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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Today's mass Birkat Kohanim - The Priestly Blessing

Thousands of people turned out Tuesday for the traditional "priestly blessing" at Jerusalem's Western Wall plaza.

The ceremony was led by Israel's two chief rabbis, Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger. The prayer is held every year during the week-long Passover holiday.

The Chief Rabbis

The Crowds

The priestly blessing is found in Numbers 6:23-27. When recited, the Kohen (priest) raises his hands with the palms facing outward and the thumbs of his outspread hands touching. The four fingers on each hand are split into two sets of two fingers each (thus forming the letter Shin)

The Kohanim

The Torah: "Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, in this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them: May the Lord bless you, and keep you: May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. And they shall put My name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them." (Numbers 6:23-27)

When the Holy Temple stands in Jerusalem, the Divine Presence shines through the fingers of the Kohanim as they bless the Jews, and one is not allowed to look out at them out of respect for G-d.

By coming to Jerusalem three times a year even when the Temple is still absent we show our eager anticipation for the Third Temple. Come be a part of it - it's something else!

G-d is calling you Home!!!
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Monday, April 25, 2005

Check out these three great Pesach movies...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Miracle of Aliyah

What is the greatest miracle? The Exodus comprised of numerous of the greatest miracles of all time, ultimately culminating with the very Splitting of the Red Sea. Yet we are taught the miracles of the Exodus will pale in comparison to those that will occur at the Final Redemption during "the end of days" (i.e. today!)

The Passover Haggadah opens with a fascinating, but seemingly unimportant story relative to its prominent position following just after the Four Questions. It is about a Seder conducted thousands of years ago in Bnei Brak:

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining [at a Seder] in Bnei Brak. They were discussing the Exodus all night, until their students came and told them, "Masters! It is time for the morning prayer Shema!"

The Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez discusses this at length. Now we are starting the Seder. We should remember not to rush through it. We see it is proper to go all night discussing the Exodus. But why is it important to write that their students had to remind them to say Shema? It would be better to just write that they went all night?

In truth the "minor detail" about Shema is perhaps the most important part of the story, or more specifically, the fact that the students had to emphasize that it was the morning Shema. Today we know that both the morning and night Shema are identical. But this wasn't always the case, and there was a long running scholarly dispute as to whether or not the section of Tzitzit [fringes] should be included at night since one is only required to wear Tzitzit when they can be seen by the daylight.

This is precisely what the Haggadah continues to discuss. Rabbi Elazer held the Tzitzit portion - which remembers the Exodus - should indeed also be said at night, but he could not prove it until Ben Zoma pointed out a Biblical exegesis. "That you remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life." The extra word all included the nights. The Rabbis went further. The word days itself already includes "mornings" and "nights." The word all is used to teach that this portion shall still be said during the Messianic Age.

Hear this dispute. Ben Zoma held there will be no obligation to recall the Exodus after Moshiach comes. This claim is backed up with the words of Hashem through his prophet:

Behold days are coming... when they shall no longer say, "The living G-d who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt," but "The living G-d who brought... the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries where I had driven them, so that they dwell in their own land." (Yermiyahu 23:7,8)

In other words mass Aliyah itself is such an awesome miracle that it will actually replace the great miracle of the Exodus from Egypt as what will be used to describe Hashem's glory!

We are taught if we are worthy Moshiach will arrive "on clouds" (i.e. amid open glorious miracles,) and if we do not merit it, he will arrive "on a donkey" (i.e. it will appear to be a natural occurrence.) But if he comes "on a donkey" how can Yermiyahu declare that this will be so great it will eclipse the Exodus and become known as the greatest miracle of all time?

The answer lies in how we open our eyes. HaRav Eliyahu Dessler, ZT"L, emphasizes the following fundamental of Judaism:

Nature itself is a miracle. Should someone protest and say that nature is rooted in a cause, we may very well ask him why that particular cause produces such a particular result. Nature is a miracle - but we have become accustomed to it.

Were we to be told that a man died, was buried, that his body had rotted in the ground and that the grave had opened and he had come forth, we would exclaim, "A miracle, a revival of the dead." Yet, when a seed is planted and grows forth after it has rotted in the ground, is that not, too, a revival of dead? Bury the lobe of a calf's ear deep in fertilizer. If a full-grown cow were to spring up, that's a miracle. When a full-branched tree grows from the planting of a small shoot, is that any more natural? But to one we are accustomed and see it as part of nature; to the other we are not and name it a miracle. (Haggadah Gedoli Tunoas HaMusser, P.104)

Were we to open our eyes we would realize to begin with the great miracle the survival of the Jewish People! We are not a large population in comparison with the rest of the world. In the words of Mark Twain the Jewish People are but "a nebulous dim puff of star-dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way." For thousands of years this "star-dust" has been thinly scattered over the four corners of the earth. To survive after such an extended period under such conditions is itself a miracle. But to be completely gathered up and returned to our Homeland? Who can fathom such a thing? Open your eyes! Mass Aliyah is the greatest miracle ever!

Even the Rabbis that dispute Ben Zoma agree that the Final Redemption will certainly overshadow the Exodus. The Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez quoting from Gemarah Berochot explains the position of the Rabbis:

The prophet does not mean to say that the Exodus will be forgotten completely. He is merely saying that when the Messiah comes, the Exodus will become secondary. Although the miracles of the Exodus were very great, they will be like nothing compared to the miracles of the final redemption when the Messiah comes. Furthermore, after the final redemption, there will no longer be any exile or subjection for the Jews.

May the Jewish People merit opening our eyes and seeing the Miracles that Hashem is performing for us today by giving our generation the opportunity to make Aliyah. May we all return Home without delay. And may we come to thank "the living G-d who brought... the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries where I had driven them, so that they dwell in their own land." Amen!

Chag Kasher V'Samayach!
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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Pre-Pesach Photo Montage (intended to make you miss Israel)

A rare moment of pure old-school Zionism

Ze'ev gets political at the National Union Convention

Pilpel (Pepper) the Dog

The flowers outside my caravan

Malkah does her shopping for Pesach at Zol-Poh

Mmmm... The taste of Israel!
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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Back to the Basics: Let's Go Home!

This past Sunday my neighbor donated a Sefer Torah to one of the local Queens synagogues. As is the age old custom, a "welcome ceremony" known as the Hachnasat Sefer Torah was held. Here, all rejoice over the huge Simcha of the completion of a brand new Sefer Torah. And what a beautiful Hachnasat Sefer Torah it was! Live Jewish music being played from the back of a colorfully decorated truck, blasted through the area. Some Jews wore equally colorful festive robes.

Scores of local Jewish children held torches as hundreds of Jews marched through the neighborhood. As we past more and more houses, the number of marchers grew. There was much singing and dancing in the streets all along the way as the joyful precession made its way from my neighbor's house to the synagogue about a half a mile away.

And what a medina shel chessed! A true nation of kindness! Not only did lots of New York's Finest escort us all along the way. They actually stopped traffic at every intersection, including at two major thoroughfares, just so we could march and dance through safely!

Where else in the world throughout history were Jews able to stop traffic and dance in the street with torches flaring and music blaring?

And that's the catch. With all this kindness we receive in America it becomes so very easy, so very very easy, for us to forget we are not Home. A while ago, as a public service, Kumah posted some printable handouts that sum things up nicely. One flyer reads:

Dear America,
Thank you and Shalom.
We have to go home now.
Your Friends,
The Jews

It's important to get back to the basics and to remember while America can provide us with almost everything we need to be good Torah Jews there is one small thing that she will never be able to provide us. (See it in Yishai's post below.)

Let's go Home!
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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Just Came Back From The Golan....

...and I think American Jews are crazy for continuing to live outside of the Land! With all the issues this country has, and I know it has issues, this is the place to be. No, Israel is not falling apart, it's going through a transition phase, not unlike a teenager; and no matter how unpleasant it seems, this period shall pass. The project of the Jewish people, i.e. returning to our Torah, our Land, and our People is moving forward. Don't be caught being an unbeliever! The country is beautiful, and so are its people - so come home, we're waiting for you...

Psalm 133:

1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
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Monday, April 04, 2005

A step-by-step guide to the dismantling of the Jewish State

JPost - This Way Out
By the first week of summer, the whole region surrounding the Gaza Strip will look like a vast freight yard: crates and boxes and pyramids of supplies piled on roadsides and in fields, with tanks and guns, trucks, shipping containers and strange machines, bulldozers and cranes, armored buses and jeeps creeping unsurely along the tight roads.

Among the towers of war material there will also be refugee camps for Jews.

Read the whole thing. It is a very long, detailed description of the exact plan for the beginning of the dismantling of the Jewish State. The cold and calculating language could have been crafted by Titus' generals. But instead, it was devised by our government. You really need to read it to appreciate the magnitude of what is about to take place.

And, as if it wasn't enough, according to the article, the evacuation of Gaza is slated to begin on 18 Tammuz, the day after the fast of Shiva Asar b'Tamuz, the day that Nevuchadnetzar breached the walls of Jerusalem. It is slated to take - guess how long - three weeks, in time to begin the evacuation of Northern Samaria on the day after Tisha B'av. This was planned by the Jewish government; surely they are aware of the symbolism. But it works for them - it shows the "Messianic fanatics" in Yesha that they lost - the Temple of the settlements has been destroyed, and the secular Zionism of old has been victorious.

I seem to be the only one on this blog who keeps posting about these depressing topics. I'm also the only one on this blog who, by the time Shiva Asar b'Tamuz rolls around, will still be living in the exile. (Although I look forward to the day that my wife and I will return to the land, we can't do so just yet.) But maybe the fact that so many people are actively participating in the building of the land will be able to counteract the forces who are actively plotting her destruction.

All summer long, the planes will be arriving. And that is the only reason why this Tisha B'av won't be like the past ones we commemmorate every year.
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Sunday, April 03, 2005

NBN wants YOU for Aliyah in 2005 !!!

Dear Kumah,

NBN wants you to make Aliyah in 2005 and therefore they have prepared better financial packages and lifted all deadlines. 2005 is the best year to make Aliyah and you can be part of it!

Here is what they write:

Nefesh'B'Nefesh, a non-profit organization, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency, promotes and facilitates North American Aliyah by providing financial, employment, and social services? in return for nothing more than your commitment to establish your life in Israel.

Since our inception in 2002 we have made Aliyah possible for over 5000 North Americans. We are now anticipating a history-making Summer as we usher in six chartered Aliyah flights.

In celebration of this monumental Summer, Nefesh'B'Nefesh is increasing the momentum of Aliyah by offering for the first time, the Special Financial Enhancement Package for Olim making Aliyah within 2005.
All deadlines have been lifted and there is still time to apply and be part of one of the six flights this Summer. Alternatively this package is also offered for the Fall and Winter. Simply go to NEFESH'B'NEFESH and download your application today.

If at this time, you're exploring Aliyah and want to know more about life after Aliyah, your options, available opportunities, basic facts and general information contact us at 1-866-4-ALIYAH or

ALIYAH... It's Easier Done Than Said
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French youngsters considering Aliyah

By Miri Chason From Ynet

TEL AVIV - About 50 percent of French youngsters say they have experienced anti-Semitism in the past five years, and a third say they are interested in moving to Israel soon, according to a survey released Thursday.

The poll, undertaken by Eric Cohen from Bar Ilan University, also shows 75 percent of French teenagers believe their future is not in France.

About 125,000 French Jews visited Israel in 2004, the survey found.

More than half of adult poll respondents, meanwhile, said their children attend Jewish schools. About 75 percent said they would want to be reborn as Israeli Jews, given the chance.

Security situation not a determining factor:

According to a sample of 2,000 tourists, half believe they would move to Israel in the next five years. About 28 percent estimated they would remain in France, but 70 percent said they wanted their children to study in Israel.

About 2,400 French Jews moved to Israel in 2004, mostly because of anti-Semitism in France. The two biggest obstacles faced by French immigrants are the economic situation in Israel and family considerations.

The survey also found that security considerations are not a determining factor in the decision to make Aliyah to Israel.
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A different kind of Aliyah

So this one isn't my brain child, but I was laughing out loud, so I thought you guys might enjoy it. How does this story relate to aliyah?

1. Aliyah isn't just about Land, it's about progress, about moving forward. This is one man's story of Jewish progress. Who knows - maybe he's in Israel now.
2. I made Aliyah from Manhattan, the scene in which the story takes place. Coincidence? Yes.
3. Israel is truly a Kosher Delight.
4. Chabad - next to Kumah, the most powerful grassroots activist organization in the history of Judaism. :-)

Hell's Kitchen
By Matt Brandstein

By my mid 20s, I had effectively become another one of those unaffiliated Jews working deeply within the sitra achra (dark side) of Hollywood, vigilantly dumbing down civilization with entertainment goods so tasteless that their mass popularity was even more alarming than their utter lack of content. A lifelong diet of secular fanaticism in addition to the intellectual contamination from my thankless job had eventually caused such a debilitating case of spiritual attrition that, out of sheer desperation, my neshamah (soul) began a grassroots style protest campaign to take down my decadent lifestyle.

The mantra of a beloved Chabad rabbi with whom I had crossed paths months earlier in Times Square took hold of my thoughts as I bit into a crunchy BLT sandwich.

"You are what you eat!" shrieked his phantom voice as hot bacon grease scalded my hungry fingers. The snack was meant to be a quick fix comfort food for my clich?d feelings of generation x apathy, but the words I heard were an enduring revelation that prompted me to reflect deeply on my poor menu choice.

"I am a Jew... not a pig," I told myself through guilty sobs as I spit my last delicious bite of treifness into the garbage, which I then proceeded to throw into the bigger garbage outside on the street in the middle of the night just to hammer home the point. Diet had to be the single most practical area to achieve miraculous transformation, at least according to the hype. The media messages of life altering results and vibrant health promoted by the mega billion dollar weight loss industries finally made sense to a skinny guy like me.

While climbing up the five flights back home as a newly non-bacon eating Jew, I prayed that something as fundamentally important as kosher might provide me with the kind of practical salvation from the quicksand that had been drowning my integrity.

My sights turned to my shabby tenement kitchen, laden with the contraband ingredients and illegal concoctions, all set amidst a thick layer of residual grime that seemed to cruelly emphasize my culinary transgressions. Radical research was required to learn the legal ins and outs of preparing not just me but my home for proper Jewish use. Going kosher was certainly not the most common task in Hell's Kitchen (the actual name of my midtown Manhattan neighborhood), but I wasn't going to let a Satan get in the way of claiming my Jewish birthright...

A few days later, I gathered every dish, pot, pan and utensil in my kitchen, as well as all of the contents of my cupboards, fridge and freezer, and smashed it all to irrevocable bits. Normally, I would have been a bit more philanthropic with their removal from my home, but as a novice to Jewish life, I needed a visceral rite of passage to embrace the significance of this change, not to mention the brief catharsis destruction provides. A small part of me also wanted to eliminate the risk of another unaffiliated Jew inheriting this full kitchen set of spiritual troubles.

It would have been practical to send out a general press release announcing my new dietary restrictions to alert all of my relations, both professional and personal, with whom dining was an integral activity, but instead I just avoided everyone and spent most of the first two months of going kosher by myself in a corner booth on the second floor of the now defunct Kosher Delight on Sixth Avenue and 46th Street in midtown Manhattan. I tend to be a bit of a neurotic loner anyway, so disappearing into a world apart from my mainstream one didn't set off any alarm bells with those that know me well.

"I can eat sushi every meal and never get sick of it" is one of those innocuous phrases that upwardly mobile people with enough petty cash to regularly eat the stuff seem to repeatedly declare as they dig into their sixth or seventh piece. I bet they would eat those very words after, say, their twenty-second piece on the third day of the nothing-but-sushi diet. If one were actually crazy enough to voluntarily consume the same meal for the rest of their life, my own personal field research has lead me to believe that there is nothing more fitting for the task than the Kosher Delight snack box. This manna from heaven, consisting of crispy fried chicken and french fries, is flavor loaded with enough sodium enhancers to leave the taste buds relentlessly craving for more.

On the occasional treif restaurant outing with family and friends during my kosher-keeping debut, I always seemed to be at midtown hotspots within the ironic proximity of my beloved Kosher Delight. Not ready yet to declare my forward shift into Jewish observance, I simply feigned a lack of interest in eating to the curious amusement of my fellow diners. My rapidly expanding waistline from several weeks' worth of tens of thousands of snack box calories made even the overprotective secular Jews in my life back off from forcing me to order from the menu. However, I did manage to raise a few eyebrows, when, in some of the fancier restaurants, I insisted upon drinking my sodas from the can.

"I have a terrible germ fear. Who knows if they are really properly washing those dishes," I questioned aloud, thinking it better at that stage to sell my mental instability than my religious stability to a group that didn't seem too keen on Jewish orthodoxy.

While riding the D train back home from the Broadway Kosher Delight on an early Friday afternoon, I had my first moment of validation that I was actually going in the right direction with this dietary switch. It wasn't one of those Hollywood style Divine Providence testimonial-making moments that I heard about happening to others, but it was enough of an impetus for me to continue taking further steps towards a more Jewish life.

I pulled out a little booklet that a Breslover Chassid had handed me earlier that day while at my restaurant's counter ordering my ten-thousandth snack box to go. I glanced at the book's title, which was neatly printed under a gloriously illustrated crown. I roughly remember it was something like "You too can be happy!" I frowned and thought to myself, I am actually terribly unhappy, but it's still seems like quite a chutzpah to hand a guy a book that just assumes everything in his life is still in the "before" stages. I wanted someone for once to just make an assumption that a zero like me actually might already be an after.

A Chabad student then entered my subway car at 42nd Street. To make room for him, I quickly removed the food bag from my adjacent seat, allowing the beloved waft of snack-box vapors to (as the restaurant's name promises) kosher delight me. The steam tickled my face. As I went to scratch, I felt the unpleasant bump of yet another zit. Suffice it to say that eight solid weeks of fried food doesn't bode well for a healthy complexion. G-d only knows how my arteries survived!

As my eyes rolled up towards the heavens in self-disgust, I made eye contact with Dr. Zizmore, known to those in the New York metro area as Dr. Z, the famous dermatologist to the non-stars and not so rich. Granted, this was not actually Dr. Z in person, but his happy face plastered on a subway advertisement for his busy Fifth Avenue clinic.

Directly below Dr. Z., within the same ad panel, was a striking example of a young woman with terrible acne pocked skin. Fluorescent lighting and a lack of cosmetic cover-up painfully highlighted the callous texture of her ravenously destructive condition. The adjacent photo to the right showed the obligatory miracle of this woman's "after" look. Her transformation afforded her an unnaturally smooth skin tone. Not only did she have her zits sandblasted off her face, but she went in for the extra few bucks and had all of her pores surgically removed as well. Selfishly, I didn't care about her improved complexion. I just envied her success.

My anxiety level began to rise. I nervously pulled on the brim of my cap, shading my eyes from Dr. Z's pitchwoman's taunting smile. I focused again on my little booklet as the train chugged towards Times Square. Its pages promised the secret to achieving happiness, but by just contemplating its premise, I felt impossibly stuck against the enormity of my pressing discontent. I was still just a fed-up before in the same vein of the acne pocked lady. Unfortunately, dermatology can't yet heal the scars on one's psyche.

The young man sitting next to me cleared his throat with a subtle cough in preparation for speaking. He looked at my Kosher Delight bag and then up at me with polite concern. For once, there was not an "Are you Jewish?" uttered, as I have learned from experience to be a standard line in the realm of introductory outreach dialogue.

"Excuse me, what time does Shabbos come in?"

I hadn't yet figured on any sort of Shabbat observance at this point in my Jewish identification reclamation strategy. I was still trying to get down the fundamentals of kosher. Unexpectedly, while contemplating my response, the proverbial cartoon light bulb appeared to clarify my muddled thoughts and provide me with an unexpected jolt of excitement.

Something as transient as my Kosher Delight snack-box-to-go bag gave this young man the impression that I was an actual participant in our shared faith. Never in my life had someone asked me even anything remotely related to Yiddishkiet, and this man, an actual Chabad chassid with such visibly impressive religious credentials, made an assumption that I might be in possession of something as valuable as candle lighting times. The ascent my neshamah took at that moment sent my heart racing.

The encounter must have been fully irrelevant for him in the grand scheme of his hurried day, especially when I shrugged my shoulders and responded, "I'm sorry. I don't have a clue." But for me, it was a confirmation of my spiritual progress. I walked off the train feeling more inspired to continue my pursuit for meaning through a Jewish life. As that day faded into Shabbat, I even felt just a bit like an after at a time when I sure needed it.
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