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Sunday, July 31, 2005

You Gotta Have Faith! A Few Pictures from Morag in Gush Katif

The Jewish town of Morag is the southern-most community in the Gush Katif Block, and it is the most isolated. Surrounded on three sides by the Arab towns of Chan-Yunis and Rafiah, Morag has a reputation as frontier land even within Gush Katif. Since the announcement of Ariel Sharon's eviction plan, Morag has seen much blessing: new roads, new streetlights, a new kindergarten, and the arrival of new families.

Many of Morag's veteran families are preparing the second floors of their houses for the influx of residents. This community owes much of its existence to murdered Tourism Minister Rehavam (Gandhi) Ze'evi who fought for its expansion in the Knesset. The agricultural aspect of the community if reflected by the town's name: 'Morag' means 'threshing board,' the ancient tool used to separate out the outer shell of wheat kernels.

See more on Israel National News

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Feature: Optimism and Apprehension in Gush Katif

By Gush Katif Correspondent Yishai Fleisher
Arutz Sheva -

Doron from Gadid is optimistic. He relays the story of Nachshon ben Aminadav who was the first of the Children of Israel to walk into the Red Sea at the Exodus.

Doron says that just as the sea did not split for Nachshon until the waters reached his nostrils, so too, the salvation for Gush Katif will not come until the final moment when all hope is lost. Doron is in the process of remodeling his house - investing time and money in the future of Gush Katif.

Speaking of his neighbors, Doron says that they will not do any packing until they see a soldier knocking on their front door. If that moment does arrive then the townspeople will leave without a fight; they don't want any scenes. Doron and many of his friends recently went on a 'tour of tombs' in the north of Israel, to pray at the gravesites of righteous Jews. Upon their return, their bus was searched thoroughly by police and soldiers for any stowaway passengers trying to sneak into the Gush. Doron was enraged at this didactic search: "What are we, terrorists? You don't even search Arabs like this!"

Elan, a security ranger in N'vei Dekalim, is worried for his five kids. He hopes that his family will not be forced to leave, but he is also seeking government reparations in case the plan does go through. In dealing with the Disengagement Administration, the people in charge of doling out compensation and accommodations for the evictees, he has been met with repeated frustration and nightmarish bureaucracy. He says that although television and radio commercials are being aired claiming that there is "a solution for every resident," in actuality no housing is available and the money is a joke. He does not own much and therefore will not lose much, but he feels lucky that he is not a farmer because "they will lose everything".

Baruch, a building contractor and student from Yatir in the Southern Hebron Hills, moved to Gush Katif with his wife and young son. Baruch uses his skills to help people fix up their houses and their property. He thinks that the Kfar Maimon demonstration was a great success because it was able to draw so many police officers from their other duties."If the police are out here dealing with us, they're not destroying houses in Gush Katif," he said. He believes, and is actively convincing the leadership, that the next demonstration should compose of three separate marches, one heading to the Elei Sinai bloc of communities in northern Gaza, one heading to Netzarim, in central Gaza, and one bound for Gush Katif. This, he claims, will tie up all the forces needed for the planned expulsion. If a group of marchers makes it into the Jewish communities, it will be virtually impossible to forcibly remove them.

Baruch tries to energize others to continue the struggle: "we have run a marathon for a year and half, does it make sense to stop running one kilometer before the finish line?"

David made Aliyah from Arizona and came directly to N'vei Dekalim fourteen years ago. Though he does not speak Hebrew well, he regularly attends a Talmud lesson taught in Hebrew. David recently married and continues to build his home, mostly with his own hands. He loves N'vei Dekalim and the idyllic lifestyle centered around the synagogue and the Sabbath. In his view, the job of Gush Katif residents is to continue living that idyllic life. "The children must go to schools, the women must feel safe, and the men must continue studying and praying." "Our fight", he says, "is the fight against human nature. One either serves the 'Neshama,' the soul, or the 'Guf,' the body. Our government, is filled with people serving the body, serving their own ego."

The happiest population in Gush Katif is the youth, or 'HaNoar,' as they call themselves. Their summer vacation is filled with learning to rebuild broken down houses, planting vegetables, and fashioning beach houses and makeshift synagogues. They also plaster Gush Katif with posters that read: "Smiling is a crooked line that will straighten out everything" and "The old fool rebels against the King - who is he
anyway?" (Sharon being the fool, and the King being G-d). Hundreds of Gush Katif youth regularly go to the Kisufim Junction at night to debate with soldiers and persuade them to disobey orders and not to take part in the eviction of their homes. Yet with all the madness that surrounds them, summer is still summer,and the kids indulge in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, surfing, swimming, and being stung by the inevitable 'Medusa' jellyfish.

The large man behind the counter at the Burger joint in the heart of N'vei Dekalim does not sport a kippa (skullcap worn by observant Jews). When asked whether he thinks things are going to be alright, he asks in return: "Do you believe in G-d? Well if you do, you know that everything that happens is His will, and therefore whatever happens is for the good."

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

To Plant and Not to Uproot

You can hear our latest interviews from Gush Katif:

July 27th - A night at Kisufim Junction

Jul 27th - A Gush Katif Resident Speaks his Mind


Well, we came down in our car packed full of stuff, we flashed our press ID at the three army checkpoints along the way, and lo and behold, suddenly we were smack in the middle of the action.

On our first day here, two morter shells fell less then a kilometer away from us - scared the living daylights out of me. On a subsequent walk with my dog, I found the spent body of a kassam rocket. I realized then that Gush Katif is a place of dicotomies. On the one hand, beauty abounds, sand and ocean, flora and fauna flourish everywhere. The people themselves are also very healthy looking and the houses show style and effort. On the other hand, the Arabs that live locally turn their roadside habitats into garbage dumps. Huge defensive concrete walls jut out and cut the eye. The flourishing life here is juxtaposed by violence, death, and the looming planned expulshion. Regular life, and irregular life exist simultanouely.

Seeing the kassam in my own hand, I realized it was time to take some serious measures. My house was already fitted with one mezuza - but every door needed coverage. I went to a Sefardi rabbi's house in Neve Dekalim, and he set me down for coffee and cake. While I sat, he put the finishing touches on the mezuzot - with a quill, he gingerly wrote out G-d's name "Sha-ddai." The rabbi told me that he had been living in Gush Katif for twenty-two years. Twenty-two years. He had tried his hand at farming, but his hands were more fit for writing holy script. He answered some halachic questions I had about the mitzva of mezuza, he gave a Sefardic style blessing, and handed me five mezuzot. I gladly handed him five-hundred shekel, adding my bit to the local economy.

Putting up a mezuza in besieged Gush Katif is a unique mitzva and a unique pleasure. This place, these towns, these houses, are all slated for destruction. Putting up a mezuza, on the other hand, is a sign of building, of growth, of future, and in this case, of rebellion. By putting up a mezuza, I was sending a clear message: I am investing in this house because it has a future. I pray that there won't be a "Disengagement". Moreover, a mezuza is not like making a stament by buying a new oven. A mezuza draws G-d into this space, it becons Him to enter our life, our home. Finally, the act of putting up a mezuza is a microcosm of our fight here in Israel - we are trying to breath the spirit of G-d into the body of the State of Israel.
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Scenes of Gush Katif as Captured by Our Camera

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

From Bon Voyage to Shalom...

Yesterday, 330 Jews from France made Aliyah through the help of the AMI fund. The AMI fund is a private venture, started with seed money from the Jewish Agency, intended to encourage Aliyah by providing financial support to French Olim, as well as arraigning for "community absorption," where immigrants settle together in neighborhood clusters around the country.

These Olim are part of the 3,300+ Jews expected to make Aliyah from France this year, the highest total in 30 years.
"The main reason is an ideological reason, a Zionist reason," said Arieh Azoulay, chairman of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah and absorption committee, pointing to intermarriage rates over 50% which threaten the next generation's ability to retain its Jewish identity.

"The wave of anti-Semitism [only] enhances the Zionism of Jews in France," he said.

Whatever it takes... We're just happy to be able to say "Welcome Home"!
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Friday, July 22, 2005

We Shall Overcome: From Kfar Maimon to Gush Katif

Over the course of my journey to Kfar Maimon and Gush Katif I witnessed events that have left me with a number of powerful messages that I have taken home with me, and I believe that they clearly express the unbelievable character and strength of the Jewish People, and should serve as a source of inspiration and hope for a brighter future for the Jewish People in the Jewish State of Israel, throughout the Land of Israel.

(To hear me discuss some of them, you can listen to my interview on Israel National Radio (Arutz 7) by clicking here. (In the top part of the page, in the middle there is a section entitled: "The Struggle for Gush Katif - INR special coverage" - Click on Yishai and Malkah Fleisher's show on July 20th. I come on 12 minutes into the show...).

1) Put politics aside for a moment and ask yourself the following question: What cause would you consider important enough to put your life on hold for 3+ days, take off from work, travel hours away from your home, alone or with your spouse and children, have to live in a tent or sleep in sleeping bags, eat non-perishable foods, sit outside in unbearable heat during the day and march through the dark of night - all while going head to head with the government and security establishment?

40,000+ Jews (men, women & children - more on this in a moment) in Israel felt that the struggle over stopping Sharon's expulsion plan, and the battle over the character of the State of Israel (whether it will be a Jewish State or "A Nation like all others") were strong enough causes to warrant taking all of the above steps - and then some.

2) Children in Israel currently find themselves on summer vacation. Generally speaking, over summer vacation, children will go to camp, hang out at the mall, go to the beach, spend time with friends, or pehaps watch a movie... But of the 40,000+ Jews that participated in "The March", I would say that well over 50% (possibly as high as 60 - 75%) were under the age of 18 years old. To me, this says that the current generation of Jews loyal to the Jewish People, the Land of Israel and Torah of Israel care enough to spend their summer vacation involving themselves in the struggle over these causes, instead of just looking to have a "good time".

3) While besieged in Kfar Maimon, the spirit of the 40,000+ Jews was so incredibly high. People were singing, playing musical instruments, learning, catching up with friends, and dancing... It was as if these Jews felt some type of internal confidence, that not only was their cause just, but that in the end, we were going to succeed, and that our success would not come through fighting against our brothers, but by continuing to live as proud Jews in the Land of Israel - and letting the love for our fellow Jews, the Land of Israel and our heritage speak for themselves.

4) It's easy for me, on an intellectual or even ideological level to feel a strong connection towards the Land of Israel, as was expressed most clearly in my having made Aliyah to Israel from New York, but it is not often that I am able to connect with the Land of Israel on a physical level the way I did at Kfar Maimon and Gush Katif. Whether walking through fields to get from Netivot to Kfar Maimon, sleeping on the wet grass without a tent, sleeping bag, or blanket, walking along the Mediterranean coast of Shirat Hayam, and feeling the waves crash against me as I collected seashells, represented a type of personal bonding with the Land of Israel. I truly felt as if I had become one with the Land of Israel, and I have no doubt that that is how most people who participated in "The March" felt, as well.

Many people have the misconception that the Land of Israel is just another land, merely a physical piece of territory with no intrinsic value, and not worth sacrificing for. Throughout the Torah and other major Jewish sources, it is made very clear that without the Land of Israel the Jewish People are incomplete, and they are unable to fulfill their potential as a nation. We learn how the Land of Israel is conducive to the spiritual growth of the Jewish People and is a necessary component of the upcoming redemption - a sign of whose coming is when the Landof Israel gives off its fruits, which can be seen particularly clear in Gush Katif.

To have had the opportunity to re-connect with the Land of Israel has helped to recharge my batteries, and has left me on a high that will hopefully last myself, and all those who participated on "The March" through the coming month, when, with G-d's help we will all be able to celebrate the re-dedication of all of the Jewish communities in Gush Katif.

5) This was not your typical demonstration where people come for a few hours after work, chant some slogans, listen to some speeches and then go home. Many people on the left have questioned why the event couldn?t have been held in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but in asking the question they totally fail to understand the purpose of what took place at Kfar Maimon and the message that it was meant to convey.

"The March" was not a rally or demonstration. The 40,000+ Jews who participated were not asking any politicians to consider a different point of view. These Jews were saying that the current situation is unacceptable, abd we are going to work towards helping to bring about a different reality ourselves. With our feet. With our bodies. With our hearts. The time for speeches has come to an end, and the Jewish people have responded to the call for action.

6) I was blessed to visit the new home of Nadia Matar, co-founder of Women in Green, who has moved with her family to Kfar Yam (in Gush Katif) from Efrat. She and Women in Green have been influential in raising funds, through Minhelet Kela (The Gaza Absorption Authority), that have gone towards fixing up empty homes and structures in Gush Katif in order that Jews can move down to Gush Katif, and create a situation where there are tens of thousands of Jews living in the Gush - too many to be expelled.

(For more info about Minhelet Kela, and ways that you can contribute to this important cause, you can send an e mail here).

Nadia?s home is among those that have been (or is in the process of being) refurbished. When I arrived at her home there were about a half dozen teenagers who were busily involved in building a deck for the back of her home - true Jewish labor. (Again, we see what types of activities Jewish teenagers are involved in during their summer break). This deck will allow Nadia, and many other Jews to sit in comfort while watching the waves crash against the shore, just a few feet away, with G-d's help, for many generations to come.

Another thing that struck me was the contrast between the way Nadia has been portrayed in the media, and how I perceived her. According to the media in Israel, Nadia is a right-wing fanatic who represents extremist causes. What I saw was a Jew who is full of love for the Jewish People and who has devoted her life to ensuring that Israel will be a Jewish State, where the Jewish People will be able to live in all parts of the Land of Israel - proudly, as Jews are meant to do. She, along with many other special Jews who are in Gush Katif today can serve as role models as to what we, both as a nation and as individual Jews can be doing to help the Jewish People fulfill their collective destiny.

7) In Neve Dekalim, I visited another family who has also moved down to Gush Katif and will be staying there until the "victory celebration", as the mother put it. Again, she and her children all came off as being extremely positive and upbeat. This was all the more impressive when I saw the home immediately next door to theirs, which had a sizeable hole in the roof where a Qassam rocket had fallen. When I asked her about, she was able to laugh it off. Her children were among those who were helping to build the deck at Nadia's house, and who spend their days in Gush Katif at the beach, and are enjoying life to the fullest, as Jews, living in the Land of Israel.

I visited the nursery in Atzmona, one of the largest in Israel, a major exporter of plants and flowers worldwide, and there one finds Jews continuing to plant, continuing to build, continuing to make the Land of Israel flourish.

If there is a single message that comes out in all of these stories, it is that the spirit of the Jewish People is alive and well. Yes, we are going through a difficult time period, but I believe that the above examples clearly display that the future belongs to us, those who are loyal to teachings and heritage of the Jewish People, and to the Land of Israel.

Without a doubt we are being challenged from on high, challenged to raise ourselves up to levels that we previously believed to be unattainable. We are being challenged as to how we relate to our fellow Jews, how we relate to our traditions and heritage, and how we relate to the Land of Israel - the three foundations of Religious Zionism - Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael & Torat Yisrael.

After spending 24+ hours in both Kfar Maimon and Gush Katif, I have no doubt that the Jewish People will not only rise up and overcome all of the aforementioned challenges, but we will use them as the springboard towards laying the foundation for a truly Jewish State in the Land of Israel... may we see it speedily in our days.
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Pictures of "The March"

Thanks to Jonny Stein for taking some great photos of "The March", from Jerusalem, to Netivot, to Kfar Maimon.

To see the pictures, click here and here.
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Our Aliyah to Gush Katif

Pilpel the dog made it here too, but the heat gets to her.

We already had our first guests - Miriam and Ezra Halevi

I found a strange toy in the sand not far from my new home...

Oh yeh, and Malkah is here too, thank G-d!

Malkah and I are here in Gush Katif to report on the miracles. We will stay until the victory party. Stay tuned on Israel National Radio. See you here soon!
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Friday, July 15, 2005

You Must Make Aliyah!

Israel National Radio presents special coverage of the July 13, 2005 Nefesh B'Nefesh aliyah flight from Ben-Gurion Airport - This is a great show featuring Walter Bingham, Ben Bresky, Malkah Fleisher, and Yishai Fleisher.

Exclusive interviews with Nefesh B'Nefesh founders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, new Jewish Agency head Zeev Bielski, El Al airline pilots, politicians, soldiers and of course the over 500 new immigrants!!!


Listen to Hour One Download Hour One

Listen to Hour Two Download Hour Two
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We're Home!

Photo of me kissing the Holy ground as I arrive Home taken by the Jerusalem Post!

We have loads more pictures that will go up in the coming days... (hey I just got off the plane!) But in the meantime Nathan posted some amazing shots!
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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

My Recent Miluim - Army Reserve Duty

I was in an intensive three week ATV course down south

Here is some of the other "Prairie Dogs" (nickname for the ATV folks)

It was challenging...

But it was fun; Israel style!
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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Dentists, The Ingathering of the Exiles, and the Jewish Renaissance

I had the privilege this past week of having one of my teeth extracted (after it cracked for the 2nd time). After over an hour of what seemed like hard labor, as the oral surgeon used what seemed like about a half dozen different tools that can be found in any hardware store, I was all stitched up and sent home (with a gaping hole in my mouth - I will spare everyone the pictures).

What made this visit to the dentist a bit more special (or perhaps the only special part of having my tooth extracted) was that the oral surgeon had made Aliyah 4 years earlier from Mexico, of all places. I had never met a Jew from Mexico before, and in between Novocain shots he told me all about the Jewish community of Mexico, and how while life was very good for him and his family in Mexico, he chose to move to Israel in order to find true fulfillment.

Today, I returned to my oral surgeon to have my stitches removed. When he looked inside my mouth, he said that everything "looks good". I asked him if he was proud of his work, to which he responded, "I'm impressed with HaKadosh Baruch Hu's work (G-d), I was just the shaliach (messenger)".

In my eyes, this is what the return of the Jewish People to their ancient and eternal Homeland, Eretz Yisrael, is all about. The ability to synthesize our Jewishness with one's everyday life - and it being so natural is one of the many blessings that one has in living here.

Part of me is actually looking forward to going back to see him in another 7 weeks to get my implant - a very small part...
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Latest World News Photos From Gush Katif

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Operation: Clean Israel

"IDF calls up elite reservists to clean up garbage on beaches" - Ha'aretz.

"And how does the battalion clean the beach? The way only a battalion knows how to: coordinating endlessly, creating timetables and setting up a forward command post and primarily, with a lot of esprit de corps. As is always the case in the Israel Defense Forces, last Friday the soldiers talked about values and willpower. Not a word about disengagement, checkpoints or Palestinians".

Finally, here's a good reason to call up some reserve soldiers this summer. (And I bet you wouldn't be hearing any calls for refusal...)
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Monday, July 04, 2005

The 4th of July & American Aliyah and "the other calendar"...

At some point over the last 6 months I made a conscience decision to begin using the Hebrew calendar as my "calendar of choice". No longer do I ask the question "When does Peasach fall out this year"? or the like (and I find it incredibly frustrating when I am asked that question by others). In Israel, one can use the Hebrew date for most things, like on checks... and on a personal level, I have found more of a connection to everything Jewish now that I have begun using the Hebrew date.

After all, if the Jewish People are truly to be sovereign in our Homeland, and we are trying to create a uniquely Jewish society here, than I do not see any reason why we should refrain from using the Jewish calendar.

All that being said... It was pointed out to me a number of times today, that while according to the Jewish calendar, it is the 27th of Sivan, that according to "the other calendar" (the ?pork? of calendars) it is the 4th of July. As of the writing of this blog, I will not be attending any baseball games, nor will I be having a BBQ (although I am open to any invitations), but I do think that on a day that America celebrates her independence that it is fitting that I express thanks to the USA for everything she gave me.

In particular, I am thankful for having been able t be raised in a free and open society where I was able to learn and grow in my Jewish awareness and identity without feeling like an outsider, and ultimately my having been able to choose to leave America and make my home in Israel, and not out of a desire to flee to Israel as a result of fear, persecution or other difficulties or hardships.

Now, if only the Mets could put a nice winning streak together... Maybe that's what I'll be thankful for next year...
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A Land Flowing with... Pita and Hummus???

Throughout Tanach, the Land of Israel is traditionally described as a "Land flowing with Milk and Honey", yet a recent article in Ha'aretz, entitled "A bit of Middle East in the East Village" has found some other items which can be added to the list.

"Two small hummus restaurants bearing the name Hummus Place - one in East Village and the other in West Village - have become a pilgrimage site over the past two months for Israelis living in New York. Israeli tourists who cannot manage for a week or two without hummus also visit these eateries. Israelis are claiming that this is the first time that someone in New York has managed to duplicate the familiar flavor of the hummus spots in Israel. There have even been some who claim, jokingly or seriously, that now there is no reason to visit Tel Aviv."

Interestingly enough, the founder of the restaurant, Ori Apple, 33, formerly of Kibbutz Ma'oz HaYam, has run into a unique set of challenges in duplicating Israeli dishes traditionally found in a Hummus restaurant:

"When I make Israeli salad, for example, I add extra lemon juice and olive oil," says Apple, "because the vegetables here are a bit bland - the vegetables in Israel have much more flavor."

The biggest challenge, however, says Apple is duplicating Israeli pita - a feat that no one has apparently managed so far.

"I found a bakery in Brooklyn that makes pita very similar to Israeli pitas, but I admit that they are not good enough for me. The pita made here are not good, and I still haven't figured out why. Maybe it's the flour, or maybe the local water. One of the problems is that unlike in Israel, where pita are baked several times a day and delivered fresh to restaurants, here the pita are sent out once, early in the morning, and that's it. I plan to import a small bakery from Israel in order to make our pita. Perhaps that will provide the solution."

As I see it, Ori Apple is right-on when he recognizes the challenge of duplicating the tastes of the Land of Israel in Chutz La'Aretz. Yet, I wonder if Ori Apple's quest to bring the flavor of the Land of Israel aborad is destined to fail. After all, what makes Israel so special is the aura of sanctity that pervades everything that finds itself within her borders - and I don't believe that it is something that can be transplanted.

Good luck, Ori... you're going to need it.
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"A Nation of Aliyah"...

Of late, there has been much talk as to what status foreign workers who have been in Israel for a significant period of time, and in particular the children born to them, who have been raised in Israeli society should be given.

Should they be allowed to stay, and begin a naturalization process that would culminate in citizenship, due to the fact that they (and their children) now feel a part of Israeli society?

In an article this past week in Ha'aretz, "High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein made use of a ruling on Wednesday to add his own voice to the public debate pertaining to a tightening of immigration policy. "The nation's character is that of a `nation of Aliyah' - that is, a nation of return, rather than immigration," Rubinstein declared in his ruling. He explained that the term "immigration" is applicable to a nation "like all other nations," which "is not in keeping with the unique Israeli experience and the Zionist vision." He added that the name of the Minhal Ha-hagira (Immigration Administration) is also not to his liking."

If the State of Israel is to truly reflect that we are in fact a "Nation of Aliyah", whereby the State of Israel seeks the return of all the Jewish people to their natural Homeland, than this can't be reflected only in the State of Israel's immigration policy, but in all aspects of society in the State of Israel that will clearly mark it as the Jewish State, and the State of the Jewish People.
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