dress.

The book says that the government gave the couple the standard extra 200 clothing coupons, allowed to all brides, but that they were also inundated with coupons sent by women from all over the country - all sent back because passing on coupons was illegal. Among gifts from abroad were 131 pairs of nylons and 500 cases of tinned pineapples from the governor of Queensland. The New York Institute of Dress Designers sent 25 dresses as a gift, 20 of which were given to other brides getting married at the same time.

…Anxious not to appear too extravagant at a time of rationing, the royal family limited the wedding breakfast to 150 guests and three courses, with partridge as the main dish since it was not rationed."

I was amazed because I didn't realise that even the queen was rationed during/after WWII. It is incredible to see the Royal family as bound by the same rules of the rank and file, sharing in the distress and suffering of the nation, having to exercise a degree of restraint and modesty in difficult times.

Indeed, this is the true Jewish way. The king is instructed (Devarim 17) לבלתי רום לבבו מאחיו - "that he not raise his head above his brethren". A Jewish king must be accessible to the nation and not be so aloof, allowing himself to become detached from his nation.

I was connecting all this with our current leadership here in Israel. Sometimes I really get this sense of an ivory tower.

A friend said to me today; how is it that Olmert hasn't spent a few days living in Sderot? The city is daily under rocket fire. How can he not go there and share at least symbolically in their daily torment?

Likewise, I was jarred by the arrogance of this statement today. The High School teachers have been on strike for a month now. For over a month kids have not attended school. Does Olmert care enough to come off his high-horse? This is a quote as to why Olmert sees no reason to engage the teachers in conversation

"With all due respect, there is no reason why the union head should meet with the prime minister in person," he said. "The finance and education ministers have my full backing in carrying out the negotiations and reaching an agreement. The teachers must take part in our plan to reform the education system and make it better. The strike is uncalled for."

If students have not been in school for a month, then however much faith and belief you have in your Education and Finance minister, one would imagine that the PM might care enough to intervene. This is a national crisis of extreme proportions.

Or maybe he is simply so out of touch that he doesn't quite get it?

I love the accounts of Begin who lived in a 2 room Tel Aviv apt. which would be filled with the Likud faithful - the Amcha, rank and file - every Shabbat afternoon to talk and debate ideology. Leaders have to lead. They need to be above the nation in some way, and yet they also must know how to be in touch with the people, to share in their pain, to empathise, to be connected.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Running on Faith (The Treadmill Prayer)!

This, by Yedidya Meir in Haaretz is a lovely satirical piece about Tefilla, and beyond the satire, has much depth and truth. I have been teaching Prayer in my Jewish Philosophy class at Eretz Hatzvi. So I think I will be giving it to my Talmidim to read and comment upon this Tuesday. Enjoy and Shavua Tov!!

Run for your life
By Yedidya Meir

One of the remarks a religiously observant person hears most in his life is "Let me tell you what bugs me most about religion ..." Usually the speaker begins by praising Judaism and its ways: "Listen, Judaism has really beautiful things to offer. The shiva [week-long mourning period], for example, is utterly enthralling." Then comes the bit that irritates them. For example, this unnecessary prohibition on traveling on Shabbat. Why? Who needs it? Or all this gobbledygook about "fruits of the sea." A complete nonstarter.

I have a great many responses, believe me, but sometimes I too get the urge to say what bugs me most about religion. It happens almost every day. You are standing and reciting a prayer that is important to you, that speaks to you and which you had planned to recite with total intentionality - and suddenly it's over. You felt nothing. That is, you were definitely concentrating, but on completely different things: the kids, the bank account, why there is still no replacement for the Channel 2 news anchor.

A brief explanation is in order for those readers who by chance do not pray. In contrast to the Sukkot lulav (palm branch), the Shabbat candles or the tefillin (phylacteries), prayer itself is a non-physical commandment. It is difficult and challenging spiritual work. For the greatest rabbis and for righteous people, those for whom prayer is a way of life, it may be easy, but for a rank-and-file Jew, it is very hard to recharge the prayer with new meaning each time. But that is exactly what the person is required to do. Someone once wrote that good prayer should be like a train journey: the landscape doesn't change, yet at every moment you see it from a different vantage point. So it is in prayer: The text is the same text, but a person journeys all his life, he does not stand in one place, and on each occasion he is meant to experience the prayer from the inner point he has reached.

That's the theory; now for the reality. I come to the synagogue on Shabbat morning, recite "Nishmat kol hai" ("The breath of every living being") - one of the most meaningful prayers - but feel nothing. And then, on Monday evening, while on the treadmill at home, clad in shorts and an undershirt, at the third kilometer, I hear via the iPod the song "Nishmat kol hai" - the same words - sung by Shlomo Carlebach, and am suddenly seized by tremendous excitement and potent intentionality: "The breath of every living being shall bless thy name, O Lord our God, and the spirit of all flesh shall ever glorify and extol thee, O our King. From everlasting to everlasting thou art God. But for thee we have no King, Deliverer and Savior to rescue, redeem and give sustenance and to show mercy in all times of trouble and distress; yea, we have no Sovereign but thee".

And the Jew goes nuts. Why? Because on Shabbat, when this prayer is part of the service, I wanted it so much, I absolutely craved it, but it just didn't happen. And now, of all times, on a treadmill in shorts - suddenly it comes? That, people, is the most annoying thing about religion.

According to a sample poll I conducted, I am not alone. Other observant Jews also find it easier to connect with God while cooking, driving, shopping, even while doing the dishes, with Jewish music in the background. For just that reason I recently decided to change my approach: When the Shabbat morning prayer arrives as you're running on the treadmill Monday evening, just to flow with it. If not on Shabbat, let it at least be on Monday. Athletic prayer is fine, too.

And then, after the song ends, after the thrill of the words "Therefore, the limbs which thou has fashioned for us, and the soul which thou hast breathed into us, and the tongue which thou hast set in our mouth, lo, they shall thank, bless, exalt and revere thee. They shall proclaim thy sovereignty, O our King" - I wipe off the sweat with a towel, tuck the undershirt into the shorts - for dignity's sake - and say in my heart:

"May it be thy will that this treadmill be as important to thee as though it were my seat in the synagogue, and this iPod as though it were a prayer book, and this towel that is wrapped around my neck as though it were a tallit, and may the thrill I felt in this song be as important to thee as though it were a prayer at its time and its place."

And then I go on running.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Technology Woes

Yes - You might have noticed that I am barely blogging. No. Nothing is wrong. In fact I have a ton of thoughts on the Israeli constitution, the Annapolis Conference, Global Warming, and what have you. I have lots of blogs in my mind. But no time to write.

Why - you may ask? I am crazy busy. I am also barely sleeping. And I will tell you the reason. Yes Doctor, I have a problem with my bandwidth.

The story started when I agreed to give webcasts for Torah in Motion, a wonderful intelligent Torah organisation in Toronto. To use the technology,I had to upgrade my bandwidth. That's fine.

I called the phone company, and my Internet provider to upgrade. They told me that it needs requested in writing signed and faxed. "Faxed? But I don't own a fax! Can I use email?? - No! Only Fax. So fine, I used the neighbours fax. 24hrs passed. No upgrade was evident. I called them. "We didn't get it. Fax it gain!" they said. I had to fax it in 3 times.

That was 10 days ago!

I'll cut a long story short. They upgraded. My uploading is fine. My downloading is faster than the standard (yipee!) BUT there is still some problem with my video connection. It freezes and delays and is non-functional and I have spent at least 20 hours on the phone to Barak (the Internet provider), Bezek and you name it! Every evening I have been on the phone for hours (yes, hours!) with the techie people and crawling on the floor reconnecting wires and modems and what have you. It has totally absorbed all my blogging time, sleep time, class preparation time, and my sanity!!!!

At last, today they are sending a technician! Now they are saying that it may be the modem, or the phone connections in my house.

I am actually really looking forward to my webcast (this evening) but technology is driving me nuts.

And boy - do I hate those automatic call systems they are simply infuriating!

One of the frustrations of technology mess-ups is the feeling of helplessness. If my bicycle breaks, I know what is wrong even if I cannot fix it. My vacuum cleaner broke, so I opened it and I could at least diagnose where the problem was. But with computers, it is all a black box. I haven't the first clue how the Internet works, never mind how my computer could be experiencing a download/upload problem.

But let's look at the bright side.
I know what ping is.
I know how to do a trace to an address on my computer.
I have some idea about PPoE and routers and modems and bandwidth.

It is all a learning process (sigh!) I guess.

I'll be back soon!


Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Joke to start the week

The Israeli Ambassador at the U.N. began, 'Ladies and gentlemen before I commence with my speech, I want to relay an old Passover story to all of you..

'When Moses was leading the Jews out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, he
had to go through whay seemed like a nearly endless Sinai desert.

When they reached the Promised Land, the people had become very thirsty and
needed water.

So Moses struck the side of a mountain with his staff and a pond appeared with crystal clean, cool water. The people rejoiced and drank to their hearts' content.

'Moses wished to cleanse his whole body, so he went over to the other side of the pond, took all of his clothes off and dived into the cool waters.

Only when Moses came out of the water, he discovered that all of his clothes had been stolen. 'And,' he said, 'I have reasons to believe that the Palestinians stole my clothes.''

The Palestinian delegate to the UN, hearing this accusation, jumps from his seat and screams out, 'This is a travesty. It is widely known that there were no Palestinians there at that time!'

'And with that in mind,' said the Israeli Ambassador, 'let me now begin my speech.'

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Television, the Internet and Bittul Zman!

When we got married, I told my wife that I didn't want to buy a T.V. It wasn't so much a religious decision but rather a practical one. You see, I have a very good track record of wasting vast amounts of time in front of televisions. I have years of experience at it, throughout my High School years and even during college. I can watch almost anything. Bad quality never used to be much of a deterrent. Something about the passive entertainment is just great for me. I love it. But it is such an awful waste of time. I didn't want to spend hours and hours just wasting time watching nothing particularly significant on the T.V.

A further T.V. anti-social habit is that I frequently spend time with the remote just switching back and forth between channels. It is as if one thinks that if I switch over there may just be something better. But in fact, one eventually turns off the T.V. with an empty feeling having spend far too much time watching absolutely nothing. (In the end, we did buy a T.V. which I barely watch, but that is another story.)

Why do I mention this? Because I do fear that the Internet has taken all those negative habits and now, I surf for hours , switching back and forth and it is wasting a great amount of my time. I flick back and forth between sites as if there might be something that I haven't seen yet. It is as if I am expecting the computer sites to thrill or entertain me. I could be learning pages of Gemara and instead I am reading the NY times or the weather or who knows what??

The problem of wasting time on the internet is compounded because I do use the computer to prepare classes, both typing notes and worksheets but also using the internet as a research tool. So I don't want to be offline. But then I just wander around my favourites list and other links, blogs and what have you. I just waste a phenomenal amount of time. The computer should be a tool that we control, not a machine that controls us.

What is to be done? Am I an internet addict? How does one cure oneself? Can I exhibit self-control? Should I move my computer out of my study? Are there any good rules out there to help a person restrain oneself from endlessly being attatched to being online? hmmm!

Something must be done!