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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

New Eshel Article

Please read our latest addition to Eshel, "Aliya: A Realistic Option", by Avram Hein. Avram is making aliyah this summer with his wife-to-be (Mazal tov, mazal tov!), and writes a moving piece encouraging the American Jewish community to do more to promote aliyah.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Power of Ideas (2)

I just finished reading Yoram Hazony's book, "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul" (see my earlier post). As some background, Hazony basically presents the current trend of Israeli intellectuals to take positions that are in direct conflict with the goal of a Jewish state. He then gives an intellectual history of Zionism, starting from Herzl up to the present day, and shows the origin of the universalist ideas that are so prevalent now, and which threaten the very idea of Jewish nationalism. It is a fascinating read for anyone frustrated with the current trends in Israeli and international politics, and I highly recommend it.

Ariel Natan Pasko, in the comments, that the problem with the book is that Hazony only presents the problems, but does not offer a solution. However, I think he does present a solution in the last two paragraphs of the book. He says that the story he tells...
affords optimism, in my opinion, because it also offers a different lesson: the lesson of how a small fellowship of intellectuals, without the benefit of exceptionally sensible ideas or especially cogent means of expressing them, nonetheless succeeded in changing the life of a nation, against all odds, and despite the deepest longings of an entire people. With this lesson in mind, one cannot help considering what a few individuals might yet be able to do, if their ideas were just a bit more sensible, and if these ideas did correspond in some way to the dreams and desires of our people....

It seems to me that such individuals could even now return to the work that was left undone, reestablishing the idea of the Jewish state on solid foundations, that it might actually become the guardian of the Jews and a source of strength to them. And in this way, too, they might assist the Jewish people to again become a nation of grandeur and a blessing to all who nbefriend them, perhaps even to all the families of the earth. And it seems to me that the Jewish people and its friends among the nations await just such an effort.

I read this as a detailed prescription for what we need to do. Activism on specific issues is important, but in the long run, it is serious intellectual development, especially among the students and young people in our communities, which will make the difference in how Israel develops over the course of our lives. We do have the ability to make the difference, and we don't need to be the prime minister to do so. We need to keep writing, keep teaching, keep talking, and keep blogging, and develop a strong, positive, inspirational Jewish nationalism that we can use as a model for building the future of the Jewish state.
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Sunday, December 21, 2003

The Light That Heals

This year, Hanukkah in Israel seems a bit dispirited. No wonder. After three years of the blood-thirsty intifada, the emergence of a massive movement of global anti-Semitism, and the painful on-going rifts amongst the Jewish people coming to a head, the celebratory spirit of Hanukkah in Israel is noticeably subdued. Post-Zionism has brought to question all the values that Israel once held dear. Some Israelis see the whole Zionist enterprise as unjust, war-like, and imperialistic. We are no longer the heroic Davidic underdog, but rather we are a Goliath-like conquering war-lord who crushes the weak. Our self-image has been alerted by this movement and our values have become distorted. Ariel Sharon's speeches leave one with the impression that the Palestinians indeed have a just claim on the land, and that the State of Israel has somehow dispossessed the rightful owners. The Supreme Court routinely blocks Tzahal from doing what's best for Jewish security; the government releases terrorist prisoners and uproots Jews from their land. Innocent, G-d fearing Jews, are put on trail, detained, and harassed by their own country. The system in Israel has become, in many ways, anti-Jewish. How can we celebrate the Holiday of Lights in this time of darkness?

It is exactly at these moments that Hanukkah comes to strengthen and encourage us. Unlike most of our holidays, Hanukkah is not about a great beginning, a foundation miracle, or a time of atonement. Hanukkah is about Tikkun - about fixing a situation that has gone horribly awry. The Maccabees faced a time when Judaism itself was being totally undermined. Greek Hellenism managed to sway the hearts and minds of Jews away from the study of Torah and the precept-centered life onto a life preoccupied with beauty, secularism, and hedonism. The Temple itself, once a center of worship and holiness, now became the center of lewdness, depravity and lasciviousness. The country-side, which once saw Jews traveling to Jerusalem for the three holy pilgrimages, was now made to witness the desecration of holy sites, holy objects, and holy days. Many Jews threw off the yoke of Heaven and went willingly with the tide of sexual immorality. Others who refused were forced to bow to idols on pain of death. A great darkness descended on the Land of Israel and it seemed that the whole history of the Jewish people was for naught.

It was in such a time when the Maccabees revolted. They managed to push back the foreign influence in the land; they cleansed the Temple, and burned holy oil again on the Menorah. Their victory was as much against the Syrian Greeks as it was against the Jews who supported them and their culture. And it was indeed miraculous. They were few and weak, but they conquered their powerful enemies and captured the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. They put Jewish history back on track.

Therefore we celebrate of Hanukkah not only to mark our great military victory or to remember the miracle of the long-lasting oil. On Hanukkah we Jews celebrate the strength that G-d gives us, to pull ourselves out of darkness, to redeem ourselves from epochs when everything seems to be going down hill, when we all we want to do is to give up, when we have no hope because it seems that all is lost and that it's all our fault. Hanukkah is about rededication, rebirth, and renewed strength, and it is dafka now, a time when darkness has set on the Jewish people and on the Land of Israel, that Hanukkah has its greatest significance. Today the message of Hanukkah is that we can overcome the powerful external forces that are crashing against us, and we can take back the spirit of the Jewish people. With the power of faith in G-d and with firm resoluteness for action, we can defeat the sense of defeatism that is so prevalent in Israel today and we can turn this time of dreary despondency into a time when Israel shines forth as the greatest light the world has ever seen. Israel is the world's sole Spiritual Superpower, and no Jew-hating Osama, no blood-loving Arafat, and no anti-Semitic Frenchman can ever sully or extinguish the pure light of the Holy Menorah which one day illuminate the entire world from Jerusalem.
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Friday, December 19, 2003

Happy Chanuka!

Just a quick post to say happy Chanuka to our readers!

When we pray for sick people, or people in need, we say, "...v'yotziem me'afela l'ora umishi'bud l'geula" - we ask God to take us out from darkness to light, and from captivity to redemption. The double phrase implies a parallel between each matching pair. Captivity is likened to darkness, and redemption to light. The nice thing about light is that a little light i a dark room spreads to the whole room. That's why we use just a little light to do "pirsumei nisa," spreading the word about God's miracle on Chanuka, that of the redemption from persecution of the Jewish people in our land, at the time of the Macabees.

May the little light that we light tonight spread the message of God's redemption of the Jewish people, both old and new ("bayamim haheim, bazeman hazeh"), and may the little light that we are able to spread in our own lives light up the whole world!

Chanuka Sameach!
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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Sharon's Speech

PM Sharon just finished his speech at the Hertzeliya conference. I would summarize as follows: Israel is committed to the road map and the creation of a democratic Palestinian state. But we are waiting for the Palestinians to take actions to stop terror. We are not willing to wait forever, so in a few months, we will start moving unilaterally towards a solution. This will involve evacuating certain communities in Yesha in order to form a retreat line for the IDF. It will continue to be an option for the Palestinians to return to the road map, but they may get less than they would have gotten now.

The problem as I see it with Sharon's plan is that we can't really tell the difference between what Israel will do if the Palestinians cooperate and if they don't. In fact, the latter sounds worse for us and better for them. If they decide to go along with the road map, we will pull out of Yesha communities and support creation of a peaceful, democratic state in the areas from which we withdrew. If they don't go along with the road map, we will also pull out of Yesha towns (albeit perhaps fewer), and leave it the remaining areas a lawless mob, still committed to terror. Either way, we have withdrawals from Yesha communities, and the IDF guarding a border somewhere in the West Bank. What is the difference? Only that in the latter, we can't even pretend to think that terrorism will stop.

I am very happy to hear Sharon say that we won't wait forever. We've been begging the Arabs to accept a state west of the Jordan ever since the Peel commission in 1937, and 66 years later,we are still begging, to no avail. There has to be a limit. And at the point at which we decide to draw the line, we need to make strong gestures to indicate this. But why is the gesture, dismantling Jewish communities in Yesha, the same "painful concession" that we'd make if the Arabs agreed to the road map? Why not do something that shows that we are moving irrevocably in the opposite direction?

A good gesture would be to annex certain areas which we anyway know we will not give up, such as Maale Adumim or Gush Etzion. And, it would not be unreasonable, if this land would include an Arab village, to dismantle that village. People will say this is the start of "transfer," but what is it called when we do the same to a Jewish community?

The reason the two "alternatives" are exactly the same is that we can't seem to think of anything else. The only goal we know is a Palestinian state. We want a Palestinian state so badly that we'll even create one without the Palestinians! Maybe it's time to start considering what our alternative is, the alternative that would be in our interest. Maybe it's time to get back to pursuing the cause of the Jewish state.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Demographic Problem

Netanyahu is quoted in this JPost article rejecting Olmert's panic over the demographic problem:
"Attacking Olmert's argument that demographic problems require a unilateral withdrawal, Netanyahu said the only demographic problem is with Israeli Arabs. He said the way to counter the growing Israeli Arab population is by building a healthy economy that would encourage Aliya."

This is a really important point. (Although Bibi is probably just trying to position himself ahead of a contest for the head of the Likud, I'll just take the statement at face value.) When we started talking about building a Jewish state over 100 years ago, Jews were a distinct minority in the land. I think this was true up until the War of Independence. (If anyone knows where I can get Arab/Jewish population numbers, please post a comment.) But we had a stated goal to populate the land, not because we were already the majority, but because it was our land, and we wanted to conquer it, both through fighting and through mass aliyah.

This is still the case. We continue to fight, but we can't act as if, all of a sudden, current demographics must determine our fate. We aren't going to come to a lasting peace agreement any time soon, but meanwhile, the majority of the Jewish world still lives outside the land. Mass aliyah will continue the Zionist project of populating the land and building a Jewish homeland. If we believe that this is our right in our promised land, then we can overcome the demographic prophets of doom, just as we did before 1948.
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Sunday, December 14, 2003

Yishai on the Aliyah Show

[Aliyah Show]
Kumah's Yishai Fleisher will be on the Aliyah Show with Tamar Yonah tomorrow. The show plays several times a day, and there will be a copy of it on the site after it airs (we'll update the link here).

UPDATE: Here is the link to the show. There's also a special guest appearance by Jason Orenstein.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Life has been busy, dear readers, please excuse me for my long absence from you.

I go to ulpan in Mussrara (close to Shaar Shchem, and to where fellow blogger Ezra lives), and usually walk up to Jaffa Street, and then all the way down to the Central Bus Station to get home, which is about a mile of walking down one of Israel's best-known streets. A couple of days ago, I began my walk as usual, window shopping (okay, and ACTUALLY shopping) and enjoying the feeling of traipsing through a thriving part of Israel where people bustle about their business, filling their store windows and selling interesting wares, when I noticed for maybe the 10th time, but somehow the first time, that... things aren't doing well on Jaffa. Every store is having a sale (okay, for some of us, that's not ALL bad), and merchants follow you around the store, eager to "help" you buy an item. When you leave without doing so, they get a look which it feels like they get a lot - familiar disappointment. So I walked down Jaffa, wishing that I had the money to make some of these people's day better, realizing that even I am in this national monetary situation, and getting a little teary looking at these weary people with their full shops and their empty cash registers. These good, sweet people with stupid hardships brought on by hateful neighbors, ignorant europeans, and a monopolistic government union....

But then I realized where I was. Sixty years ago, we were poor in Poland (or in my case, Hungary). Now we're poor in Eretz Yisrael.

And I smiled. And I realized how hungry I am for a culture of smiling (Israel is not such a culture yet). Lately, I've been sort of saddened by Beit El's lack of interest in me and Yishai - no one's come by, no one's stopped me to ask me who I am,where I'm from, if I'm new to the neighborhood. Why doesn't anyone approach me. So I've decided to be the one who's nice. I decided I'm going to be the one who smiles, and let everyone else deal with that oddity in the street. So I did. Walking along Jaffa, I smiled to myself, and to everyone around me. Some people looked at me as I expected them to - that I'm some suspicious nutbag. Others did the totally unexpected -they smiled back. Don't get me wrong, there was distinctive effort on the part of some of them, seeing as those muscles hadn't been used in a while, but it happened. And they meant it. I also noticed that my smiling made me view everyone else in a much kinder light - everyone was sort of beautiful or quaint or noble in my eyes - by physically smiling, I'd made myself believe it.

Getting on the bus to Beit El, I pulled out my walkman for the hour long trip. A male soldier sat down next to me, which is pretty unusual, as men usually sit next to men, women to women. But I was sitting with this young man and I got this overwhelming urge, with all of my new experiences, to be kind to him. He seemed sort of alone and weary himself, and as I sat, I wondered what I could do for this person. So I mustered my courage and my weak hebrew and asked: "Ata rotzeh leeshmoah?" (do you want to listen?) He turned to me, sort of suprised, looked at my walkman, and nodded. I continued, enboldened "Ata yodeah... Led Zepplin?" (Do you know... Led Zepplin?). He looked at my like "Duh, of course," and I handed over my favorite bustime leisure activity to my stranger/brother, after keying up my favorite Zepplin song for the road: Stairway to Heaven.

And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, my new friend is tapping his fingers and his feet, and I feel that I've given happiness to this person. He reaches his stop, hands back my machine and smiles at me, saying "Todah." I get home feeling that Israel is the warmest place on earth.
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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Power of Ideas

I just started reading Yoram Hazony's "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul". In this book, Hazony, head of the Shalem Center, looks at the influence of Israel's intellectual elite on the development of post-Zionism. This formerly marginalized ideology eventually took hold with politicians, leading to the Oslo accords, and everything that followed. He then goes through an intellectual history of Zionism, showing how an equally marginalized and far-fetched ideolgy at the time, that of the Jewish State, took hold and bore fruit.

It is very enlightening to look at the current crisis in Israel not as a debate over policies (where to build the fence, which communities to uproot, etc) but a much more fundemental debate over ideaologies. I am still reading, so I will post more on this important book when I finish. But so far, I see two important lessons: 1) We must recognize the ideological underpinnings of the debate in Israel, if we can hope to effectively grappple with the issues. 2) The power of ideas. Herzl wasn't nearly as much of an activist or a fighter as he was a philosopher, spreading an alternative philosophy that would lead to the creation of the Jewish State. We mustn't underestimate the power of spreading ideas.

In our modern, connected age, blogs are becoming a powerful tool for just that - the spreading of ideas. I think that Kumah speaks to an ideaology - not just that of making aliyah, but as seeing ourselves as combining a historic return to our roots with the best of the opportunities that the modern world provides, in order to fulfill our Godly destiny. This thinking is rooting deeply in Jewish law, tradition, and texts, and is certainly not unique to Kumah. But it needs to be spread much more effectively both in the exile and in Israel. I hope that this blog will be able to be used as a tool for development and discussions of these ideas, to energize a new generation of chovevei tzion, lovers of Zion.
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Thursday, December 04, 2003

New face for the blog

As the Kumah Weblog is becoming more popular, we decided to make it a more prominent part of our site. Please check back often for Kumah news, commentary, new Eshel articles, and more! Most importantly, please let us know your thoughts in the comments. Do you like the site? What are your aliyah thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with the posts? Anything else you'd like to see on the site? Please use the comments feature and let us know!
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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Today in the News

I woke up early today, took my wife to the bus station so that she could go to ulpan, and then came back to my apartment to prepare for prayer. I turned on the radio to hear the news.

This is what I heard:

The army undertook an unprecedented mission into Rammalla resulting in the arrest of 29 wanted terrorists and the uncovering of a bomb munitions factory.

I already knew that the army was in Rammalla because Rammalla is my next door neighbor. The night before, I heard artillery shelling, gunfire, and the annoying buzz of an army drone flying overhead. So when I heard the news reporting on the mission I was happy that my hunch was confirmed. But then an army officer in charge of the mission came on the radio and he said the following:

'This mission was aimed at destroying the Hamas cells in Rammalla - and it indeed struck a blow to the organization - but its not as though Hamas in Rammalla woke up this morning and had nothing to do - its not like they now don't have the capability to send out a suicide bomber out of Rammalla today.'

The radio announcer came back on and said that now that this mission is over the army can turn its attention to the pressing matter of dismantling outposts of Jews who illegally occupy the Land of Israel.

Then I heard that in Geneva, a group of Knesset members attended a gala event in which a new peace initiative was signed with Palestinians.

Basically, it's the same old story: give up land, kick out the settlers, create a Palestinian state, and have total peace.

We've been down this same road before and we know that it just won't work and it will lead to more Jewish death. These MKs, lead by Yossi Beilin, sit in the opposition because the people of Israel did not choose them, meaning that they have no mandate from the people. Yet they audaciously, and treasonously masquerade as leaders of Israel. With Europe footing the bill, and even the quiet support of the US, this Oslo look-alike initiative is the talk of the town. So here we go again!

Then I heard that the union of workers is threatening to turn-up their three month general strike. Now the hospital workers want to join as well.

The country is pretty much shut down and all government agencies don't answer phones. I know this well because our Aliyah process is not budging. But the workers union is promising that it will get even worse.

So basically there is no security; Jewish guns are about to be turned on the settlers; leftists are willing to take us down the road of suicide and the major powers support it; and internally, the country is shut down with no end in sight.

After I heard all this, I went to Shul, had a nice prayer session, and went to work.

"Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, and teach him from Your Torah, so that you may give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not cast off his people, nor will he forsake his inheritance. But judgement shall return to righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it." (Psalm 94; 12-15)
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