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Monday, March 31, 2008

"I don't think aliyah is on the agenda of Israeli society"

Just as the Aliyah Revolution is moving into high-gear, two good ole' post-Zionist pessimistic articles decrying that Aliyah is dead appear on the scene. Doesn't the Sitra Achra ever get tired?

"The End of Aliyah?" by Dina Kraft

With Israel facing the end of the era of mass aliyah of need, can aliyah of choice sustain the idea of Diaspora Jewish immigration to the Jewish state?

TEL AVIV (JTA) -- Founded with the express purpose of "ingathering of the exiles" -- but with no more large groups of Jews to save -- Israel is facing the end of the era of mass aliyah.

Recent reports that the Jewish Agency for Israel was considering shutting down its flagship aliyah department have prompted discussion about the future of immigration to Israel even as agency officials quickly denied the department was closing.

"Israel cannot throw away the idea of aliyah because it is one of basics of the ideology of having a Jewish state," said David Raz, a former Jewish Agency emissary abroad. "You have to create a situation that people will want to come, from the element of being together with Jews. But it's not simple. There is a trickle, but basically from the free world the majority does not want to come.”

The crux of the matter is that immigration of necessity -- also called “push aliyah” -- is largely at its end, with few Jews left in the Diaspora who need the Jewish state as a haven from persecution or dire economic straits. The Jews of the Arab world fled to Israel in the 1950s, Russian-speaking Jews flocked here in the 1990s and Ethiopians came over the course of the past 25 years.

With nothing pushing mass immigration of Jews today, all that remains are the few immigrants of choice -- also known as “pull” immigrants. Officials involved with aliyah say they expect no more than 15,000 or so new immigrants to Israel this year.

"You have Jews in the West who live very comfortably under pluralistic governments that give them unprecedented social and economic opportunities and let them live Jewish lives,” said Uzi Rebhun, a demographer at Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry. “In turn, aliyah to Israel has gone down.”

With the pool of potential push immigrants drying up, officials like Oded Salomon, the director-general of aliyah and absorption for the Jewish Agency, are thinking about how to pull Jews to Israel in new and different ways.

Salomon says the focus now is on educational programs that bring young Jews to Israel in the hope of fostering lifelong connections to the Jewish state and creating new immigrants.

The Jewish Agency wants to create a special visa for visiting Diaspora Jews who want to explore the idea of aliyah by living in Israel for a few months. Such arrivals would be assisted with finding volunteer or work positions and Hebrew study.

Aliyah officials also are embracing the notion of “flexible aliyah” in which immigrants split their time between Israel and the Diaspora. About 10 percent of immigrants who have made aliyah with the assistance of Nefesh B'Nefesh, which facilitates aliyah from North America and Britain with cash grants and assistance, divide their time between Israel and jobs abroad.

Other ideas to attract a new kind of aliyah being discussed include retirement communities near Eilat for American Jewish retirees to the creation of an all-French-speaking town.

Israel has experienced other periods of sluggish immigration, such as the 1970s and 1980s, but in those eras there were large communities of Jews unable to emigrate and come to the Jewish state, such as those in the Soviet Union.

Today, however, the Jews who remain in the former Soviet Union are either too old to immigrate or prefer to stay put in countries where improved economies and more democratic freedoms have made life in the Diaspora more attractive.

Mass immigration from Ethiopia -- where politics, economics and religious ideology sent tens of thousands of Jews to Israel over the past quarter century -- is expected to end some time this summer. The Jewish Agency plans to shut its Ethiopian offices and bring home its staff when the last arrivals come.

Yuli Edelstein, the former Soviet refusnik and prisoner of Zion who later served as Israel's absorption minister, said Israel must make sure it can provide both meaningful professional opportunities and meaningful Jewish life if it wants to see significant immigration to the country.

"This is a real period of rethinking," Edelstein told JTA, noting the economic and professional opportunities Jews have in the West. "Without a Jewish motivation for being here, it will be much more difficult to attract people."

Among Israelis, too, the ethos of aliyah has dampened in recent years, a far cry from when it was described by the drafters of Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948 as the part of the vision of "the prophets of Israel.”

"I don't think aliyah is on the agenda of Israeli society," Rebhun said.

Despite the country's founding mission, he said, "Sixty years after the State of Israel was established, most Jews still live outside of Israel."

Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer from Hebrew University who also is associated with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, says many potential immigrants are put off by the bureaucracy and difficulties of Israeli life, not to mention Israel’s security situation.

DellaPergola says major reforms are needed to help ease the path of immigrants, especially when it comes to accepting degrees and professional credentials earned abroad.

Despite plans for a new set of tax breaks for new immigrants and other ideas to help pave the way for potential immigrants, at the end of the day immigrants will come to Israel only if they see in the Jewish state the promise of a fulfilling Jewish life, DellaPergola said.

"If it's a country just like any other,” he said, “then why come here?"


"Jerusalem And Babylon / The numbers are on the wall" by Anshel Pfeffer

I don't know if anyone ever tried to work out the average age of Israel Prize recipients, but the profile is fairly standard. A man or woman in their seventies or eighties, hailed for decades of service in academia or some other worthy pursuit and for his or hers past contribution to Israeli society. Sad but true, this is usually a pre-obituary, almost-last honor, to a deserving individual long past the prime of life. The occasional practice of rewarding an organization with one of the prizes, is fairly ridiculous.

Public bodies, even if they are voluntary, are there to serve a purpose, we should expect them to fulfill it better in the future, and their workers reward should be a job well done. But Education Minister Yuli Tamir obviously doesn't think so, as the Israel Prizes commission in her ministry announced this week that this coming Independence Day, a whole raft of organizations, ranging from youth movements and womens groups, to the Manufacturers Association of Israel will be duly honored. But in one case, it seems that the organization to receive the prize is very similar to the more traditional laureates.

Founded in 1929, the Jewish Agency is also on the brink of octogenarianism, with a proud past in which it played a crucial role and gave decades of loyal service to the nation. But now it seems in the autumn of its life, and many of its stalwarts are openly predicting that the grim reaper may just be around the corner.

The cruel joke is that it was the very event that will be commemorated on prize-day, the foundation of the state in 1948 that signaled the end of the Jewish Agency's heyday. In one fell swoop, it went from being the government-in-waiting to an organization that had lost its most basic raison d'etre. A sovereign state has its own official agencies, all of a sudden, the Jewish Agency lost its primacy in the fields of foreign relations, education, settling the wilderness and developing infrastructure, to the new government ministries.

Its chairman, David Ben-Gurion, had now become the first prime minister and he had a real country to run. Not surprisingly, the new definition of the Jewish Agency's role, in 1950, consisted basically of important tasks that the new government, eager to build up diplomatic relationships with the world, wasn't comfortable with.

An issue of control

So the Jewish Agency was tasked with encouraging and enabling the Jews of the world to make aliyah and promote Jewish-Zionist education throughout the Diaspora. As an added bonus, the Agency would not get government budgets but had to do its fundraising outside Israel through the Jewish federations in North America and Keren Hayesod with the local Zionist organizations in other parts of the world. This of course didn't mean that the government and the various Israeli political parties relinquished control of the Agency. Senior posts were allocated according to party lines and the prime minister always had the last word on the appointment of the chairman.

An uneasy alliance had to be created between the government and the major donors and the multi-layered structure of the World Zionist Organization and the Agency's board of governors came into being.

This creature of compromise and circumstance was never an ideal creation, but while it was still clear that the agency had a definite role, facilitating aliyah from around the world, it at least had a justification. Today it is becoming increasingly clear that that role is a thing of the past. Aliyah from the former Soviet Union is down to a trickle and the government has decided that the emigration of the Falashmura will end in three months.

The Jewish people is basically divided today between Israel and a string of communities in Western or rapidly Westernizing countries. In such an environment, the decision to make aliyah is an increasingly individual one. The Agency has realized this and adopted a new credo - "aliyah by choice." But how does one motivate people to make that choice?

The days of proselytizing for aliyah are over, the most that can be done is to make things easier for those who have already made the choice. Private organizations like Nefesh b'Nefesh and Ami, and also the Absorption Ministry have realized that and are gradually encroaching on the Agency's turf. Talk off-record to agency officials, at all levels, and they also understand this. Within the Agency, plans are being made to restructure the Aliyah department, effectively breaking it up to components which will be merged into the Education and Israel departments, primarily due to a shrinking budget, caused by a decline in donations and the weak dollar.

What is needed is a public facing of the facts. These changes should have been underway even if there was no budgetary necessity. In an era in which the main challenge facing the Jewish world is creating frameworks for identity and knowledge, the Jewish Agency has a role to play as pipeline between Israel and the Jews of the world, it can be a central role, but first it must admit as much to itself, its donors and potential clients.

In today's global Jewish society, the Jewish Agency has no direct way of significantly affecting aliyah to Israel. Its only future is as an international vehicle of Jewish and Israeli education. If the Agency's leaders carry on claiming that aliyah is still its central mission, the Israel Prize will indeed be only a recognition of past achievements.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Why Do Palestinians Get Much More Attention than Tibetans?

By Dennis Prager

The long-suffering Tibetans have been in the news. This happens perhaps once or twice a decade. In a more moral world, however, public opinion would be far more preoccupied with Tibetans than with Palestinians, would be as harsh on China as it is on Israel, and would be as fawning on Israel as it now is on China.

But, alas, the world is, as it has always been, a largely mean-spirited and morally insensitive place, where might is far more highly regarded than right.

Consider the facts: Tibet, at least 1,400 years old, is one of the world's oldest nations, has its own language, its own religion and even its own ethnicity. Over 1 million of its people have been killed by the Chinese, its culture has been systematically obliterated, 6,000 of its 6,200 monasteries have been looted and destroyed, and most of its monks have been tortured, murdered or exiled.

Palestinians have none of these characteristics. There has never been a Palestinian country, never been a Palestinian language, never been a Palestinian ethnicity, never been a Palestinian religion in any way distinct from Islam elsewhere. Indeed, "Palestinian" had always meant any individual living in the geographic area called Palestine. For most of the first half of the 20th century, "Palestinian" and "Palestine" almost always referred to the Jews of Palestine. The United Jewish Appeal, the worldwide Jewish charity that provided the nascent Jewish state with much of its money, was actually known as the United Palestine Appeal. Compared to Tibetans, few Palestinians have been killed, its culture has not been destroyed nor its mosques looted or plundered, and Palestinians have received billions of dollars from the international community. Unlike the dying Tibetan nation, there are far more Palestinians today than when Israel was created.

None of this means that a distinct Palestinian national identity does not now exist. Since Israel's creation such an identity has arisen and does indeed exist. Nor does any of this deny that many Palestinians suffered as a result of the creation of the third Jewish state in the area, known -- since the Romans renamed Judea -- as "Palestine."

But it does mean that of all the causes the world could have adopted, the Palestinians' deserved to be near the bottom and the Tibetans' near the top. This is especially so since the Palestinians could have had a state of their own from 1947 on, and they have caused great suffering in the world, while the far more persecuted Tibetans have been characterized by a morally rigorous doctrine of nonviolence.

So, the question is, why? Why have the Palestinians received such undeserved attention and support, and the far more aggrieved and persecuted and moral Tibetans given virtually no support or attention?

The first reason is terror. Some time ago, the Palestinian leadership decided, with the overwhelming support of the Palestinian people, that murdering as many innocent people -- first Jews, and then anyone else -- was the fastest way to garner world attention. They were right. On the other hand, as The Economist notes in its March 28, 2008 issue, "Tibetan nationalists have hardly ever resorted to terrorist tactics..." It is interesting to speculate how the world would have reacted had Tibetans hijacked international flights, slaughtered Chinese citizens in Chinese restaurants and temples, on Chinese buses and trains, and massacred Chinese schoolchildren.

The second reason is oil and support from powerful fellow Arabs. The Palestinians have rich friends who control the world's most needed commodity, oil. The Palestinians have the unqualified support of all Middle Eastern oil-producing nations and the support of the Muslim world beyond the Middle East. The Tibetans are poor and have the support of no nations, let alone oil-producing ones.

The third reason is Israel. To deny that pro-Palestinian activism in the world is sometimes related to hostility toward Jews is to deny the obvious. It is not possible that the unearned preoccupation with the Palestinians is unrelated to the fact that their enemy is the one Jewish state in the world. Israel's Jewishness is a major part of the Muslim world's hatred of Israel. It is also part of Europe's hostility toward Israel: Portraying Israel as oppressors assuages some of Europe's guilt about the Holocaust -- "see, the Jews act no better than we did." Hence the ubiquitous comparisons of Israel to Nazis.

A fourth reason is China. If Tibet had been crushed by a white European nation, the Tibetans would have elicited far more sympathy. But, alas, their near-genocidal oppressor is not white. And the world does not take mass murder committed by non-whites nearly as seriously as it takes anything done by Westerners against non-Westerners. Furthermore, China is far more powerful and frightening than Israel. Israel has a great army and nuclear weapons, but it is pro-West, it is a free and democratic society, and it has seven million people in a piece of land as small as Belize. China has nuclear weapons, has a trillion U.S. dollars, an increasingly mighty army and navy, is neither free nor democratic, is anti-Western, and has 1.2 billion people in a country that dominates the Asian continent.

A fifth reason is the world's Left. As a general rule, the Left demonizes Israel and has loved China since it became Communist in 1948. And given the power of the Left in the world's media, in the political life of so many nations, and in the universities and the arts, it is no wonder vicious China has been idolized and humane Israel demonized.

The sixth reason is the United Nations, where Israel has been condemned in more General Assembly and Security Council resolutions than any other country in the world. At the same time, the UN has voted China onto its Security Council and has never condemned it. China's sponsoring of Sudan and its genocidal acts against its non-Arab black population, as in Darfur, goes largely unremarked on at the UN, let alone condemned, just as is the case with its cultural genocide, ethnic cleansing and military occupation of Tibet.

The seventh reason is television news, the primary source of news for much of mankind. Aside from its leftist tilt, television news reports only what it can video. And almost no country is televised as much as Israel, while video reports in Tibet are forbidden, as they are almost anywhere in China except where strictly monitored by the Chinese authorities. No video, no TV news. And no TV, no concern. So while grieving Palestinians and the accidental killings of Palestinians during morally necessary Israeli retaliations against terrorists are routinely televised, the slaughter of over a million Tibetans and the extinguishing of Tibetan Buddhism and culture are non-events as far as television news is concerned.

The world is unfair, unjust and morally twisted. And rarely more so than in its support for the Palestinians -- no matter how many innocents they target for murder and no matter how much Nazi-like anti-Semitism permeates their media -- and its neglect of the cruelly treated, humane Tibetans.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Will It Take?

Dear Yishai,

I realize there are lots of American Jews that live in the U.S. that support Israel in a lot of substantive ways. There also seem to be a lot of American Jews that don't care. Period. Just don't care. Which brings me to a thought...but there needs to be a digression and I hope you don't mind.

I am literally the only full time staff person at the library where I work who is Jewish. My supervisor once wondered about my connection to Israel. I told her, and it's true that if the anti-Semitism ever got to be as bad in the U.S. as it is in Europe that I would feel unsafe. I would have to leave and come to Israel. That seemed to take care of whatever concern was driving my supervisor's question. I could have copped out I suppose and pointed out my elderly parents who would be unable to survive the move to Israel or my mortgage or my age (I'm 53 just recently), but the right "spin" to put on my answer to my supervisor's comment seemed to be the way I answered (you'd have to know the supervisor to understand that last).

My thought though is that what about American Jews? What would it take for them to say, "Hey we may have comfortable lives here, but enough is enough!" and then make aliyah...en masse??? I'm not just talking about traditional Jews or Chabadniks or the Satmarim, but the reform Jews who live in Bloomfield Township in their million dollar houses. The ones who have intermarried and drag their bored or acting out children to "Sunday school." Who join a shul just long enough for the bar or bat mitzvah and "confirmation." What would it take, I wonder, to get them off their duffs and on to a NBN plane?

Just a few thoughts...and a question that I think is worth exploring...


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kosher-Style Strikes Again!

Here is my favorite line from the Forward article entitled "High Cost of Living Leads Orthodox To Look Beyond Borders of New York"

Synagogue leaders from 14 cities will attempt to demonstrate that their towns have all the necessities for an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle...

Now, just so we understand, we are talking about an OU sponsored conference to sell to American Jews their new home in Indianapolis, New Orleans and Edmonton, Charleston, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Memphis, the San Francisco Bay Area, Omaha, San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver.

Just so we get it straight, Israel, that small affordable suburb mentioned in the Torah a few times, will not be represented.

Once again, the American Orthodox establishment, and the biggest body of Kosher certification is PERPETUATING THE GALUT by selling us the the un-Kosher line that some hole in the middle of Nebraska has all the necessities of an Orthodox Jewish life!

Yet one thing is missing in this Kosher-Style formula: Eretz Hachayim, the Land of Life, as opposed to Eretz Nochriya, a foreign land, the Exile, dispersion, PUNISHMENT!!!

Even if there was a good reason for such an event, would it not make sense to bring in a few stands from Israel to represent the ALIYAH ALTERNATIVE??? These stands should NOT be in a separate event just for the Aliyah saps, it should be in the foreground of the consciousnesses of all OU events, especially those dealing with the migration of Jews. Don't offer Jews Omaha, without at least giving their soul a chance in Raanana!

No, Galut is Kosher; OU all the way baby! Give me "O" Give me a "U" - whats that spell? "Oy, You!" The OU loves Galut, that's where their power is, that's where they are comfortable, that's where they can live a good Jewish life, and that's where, like Iyov, they can run away from G-d's command. By the way, the main reason stated for this conference is money, money, money. America Shel Kesef.

'All the necessities' eh? Kosher-style strikes again!


From the Forward:
Early next month, representatives of Orthodox Jewish communities from across North America — from cities such as Indianapolis, New Orleans and Edmonton, Alberta — will gather in Manhattan to make the case that their hometowns offer something that New York City can’t: affordability.

The Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization representing some 1,000 Modern Orthodox congregations, has organized a showcase for small Orthodox communities to market themselves to New Yorkers. Synagogue leaders from 14 cities will attempt to demonstrate that their towns have all the necessities for an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle — plus the virtues of living in a comparatively small town — at a fraction of New York’s prices.

New York is in many ways at the center of Orthodox Jewish life in America today, home to everything from Modern Orthodox institutions like Yeshiva University to myriad ultra-Orthodox sects. A decade-long boom in real estate prices, however, has made this famously pricey city even pricier. For Orthodox Jews, who tend to have larger families and suffer higher rates of poverty than Jews in general, and for whom the high costs of observant Jewish life are necessities rather than luxuries, that pinch is raising the question of whether Orthodox life can continue to thrive in New York.

“I think a lot of people are feeling the crunch. Young couples getting married, especially Orthodox young couples, want to live within an Orthodox Jewish community, and communities are just so expensive,” said Steve Savitsky, the O.U.’s president and the initiator of its emerging communities program. “Young people are having a very hard time, and even older people who want to upgrade to their next level house can’t keep up any more.”

The price of housing in and around New York has skyrocketed over the past decade. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, median home prices in the area have more than doubled over the past decade, when adjusted for inflation.

Orthodox Jews are particularly susceptible to the high cost of living because the price of an observant lifestyle — keeping kosher, living walking distance from a synagogue, sending children to day school or yeshiva — introduces expenses that many other Jews opt not to bear.

Over the past few decades, many Orthodox Jews have fled the high costs of New York City by moving out to the suburbs or to semi-rural enclaves such as the Satmar Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel in upstate New York. Recently, an editorial in the Satmar-affiliated newspaper Der Blatt argued that New York had become too expensive and urged readers to leave the city behind.

The suburbs, however, are becoming expensive in their own right. In upstate New York, the heavily ultra-Orthodox town of Monsey has become so pricey that many would-be residents are instead moving to the neighboring town of New Hempstead. Rabbi Ronald Price, who leads an Orthodox congregation in the heavily Orthodox suburb of Teaneck, N.J., said that young families are moving to Teaneck to escape the high prices of New York City, and that many more are bypassing established communities like Teaneck for cheaper, less-established suburbs such as Passaic.

Now, the O.U. is attempting to redirect that mobility to much smaller Orthodox communities in other parts of the country that offer the basics of Orthodox Jewish life at a fraction of New York’s cost. According to the Web site, the cost of living in Indianapolis, for example, is nearly 40% less than that of suburban New York. Along with Indianapolis, New Orleans and Edmonton, other communities participating in the O.U. presentation include Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Memphis, Tenn.; the San Francisco Bay Area; Omaha, Neb.; San Diego; Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Savitsky said the O.U. will also bring the community marketplace to other expensive cities, such as Boston and Philadelphia. “I’m not saying it’s a big trend, but people are interested now,” he said.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Jerusalem Factor of Purim

Above picture is the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem, decorated for Purim. Click here to see my pictures from the early part of the Kumah Purim Seudah at Kever Shmuel HaNavi.

While I was celebrating Shabbat Purim, the middle of the 3 day Jerusalem Purim celebration this year, I took the time to read the lead tidbit of the OU Israel Center Torah Tidbits. Phil Chernofsky explains how our sages could have just kept Purim as the Galut (exile) holiday it was, but instead put a special emphasis on Jerusalem, essentially turning Shushan Purim into Jerusalem Purim, thereby bringing out the uniqueness of the Geulah (redemption), or Israel, celebration. I'm copying the article below in the full post, or you can read it on OU's website.

And now let's look at the Forest...

There's an expression that's been around for at least 500 years, "can't see the forest (or wood, woods) for the trees". It is defined as, "to focus only on small details and fail to understand larger plans or principles". It is equally true - even without an old saying to back it up - that some people "fail to see the trees for the forest". In Torah Life, there are countless details of halacha and custom - those are the trees, and there are the concepts and the hashkafa that give the practical details a healthy and helpful way of looking at the whole picture. Last week's Torah Tidbits contained an 8-page Pull-Out on Purim, with the major emphasis being on the special situation in Jerusalem this year of Purim M'shulash. Aside from all the details about the mitzvot of Purim, there are the many questions that arise when a Jew finds himself in different places at different time over the two-day period. These we presented last week. Those are the trees. But here is the forest - or, at least, one of the forests to behold.

Why is there a difference in the day of Purim between Yerushalayim (and several other places due to doubt) and everywhere else. And especially this year, when, because of the ban against reading Megila on Shabbat, we in Jerusalem read on Thursday night and Friday, like Jews all over the world. Why didn't our Sages say to move everything to Friday and for this 11% occurrence, we would have Purim on the 14th of Adar? They pulled back Megila. They pulled Matanot La'evyonim with it. Why didn't they go all the way? And even if you want to say that Al HaNisim and Torah reading should stay on the 15th, since there is no objection to their being done on Shabbat, why not pull Seuda and Mishlo'ach Manot back to Friday? They postponed these two aspects to Sunday. To the 16th of Adar. Beyond the two Purim days that the Megila said should not be bypassed.

We are not looking for the simple reason: The Megila tells us that the Jews all over the kingdom fought on the 13th of Adar and rested on the 14th and celebrated on that day. And the Jews in Shushan fought on the 13th and the 14th and rested from their fighting on the 15th and celebrated then. This doesn't address the question as to why the Sages perpetuated the split observance of Purim. There seems to be no imperative to do so. Let's look in the Megila. Although Esther 9:19 tells us: Therefore the Jews in open cities and villages make the 14th of Adar a day of festivities and of sending gifts to one another - what follows seems to suggest that Mordechai's original plan for Purim was different from the way we have it. From 9:20 on we read that Mordechai wrote to Jews throughout Achashveirosh's kingdom - far and near - to accept upon themselves the 14th of Adar AND the 15th of Adar in every year (to come); as days that the Jews rested from their enemies and in the month that was turned from sadness to joy... to make them (plural - the two days of Purim) days (there's the plural again) of parties and festival, and of exchanging gifts one with his fellow, and giving gifts to the poor. And the Jews did accept this on themselves... Look in the Megila; there is repeated reference to these two Purim days - without the distinction that we apply to them.

Why? Or. perhaps, what does this draw our attention to. Even if this isn't THE reason, we certainly have a focus and a message here.

We call it Shushan Purim, but in fact it is Jerusalem Purim. Maybe that's what evolved, but Chazal definitely pushed us in that direction. The always remember the Jerusalem Factor in the Purim story and in the Purim celebration.

Besides Shushan, which is mentioned in the Megila 19 times, there is only one other city named. ISH YEHUDI... There was a Jew who was in Shushan the Capital, and his name was Mordechai ben Yair ben Shim'i, ben Kish, ISH Y'MINI (a Benjaminite). But the description of Mordechai does not end there. Who was exiled from YERUSHALAYIM...

The Purim story happened in Galut, in exile. And more than its venue is the frame of mind of the Jews who lived in that exile. About 70 years had past and already the Jews were so comfortable in their exile that they went to Achashveirosh's parties and enjoyed themselves. The party at which Achashveirosh arrogantly flaunted the plunder of the Beit HaMikdash and paraded around in the holy garments of the Kohen Gadol. It was Mordechai, whose identity is not just a Jew in Shushan. He was also one who was exiled from Jerusalem. The other Jews might have wanted to forget Jerusalem; it might have been more convenient and politically correct to be to be Jewish Persians, to be Shushanites.

But not so very many years before, they swore not to forget Jerusalem. They did, and that's why Haman's sword hung over their heads for almost a whole year.

We, who commemorate and celebrate Purim must keep the Jerusalem Factor in the forefront of our thinking and feeling and reacting to the Purim story.

Our Sages gave us a startling way to do exactly that. First they established a "regular" Purim and a Shushan Purim. Then they gave us the criteria for who keeps the 14th and who keeps the 15th. They did not have to make the Walled City like Shushan rule. They could have kept Shushan Purim for Shushan only. But they didn't. They could have said walled cities from that time, but didn't do that either, because Jerusalem would have been left out. They could have moved Jerusalem's Purim to Friday this year, but they didn't do that either. Because Jerusalem would lose the focus. And it mustn't. What does one do if he goes to Jerusalem at night, in the daytime, etc. What does one do if he travels from Jerusalem, etc. Jerusalem. Jerusalem.

And Jerusalem is not just a city; it is the flagship city of Eretz Yisrael. And that brings us back to the Galut point. Shushan Purim calls attention to Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. To Zion. People who sit down to their Seuda on Sunday will be acutely aware of Jerusalem's special role in Jewish Life. And so too will Jews elsewhere who are not having their Seuda on Sunday.

Celebration of Pesach includes a "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem" declaration. The Dayeinu song brings us beyond the Exodus all the way into Eretz Yisrael and to Jerusalem.

So too Purim. IM ESHKACHEICH YERUSHALAYIM, if we forget Jerusalem, TISHKACH Y'MINI, then you might as well forget Mordechai, the Y'MINI, because without the Jerusalem Factor, we miss the point of Purim.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008


Kumah is inviting all Jews who are down with Mordechai (Down with Haman!) to converge on the Prophet Samuel's tomb just north of Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood at 1PM on Shushan Purim.

This is a deep and beautiful place for the King of Shushan Purim feasts. It is a place where all the conquerers of the land have torn down and built and where the man who anointed the first Jewish king is interred. Shmuel is also an Amalek killer and that is what we need today!

If you come, YOU MUST BRING FOOD and like something parve or basari,and some HOLY DRINK and also bring MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.

When the revolution comes, this is where you'll want to be.

If you can't figure out where it is, ask a Jerusalemite, use the Internet or call *2800 and find out how Egged can get you there. There are challanges to get there, but if you overcome, you will be rewarded!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Answer

Esther said to relay to Mordechai: "Go and gather all the Jews who are in Shushan and fast for my sake, do not eat and do not drink for three days, night and day. My maids and I shall also fast in the same way. Then I shall go to the king, though it is unlawful, and if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:15-16)

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Saturday, March 15, 2008


I returned home following Thursday night's Selichot and Hespeidim at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav completely exhausted. After days and days of Nichum Aveilim, crying, shock and hurt- who wasn't completely drained? But along with all the confusion, pain, questions, sadness, anger and despair, I am filled with respect, pride, awe and hope. Over the past week, we have been privileged to see renewed Achdut and Kavod HaTorah. Heartbreaking and inspiring expressions of Emunah, strength and Kidush Hashem. Clarity of vision, resolve and Mesirut Nefesh. Every shiva visit, interview, interaction with the mourning families, Rabbanim and Talmidim, revealed deep faith and love for Torah and Eretz Yisael.

In the days following the massacre, my shiur and I had the privilege of davening together with Rav Yerachmiel Weiss - the heroic Rosh Yeshiva and the Talmidim at Yeshiva L'Tzeirim of Merkaz HaRav. On Tuesday morning following Tefillah, Rav Weiss addressed the Beit Midrash ("I want to say a few words before the press descends on us again"), and expressed his pride in his talmidim; and while choking back tears, thanked them, praising them for their strength and resilience... he spoke movingly about the need for Achdut and the importance of continuing to be standard bearers and role models for Am Yisrael. "Our way- the way of Torah and truth- is one of love, sweetness, and patience with other Jews- especially those we disagree with... we are all struggling together; and have the zechut of being the vehicle through which Am Yisrael are united."

After davening and the sicha, I approached Rav Weiss to thank him; through tears and an unforgettable embrace, he said, "Thank YOU for davening with us..."

Throughout the week I was zocheh to cross paths with Rav Weiss a number of times; at the Yeshiva, shiva homes etc. In each brief interaction, he expressed his thanks and appreciation for everyone's support.

(BTW- in case somehow you missed it: Arutz Sheva's R' Hillel Fendel translated parts of Rav Weiss' moving interview with Ilana Dayan in his article Faith Through Tears; the interview (in hebrew) is a must see, and gives us a glimpse into the worldview of a true leader: a modest Torah scholar who speaks from the heart and addresses the most difficult questions with clarity and wisdom).

This Erev Shabbat I called Rav Weiss- just to say "Thank you".... As always, he was gracious and friendly, and refused to accept any praise, saying over and over again how "we are all in this together".
Thank you Rav Weiss. Thank you Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Shapira. Than you to all the Rabbeim and Talmidim, families and chevra- for strengthening us and giving us hope in the future of Klal Yisrael. May we be blessed with Yeshuos V'Nechamos

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Thursday, March 13, 2008


Kosher-Style 3

Know Your History!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


To my dear friends and family,

Daniel and I just got back form paying a shiva call to the family of Segev Avichayil, the young boy murdered in the terrorist attack Thursday night. I was expecting a terrible scene of crying and shouting, of blaming and lots of unanswered questions. What we encountered was the exact opposite.

The apartment was a modest one, the only interior design being the sefer lined living room walls. this was clearly a home of torah and yirat shamayim. at least a hundred people were crowded into the room, all listening while the father of this young man spoke with total composure and clarity.

Segev's mother and sister sat quietly listening to words which are difficult to imagine coming from a man whose son had been so cruelly torn from him. I tried to absorb every word, knowing that I was in the presence of greatness and would probably never encounter strength like this again.

Rav Avichayil was telling all the heartbroken people who came to comfort him that he was not broken. He said that he and his wife, and all of their remaining children were stronger in their faith and love for Hashem than ever.

He said that Hashem has chosen this time for the Jewish nation to return to its borders, and the terrorist was just a shaliach to test our resolve to resettle the land. Hashem had now chosen a new path for him and his family to embark on, and all he could do was thank Hashem for having been graced with such a precious neshama for the years his son lived.

Someone there asked if he had questions for Hashem.

He said that the gemara is written in a way that there are always more questions to be asked, deeper layers to reveal and understand. He said that he did not have questions of Hashem, he just knows that he can not understand everything yet. he said that he had no questions, just perhaps he felt a lack of clarity. He went on to describe his son Segev, a boy so connected to torah at just 15 years old. he loved to learn with his father, and had deep respect for his father.

He stood when his father entered the room, and always was very interested in how his father was doing. He called from yeshiva all the time to speak to his parents and siblings aways caring so much for what they were doing and how they were. He went regularly to the hospital to dance and sing and make people happy.

His father asked him once if he was embarrassed to do it, and he could not understand the question. Why should he be embarrassed to make people happy. We have truly lost a special neshama.

Segev's Rav from Merkaz Harav was there. He told us that the reason Segev had been in the library the night of the shooting and not in the Bait midrash was because the Bait midrash was crowded and he did not want to be distracted from his learning. the terrorist killed all the students who could not escape the library fast enough. Segev died with his sefer still open in his hands.

May Hashem bring a nechama to this beautiful Jewish family, who raised their son with the most beautiful torah values and love for yidishkeit. May we see the yeshuah quickly in our days. We must all continue to daven for Shalom for klall yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, and for protection from the evil reincarnation of Haman and Amalek.

Besurot Tovot, Avigail

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

"We Will Not Deter"


I received the following e-mail from a co-worker (who wrote it.)

Although I don't usually send out these types of emails, I would like to share the following with all of you.

Every morning I take the 35 bus line to work. It's a quick ride and usually takes no more than 12 minutes. The third stop after I get on by the shuk is directly in front of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. This morning I found myself a bit anxious, unsure of what I was going to see as we passed by. As I looked around, I saw death notices pasted all over the street and flowers that had been brought lined the entrance to the Yeshiva.

When the bus pulled up to the stop, the driver shut off the engine and stood. With tears in his eyes he told everyone sitting on the bus that one of the boys killed on Thursday night was his nephew. He asked if everyone on the bus would mind if he spoke for a few minutes in memory of his nephew and the other boys that were killed.

After seeing head nods all over the bus he began to speak. With a clear and proud voice, he spoke beautifully about his nephew and said that he was a person who was constantly on the lookout for how to help out anyone in need. He was always searching for a way to make things better. He loved learning, and had a passion for working out the intricacies of the Gemara. He was excited to join the army in a few years, and wanted to eventually work in informal education.

As he continued to speak, I noticed that the elderly woman sitting next to me was crying. I looked into my bag, reached for a tissue and passed it to her. She looked at me and told me that she too had lost someone she knew in the attack. Her neighbors child was another one of the boys killed. As she held my hand tightly, she stood up and asked if she too could say a few words in memory of her neighbor.

She spoke of a young man filled with a zest for life. Every friday he would visit her with a few flowers for shabbat and a short dvar torah that he had learned that week in Yeshiva. This past shabbat, she had no flowers.

When I got to work, one of my colleagues who lives in Efrat told me that her son was friends with 2 of the boys who had been killed. One of those boys was the stepson of a man who used to teach in Brovenders and comes to my shul in Riverdale every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to be a chazan for one of the minyanim.

We are all affected by what goes on in Israel. Whether you know someone who was killed or know someone who knows someone or even if you don't know anyone at all, you are affected. The 8 boys who were killed will continue to impact us all individually and as a nation. Each one of us has the ability to make a profound impact on our world.(AP)

This coming wednesday morning, I will be at Ben Gurion airport at 7 am with Nefesh B'Nefesh welcoming 40 new olim to Israel. We will not deter. We can not give up. We will continue to live our lives and hope and work for change, understanding and peace.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

JPost: Now Those Nutcase Righties Will Attack!


Here’s the spin the self-hating, murder-loving, religious-hating, Arab-loving, G-d-hating, grossly irresponsible – and frankly downright dangerous - extreme left wing media. Oh, they also happen to be exceptionally clueless. That or they just are malicious liars but I’m trying to be optimistic.

Take Amir Mizroch, news editor for the Jerusalem Post. He still just doesn’t get it!

Let me sum up his article entitled: Attack will be seen in Messianic terms

In a nutshell Mizroch claims that those “Nutcase Religious Zionists” are going to be so “seething with anger” that they are going to run into the streets shooting wildly blowing up anything that moves!

Moron! (I’m not name calling – it’s a scientific term.)

(Parenthetically, more evidence of his sheer stupidity is demonstrated in this flatly false assertion: “Very few people outside the religious Zionist population have even heard of Mercaz Harav, let alone know somebody who studies there.”)

Mizroch continues, “There may even be some on the fringes of the settlement movement who will want to take the law into their own hands and carry out a revenge attack, maybe even against targets in East Jerusalem, where it looks like the killer came from.”

Let me give you a clue Mr. Mizroch. Have you ever looked inside the Torah? Do you even know what a Torah is? Or should we say “Very few people outside the religious Zionist population have even heard of a Torah, let alone looked inside one?”

Sir, since we know very few people outside the religious Zionist population even own a Bible I’ll just have to fill you in here.

The angel of G-d said to her, “You are pregnant, and will give birth to a son. You must name him Ishmael, for G-d has heard your prayer. He will be a wild-ass of a man. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.” (Genesis 16:11 – 12)

Wild-ass men shoot rockets at innocent civilians. Wild-ass men blow up public buses in the middle of cities. Wild-ass men brutally murder defenseless teenage Yeshiva students in cold blood. Wild-ass men fire their weapons into the air at funerals demanding revenge and then hand candy out to their children when it transpires.

The Jews - even those “right-wing nut-job Jews” are not wild-ass men. (Wise-guy leftists are itching to yell out “Baruch Goldstein” – very good. The fact that you remember his name proves how unique he is. Now can you name even one Arab terrorist that blew himself up on a bus? What’s that? No? Why not? Oh, I see. There are just too many?)

The way Mizroch writes you would think that at the funerals on Friday all the Jews were firing their weapons into the air. Guess what? They didn’t. Jews aren’t the wild-ass men. So stop your shameful, hateful, attacks – incitement even - that claim that the Jews are something they are not!

Amir Mizroch – Wow, what a dork! (Now I’m name calling!)

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Horrific And Depressing Photos Of The Attack (Graphic)

I did not take the following photos. They are a collection of various media photos and government press office photos which I found posted on a messageboard. I debated if there is any purpose in posting these here. I concluded that they are important for the sole purpose of gaining an understanding of the situation - to see it with our own eyes. To see it and to feel more connected with our holy brothers so that we could daven with the proper kavanah for a speedy redemption and an end once an for all to these atrocities. Tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and indeed all of kal yisrael - since we are all the very same family.

Be warned the photos below are rather graphic and do contain blood. If you do not want to see them - don't scroll down.

Israeli police deployed inside the 'yeshiva,' or Jewish seminary, in Jerusalem on 06 March 2008 after two Palestinians dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jewish yeshiva students entered and shot and killed at least eight Jewish students, wounding another 15, according to Israeli police. The two Palestinians were killed and one was wearing a suicide bomber's belt, which did not explode.
[Later reports said 7 students were murdered, and fewer were wounded - two seriously and that there was only one terrorist. Later reports also said the belt turned out to be for more ammo.-P]

Israeli police detain a suspect as he is led down stairs with a sweatshirt pulled over his head inside the 'yeshiva,' or Jewish seminary, in Jerusalem on 06 March 2008 [I do not know who this "suspect" is or was since later reports said there was only one terrorist who was killed. -P]

Israeli medics rush a seriously wounded young Israeli to an ambulance outside The Wohl Torah Center, a 'yeshiva,' or Jewish seminary, in Jerusalem on 06 March 2008 [Please say tehillim for the wounded. As soon as we have a list of names we will post it. -P]

A handout photograph supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) showsIsraeli medics hold up a prayer shawl soaked in blood that has a bullet hole as they clean up inside the 'yeshiva,' or Jewish seminary, in Jerusalem on 06 March 2008

A handout photograph supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) shows bullet holes and blood stains inside and what appears to be the body of one of the two Palestinian gunmen inside the 'yeshiva,' or Jewish seminary, in Jerusalem on 06 March 2008

More Photos Here...

UPDATE2: Please say Tehillim for Naftali ben Gila from Sderot, Yonatan ben Avital, Shimon ben Tirza, Nadav ben Hadas, Reuven ben Naomi and Elchanan ben Zehava

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Slaughter At Mercaz HaRav

Just about an hour and a half ago, a few hours into the month of Adar II, at least 7 young Jewish men were murdered in cold blood by at least one Muslim terrorist at the flagship yeshiva of Religious Zionism, Mercaz HaRav. Reports are wildly varied - for the latest, go to Israel National News. At this point, officials believe one terrorist opened fire on students in the school's library, killing seven and wounding 10, some seriously. The terrorist was shot in the head by a student of the yeshiva.

This horror can only be increased by the fact that bombs continue to fall in the Western Negev and in Ashkelon. A chilling picture I saw today of an elderly man being evacuated to the hospital after a missile fell in Ashkelon, city of 120,000, has since disappeared from the news site in which I saw it.

Reports from Gaza suggest an atmosphere of celebration and merriment in the wake of these events.

I'm not even sure how to react yet, other than to try and contain the nausea and trembling that want to overtake me. As I struggle with it, I am starting to piece together a recent understanding - the rabbis are under attack.

The reason I note this is because of two other recent news stories. The first piece of news I heard a few days ago, during the first wave of major missile fire against Ashkelon. Somewhere toward the end of an article on the aggression, I read that the area around the Baba Sali's tomb in Netivot had been hit by the rockets. Today I heard that the grave of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak from Berditchev was desecrated in Ukraine. And now, on the beginning of the month of Purim, the happiest month of the year, Rav Kook's yeshiva is attacked - Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook's yartzheit is on Purim.

I'm trying to make sense of this realization so that I can better grasp what Hashem is trying to tell us in this very difficult, painful time. In the meantime, I leave it to you to ponder, and to pray.

As for myself, I pray that Hashem will give strength and comfort to the families of these holy young men, who were gathered in the evening for the purpose of learning Torah. May Hashem allow them to see justice for their sons and for their nation, and have no mercy in destroying everyone connected with this slaying, and all of their allies, down to their very foundations. I pray that Hashem will give us the wisdom to see past these events, and give us the gift of surviving until a better day will dawn. May the G-d of Israel have mercy on His people, and guide us forward in strength and holiness.
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The Ailu V'Ailu Fraud and WikiTorah

These two articles, both from YU's Kol HaMevaser and both by a Ben Greenfield, are recommended. Discussion is encouraged:
Ailu Ve-Ailu Intolerant


He also has a blog

Seems a Sam (Shai) Gluskin from Philly already owns - hope he's putting it to good use.

[Update] Seems from Zion shall come forth WikiTorah.

An click here for something completely unrelated; let's call it "How the US treats its Arafats"
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shmittah Calendar: Month of Adar Bet 5768

The month of Adar Bet begins this Shabbat! (Friday is also Rosh Chodesh!)

The following list is not fully comprehensive at all but includes some common everyday produce most people use. It is largely based on Rabbi Marcus's "Shmittah 5768: A Pratical Guide" (which we recommend you order for yourself here) and other sources. For more information on what these dates mean see here.

Kedushat Shevi'it Starts

On 15 Adar Bet:


Additionally Kedushat Shevi'it for these items remains in effect (with *ed items already in Sefichim):

Butternut Squash
Cabbage (Red)*
Corn (Fresh)*
Medlar (Shesek)
Peas (in pod)*
Pepper (Jalapeno)*
Sweet Potatoes
Zucchini (Squash)*

Kedushat Shevi'it Ends

There are no items that Kedushat Shevi'it ends this month.
Sefichim Begins

Sefichaim Begin this month for the following:

On 1 Adar Bet:


Additionally Sefichim remain in effect for the following:

Cabbage (Red)
Corn (Fresh)
Peas in Pod
Pepper (Jalapeno)
Zucchini (Squash)

Sefichim Ends

There are no items that Sefichim ends this month.

On 14 Adar Bet:

Sweet Potatoes

Note: The following items already required Biur:

On 1 Shevat 5768:


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Monday, March 03, 2008

Don't Miss This Opportunity To Keep Sleeping!

The OU is organizing a great opportunity to keep perpetuating the Galut while enjoying it too!! Here it is:

Emerging Jewish Communities Showcase in New York

Date: 06 Apr, 2008

Description: Your next community is coming to visit you!

Pursue your dream of a professionally enriching, religiously and personally rewarding life in a community with affordable homes in a friendly, supportive neighborhood, where you can be a key person, helping to bolster the Torah environment.

Register online!

On Sunday, April 6, 2008, at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, the OU will showcase a dozen growing Jewish communities from around North America. You will meet community representatives and learn directly from them about:

• synagogues, day schools and yeshivot
• kosher stores and other Jewish communal resources
• exciting and lucrative job opportunities
• affordable housing
• close-knit and warm communities
• Torah atmosphere in which to raise children
• rewarding retirement opportunities

List of Communities:

Charleston, South Carolina
Columbus, Ohio
Dallas, Texas
Denver, Colorado
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Houston, Texas
Indianapolis, Indiana
Memphis, Tennessee
Oakland, California
Omaha, Nebraska
San Diego, California
Seattle, Washington

Sunday, April 6, 2008, 12:00 am – 6:00 pm

Register in advance for the chance to win valuable prizes!

For more information and for reservations, call 212.613.8188


Even prizes will be given out at this perpetuation of the Exile! Here is what it reminds me of:

1. The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,
2. "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me."
3. But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Jaffa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
4. The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.
5. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.
6. So the captain approached him and said, "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish."


G-d is sending us on a mission - to go home and to be a light unto the nations, but good Orthodox Jews prefer to run to the Galut and to be lulled to sleep by "exciting and lucrative job opportunities" and "rewarding retirement opportunities". Chaval.

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Video: Exposing The New Christians

(Or click here.)

Last year on a flight to New York I was seated with a group of what I thought were traditional American Christians. But I noticed they were all wearing a logo I had not seen before. It was a combo of the fish (you know which one I mean), the Star of David, and a seven branch menorah. I now know this is the symbol for Messianic Judaism , the latest religious craze sweeping across America. Here is just one of many lists of Messianic Congregations in North America today.

Movements and organizations have sprung up with names like:

Chosen People Ministries
Coalition of Torah Observant Messianic Congregations
Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship
International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues
International Federation of Messianic Jews
First Fruits of Zion
Messianic Bureau International
Messianic Israel Alliance
Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
One Law Messianic
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations
Union of Torah Observant Ministries

Now many of these “messianics” have their eye on Israel and even Aliyah! "MiTzion Productions" put together a five minute informative video about what’s going on and why you should care.

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