Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jameel’s Excellent Aliya Adventure. Part 73.

WestBankMama organized a great initiative of collecting stories from bloggers about their Israel experiences and why they made aliya. Instead of posting (today) about why I decided specificially to move to Israel, I’ll enclose chapter 73 from my upcoming book, Jameel’s Excellent Aliya Adventure.

I don’t think there was one singular event which made me decide, “That’s it – this where I belong, this is where I have to live,” rather it was the result of a long chain of events that transpired over the course of 2 years…

This chapter recounts the historic first few days of my arrival in Israel in the mid 1980’s – the start of my stay in Israel, to study in yeshiva as a teenager for 2 years.

We flew on the EL-AL sochnut flight, the one chartered exclusively for Yeshiva students by the Jewish Agency (though now I’m told this flight doesn’t exist anymore; everyone comes however it’s cheapest). Almost every yeshiva was represented -- Har Etzion, Shaalvim, Kerem B’Yavneh, Shilo, Beit-El, Brisk, Mir, Hevron, Toras Moshe, Itri (and it’s numerous split-offs, split-three, etc.), Brovenders, HaKotel, Shappels, Ohr Sameach, Nir-Kiryat Arba and many others I had never heard of.

Almost the entire plane was dressed in nice yeshivish clothes; dark pants, button-down shirts, shoes, some wore jackets & hats, most wore black suede kippot – there were a few knitted kippot sprinkled throughout the crowd. I honestly don’t think that anyone was wearing jeans, even though many normally would – if even just to fly in comfortable clothes.

Our plane touched down in mid-August, mid-1980’s, at 6:00 AM at Ben-Gurion Airport. Wearing our nice clothes we didn't count on Israel being in the middle of a brutal chamsin heat wave. Forget the ultra-modern Terminal 3 of today -- back then, there was no fancy terminal 3, or even an arrivals lounge in Terminal exited straight from the meches/duty-tax lines to a passage along the wall.

On the other side of the narrow exit passage, facing the outside was a metal fence -- everyone from outside was hanging on, smushed against it hoping to get a view of those lucky people coming back from an airplane flight.

The unexpected heat and humidity was overwhelming...within a minute beads of sweat were dropping down off our foreheads...the nicely pressed yeshivish shirts didn’t look so fine anymore.

All the yeshivot had buses waiting for them...except for us. For us, for our yeshiva, there was no representative, no one waiting...not a soul.

As all our friends and co-passengers left the airport in their buses, our stomachs started growling. The appetizing and hearty ELAL bagel breakfast from a few hours ago was long forgotten, and we started hunting around the airport for something to eat. We found the airport makolet -- but to buy anything we needed to change money from Old Shekels. (or just "Shekels" one knew at the time they would be replaced so soon.)

I changed $10...and became an instant millionaire -- 15,000 shekels! Was this a joke or a jackpot? Fifteen Thousand shekels for only ten dollars? Whooping for joy as only naive American yeshiva students know how to...I walked over to buy a Coke and a Kit Kat chocolate bar. Reality set in quickly enough -- 1,500 shekels for a coke and a chocolate bar. We would need to earn our fortunes another way.

So there we were, 70-something American yeshiva guys wandering around the airport in "yeshiva" clothes, melting in the unbearably hot, humid Ben-Gurion sun...waiting...waiting….

After close to 2 hours, someone purchased some "asimonim" (phone tokens from yester-year) and courageously called our yeshiva to find out why we were dying from the heat at the aiport, while all the other yeshivot picked up their students.

The yeshiva was in shock – apparently, they hadn't been expecting us!


This was an organized flight!

Turns out that since it was Wednesday morning, and rosh chodesh Elul would be the upcoming Sunday, they only expected us on Sunday.

I guess someone there did some rather quick thinking and realized it would be a bad political move to keep 70 students from chutz la'aretz stranded at the airport, and quickly dispatched two ancient buses to pick us up.

Close to 2 hours later when the buses arrived, we were totally soaked, uncomfortable, exhausted, and antsy.

We had to load the bus with all our duffle bags and suitcases - pushing and shoving them into the bus, almost collapsing from overpowering humidity.

Finally, with everything aboard we took off in the direction of our yeshiva. These were old buses…rickety…no air conditioning…and the windows didn’t open either. Totally disregarding safety rules – I think the driver kept the bus door open for there to be some ventilation. We didn’t care as long as some air flowed into the bus.

Pulling up to our yeshiva's campus after noon, we were all rather self-conscious of how bad we looked. We had planned on showing up neat and yeshivish, presenting a good first impression. Instead, we arrived looking like we had just run up and down Masada a few times (maybe carrying some cinder blocks for good measure as well.)

The yeshiva’s "minahel" met us as we tumbled out of the bus, and he greeted us warmly. He smiled broadly when he informed us,
"What a surprise! We weren't expecting you till next week...But I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is that the yeshiva is closed till Sunday. You can’t stay here at all. The bus stop to Jerusalem is that way, and to that direction.... The good news is that you can leave your suitcases and duffle bags – we’ll lock them up for you, so all you need to do is take out some clothes for a few days and Shabbat, put them in a knapsack and off you go!

Welcome to Israel!"


That would have been a great time for a group photo of 70 dumbstruck guys. Most of us had no clue what to do now...we were exhausted, starving, and confused. Someone mentioned to the minahel that we hadn't eaten since the flight, and he arranged "lunch" for us.

Our first yeshiva lunch consisted of: cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh bread, and some bags of milk. Since we'd never seen bags of milk before, different groups went off creatively figuring out the best way to open them. One pair held the bag while a third stabbed the bag in the center with a knife.

Pow! Splat.

Everyone in a 3 meter radius got soaked with grainy milk (no Homogination back then either – you had to shake bags of milk to keep the grains evenly spread throughout all the milk…yuck.)

After some experimentation, someone figured out that cutting off the top corner would be the easiest way to coax the milk out of the bag into the orange yeshiva-standard-issue hard plastic cups. But this was lunch? Where was the food?! Americans need real food! What sort of yeshiva was this? (Years later, I look back in horror at our behavior and expectations, but that’s a different chapter)

As panic slowly washed over our group, I took 2 friends aside, and told them that whatever plan I would come up with, they were welcome to join me. Not that I had any real idea for a plan but it sounded convincing to them…(and most importantly, I wouldn’t be left alone!)

Deciding that Jerusalem sounded like a friendlier place than Tel-Aviv, we headed off towards the Jerusalem-bound bus stop, along with about half our group. More of our shekel fortune now disappeared as we forked over our fares to the bus driver. We slept on the bus...not very restfully...but it was some much needed sleep. We were jarred awake by the side to side swaying of the bus as it climbed up the windy road along the Jerusalem mountainside.

At the central bus station 4 from our group announced they would try their luck in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Not that they actually knew anyone there, but the Old City sounded like a good place to meet a friendly family that would put up 4 yeshiva guys from Wednesday to Sunday, with no advance warning. Right? We wished them luck, hoping to see them again in one piece on Sunday.

We found out later that they did manage to make it to the Jewish Quarter...and knocked on random doors: "Hi, we're a bunch of American yeshiva students in Israel for the year, and our yeshiva is closed. Can we stay with you for a few days?" After only 3 or 4 doors, they all found somewhere to stay…

I took out a handwritten list from my parents -- a list of their friends who made aliya -- I has been instructed to call them during the year and send them regards.

Taking out the list, we did the fateful, "eenie meenie miney moe" – choosing a family at random. I put an asimon into a payphone, dialed the number, and then in my best possible Hebrew said, "Shalom! My name is Jameel...I just landed in Israel this morning…"

A pleasant sounding girl replied, "It’s OK, you can speak in English"

I was shocked and crestfallen, "What?! How did you know I wasn't Israeli?"

She laughed back at me, "Well, you certainly don't sound Israeli on the phone."

Trying to regain my wounded pride, I restarted the conversation, "Well, Hi! My name is Jameel, and I'm studying in Yeshiva this year..."

"...and you want to come for Shabbat?" the girl interrupted me.

"How did you know I was going to ask that!?" This girl was waaaay too psychic for me. Heh, I'd show her:

"Well, actually, yes, I'd love to come for Shabbat, but its ALSO from now till Sunday, and with 2 of my friends!" (Let’s see if you can match that.).

Pausing for a second, she said, "Well, it should be mom's not home, but we'll manage."

She gave me directions to her home by bus, my asimon dropped and our conversation abruptly ended.

Assuring my friends that everything would work out, we found the right bus in the right direction, got off at the wrong stop but still managed to find the apartment.

Greeting us warmly at the door, a teenage girl invited us in. Shuffling into the apartment, we looked around -- 70’s furniture…a black and white TV…a couch…books on the shelves…everything seemed normal enough. She offered us some food, but we were all too sleepy to eat. Thanking her for her hospitality, we just wanted to sleep…sleep…sleep….and we dozed off on the couch

Sometime during the night, (evening, night, day, I had lost track of time), I sensed a face close to mine…examining me.

“Baby Jameel, is THAT you?? We haven’t seen you in ages – it’s been years since we made aliya...and now you show up -- what a nice surprise!”


I drifted back into a deep sleep.

Next thing I knew the bright morning Jerusalem sunlight streamed through the window and the door opened with a bang. In marched a scruffy looking IDF soldier (our host's son), schlepping a huge green duffle bag, and an even scarier looking rifle of some sort. When he saw me, he broke out into a huge grin and said in perfect English, “Hey – Good Morning! Looks like you’re one of those American Yeshiva guys just off the boat, right?” (How the heck did people keep figuring that out so fast?!)

Our newfound soldier-friend took us around Jerusalem, explaining the bus routes, the little ins-and-outs of the city, places to get good food in the center of town – our own personal tour guide and contemporary (plus, he was Israeli AND American). He also had twin sisters in 12th grade which made our stay there friendly – and it helped break the ice for us 3 yeshiva guys showing up there unexpectedly.

I’ll never forget the discussion I had with our host over Shabbat.

Host: So….this stay in Israel, learning in yeshiva for you…it’s a precursor for your aliya, right?

Jameel: Excuse me?

Host: Well, you do think about aliya, right?

Jameel: [laughing] I’m just here for the year to learn. After that, I’m going back to the US, study at YU, build my life there. Why would I want to live here in Israel?

Host: Well…maybe you’ll end up loving the land here.

Jameel: I doubt it…I don’t see myself living here.

Host: I fell in love with the land, the country…its more than just love, it’s a passion…

Jameel: [feeling a bit uncomfortable] Well, I don’t have any plans to stay...

(switching back to the present)

That conversation was a long time ago…and now I find myself having similar ones with American Yeshiva people, with the roles reversed as I encourage them to move here as well.

I’ll have to post many more chapters of this ongoing saga to paint all the hues and colors of my decision to move here and build my life in Israel.

Sometimes the brush strokes are bold – with definitive, strong feelings of ideology, a passion to settle the land and help make this great country even better.

And sometimes the brush gently meanders along, filling in background details with the gentle, softer colors of the usual day to day Israel experiences.

Oh, so how does this chapter end?

One of my 2 friends who came for that Shabbat ended up marrying one of the twin daughters.

And unbeknownst to me, my future wife was also a high school classmate of those twins as well…

Chag Sameach! (And read about out the Shabbat Parasha difference between Israel and Chutz La'Aretz if you haven't done so already: Synchronicity Lost)

And everywhere I may be, this blog will always turn towards Eretz Yisrael.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reuters Worker Issues "Zionist Pig" Death Threat to American Blogger...and other news.

With my blog careening wildly in all directions, I had to take a break and share the following tidbits with you.

1. Reuters (our favorite objective pro-Israel news agency) employee issues 'Zionist pig' death threat to an American Blogger: 'I look forward to day when you pigs get your throats cut'. (hattip: Ynet)

Well, I'm glad he didn't write that to me. As Jameel @ The Muqata (of American decent) I would have been able to riot and burn down Reuters Corporate Headquarters, since Moslems (or their God) are not allowed to be called pigs. Period.

2. Pathetic Proteczia -- How Olmert helps out the Hamas Prime Minister's 18 year old daughter who was arrested for illegally entering Israel to visit her fiance in jail (she used someone else's ID). Olmert's office is doing its best to prevent unneccessary escalation of the issue and she's already been let free to return to Gaza.

Can't we just let love and peace reign free? I guess there's nothing like young love...which overcomes all. Oh yeah, her fiance is in jail for 15 years for attempted murder.

3. Secular Zionism as the Authentic Jewish Idea? Ha'Aretz has an Op/Ed piece about secular zionist conversions. Bottom Line of his article:

"If secular people are the real continuation of the continuum of Jewish existence, then they have a responsibility toward those who are knocking on the door of their nation. They must not forfeit conversion."

Secular Zionism is not a religion and neither is secular Judaisim. Secularism is the absense of religion and not a "denomination" (while Conservative and Reform are.) Just found this interesting blog analyis by Bari ViShema. Or for something more uplifting for Shavuot, read about this conversation he transcribed.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Monday, May 29, 2006

Guest Post: Can a Baal Teshuva with doubts remain Frum?

Important Preface to Readers by Jameel: One of the first blogs I was introduced to was the "godolhador" blog. I was fascinated by frank discussions I rarely heard elsewhere and eagerly followed them daily. My personal emuna was never really bothered by the questions or the skeptics, but it was very refreshing to be hashkafically challenged by the different viewpoints raised. One of the frequent commenters there, The Holy Hyrax is personally troubled by doubts... skepticism... and questions... yet what makes him different (so he claims) is that as a Ba'al Teshuva, he lacks the basis to "remain in the fold" since he did not grow up "frum from birth" -- and therefore poses his question, "Can a Baal Teshuva with doubts remain Frum?"

My blog The Muqata, is probably not the best of blogs for this guest posting for a variety of reasons, most importantly I lack the overly diverse readership as the GodolHador blog and this posting will probably not receive as wide ranging feedback on the subject as The Holy Hyrax deserves. However, since he asked if he could guest post it here and he doesn't have a blog of his own, it's the least I can do. I can say that reading his post caused me to think about my own hashkafa and my own children's education -- and I sincerely hope someone can provide answers for The Holy Hyrax to sooth his anguish.

Can a Baal Teshuva with doubts remain Frum?
A Guest Post by The Holy Hyrax.

That question has been haunting me for quite a while now. Can I, as a BT, lead some sort of normal existence within Judaism, with doubts? This past Shabbat gave me time to reflect on my present situation, as well as paint myself some sort of portrait of my future. Of course, no one knows what’s in store for me in the future, but I do know something about my present situation.

I am utterly miserable.

How does one remove these doubts from his head and build himself some sort of ideal Judaism? I don't know if other people can, but I can't. I have talked to many wonderful people here on the blogs, many of them with doubts, but none of them, BT's. All the bloggers here that are able to somehow appreciate Shabbat or some good niggun, are those that are FFB. Whether they have doubt or not, they are basically indoctrinated with a love for Judaism and a love to keep halacha (different people at different degrees). Me, I just don't care anymore. I was not raised with a Jewish upbringing, so it’s not in me to say Modeah Ani in the morning, or put tzitzis, or tfillin or just say a regular bracha. These things are not important to me because it was never a part of me, and let’s not forget the part of the doubts.

Now I have two things working against me.

My kids will be attending orthodox elementary schools soon. When my kid asks me why I don't say birkat hamazon, what should I tell her? What do I tell her when she lifts up some electronic device on Shabbat? Do I quickly run to her and ask her to put it down because it is muktzeh? I don't think so. How can I have any appreciation to keep all these halachot if it’s not inside me? Will I honestly care about the size of my son’s Peyot? Should I just let the school raise my child when it comes to religious matters? There have been posts every-now and then critiquing modern teaching -- comparing it to a time long gone when things were done differently. Will I know what good religious teaching will be? Will I know how to fix it? How can I?

I used to be a happy person. I never did drugs, or gotten drunk. I always felt sorry for those that were picked on. I have tried to tend to those that really need help. This is just part of my character. It has nothing to do with Judaism. Since Judaism came along, I have been depressed. Judaism has offered me little except for grief and tears. I ask God what’s the point of all this? Could it be so that we have come almost 3000 years only to discover we are not what we believed we were? Is the real essence of "Continuous Revelation," that we discover the truth about our Torah? Perhaps the beauty of Torah is that we DID make it up. That through our own devises, we tried to connect to you, as best as we could, because we are, after all, only human, and the system that we developed would ultimately have flaws. But I am only human too. And there is so much mental anguish that I can take. Having this hashkafa may be a way to look at it, but its definitely a lonely hashkafa. I am not part of the Reform community. My wife is orthodox, and as I see it, my children’s future will be going to orthodox schools. So how on earth can I continue like this? Not much longer. It is getting very lonely. How will I deal with my orthodox community? How will I deal with going to relatives during the holidays, pretending that I am having a good time.

Over Shabbat, I was reading the book "Off the Derech." I got to the part of where children are exposed to the "atmosphere" of the home, and how they pick up behaviors from their parents, even the most subtle ones. Then I started to think of my home. How on earth am I going to raise healthy children, when their father is always depressed? How can I fulfill my potential to be a good father and husband, when my mind is always pre-occupied by doubts and questions. This is no ideal to raising children. Children need good homes. Sometimes they have very religious fathers, but yet he abuses them. So what good is the religion? The same thing goes on now in my home. I may not be physically abusing them, but the mental abuse that they will receive from a father that is always done about religion, will be great as well. They do not deserve this. My wife deserves the husband she once new -- a happy, caring one. So if Judaism is causing me such great misery, why should I keep up with it? I just don't know anymore. All I know is that I wanted to be frum, I really did. Anyone that knows me can testify to that. But how can I go on any longer.

So my question remains. Can a BT with doubt remain frum?

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Synchronicity Lost: Eretz Yisrael and The Diaspora

The coming Shabbat, Israel and the Disaspora (Chutz-La'Aretz) will lose their weekly Torah reading synchronicity.

It will be a special Shabbat combined with the second day of Shavuot in the Diaspora, but will only be a regular Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael, since we only observe one day of Shavuot.

Therefore, in Israel we will read the regular Shabbat Parashat HaShavua Torah-reading of "Naso", while outside Israel they will read the Torah portion for chag.

Israel and Chutz-La'Aretz will then be 1 week off from each other.

If you visit Israel, you will be missing a parasha... (you will have skipped one)

If you leave Israel to Chutz La'Aretz, and your Shabbat hosts ask you for a Dvar Torah, you'll have the opportunity to use any of last week's and you'll come out looking decent (provided you didn't fall asleep during the rav's drasha in shul).

We'll resync-up on July 8th (Tammuz 12 -- thanks trn), when Israel is reading Balak, and Chutz La'Aretz will be reading the double Parasha, Chukat-Balak.

What better time is there for those in Chutz La'Aretz to ponder the RCA resolution calling for a renewed passion for Israel?

Reminder: WestBankBlog will be hosting a list of aliya inspirational story links this Thursday, Erev Shavuot.

Don't miss it!

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

The Fantastic Voyage!

GodolHador (tm) Hashkafic Cruiselines is now offering the most Fantastic Voyage of a Lifetime. ('cause the kannoim are trying to sink this ship at all costs).

Finally, you too can see why chapter's 1-12 of Breishit are a myth/moshol.

See what the GodolHador has to say:
I have set out on a voyage across the sea, yet (perhaps somewhat surprisingly) still find myself pretty much right back where I started. A little older, a little wiser, but still glad to be home. This doesn't mean I won't set out on any further voyages, there is still much to explore. But family and friends, waving me off at the dockside, can be comforted to know that the yacht will return, sometimes laden with interesting and thought provoking artifacts and philosophies gathered from distant lands, sometimes a little scarred or damaged from encounters with hostile foreigners, but always back home.

Join us as we visit all sorts of exotic locations including:

The Garden of Eden Featured in detail in Chapter 2 of Breishit, we travel to Saudi Arabia to see this amazing biblical location. Using LANDSAT images from space, we see why this has to be the original Garden of Eden. Accept no imitations.

Har Ararat We journey to Turkey to see the mountain where Noah's Ark landed after the global flood. Again, aided by clever satellite imaging it's proven beyond a doubt. We can also scoff at those spending mega-bucks to see pseudo-science claim it this is where the Ark landed. Wanna buy a bridge?

Tower of Babble Now that the US has liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we embed ourselves with the Marines 101 airborne unit to visit the famous Tower of Babble in Iraq! Relive chapter 11 of Breishit, as we toss bricks, hammers and cement at each other, with everyone speaking a different language.
In addition to visiting all sorts of exciting locations of historical importance, there will be daily shiurim from the best and brightest of the JBlogosphere.

Challenge your intellect! Refine your emunah!

Atheist? Sorry, you don't exist.

Agnostic? Some of the proceeds will go towards feeding the poor and other moral/social causes, so you can feel good about this cruise regardless if you definitely believe in G-d's existance. Or Not.

Skeptical? Even the people on Yonah's boat were eventually convinced.

Orthoprax? Religiously observe the laws of gravity while shooting at clay-pigeon-chumras.

Fanatical? Daily shuffleboard should chill you out.

Security? Despite some run-ins on previous cruises, where we ended up a little scarred or damaged from encounters with hostile foreigners -- we always managed to make it back home in one piece. (And we never got stuck on Giligan's Island either)**

Souvenirs? On previous tours we have returned laden with interesting and thought provoking artifacts and philosophies gathered from distant lands.**

Seasick? We've been known to go round and around in circles before...please consult your doctor (provided he didn't learn at the Zoboomafoo School of Holistic Medicine)

Bonus: Returns to the exact same point of departure.**

Uh-oh. I just realized this entire cruise vacation was meant as a myth/moshol for reading J-blogs every day and not to be taken literally.


**Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Similar Results.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Torn in Israel. Secular Kids in Religious Schools - part 2.

Without a doubt, "torn" is the way I feel about this entire issue and many of you used this exact word. I'd like to address some of your comments in this followup posting. I apologize in advance for not including them all -- I'll try to relate to them in the comments section from the previous posting.

Steg: Why are Israeli dati­ schools so maqpid/mahhmir on separation of sexes? Is this just another statistic to add to the "why Israeli Dati Le'umi and Diasporan Modern Orthodoxy are not the same thing" chart?

The same way Modern Orthodoxy in the US runs the gamut from LWMO to LW Yeshivish, you can't really map Dati Leumi onto Modern Orthodoxy. It means different things here...and alot of the pressing issues for US Modern Orthodoxy are dwarfed by much larger issues. Well, issues of more concern to your average Israeli.

Ra'anana Ramblings:
Raise the level of the secular school so the secular parents will prefer it to the religious school.

This is a good solution and the responsibility first and foremost of the municipality. Education should be everyone's number or two priority...not somewhere further down the list.

Your responsibility is to your children first.

Now I'm glad this came from WBM. Playing Devil's Advocate for a second, where does personal security come in to play at the expense of ideology? If your responsibility for children has to come first, wouldn't it be a safer place to live in the Galil than in the Shomron? Have you projected your own personal ideology onto your children, when your first responsibility should be having them in the safest environment possible? Obviously I have my own answers to this but I'm curious as to yours.

If you want to bring more kids to the derech than I would argue to keep them in school.

The question is, what is the point of the school? To educate kids already on the derech (and try and keep them there), to bring more kids to the derech, or to find the happy medium. An important note: Israel's Ministry of Education isn't funding the school to reach out to secular students about Judaism.

Sabzi Aash
Keep extra kipot and tzitziyot in the classroom. Educate the kids to feel that they're something special. Have them make their own.

And if they come to school every day forgetting their own at home -- how do you think religious kids will view this? You can forget once or twice, but to "forget" every single day may impart the message that it's not important to these kids or their parents. As an FYI, the school already has extras in every classroom.

Remedial program would be a disaster - it would attach a "second-best" stigma to the irreligious, and undo any possible kiruv. It recalls the worst aspects of American "Sunday School" programs - condescending teachers spoon-feeding uninterested and increasingly resentful kids.

I think it would be difficult but not for the reasons you mentioned. The teachers are very caring and committed, and I don't think they would be condescending and spoon-feeding. The kids still want to go to this school because of the other advantages it has over the alternative secular school.

I think blocking the secular kids out is a poor idea, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with chillul Hashem and how anti-religious this will make families who obviously are not at this point (or they wouldn't be willing to send their kid there no matter the education).

If parents are trying to send their kids to a religious school just to benefit from the higher academic quality and extcurricularlar activities, is it a Chilul Hashem if refused entry? Maybe if they really wanted to become religious... It's a difficult situation. I'm torn.

R' Gil Student:
How do the Shas schools handle this type of problem?

Shas schools are in a different situation lichatchila -- as their purpose is specifically outreach. I don't think there's an 80/20 ratio as there is in the school I'm describing. Additional important factors that cause parents to send their kids to Shas schools include:
- Free Hot Lunch (there are many families who can't afford hot lunches)
- Longer hours (more time for parents to work)
Shas specifically addresses lower income families with these enticements to get them to send their children to Shas schools. It is important to note that Shas then receives the electoral votes from the parents as a "thank you."
(And thank you R' Gil for dropping by!)

Yori Yanover
In any event, it's a delight to read about religious folks taking so seriously their roles as educators of their brothers and sister. 'shkoyach.

This was a very serious meeting and the issue was one of grave responsibility. I'm glad you appreciate our situation - your feedback (and everyone else's) is very much appreciated as it helps me formulate my position on this sensitive topic.

Ari K:
As far as what I think of the situation in Israel: A few years ago I sat next to a young woman from Ramat Aviv on a flight to Israel. She told me that in her entire life she had never seen Shabbat candles being lit until her visit to America! Something is wrong in Israel. I am by no means a Shasnick, but at least they are doing some real large-scale outreach among chiloni children.

The glass can be half full or half empty (and don't forget the RCA's recent resolution to foster a passion for Israel among US Jewry)

Anti-religious sentiment has been prevalent in some aspects of political Zionism since the State's inception. Cutting off the peyot of Yemenite Jewry in the 1950's is one example, integrating religious Ethiopian Jewry into totally secular Israeli communities is another, providing ZERO religious background to new immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union is yet another. A work colleague of mine from the Soviet Union has been in Israel for 10 years, and had never been taught any Jewish history that predated the 1880s. She has no knowledge whatsoever of why the State of Israel is located in Eretz Yisrael and not Uganda, had never heard the story of Purim, and has no clue of any stories from the Tanach.

On the other hand, despite the above, over 80% of Jewish Israelis observe some level of Kashrut, hold a seder on Pesach and fast on Yom Kippur. They know when all the Jewish holidays are, know how to read and speak Hebrew, and the majority of them are involved in day to day mitzvot for the benefit of Klal Yisrael; even if it's just by paying taxes, which provides security and social benefits for the Jewish people living in Israel today.

Compare that to the majority of Jews living in the US today -- what percentage of Reform Jewry know of the above?

Shas is far from the only group attempting to reach out to secular and masorti Israelis.

I could go on and on about the positive things in Israel, but we'll leave that for another posting.

Chodesh Tov!

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Secular Kids in Religious Schools

The other night was mentally exhausting. I attended a meeting concerning the admissions policy of one of our local religious schools. My wife volunteered me onto the va'ad horim (which loosely translates into parental overseeing committee), so I attend meetings like this once a month or so. Last night's meeting was different - it also included our municipal mayor, teachers, and rabbanim.

I'm not sure what the particular trigger was for this critical meeting, but many of the participants came very prepared.

A bit of background:

This school is considered "mamlachti dati" - an Israeli religious public school (first through third grades). There are separate classes for boys and girls and they have recess at separate times. The only "mixed" aspect about the school is the bus kids take... The principal is a powerhouse of energy and a spectacular person, educator, administrator and role model. This is one school where the principal knows exactly what is going on at all times, in every class, what is being taught, and how each of the school's 300 students are progressing.

Alumni of the school, such as my fourth grade daughter, return to the school from time to time to say hi to the principal and their previous teachers. This school has won many prizes from Israel's Ministry of Education and is a top quality school. Our older sons went to the alternative "mamlachti torani" school (supposedly more yeshivish) but decided that our next son would attend the "mamlachti dati" one, since we felt the "mamlachti dati" was better for many reasons (religious education, middot taught, and secular studies were all far better).

So onto the meeting.

First the principal: The official policy (and it's enforceable) is that only families that are not mechalel shabbat publicly can send their kids to the school. Family backgrounds are checked through a variety of means. Approximately 20% of the families do not meet this criteria, and deliberately lie in order to get their kids into the school. (It’s a far better school than the secular alternative).

Rabbi #1 (teaches in school): So, you don't want to accept secular students? I grew up in Kiryat Malachi in a secular family. We weren't shomer shabbat. However, since I went to a mamlachti dati school, I went to a yeshiva high school, and then hesder, and then I received smicha, and now I teach here. Are you trying to prevent people from becoming dati?? That's terrible!

Rabbi #2 (also teaches in school): I must disagree! I'm ALSO from Kiryat Malachi, and I can tell you that the secular kids in First Grade cause many problems for the entire class:

- Bad Language
- No Tzitziyot to class
- Forget kippot all the time
- Do not connect to what’s being taught if they aren't shomer shabbat
- Haircuts without "peyot"

How am I supposed to teach a class, when we go around the room asking student about their Rosh HaShana, and the secular kid say he went to Greece and has a deep suntan? When he doesn't go to shul? When his parents can't study with him? And then, when its his turn to be chazan for davening, and he has no tzitziyot. And then, when I teach about hilchot shabbat, and he says; "My parents do that on shabbat...are they wrong?" Any situation that makes the parents wrong is bad, and any situation that makes the teacher wrong is ALSO bad. The extra effort I put into helping this kid is coming at the expense of the other children who could be much stronger...

Parent: My kids came home from school with terrible language which they DID NOT learn at home! It's all from the bad influence from these other kids at school. We don't have a TV, so he didn't get it from there.

Parent; Bad Language can come from all sorts of homes, religious, secular and in-between.

Teacher: Secular boys are much more of a problem in terms of bad language than secular girls. I dont think that secular girls in the class are as bad an influence over the class...

Board Member: I moved here because of the plurality, so I'm torn between outreach and offering everyone a religious education, and the negative influences you are describing.

Principal: The problem is the percentages. Twenty percent is too much. Maybe 10% is better? Maybe we need different standards? The problem is that its very difficult to make a child leave if he can't make the grade.

Municipal Mayor: Could we make the parents sign a contract about their outwardly religous behavior -- for the good of their own child AND the good of the school?

Teacher: I heard the following conversation today:

Second grade students talking at the makolet; one religious, one secular.

Secular: You know, next year I'm going to your school! My parents signed me up and told me what a great school you guys have.

Religious: (thinking for a minute) Are you SURE you want to come to my school? I mean, I think its great, but you would have to do so many things you don't do now.

Secular: Really? My parents didn't tell me about what?

Religious: Well, you need to wear a kippa in school, Tzitziyot, and you would need to go to davening.

Secular: Hmmm...I guess I could do those things.

Religious: And, there's class every day on halacha, chumash, navi...

Secular: Oh...I hadn't thought about that.

Religious: And we have tests in all these topics as well.

Secular; Well, my parents told me its a great school: you have special fun classes, swimming lessons, extra tiyulim, extra curricular activities...

So you see how the secular kid's parents are selling it to him.

Letter is read from rav in the yishuv, with lots of experience with secular/religious interaction. The main point was:

"Attempting to teach children from a secular lifestyle which goes against the way they are being raised (in the present), goes against the lifestyle of their parents and the children themselves...inevitably leads to the children developing an intolerance and dislike for their religious studies..."

Another Person: Listen to yourselves! You should be ashamed of yourselves! How can you prevent religious education for children regardless of their background??? You are the majority! (please note, this person doesn't send his kids to the school...very convenient to be frum when it doesn't affect him personally).

The bottom line. Everyone WISHES we could provide religious education for all. No one wants a negative influence on the school. No one wants repercussions for the secular children who are caught in the conflict of learning one thing in school and seeing the other at home.

The outcome? Subcommittee was formed to come up with recommendations...

How do YOU deal with this?

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rabbinical Certification of Disaspora Jewry

My knee-jerk reaction to the entire conversion issue, in which the Israel Chief Rabbinate changed their longstanding process of automatic acceptance from the RCA (and other) rabbinical groups in chutz la'aretz, was that of disdain. It seemed so obviously a petty power-struggle that I chalked it up to one more of the annoyances of the Rabbinate here in general.

With the integration of religion and state here, it's bound to happen that state bureaucracy will trickle down into the religious services... Everyone hates bureaucracy, so when it's part of "organized" religion, it has the potential to create lots of tension.

Getting married here as on oleh, the unfriendliness of a particular "clerk" caused me to remark at the time that if I hadn't been religious, the entire process would have made me anti-Judaism. (That was a while ago, but I think (and hope!) that the process has improved a bit since then.)

However, after reviewing the issue last night with JoeSettler, I've realized that I was wrong and I think (for change) the new process will help streamline matters of conversion here in Israel.

It may be slightly annoying to RCA rabbis, but I don't think the process is out take away from their prestige.

JoeSettler writes:

If you were a potential Ger who wanted to come to Israel. Would you rather go to an authorized/certified Rabbi so that when you make Aliyah the process has its bumps minimized, or would you rather come to Israel and spend a year or two trying to prove that you are Jewish because no one ever heard of this Rabbi from Kalamazoo?

And if you were a Rabbi, wouldn't you want to be certified, knowing that if you give a Get to someone, if they decided to make Aliya (to Israel, the country with the largest Jewish population) they could quickly get on with their life there without a hassle?

Eretz Yisrael is being revitalized in its role as part of the nucleus of Judaism, and Rav Amar is trying to smooth out a lot of the more serious problems that have up to now existed in the bureaucratic process. He's doing this the same way Microsoft, Sun and John Bryce do it: Standardization, Authorization, and Certification (respectively).

Israeli Recognition of Rabbinical ordination from anywhere in the world is serious business.

If you were running a country, and people were showing up with Academic degrees from all over the world, wouldn't you want a standard? A BA degree in English Literature from Yale is different than a degree in Underwater Basekt Weaving from Latvia University...and that's why Israel's Ministry of Education refuses to accept them.

JoeSettler compares the issue to driver's licenses.
These days (actually for around the past decade) if an Oleh wants an Israeli driver’s license and already has a foreign one he is now required to take a driving test - but it didn’t used to be that way. After a noteworthy number of Olim came over from a particular region, the DMV finally realized that a rather significant number of them were showing the DMV fake driver’s licenses...

People with no driving experience (or valid licenses) were getting valid licenses in Israel with fake ids! Not having access to foreign records, or an easy/quick method of determining which licenses where actually genuine (many of the fakes were printed on the same machines as the genuine articles, just so you understand the extent of the problem), the DMV made a decision that all Olim that present a preexisting license must take a driving test.

Not fair to the other Oleh groups that wouldn’t pull that trick, but no one was going to profile a specific Oleh group and say only they had to take the test despite showing a license.

We have enough problems here; this might actually be a step in the right direction to start addressing them.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Those Crazy Settlers and their email lists

Someone forwarded me the following email exchange from their yishuv's email list. Names changed to protect the guilty.

The anonymous yishuv is having a huge public email dispute over changing the nusach of the different tefillot for protection and guidance for the Medina, The IDF, etc...

-----Original Message-----
From: Settler #1
Sent: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 7:08 PM
Subject: [anonymous_yishuv] Nusach Tfila

Let me get this right:

1) Everyone agrees that they are not Halachic authorities, but everyone is giving their Halachic opinions,

2) Everyone agrees that we are not in a position to change the “nusach”, but everyone is cutting & pasting.

Now here’s what we’re going to do: I thought about this on Shabbat at the YI of Kew Gardens Hills where they make a me’shebayrach for the Midna, the US government, the IDF and the US Army.

The system of reciting a global me’shebayrach for the sick, during which the rabbi/gabbi pauses while those present silently mention the name of someone they know has been working very well.

What we do is make a general me’shebayrach for the “Government”. The rabbi/gabbi says “Medinat….”, pauses, and everyone can insert any country they want. You want “Israel”, fine.

You got a bill from Mas Hachnasa yesterday and want to get even -- this coming Shabbat don’t insert “Israel” and use “Barbados” which has lower tax rates.

Same thing with Tzahal. “Chayalei …..”, pause, and then insert anything your want. You can say “everyone except those involved with the expulsion”, or “everyone except my mefaked”.

--Settler #1

-----Original Message-----
From: settler #2
Sent: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 10:29 PM
Subject: RE: [anonymous_yishuv] Nusach Tfila

Settler #1 -

We could probably use the same method for the weekly dvar torah in shul.

The rav says:

"There are so many wonderful Divrei Torah on this week's parasha, and so many important messages, I'll be quiet now and everyone should think of their own dvar torah...It says in this week's parasha...

[10 second pause...]

Shabbat Shalom."

--Settler #2

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Who Calls IDF Soldiers Nazis? Machsom Watch

A "Machsom Watch" female activist approchaed an IDF solider yesterday at a roadblock near Tulkarem, swore at him, and told him he is a 'Nazi' and a 'beast.'
Soldiers who were present at the checkpoint at the time said their comrade acted according to IDF regulations and the activist's reaction was inexplicable and "degrading."

"There are a lot of situations where we carry on as usual and don't respond, but this was too much and he was offended," soldiers said.

In the written apology sent to the soldier's commander the Machsom Watch activist wrote that hearing the soldier giving instructions to the Palestinian was "unbearable." (YNETnews)
And yet, the IDF Commander-in-Chief, Dan Halutz meets publically with Machsom Watch women...and at the same time, has been alienating the Religious Zionist Camp.

Caroline Glick comments that it would appear the IDF's General Staff has lost its collective mind.

RATHER THAN contend with this situation with the necessary self-interested sensitivity in light of the damage a breach of relations with the religious Zionist camp will cause to the IDF as a fighting force, Halutz has been going out of his way in recent months to publicly chastise, insult and alienate this public. Several months ago, referring to the violence at Amona and the protests last summer against the expulsions from Gaza, Halutz described the protesters as "poisoners of wells." On Holocaust Memorial Day he accused them of belittling the Holocaust for using the slogan "We won't forget and we won't forgive" regarding the expulsions last summer, although the same slogan has been used by the Left numerous times in the past. Halutz has held publicized meetings with members of the extremist Left wing group Machsom Watch but rudely refused to meet with Col. (res.) Moti Yogev, the former deputy commander of the Gaza Division who was wounded by police at Amona.

Seems like the best way to arrange a meeting with the IDF chief of staff is to berate the army, harass its soldiers at checkpoints and call them Nazis.

If you serve in the army, support the army, send your kids to the army, provide food for the army, you're probably doing something wrong?

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Monday, May 22, 2006

Challenges of Life in Israel

Israel is self-defined as a Jewish Democratic State. The constant tension between these 2 seemingly opposite concepts provides us with daily challenges of building a country for the Jewish people. As Jews, our history is based on Judaism as a religion, nationality, and ethnicity. Our Democracy stems from Western Culture along with the historic laws from the Turkish Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate era in pre-1948 Israel.

This past week's B'Sheva newspaper brings the following story. (Couldn't find it on-line, but I'm translating some of it from the hard copy newspaper)

Israeli Supreme Court annuls High Rabbinical Court Ruling

The Israeli Supreme Court (ISC-Bagatz) rained down another blow against the Rabbinical Courts this past week. The Bagatz, chaired by justices Barak, Arbel and Naor annulled the ruling of the Regional Rabbinical Court and the Rabbinical High Court and ruled that the evidence provided infringed on the privacy of one of the sides.

The case dealt with a couple that in the middle of an argument [ed J@TM: not clear from the article how serious the issue was]. While their matter was being dealt with by a Rabbinical Court, the husband obtained photographs of his wife in an intimate position with another man. After seeing the photographs, the Rabbinical Court ruled that based on halacha, the man was required to divorce his wife, even though the pictures infringed on the woman's legal and basic right to privacy.

The woman challenged the Rabbinical Court's ruling in the Bagatz, and Chief Justice Aharon Barak ruled than the basic law of the right to privacy over-ruled that of determining the truth and of the halacha that a husband cannot live with his wife if she committed adultery.

The bottom line is that since the photographs compromised the woman's right to privacy, the Bagatz ruled that they could not be used as evidence to force a "one-sided" divorce.
Unfortunately, the newspaper article's point is to bash the Bagatz (I'm not a big fan of Chief Justice Aharon Barak's judicial activism, but I wish all the facts from the case were presented in the article) and many points aren't clear.

If a woman is proven to be an adulteress, does she automatically lose the right to monetary compensation from the Ketuba?

Should the laws of Dina-Dimalchuta-Dina, (the ruling country) over-rule halacha for monetary matters? (Too bad the article didn't mention what the point of the wife was -- did she want to remain married to her husband, or was she just trying to ensure that she received the money from the Ketuba?)

Is there really a conflict here between the democratic laws of privacy vs. halacha?

Unfortunately, I couldn't find this published anywhere, so the question will remain open for the time being. In the meantime, it's an example of the challenges we face here on a daily basis.

But to end on an optimistic note, there's a settlement that built a municipal swimming pool and the question arose whether it should be open on shabbat or not. The religious residents wanted the pool closed on shabbat, while the secular wanted it open. A compromise was reached, and the pool is open on shabbat -- but the snack bar is closed as well as the cash register. If you want to go swimming, you need to purchase tickets before shabbat. Therefore, the snack bar retains its kosher certification, there is no outright chilul shabbat, and yet, the pool remains open.

This is an excellent example of how to rise to the challenge of making Israel a Jewish Democratic country and a pleasure to live in!

Eretz Yisrael. Living the Dream!

Entire City of Petach Tikva for sale...on ebay.

If you can't make aliya, the next best thing is to invest in Israel's real estate. Not as a monetary investment, but as a spiritual investment -- as it gives you a much closer connection to Israel, and is one more step in the right direction of moving to Israel. Plus, when your kids learn in an Israeli yeshiva/seminar for a year, they'll have somewhere to stay if their yeshiva closes down for a weekend. (I'll be writing more about that soon).

In the meantime, The entire City of Petach Tikva (ebay item #: 7416865947) is for sale on ebay.

The city of Petach Tikva, near Tel Aviv, has been put on sale on auction website eBay, with initial bids standing at just USD 8.57. The auction ends in five days, however, and the Israeli city could certainly be worth more than that. The current highest bid is standing at USD 127.

The auction for the sale of the city was published three days ago, and until now nine bids have been received. (Hat-tip: YNET)

As of this posting, the city is currently valuated by ebay buyers at $255.00

From the Description: Special Bonus: Buy Petach Tikva and receive a bus ticket for the 66 bus line to Tel-Aviv for free. Standing Room only.

If all my holdings weren't tied up in the Muqata Holdings Investment Fund, I'd be bidding as well.

Happy Bidding, and Good Luck!

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rabbinic Accountability

Orthomom, Ezzie, Chana, Dov Bear, Olah Chadasha and Renegade Rebbitzen are only a handful of the bloggers who tackled this awful story.

It does not matter whether the story is true or not - the ideas behind it are abhorrent. "Let's wait to see if it's true" is the wrong approach -- not to the case, but to the ideas behind it.

In cases such as this, action must be taken first - careful action that does not give a presumption of guilt, but action that protects those affected in case there IS guilt.

The big question being asked is "Where was our leadership -- how did they allow this to happen?"

And the answer is painfully simple.

Orthodoxy instills within us that our Jewish leadership comes from the rabbinate. Our rebbeim in yeshiva, our community rabbis in our shuls, our talmedei chachamim -- they are our role models for how a Jew should act.

Yet depressingly, very few rise to the challenge of personally demonstrating how to act when the challenge arises. Instead, cases of abuse are covered up -- with apathy even reaching to the highest levels of rabbinical structure.

The past two decades have amply shown us that the message of standing up for what is right and morally correct -- is usually not demonstrated by our leaders. A clear and effectively broadcast message of zero tolerance towards abuse has not been heard from the vast majority of our rabbinical leadership.

Why is it that the lay-people of the community and the simple (and often anonymous) voices of the JBlogosphere are the only ones expressing today loud and clear on the internet what needs to be said?

Every Community Rav needs to clearly say to his community that this behaviour, and worse, the covering up of this behaviour, is abhorrent and the antithesis of Judaism.

Any Rabbi that doesn't is not worthy of the title, Rav.

He is not worthy of the respect of the children and adults of his community.

And he is not worthy of his semicha, the unbroken chain of rabbinic mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu.

These harsh words are being painfully written -- not out of rebellion, G-d forbid, but out of a sense of worry that an entire generation is off the derech of how to act properly, and how to protect our future generations from predators within.

Hamas Gunmen Storm Mobile Phone Company Gaza Office

Earlier Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen stormed the headquarters of mobile company Jawwal in Gaza in protest at having their phones cut off in a sign of growing lawlessness in the coastal strip, employees said.

They said around 20 gunmen entered the building saying their cellphone memory cards were not working. A short while later they began shooting, damaging over 10 computers but causing no casualties.

Jawwal, is the mobile subsidiary of Palestinian telecoms firm PalTel "PTEL.AD", which operates in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Employees said the firm's managers were mulling whether to cut services in Gaza on Wednesday in protest at the attack. (YNETNews)

I wonder if the customer support staff in Gaza for this phone company get battle pay?

Hamas Phone User: (waving rifle) My phone's not working! Why is the line so long? I want service now!

(shoots off 10 rounds from his automatic rfile into the ceiling)

Customer Support: I'm sorry sir, I'm in the middle of my falafel break, you'll have to take a number and wait just like everyone else.

Hamas Phone User: But my phone's not working!

(shoots a few more rounds into the ceiling, takes aim at customer service rep)

Customer Support: Sir, shooting me will not make your phone service get returned any faster.

Hamas Phone User: You infidel! Make my phone work!

Customer Support: Sir, if you insist on using profanity, I won't be able to help you.

Hamas Phone User: ARG! Now you've done it, I'm going to come back and blow myself up.

Customer Support: Suit yourself. Have a nice day. Next number please!

And as the article stated, there were no casualties...

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Beware the Witch

One has to wonder why newspapers even give credence to stories like this. Is the Maariv newspaper (and its website, NRG) so lame that it stoops to printing stories about a witch who "predicted" the CVA (stroke) of Ariel Sharon?

The first paragraph is translated as follows:

On January 4rth, hours before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon collapsed [from a stroke], the cellphone belonging to his strategic advisor Reuven Adler, rang. On the line was the "mystic" Batya Shneerson (age 75) an old friend of the Sharon family, specifically that of the late Lili Sharon. "Arik won't [continue] to be Prime Minister. He will get sick. I see doctors around him", she warned. [insert spooky music]

(you can read the rest of it in the Hebrew article)

Therefore, which of the following answers should we deduce from this story?

a. Maariv is trying to compare the downfall of Sharon to that of King Shaul meeting with the witch of Ein Dor (before Shaul's fateful battle)

b. Maariv believes that something drastic should have been done to prevent Sharon's stroke in light of the witch's phone call.

c. Maariv believes that people are stupid enough to believe this story has any relevance to Sharon's health.

d. If...she...weighs...the same as a duck,...she's made of wood. And therefore?
She's a witch! Burn her!

e. This post is yet another sinister way to accomplish what the anonymous commenter said about my Typo BaOmer posting,

"Before you argue on customs practiced by thousands of people for generations who were more knowledgable than you and more pious than you...and before you corrupt the innocent tmimusdik masses, make sure you verify your facts and yes... your poisonous ulterior motived agenda... "

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Brit Invitation...via the internet

This is a real invitation we received to a Brit.

Subtitles in Hebrew will be translated upon request :)

Eretz Yisrael. Living the Dream!

Today's Teens

Explanation for those who don't get it:

Inner kippa design -- זה בשבילי "This is for me"
Outer design (making kipa bigger) -- וזה בשביל הרב "This is for [my] Rav...

When my teen son saw this picture, he immediately wanted one.


Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Monday, May 15, 2006

BBC maintaining its unique standard of journalism

Read the link first:,,30000-13523760,00.html

Then watch the video:

Them remind yourself these are the professionals who criticize everything Israel does.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Lag BaOmer - One Big Mistake?

A few weeks back DovBear discussed why we mourn during the sefira period (and why the currently espoused reasons may not be historically accurate). He then mentioned that the entire idea of medurot (bonfires) on Lag BaOmer is based on pagan customs. I think that the medurot idea could have come from the method of notifying the Jewish people in Galut of the arrival of the new Jewish Month (pre-SMS and internet).

However, there was a fascinating article in this past Shabbat's Makor Rishon newspaper saying that the entire idea of partying on Lag BaOmer is based on... a typo.

The Talmudic Researcher Rav Avraham Kosman arrives at the conclusion that not only is the entire Lag BaOmer festival -- of bonfires, going to Meiron, commemerating the death of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai -- a big mistaken, but that the idea of a Hilula (celebration) to commemerate the death of tzaddikim is mistaken.

I'll translate the main highlights of the article (from the Hebrew)

In year 363 of the common era, a terrible earthquake rocked Eretz Yisrael causing tremendous damage to Yerushalayim and loss of occurred on Lag BaOmer. As a result, Lag BaOmer became a day of fasting and prayer.

There is no Mishnaic or Talmudic reference to Lag BaOmer, except that the students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague between Pesach and Shavuot since they didn't act kindly to each other. Many accept that it's unlikely that Rabbi Akiva actually had 24,000 students learning in his yeshiva (Lakewood today has how many? 3000?) and this was a reference to Bar Kochba's soldiers rebelling against Rome. To keep all references to Jewish rebellion to a minimum, the Gemara referred to these soldiers as "students of Rabbi Akiva."

Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir wrote a kina (lament) for Lag BaOmer, also attributed as the yahrtzeit of Yehoshua Bin Nun. Fragments from the Cairo Geniza recollect the fast of Lag BaOmer commemerating the Yehoshua's yahrtzeit and "The Earthquake" (from year 363).

So...when did Lag BaOmer appear on the scene as a day when the mourning laws of sefira stop? When and why did it make the change from a day of fasting and mourning to a day of bonfires, weddings and merriment?

The Ari, (R' Yitzchak Luria) went to the grave of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (on Har Meiron in the Galil) during the days of the month of Iyar. He also went to the graves of Hilell and Shammai (also in the Galil) and prayed there as well...and somehow the idea that commemerating the yahrtzeit of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai became connected to Lag BaOmer.

The original prayers of the Ari were to beseech for a good year of wealth, and slowly the idea of commemerating a yahrtzeit went from a solemn day to one of a "hilula" (the way sephardrim and chassidim commemerate a yahrtzeit...with food, drink, and more...)

Now, the Ari didn't write any of his books. They were all written by his student Rav Chaim Vital, and he had a monopoly on the Ari's teachings. For 15 years, he refused to allow anyone to read his books and writings about the Ari.

Till one day...Rav Vital fell very ill. A wealthy person bribed Rav Vital's brother with 50 gold coins -- and hired 100 scribes to complete the mammoth task of copying all of Rav Vital's manuscripts relating to the 3 days!

Soon, all of the illegally copied manuscripts were published and available to all...yet in the haste to copy everything in 3 days, the following error occurred (according to Rav Kosman).

In the original, hand written document of Rav Vital, it says the Lag BaOmer was "יום שמחת רשב"י" -- the day of happiness of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (for being saved from the "plague - or Romans). The scribe copied it down as the abbreviated יום שמ' רשב"י" which further was modified by the publishers to יום שמת רשב"י", the day Rav Shimon Bar Yochai died.

Rav Shimon Bar Yochai was saved on Lag BaOmer from the "plague" (meaning he wasn't killed that day), but there isn't any historical record that he died on Lag BaOmer.

Let' add the following:

The Chatam Sofer asked, critical about Lag BaOmer: (and that's even with the Chatam Sofer accepting that Rav Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag BaOmer!)

"Since when is it that the day a tzaddik dies is a holiday?"

"How can there be a holiday for a day when no miracle occurred and isn't mentioned in the Mishna, Talmud, or any hint at all in the Tanach?"

So...why do we do this all on Lag BaOmer?

If it's a good excuse for bonfire, who am I to challenge tradition...

Please note: everything I wrote is from the article I linked to in Hebrew. I suggest you read through it yourself if you can - many more interesting historical tidbits.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Outrageous Incitement

And you thought I was going to rant about the Israeli Left inciting against the settlers or Chareidim...or perhaps the Extreme Right inciting against Palestinians...or maybe Palestinians inciting against Israel or Jews?

Wrong and Wrong and Wrong.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

In yet another indication of growing tensions between the two movements, Fatah sympathizers in the Gaza Strip have begun boycotting Hamas-controlled mosques, accusing the Islamist movement of inciting against their leaders.

On Friday, thousands of worshipers refused to enter the Farouk Mosque in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, saying the preacher was planning to verbally attack Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other PA leaders. The Fatah supporters prayed in the streets while their Hamas rivals prayed inside the mosque.

Like most mosques in the Strip, the Farouk Mosque is controlled by Hamas. Leaders of Abbas's Fatah party have in recent weeks expressed deep concern over "incitement" in the mosques, saying Hamas preachers were exploiting Friday prayers to launch scathing attacks on them.

Hamas officials dismissed the allegations as "lies" and said the only incitement was that coming from Fatah.

Reminds me of the Iran and Iraq war. For the time being, its best to take a step back and let them duke it out. We'll have to deal with the outcome regardless...but at least we can take a slight breather now (if only for a few minutes).

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Motzei Shabbat Rant at 4:00 AM

So, there's this virus on the Mrs. @ the Muqata's computer which she uses for work. I spent a few hours working on it on Friday morning and then took a very radical step for the Muqata IT dept., and I went out and purchased (not downloaded) Norton Internet Security 2006...

It (claims to have) removed the virus on the computer (after working on it for hours and hours on Friday) 20 minutes before Shabbat (not 18) the computer reboots, and the virus claims to have disappeared...and so has Norton Anti Virus. It's disappeared as well.

I have now spent hours tonight on motzei shabbat working on her computer, and the bottom line is -- Norton Anti Virus sometimes works...and is worth every cent. And sometimes it doesn't reinstall (like tonight) and is totally worthless.

So, the posts I didn't get to write this evening were:

1. The Greatest Tiyul of all Time (well, I wrote about half of it during reboots)
2. Lag BaOmer - the Biggest Historical Mistake? (Is Lag BaOmer really supposed to be a sad day, and we've gotten it all wrong?)
3. And the Enlightened Shall Shine (On meeting Nobel Prize Winner Prof. Auman -- and I received permission from the GodolHador (tm) website to borrow that term, temporarily, for the posting.

All I can say is that I hope the hacker who wrote the virus which infected my wife's computer (or the lame developers at Symatec/Norton) gets arrested and imprisoned by the Egyptian Police...and I hope that I get to finish at least one of these postings during waking hours.

Shavua Tov.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael, even if there is no such thing as Sunday in Israel, and I have to get up in a few hours.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Let the Blogger Go.

Israel is not a stranger to Egyptian Democracy -- as Israeli citizen Azzam Azzam languished in an Egyptian prison for years on trumped up charges of spying for Israel.

Taking a cue from the way the Chinese treat Falun Gong, the Egyptian government has detained a blogger who's ideas were slightly different than theirs. Detained, as in imprisoned.
Granted, this story is going around the Blogosphere, but I was personally requested to post on this story (as I think everyone should) take a second to read it.

AbbaGav wrote an excellent piece on this issue (Freedom of Speech Starts with Freeing the Speaker).
Please take a moment to read a little more about Alaa and his situation at Lisa's blog, On The Face, and at Yael's site, Step by Step. And if you have your own blog or website, adding a link to the Free Alaa! blog using the word Egypt in the linking text will help let anyone searching for important information about Egypt find out about Alaa first. Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey also has information on how to write letters or emails to US, Canadian, or Egyptian authorities on Alaa's behalf.

Now, just as an additional message; There are those out there who would say to me, why am I wasting my time helping an Egyptian blogger...aren't there many other more important causes for me to worry about?
My answer is:
  1. He's pro-Israel, and not out to kill me.
  2. Freedom of Speech should be important to everyone (and it should be an issue common to all bloggers)
  3. Having personally been affected by limitations of Freedom of Speech, in Israel, I'm much more sensitive to the issue.

Think about it. You're Tagged.

Technorati tag:

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

EL-AL Premium Flights

There's been quite alot of jblogosphere discussion (Ezzie, DovBear, Orthomom, and others) the past few days about the exclusive EL-AL flight for 2 Rabbanim which was comprised of an air-attendant staff of only men.

That issue aside, there's another premium service flight that EL-AL offers that not too many people know about -- its the Kohein special. Same price from Newark to Tel-Aviv, but no dead bodies are aboard these flights to avoid the issue of Tumat HaMeit. A Kohein friend and I dicussed this on my way to work this morning, and he said it's the daily afternoon flight from Newark (but I don't know for certain - contact EL-AL for more details).

For those Kohanim that can't make this flight, there are 2 heterim for flying on airplanes with dead bodies aboard. ** (more info over here as well)

1. The first is from the Israel Chief Rabbinate, that due to the way bodies are packed into the special airline coffin -- there isn't a problem.

2. According to Rav Moshe's psak -- a Kohein shouldn't fly on a plane with a dead body. However he mentions at the end of the psak, that depending on the materials the plane is made of, it could be permissiable. My friend quoted R' Shabtai Rappaport that the current metals used in making airplanes render the issue of Tumat HaMeit irrelavent, since the floor dividing the passenger section from the cargo section is sufficient to be a barrier and thereby moot the issue.

(As a side note, when R' Rappaport was asked if he (also a Kohain) relied on this psak and flew EL-AL, he replied, "No...they don't have as much leg room as other airlines")

However, an even more difficult to solve issue, of which there were no heterim (that I know of) was that the flight path of all airlines out of Israel in 2001 went straight over the Holon Cemetary, thereby raising the issue again of Tumat HaMeit. As a result of the urgings of many Kohanim and rabbanim, all the flight paths have been changed and this is no longer an issue.

While we all have our share of issues with EL-AL, I think its praiseworthy that they addressed the issue of Tumat HaMeit for their priestly passengers.

** The halachik information here should be confirmed with your local Halachik authority.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Elvis the Drug Dealer

Not having much time today, I'm dredging up one of the posts I wrote a few months ago but never got around to posting. I wrote this a while back and it doesn't really make sense being on my blog (it doesn't get any more off-topic than this) but here it is anyway. Got a whole bunch more of them for rainy days...

Off Topic: Elvis the Drug Dealer (Strange Stories from Yesteryear)

I enjoyed writing my Fleeing Manila story...till I started receiving threatening comments from Philipino bloggers who were about to target the Muqata in retaliation for some of the less than complimentary observations I mentioned about their beloved country. Till the crisis dies down I have shelved the Feeling Manila series.

Inspired by Jack's ongoing conversation with a Nigerian Spammer, I started recalling many of the strange stories I was involved with when I studied at Yeshiva College.

For your reading enjoyment, I present today's installment:

Elvis the Drug Dealer

Ah, the 80's.

As a proud member of Generation-X, the 80's were decent years to be in high school, college, Israel...wherever. The strange 70's plaid clothing my parents dressed me disappeared, and normal looking apparel took their place. I loved the music from the 80's...

After Yeshiva in Israel I returned to Yeshiva College to the Muss Hall dorm. Getting a phone was essential in those days; mobile phones didn't really exist. Payphones were lame. Everyone had to have a phone in their room...well, the guys had one phone for both of them, while at Stern, every girl needed at least one. This way, if they wanted to get someone off the phone, they would call their own line from the other phone and say, "Ooops, got a call waiting, have to go...bye!" No one ever did that to me, though.

My roomate let me deal with ordering the phone since:

  1. I was the primary phone user
  2. Most of the calls were for me
  3. He let me worry about phone payment

So, first week of the Fall semester I took care of getting us a phone line.

Since I had a lot of cool, older friends (which is where I met Trep), they would give me whatever gadgets they outgrew or broke, and I would promptly take them apart and fix them. This way, I had a cool phone, answering machine, stereo, keyboard, and other fun things in my dorm room. My roomate and I made up some ridiculous message for the answering machine, and got on with college life.

Little did we anticipate what our phone line had in store for us.

Arriving back at our dorm the first evening we had our phone, there was a curious message waiting for us on the answering machine.

Elvis, Hey Man, where you been?

We're been trying to get in touch with you for 2 days already!

Where can we meet to buy some stuff? You know, the good white stuff you sold us last week?

Call me back -- Jack, 718-555-1212."

OK, that was weird. We assumed that Jack had the wrong number and would figure it out soon enough.

That night, after eating dinner somewhere and coming back from maariv, we found another message on the machine.

Elvis dude! Yoohoo! Where are you?!

We have this pah-ty going on in the village and it just aint the same without some dope.

Call me back dear, need you now!


This was starting to get annoying. I called the NYPD and told them I had these numbers of people looking for a drug dealer named Elvis...and they just laughed me off. I guess there was much more serious police work to be done in Washington Heights.

Next call came that night around 2:00 AM....and I answered the phone.

Jameel: Hello?

Caller: Yo Elvis! I need you tonight!

Jameel: (yawning) What exactly do you need tonight?

Caller: Joints.

Jameel: Fine. Meet you at the corner of 121th and Amsterdam in an hour.

Caller: See you there.


I promptly went back to sleep...and forgot about it. What's strange is that the caller didn't call me back, so he must have either found someone to sell him what he wanted at 121th and Amsterdam or got arrested on the way there.

Over the next few days my room mate and I would agree to meet drug users all over Manhattan, made up addresses, and ignored it all.

In hindsight, this wasn't the smartest stunt I ever pulled, but these were the days before the internet, caller-id, and easy ways to figure out who you were calling or who was calling you. There were no google satellite imaging maps either.

About a week later, we got a bad phone call.

Jameel: Hi. Who's this?

Caller: This is Reuben.

Jameel: And?

Caller: I hear you sell stuff.

Jameel: (sighing) what do you want?

Caller: So, you're Elvis?

Jameel: Yeah...Elvis the King.

Caller: That's impossible! You can't be Elvis. Elvis is doing time and was put in the slammer 3 weeks ago! Who the hell are you?

Jameel (adrenaline shooting throughout my body): No way, I'm Elvis!

Caller: Yeah, Let me put his woman on the phone!

(woman gets on the phone) So, you think you're Elvis? No way man, you are not Elvis!

Jameel: You must be mistaken...I'm the real Elvis.

Caller: Yeah, well how is it that I saw you in jail yesterday and now I'm on the phone with you?

Jameel: Er, I broke out?

Caller: That's it man...we're shutting you down.


And then we never heard from drug users again.

Till one night about a month later...2 rings..."Hi, we have a collect call for you from the Dominican Republic from Elvis".

(me, half asleep)...sure.

Elvis: Who are you? I hear you been messing with my woman and selling stuff to all my customers!!


So what's the moral of the story? I'll have to think one up.

Wherever I am, drug dealers still manage to find my blog.

When Moshiach Comes

Being that my blog is currently "on vacation", Jameel was kind enough to offer his blog for posting.

At dinnertime tonite, the family was sitting around the table, talking about the day's events. Then my oldest daughter sprung an interesting question on the family: "Hey, do you think that when Moshiach comes, we'll have to brush our teeth and go to the dentist?" She backed her question up with the fact that she learned that "all who are bent will be made straight". The question made sense coming from her, since she very recently had braces put on her teeth.

That question led to a rather interesting discussion about how things will be when Moshiach will come -- in the eyes of my children. Rather than offer my own opinions, I turned the questions all on them, and listened to what the three of them had to say. The general consensus was that we'd all travel to Eretz Yisrael on either an eagle or a jet. One decided that "most likely, we'll just float on a big cloud".

But the best line was from my son, who explained that Moshe, Ahron, and Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov would lead us on a tour throughout Israel. I asked my son what kind of tour it would be, and if we'd all be together and he responded "oh yes -- and all of the rabbeim will be in the back". When I asked why he knew that he explained "all Rebbeim are humble and are nice, so they'd let everyone go first"...

There's nothing like having dinner during the week with the kids, that's for sure :)

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