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Friday, September 26, 2003

T'ka b'Shofar Gadol L'cheruteinu

[T'ka b'Shofar Gadol]I would like to add to Jason's post below. We say three times a day: "Teka b'shofar gadol l'cheruteinu, v'sa nesh l'kabetz galuyoutenu, v'kab'tzenu yachad me'arba kanfot haaretz (l'artzenu)" - Sound the great shofar to announce our redemption, and raise a banner for the ingathering of our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth (to our land). (Nusach Ashkenaz leaves out "l'artzeinu" - to our land. I say this word anyway, because we must be clear about the destination of kibutz galuyot!)

Why is it the shofar which will announce our return to Israel? The main function of the shofar, as Jason said, is to call us to repent. It is a wake-up siren, waking us from our sleep to a state where we are conscious of our sins. Sometimes, when I wake up, I don't remember where I am, or what time of day it is. It takes a few minutes before I am fully aware. This is the case on the national level as well.

When we in the exile wake up this Rosh Hashana, we may feel like we are at home. But the shofar calls to us to remind us to wake up fully, and realize where we are - we are in exile, that is, not home, not where we are supposed to be. We are not in exile because we have been forced here; we are in exile because we've chosen not to return to the land which God has given us. We can only make this choice if we are not fully awake- if we are not conscious of our exile.

May the shofar this Rosh Hashana awake in us a new consciousness, to lead us to a full ingathering of the exiles to our land!

K'tiva v'Chatima Tova!

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Teshuva - More than just repentance

From Rosh Chodesh Elul, when the Shofar was first blown, through the conclusion of the Neila prayer on Yom Kippur, the main theme is Teshuva - traditionally defined as repentance. When one considers the purpose of teshuva, the idea is that through confessing our sins, experiencing true remorse over having commited them in the first place and resolving not to commit them again in the future, that we are bringing ourselves closer to Hashem.

The Rebbi m'Slonim, in his Sefer Netivot Shalom, says that the purpose of all the mitzvot is for one, through observing the mitvot to become closer to Hashem. If closeness to Hashem is the purpose of performing mitzvot, as well as being the goal of teshuva, then I suggest, that we approach this idea of teshuva from a different perspective.

If our goal (and purpose) as a Jew is to strive to become close to Hashem, then there is no other place more conducive towards this end more so than Eretz Yisrael. Teshuva should be defined, not as merely repentance, but as an actual call for us to return Home - to return to the place where we can experience true closeness with Hashem.

"Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V'nashuva, chadeish yemeinu kikedem" - "Return to us Hashem, and we shall return to you, restore things to how they once were". Hashem has returned to us - He has given every Jew in the world the chance to come home - it is up to us to make the move.

May this year be a year where "V'shavu banim l'gvulam" - "where the children (the Jews) return to their borders".

Shanah tova!
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Tuesday, September 23, 2003


Shalom, Readers! As Rosh Hashanah rapidly approaches, I would like to ask a favor from all of you who care about Aliyah, from all of you who care about the State of Israel, the Land of Israel, the People Israel, all of these or any combination thereof: Push.
Push your friends and family to sign up with us on our website, and with any organization that does its best to help the Jewish people/land. Push them to support such organizations with their time, their money, and their voices. Push them to talk about Jewish issues with THEIR friends and THEIR families. Push them to sacrifice MANY more hours and MANY more dollars, to the point where they wonder whether they might actually be giving too much (the answer, I assure you, will always be "No.").
Push them to move to Israel - it's in them to do it, anyway.

Push yourself. Push yourself to dare to do more than you're comfortable with. Push yourself to take risks for the greater good. Push yourself to try harder, dream larger, sleep less, sweat more. Push yourself to believe. Push yourself to believe that everything will turn out for the best (because, honest to G-d, it will), that Faith will land Goodness right on your doorstep, that you can accomplish more than you ask from yourself, that naysayers aren't any wiser than optimists and that you CAN live in Israel, you WILL find that job and you'll be better than fine, you'll be great.

Push every Jew you ever meet to love you and to love every other Jew that he or she will ever meet. Push them to be as much a part of our amazing people and our amazing land as they can possibly be.

Push yourselves, dear, dear readers, to always, always arise, arise, arise.
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Friday, September 19, 2003

Sharansky and College Zionism

Yesterday, Alex taiman and I trailed Minister Natan Sharansky as he went on speaking tour to Princeton and Rutgers. Accompaning our trip was Tropical Storm Isabel - swirling menacingly above our heads.

First Sharansky enageged students in Princeton. The turnout was lackluster because for some reason, Princeton did not advertise the event. His message was that Israel was the champion of human rights and that the lack of Palestenian democracy was to blame for the situation. In the question and answer session, I asked him where American Aliyah fit into his priorities. His answer was that its a lot harder to break through the "Golden Curtain" than the "Iron Curtain."

At Rutgers, we were all in for a scare when an angry person threw a pie in Sharansky's face. Sharansky was evacuated and the man was violently expelled. Sharansky came back minutes later and he was ok. He gave the same speech as before, but more enthusiastically this time because the room was jam packed with hundreds of Jews. An elderly woman presented Sharansky with a bracelet she wore to support the "Let-My-People-Go" campaign for the release of Russian Jewry. His name was on the bracelet. He accepted it and embraced her, she welled up, and the crowd gave a standing ovation.

This time in the Q&A, I asked Sharansky how we can promote the joint destiny of all the Jewish people, especially Americans and Israelis. He said education was key and that programs such as Birthright must continue. He said that it was up to us to make a difference.

At the two events I handed out hundereds of pins and Alex made good connections with campus represenrtatives for the Jewish Agency's Israel Program Center ( It was really nice to see a whole auditorium wearing "I'm Making Aliyah" and Aliyah Revolution" pins, and it somehow tied everybody together. New Jersey feels more amenable to Zionism than other parts of the Jewish world, probably because of the heavy Modern-Orthodox influence.

All in all it was a great day. We met many beautiful Jews and spread good energy everywhere we went. I liked some of what Sharansky said and I hated some. I wish he had a more positive message and more pro-active leadership for us here in the Diaspora. However, he did speak well and made people feel good about Israel. The Rutgers Hillel, hosted Sharansky under the banner of their year long student led project called IsraelInspires ( Now thats Zionsim!

Thank G-d for days like these. Am Yisrael Chai Vekayam!
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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Why we need to kill Arafat

Yasir ArafatWe need to kill Yasir Arafat. Not just because he is orchestrating daily terror attacks on Jews in Israel, and not just because he is the inventer of suicide bombings, and thus the singular cause for most of the terror in this world. In fact, killing Arafat at this point probably won't do that much to stop terrorism. Barbara Amiel argues in this compelling article (link from LGF) that it's too late to stop terrorism that easily.

We need to kill Arafat because it will be the first step in our national healing process. Yasir Arafat is a major part of the conciousness of every Israeli, and many Jews worldwide. I saw a Maariv headline over the weekend entitled, "Arafat: the man everyone loves to hate." The New York Jewish Week reported last month on a new art exhibit in Israel focusing on Arafat as an Israeli cultural icon.

Arafat was created by us - we brought him back from exile and near-destruction to lead the fight against us. For Jews who need to justify our existence in Israel by our being the weak ones, Arafat is our perennial enemy. Since Oslo was signed 10 years ago, we've had five prime ministers. Rabin was killed by one of our own, to our national disgrace; as far as I know, no one, Arab or otherwise, has even tried to assassinate Arafat. He was kicked out of Jordan and Lebanon for his terrorist activities, but he found a home in Israel. Many times, after major terrorist attacks, we have surrounded him, knocked down his office, destroyed his plane. But he is the only person whom Sharon promised George Bush to protect from harm. He certainly didn't do that for the 1100 Jews killed since Oslo was signed.

We tend to define ourselves by our enemies. I rarely see any article, book, or web site about Israel that does not give heavy focus to the "Palestinians." Most Israel activists in the exile focus all of their efforts on the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the exclusion of all the positive aspects of Israel, and all the historic opportunities for Jews in Israel. In some sense, we need Arafat, because he defines who we thought we should be - the other side of the Oslo agreements, where we tried to make ourselves like any other nation, and where all the anti-Semites in the world were finally going to like us. He also defines the Palestinians as a nation with whom we can negotiate a "peace settlement" that many seem to feel justifies our existence. They say that Israel has a right to exist as a nation not because it is out Biblical homeland, but because we are a democracy which respects Palestinian self-determination and elected leaders. Therefore, we feel we must do so, even if their determination is to destroy us, and they elect leaders who attempt to carry out that goal.

Without Arafat, and the Oslo fantasy which he represents, we'd just be Jews in our homeland. We'd still be fighting lots of terrorist hoodlums, but the Oslo secular-messianic age of land for peace and mutual respect will be forever destroyed, seemingly replaced by the realization that we are, as Bilam said (Bemidbar 23:9), "a nation which dwells alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations."

It is precisely because of this malady that we must kill Arafat. We should publicize to the world all the Jews whose blood is on his hands. We should ask the world to recognize that his introduction of highjacking and suicide bombing some thirty years ago made September 11th possible. Exiling him, where he would continue to be a world icon, or putting him on trial, where he would be a hero during a lengthy trial, are unfortunately not options. His very being represents the supposedly undefeatable terrorist entity in our midst. Thus, we must kill him, and give him a fitting burial for the life that he led. Then, we should move on to building our Jewish state.

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Thursday, September 11, 2003

In Israel

I am a naturally cynical person. Or maybe it's that I was raised to be negative. Either way, I have spent many years, having realized this personality flaw, trying to become a positive person. I have made tremendous progress, I think. A few more years, and I think I may have it down pat. In the meantime, I'm still working.

When things happen like they happened yesterday in Israel, it makes it so much harder. I get a frog in my throat every time I think about it, about the more famous deaths of Dr. Applebaum and Kallah Naavah, z"l, the feeling of your chest sort of sinking and your head hanging as that big sigh takes all the air out of you. It's that "here we go again" sigh where there's nothing to say and even prayer can just seem irrelevant (G-d forbid), where you mechanically turn on the TV to watch the images and here the numbers roll in. That feeling of disgust and loathing like your heart is erupting, and yet the sense that you're just too calloused by all of this to feel anything at all. A feeling of utter weakness and patheticness and sourness - you know exactly what I'm talking about.

But you know, people.... there's only one thing to do.

Get over it.

I don't mean don't mourn, I don't mean don't cry and reflect on what it all means. I don't mean turn the music up and pretend there's no pain and loss, no fear and frustration, and that everything's really great. What I mean is feel it - and get over it. The problem I'm addressing is our tendency to sort of throw our hands up and say "to hell with it all, I can't change any of this, I give up." It's our way of blaming it all on the Government (hey - I'm not saying you're even the slightest bit wrong about that) and saying "what Sharon ought to do is..." or "If he'd only do THIS, than none of this would have ever happened!" or everyone's blanket favorite "This government is sending us right down the drain." Maybe you're right about all of that. Maybe. But frankly, what does that matter - like you said, there's nothing you can do.

Or is there?
For starters, how about not totally playing into the hands of the Arab terrorists, (Imach Shem Am!) and feeling defeated? How about overcoming them AND yourself, and doing something - anything? Say those tehillim, plan your trip to Israel, keep telling everyone Israel's the best country on earth!

And for those of us with higher cosmic awarenesses and senses of national identity - ever thought about totally throwing those bastards for a loop and doing the exact opposite of what they want? Like personally seeing to it that your little corner of the world is all about Jewish unity, building, love and life. Like casting off a life of mournful head-wagging in front of our American TV sets when we see news on Israel, and actually being news makers - IN Israel. Like putting our money where our mouths are and actually going to Israel and making this project work. Like FULLY investing yourself in it by being a real part of it, someone who lives on the Land and is part of everything that is the real Israel. Thought about it?

I have.

So I'll be taking my reformed-cynic, post-crying self to Israel, and I'll be living there, come hell or high water. I hope you'll join me. It's the right thing to do.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

13 Elul - Remember this day

Today was supposed to be the day of Nava Applebaum's wedding to Chanan Sand. Instead, Chanan buried her today, after she was killed last night by a Muslim terrorist. At the funeral, Chanan placed the wedding ring on her finger which he was so eagerly waiting to give her at their chuppah.

Having stood at my own chuppah only two-and-a-half weeks ago, I felt tremendous pain when I read this story. I hugged my wife for a long time and cried, not wanting to leave her to go to work. And I continue to cry as I write this post. I thought of the kinah which we say on Tisha B'av - Eili Tzion v'areha k'mo isha btzireha, v'livtulat chagurat sak al baal n'ureha - Weep, Zion and her cities, like a woman in labor, and like the virgin bride, clothed in sackcloth, mourning for the husband of her youth. What joy is greater than the face of the groom as he leaves his chuppah? And what pain is greater than that of the same groom, mourning for the marriage which will never be consumated?

I also thought of the story of Yiftach's daughter, in Shoftim 11. When she finds out that her father accidentally designated her as a sacrifice, she goes with her friends to the hills for two months to mourn for her virginity. The focus of the mourning was not just that she would die young, but that she would die without knowing the joy of marriage. The story ends by recording that this pain and mourning was so strong, that it became a custom is Israel that every year, the daughters of Israel would mourn for Yiftach's daughter for four days.

We don't know when these days were, and the tradition is lost. But the pain is still there, and every year on 13 Elul, I will cry for Nava Applebaum, whose anniversary on this day became her yahrtzeit. I hope that you will join me, and next year and the year after, when Yasir Arafat will continue to sit safely in Ramallah, and Israeli leaders will continue to wait for Palestinian leaders to start "fighting terrorism," we will not forget, and we will continue Chanan's bitter cry for the lost bride of his youth.

"Devai haser, v'gam charon, v'az ilem b'shir yaron" - May pain and tragedy subside, and the mute will sing with joy.
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Friday, September 05, 2003

Out of the Ashes

The Jerusalem Post reports that yesterday, three Israeli Air Force jets flew over Auschwitz to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The article quotes the leader of the fly-over as explaining, "We pilots of the Air Force, flying in the skies above the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder their silent cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its nation Israel."

I think this unique commemoration is a perfect visualization of how much we have accomplished over the last 60 years. Zionism started long before the Holocaust, and traditional longing for Zion is as old as the hurban. But it was after the Holocaust that the State of Israel became a reality, because it was the turning point between the long era of the downtrodden, exiled Jew, and the Jew who is ready to return to his land and rebuild. The process of rebuilding ourselves as a strong nation is still going on, and is a very difficult process. Our national mentality is still far from what it was in the time of King Solomon, when national pride was at a height, and we were building the first Temple.

But the last 2,000 years were the aberration, not the norm. We are meant to be a strong nation in our land, and we have come so far for this goal since the Holocaust that it is hard to imagine how recent the Holocaust was. Hopefully being strong won't always mean fighting wars, but it will always mean being willing to do so to defend ourselves and our land.

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