Five killed, 600 hurt as violent Cairo clashes run into the night [UPDATE]


Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak early Thursday opened fire on protesters demanding he step down, killing five and wounding dozens more in what many saw as an attempted government-backed crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

“Most of the casualties were the result of stone throwing and attacks with metal rods and stick,” Health Minister Ahmed Samih Farid told state television by telephone, after fresh fighting broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir square. “At dawn today there were gunshots. The real casualties taken to hospital were 836, of which 86 are still in hospital and there are five dead.”

The Egyptian army began arresting people in the wake of the violence, Al Arabiya television reported, without giving numbers.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Got forgiveness?


Would you believe that most Jews, including Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, don’t fully observe the High Holy Days?

I don’t mean the basic rituals, like going to synagogue, reciting the prayers, listening to the shofar and the rabbi’s sermons, having the holiday meals and saying the blessings. Most Jews do all that.

And I also don’t mean the spiritual element, like using this time of year to contemplate our mortality, reflect on the purpose of our lives, ask God for forgiveness and resolve to become better people and better Jews in the coming year.

No, what I mean is that most of us neglect what is arguably the most difficult and meaningful ritual at this time of year: Going to the people we’ve hurt, recognizing our hurtful actions and asking for their forgiveness.

This can be awkward and embarrassing, but our Jewish tradition has given us the perfect little window to help make this happen.

It’s called the month of Elul, a time for self-examination and repentance that culminates during the High Holy Days. As the month of Elul comes to a close and we begin the daily selichot (prayers of forgiveness), the mood of repentance becomes more urgent.

This is the moment we are about to enter right now: The zero hour of repentance — the Days of Awe before the Day of Atonement when one of our key obligations is to muster our courage and humility, go to someone we have wronged and say “I’m sorry, I messed up, please forgive me.”

The problem, of course, is that while we routinely do this with God, it’s a lot less comfortable to do it with our fellow humans.

But the other, more acute, problem is that our Jewish faith has this little wrinkle: God cannot forgive us for the sins we’ve committed against another person until we have first obtained forgiveness from that person.

Ouch.

Theoretically, this means a rabbi can tell you that until you obtain the forgiveness of those you have wronged, it’s useless to come to synagogue on Yom Kippur and ask God for His forgiveness — because He can’t give it to you.

If a rabbi did that, who would show up to the big show?

Most rabbis challenge us at this time of year to engage in things like more mitzvahs, more tikkun olam, more tzedakah, more Jewish learning and more spiritual connection. But in truth, if they really wanted to challenge us and encourage personal transformation, they’d pick the one mitzvah that requires the biggest emotional sacrifice: Having to suck it up in front of someone you’ve hurt and ask for their forgiveness.

To his credit, the ultra-Orthodox writer Jonathan Rosenblum, in an article from a few years ago, took his own denomination to task on this subject:

“Too often we arrive at Rosh Hashanah feeling woefully unprepared and wondering what happened to Elul. As Kol Nidre approaches, we rush around to those nearest and dearest to us to seek their forgiveness. But our requests lack the specificity that would indicate that we have given any serious thought to how we have wronged the particular loved one whose forgiveness is sought. Nor are our ritual assurances that we forgive with a whole heart worth very much.”

For too many of us, the modern-day excitement and pageantry of the High Holy Days — the marquee events, the glamorous sermons, the fancy clothes, the elaborate meals — have eclipsed the essential ritual, the one that deals with the pain we inflict on each other.

If I forget to pray one day, I’ve hurt no one except maybe for God, and I know He’ll forgive me. But if I offend, deceive, mock or dishonor another person, I’ve introduced real human pain into this world. And by hurting one of His children, I’ve also hurt God— who must surely be spending the holidays waiting for us to forgive each other.

I count myself in the group that God has been waiting for. I’ve done the basic High Holy Day rituals and recited the prayers asking God for His forgiveness. But when it came time to recognize my mistakes and ask people for their forgiveness, I’ve chickened out and used the classic cop-out: “If I did anything to hurt you, please forgive me.”

Like Rosenblum explains, “without a real chesbon hanefesh, some form of regular spiritual diary — of both the positive and negative — we are in no position to ask Hashem or our fellow man for forgiveness. Where there is no recognition of our failures, there can be no genuine regret, which is the starting point of teshuvah [repentance or return].”

On a more romantic level, Rabbi David Aaron of Jerusalem, in a recent article, reflected on the intimacy of forgiveness:

“The best time to remember your mistakes and wrongdoings and ask forgiveness of your beloved is in moments of love. The contrast between the bad times that were and the good time that is happening right now generates even greater feelings of love and appreciation.”

Imagine, then, the love and appreciation that would filter through our community this year if the sound of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah became our clarion call to seek out those we have wronged — whether it be our spouse, sibling, mother, father, child, friend, neighbor, colleague, teacher, client, business partner, supplier or stranger — and, with love and courage, admit our mistakes and ask for their forgiveness.

By returning to each other and paying our spiritual dues, we would repair our souls, enter the Day of Atonement with cleaner hands, reduce the amount of pain in our little worlds and allow God the chance to forgive us.

Not a bad way to kick off a new year.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace


Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.

But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.

Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.

There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda — not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.

That’s the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.

Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness — peaceful, joyful living.

He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.

I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to “de-multitask.” And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.

I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.

Three months later, he called and said, “How’s next Tuesday?” I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.

In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.

I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.

Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians — a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.

That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors — some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.

They all said, “No, don’t do it.”

They said don’t bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It’s too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn’t fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn’t even want to try.

That convinced me that we have to.

Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.

I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh’s village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?

This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.

It can happen.

Watch.


Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.