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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Rain Drain

I am writing this on Rosh Chodesh of the month of Shevat. "Jewish Arbor Day" is coming up in 15 days and I am dreading it and wishing that someone would stick in a leap-month of some kind. When I see the beautiful white flowering of the almond tree I am sickened.

Why? Because I know that no rain has fallen. January has been the driest one on record in Israel. The Lake Kineret water supply is so low that ecological damage has set in. The summer is going to come very soon and it will dry up the rest of our precious water supply. The country is on the verge of dehydration and I just wish that winter had another month to do its thing - but to no avail.

All the commentators explain that we are in a drought. Low pressure this, high pressure that. But why is there no rain? No commentator has an answer. It's a fluke; it's nature; it's bad luck...

Judaism has always believed that rain, or lack of it, is under the direct supervision of G-d, and He doles it out in accordance with our behavior. If we are good, we are wet. If we are bad, we dry up. It's a simple, effective and direct causal relationship. It's also very kind, because it's a barometer of how we are doing as a nation. A period of drought is a period of self-reflection, prayer and repentance.

I am not G-d, but I figure He wants me to think about some reasons why there is a drought. It's like when a parent sends you to your room and says, "Think about what you did."

So here is some self-reflection:

Maybe the rain isn't coming because of Gilad Shalit and Jonathan Pollard.

In the last few weeks they were both on the verge of freedom, but they were denied that basic human right. Gilad Shalit has been held captive in Gaza for almost three years. During Operation Cast Lead, Gilad probably heard Israeli bombs landing hits on Hamas targets close by to him. He probably thought, "They are finally coming for me." Maybe he even though that this whole war was started just to bring him home. Alas, the war has ended, but our pain remains. Gilad is not home yet; instead, he is in the brutal hands of our haters. Why did our beloved country stop the war prematurely without bringing him back?

Jonathan Pollard may have also thought that his day of release had arrived. He has been rotting for 22 years in prison for the crime of passing vital information to Israel from a friend. In George Bush's final moments in office, Jewish activists pulled every political string to get a last-minute pardon from the President. Days before Bush's presidency came to a close, the White House actually suspended the comment line - they shut it down - so they wouldn't have to hear any more of the numerous calls begging for Jonathan's release. But while Pollard activists were doing their part, the political echelon never mentioned Jonathan, and we never heard that the State of Israel brought pressure to bear on America.

The redeeming of captives is one of Judaism's greatest commands. It speaks of everything we hold so dear, including, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." If we can't get them released, why would the clouds release their precious blessings on us?

Or maybe the rain isn't falling because of Israel's Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled against the Jewish National Fund's policy of selling land only to Jews. Yet the JNF collected that money from Jews throughout the world with the express purpose of buying property in the Land of Israel for Jews. How could that foundational Zionist activity be made illegal?

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the State can evict Jews from a building that was purchased in Hebron from Arabs. Yet the Jewish community had every proof that the house was legally bought, including video tapes of the seller admitting the sale and the receipt of money in return. Now, that house stands empty and boarded-off after an army eviction. How can legal purchases be overturned so arbitrarily?

Even more recently, the Supreme Court overturned a bi-partisan Election Committee decision to ban anti-Israel Arab parties from running in the upcoming election. The Knesset Election Committee felt that blatantly disloyal parties should not be allowed to run. But the Supreme Court, asserting itself in Israeli politics, overruled the committee and allowed those parties to run even though they openly support the destruction of Israel.

G-d in Heaven hates injustice, but it seems that the highest law in our land has no law at all. Their anti-Israel bent coupled with their immense power, untamed by any checks and balances, makes the Supreme Court the most dangerous entity in Israel today. How can we expect the Heavenly Court to judge us favorably when our own court has no regard for truth?

Or maybe the rain isn't falling because we waste the water we are given.

If you went to a venture capitalist and asked for a million dollars for a project, you would not be surprised if you got only a part of that money with the rest of the cash contingent on how you use the seed money first. Rain from heaven is the same. G-d says to us: "Here is just a bit of rain, and if I see you use it wisely, I will send down some more."

In many dry countries, like Australia, water capture technology is widespread. Roofs collect rain and siphon the water into big storage buckets. That water is later used for gardening or for toilet. Dish water and shower water is routinely recycled into the gardens in many countries. Israel should be a leader in this kind of technology, pioneering better ways to capture and utilize every drop of rain. But it is not. Most of the water that goes to the gutter on a rainy day gets dumped out into the desert with no practical usage. It simply gets wasted.

Now why would G-d send us more rain when we waste His gifts? Why would He give us blessing when we tolerate injustice? Why would He give us a hug when we forget to hug those who need us most?

Think of the drought as a gift, as a personal wake-up call to the nation. We can wake up. We must wake up. Or maybe instead we should just go back to our dry sleep. You know, dust to dust. Low pressure this, high pressure that. It's a fluke; it's nature; it's just bad luck.


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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hot Air

The Jews have been through a lot this month. Those who haven't welcomed their sons, husbands, and friends home from a dangerous war which came to an untimely and even more dangerous end, are losing the shirts off their backs on the American stock market or are getting held up in their driveways in South Africa, rioted against in Paris or - well, any number of things that are happening today in our crazy world.

I don't know about you, but I have become much more involved in prayer recently. I once had a dream (a nighttime dream, not a grand MLK-style vision) that a huge projector played movies of natural disasters and wars in the air above my house in Texas. This movie, which was played around the world (in my dream) as an immediate precursor to the arrival of the Messiah, was meant to finally illustrate to the people of the world that G-d had orchestrated each and every war and natural disaster as a warning and as an opportunity for us to return to Him in prayer and loyalty. I woke up very moved.

Of course, as is the nature of G-d's less perfect people (and as you can note occurs to the Jews in basically every book of the Bible), this acute understanding eventually faded from my mind, and was replaced by the much more mundane feelings and impulses which we all deal with daily.

With the recent return of chaos and uncertainty to our lives, as I felt the welfare of the Nation of Israel coming into peril as my brothers went into battle against our evil enemy, I myself returned - to my better self, my nobler priorities, and my wiser understandings - or at least tried. Even now, as the world seems no less shaky, I try to drag and scrape my way up the ladder toward G-d, hoping to be part of the solution, and not the vast, shameful problem.

When I heard the news that a major natural gas reserve was discovered off the coast of Haifa, I thanked G-d for the blessing he bestowed on the Jewish People, perhaps a token of love and support as we trudged home from a war from whose battlefields we were dragged prematurely, by powers who know no G-d.

"How great is our L-rd!" I thought. "Who knows from what direction blessings can come? Nothing is too big for Hashem!"

I read articles, in which the drillers breathlessly predicted 15 years of Israeli energy independence thanks to the new find. "Baruch Hashem!" I thought. "Things are finally going in the right direction. Score!"

But Yitzhak Tshuva, the owner of many of the companies involved in the joint drilling effort, burst my gas-filled bubble with his statement on the issue. Thinking the nation was in a different place after the unity of war cast a new light on our country, thinking recent anti-Israel UN resolutions might put our place in this world in perspective, I was shocked when I read Tshuva's enthusiastic comments to Army Radio: "My golden touch hasn't disappeared," Tshuva said.

Oh man! How sad. And angering. What a fool, what a missed opportunity, what an embarrassment! What did you touch exactly, Mr. Tshuva, and how did you become so "golden"? And how do you know that it won't disappear? Did you create your drills, or the gas you found, or even your talent for locating it? How could you be so self-centered - and so wrong? How could you think that you are responsible for all this good?

It's sad how easy it is to fall backward. The Jewish People, as they struggle forward, are constantly victim to this particular kind of disaster. "I made all these things," we think to ourselves. We don't realize the amazing kindness with which Hashem treats us everyday, the mercy. Instead, we think we are big - until Hashem is forced to show us that we're small.

I pray that the Jewish People break this vicious cycle soon, for everyone's sake. I don't want to watch G-d's disaster movie play out here in the Holy Land anymore.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

On the Tendler Mount

Rabbi Moshe Tendler was my rebbe at YU and he is the rabbi of The Community Synagogue of Monsey, and a professor of Jewish Medical Ethics and biology at Yeshiva College. He is also the son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and helped that Torah giant write the famous Igrot Moshe responsa. On Monday the 24th of Tevet, Rabbi Tendler paid a visit to the Temple Mount in the company of the Temple Institute Director Yehudah Glick, broadcaster and anti-missionary Rabbi Tovia Singer, broadcaster and activist Yishai Fleisher, and Temple Mount patron Yehuda David, and other good Jews.

During the course of the visit the group recited prayers, including Kadish, Birkat Kohanim, and Barchu. Rabbi Tendler encourages his students to ascend Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) in ritual purity.

I took this video.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Ignorance Really is Bliss

Everyone has their pleasure buttons. For some it's cigarettes, for others that slice of chocolate cake on the table. Me? I'm a news and politics junkie. If left to my own devices I would spend all day online reading news articles and blogs, and when I ran out of those I would go on Wikipedia and look up everything I had read about. Recently I took on a resolution (yes it was around New Years, no it wasn't for New Years) to cut down on my media consumption. It was inspired when I went out to dinner with a few of my frummie friends, most of which were serious talmidei chachamim in their own right. Yet a little ways into the night I found us discussing things like electric cars and George Bush. I thought silently to myself, "If we were having this discussion ten years ago it would probably include something about Bill Clinton and maybe the internet or G-d knows what. Yet I could look back on that conversation today and the content would be meaningless for me. So too I could look back on this current conversation 10 years from now and it would be equally meaningless. I was sitting here with Torah learners who could be imparting upon me and each other thoughts of Torah which, Torah being eternal, would be just as enlightening and relevant 10 years into the future as right now. Indeed, Torah thoughts and insights are like a fine wine, as you come to understand the insight better through life experience it often improves with age.

Upon this realization I decided that I spend to much of my time concerning my brainwaves with things that, while interesting or fun to talk about, really have no bearing in the grand scheme of things and therefore I needed to trim some of the intellectual fat. There's a lot of stuff going on in the world, and probably 90% of it has absolutely nothing to do with my day to day life. While the thought of giving up all news was a little to intimidating, I decided from now on Bli Neder (that's a BIG bli neder!) I would try to stop reading non-Jewish and non-Israel related news websites. This was an especially tough move for me because of the main English language Jewish news sites, I find Haaretz way too leftist and JPost mildly too liberal and often too bland. Though I get the feeling Ynet is somewhat anti-religious I'm keeping them around (for now) because they usually have up to the moment updates of what is going on in Israel and of course there's always good ole' Arutz Sheva. Plus I've developed a deeper appreciation of Rabbi Lazer Brody's "Lazer Beams" of which I was already a big fan.

So how has it been? Well first of all it's interesting how when one tries to go up a level the Sitra Achra combats them with extra challenges to block the path. On day one of this new resolution the country went to war in Gaza. So I had a few peaks at the Drudge Report but other than that I'm proud to say I've been pretty good about it for the past couple of weeks. And you know what? It feels great! I can actually see extra time in my day that I'm spending in much more fulfilling ways and while I'm still keeping informed of issues facing the Jewish people, I no longer carry the weight of the entire world on my shoulders. I did take a quick peak again a day or two ago and was shocked at two things: A)How much is going on in America and the world I didn't know about (apparently some miracle jet crashed into the Hudson without anyone dieing and America is going to have a new president tomorrow or something like that... who knew?) and B)How I suddenly could care less about all these things I was missing out on knowing about- their importance suddenly became non-existent, as if they weren't real headlines but just some irrelevant fiction story written by an author nobody has ever heard of. For anyone thinking of trying this I really recommend it. If your as into the news as I am then you might have to get rid of things in stages but I've found the age-old adage really is true... ignorance turned out to be bliss after all. And besides- you've always got Kumah to read!

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

What You Learn in Ulpan

In ulpan, or intensive Hebrew language study, a new immigrant to Israel learns the basics. The lessons start with the aleph-bet, but quickly advance to more difficult concepts.

After 4 1/2 years of living in Israel, with poor Hebrew language skills, I finally got the gall and the opportunity to take ulpan.

I enrolled in Ulpan Tikvateinu, also known as Manpower, next to Jerusalem's Central Bus Station. This ulpan focuses on the vocabulary and language skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

We have been practicing our skills in mock employment interviews, and various work scenarios. In our ulpan, we talk openly about our professions, our talents, our skills and experience.

As such, our group knows about my experience in Journalism and Marketing. I know about my fellow classmates' skills as realtors, accountants, etc. Most of the students in this ulpan are older immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.

We also practice reading the newspaper and discussing the news we hear on the radio. As Israel has been embroiled in military conflict in Gaza, we frequently discuss whether Israel should push for a cease-fire, carry on the operation, and all the possibilities that go with it.

We discuss the players in the government and their positions, as they represent various segments of society.

In addition to learning in ulpan, I am currently holding down several freelance posts, which provide some much needed income and fill my schedule. As such, I have not been such a stickler on completing my daily ulpan homework--even though that homework greatly aids the learning process.

On Thursday, after we reviewed some homework that I did not do, my teacher Gania, who as a rule only speaks to us in Hebrew, came over to me and started speaking seriously in English.

She said, "You know, you have to participate."

I was prepared to give her a song and dance about my schedule, and how it is hard to find the time for homework.

Gania continued, "Have you written anything about what is going on in Israel now? You are a good writer, right? Have you sent emails to your friends and family about the situation, so that they can know the truth?"

I responded, "Well I've spoken to lots of friends and family on the phone, but this time around, I haven't been working as a journalist, and I've been focusing on work and learning Hebrew."

Then Gania let me have it.

"That is unacceptable. The country is at war!"

"The least you can do is take 10 minutes to write about what is going on," Gania insisted. "Talking on the phone is not enough. That cannot be read or forwarded to others. You have a talent, and you must use it now. This is your responsibility during a time of war!"

Gania really lit the match under my tail. She is teaching us the basics, the aleph-bet of living in Israel. I am grateful for the experience.
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Satire: The International Media

Unfortunately, this satire by the Israeli sketch comedy show 'Eretz Nehederet' is not as much of a stretch as some might like to think...

(I found the clip on the Jerusalem Post's blog called 'Must Sees'...

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The Secret Weapon II of the IDF

Handing out Tzitzis to Soldiers

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Working To Bring Redemption Safely

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Zee Talks About Fighting Terror

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Tagging" Ain't Just for Facebook!

To my displeasure, the walls of Jerusalem (and much of the rest of Israel) are covered in graffiti. My reaction is often to not pay attention at all or sigh over the misuse of a beautiful white wall of Jerusalem-stone. But I've noticed if you look a little deeper you will see many reoccurring patterns within the teenage (I pray they're only teenagers) markings. The most common one of course is the "Na Nach Nachma Nachman M'uman" tag of the dope-smoking hippies that fancy themselves some sort of modern breakaway group of Breslov Chassidim.

A new one that has been popping up all over the place in the last two weeks or so though is "Style Wars 2." At first I didn't think much of it, but as I saw it over and over again I started to get more curious. Could it have to do something with Star Wars? I understand every other group of people seems to lay some sort of claim to the holy city but now Star Wars nerds too!? I did an internet search on it and it turns out that Style Wars was the name of a PBS documentary done on urban culture and specifically spray paint graffiti. Now why they have started to spray Style Wars 2 everywhere is beyond me, unless it is some sort of grassroots promotion for a sequel. Also popping up is an interesting one that says something to the effect of "Joker love 42" or something like that. It always seems to feature arrows coming out the the ends of the letters which seems kind of neat I guess.

A more classic one I've seen for over a year now is "Homo = Ill" or some slight variant of it. The funny thing is that wherever somebody has written it, 90% of the time somebody has come around later, crossed out the word "Homo" and replaced it with word "bigot." My mind's eye pictures some rainbow flag bearing spray paint can toting hippie following closely behind some angry right wing punk, each tip-toeing so as to not arouse the attention of police-calling neighbors.

Another common one is the "Am Yisrael Chai" (the nation of Israel lives on) which always includes a Magen David, and every now and then you'll even see a "Mavet l'aravim" (Death to the arabs) painted on a stairwell or alleyway wall. But if you really want a treat I recommend going on Yaffo Street across from the Shuk and checking out the building that has beautiful calligraphy of Jerusalem in both Hebrew and English written across an entire wall. Whether you like it or not, the graffiti seems to pop up everywhere in Jerusalem, but at least you can't complain that they don't keep it interesting.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

For Thus Saith The L-RD

The following prophecy from Amos 1:6-8 is circulating in email in Israel and around the world:
כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי עַזָּה, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ: עַל-הַגְלוֹתָם גָּלוּת שְׁלֵמָה, לְהַסְגִּיר לֶאֱדוֹם
Thus saith the L-RD: For three transgressions of Gaza, yea, for four, I will not reverse it: because they carried away captive a whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom.

וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי אֵשׁ, בְּחוֹמַת עַזָּה; וְאָכְלָה, אַרְמְנֹתֶיהָ
So will I send a fire on the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour the palaces thereof;

וְהִכְרַתִּי יוֹשֵׁב מֵאַשְׁדּוֹד, וְתוֹמֵךְ שֵׁבֶט מֵאַשְׁקְלוֹן; וַהֲשִׁיבוֹתִי יָדִי עַל-עֶקְרוֹן, וְאָבְדוּ שְׁאֵרִית פְּלִשְׁתִּים--אָמַר, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה
And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon; and I will turn My hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord G-D.

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KeyBoard Warrior

My name is Marc. Your station is a big breath of fresh air! I have joined with a growing army of keyboard warriors who are proving that Jiihad is a 2 way street. We are attacking the nasty comments at comment boards of Utube IDF videos, Hamas videos, anti-Israel/Jewish videos plus blogs and everything else online related to negative and/or false comments about Jews and Israel with these exact words knowing that a flood of repetition will have an overwhelming effect and gain media attention. It is time to END THE ILLEGAL ARAB OCCUPATION OF ISRAEL Arabs go away – Arabs go back to Syria We all know that words inflame Islamists but we also know that many good people need to see them in front of their eyes.

It is a fact that the vast majority of Utube viewers will glance at the comments but will seldom add their own. We want them to see ours instead of the Islamists. We have all had horrible comment responses to our Utube etc. postings (in comment areas) but know that it proves the need for keyboard warriors. Silence is defeat and we will no longer be silent! We urge you to tell your listeners to join our effort and send hellos when they run into a posted comment using the phrases above. Two nights ago the comment was posted so many times so quickly by just a few of us that we literally drove 2 or 3 Jihadist supporters off of the Utube comment boards. We tracked their names after reading their disgusting remarks and posted to their personal message boards.

We need more folks to join us or the only comments on pertinent videos will be against Jews and Israel. You’ll find out quickly that they are cowards and you will feel that you have helped in the war for Israel and world Judaism. Just be sure to all nasty comments with the phases – copy and paste it. It makes the idiots madder when you don’t answer back to their ignorant smut. Soon they will back down and disappear from any page with very active comments. One note: Utube will give you a message that you have reached your comment limit or will only show “video comment rather than text and video comment” after posting comments 2 or 3 times but you can continue after going to the bottom of the page and filling in the squiggle letters box and clicking submit. Truly, Marc from Chicago

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Friday, January 02, 2009

The Secret Weapon of the IDF

Earlier this week Chabad posted this amazing article with photos that you must see!

It reminded me of something I posted a while back. And it seems fitting to repost it now after seeing the amazing work Chabad is doing on the front lines!

All the nations of the world will see that G-d's Name is associated with you, and they will be in awe of you. (Devarim 28:10).

Menachot 35b interprets this verse as a reference to the tefillin worn on the head.

When the Gentiles see the Jews proudly attired in tefillin, they respect them. Tefillin cast an aura of fear over Israel's foes. Even demons and spirits will tremble in fright (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5a).

The first letters of Shem Hashem Nikrah, "G-d's Name is associated," spell out the name of the letter SHiN. A Shin bolts out of either side of the head tefillin. It is the first letter of Sha-D-I. (Baal HaTurim).

"Tefillin are G-d's crown... Whoever dons this crown will become the ruler below, as G-d is the ruler above" (Zoher III 269b).

Similarly, Berachot 56a maintains that a person who sees tefillin in his dreams will soon rise to power. Berahot (6a) interprets "G-d's powerful arm" (Isaiah 62:8) as tefillin. "Tefillin grant power to Israel."

Accordingly, it has always been customary for Jewish soldiers to observe the mitzvah of tefillin with great care.

Text taken from Meam Loez on Ki Tavo p. 150. Photos collected from the Internet.

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