Monday, December 3, 2007
Updated December 2007 version of article first published in The Canadian Jewish News - 28 November 2002, B2-B3
Jews are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, our festival of lights, during a particularly dark period. The world seems to have gone mad. Islamic extremists declare war on the West, and many Westerners, especially in Europe and Canada , deny and dither, afraid to respond too assertively. Iran threatens to destroy the United States and Israel , conducts a conference denying the Holocaust, and redoubles efforts to go nuclear, yet the world appeases – and continues funding the regime by remaining addicted to oil. Palestinians declare a war of terror on Israel, Hezbollah continues attacking Israel even after it withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000, and too many, including Israelis and Jews, are quicker to blame Israel, the victim, than the terrorist perpetrators. The terror has slowed but not disappeared -- Israel has stood strong, but there are too many victims throughout the world, still reeling from the blows on the Lebanese border last year and in Sderot on a regular basis, let alone in London and Bali , Madrid and Mombasa . Too many communities have been scarred by this scourge.
It is precisely during such bleak moments that we are compelled to celebrate. Rejoicing in past victories helps put our current troubles in perspective, reminding us that we have suffered before, and not just survived but thrived. Moreover, with terrorists trying to rob innocents of any joy, and any semblance of a normal life, observing holidays becomes yet another act of defiance, a leap of faith asserting our commitment to stick to the everyday.
Nevertheless, even as we celebrate, it behooves us to reassess the meaning of the holidays, thinking about how we observe them. Precisely now, during this time of crisis, we should be rededicating ourselves to Jewish renewal, finding the joy in Judaism, not just the "oy." Such a reevaluation is particularly necessary in the case of Hanukkah, a holiday whose meaning has changed over the years.
While Hanukkah’s basic plot line has remained unchanged for almost two millennia, the Hanukkah we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. The central themes we associate with Hanukkah, of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; for centuries the Rabbis dwelled on the miracle of the oil. When the Zionist revolution a century ago reevaluated Judaism, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about the anti-Semites who hated us and the Rabbis who taught us. The Maccabees were home-grown heroes, rooted in Israel ’s ancient soil, and willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, and their freedom. In fact, before World War I, many Jews used Hanukkah as an opportunity for giving not receiving, donating the modern equivalent of the "shekel," the Biblical coin, to the Zionist cause.
At the same time, the other great twentieth-century Jewish revolution, the rise of North American Jewry, also transformed Hanukkah. As with Passover, the theme of "freedom" resonated in the land of liberty, giving the ancient Jewish holiday a contemporary American flavor. But, even more important, the quirk of scheduling, as well as the anthropological linkage to another winter-solstice festival of lights, made for the gift-giving frenzy we see today.
As a delightful holiday of dedication, Hanukkah has long been child-centered. Traditionally, Jewish communities used Hanukkah to rededicate themselves to their children’s Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children "gelt" or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study.
In the modern world, this festival of gelt-giving and of lights became the popular Jewish response to Christmas envy, the malady that seized many a Jewish household each December. In fact, with eight nights, and thus eight opportunities for gift-giving, Hanukkah became a way for Jews to trump their Christian neighbors.
Tragically, both Hanukkah and Christmas have become "Festivals of Consumption," in the late historian Daniel Boorstin's apt phrase. A minor sweetener to facilitate Torah study has become the major focus of the holiday, even as this traditionally minor holiday has become a major highlight on the North American Jewish calendar.
Once again, then, we have a chance this year to rededicate Hanukkah, and ourselves, to reorient the holiday. It is time to rejuvenate the holiday by making it a highpoint on our tzedakah calendar, our schedule of giving, while teaching our children about generosity not just materialism. It is not realistic, nor necessary, to declare a gift-giving ban. Most of us, thankfully, do not have to choose between self-indulgence and good works. Moreover, to set up false choices by being too austere, defeats the educational purpose behind the gelt-giving. But is it too much to ask for this year, that every family, every school, every Jewish institution, every Hanukkah get-together carve out some time to think about others who are less fortunate, others with whom we should share our good fortune? Is it too much to ask that as we teach our children the joy of receiving gifts from loved ones we also teach them the joy of giving gifts to strangers?
The smallest of gestures can teach this most important of lessons. During the traditional Hanukkah grab bag, one additional toy can be thrown into the hopper, and that toy can be designated for a child in need. Similarly, children awash in presents could be asked to give one old toy and one new toy to tzedakah. Relatives from far away who are going to send Hanukkah checks can be encouraged to allocate part of their gift to a charity of the children’s choice, or parents and children can agree on a certain percentage of all gifts to be donated. Even more important, acts of loving kindness, good deeds, should be encouraged so we go beyond many Jews’ tendency to assume that the only way to help others is materially.
This Hanukkah, of all Hanukkahs, why not take advantage of the eight nights, the eight candles, to designate our thoughts, our prayers, and our gifts of time, talent, and money in the following directions:
On the First Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Victims of Palestinian Terror, the casualties of the recent Second Lebanon War, and most especially the embattled citizens of Sderot, hoping to bring a little light into their lives: Terrorists have slaughtered more than 1000 people in Israel since 2000, and maimed thousands more. Hezbollah killed nearly 150 others, soldiers and civilians, Jews and Arabs, during the summer of 2006. Thousands of Kassam rockets have rained down on the good people of Sderot. We must adopt families of the victims, embracing them, supporting them, befriending them, sending both love and money. Right now, we should focus our efforts on helping out the people of Sderot. The Hesder Yeshiva there has proven to be an essential force for community building there, doing good and holy work. For more information on how to adopt the people of Sderot and support this amazing institution, visit http://sderot.org/index.php.
Another way to make a strong stand of solidarity with the citizens of Sderot is through http://sderotmedia.com/?cat=5.
To support Camp Koby , a magical summer camp that works with survivors of terror, healing sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of victims, visit www.kobymandell.org/home.htm.
On the Second Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the three Israelis kidnapped last summer, and those who are still Missing in Action, honoring their heroism, and that of their families: More than 500 days ago, Gilad Shalit, a 20-year-old with a shy smile, was kidnapped by Hamas near Gaza; Ehud Goldwasser, a 32-year-old engineer, and Eldad Regev, a 27-year-old pre-law student, were kidnapped by Hezbollah. Their pain – and their families’ suffering – is our pain. Our worlds will not be complete, our holidays not fully joyous, until they come home – and we have not done enough for them. These three families share a unique bond of anguish with the families of Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz, who have been missing since the 1980s. Write your representatives demanding information and action. For more information, including a petition to sign, visit http://www.kidnappedsoldiers.com/phpPETITION/index.php.
On the Third Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Children of Israel, who deserve to live in freedom, free of fear: Israeli society has proved itself remarkably resilient, but the 2006 war, combined with the economic troubles of the last few years, took its toll. Even as the security situation has stabilized, and the economic numbers have improved, there is far too much poverty in Israel , and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing greater than ever. We must be proactive not just reactive, thinking about how to help improve the quality of Israeli life. One lovely initiative is the Jade Bar Shalom Books for Israel Project, an attempt to get new and slightly used English books sent to Israeli schoolchildren to help compensate for budget cutbacks. Since July 2005, over 41 tons of donated English literature and reference books have been delivered to over 200 of Israel 's Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, Christian, Bahai, and Muslim public schools. For more information about this project, including how to set up local chapters, access http://www.edu-negev.gov.il/bs/b4i/.
On the Fourth Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Institutions of Israel, the well-oiled infrastructure which keeps the society functioning: Even as we champion new initiatives, we need to continue supporting agencies that have laid the foundation for the Jewish state, and help make it thrive. To name only a few, during these difficult times, Hadassah continues to maintain and modernize Israeli medical facilities, the Magen David Adom (Israeli "Red Cross") serves all people in Israel under very trying circumstances, the Jewish National Fund continues renewing and rebuilding the land, the United Jewish Communities launched a special Israel Emergency Fund to rebuild in the north and in Sderot. This year, in honor of their heroic services to the citizens and soldiers up north during the 2006 war, make sure to support Rambam Hospital in Haifa as well, as part of the rebuilding effort: http://www.rambam.org.il/Home+Page/.
On the Fifth Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to Our Local Jewish Community, renewing our collective ability to help us renew ourselves and our own Jewish identities: Even while fighting fires abroad, we need to keep our home fires burning, as it were, by supporting our local synagogues, schools, Federations, agencies. If we do not create welcoming, exciting models for Jewish identity, we will raise a new generation of Hellenists not Maccabees. This Hanukkah is a perfect time to rededicate ourselves to Jewish education, on all levels, for young and old alike. We all need to be engaged in lifelong learning, the more formal, the better, the more time-intensive the better. More broadly, let us challenge ourselves by asking not only how much money am I willing to donate, but how much time am I willing to volunteer this coming year?
On the Sixth Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to neighbors in need, bestowing gifts on neighbors who are suffering: Most of us live in cities marked by huge disparities between haves and have-nots. Those of us who have should take the time to help those who have less, both Jews and non-Jews, seeing what we can do to make sure that none of our neighbors go to bed hungry, cold, or lonely, that none of our neighbors are deprived of the joy of celebrating this season. Wherever we stand on the War in Iraq , we should all stand united in support of the American troops, our idealistic, vulnerable, heroic knights in Kevlar willing to risk so much. Creative ways of supporting the troops include donating Frequent Flyer Miles so troops on leave can fly home for free (see http://www.heromiles.org); buying pre-paid calling cards so soldiers can call their loved ones for free (see http://www.operationuplink.org/) or sending messages of support (see https://wwwcfi.cnet.navy.mil/dearabby/). Given the seasonal coincidence between Hanukkah and Christmas, we have a lovely chance to make Christmas and Hanukkah wishes harmonize, as we celebrate Hanukkah by helping neighbors celebrate Christmas.
On the Seventh Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to non-Jewish friends and causes, understanding the power of affirming our common humanity, and helping one another: It is too easy, during these times of Jewish stress, to turn inward. These last seven years we have certainly seen the power of Hillel’s teaching, that "If I don’t care for myself, who am I?" And the strategy worked. The situation has improved dramatically. But let us not forget the second part which is "And if I only care for myself, what am I?" The United Way , Centraide, and dozens of other organizations are happy to help us help others, as are our local Federations. The crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan demands our action and our outrage. Let us not stand by idly, complaining of others' inactions, yet not doing anything ourselves. The American Jewish World Service has been a particular leader on this and other issues, combining education, advocacy and intelligent giving. Check out http://www.ajws.org/. For more information on Darfur , click http://www.savedarfur.org/. A great student-initiated movement to stop the suffering in Darfur is STAND, http://www.standnow.org/, or http://www.standcanada.org/ in Canada .
On the Eight Night of Hanukkah, let us dedicate ourselves to the Power of Teaching, of Leading Our Children by Example: If every night, we channel our children’s charitable impulses, giving a guided tour of the possibilities of giving, on this, the last night of Hanukkah, let us ask our children to take the first baby steps in this world of responsibility and great satisfaction, by asking them to pick a charitable deed, a mitzvah for someone else they plan on doing.
The time and resources are limited; the work is great – and overwhelming. Yet our sages teach that it is not upon us to complete all the work, nor are we free to evade it. No one should feel guilty for failing to carve out a charitable moment every one of the eight nights – yet no one should feel free to ignore this challenge completely.
For decades now, kids have greeted each other every morning of Hanukkah with the question: "What did you get last night?" This year, perhaps, we can also teach our children to ask: "What did you give?"
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, which was just re-released in an expanded and updated edition.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
LET’S HAVE A SUBSTANTIVE, ZIONIST CELEBRATION OF ISRAEL’S 60th.
November 02, 2007,
by Professor Gil Troy
How do we celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday? How do we mark Zionism’s great success and one of the twentieth century’s most redeeming moments?
When Rabbi David Hartman first came to Israel, he wondered what rituals secular Jews improvised to celebrate Israel’s Independence. On his first Yom Ha’atzmaut he visited an anti-religious kibbutz. He discovered a ghost town. Wandering around, he began sniffing something. Following the smell to the fields, he discovered mass mangal, group barbecues. Similarly, Americans celebrate their Independence on July 4th with picnics and firecrackers. To avoid mass indigestion and the occasional blasted-off finger, Zionists should celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary with two classically Jewish activities: learning and arguing.
The learning should be straightforward, with the calendar as our guide.
The 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, should remind us why it was so significant that the British Government, as described by Lord Arthur Balfour, viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – and why the Jewish people needed a Jewish state at all.
As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine on November 29, 1947, we should remember the joy that seized the Jewish world when the UN legitimized creating a Jewish state, even though this painful compromise deprived Jews of control over Jerusalem. By contrast, the Arabs rejected the compromise. In an historic interview in September (click here to see it), the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas acknowledged what Israel’s supporters have known for a long time. Describing the 1947 partition plan, Abbas said: “we rejected this, so we lost.” The interviewer asked “You should have taken it?” He replied: “Yes, at that time, of course.”
All this learning will culminate in May when we celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday. Here, too, we should remember how vulnerable Israel was, how overwhelming it was to have seven Arab Armies attacking, but how important it was to have a free, proud, democratic and safe Jewish state, after 1900 years of exile.
While remembering our history, we must revitalize our ideology. On May 14, 1948, the 5th of Iyar, Zionism succeeded, creating a state. Since then the question has been: what now? We in the Zionist movement have to use this 60th anniversary to trigger a Zionist renewal, creating a moment of mass redefinition that reaffirms the Jewish commitment to Jewish nationalism while charting a path for a twenty-first century Zionism as an answer to our needs today. We should start arguing, respectfully, passionately, thoughtfully about what the Zionist idea means to us.
In this month’s Atlantic Monthly dozens of prominent Americans describe the “future of the American idea” in 300 words (click here to read the article). The result is a dazzling display of celebrations and condemnations, disappointments and visions, ideas and suggestions. We should undertake a similar exercise – but at the grassroots. We can ask some professors and politicians, intellectuals and entertainers to address the idea. But we should also have Jews from around the world, write out their “ani ma’min,” their Zionist “I believe” and convene in small salons across the world to compare notes and refine them. Everyone connected to the Zionist movement should undertake to host one evening with ten friends who are simply willing to talk about Israel, Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood for an hour. These ideas and new visions should then be summarized and posted on the Web.
To celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, we need to find the “I” in Zionism. We need to develop a language that culturally, professionally, morally, practically, brings Israel, Zionism, communal values into our lives today. This is not the Zionism of yesteryear which was us-oriented and historical. We have to figure out a more me-oriented, present-minded, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, why-should-I-carve-out-my-time-in-my-schedule-for-this, 21st century Zionism.
Anniversaries, both personal and communal, are great opportunities to look back and forward. We appreciate what was, celebrate what is, and build what will be. Now is the time for a massive new Zionism re-engagement, a renewed passion and vision about the centrality of Jewish peoplehood and Israel in our lives. We are blessed to be living in the era of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. Let’s start a conversation about we can all benefit from the Zionist idea – and the charming and sometimes challenging Israeli realities.
P.S. In 2001 I made my own attempt at an “Ani Ma’amin” with my essay “Why I Am A Zionist” which you can read by clicking here .
I invite anyone who is interested to help by translating the essay into languages other than English.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The wife of a kidnapped Israeli soldier made her plea to Jewish student and advocacy groups around the world.
Karnit Goldwasser, whose husband, Udi, was abducted in July 2006, spoke via teleconference Tuesday from Jerusalem to students in the United States and abroad on World Solidarity Day for the release of the Kidnapped Soldiers.
The event was organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel to raise awareness of the plight of kidnapped soldiers Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit.
Goldwasser insisted that the Red Cross gain access to her husband and the others. She said she isn't even sure her husband is alive. The capture of Udi Goldwasser and Regev by Hezbollah was the impetus for the Lebanon war.
She urged the students to send letters to the ambassadors of Lebanon, Syria and Iran asking for the release of the prisoners. Goldwasser expressed hope for negotiations between Hezbollah and the Israeli government, and that the families of Lebanese prisoners lobby their government for the return of their family members as well.
Goldwasser insisted that international pressure was vital to the movement for the return of the prisoners, adding that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told her "'you don't need to ask me. It's my obligation to be in this process. The free world won't accept kidnapping as a way of getting things.'"
Monday, October 15, 2007
Two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah last year reportedly have been handed over to Iran.
The London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were seized in June 2006, have been transferred from Lebanon to Iran via a third country. Iran is Hezbollah's chief sponsor.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office denied the report. Israeli officials did not provide further details.
Karmit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife, told Israel Radio that U.N.-mediated negotiations for the soldiers' release are well under way. She had no details on their condition.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Rosh Hashana – a holiday in transition
Rabbi Davidh Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo explains how Rosh Hashana, which for centuries has been celebrated for one day only, became a two-day fest after French rabbis forced indigenous Jews to change their practices
Rosh Hashana is currently celebrated throughout the world for two consecutive days, but has this always been the case? According to Rabbi Davidh Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo, the practice of celebrating the holiday for two days has undergone various fascinating changes throughout history that may still be relevant to Jews today.
For how many days was Rosh Hashana originally celebrated?
Rabbi Bar-Hayim: The Torah speaks of the Festival, known as "Zichron Tru'ah" (Leviticus 23:24) or "Yom Tru'ah" (Numbers 29:1), which falls on the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) – ie a one-day affair, like all festivals mentioned in the Torah, such as the first and seventh days of Passover, the one day festival of Shavuot, etc.
The Jewish calendar is essentially a lunar calendar (albeit synchronized with the solar year). Seeing that a lunar month is 29.5 days, and seeing that one cannot count half-days, a month must be either 29 or 30 days in length.
The decision to include the 30th day in the preceding month, or to announce that the 30th day was in fact the 1st of the new month, was a major function of the Sanhedrin (the High Court of the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel). As long as this was the case, it could not be known ahead of time which day would in fact become the 1st of the month (Rosh Hodesh).
The court informed the Jewish people of their decision by way of bonfires lit atop mountains or messengers. Communities that were informed well in advance, such as those of Eretz Yisrael, were able to keep the festivals on the appointed day. Communities further afield, however, such as the Jews of Babylon, did not receive word until later in the month; they were thus required to keep two days for every festival day prescribed by the Torah.
Thus in the Land of Israel all festivals were observed for one day. The first day of Passover, for example, was always the 15th of Nissan. In Babylon, however, the first day of the month being unclear, Passover was celebrated on either the 14th and 15th, or the 15th and 16th (this becoming clear only retroactively).
Rosh Hashana was the exception to the rule: it is the only festival which falls on the first of the month. Most Jews, within and without the Land, were required to observe two days, with the exception of the Jews living in relatively close proximity to the seat of the Sanhedrin who could be informed on the day the new month was announced.
So Rosh Hashana was always celebrated for two days even in Israel?
Initially yes, but then things changed with the advent of the fixed calendar in the second half of the 4th century. Doubt was a thing of the past; every Jew now knew the exact date of each festival. For reasons that we shall gloss over here, the Jewish world was henceforth divided into two: in the Land of Israel all festivals, including Rosh Hashana, were celebrated for one day; outside the Land, all festivals were two-day affairs.
This was the reality for over eight centuries. There is neither doubt nor argument regarding this point. Approximately 960 years ago Rav Nissim Gaon wrote to Rav Hai Gaon of Babylon as follows: "Why does our Master claim that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael must celebrate Rosh Hashana for two days? We see to this day that they keep only one day?"
In his response Rav Hai Gaon admits that this was, in fact, the reality, but expresses the opinion that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are mistaken. It bears noting that this is by no means the only instance of the Torah authorities in Babylon taking a more hard-line and conservative approach than their counterparts in Eretz Yisrael.
The historical fact is that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael – whose practice was based on the opinion of the Torah authorities and the halachic traditions of the Jewish communities in the Land of Israel since the fixed calendar was instituted – took no notice of Rav Hai Gaon.
In Israel today Rosh Hashana is observed for two days. How, why and when did this transition take place?
The status quo remained in place until the 12th century. At that time there was an influx of great rabbis from Provence (the south of France) who simply imposed their halachic views on the indigenous Jewish populace, forcing them to deviate from their ancient traditions and practices. The communities of Eretz Yisrael – by this time small, weak, and lacking strong and courageous Torah leadership – were unable to resist the aggressive takeover.
That, in brief, is why the custom in Israel came to be as it is today.
What was the rationale behind this change?
The argument seems to be based on the following: as mentioned above, prior to the advent of the fixed calendar, most of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael observed two days of Rosh Hashana, with the exception of the Jews living in relatively close proximity to the seat of the Sanhedrin. In other words, within the Land of Israel, two realities existed side by side: those near the court celebrated one day, and those further away celebrated Rosh Hashana for two days.
The essential question, therefore, is this: what should have happened when the fixed calendar was introduced? Should all the Jews of Eretz Yisrael have acted like those who resided near the court, and keep one day, or should they behaved like those further away and kept two?
The historical reality, based on the decision of the rabbis of the Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisrael, was to observe one day only. (Clearly, the Jews of the Land of Israel received this tradition and halachic ruling from earlier generations, ultimately going back to the original Sanhedrin of Hillel the President in the 4th century).
Even if one can make a case for the opposing view, Maimonides teaches us (Shemittah Chap. 10) that when faced with two opinions both of which are tenable, the weight of tradition and the facts on the ground should prevail – and the fact on the ground, for eight centuries, was one day.
How is this relevant today?
The question needs to be asked: are the Jews of Eretz Yisrael today required to continue the present state of affairs, or can we aspire to the authentic and original Judaism of our forefathers who walked these hills and valleys before us?
Another question that might be raised concerns the dynamics of halachic change: should halachah be decided by the kind of strong-arm tactics employed by certain rabbis in the 12th century? Can such power-plays be considered a legitimate mechanism of Torah Judaism?
Some of the greatest medieval Torah authorities, such as Rabbi Zerahyah HaLevi and Rabbenu Ephraim, were unimpressed with the claim that all Jews must observe two days of Rosh Hashana. Both stressed the unchallenged reality in the Land of Israel from time immemorial. Rabbenu Nissim ('Ran') seems to have had similar leanings.
Isn’t observing two days "playing it safe"?
Some may feel that observing two days is preferable, taking the more stringent opinion and "playing it safe". In my view this line of reasoning is mistaken:
* Does it really make sense to observe Rosh Hashana on the 2nd of Tishrei – a day clearly not the "Yom Tru'ah" of the Torah which falls on the first of the month?
* Keeping two days is, in fact, no safer than keeping one: what of praying festive prayers on a weekday? Not wearing tephillin (phylacteries)? Of reciting Kiddush when no Kiddush is called for?
With a fixed calendar in place for over 1,600 years, is it not perhaps time to rethink this issue? I believe, following in Maimonides’ footsteps, that it is possible to reconstitute a Sanhedrin today. The rabbinical establishment chooses to ignore this pressing issue of re-establishing the High Court of Torah Law – is this a case of "can't" or "won't"?
I feel that it is high time that knowledgable and courageous Torah scholars convene to discuss these and related issues.
Rav Davidh Bar-Hayim is the head of Machon Shilo, which seeks to revivify Jewish practice as it was practiced in Eretz Yisrael
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Israel and Hamas came close to clinching a deal in May for the release of Gilad Shalit from his Gazan captivity.
Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon on Wednesday confirmed recent disclosures by Hamas that Egyptian-brokered talks on freeing Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners almost bore fruit three months ago.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Ramon said the Olmert government had agreed in principle to release 450 prisoners, but balked at some of the names on the roster presented by Hamas. Israel has long ruled out an exchange in which deadly terrorists would be freed from jail.
Ramon said Israel is awaiting a new list of 1,000 names to be submitted by Hamas, whose gunmen led a June 25, 2006 cross-border raid in which Shalit was captured and two other soldiers killed.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Israelis marked the 21st birthday of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
Supporters of Shalit held a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the conscript sergeant's second birthday in Palestinian captivity. Newspapers and other media carried fresh coverage of his family's ordeal.
Shalit was abducted in a June 25, 2006 cross-border raid by Hamas-led gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Two of his comrades were killed in the incident.
His father, Noam, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not doing enough to recover his son from Hamas, which wants a prisoner exchange.
"There are no serious negotiations, and to judge from the outcome, the situation is a clear and total failure," he told Israel Radio.
Olmert has signaled a willingness to bargain for Shalit's return but has ruled out the lopsided swap demands made by Hamas.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Monday that a deal was almost clinched to trade Shalit for 350 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, but that it fell through over the types of prisoners the Olmert government would release. Israel has said it will only release prisoners not involved in killings.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Many young people from several overnight summer camps, including these URJ Campers, added enthusiasm at the rally to free the kidnaped Israeli soldiers Monday July 16, 2007 near the United Nations.
NEW YORK (JTA) – Thousands of demonstrators showed up for a rally organized by Jewish organizations to call for the release of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah last summer.
But instead of focusing their outrage exclusively at the two Islamic militant movements, speakers at Monday's event lashed out at the United Nations and other international organizations for not doing enough to aid the soldiers.
"We're standing here next to the U.N.," Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of one of the kidnapped soldiers, told the crowd at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. "What have they accomplished? Nothing. Where's the Red Cross and Palestinian leaders?"
Hezbollah militants abducted Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, on July 12, 2006, precipitating last summer's 34-day war in Lebanon. Their abduction came just weeks after Hamas grabbed Gilad Shalit, 20, in a raid on Israeli soil.
The energized crowd, which consisted of many campers from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox camps in the region, chanted "Free Them Now" several times. Several Jewish organizational leaders and politicians called on the crowd to chant loud enough that U.N. workers could hear their requests for help from the world body.
The focus on the United Nations comes as Jewish organizations are writing off its Human Rights Commission as hopelessly anti-Israel, while also holding out hope that the world body's new secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will stake out a more balanced position on Middle East issues. On Monday, several speakers stressed their dissatisfaction with the United Nations.
Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said the United Nations deserved all of the condemnation it received at the rally because it was not exercising its diplomatic influence to free the soldiers.
"We’re thankful that the new secretary-general is aware of the matter," Miller told JTA the day after the rally. "But we know for certain that more can be done and more needs to be done, so we can celebrate their return back home rather than mark their continued captivity."
One speaker at the event, New York City mayoral hopeful U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, drew applause as he called the United Nations "feckless." Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel also denounced the U.N. for not doing enough to release the soldiers.
"Why is the U.N. Commission on Human Rights silent?" Wiesel declared.
The lineup of speakers included several local New York politicians and five members of the House of Representatives. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), an African American representing parts of Queens, received an ovation when he told the crowd it was important for blacks to show solidarity with the unjust capture of the Israeli men just as Jews historically have contributed so much to the civil rights movement.
"Sometimes voices are silent," Meeks said, "and when voices are silent bad things happen."
Representatives from the Korean, Latino, Turkish and Catholic communities also received warm greetings.
Most speakers failed to offer specific plans to bring about the return of the soldiers, but had harsh words for their captors and their ideology.
"There is more than one inconvenient truth," said Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). "In addition to global warming, there is Islamic terrorism. We need to wake up and acknowledge this. And we need to bring these men home."
At the end of the rally Gabrielle Flaum, a 16-year-old activist, presented a petition demanding action from the United Nations. The petition, signed by 40,000, is to be sent to the U.N. secretary-general, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Flaum, who came with the contingent from the Reform movement's Eisner Camp, is the founder of SOS: Save Our Soldiers, an organization that advocates for the release of the abducted soldiers by collecting petition signatures and lobbying political leaders.
"People are not going to stop fighting," Flaum, of New Jersey, told JTA after the rally.
Flaum said she was motivated to create SOS after seeing the hardship of war firsthand while on a Reform youth group trip to Israel last summer.
"One counselor told us his best friend had been killed, and another had to leave us to serve in the reserves," she said. "I came home with an incredible image and I couldn't let them go unnoticed. I had to make a difference."
Bad Moon Rising As the month of Av begins, a rally for captured Israeli soldiers inspires Jews of all ages
New York Jewish Week, 7-20-2007
The Jewish summer is haunted and insiders know it. The 21 days of the Hebrew calendar, falling this year between July 3 and July 24, contain the looping anniversaries of misjudgment, from the Golden Calf and the breaking of the Ten Commandments to the Nazi liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto; from Babylonians and later Romans destroying Jerusalem, to the twin burnings of the Temple, to the triple kidnappings of Israeli soldiers in the summer of '06.
The new moon of Av is a bad moon rising. Lock the barn and don't scare the horses. These are the days when children, despite the heat, are kept out of swimming pools; men stop shaving, cheeks go prickly, eyes seem bleary; travelers are advised against traveling; musical instruments are unplayed, lovers don't marry, meat is uneaten and wine unsipped (except on Shabbat). Sages link the Zodiac sign, the lion, to a verse in Lamentations, "He is a lurking bear, a lion in hiding." Wild animals wait in ambush.
If Passover's rituals evoke liberation, the Jewish midsummer evokes irritation, siege, abandonment by God, man, weather and luck.
On the first day of Av, July 16, at the rally across the street from the United Nations to demand the soldier’s release, there were those in the crowd of 3,000 who shrugged and said the soldiers - Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev — were probably dead. Other rumors had them alive, alone in a private Auschwitz.
Speakers on both podium and sidewalk spoke of them as "kidnapped," helpless as the Lindbergh baby, as if Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev weren’t captured right out of their military units while fully armed and on duty. But if the Six-Day War made messiahs out of Israel’s military men, failure infantilizes. Or maybe, the grace of Jewish unity allows us to imagine these boys as our own, loved simply for being ours as an infant is loved for the most primal reasons, for being our blood, if only spiritually, from the very dawn of their lives.
"When I hear the names of these soldiers in shul," when their names are read aloud with their mothers’ names in the traditional phrasing for a Jew needing mercy, "I hear these very names, (Ehud, son of) Malka, (Eldad, son of) Tova, (Gilad, son of) Aviva, such traditional, iconic motherly names," said Sarah, a West Side mother.
"And the names of the sons, Gilad, Ehud, Eldad, such Israeli names," said Sarah's friend, a woman sleeveless in the heat, who asked that we not use her own Jewish name.
"We were young when Israel was young," said Sarah's friend. "Back then, the soldiers were our age. We looked at them in awe. Now we’re the age of these soldiers' parents, and we have children as old as these soldiers. No matter which way you look at it, our hearts are with them, with their parents and their wives, and their siblings."
We look at the soldiers and say, "I know that guy." A delegation from Conservative Judaism’s United Synagogue held a placard that said, "Gilad Shalit: bar mitzvah at Masorti Kehilla Kfar Vradim."
There were hundreds of young people - campers bussed in for several hours from the Berkshires, the Poconos, the Catskills - more than a few of whom wanted to not only move to Israel but to risk their lives for her. Who among them was bar mitzvahed and would be someday be lost behind enemy lines?
Teenagers came from the Conservative movement's Camp Ramah, the Reform movement's Camp Kutz and Camp Harlam and from the Orthodox Camp Moshava, along with several others. They rode on busses for as much as a six-hour round trip to a rally in Manhattan because that is what Jews do when another Jew is in trouble.
Jesse Gruber, 14, a Moshava camper, said, "I don't even know if they're still alive." But he didn’t mind giving up a day of camp for this “because this is what it’s all about, caring for the Jewish people.”
Irwin Kula, the president of CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, wearing a T-shirt in the noon heat, said, "The story here is the young people. We always worry about young people. We're obsessed with continuity. What this rally proves, whether you're on the right or the left, is be real, be genuine about the issue. Don't obsess about continuity; just put out what you deep down and genuinely believe, what you are passionate about, and your passion, your genuineness will generate connection. This is a midday Monday, middle of summer, no one is around, and meanwhile these kids are proud to be here, even if they had to ride for hours, because this is genuine. This isn't some program about Jewish identity; this is real 'Jewing.' This is what Jews do."
Jews came by chartered busses from distant cities, and they came by subway and public bus from the boroughs. "More people came to this rally by public transportation than we usually see," observed David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, one of the rally organizers, along with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation, the American Zionist Movement, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. David Sable, a lay leader at UJA-Federation, planned, at the rally's end, to go across the street to the secretary general’s office, or as far as he could get, with "110,000 signatures on a petition," said Sable. Many of the signatures were gathered at Freethesoldiers.org, a Web site dedicated to news and activity regarding the captives.
The crowd applauded Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel when he said, "Those who kidnapped [the soldiers] are cowards and criminals ... What they are doing is an insult not only to Jews but to all civilized people ... In choosing kidnapping, Hezbollah and Hamas have excluded themselves from the code of the family of nations, and they deserve universal disdain, condemnation and punishment."
If Hamas ought be punished, few in the crowd knew quite how. Israel has decided to send Hamas fuel, food and electricity, for humanitarian reasons, without demanding Shalit's release.
Ehud Goldwasser’s mother Malka told the rally, the conditions of her son’s captivity "is a humanitarian issue," too. "As a mother," not to be given any "sign of life, it is misery."
And next week, on the last haunted night of the 21 days, in Jewish camps across the distant hills and hollows, the young ones will march in the dark with flashlights and torches to mountain lakes, as if the waters of Babylon, to read Lamentations as they sit cross-legged in the grass. They'll listen to voices, coming through the crickets and shadows: "Her children have gone into captivity...."
It must have been hell for their mothers, too.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Israel received an indirect assurance that its two soldiers held by Hezbollah are alive.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country hosted representatives from the Lebanese militia last week, indicated Sunday that the condition of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser had been discussed.
"It is my understanding that the two soldiers are alive," Kouchner told reporters. "I raised the subject with the Hezbollah representatives. They told me that the talks on a prisoner swap are in an advanced stage."
Israel has said that the two army reservists were likely wounded when they were abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas in a July 12, 2006 border raid. Hezbollah, which has demanded that Israel released hundreds of Arab prisoners in exchange for the hostages, has refused to give details on their state of health.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
"I, the soldier Gilad, son of Noam Shalit, held by the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Mother and father, my sister and my brother, my friends in the Israel Defence Forces: I send you from jail regards and my longing for all of you.
An entire year has passed with me in jail and still my health condition is deteriorating and I need extensive hospitalisation.
I am sorry for the lack of interest by the Israeli government and the army in my case and in the demands of Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
It is clear that they must accede to these demands in order that I may be released from jail.
Especially as I was involved in a military operation under orders and I was not a drugs dealer.
Just as I have parents, a mother and a father, the thousands of Palestinian detainees also have mothers and fathers who must have their sons returned.
I have great faith in my government that it will take more of an interest in me and will answer the demands of the mujahideen.
Cpl Gilad Shalit"
Also take a look an an interesting post from Jewlicious on the video
Israeli boys take part in a demonstration outside the Knesset in Jerusalem marking a year since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was seen speaking on a video released by Hamas.
"I have been in prison for an entire year and my health is deteriorating. I need lengthy hospitalization," Shalit says in Hebrew on the video, which was released Monday.
The recording is the first sign of life from Shalit since a handwritten note was delivered to his parents nine months ago. Shalit's father confirmed that the voice was that of his son.
“His health is good and he's stable. We are treating him according to our religion's instructions on how to deal with war prisoners," Mujahid said, according to reports. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which emphasizes Palestinian rights, called for Shalit’s immediate release.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Ari Shavit, Haaretz, 5-28-07
Every night, Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal tours his city, checking the number of houses with lights on. Last week the number of lights dropped each evening. On the eve of Shavuot it reached a nadir. Whole apartment blocks stood empty. On the street where Moyal himself lives only a few residents remained. At its height, Sderot had a population of 24,000, the exhausted mayor says. In recent years, when the Qassam attacks mounted, the number fell to about 20,000. But now, with the refugees whom Hamas chased out being scattered throughout the country, no more than 10,000 people remain in the city. And suddenly the feeling is that perhaps it has really happened: Perhaps Sderot has been broken.
But Sderot has still not been broken. If the rocket attacks cease, most people will return. Without security, without hope, without happiness - a depressing return to no-choice. So the basic fact remains: Sderot 2007 is a city that seems cursed. A frontier city with no home front. A frontier city with no aura of heroism. A frontier city that the government should protect, but isn't protecting. A frontier city that the nation should be standing behind, but is not. A frontier city abandoned by the center of the country.
It should not have been like this. Sderot is not Gush Katif. There is no debate. On the contrary: Sderot is a "Green Line" city. Sderot is a post-withdrawal city. Sderot is the righteous Israeli city after the occupation. Sderot is the future. Indeed, it is the litmus test that will teach us in real time what we can expect in the future when we withdraw completely. This being the case, Sderot should have been the apple of the eye of all those preaching withdrawal in the past, and of everyone who still believes in withdrawal. Sderot should have been the city of peace writers and peace singers and peace industrialists. A "peace now" city. A city of
All this is not happening. Bank Hapoalim is funding the new emergency center there. But the large sum needed to renovate the city's shelters was raised by American evangelical Christians. The major community work in the city is being done by Hanan Porat. Yitzhak Mordechai is working in Sderot, and Arcadi Gaydamak is amusing himself there in the absence of the center of the country. Enlightened, satiated
The attack on Sderot is a strategic attack on peace. It is an attack on the two-state solution. If the attack succeeds, there will be no chance of any future withdrawal. If the attack succeeds, the occupation will be perpetuated. Therefore, before the great political decision is made on how to act in
At the same time, it should be made clear that there is one law for Sderot and Tzahala: A Qassam on Sderot is like a Qassam on Kikar Hamedina. The insensitivity has got to stop. Sderot has to be defined as the Israeli front line. The struggle for the city should be viewed as both a struggle for Israeli sovereignty and as a symbol of the responsibility of Israelis for each other.
Sderot is us, all of us. We rise and fall with Sderot.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Like vigorous baby boomers who wonder whether their current good health or inevitable decline is the more defining reality, Israelis celebrated their country’s 59th anniversary uncertain about the state of their state.
From the outside, Iranians’ and Palestinians’ genocidal threats – reinforced by a relentless assault on
Yet, this supposedly dysfunctional society is remarkably functional. Palestinian terrorism has been reduced, with the improved security restoring
The magic numbers four billion, 3,186,739, 257,000, 9.2 and 2.7 quantify
• Billionaire Warren Buffett spent $4 billion buying Iscar, part of foreigners’ $23.7 billion investment in
• In a country of seven million people, 3,186,739 Israelis voted in the 2006 election, the
• The percentage of the Israeli economy devoted to the non-profit sector – 9.2 per cent, ranking the county fourth worldwide – illustrates Israelis’ exceptional commitment to charity, volunteering, and tikkun olam, fixing the world.
• Finally, the Israeli Jewish birthrate of 2.7 children per woman represents the highest rate among developed countries. More than 100,000 new babies last year joined a future-oriented, family-friendly, community-building, values-rich society.
Still, the country faces serious problems, many of which are
Whatever explanation people offer for the corruption contagion,
Modern Israelis, like so many of us, are the children of modern consumerism, with television-compressed attention spans and iPod-induced self-involvement that’s balanced out by computer-fed creativity and connectivity. Israelis have to develop a communal ethos that cultivates modern individualism and ingenuity without abandoning a sense of national mission and idealism.
For a people battered recently and historically, the ability to be normal is quite exceptional. Living well truly is the best revenge, a repudiation of Nazi exterminationism as well as Palestinian terrorism. Israelis do and should delight in sharing their modern dilemmas with fellow westerners. At the same time, this celebration of normalcy and the powerful realities of daily living should not eclipse the special dimensions of Israeli life or the country’s unique challenges, even though they appear to Israelis living through them as quite normal, or at least familiar.
The Zionist revolution built on Jews’ exceptional history and sense of togetherness while promoting a vision of national normalcy. Modern
Thursday, May 17, 2007
A Kassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a factory in Sderot on Thursday evening.
The factory burst into flames and firefighters worked frantically to extinguish the blaze.
No casualties were reported.
Elsewhere, Kassam rockets landed in two western Negev Kibbutzim and south of
In one of the kibbutzim a rocket landed on a petting zoo, injuring farmyard animals and causing damage.
Another rocket landed in an open area outside Sderot. No one was wounded and no damage was reported.
By 7 p.m., 16 Kassam hits had been reported in Sderot and the western
Another rocket hit a high school near
A moshav in the Eshkol Regional Council also suffered a Kassam hit. One of its greenhouses was reportedly damaged, but no one was wounded.
SDEROT UNDER FIRE
Meanwhile, dozens of Sderot residents barged into Mayor Eli Moyal's office, demanding his help in evacuating the city.
Israel Radio reported that more than 1,000 people had fled Sderot. Among the evacuees were 90 families with at least one member considered mentally disabled.
The angry Sderot residents stormed into the mayor's office after hearing that the Defense Ministry had ordered a halt to the evacuation of families from Sderot.
Also Thursday, a survey inspecting the shelters in the western
(May 16, 2007
18 wounded as 20 rockets hit Sderot. A young girl from Sderot reacts after her house was hit by a Kassam rocket fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip Tuesday.
Photo: AP )
Israel Radio reported that due to a shortage of funds to renovate the shelters, they were being used to store scrap metal.
Only 36 Sderot shelters are in active use, although they too are in need of extensive repair work, it emerged from the survey.
On Wednesday night, a Kassam rocket reportedly hit a four-story apartment building in the city. Several people were reportedly suffering from shock as a result, while another rocket hit a transformer, knocking out electricity in parts of the city.
Earlier Wednesday, the
A 70-year-old woman sustained serious shrapnel wounds when a Kassam rocket hit her Sderot home, and was evacuated to
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
Yedioth Ahronoth reveals secret IDF report on two soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah last summer. Report says one of troops 'at least' seriously injured, second one is probably dead
Ynet, May 17, 2007
A secret IDF report given to the families of kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev stated that one of the troops was "probably hit by an RPG bomb, and the chances for a person to survive such an injury without receiving immediate complex medical treatment requiring surgical skills are slim."
Regarding the second missing soldier, the secret report stated that "his condition is (at least) serious, after he was apparently hurt by an RPG bomb… and lost a lot of blood.
The report also says that the soldiers probably did not receive medical treatment in light of Hizbullah fighter's need to escape. The injured troops were carried out of the burning patrol vehicle on the shoulders of two Hizbullah fighters and were taken into
The report, which was not shown to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the war, is not based on intelligence information, but on findings at the scene of the kidnapping.
The IDF said in response, "Our work premise is that they are both alive."
The full details on the secret report and additional and surprising revelations from Ronen Bergman's book 'The point of no return' will be published Friday by Yedioth Ahronoth.
Celebrating 40 years of a unified capital
Monday, May 7, 2007
Thousands of Israel supporters marched in New York City. Organizers estimated that some 100,000 people marched with floats and flags up Fifth Avenue through the city's midtown celebrating the anniversary of Israel's founding in 1948.
Among those attending Sunday's Salute to Israel Parade were New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski.
For more photos visit: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/122361
100,000 March for Israel in New York City
by Hillel Fendel
(IsraelNN.com) Over 100,000 Israel-supporters marched up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Sunday in the colorful and spirited annual Salute to Israel Parade.
When it ended, some 20,000 of them packed into Central Park for an activism-geared Israel Day Concert.
Photo: Steven Posner
The parade was led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, accompanied by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky. Various delegations and floats represented synagogues, temples and Jewish day schools from the greater New York area - and even from Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles. The Nefesh B'Nefesh Aliyah organization, Israel's Ministry of Tourism, El Al Israel Airlines, Hadassah, JDate, the Yachad organization of the Orthodox Union, and many more were also represented.
Photo: Steven Posner
Participating politicians included New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Congressmen Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Anthony Wiener.
At the concert, MC'ed by radio host Nachum Segal, keynote speaker MK Effie Eitam (National Union) updated the crowd on the current political, military and social situation in Israel. The event focused on Israel's captives - particularly Gilad Shalit (held in Gaza), Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (both apparently held in Lebanon), and Jonathan Pollard (imprisoned in the United States).
Photo: Steven Posner
Performers included Hassidic-music singers Shloime Dachs, Shlomo Katz, the Piamenta brothers, the Israeli-American trio Yood, Jewish rapper Remedy (Ross Filler), Kosha Dillz, Gershon Veroba, rock-and-reggae band Pey Dalid, and Chaim Kiss.
Photo: Steven Posner
Photo: Steven Posner
Photo: Steven Posner
Photo: Steven Posner
Photo: Steven Posner
Steven Posner's pictures courtesy of Jacob Richman - see more at his website.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Canadian Jewish News, April 26, 2007
Nearly three years later, more than 300,000 have been murdered, and we are still tut-tutting. True, there is enough Darfur awareness that people who want to telegraph their humanitarian bona fides invoke
I used to criticize
Fortunately, some of my students still believe they can change the world, or at least stop the slaughter. One, Evan Malach, organized “The Amazing Benefit Concert for
These initiatives are lovely, creative, inspiring, but will they help? Three years from now, will Evan, Josh and their allies look back as I do on my essay, with an overwhelming sense of failure drowning out what little pride they can muster because they, at least, tried? The answer lies not with them but with the rest of us.
We are overdue for a massive mobilization. We should write letters, make phone calls, contributing our time, efforts, creativity however we can. We should pressure western governments to sanction the Sudanese dictatorship, which facilitates the
We also should help single-issue advocacy organizations connect the dots between their concerns and
The ’60s cliché applies: silence is consent. True,
Israelis wave flags as they celebrate the country's 59th Independence Day, in Jerusalem on April 23.
Casualties from recent Lebanon war remembered on Israel's Memorial Day
"It's a difficult day," Ori Bushari, 26, said on Monday.
Bushari had been friends with Smidov since the day they were drafted together nearly eight years ago and was just a few feet away from him when a Hezbollah mortar shell ended his life on Aug. 9.
On this Memorial Day, known in
Smidov, 25 when he was killed, was one of the 119 Israeli soldiers killed in a war that only recently was given a name: the Second Lebanon War.
His battalion comrades know that the shell that exploded near their friend could easily have hit them.
Bushari quickly sketches out the formation the battalion walked as its members climbed a path north into
The X he marks at the front of the marching line represents the company commander. He was just one behind, to the right of the commander. Smidov was three men behind Bushari.
"We heard the mortar falling, hit the ground and then heard the cries of someone shouting for the medic," Bushari said.
Smidov was badly injured and died almost immediately.
"It's just a matter of luck, it's not something you have control over," Amir Binyamin, 29, said of the mortar fire.
In past years Binyamin said he had attended Memorial Day ceremonies for a former commander, but this year he was compelled to be here, next to Smidov's grave.
"This time I was there when it happened," he said. "I was only a few feet away."
Smidov's grave and the those of other soldiers killed in
There was no room to move Monday at
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke at the ceremony.
"On this special day we are all one bereaved family," he said.
But as members of the reserve unit noted, few people seemed to be listening closely to the prime minister.
Olmert is hugely unpopular and will soon face the findings of the Winograd Commission, which has investigated the way the government and army handled the war.
"It's part of the aftermath of this war and the leadership," Bushari said. "As people say, they hate the state, but they love their friends. That's why they go to reserve duty."
The battalion will meet again next week in the
Professor Yaakov Bar-Siman-Tov, an international relations expert at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the pain this year is different from the past. While it is always excruciating to lose soldiers in battle, most Israeli wars have been fought with the belief that the state had no other choice.
Israelis had the sense that if enemy nations were about to destroy you, "you had to defend yourself, otherwise the country could face total destruction," Bar-Simon-Tov said. "There is nothing harder than burying one's children, but at least there was a feeling that the sacrifice stood for something."
In the case of the war in
Smidov, who was to have started studying architecture last fall, was called up for reserve duty just after returning from a holiday in
Sunday, April 22, 2007
THE JEWISH TRIBUNE, April 19, 2007, p.5
To criticize or not to criticize, that is the great Diaspora dilemma. Those of us deeply engaged in Israel , viewing Zionism as the Jewish national liberation movement, seek ever more involvement in Israeli life. We recognize that the state of our homeland will determine our Jewish future. We know that true love, for countries and individuals, involves seeing the warts as well as the wonders, so we can demand better. Why should we silence ourselves, refraining from criticizing the Jewish state?
At the same time, we Diaspora Jews vote with our feet, choosing not to participate fully in our great national Jewish adventure by living elsewhere. We give what we choose not what we must. We do not pay taxes to the third Jewish Commonwealth. We do not vote in the first Jewish democracy. We and our children do not serve in the modern Jewish army. Given our limited, voluntary investment in blood, sweat, and tears, how dare we dictate decisions about Israel ’s borders, about life and death questions plaguing Israel ’s citizens?
Extremes on the left and the right have been myopic, inconsistent. Traditionally, right-wingers supported Israel “right or wrong,” demonizing dissenters. Starting with the Oslo years, and peaking with the Gaza Disengagement, many Diaspora rightists denounced Israel and the Israeli Army. Meanwhile, too many leftist Jews are what others have called “proud to be ashamed to be Jewish.” These people only identify publicly as Jews to criticize Israel – often viciously.
We could all use some Vitamin “H” – humility. Like all armchair statesman and laptop warriors, I have strong opinions about Israel ’s borders, Israel ’s relations with the Palestinians, Israel ’s strengths and flaws. I happily share them at my dinner table. But even there – and certainly in public – I am humbled by my choice not to put my life, or my kids’ lives, on the line. I do not think it is proper for me to preach to our Israeli brothers and sisters where to draw the line between themselves and their enemies. Under Israel ’s Law of Return I can acquire citizenship instantly and plunge into the debate wholeheartedly. Until that day comes, I choose to stay humble, to keep my opinions on this complicated, existential issue private.
My instincts to be humble are reinforced by the fact that we are not operating in an honest environment. Israel has been subjected to a vicious, disproportionate ideological assault. I am loathe to join the pile-on, and I loathe those who do pile on, attacking Israel without acknowledging Israel’s search for peace, Israel’s willingness to compromise, Israel’s right to self-defense. So I defend Israel ardently, without an asterisk, without feeling constrained by my decision to sit out the border debate, for now. There are so many bigger issues concerning the Palestinians’ immoral decision to turn from negotiations to terror, the world’s amoral acquiescence, the toxicity of Palestinian political culture, the one-sided application of human rights law, the travesty the United Nations has become, the tragedy of Arab autocracy and rejectionism. All these make whatever mistakes Israel has made pale in comparison.
Still, as someone passionately committed to Israel ’s future, for my sake, for my kids’ sake, for my people’s sake, I have no problem criticizing Israel constructively, appropriately, empathetically. I mourn the growing gap between rich and poor, the weakening education system, the epidemic political corruption, Israeli intellectuals’ self-loathing and hypercritical behavior, the Rabbinate’s ham-handed policies which have alienated generations of Israelis, Israeli secular culture’s materialistic paganism, the social, economic, and educational inequities afflicting Israeli Arabs, the harshness of Israeli political culture and street life. All those problems keep my critical faculties more than engaged. Of course, they are balanced out by my wonder at Israelis’ personal generosity, warmth in hospitality, cultural creativity, improvisational entrepreneurship; my appreciation for the remarkable attempts to plant liberal ideas of democracy, liberty, equality in the Middle East’s rocky soil, for the richness of Jewish life throughout the country, and for the idealism, altruism, courage, and humanity I witnessed last summer during the war against Hezbollah..
Thus, just as I avoid opining publicly on military matters, given my fortunate ignorance and insulation from such concerns, I feel particularly emboldened to ply my expertise as both critic and cheerleader when it comes to fostering a vibrant modern Jewish identity, building an effective and humane democracy, nurturing a muscular but moderate middle path. Just as we all could spend more time emphasizing Israel ’s accomplishments not Israel ’s mistakes, we all should spend more time focusing on those areas where our standing is clear, our input constructive, our expertise helpful. North American Jews justifiably bristle when some Israelis cross the Atlantic to lecture us that our communities are dying or that we are not fully realized Jews in the Diaspora. We should extend to Israelis the same courtesy we demand from them.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of Today.