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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Am I more "Modern" than "Orthodox" / Am I more "Religious" than "Zionist"?

Just like most Modern Orthodox Jews growing up in America, I had a TV in my home, went to movies, followed (and played) sports, and basically allowed myself to partake of all that American culture offered (so long as it didn't conflict with my religious beliefs - or at least not too much). Generally speaking, up until my graduation from high school the conversations that I had with friends revolved around my areas of interest, as stated above.

(Shoshana, of Sweet Rose, has an excellent post entitled "Comparison and Contrast" where she questions whom she has more in common with, the Chassidim who frequent the neighborhood where she works, or her secular / non-Jewish co-workers. (Check out the post to find out her conclusion).

Now that I live in Israel, I no longer define myself as being a Modern Orthodox Jew, but as a Religious Zionist Jew (not that I am a big fan of labeling myself at all, but that is for another post). I do not have a TV in my home, I am more selective of the movies that I watch, and while I still follow US sports, they are not as important to me as they once were. Generally speaking the theme of the conversations that I have with friends revolves around the future of the Jewish People, the challenges that we face, (particularly relating to those here in Israel), and what we can be doing to overcome them.

I am not sure if I would still consider myself to be "modern", although, if I am not "modern", than what am I? I can't claim to be up on the latest in Israeli culture (music, TV, movies...), nor American culture for that matter - and I do not feel that I am any worse off for it. On the other hand, I can't say that I fit into the ultra-Orthodox world either. My clothes are not their clothes, I don't speak Yiddish too well, I imagine that I am not as strict in Mitzvah observance as they are (I do not know if an ultra-Orthodox Jew would eat in my home, even though I would eat in his), I value interacting with the surrounding world (with those who are different from me, and who share different beliefs than I) and involving myself in shaping Israeli society as opposed to spending my days immersed in Torah study (and only Torah study). In that sense, I do have much in common with the secular Israeli Jew.

I encounter the same dichotomy in labeling myself as a Religious Zionist. I do believe that the State of Israel (and the Land of Israel) play a central role in the "redemption" of the Jewish People, just as the secular Zionist does - granted our definitions and vision as to what the redemption of the Jewish People are exactly may differ slightly. On the other hand, I do not believe, when a conflict exists between Jewish Law and the rule of law in the State of Israel, that the authority of the State is superior. I do not believe that Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel has entitled the Jewish People to determine for themselves which parts of Judaism are and are not relevant in the shaping of Jewish / Israeli society in the State of Israel - similar to the ultra-Orthodox Jew.

So, at the end of the day, who am I? Whom do I have more in common with, the secular Israeli of Tel Aviv or the ultra-Orthodox Jew from Meah She'arim? Whom should I be striving to have more in common with?

My goal has never been, with my making Aliyah, to become Israeli . I am just a simple Jew trying to fulfill my individual potential in this world, and trying to collectively help the Jewish People achieve theirs. I view both the secular Israeli, as well as the ultra Orthodox (chareidi) Jew as my brothers, regardless of the differences that we may have, and I can only hope that they feel the same way about me.

Israel Perspectives: Feeling 'Right' At Home

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Planting, Not Uprooting!

While some people prefer tearing down and uprooting it's nice to know there are plenty of good people that prefer building up and planting.

I'm proud to say I'm living with many of them at Ulpan Etzion. See, there are signs up all over the country about volunteer opportunities to help the homeless of Gush Katif. (Why CNN doesn?t report the humanitarian crimes committed here and why Amnesty International remains silent as well, is beyond me!)

Well one fine student here organized a group to go and volunteer to pack food and supplies for the victims of the Gush Katif crime. But when we were all set to go there we were told that they no longer needed any more volunteers for that particular task. (The outpouring of help in this country is truly heartwarming!)

But, we were told there were other ways to help. For example there was this farmer from the paradise settlement of Ganei Tal.
He owned no less than 40 greenhouses (often poorly translated from Hebrew as "hothouses") in Gush Katif. Today he owns just 7!

And so today we found ourselves off to this tiny little blip on the map called T'Kumah (nice name, but not related to about a five minute drive from Netivot.

See the farmers were forced to relocate and time was very critical because they were trying to salvage the last few weeks of the summer season.

This particular greenhouse specialized in flowers - in Gush Katif they would export all sorts of flowers all over Europe.

There was a lot of work do to getting the "new" site set up. And they were rushing to get it all done by Friday ? not just because the ideal summer season is coming to an end but also because the "bein hazmanim" vacation is almost over and many volunteers will be back in Yeshiva soon!

So there were loads of flower pots to fill, with no time to waste.

They had some of us "Bannim" work separately on larger flower pots. In the top picture is a guy from Canada along with a guy from Britain. That bottom picture is my partner from Turkey. And today we all live together in Baka, Jerusalem!

We filled A LOT of pots. (By the way the fertilized soil they use comes from the Golan.)

By A LOT I mean THREE of these tables. (They are even longer than they look!)

With Hashem's help soon those pots of dirt will look like this! (Truly the Wonders and Miracles of Hashem!)

And this...

Planting sure beats uprooting!
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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Musings from an exile with her eyes open

Email from Chashmal28, in India:

to live outside the holyland

as i sit at the computer reading of the tragedies happening to my people my country, tears course down my cheeks.

feelings of pain, wretchedness, helpless flit across my consciousness.

how can i just sit here, in my silly bubble of security, my illusive world of safety while my people suffer so??

i know if only i was stronger, more determined, more adamant, i'd be getting up off this chair and going to israel, DOING something, ANYTHING.

i mean, there must be something i can do.

could should yet am not.

here i am sitting so far away, with the option of closing out the hell of my people and instead tuning in and focusing on my own uneventful, meaningless and mind numbing life so far from my homeland.

how is it possible? how can i just choose to sit here ?

it is and i am.

galut [exile -ed.]
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Friday, August 26, 2005

Making the Desert Bloom and the Future of Religious Zionism

Of the many accolades attributed to the early Zionist pioneers was that they were able to (with the help of G-d) make the desert bloom. For nearly 2,000 years the Land of Israel was an uninhabitable wasteland.

Mark Twain, who visited the Land of Israel in 1867, described it as:
? ...[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse....A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action....We never saw a human being on the whole route....There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.?

There are calls now for the Jews who were expelled from Gush Katif, today's pioneers, to go and take their expertise of making Gush Katif bloom to the Negev and fulfill the age old dream of Zionism.

Avrum Ehrlich, in todays Jerusalem Post states:
Developing the Negev has long been recognized as one of Israel's top national missions. Israel's leadership must admit what we all know: Only a community of faith, comprised of determined, selfless people, possesses the wherewithal to achieve this mission. I'd like to believe that such a project could capture the imagination of thousands of former Gazan Jews..

I am troubled by this suggestion for a number of reasons:

1) If developing the Negev is a "mission of national importance", why is it that it is unrealistic to expect all of Shimon Peres' followers in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, all of the Kibbutznikim, and all of the left-wing youth movement graduates to be the ones to take up this call?

2) Clearly Prime Minister Sharon and his followers have failed to read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Why should the Jews who have been expelled from Gush Katif involve themselves in any missions of behalf of the government of Israel? If the government truly believes that Jews such as the one's they expelled from their homes in Gush Katif that are crucial to settling and developing the Negev, wouldn't it make sense to treat them with a little bit of honor and respect? The old adage of "One can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar" applies here.

3) The Jews who settled in Gush Katif and the northern Shomron were also on a "mission of national importance", as were the Jews who were expelled from Yamit. One thing that has become very clear in the State of Israel is that the "missions of national importance" to one generation are a burden that must be cast off by the next.

I am all in favor of Jewish pioneers, such as those expelled from Gush Katif to lead the way to the development of the Negev, along with all other parts of the Land of Israel, but let us not make the same mistake this time around of being the "suckers" who are always doing as they are told. If we are to lead the way in settling the Negev, then it will need to come along with the Religious Zionist camp beginning to lead the nation in other areas as well. The time has come for the powers that be in the State of Israel to recognize that they need the Religious Zionist camp, their pioneering spirit and their rootedness to our Jewish heritage, if the State is to have any future.

Israel Perspectives: Feeling 'Right' At Home
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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Gush Katif Events In Queens NY

The Emergency Relief Committee for Gush Katif presents

Experience Gush Katif

For us it may be over. For the families of Gush Katif, it's just the beginning -

Assemblyman Dov Hikind

Rivka Schuman,

resident of Kochav Hashachar, a pioneering town northeast of Yerushalayim

Introductory remarks by Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld

A panel will follow

Monday August 29th at 8:30 pm
Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills
150-05 70th Rd.

Myth ...The Jews of Gush Katif have been well compensated for their move.
Fact.... Not one family has yet received a shekel. Most of these proud homeowners are now living in scattered hotels like squatters with no government assistance.

Hear from our panel why in fact our support is needed now.
Donations from your generous contributions will go directly to the families of Gush Katif and the institutions they must now rebuild.

For questions or more info call 718 380-6427


Benefit Concert for the Families of Gush Katif featuring

Blue Fringe

Wednesday August 31st 7:00 pm at the
Cost: $20
Spaces are limited! Reserve your tickets now!
Call 718-380-8491
Concert At
Young Israel of Holliswood
86-25 Francis Lewis Blvd

Raffle!! Win a free i-pod

Co-Sponsored by
Sushi Metsuyan
Young Israel of Holliswood, Young Israel of Jamaica Estates,
Utopia Jewish Center, Hillcrest Torah Center
Anonymous Donor

All proceeds go to the families who have been displaced from their homes in Gush Katif and the Shomron.
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Amidst the Disengagement Darkness, Aliyah Light Pours In

Click here for photos of a modern-day exile.

Then click here for photos of the continued ingathering that no politician or terrorist can stop - the great revolution that is Aliyah.
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The State of Israel: A Failed Experiment?

In response to a recent posting on the future of the State of Israel, in particular of the need of the relgious Zionist public to devote our energies towards working together with our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters to rebuild Israel as a Jewish State, I received the follwoing E-Mail from a thoughtful Jew in America:
While there were undoubtedly some misguided, but well-meaning, Jews who thought the expulsion plan was good for Israel, I fear the majority who supported the plan were those who oppose the national religious segment of the Jewish population in Israel and their supporters abroad. I?m not sure I agree with you that there is anything left to rebuild. Sometimes, it?s important to recognize defeat. When more than half the population of the country planned and then celebrated the humiliation of a sizable percentage of their fellow citizens, it may be time to throw in the towel and declare the experiment we called the State of Israel a failure.

Here is my respnse:

Thanks for your thoughtful response to the article that I sent you. If I may respond to the points you raised, as I have a number of my own thoughts and questions regarding what you wrote.
I fear the majority who supported the plan were those who oppose the national religious segment of the Jewish population in Israel and their supporters abroad.

I personally do not believe that to be the case. True, political parties such as Labor - Am Echad, Meretz and Shinui (and obviously the Arab parties) are no lovers of the Jewish people or the aspirations of Religious Zionism; however they do not make up the majority of either Israel's Knesset or the Jewish electorate in Israel. These 3 parties combine for 41 seats out of 120. It is also important to remember that currently, the largest single bloc of registered Labor votes are Israeli Arabs, so even calling Labor a Jewish party is questionable, and from which one can infer that many of their seats have come from Arab votes, and not Jewish ones.

As for the Likud, the Likud is a party that believes in Israel existing as a Jewish State, throughout the Land of Israel, as can be seen from the party platform. What we have seen happen in Israel is not the will of the Likud party, its members (who rejected "Disengagement" in an internal party referendum), and those who voted for the Likud in the general elections, rather we see how one man, PM Ariel Sharon was able to hijack Israel political, electoral and judicial systems to push "Disengagement" through. The Likud MK's who voted for "Disengagement" were able to do so because there is no direct accountability of elected representatives to a constituency in Israel. As such, elected officials such as Silvan Shalom ,Ehud Olmert, Limor Livnat? will never have to face the voters and be directly held accountable for their actions. Keep in mind that Ariel Sharon and the Likud were overwhelmingly supported in the last elections, trouncing Amram Mitzna and the Labor party, specifically because he ran on a platform which rejected "Disengagement".

It is clear that the Jewish people in Israel are not with Sharon or favor the expulsion of Jews from their homes and the destruction of Jewish communities in the Land of Israel. True, the media and academia are controlled by the ultra-secular left which makes their influence and voice stronger than they truly are, but that is not the reality of the average Jew on the street here. True, there may have been a small Jewish majority who favored the ?Disengagement? plan (which is debatable), but even so, the majority of the Jews who supported it did so out of a feeling that there was no other alternative, and not out of any malice or hatred for Religious Zionism, or the ?settlers?. These Jews are hungry for a leadership that will stand strong on Jewish rights and values and will exude the spirit of Jewish national pride in all of the policies of the Jewish State of Israel. We thought that is what we were getting with Ariel Sharon. We were mistaken.
When more than half the population of the country planned and then celebrated the humiliation of a sizable percentage of their fellow citizens.

I am not sure to what you are referring when you say that more than half the population planned and celebrated the humiliation of their fellow citizens. The "Disengagement" plan was planned in fact by only Sharon's closest associates, such as Dov Weissglass and his son, Omri. Those who spoke out against the plan, such as former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and head of the Shin bet, Avi Dichter, were summarily dismissed. Those members of Sharon's cabinet who did not vote in favor of "Disengagement" were fired, and votes of other MK's were bought by offering them cushy portfolios... As for celebrations, I have not heard of any. I do not doubt that there may be those in the media and academia who are overjoyed at the sight of Jewish suffering, and there may be members of the Jewish public in Israel who were happy to see the ?Disengagement? plan implemented, but they are certainly not the majority or even close to it. True, there are many who accepted "Disengagement" because they believed that there was no alternative, but to believe that they have been celebrating is just not true.
I?m not sure I agree with you that there is anything left to rebuild... it may be time to throw in the towel and declare the experiment we called the State of Israel a failure.

If that is the case, then what are the implications of what you are saying? Should we all just pack up our bags and join you in America until Mashiach comes? No one ever said that the Jewish People returning to their Homeland after 2,000 years of Exile would be easy. After 2,000 years in Exile we have picked up a lot of bad habits and gone through many traumatic experiences and it is going to take us a little bit of time until we get the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty, with all that it entails, down pat. Ideally, we would have the best and brightest of our Jewish brothers and sisters here to help us make the "experiment" of the State of Israel an absolute success, but sadly, that is not the case, and as such, we are doing the best that we can here, shorthanded as we are.

I do not believe that the State of Israel can be considered a failure. True, we have not merited leaders who have feared the G-d of Israel nearly as much as they fear the President of the United States, but the State of Israel today represents the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish People, setbacks and all, as can be seen from the fulfillment of many prophecies , such as: "From Zion Torah will come forth and the word of G-d from Jerusalem". Israel is the center of Torah and Judaism today, with the flourishing of Torah institutions throughout the Land, and with more Jews returning to Judaism everyday. The State of Israel represents the fulfillment of the Ingathering of Jewish exiles from the four corners of the earth, where the majority of the Jews who remain living outside of Israel are doing so b/c they are actively choosing not to take part in the building a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. If not already, then certainly in the next decade, the State of Israel will have the majority of the Jewish People living within her borders. For 2,000 years the Land of Israel was a wasteland that refused to give its fruits to any who settled within her borders. Miraculously, the Jewish people have returned, and with the help of G-d, we have been able to take the desert of Gush Katif (and many other parts of Israel) and make it flourish in ways that no one could have ever dreamed possible. This, of course, being the surest sign that the Talmud gives for the onset of the redemption of the Jewish People.

One can not deny that the Jewish People in Israel are currently facing many challenges, but Baruch Hashem, they are our own challenges, and with G-d's help, we will be able to overcome then and be stronger for it. For 2,000 years the Jewish People did not have the luxury of having the ability to overcome their own challenges - the challenges of a sovereign nation - and had to turn to our non-Jewish "friends" for assistance. Today, that is not the case. Do we make mistakes? Sadly, we have made more than would be expected for a nation that is described as the "children of kings and prophets", but we are trying our best, and in the end, I have no doubt that we will be successful in creating a truly Jewish State in the Land of Israel that will serve as a light unto the nations and will serve to perfect the world through the kingdom of the Almighty.

The future of the Jewish People, in spite of all our challenges and setbacks, is here, in the Land of Israel. I reach out my hand to you, inviting you to come join us and help the Jewish People to fulfill both their own potential, as well as the lofty potential that we both know exists for the future of the State of Israel.



Israel Perspectives: Feel 'Right' At Home
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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Advantages of Living in the Land of Israel

Today, the 19th of Av, is the Yartzeit of Rav Yaakov Culi ZT"L, the conceiver and original author of the Holy Work, the "MeAm Lo'ez." In honor of this we present a short excerpt from the MeAm Lo'ez on last week's Parsha as translated by Rav Aryeh Kaplan A"H. (This section was not written by Rav Culi but by Rav Yitzchok Behar Argueti ZT"L, however it is in line with Rav Culi's vision of the massive "MeAm Lo'ez" project.)

The Advantages of Living in the Land of Israel

From here we see the advantages of living in the land of Israel and its holiness. Moses prayed repeatedly to be allowed to enter the land of Israel and to be able to live there. We likewise find that the patriarchs all lived in the Holy Land.

The reason is that Israel is not directed by any angel, but by G-d Himself. It is thus written, "It is a land about which L-rd your G-d is constantly concerned" (Deut. 11, 12). Even when people sin very much, G-d does not give it over to the angles of destruction for punishment, so that they should not have any power over it.

Our sages teach, "The land of Israel makes one wise in Torah. This is because all this land, all the air as high as one goes, is not given to the power of any destructive angel which can confuse the mind and blind the eyes so that one will not understand the Torah."

It is thus written, "The gold of that land is good, there is the bdellium and the onyx stones" (Genesis 2:12). There is no Torah study like that found in the land of Israel.

The logical inferences and mental structures that one can arrive at in the Holy Land are better and greater than that of any other place. This is the "gold of the Holy Land."

The bdellium (bedolach) and onyx (shoham) stones denote erudition in Talmud, Tosfta, and Aggadah.

The Torah is likened to gold, as it is written, "It is more precious than gold and the finest gilt" (Psalms 19:11). It is also likened to precious stones as it is written, "It is more precious than jewels" (Proverbs 3:14).

The reason is as we have said earlier, that there are not destructive angles in the Holy Land to confuse the mind, and the Divine Presence also rests there.

Abbaye who was one of the greatest sages in Bavel praised the sages of the land of Israel and said, "One sage there is as good as two of our sages in wisdom and sharpness. Since they live in the land of Israel the air there helps sharpen their minds. This does not indicate that we are lacking any mental agility, but the very air and holiness of that land makes them wise."

His contemporary, Rava, said "If one goes there (to the Holy Land), two of them are not like one of us." The proof is that when Rav Jeremiah, from the Holy Land was here, he could not understand what our sages taught. But when he went to the Holy Land he did not consider us great at all and he called us 'foolish Babylonians.'" (Talmud Ketubot 75a)

This is even true with regard to other subjects. The people who live in the Holy Land are much sharper.

When a person left Jerusalem and came to another city, even if he was an ordinary person, the gentiles gave him much honor and placed him on a throne and set him down to hear his wisdom and his knowledge of all types of science as well as his understanding. (Midrash Echah I)

Therefore, G-d chose the Holy Land and gave it to us. G-d said, "This land is very dear to Me. It is not directed by any angelic overseer, but by My hand. The Israelites are also precious to Me as it is written, 'Out of G-d's love for you...' (Deut. 7:8)." The Israelites are also not directed by any angel but by G-d Himself as it is written, "For G-d's portion is His people" (Deuteronomy 32:9). G-d said, "I will bring the Israelites who are precious to Me to the land that is precious to Me."

Similarly, it is taught that "Whoever lives in the land of Israel is like one who has a G-d." This is because as soon as he prays he is answered, since no angelic being can denounce his prayers. Similarly, it is taught "Whoever lives outside the land is like one who does not have a G-d." When such a person prays because of any trouble, many denouncing angels hold back his prayers and examine him to see if [his] prayer should ascend on High. If they see that it is not fitting he can call out and not be answered.

Whoever is worthy to live in the land of Israel is worthy of having the Holy Spirit (ruach ha-kodesh) rest on him and his body is sanctified. If one is worthy of dying in the land of Israel, his soul immediately ascends to its place under the wings of the Shekhinah.

If a person is worthy of living in the land of Israel it is a sign that he is a righteous person.

Such a person automatically has a portion in the World to Come, even though people do not deem him to be a virtuous person. However, if he was not saintly, the land would not accept him but would emit him as it is written [the Torah says that if people commit sins "the land will vomit you out" (Leviticus 18:28)]. Just as a stomach vomits out improper food the land vomits out improper individuals.

The reason for this is that if a person lives in the land of Israel he is without sin. The suffering that he experiences there atones for all his sins. His body is therefore cleansed of sin, since he lives in a place where the Divine Presence rests and therefore his body must be pure.

Therefore if a person is not ready to keep the commandments when he is in the land of Israel, his sin is greater than that of a similar person in other lands. It is like two people whom the king commanded to do something. One lives in the king's palace and the other lives outside the palace. If the two of them then violate the king's commandment, with whom will the king be more angry? Certainly he will be more angry with the one who lives in his palace and sees the king every day. The anger will be greater than against the one who lives outside the palace even though both of them violated the commandment. Still, the punishment for the one who lives in the palace is greater.

Although our sages teach, "Whoever walks four cubits in the land Israel atones for all his sins," and the land itself has the power to atone for sin, it is only true if someone comes from outside the land of Israel. Then as soon as he steps on the ground of the land of Israel and walks four cubits his sins are forgiven, as it is written "His land shall atone for His people" (Deuteronomy 32:43). However if a person commits sins while in the Holy Land itself, the punishment is much worse than while elsewhere. If a person is buried in the land of Israel it is exactly the same as if he were buried under the altar, which was the place where all sin was forgiven through the sacrifices. Therefore happy are the righteous who live in the land of Israel, since they have no sin either in life or death. The land itself has a special power of atoning for a person's sin.

Living in the land of Israel is as weighty a merit as the covenant of circumcision.

It is as weighty as everything that was created in the six days of creation. We find that Elimelech was punished with his two sons, Machlon and Chilyon (see Ruth 1, 3, and 5) because they left the land of Israel and lived elsewhere because of the famine that was there.

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Eleazar ben Shamua and Rabbi Yochanan HaSandler once left the Holy Land to study Torah with Rabbi Yehudah ben Bethirah, who lived in Netzivin in Babylonia. When they came as far a Tzarda, they looked up and saw the land of Israel. They remembered that living in the Holy Land is equivalent to all the rest of the commandments. Immediately, they tore their garments and tears gushed down their eyes. With that they returned to the Holy Land.

When a person lives in the land of Israel he is like a child of G-d. If a person lives outside the land of Israel he is like G-d's servant. The difference between these two appellations is explained in the beginning of the Sidra [Vaethchanan].

The righteous who live in the land of Israel have such power that their merit protects even those that live outside the Holy Land. However the righteous outside the land of Israel only protects those who live in their place.

The reason for this is that there are seven zones in the world. The land of Israel is at the middle ot these seven regions, three to the right and three to the left. Matching these, G-d created the seven major planets, Saturn (Shabethai), Jupiter (Tzedek), Mars (Ma'adim), the Sun (Chamah), Venus (Nogah), Mercury (Kokhav), the Moon (Levanah). Each one of these bodies directs one zone. Essential to all these seven bodies is the sun. Just as the sun shines over the world, so the spiritual influx that G-d sends to the Holy Land is enjoyed by the entire world. People who live in the Holy Land are like a wife whose eyes are fixed on her husband. Therefore the merit of the saints in the land of Israel protects even those who live outside the land. It is like the case of the heart which feeds all parts of the body.

When the Temple existed and we were in our own land, all blessing and bounty came from G-d's hand, while the other nations only had what was left over, like a slave dependent on his master. However, now, due to our sins, this has changed. G-d gives all good to the nations and we can only hope for what they leave over. However, even now when the Temple is destroyed and the land is desolate, through the merit of the land of Israel all the world is fed.

The land of Israel is known as the land of the living (eretz ha-chaim). At the resurrection, the dead in the land of Israel will rise first. Even Jeroboam and his associates who sinned and caused others to sin will rise. Although they committed the worst possible sins, they will be the first to rise before all the other dead. They already received their punishment when Jerusalem was destroyed and the earth burnt seven years with fire and brimstone. Since G-d has already punished them, they will rise at the resurrection. Moreover, in the merit of their having been buried in the land of Israel they will be saved from the punishment of hell, as we have mentioned. The land has the power to atone as it is written, "His land shall atone for His people" (32:43).

Those who die in the Holy Land also have another advantage in that they die through an angel of mercy. Those who die elsewhere, on the other hand, die through the angel of death.

If a person has a relative in Jerusalem, whether a man or woman, and he is concerned to provide them with food, he has a special merit. This is especially true of those who exert themselves to support Torah sages who live and study Torah in the land of Israel. In the merit of this relative or the Torah scholar, the person who supports them will be among the first to rise at the resurrection.

The land of Israel was sanctified with ten degrees of holiness, one above the other. To match these ten degrees of holiness, when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem from Babylonia, he made ten enactments. Joshua likewise made ten conditions when he entered the Holy Land. These also correspond to the ten degrees of holiness in the land.

The MeAm Loez is published in English by Moznaim.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Israel, Blogging, and the Quandry of a Lover of Zion...

One of the reasons why I created my blog (Israel Perspectives: Feeling 'Right' At Home) was to provide myself with a forum where I could express my feelings and experiences relating to the excitement that comes with living in the Land of Israel today - both the positives as well as those things that could use some improvement - to as broad and diverse an audience as possible.

My goal being to strengthen the connection of as many Jews as possible to both the Jewish People and the Land / State of Israel and encourage them to take an active role in the ongoing drama that is the life of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel and perhaps instill within my readers a desire to take an active role in the destiny of the Jewish People that is playing itself out in (and only in) Israel.

One of the biggest dilemmas that I face when writing my thoughts on the challenges facing the Jewish People here in Israel, is that for better or worse, there never seems to be a shortage of challenges, and one can find with great ease numerous issues where both the Jewish People and the State of Israel could use more than a little improvement.

I do not delude myself by believing that the State of Israel is a perfect place, quite the contrary, I recognize that the State of Israel - as a Jewish State - is very much a work in progress that has both its fair share of successes as well as setbacks. I personally view myself as being privileged in that I am able to play my small part in helping the Jewish People to overcome these challenges, and to help shape Israel into a truly Jewish State that will serve as a light unto the nations and sanctify the name of Hashem (G-d).

However, it is possible that people may read what I write on this blog about the challenges that the Jewish People are facing here in Israel and misconstrue or misinterpret what I am writing as merely being criticisms against the State of Israel or her particular policies. These people can use what I write here to justify their mistaken belief of how a Jew can be better off not living in Israel, and perhaps even worse, to take the challenges that I raise in my postings and use them to speak negatively about Israel to others and discourage them from wanting to take an active role in the life and destiny of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.

I am not sure how to resolve this dilemma. I do not want to fall into the trap of the 10 Jewish spies in the wilderness who slandered the Land of Israel and convinced the Jewish People that it was better to stay in the desert, contrary to the will of G-d. With all the frustrations that I may express on this blog with the current (lack of) leadership in the State of Israel and their policies, that does not take away from how fortunate and blessed I feel to be living in the (Jewish) State of Israel after a 2,000-year long exile. I would like to count myself amongst the camp of Joshua and Calev who countered the slanderous report of the spies and stated that the Land of Israel, a very good land, has been promised to the Jewish People by G-d himself, and with His help we will be able to overcome any challenges that may be placed before us.

I can only hope and pray that all those who will read this blog will understand that any criticisms that I may raise against the State of Israel, her leaders or her policies stem from a deep love of Israel and the Jewish People and a desire to see them fulfill their shared potential that is laying just under the surface.

If anyone has any suggestions as to how to overcome this dilemma, I would love to hear them.

Israel Perspectives: Feeling 'Right' At Home
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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Could we have done any more to stop it?

Perhaps we didn't get enough protesters.

But I'd like to think we tried our best. I know the group of protesters I was with did everything we could. . .
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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hello... Is There Anybody Out There???

Today is a very sad day in the history of the Jewish People, and what makes it even sadder for me is that so few Jews outside of Israel truly grasp the gravity and implication of the events taking place here in Israel..

I have heard time and again from my peers living in the United States, (and not only in connection with Israel?s ?disengagement? from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron) the following sentiment:
I have to admit to not following as closely as I should what is going on in Israel

It frustrates me to no end that the most passionate, knowledgeable, caring and observant Jews can be so detached from what happens here in Israel on a daily basis. It's as if what happens here in Israel is only of concern to the Jews living here.. I have no doubt that if one were to stop the average observant American Jew on the street and ask him / her if they care about Israel that they will answer in the affirmative. Yet, when it comes down to it, the vast majority of these Jews know very little about what goes on here in Israel on a day-to-day basis, and make little effort to change that reality. Anyone with access to the internet can get the same exact news that I read here in Israel on a daily basis, and yet how many truly take advantage of that ability?

Why has the observant Jewish community in the U.S. not cried out over what is happening here in Israel? Can it be that these Jews are not truly pained by the fact that their Jewish brothers and sisters are being expelled from their homes, and that Jewish communities are being destroyed by a Jewish government in the Land of Israel??? How can anyone with a Jewish heart not be crying out in pain - regardless of where they might live?

I think I speak for many Jews here in Israel when I say that we feel let down by our Jewish brothers and sisters living abroad. This is their home as much as it is mine, even if they choose not to make their homes here yet. We feel alone. Let Down. This is not only our fight. The fight over the Land of Israel, over the character of the State of Israel (fighting to make it a truly Jewish State) is something that every single Jew in the world is obligated to be involved in. It's bad enough that nearly all of the state's institutions have abandoned us in our struggle, but what of the help and support of world Jewry?

Another common statement made by Jews who don?t live in Israel is:
Jews who don't live in Israel shouldn't have an opinion about what goes on in Israel, as they don?t live there and don?t have to live wit the consequences

I strongly disagree... When one doesn't have an opinion about something, it means they aren?t interested in it. If one doesn't make the effort to be well informed or educated about a particular issue, it means they don't care about it. There is no excuse for any caring, involved Jew to be ignorant about anything relating to Israel, and certainly not something as momentous as the tragedy that is befalling the Jewish People today.

Every Jew must know that the tragedy of the destruction of these Jewish communities and the expulsion of Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel by the 1st Jewish army in nearly 2,000 years is one of the greatest desecrations of G-d's name in our history as a nation. The entire world is watching with joy as we do to ourselves what they have done to us time and again throughout history and are saying to themselves "Look at these Jews, they are no better than us". Was this the reason why we hoped, prayed and dreamed for 2,000 years to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel - so we could throw Jews out of their homes and hand them over to murderers?

To my Jewish brothers and sisters around the world - we need you here in Israel! We need Jews who are passionate about the Torah of Israel, the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, and who are up to the challenge of building a society that will reflect those values. We can't do it by ourselves.

The Jewish People have a mission; a destiny, and it falls equally upon all of our shoulders. When one person decides not to carry their share, it means everyone else has to work that much harder, and eventually it becomes a burden too heavy for so few to carry. Short of an act of direct divine intervention, the Jewish communities of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron are going to be destroyed... but I am certain that should that tragedy befall the Jewish People, that one day they will be rebuilt and will have even greater splendor than before. I believe that one day we will have Jewish government that will be a source of pride to the Jewish People. I do believe that one day the State of Israel will truly be a Jewish State and will be a light unto the nations... I believe in all of that and more...

I also believe and know that none of those things will happen so long as so many of my Jewish brothers and sisters don't involve themselves in making them happen. We are obligated to have faith and trust in Hashem, but we are also obligated to act and not rely on miracles. We have faith here in Israel, and we are trying to do our part, but as I said, we can't do it alone.

In hope of better times...
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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tisha B'Av 5765

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sunset in Gush Katif

"See, I have given the Land before you: Come and take possession of the Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them, and to their children after them." - Devarim 1:8

Jewish Land, Jewish army

Don't mess with the Best!

"See - Hashem, your G-d, has placed the Land before you; go up and take possession, as Hashem, G-d of your forefathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear and do not lose resolve!" - Devarim 1:21

May G-d grant the Jewish State wisdom to do good - Amen!
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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Right to "Wail" at the "Wall"

Much has been made of late, regarding the desire of those who are opposed to the "Disengagement" plan to "exploit" the Kotel (Wailing / Western Wall) by holding prayer vigils there.
The Western Wall plaza, the unifying symbol of Jewish rootedness, is never the right place to hold demonstrations... It is clear why the leadership of the anti-disengagement struggle wants to gather at Judaism's central site; there is indeed no place more appropriate to invoke divine assistance for the Jewish nation. But plans to hold a series of anti-disengagement "prayer vigils" at the Western Wall, culminating on Tisha Be'av - the day before the withdrawal is set to start - are divisive (this is no consensual Jewish struggle against a common outside enemy) and pose a genuine risk of violence.

I am curious as to why it is never right to gather in mass prayer at the Kotel? I agree that the Kotel is not the property of those who are against the "Disengagement" plan, but instead of opposing the desire of this camp to gather together and pour their hearts out in prayer to G-d (which is the epitome of non-violence) why not have those who are in favor have their own prayer vigil at the Kotel? The Kotel, so long as Jews are forbidden from praying on Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), is the closest that a Jew can come to the divine presence, and as such, it is only natural that during times of distress that the Jewish People will gather there in prayer. Let any who wish to pray to G-d, whether for or against "Disengagement" or for any other reason come and pray (so long as they are willing to follow the accepted rules and customs of the site) - there's plenty of room.

It is bad enough that the State has tried to stifle any form of meaningful protest by those opposed to the "Disengagement" plan. Will they now also act to forbid prayer to G-d as well?
The Talmud, in Tractate Yoma 9b, teaches that the destruction of the Second Temple, which led to two millennia of exile from the Land of Israel, was caused by unfounded hatred of brother against brother... Organizing "prayer vigils" at the Wall against disengagement suggests an erroneous parallel between it and the destruction of the temples... This cannot but lead to unfounded hatred between brothers.

Let us be clear. 1st, Praying at the Kotel is not what will lead to a rift within the Jewish People, rather it is the "Disengagement" plan that creates the potential for a rift. 2nd, should the destruction of the Jewish communities of Gush Katif and the Shomron be carried through C"V, it will represent a churban, no question about it. Will it be on the scale of the destruction of the Holy Temples or the Shoah? No, I think not. Let us not be confused. The "Disengagement" plan may be "legal", and those who are implementing it might be following the "rule of law", but it is not just, it is not moral, and it is a crime against the Jewish People (especially towards the thousands who are about to be expelled from their homes). 3rd, let me make it clear that I am not in favor of Jews hating each other for any reason, but let us not beleive that should such a rift occur that it be viewed as "baseless hatred". Sadly, there are many things to base such a hatred on, as a result of the "Disengagement" plan (heaven forbid).

The entire point of the prayer vigils at the Kotel is to pray for the peace and well being of the People of Israel, State of Israel and Land of Israel. The essence of prayer is the unity of the Jewish People, not divisivenss. If only those who are busying themselves with the impending destruction and expulsion of Jews from their homes would stop for a moment and open their hearts in prayer to G-d when considering ways to overcome the challenges facing the Jewish People today, then perhaps we wouldn't find ourselves in our current state of affairs.

Regardless of how one feels about "Disengagement", there is no doubt that we could all use more than a little help and love from Above these days, and I can think of few better places than the Kotel to go and ask for it.
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Come Fly the (Cheap and) Friendly Skies to Israel...

Finally! Here's a fresh idea coming out of the Jewish Agency:
In an effort to increase tourism and Aliyah to Israel, the Jewish Agency is planning to encourage an open-skies policy, whose goal is to promote competition among airlines, thereby reducing airfares.

It added, however, that the recent increase in flight taxes is hampering its ability to bring even more Jews to Israel.

"An open-skies policy that will bring reduced airfares will allow us to utilize the resources to bring thousands more Jews to Israel," Director-General of the Jewish Agency Ze'ev Bielski, said. "It is important to encourage competition to bring lower prices. This will directly contribute to the increase of travel to Israel and as a result, will bring an increase of Aliyah."

Another idea which I have heard from a number of people is the "Oleh Regel" plan (or Jerusalem Pilgrimage Plan). Here are the details: there are 3 major Jewish holidays during the year: Peasach, Shavuot and Succot. Anyone who would commit in advance to come to Israel for the 3 holidays would get 3 round-trip tickets for the price of two...

Both are ideas that I think should be strongly considered by the government, the Jewish Agency, as well as by El Al and IsrAir (for whom, in the long-run will make more money of a plan like this).
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Monday, August 08, 2005

Judaism Without Jews?

It's a sad story. A story that has been told many times before. A story known to every Jewish boy and girl. It is a story whose ending is almost always the same, regardless of how good the beginning or middle may seem to be. It is the story of Jewish life outside the Land of Israel.

In an unusually moving article entitled Judaism without Jews?, Stewart Weiss recounts his experiences in his search for Jewish life in Europe.

Weiss tells us of a Jew from Norway. A Survivor of Auschwitz. This Jew returned to his hometown after "the War" and has dedicated himself to ensuring that the small Synagogue remains open.
"When questioned why he bothers, considering the lack of interest among the city's few Jews, he replies, "We are here as much to educate the non-Jews as the Jews themselves."

Similar stories are told of the state of Jewish life (or of Jews) in Copenhagen, Estonia and St. Petersburg.
"Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in Poland. Though the Nazis' dream of making this once-mighty Jewish metropolis Judenrein has all but been fulfilled - less than 5,000 Jews currently reside there - Jewish cafes, klezmer groups, theaters and bookstores are again appearing.

The only problem, as The New York Times recently reported - the establishments and musicians are all non-Jewish Even the popular Jewish Festival organized each year in Krakow, bringing Jewish speakers and singers to town with great fanfare, is organized and funded by a Gentile Pole, who longs for the Jewish flavor of yesteryear, whether or not real Jews are actually part of the package.

The hundreds of synagogues that still stand in Poland are inhabited only by Jewish ghosts, stark reminders of a community that once flourished but now is gone forever".

Now, one could easily say, "of course, what do you expect?", but there is something ultimately tragic about these stories. Less than 100 years ago, Europe was the center of the Jewish world, in all regards - Religiously, culturally, and socially - and in the blink of a historical eye, a decade, it all disappeared. Gone. Vanished. Forever.

Weiss correctly points out:
"The arrow of history points to only one soil where Jewish life is to be transplanted, and that, of course, is Israel...Now we have regained the rightful repository of Jewish nationhood, reclaimed the spiritual center of Jewish life. As the Talmud tells us: "The synagogues of the Exile will all be transplanted to Jerusalem and its suburbs." We ought to do nothing to deflect that glorious promise".

If only the transition of Jewish life from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel would be done willingly, with hearts full of gladness and rejoicing over the thought of the Jewish People returning to their ancient and eternal Homeland? If only it didn't have to end this way for the Jewish communities of the Diaspora... Sadly, history has shown that it always does.
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Friday, August 05, 2005

Joy and Life in Gush Katif

Singing together in a thanksgiving gathering

Ariel Zilber, Israeli folk singer, plays the trumpet for youth in Neve Dekalim

Supermarket packed before Shabbat!

Donkey-drawn-carriage calls people to "Think good, and it will be good!"

Cotton-candy is served at a children's fair in Gadid
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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

When there's no time to daven... it's time to go 'home'

Here is an occasion where I just find it a bit difficult to feel sympathetic towards my Jewish brothers and sisters who have chosen to make their home in America.

An article on Israel National News entitled No Time for Prayer; Proposed Clock Change Upsets U.S. Jews reports on the outcry being raised by American Jews relating to the US Congress deciding to change when daylight savings time starts and ends.

The proposed changes would mean that sunrise would be around 8 a.m. "It would make it impossible for those in certain parts of the United States to pray Shacharis (morning prayers) before work," according to the Orthodox Union (OU).

Clearly, I am in favor of Jews being able to pray with a minyan at the proper time. I also believe in, as America is a democracy, the right of individuals and groups to lobby and advocate for legislation that is in their own best interest.

However, on a purely Jewish level, I don't feel any sympathy for what is happening in America. America is not a Jewish country, and America will do what is best for itself - sometimes hat might work in the best interests of her Jewish citizens and other times it won't. If a Jew is concerned with living in a country where his concerns as a Jew are to be considered (if not always respected) than it's time to come home - to Israel.

Of course, the cynics out there (as well as those who might be overly comfortable with their lives outside the Land of Israel) will raise the contention that today Israel does not seem to be overly concerned with acting as a Jewish State, and serving the needs of those who view it as such. To that I respond, that you are right and you are wrong. True, in Israel today, the Jewish People face many challenges, however, America will never, ever be a Jewish State, and it is not meant to be. The State of Israel is the State of the Jewish People, and if enough Jews who want Israel to truly be a Jewish State decide to personally take up the call to help bring about that change, it will happen - it's just a question of when.

Let's not forget that the State of Israel today has brought about the fulfillment of the pasuk: "Ki M'zion teizei Torah u'dvar Hashem m'Yerushalayim" - "From Zion Torah will come forth, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem". Today, Israel is the center of world Jewry, and is the only Jewish community in the world that has a positive growth rate from one generation to the next. The future of the Jewish People (and the present) is here, in Israel.

To those who choose not to accept that fact, enjoy the 8am minyan.
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Some Good Ole' American Pride in the Holyland

(From Point of Pinchas)

It's hard to believe but today marks three full weeks since I made Aliyah. And only now is it really starting to sink in that I'm here to stay. See I've always made an effort to visit Eretz Yisrael every year - sometimes even twice a year. But I would never stay for more than three weeks - usually a lot shorter. And for the first three weeks as an Oleh it could easily feel like you're an ordinary American tourist. Of course tourists don't run around town opening up bank accounts or health insurance plans. But none-the-less it felt oddly similar to past trips. Until last Shabbat that is, when I stayed by my cousins in Givat Shmuel. Well the bus from Yerushalyim travels right by Ben Gurion airport. And I looked at the airport and smiled because this time I knew that's not where I was headed - I am here to stay! (One of the gals here at the ulpan designed an Aliyah T-shirt that says "Here To Stay!" on the back.)

Since I've been a little bogged down getting my new life in order I haven't had too much time to blog (see my "Aliyah can be hazardous to your blog" post). So here's a quick update of how things are going.

The ulpan - Ulpan Etzion is amazing! It really is living up to its reputation so far. I have to say though - America, and New York especially, is woefully underrepresented here. Especially considering New York is the current temporary home to over a million Jews. If the ulpan here is any measure, it's a little embarrassing, per capita, how poorly we are doing with Aliyah compared with the rest of the world.

The population breakdown here goes something like this: It feels like half the ulpan speaks Spanish (coming from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and even Columbia among other countries most Americans have never heard of except for every once in a while when some star baseball player comes from one of them). And the other half speaks French (coming mostly from France, from Belgium and from parts of Canada.) There is also a surprisingly small contingent of Russian speakers. And as for those few of us that are native English speakers - lots come from England, Australia, South Africa, and Canada... along with some of us Americans. And as for us few Americans... we come from Los Angeles, Cleveland, Miami, New Jersey and even Upstate New York - but from the City itself (and by "City" I mean the five boroughs) there are just two (or three - long story and I'm not explaining) of us.

Now this actually does not come as a surprise. France in the 21st century is not the place for a Jew. "I hate the French. They are the worst!" one of my French dorm-mates told me. "Hey - you're preaching to the choir," I replied. And as for South America - I understand life there too is not a walk in the park. And so - not to take away any ideological reasons they may have had for making Aliyah - but by coming to Israel they are giving up a horrible life for one that is far better. This is of course also true of the Russian olim. (They talk about how horrible life was in Russia.) And I?ll even go as far as to say it holds true with the British as well. Anti-Semitisms is beginning to flare up all across Europe and the nations of the world are chasing us Home. I look around this Ulpan and that is what I see.

And so I'm going to hold my head up high now and say while us Americans (and Canadians) don't fill up one full side of the cafeteria like the French do - were not running from anything at all. G-d Bless America! Life for the Jew there couldn't be better. A strong case (that I believe is terribly flawed) is often made that life in America is better for the Jew than life in Israel. How many of my hermanos y hermanas, of my fr?res et soeurs, or of my ?????? ? ?????? can say they gave up and awesome job and basically luxuries most of the rest of the world can only imagine. (The guidance counselor here could not believe - in a good way - the job I gave up to make Aliyah!)

So you know what I say? When a million Jews come Home from the former Soviet Union it's a huge simcha. And when another million come from South America it's equally joyous! And when over half a million Jews come from France who can't celebrate the "Ingathering Of The Exiles" happening before our very eyes?!

But still, there are two ways to move a donkey with the stick or with the carrot. And when SEVEN Nefesh B'Nefesh planes full North Americans - that are living the "good life" go ahead and "throw it all away" to make Aliyah - not because we are being beaten by a stick but because we are chasing the carrot - that's something to sound the proverbial great Shofar about and announce to the world! I'm here because I WANT to be here. I'm here because I WANT to be Home!

The fourth of seven flights from North America just landed today.

Welcome Home!
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Monday, August 01, 2005

They Just Keep On Coming!!!

From Israel National News

Hundreds of North American and Ethiopian Jews Make Aliyah

In a simultaneous ingathering of exiles from two sides of the globe, two planes filled with new immigrants touched down in Israel Wednesday morning - one from America and one from Ethiopia.

The flight from the U.S. was the third of seven flights this year bringing immigrants from North America to the Jewish State. It was organized by the Nefesh b'Nefesh organization, which encourages Aliyah (immigration to Israel) by removing the financial and logistical obstacles facing North American Jews who dream of making the move.

Israel National Radio's Eli Stutz was on the scene to greet the new arrivals.

"I am here because I think it is so important to make Aliyah. If you are Jewish, Israel is the place to be," said Elana Wenner from Vancouver, Canada, who came to the airport with members of her summer program to welcome the new arrivals. "We need to be together here in Israel to be united, to be together and to make a difference in the world." Wenner says she is excited to make Aliyah herself in the coming years.

Chaim Moche of Montreal stepped off the plane with his family. "We have been here on many visits, we were seduced, and at a certain point we just could not leave," he said. "It is a little like getting married."

"We were planning on moving next year but we decided after our last visit, five weeks ago, to move now," said Peretz Rickett, who made Aliyah from Dallas, Texas. He and his family plan to settle in the Gush Etzion town of Alon Shvut.

Eighty new immigrants also arrived in Israel Wednesday from Ethiopia. They plan to settle in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Tzion, the northern town of Tzfat, and the coastal city of Ashkelon.

The 150 new immigrants from America will be settling in Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and the communities in the Benjamin Regional Council region of the Shomron, north of the capital.
From Jerusalem Post

Israel is intensifying efforts to encourage Belgian Jews to immigrate.

Israeli Immigration and Absorption Ministry officials met with representatives of Belgium's 40,000 Jews last week to propose incentives that would draw the community to Israel.

"We believe that thought must be given not just to the big countries like France and the United States but to smaller ones as well, to try to persuade their Jews to immigrate," the ministry's director general, Mirela Gal, told the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv on Sunday.

"We will soon ask our natural partner, the Jewish Agency, to expand its operations in Belgium." There has been an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks by Belgium's Arab immigrant community.

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