Terror in Jerusalem: The merry-go-round

It was in the middle of Sukkot, that loveliest of holidays in Israel, set aside for family time, when even the most devout and serious yeshiva men can be seen with their entire families visiting the zoo or traipsing through nature trails in Galilee. We had woken up that Friday morning to the shocking news that, the night before, young parents had been slain in their car on their way home from a festive reunion, shot in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists as their four terrified little boys sat watching from the back seat. 

It is hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live in Israel and travel these roads every day what such news brings: grief, fury, fear and a fierce desire for a response that will deter the next such heinous and inhuman act.

Along with everyone else in Israel, I grieved. But then I heard their names: Eitam and Naama Henkin.

Henkin, I thought, flooded by a sudden, terrible shock that was like a blow to my stomach.

Oh, no!

I remembered that lunch not so long ago with Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat, a revolutionary advanced Torah study program. We sat in one of those comfortable little coffee houses that line German Colony, two Orthodox women who had come to Israel from America, discussing how Nishmat was changing the face of Orthodoxy by offering the first study program approved by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment to qualify women to become halachic advisers in the area of intimate women’s issues — issues that many religious women would be embarrassed to discuss with a male rabbi.

I remember leaving that meeting feeling I had been granted a rare privilege. This petite, passionate woman in her head-covering and modest clothes was, in her own quiet, courageous way, making history improving the lives of countless Jewish women. 

Eitam and Naama were Chana Henkin’s son and daughter-in-law.

That her grandchildren had been spared was nothing less than a miracle. For a moment, my heart wanted to believe that even Palestinian killers and terrorists had some shred of decency and compassion. That they were, after all, descendants Abraham. 

A few days later, when the suspects were caught in a spectacular demonstration of amazing skill by the Israel Defense Forces, the truth was brutal. The suspects had been on their way to kill the children when one of them accidentally shot the other, forcing them to abandon their plans and rush to a hospital, where the injured suspect was picked up days later by an elite Israeli unit.

It made me feel much better that they had been so quickly apprehended. But before I could feel any real relief, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Raanana and elsewhere followed at a rapid clip, thrusting me back into the terrible memories of an earlier homicidal rampage to strike Israel, when I experienced terrorism firsthand as I sat with my family on seder night in the Park Hotel in Netanya. 

Oddly, when I remembered those days of suicide bombers blowing up hotels, bar mitzvah ceremonies and buses, the current spate of stabbings and savage hit-and-runs seemed less threatening. After all, a bomb you couldn’t see coming, and you couldn’t defend yourself. With a knife attack, you had a chance to run, or, if you had a gun, to shoot. As devastating as these attacks were, they were small potatoes compared to the bad old days of Oslo, where there was no security fence to keep killers and their bombs out of the country. 

The bus attack in Armon Hanatziv was another matter altogether. Two passengers stood and started stabbing and shooting. It wasn’t a bomb, but it was close. But worst of all was the news that the suspects were Israeli Arabs, residents of East Jerusalem, citizens of Israel.

I have lived in Jerusalem for 45 years. This is something new. There is a delicate fabric of life in our city, interwoven threads of Arab and Jew that exist side by side. We shop in the same malls and supermarkets, sit together on the grass in our parks, watch our children playing in the same playgrounds. Palestinian Arabs have delivered my groceries, built and renovated my homes, and been my doctors and nurses in Hadassah Hospital.

One terrorist, who plowed his car into a crowd in the center of ultra-Orthodox Malchei Israel Street in Geula, then got out of the vehicle holding a meat cleaver and started cutting the injured, had worked for the Israeli phone company Bezeq for 20 years.

I wondered if our building cleaner, an Israeli Arab, would show up for work, and if the workers putting the finishing touches on my neighbor’s apartment would show up. And I wondered how I would feel about it.

When I encountered them in the following days, the answer became clear: Stronger than any propaganda, any isolated terror attack was the routine flow of normal life. I was not really surprised that I nodded hello to our maintenance man as he mopped the lobby floor, and that he nodded and smiled. Nor was I really surprised that the noises from the sixth-floor renovation were going on as usual, the Arabs congregating in front of the building. But what had changed was how we looked at each other, warily, searching each other’s faces for confirmation that all was well, and we would be exempt from the madness. Or not.

What did surprise me was my own reaction. With little or no fear, I took a public bus into the center of Jerusalem, walked calmly down Ben Yehuda Street and turned into the nearest army surplus store.

“We are all out of tear gas,” the owner said before I opened my mouth.

“That’s OK,” I answered. “I want a knife.”

He showed me a few. I tested the blade gingerly against my palm. “Something bigger,” I told him. “Something sharper.”

I walked out with it in my purse, feeling better. As ready as I was to smile at innocent workmen, I was also ready to defend myself and my loved ones from those whose religious fervor sent them out to kill people like me and my family. I thought of every thrust: One for the Jews killed in the Holocaust. One for the Jews killed in every terror attack. And one very personal one for me and the Park Hotel.

That Shabbat, sans knife, we took our usual walk along the path built over the old Turkish railroad. Ordinarily crowded with kids on bikes and skateboards, and with families pushing baby strollers, it was practically deserted, except for a group of French tourists. One of them wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Proud of Israel.”

I was disappointed. Surely, Jerusalemites were not that easily spooked? We felt better when we reached the First Station, a lively collection of stores, cafes and play areas for children. It was slightly less crowded than usual, but still bustling with young families. Would the same be true of Liberty Bell Park, which every Saturday throbbed with Arab families and their laughing children from East Jerusalem, whose picnics of barbecuing lamb scented the air for blocks?

Unlike the First Station, it was absolutely deserted, as was the Lion’s Fountain across the street, which normally on such a warm day, would be packed with Arab families watching their kids jump in and out of the water.

We walked back to the First Station and took a bench across from the newly imported merry-go-round. Its painted horses and lively music filled the air, mingling with the laughter of children. When we got up to go, a young woman pushing a double baby carriage approached us. 

“Did you see how empty Liberty Bell Park is? Good! Why should they take over the park every Saturday? Let them be afraid to come here. This is our country. Let them stay home. They teach their children to be murderers and then they cry when they get shot trying to murder our children! They have no business here!”

An old Arab walking nearby carrying a large bundle turned around, staring daggers at her.

“Let him stare!” she said loudly. “This is my country. Mine. I’m not going anywhere!”

As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder. The merry-go-round was still turning. It went around and around and around.

Naomi Ragen is the author of nine international best-sellers. Her latest book, “The Devil in Jerusalem” (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), is based on the true story of a kabbalah cult in Jerusalem that took over the lives of innocent American olim with horrific consequences. She has lived in Jerusalem since 1971.

Now is the time to support Ultra-Orthodox core-curriculum yeshiva education

Israel’s new political reality—with the two main Ultra-Orthodox or Haredi political parties, the Sephardic-based Shas party and the Ashkenazi-based United Torah Judaism, inside the government won’t help the next generation of Haredi young people—in fact, on the contrary, it will perpetuate a broken system. While Shas and United Torah Judaism have negotiated financial windfalls for their constituencies, as well as a pull-back on the demand that Ultra-Orthodox young men serve in the Israeli Defense Force, this old style of conducting business could be harmful to our community’s young people. That’s because the reality is that education—not political power–is the key to the future for the Haredi community in Israel, especially if the government doesn’t put advancing Haredim through education and employment at the core of the agenda.

“Educate each child according to his own path,” the Book of Proverbs teaches us, “and he will not stray from it, even when he is old.” And yet, when it comes to educating Haredi youth in Israel, we still have much to learn. Quite honestly, there is nothing short of an education crisis in our community. Rather than providing real choices, our leaders have traditionally insisted that Haredi students have only one path: a formal, rote curriculum dominated by intensive Talmud study, with no option for students to take general studies or complete an Israeli matriculation certificate. This is the path that is likely to dominate the agenda right now—and it is not the path that our young people need or deserve.

The reality is that in the absence of a meaningful alternative, nearly a third of Haredi teenage boys will continue to become alienated from both mainstream Israeli society and the traditional ways of their community. Many drop out of school, spend their time on the streets, or are lost to the Haredi community altogether. They are unable to build families and successful lives.

Those yeshivas that do offer secular matriculation (and there are only a handful in the entire country) are far too expensive for most Haredi families to afford.

By creating Hachmey Lev Yeshiva High School, my aim is to do nothing short of transforming the Yeshiva model. We offer teens who are under stimulated in classical Yeshiva settings the opportunity to maximize their social, educational, and cognitive potential all while still maintaining a Haredi lifestyle. We are teaching the boys Gemara at the highest standards, in Hebrew and without compromise, and to live a Haredi lifestyle that will also allow them to earn a good living for themselves and their future families.

I was inspired to create Hachmay Lev based on my own family’s experience when our son reached seventh grade and boredom got the better of him. He showed little interest in his traditional yeshiva schooling. As a product of this schooling myself, I know the value of its rigor, but this model simply is outmoded for today’s young people.

Our students combine study of Talmud (32 hours each week) and general studies (20 hours each week), giving them a broader education than any other Haredi institutions in Israel. They study the core curriculum like English, math, history, Bible, civics, computer science, and Hebrew, while also enjoying music and sports. Students sleep in Jerusalem during the week and return home on weekends. Once the model has been fine-tuned, Hachmey Lev will be replicated in other locations across Israel.

I spent ten years putting Haredim into the workforce and that’s why I know that education is the core issue. After spending a lifetime of activism in the Haredi community on a variety of pressing issues, including making sure that our men serve in the IDF, and find gainful employment, I am convinced that unless and until we transform our educational system, there will simply never be the systemic change that we need.

North American and British donors know the necessity of getting the 20% of Israeli society that is Haredi into the workforce—and are supporting efforts to increase employment opportunities in the Haredi community, so that our young people can have new models to emulate. Philanthropists outside of Israel also know that Israel is the global exception, since nowhere else in the world are young people exempt from learning a broad range of studies or from working. But, money for employment without strengthening and expanding serious alternative educational models won’t create the type of workers for a 21st century workforce that Israel needs.

Philanthropists who want to impact the Israeli economy need to invest in educational models that will recast the pattern of poverty in our community. Now, more than ever, those of us who trying to change Haredi society from within need to show that our model can work for a broader segment of our community. 

Bezalel Cohen, an ultra-Orthodox social activist, is the founding principal of Hachmey Lev, a Jerusalem-based yeshiva boarding school that also includes core curriculum.


Israel says Hamas militants behind abduction of three teens

Israel said on Sunday that Hamas militants had abducted three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, warning of “serious consequences” as it pressed on with a search and detained dozens of Palestinians.

The two 16-year-olds and a third man aged 19 disappeared on Thursday night in the West Bank, where they were seminary students in a Jewish settlement block.

“These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in English, referring to the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

There has been no public claim of responsibility. Asked about Netanyahu's allegations, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, stopped short of a clear denial or confirmation that it was involved.

Since the three vanished, apparently while hitchhiking, the Israeli army has carried out house-to-house searches, round-ups and interrogations in the Palestinian city of Hebron and outlying villages. The military said it detained around 80 suspects overnight and that the dragnet would spread elsewhere in the West Bank over the coming days. Palestinian officials put the number of people taken into Israeli custody so far at more than 100.

These included at least seven Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament and several prisoners recently released by Israel, the Palestinian officials said.

Israel identified the seminary students as Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha'er and Naftali Frankel, who also holds U.S. citizenship. In their last communication, one of the three managed to phone police on Thursday night to report that they were being kidnapped, according to an Israeli security official. “Naftali, your dad and mom and siblings love you endlessly, and you should know that the people of Israel are turning the world upside down to bring you home,” Frankel's mother, Rachel, said in a televised statement outside the family home.

Thousands of Jews flocked to the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem on Sunday evening to pray for the teenagers' return.


The crisis tests ties between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which were frayed by his power-sharing deal in April with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates the Jewish state's destruction.

Gilad Erdan, a minister in Netanyahu's security cabinet, told Israel's Channel 2 television that Abbas's security forces were “willingly” helping search for the teenagers. Palestinian authorities acknowledged the cooperation, drawing Hamas censure.

Erdan played down the Palestinian role. Recovering the teenagers and tackling their captors would be “almost entirely based on the Israeli military and security services,” he said.

In broadcast remarks at a cabinet session held, unusually, at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he has been overseeing the recovery efforts, Netanyahu said there would be “serious consequences” for the abduction of the teenagers.

Speaking later in English, he pledged that “Israel will act against the kidnappers and their terrorist sponsors and comrades”.

Abu Zuhri, describing Netanyahu's remarks as “stupid comments”, suggested that in casting blame on Hamas the Israeli leader was trying to draw the group into disclosing whether it was behind the teenagers' disappearance.

Palestinian militants have said they want to kidnap Israelis to win concessions from the Israeli government, and the current incident coincides with a hunger strike by some 300 Palestinian prisoners protesting against detention without trial.

More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were freed in 2011 in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in the nearby Gaza Strip for more than five years.

Netanyahu said Abbas's alliance with Hamas had emboldened militants in the West Bank, where the Western-backed Palestinian leader's Fatah movement has held sway, and demanded he do “all that is necessary” to resolve the crisis. The United States said on Friday that it had also urged Abbas to help Israel.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Sophie Hares and Stephen Powell

Yeshiva students missing, suspected kidnapped by terrorists [VIDEO]

Israeli forces are searching for three Jewish teenagers who went missing in the West Bank late on Thursday, the military said on Friday.

As media speculated that the three youths might have been abducted, large numbers of Israeli soldiers scoured the countryside around the flashpoint city of Hebron, carrying out house-to-house searches in neighboring villages and blocking roads.

[Related: Israel says Hamas militants behind abduction]

Local media said the three youngsters had last been seen trying to hitch-hike home from a religious seminary in the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion, to the north of Hebron.

“Forces are conducting a widespread operation to locate the individuals,” the military said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a special meeting of security ministers and said in a statement that Israel held P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed Palestinian Authority responsible for the safety of the three.

But Adnan al-Dmairi, a spokesman for Palestinian security services in the West Bank, deflected Israel's criticism.

“Three settlers are missing – why is this the fault of the Palestinian Authority? We have nothing to do with this issue. If a natural disaster hits Israel, would we be responsible? This is mad and unacceptable. We have no knowledge about this,” he said.

The military did not name the teenagers. The newspaper Haaretz said two were aged 16 and one was 19. Local media added that one of the three also held American citizenship, and that the U.S. ambassador to Israel had been briefed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “expressed grave concern … and … our commitment to working with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to try to ensure the situation is resolved quickly and the teenagers are returned to their families,” a U.S. spokesman said.

“Secretary Kerry has … spoken to President Abbas to urge him to do everything possible to assist in the effort to find them. President Abbas assured him that he is doing so.”

Kerry met Israeli chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni at a conference in London and later also spoke to Netanyahu, an Israeli spokesman said.

“The prime minister said to Kerry: Abu Mazen (Abbas) is responsible for the wellbeing of the missing (boys),” part of the Israeli statement about the conversation said.


Palestinian militants have said in the past that they want to kidnap Israelis to win concessions from the Israeli government. Some 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were freed in 2011 in return for the release of an Israeli soldier held captive in the nearby Gaza Strip for more than five years.

Chief military spokesman Brigadier-General Motti Almoz said security agencies were “making a very large intelligence effort to try to glean information on what happened to these three youths in the past hours”.

In September 2013, an Israeli soldier was kidnapped and killed by a Palestinian who had lured him to the West Bank. Police say the kidnapper wanted to use the soldier to obtain the release of his brother, held in an Israeli jail.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Arshad Mohammed in London, Editing by Crispian Balmer, Kevin Liffey and Larry King

The names of the boys are: 

  • Gilad Michael ben Bat-Gallim
  • Eyal ben Iris Teshura
  • Yaacov Naftali ben Rachel Devora

The appropriate Tehilim to say is Chapter 20.

Outstanding Graduate: Daniel Schwartz — Grad’s goal: A better world

Tis the graduation season, but unlike most 17-year-olds wrapping up their high school careers in recent days and weeks, Daniel Schwartz knows exactly what he wants to do with his life. 

“I want to go to law and business school and receive a JD and an MBA,” the recent graduate of Shalhevet High School said. “I want to go into medical devices and then get into politics later in life. Whatever field you go into, you should do something meaningful with it.”

Schwartz has had no problem following that mantra so far, whether it’s been as co-captain of the varsity baseball team or chair of the Agenda Committee (school president).

He has honed his intellectual skills by taking part in Model UN and being captain of the debate team. A Model Congress participant as well, earlier this year he became the first Modern Orthodox Jew to be elected president of the University of Pennsylvania’s Model Congress.

Schwartz said he would like to go into law and politics because he’s always been interested in debate. 

“My parents said that when I was young, I would argue with them a lot, and I still do,” he said. “I like thought process and analyzing things as opposed to education that’s strictly memorization. I love coming up with new, innovative ideas.”

One area in which this attitude has come into play is the study of Talmud. Noam Weissman, principal of Judaic studies at Shalhevet and Talmud teacher, characterized Schwartz as a talmudic scholar. 

He also said that Schwartz is “the type of leader that gets his peers involved in the right thing. He does an admirable job of leading people to get into studying Torah and getting them to be more passionate about Judaism. He’s not just a religious Jew, and he’s not just a thoughtful Jew. He’s a thoughtful religious Jew. That’s a special thing to see. We don’t see that often enough.”

Schwartz, who attends Beth Jacob Synagogue with his family, describes himself as a Modern Orthodox Jew and a Zionist. In ninth grade, he volunteered for Etta Israel Center, where he worked with young adults with special needs, and this fall, he will attend Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Israel to further his Jewish education. 

“I love to learn, and I love doing Talmud,” he said. “[I wanted] to devote a year of my life to it.”

He added, “I love the State of Israel and I’ve always wanted to live there for at least some portion of my life. I think it’s important to contribute to the land if you’re a Zionist.”

For his sophomore, junior and senior years of college, he plans to study at Yeshiva University in New York, majoring in business. He chose Yeshiva so he would be able to learn more Talmud and live an Orthodox life. 

“You’re still in New York City, and you can have a lot of fun in the secular world, but you can also belong to your own Jewish community,” he said. 

After he graduates from Yeshiva, Schwartz wants to either pursue law, politics, or get into the medical device industry because they are professions he can use to better the planet. 

“Medical devices have always intrigued me,” he said. “Not only are you making money, but you’re saving lives in the country and the world that you live in.”

It’s Schwartz’s personal belief that everybody should try and make the world a better place, which is why he wants to do that through his career: “I think it’s important for people to contribute to society on whatever level they can.”

For more profiles of outstanding local graduates, go to jewishjournal.com/graduation.

Israel’s middle class increasingly squeezed

At Israeli weddings, gifts of china, silver and art are not welcome. Guests are expected to bring their checkbooks and contribute to a young couple’s purchase of their first home, often bought with substantial help from the newlyweds’ parents.

But a new report shows that only 65 percent of young couples in their 20s and 30s are able to buy a home, as compared with over 80 percent a decade ago.

These statistics are part of the State of the Nation Report 2011- 2012 published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, which examines various aspects of Israel’s economy.

Director Dan Ben-David finds disturbing trends in Israel’s economy. “We are the ‘start-up nation’ with world-class universities, yet our productivity is falling further and further behind Western countries,” Ben-David told The Media Line.

While overall unemployment in Israel is relatively low, and employment rates among young and middle-aged Israeli men is much lower than in leading Western countries, tens of thousands of Orthodox yeshiva students receive government stipends for studying full-time instead of working.

Israel also has a lot of debt. The Taub Center found that the interest the country pays on its debt was more than its entire education budget last year, and double its health budget.

One bright sign is Israel’s national health care system. Almost all Israelis are members of one of four HMO’s and pay a percentage of their taxes for health insurance. Israeli Jews have one of the highest life expectancies in the world. However the report found that the number of hospital beds in Israel is continuing to drop, and is less than half the Western average.

The report also found that the government’s share of total health care spending in Israel has fallen, while private spending has risen.

“In essence, separate health care systems for the rich and for the poor have developed,” the report found.

Transportation is another problem. The congestion on Israel’s roads is 2.5 times higher than the Western average, although the number of cars per capita is much lower. Even though Israel has begun spending more money on its transportation infrastructure recently, traffic jams have gotten almost unbearable during rush hour.

But it is the plight of Israel’s middle class that economists find most disturbing.

Paul Rivlin, a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University, says the middle class is being squeezed all over the world. In Israel, he says, monopolies control important aspects of life.

“There is only one supplier of land because the State of Israel owns practically all of the land,” he told The Media Line. “There is only one supplier of cement. The food we buy is overwhelmingly sold or made or imported by monopolistic organizations that engage in price gouging.”

In the summer of 2011, socioeconomic demonstrations dubbed the “cottage cheese protests” swept the Jewish state. Hundreds of thousands, including Rivlin, went into the streets demanding lower food prices. Many items manufactured in Israel cost less when purchased abroad.

After those protests, prices of many commodities went down although they have crept up again over the past year. Rivlin says economic issues have often taken a back seat in Israel.

“The amount of time you can concentrate on social issues is limited because of security issues,” Rivlin said.

Taxes in Israel are also high, the income tax ranging from 10 percent to a whopping 48 percent.

“There have been some tax reforms that have benefited the bottom and the top, but the middle class still gets hit,” Rivlin says. “As you move up with moderate increases in income, you get pushed up into higher tax rates.”

“We are falling further and further behind in living standards and if we don’t do something soon, fewer Israelis will stay here,” Ben-David told The Media Line. “We are on some long-term social and economic trajectories that are simply unsustainable in the long run.”

Bibi bypassing Cabinet on extending yeshiva students’ military service law

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring a vote on extending a law that allows yeshiva students to delay their military service directly to the Knesset floor, bypassing his Cabinet.

Netanyahu’s office said Thursday that the Cabinet will not vote on extending the Tal Law at its regular meeting on Sunday. Netanyahu had said last week he would ask the Cabinet to extend the law, which was adopted 10 years ago to allow haredi Orthodox students to delay military service and then make the transition to a shorter service, for five more years.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said he would like to end the Tal Law ended and have a fairer system put into place.

The Tal Law allows yeshiva students older than 22 to take a year off their studies for professional training without being drafted. In doing so they must commit to a shorter army service or a year of national service, or return to yeshiva studies.

Also Thursday, Israeli reserve soldiers set up what they are calling a “suckers camp” in Tel Aviv to protest a decision to extend the Tal Law. Politicians, high school students about to be drafted and university students visited the camp, Haaretz reported.

Yeshiva shuttered over students’ ties to West Bank attacks

A West Bank yeshiva high school whose students have been identified as being involved in attacks against Palestinians has been ordered shut down.

The Dorshei Yehudcha yeshiva high school, which has about 100 students, reportedly was ordered closed last week by Israel’s Education Ministry following the recommendation of the Shin Bet security service.

According to Haaretz, the Shin Bet had recommended closing the yeshiva because the security service had collected a great deal of classified information showing that the yeshiva’s students were involved in illegal and violent activities against Palestinians and Israeli security forces. The Shin Bet also said that the yeshiva rabbis were aware of the actions and continued to allow students to participate.

The school is connected to the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva of Yitzhar, to which the Education Ministry cut funding. One of the yeshiva’s heads is Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who was investigated by police for his book “Torat Hamelech,” or “The King’s Torah,” which reportedly discusses situations in which it is permissible for Jews to kill non-Jews.

Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and secular universities

The Wall Street Journal recently published a column about ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) Jews in Israel who do not work for a living. Sixty-five percent of ultra-Orthodox men ages 35-54 do not go to work. Instead, they study Torah while demanding increasing amounts of money from the taxes paid by Israelis who work for a living.

The author of the column, Evan R. Goldstein, wrote: “Voluntary unemployment has become the dominant lifestyle choice for [Charedi] men. And even if there was a desire to work, [Charedi] schools leave students unprepared to function in a modern economy.”

If these data are correct, this is not only a problem for Israel, it is a problem for Judaism.

It is a problem for Israel for the same reason that able-bodied citizens receiving welfare has been a problem for America. It is economically unfeasible to support large numbers of nonworking citizens, and it is morally wrong for citizens who work and pay taxes to have their money forcibly taken from them (i.e., taxes) to pay to people who could work but who choose not to.

The reason for this problem in Israel is that in 1948 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion excused 400 yeshiva students from serving in the army, arguing that after the Holocaust it was critical for the Jewish state to support some of its citizens to concentrate on Torah study.

Few Jews, inside or outside of Israel, would oppose continuing this policy for a handful of scholars. But for hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Jews to demand to be supported — and protected — by other Jews (and, for that matter, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel as well) is entirely different.

It is also a problem for Judaism. It presents religious Jews, Torah and Judaism in a terrible light. Of course, most Orthodox Jews in Israel work as hard for a living as other Israeli citizens. But the largest group of Israelis that chooses not to work while demanding public funds to sustain them is the ultra-Orthodox, who also constitute an increasingly large percentage of the Israeli population.

As Goldstein notes in his article, the Shulchan Aruch, the Orthodox compendium of Jewish law, declares that “a respected and impoverished scholar should have a trade, even a lowly trade, rather than being in need of his fellow man.”

Goldstein quotes Israeli Orthodox scholars who claim that there is no precedent in pre-1948 Jewish history for an entire community devoting itself to Torah scholarship, let alone getting paid to do so:

“ ‘Torah study has always been for spiritual, not material, sustenance,’ Zvi Zohar, a professor of law at [the Orthodox] Bar-Ilan University, tells me. Moreover, the notion that a man’s primary obligation is studying, and not providing for his family, is ‘diametrically opposed’ to Jewish tradition, Mr. Zohar says.”

Goldstein cites an additional problem for Judaism in state-supported Torah study for vast numbers of men: He quotes professor Shlomo Naeh of the Jewish Studies Department of the Hebrew University, who says that it has harmed the quality of Jewish thought. Writes Goldstein: “Ultra-Orthodox self-segregation has cut ‘learning off from life,’ he wrote in a recent essay. As a result, the current generation of Torah scholars ‘is far from being one of the greatest … despite the existence of tens of thousands of learners.’ ”

This “self-segregation” — these ultra-Orthodox men rarely interact with non-Orthodox Jews, let alone with non-Jews — has another negative consequence: These men gain and therefore impart little wisdom. One might say that insularity and wisdom are mutually exclusive.

The irony here is that a similar problem exists at Western universities. There, too, many individuals who teach in the liberal arts or “social sciences” live off public funds (they get paid to teach a few hours a week, but otherwise the parallel is apt), and spend nearly their whole life in a cocoon (a secular left one), interacting almost only with people who live and think as they do, just as the Charedim do.

Most secular left professors and most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva scholars are mirror images of one another: A life devoted to the study of increasingly irrelevant matters, with the result that both groups usually lack wisdom and therefore too often produce nonsense, sometimes harmful nonsense.

Both groups venerate brainpower and knowledge over wisdom and common sense. The fact that Jews are drawn to each of these lifestyles — that of the yeshiva scholar and secular professor — reflects a real problem in Jewish life, whether ultra-Orthodox or ultra-secular, namely, worship of the intellect.

I saw this at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva I attended and at the Ivy League university I attended. Men with fine brains and immense knowledge about narrow areas of life taught me little about real life.

The intellect cut off from the real world, whether in a Charedi yeshiva in Israel or at almost any modern Western university, is not good for society. The issue is not Charedim or professors per se. The issue is Charedim and professors who leave the world to live in yeshivas or academia their whole lives. Thus, ultra-Orthodox like Chabad and others who do not want their followers to spend their lives only studying, and professors in junior colleges, who often come from outside of academia or who combine outside work with teaching, are not the problem.

The lesson is that far more important in life than intellect are common sense, goodness and the wisdom produced by a life that comes into regular contact with the Other. The Other in the Charedi yeshiva world is the non-Orthodox Jew and the non-Jew; the Other at the university is a conservative Christian or a conservative, period.

There is, however, one important difference between ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and universities. Yeshivas are honest about their primary goal: to produce an Orthodox Jew. Universities never acknowledge their primary goal: to produce a secular leftist.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.

Israeli chief rabbi: give stipends to yeshiva and university students

An Israeli chief rabbi told university students that stipends for yeshiva students should also apply to them.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar met Thursday with leaders of the National Students Union at his office in Jerusalem to discuss an amendment to the state budget bill that includes stipends for married full-time yeshiva students. The meeting comes amid ongoing protests by university students against the yeshiva stipend.

The amendment to the budget granting the stipends comes after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in June that said paying stipends to yeshiva students and not to university students constitutes discrimination. Amar reportedly asked the students to tone down their demonstrations, since he said they were perceived as being anti-haredi Orthodox.

Student Union Head Itzik Shmueli told reporters following the meeting that “we were pleased to find that the rabbi has an open door and an open ear to our problems.”

Shmueli also said that the student protest “is not against the haredim or the yeshiva students, it is merely in favor of equality and the greater incorporation of the religious public into the workforce.”

In addition to expressing agreement that university students should also receive government stipends, Amar reportedly also agreed that haredi Israelis should be integrated into the workforce.

Israeli students protest yeshiva stipend

Thousands of Israeli university students gathered in Jerusalem to protest a bill that would provide stipends to yeshiva students.

As many as 10,000 students from universities throughout the country arrived by chartered buses to the capital Monday evening for the protest march from the prime minister’s official residence to Zion Square.

The protesters carried signs reading “We’re not suckers” and “Haredim—go to work” and chanted slogans such as “Students are worth more” and “We’re hungry for bread, too.”

The demonstration was protesting Knesset approval of the first reading of the 2011-12 state budget, which includes stipends for married full-time yeshiva students.

The amendment to the budget granting the stipends, proposed by Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism Party, comes after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in June that paying stipends to yeshiva students and not to university students constitutes discrimination.

Blood Brothers: How a gift of lifesaving bone marrow united two strangers

Although they live more than 12,000 miles apart, Yosef Eliezrie and Moshe Price have a lot in common. Eliezrie, 21, is a Los Angeles yeshiva student preparing to become rabbi, like his father. Price, 24, studies in a Jerusalem yeshiva. His father is also a rabbi. The two are not related, and until this year, they had never met. Yet the same blood runs through their veins.

In October 2006, Eliezrie received a bone marrow transplant provided by Price. It was his only hope for survival after a recurrence of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This month, Eliezrie got the chance to meet Price in person, thank him for his lifesaving gift and embark on a unique new friendship.

At the time of the transplant, however, neither man knew how much they had in common. Bone marrow registry protocols prevent donors and recipients from learning anything about one another beyond age and gender. After a year, the donor or recipient can request contact information, but the other must agree before any information is released.

After the prescribed period, both Eliezrie and Price independently contacted their registries to initiate contact. The two were united first by phone, then met face-to-face in a private gathering April 7.

“It was amazing,” Eliezrie said. “It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

The following day, the pair visited the physicians and medical staff at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), where Eliezrie’s transplant had been performed.

“As staff, we get caught up in day-to-day demands,” said Dr. Steven Neudorf, one of Eliezrie’s principal physicians. “Seeing Yosef and his donor together puts things in perspective and reminds us of why we do this work.”

Dr. Leonard Sender, Eliezrie’s doctor and the medical director for both UC Irvine’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Cancer Institute at CHOC, showed Price where his bone marrow cells had been delivered and the small oncology intensive-care unit where Eliezrie spent almost a year.

“He’s someone who did something selfless in a selfish age,” Sender said.

After the hospital event, Price, Eliezrie, physicians, family and friends participated in a seudat hodaa, a meal of thanksgiving, hosted by Eliezrie’s parents, Stella and Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie. The senior Eliezrie is director of the North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda.

“Judaism considers doctors to be agents of God,” Rabbi Eliezrie had said earlier at CHOC. “This hospital was an agent of God. May the bone marrow transplant team see tremendous success and have the fortitude to continue this lifesaving work.”

Yosef Eliezrie’s odyssey began in the summer of 2005. At the time a Yeshiva student in Morristown, N.J., he was anticipating a trip to Lithuania to assist with Chabad’s outreach to the Jewish community of Vilnius. Eliezrie had felt “fluish” for about a month prior to his departure and visited a doctor in New York just before leaving. The doctor said Eliezrie had bronchitis. So despite his fever, Eliezrie went ahead with his trip.

But he grew sicker and weaker with each day and soon went to a clinic, where doctors suspected — but couldn’t confirm — that he had leukemia. Eliezrie flew home and went straight from the airport to the UC Irvine Medical Center to see Sender, the pediatric hematologist/oncologist who had successfully treated his brother for cancer seven years earlier.

Within an hour, Sender had diagnosed Eliezrie with AML. Less then two days later, Eliezrie’s condition severely deteriorated, and he was put on a ventilator to control his breathing.

“He was extremely ill,” Sender said. “We weren’t sure if he would make it.”

Doctors eventually stabilized Eliezrie, and in the following months, he endured five rounds of chemotherapy and countless infections, but by Passover, Eliezrie was considered to be in remission.

During Eliezrie’s chemotherapy, Sender wanted to identify a potential bone marrow donor in the event that the cancer recurred. Family members have a 30 percent chance of being compatible donors, but neither Eliezrie’s parents nor any of his five siblings were a match.

Sender contacted the National Marrow Donor Program, but none of the program’s 7 million potential donors were compatible, either. However, through the program’s partnership with registries around the world, two possible donors were identified by Ezer Mizion, the national bone marrow registry of Israel: Moshe Price and his sister.

The largest Jewish bone marrow registry in the world, Ezer Mizion lists more than 338,000 potential donors. The organization’s registry has grown dramatically in recent years as a result of nationwide donor drives and voluntary testing routinely offered to new Israel Defense Forces recruits. However, only about 60 percent of those who contact the registry find a potential match, according to Ofra Konikoff, chief bone marrow transplant coordinator for Ezer Mizion, who traveled to the United States to facilitate Eliezrie and Price’s meeting.

Sender’s fear came to pass in August, when he discovered that Eliezrie’s cancer had recurred. Bone marrow transplantation was Eliezrie’s only option.

Ezer Mizion contacted Price, who underwent additional tests that confirmed his compatibility as a donor. Eliezrie then began 10 days of conditioning chemotherapy and radiation, a brutal regimen designed to destroy his bone marrow and prepare the body to receive foreign cells.

On Oct. 18, physicians extracted bone marrow from Price’s hip bone during a two-and-a half-hour surgery. The procedure can sometimes be done through the process of aphaeresis, where the donor’s blood is removed through a needle in one arm, passed through a machine that removes certain cells and is returned through the other arm. The donor first undergoes five daily injections of a drug that increases the production of blood-forming cells.

A courier took the package of Price’s cells directly to the airport and flew to California to deliver it to CHOC.

Eliezrie received the transplant on Oct. 19; he then he spent 55 days in isolation, where only a few family members could visit.

Israel, N.Y. Schools Drop Weinberg Suits

Yeshiva University (YU) in New York and a Derech Etz Chaim yeshiva (DEC) in Israel have settled a lawsuit sparked by allegations that a former California rabbi made sexual advances toward students.

The settlement, which allows YU students to get credit for taking classes at DEC, closes one avenue through which to answer 20-year-old questions about whether Rabbi Matis Weinberg, who now lives in Jerusalem’s Old City, might have stepped over the line from a nonconformist educator to an alleged sexual predator.

YU unceremoniously cut ties with DEC last year when allegations arose about about Weinberg’s behavior toward a young man currently in Israel and about Weinberg’s tenure at Kerem, a boarding yeshiva he founded in Santa Clarita in the late 1970s.

Some critics believe YU is overcompensating for historic lapses in the Baruch Lanner case, when Orthodox institutions had for decades covered up his sexual and emotional abuse of teenagers (Lanner’s 2002 conviction for abusing girls in the high school is being appealed).

The dispute between YU and DEC ended earlier this month when the parties agreed to drop a suit and countersuit in Federal Court in Manhattan, where DEC had sued YU in June 2003 for cutting the school out of its Joint Israel Program, which allows YU students to enroll in yeshivas in Israel.

YU countersued DEC for "utterly failing to protect" its students, most of them post-high school students from the United States, from the accused rabbi.

The agreement, which came after a harsh rebuke from the judge when near-settlements failed because of disagreement over wording, drops both suits and states that students can apply for YU credits for their time at DEC. It does not reinstate DEC into the Joint Israel Program, which would allow students already enrolled in YU to take classes at DEC.

YU cut ties to DEC in February 2003 when allegations arose that Weinberg, whom YU claims was a figurehead at DEC, allegedly made sexual advances to boys at Kerem 20 years ago and to a young man in Israel last year. Weinberg denied any wrongdoing, and DEC, which claims its ties to Weinberg were tenuous to begin with, terminated the weekly class Weinberg gave soon after the allegations arose.

While Weinberg had no official role at DEC, his students founded the school, and his sons and many of his students teach there.

The case also went before a panel of rabbis in New York last May. The panel collected testimony from alleged victims, then sent the case to a beit din (rabbinic court) in Jerusalem. The beit din in Israel chose not to pursue the case.

While rumors have circulated that some alleged victims are planning to sue and that Interpol is investigating the matter, no such suits or investigations have been verified — proof, Weinberg supporters say, that he did nothing wrong.

Weinberg has many supporters in Los Angeles, mostly students he mentored in the 1980s at Kerem. Those students are convinced that the allegations against Weinberg are a cruel vendetta against a master educator whose only crime was refusing to conform.

"I believe that Rabbi Weinberg is a good, wholesome person and I do not believe any of the allegations against him," said Rabbi Ari Heir, director of the Jewish Studies Institute at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who is among a group of community leaders in Los Angeles and elsewhere who attended Kerem. "I think that 99 percent of what is going in is that people didn’t like him anyway because he’s an iconoclast, and people in the Orthodox world don’t like an iconoclast."

Heir and others who called The Jewish Journal said that Weinberg was affectionate and physical in his highly personal and effective pedagogical method, but never inappropriate.

Reports in the New York Jewish Week last year paint a different picture, where victims alleged that Weinberg stepped over the line and made clear sexual advances. Most of those allegations are from Kerem students, and one mother alleged that Weinberg behaved inappropriately with her son, who was a student in Israel (not at DEC) last year.

Many were looking to the beit din and to the trial court to either clear or condemn Weinberg’s reputation, but now both those avenues have been closed.

It is not clear whether or where this case will be pursued next.

DEC, meanwhile, hopes to get its program back off the ground. Before the controversy, the yeshiva had about 45 students, a number that dropped precipitously this past year. But Rabbi Aharon Katz, dean and founder of DEC, said with the settlement, students have already started enrolling and he is expecting about 30 boys next year.

Valley Yeshiva Seeking to Lure City Jews Over the Mountains

It’s Thursday night at Toras Hashem, an outreach yeshiva in North
Hollywood and some 40 people are here to hear Rabbi Zvi Block’s weekly Torah
portion sermon. Tonight the class includes college-age women wearing long
skirts; a number of septuagenarians; a middle-aged man, who is becoming
Orthodox, and his wife, who is converting to Judaism; and a young mother whose
little girl spends the class drawing pictures on a notepad.

The men and women are seated in separate rows, and everyone
is following along in an English-translated Chumash. The class is about Parshat
Yitro, the portion of the Torah in which the Ten Commandments are given to the
Jewish people, which is a springboard for Block to talk not about laws, but
about relationships, using the events at Mt. Sinai as a metaphor for marriage.
Block, a New Yorker, delivers his talk with great enthusiasm: he sits down, he
gets up, he walks around the room, he digs with his thumb to emphasize his
points, he modulates his voice, he peppers his argument with telling anecdotes;
he moves the story so briskly through the text that by the end of the 75
minutes, the entire parsha has been explicated.

Block’s scholarship and liveliness have garnered him a
following in the Valley, where he has lived since 1977 when he came to start a Los
Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah, then only a Jerusalem outreach yeshiva. In
1995 Block started his own outreach yeshiva, Toras Hashem, formerly known as
the Aish HaTorah Institute, which is intended to foster individualist,
religious expression in its students. “We never cloned anyone in a particular
fashion,” Block said. “We produced kids who were Chasidic-leaning, and we
produced kids who were Zionistic-leaning.”

The original Toras Hashem building burned down in an arson
attack in 1991, although the reason for the fire is still unknown. Not one to
give up, Block collected $1 million in funds to rebuild his building,  and, in
1995, the new Toras Hashem on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood, with room
for more than 200 students, was completed. In addition to his fundraising and
outreach efforts, Block also worked as the founding rabbi of the Orthodox Beth
Din of the Valley and as the principal of West Valley Hebrew Academy.

With more than 200 people attending classes and services
every week, Toras Hashem has made a name for itself in the Valley. However, it
has yet to draw people in from the other side of Mulholland Drive, which is
something that Block attributes to city Jews’ myopia, although it might be due
to the plethora of options available there.

“I think people in the city don’t realize to what extent the
Valley community has grown,” Block told The Journal. “People consider the
Valley as a third choice [to live in], after Pico Robertson and Hancock Park,
and they are making a big mistake. People in the city don’t realize that the
Valley has between 800 and 1,000 shomer Shabbos families. In our area alone
there are a dozen shuls.”

These days, Block is trying a different sort of outreach. He
wants to reach out to affiliated Jews in the city so that they know more about
the thriving community in the Valley, and he is doing so by organizing a
citywide concert with Shalsheles, the highest-selling Orthodox singing quartet
in the country by Jewish music standards. Block hopes to sell out some 1,700
seats, which would raise $100,000 to benefit Israeli victims of terror.

“We have an overriding thrust that Israel is our homeland.
We believe very strongly in a powerfully assertive Israel, and so this concert
fits right in,” Block said. “It is really an effort to galvanize the city of
Los Angeles on our behalf, and on behalf of Israel.”

The Shalsheles Concert will take place at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16 at the Scottish Rite Theatre, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets
are available at 613 the Mitzvah Store, House of David and Brencos. For more
information on the concert, call (818) 581-7505. For information on Toras
Hashem, call (818) 980-6934.

Behind the Name

A number of years ago, a philanthropist who visited the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s rabbinical seminary on the Lower East Side of New York prepared to give a large gift to the yeshiva.

He insisted, however, that the venerable rabbi give him a grand tour of the classes being taught at the yeshiva. Feinstein was more than happy to oblige, and they went from class to class, sitting in on several of them as they walked through the school.

After the tour, Feinstein took the man back to his study, hoping to hear the amount of his gift. To his surprise, the man informed him that he would not give any gift to the yeshiva. Stunned, Feinstein inquired why he had a change of heart. He responded that he felt the yeshiva wasn’t teaching the students what they needed to learn. He said that it was a mistake to spend so much time on Talmud and Jewish law because the boys weren’t being taught the essentials. Feinstein asked him, "And what are the essentials?" He answered, "Dikduk," Hebrew grammar. "They simply don’t know Dikduk," the man asserted. Feinstein turned to him and said, "No, you are wrong. It’s Dikduk."

We often think we put the emphasis on the correct issue when in reality we miss the main point. A good example of this can be found in this week’s Torah portion. The question is: How was it possible that Isaac and Rebecca could have two sons, twins, no less, educated in the same environment, sent to the same schools and yet, who turn out so drastically different?

The 19th century Chasidic genius, the Shem MiShmuel, offers a brilliant insight that answers this question. He suggests that the secret lies in the names of the two boys. He notes that in the Bible, the name of a person always describes the person’s essence. Esau has the same letters in Hebrew as asu (made, completed). This indicates that Esau was a man who felt no need for self-improvement. He was perfect, complete in every way. Indeed, the numerical value for asu equals 376, which is the same as the word shalom. Shalom not only means "peace" but also "wholeness." Esau was entirely at peace with himself. He did not, and could not, feel the need to improve because he saw himself as perfect.

Jacob, however, was just the opposite. Jacob in Hebrew means heel. Jacob imagined himself as a heel, a lowly person, someone who needed to achieve much more for himself. He was a climber, always prepared to engage in self-improvement and self-criticism.

With this in mind, the Shem MiShmuel quotes a remarkable Talmudic comment. The Talmud, in Berakhot 13a, states: "Anyone who refers to Avraham as Avram [his original name] has transgressed a positive command, but anyone who refers to Israel as Jacob has not transgressed, as Torah itself calls him by this name later on."

In this comment, the Talmud implies that both names contain the same concept. On the one hand, the name Jacob means heel, and on the other, the name Israel derives its meaning from "striving with God and man and prevailing."

This observation contains a great message for all of us. We must take to heart the difference between Jacob and Esau. Esau’s inherent downfall came from his inability to emphasize the correct issue. Repeatedly, Esau missed the main point. Over and over again, Esau refused to appreciate the need to change his ways, to improve. Jacob, on the other hand, became our role model because he could grasp what was essential. Jacob realized that the ability to scrutinize one’s actions, and change accordingly, is the key to a valuable Jewish life.

Yeshiva Students Still Going to Israel

Jennifer Kessler always knew she would spend a year between high school and college studying at a girls’ yeshiva in Israel.

Her modern Orthodox day school in Los Angeles, Shalhevet, usually sends at least a third of the graduating class to Israel, and among the children of her parents’ friends, "everyone" goes to Israel.

But when it came time this year for Kessler, 17, to firm up her plans to attend Midreshet Lindenbaum, a prestigious program in Jerusalem, it wasn’t easy. Her parents, who canceled a family trip to Israel due to concerns about the violence, started worrying. Several other L.A.-area teenage girls that Kessler knew had been planning to study in Israel and decided not to go.

Nonetheless, Kessler remains cautiously committed to her upcoming year in Israel — and is scheduled to depart at the end of August.

In the Orthodox world, that feeling is typical.

While American Jewish tourism to Israel is way down, and American enrollment has dropped sharply at secular institutions like Hebrew University of Jerusalem, post-high school yeshiva programs in Israel are — so far — an exception to the trend.

Nearly 2,400 American yeshiva and seminary students will be departing for Israel in the next month, according to Sheryl Stein, a spokeswoman for El Al Israel Airlines. The number is "a drop" from last year, "but not significant," Stein said. However, she could not provide statistics for last year.

Yeshiva University, centrist Orthodoxy’s flagship institution, reports that almost 1,000 recent male and female high school graduates will be under its auspices in Israel at 36 yeshivot and seminaries and at Bar-Ilan University, the same as last year. Y.U. officials said very few people left in the middle of the last school year, and virtually no students registered for this year have canceled their plans.

Yeshivat Har Etzion, a boys’ yeshiva in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, expects 45 students this year — the same as last year — and had to turn away a number of applicants.

Of course, these numbers could still decrease if the violence intensifies further — and as a result, the yeshivot are still "on pins and needles," said one official in modern Orthodox academia.

But these potential changes aside, why, at a time when Israel’s tourism industry is on the rocks, are Orthodox students still flocking to the Jewish State?

Kessler said she decided to stick with her plans, in part because she’s not the type to "back out of things" and, having already deferred admission at the University of Pennsylvania for a year, wasn’t sure what she would do if she stayed at home.

But ideology also played a part.

"My mother has always said if people stop going to Israel then the Palestinians have won," she said.

Going to Israel, Kessler said, seemed like an "opportunity to do something good for my people."

In addition to ideology and idealism — and studies have shown centrist Orthodox Jews have stronger feelings of connection to Israel than liberal and unaffiliated Jews — other factors have kept enrollment fairly stable at post-high school yeshiva programs, say observers.

For one thing, pre-college Israel study has become a standard rite of passage for modern, or centrist, Orthodox Jews. In a 1999 study, Rabbi Shalom Berger, a teacher at Midreshet Lindenbaum and faculty member at Bar-Ilan University’s Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, found that close to 90 percent of modern Orthodox young adults spend a full year studying Torah in Israel following high school graduation.

The fact that yeshiva programs are the communal norm means that most potential participants have either friends or family members who recently attended them and can vouch for their safety.

Yeshiva officials say another reason Orthodox study programs aren’t affected the way other Israel programs are is because their primary focus is on study, rather than traveling around the country.

That may explain why at Kessler’s high school in Los Angeles, the numbers of students planning to spend a year in Israel did not drop significantly this year, but the school’s 10th-grade trip to Israel was decimated by cancellations.

While the school usually sends almost its entire sophomore class of 60 to Israel for six months, this year, only 30 signed up and only 15 actually went.

Unlike travel programs, many yeshivot — particularly the academically elite ones — have demanding study schedules that last from morning to night and allow little free time for travel.

And most programs have restricted travel further with intensified safety procedures.

Nonetheless, while the prospect of such restrictions may not be prompting cancellations, it doesn’t make the incoming students happy.

"My Israel experience is going to be really different from other people’s experience in the past," Kessler said. "I’m not going to be able to explore and not going to have the freedom."

On the Edge

A disquieting calm hovers over Kiryat Shemona. The Katyushas have stopped falling, for the time being, but with Hezbollah regrouping just two kilometers away across the newly re-marked Lebanese border, no one can be too confident the lull will last. That is the report from Rabbi Tzephania Drori, head of Yeshivat Kiryat Shemona and a leader in the Upper Galilee city for 32 years, speaking from his home in Israel shortly after returning from Los Angeles for a fundraising dinner.

“The people in Kiryat Shemona don’t know what to say,” he said. “I think most of the people are more nervous now than they were before, more afraid,” he said. Memories of the early 1970s are still too fresh for residents to forget, memories of terrorists who would sneak over the Lebanese border into the Israeli cities and kibbutzim, killing dozens of civilians at a time. Drori believes the haste of the operation left the Northerners unacceptably vulnerable, with hardly even a fence up to keep the Syrian- and Iranian-backed terrorists out of Israel. Even before the pullout, during his visit to Los Angeles, Drori had words of encouragement for the 25,000 residents of his town, who for decades have lived with the unsettling reality of air raid sirens and nights in bomb shelters.

“If the Jews stay strong in Kiryat Shemona, the government won’t have the gall to give up, because they will see that the people are strong,” said the white-bearded Drori, switching between Hebrew and English throughout the interview at the Beverly Hills home of his relatives. The benefit dinner raised $850,000 toward a goal of $3 million to expand the yeshiva, which is now limited to 200 students.

That strong showing is evidence of Drori’s solid base of support in Los Angeles, where his wife Sharri’s brother and sister-in-law, Lee and Anne Samson, are his campaign chairpersons. The dinner honored Drori’s longtime friends Rabbi Abraham and Rosalyn Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who dedicated a library at the yeshiva.

Drori says the yeshiva, a hesder program where students spend five years splitting their time between army service and study, is a source of moral strength for the entire region at a time when the residents need support.

“We can do everything out of hope, not out of cynicism,” he said. “At a time when everyone thinks we should leave, we show that we are staying and we are building.”

A Wall of Intolerance

Thirty-three Reform rabbis, men and women from the United States and Canada, held their mixed-gender minyan at the Western Wall on Monday, protected by police barricades and dozens of cops, as a mob of more than 100 haredi yeshiva students hollered abuse at them.

“For a minute there, it looked like the haredim were going to storm the barricades, but there was no physical violence,” said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).

The rabbis were called “Nazis” and “Haters of Israel” by the chanting haredim. The sight of Jewish women wearing yarmulkes and prayer shawls seemed, as usual, to especially set off the protesters. The leader of the demonstration, Agudat Yisrael Knesset Member Avraham Lazarson, told the rabbis: “What you are doing here is not prayer, but Christian sex. You are degrading the Torah and the Jewish people.”

Some Reform rabbis tried to argue back, but they were overwhelmed by the mob. Hirsch said later: “It’s a shame and disgrace that rabbis have to pray inside a ‘cage’ [of barricades] at the Western Wall.”

Haredi leaders and activists in Jerusalem had gotten wind of the Reform rabbis’ plans days before, and organized the protest. Fliers were distributed in the haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The Reform rabbis had an agreement to hold the minyan in the middle of the Western Wall plaza, but police decided that it was too dangerous, that the rabbis were liable to be physically attacked by haredim. So the minyan was moved to the back of the plaza, and held within the boundaries of metal barricades manned by police.

It wasn’t only haredi leaders who denounced the Reform; the National Religious Party’s Yigal Bibi, who is a deputy minister of religious affairs, said on the eve of the rabbis’ minyan: “This marginal movement had turned into a major issue in this country. We hear about the Reform in the religious councils, in the Supreme Court, at the Western Wall. Enough! We’re sick of it. They come here once a year, and they want to disturb the peace of this holy place.”

The rabbis had scheduled their visit well in advance, but events of the week that preceded their arrival — along with the torrent of hate they met with at the Western Wall — gave fresh impetus to their talks.

The Knesset passed a bill that’s designed to bypass Supreme Court rulings and keep non-Orthodox representatives off local religious councils, which are in charge of maintaining such religious services as synagogues, ritual baths and cemeteries. The bill passed, 50-49, with former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai — the candidate for prime minister on the new center party — casting the deciding vote.

The vote was tied when Orthodox supporters of the bill noticed that Mordechai, who is nominally observant and extremely interested in winning over religious voters, was absent from the floor. Social Affairs Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party left 17 messages on Mordechai’s beeper to get to the Knesset, but Mordechai didn’t respond.

Then Shas strongman MK Arye Deri used his connections in the defense establishment to get Mordechai’s home phone, and left him a message that the religious parties needed him in a hurry. Mordechai received the message, raced to the Knesset and cast the deciding vote for the religious services bill.

After the vote, Mordechai was surrounded on the Knesset floor by haredi lawmakers, who were shaking his hand and slapping him on the back. “This is a great day, a great victory,” said Lazarson, who would achieve another “great victory” a few days later by leading the mob at the Western Wall.

Reform and Conservative leaders have vowed to withhold their financial support from Israeli candidates who supported the bill. Hirsch said that ARZA rabbis tried to meet with Mordechai and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former military chief of staff and number two on the centrist party’s list of candidates, during their recent fund-raising visit to the United States, but the meetings were never arranged.

The rabbis were supposed to meet with Mordechai and Shahak again this week, Hirsch said, but the two took off unexpectedly for the United States for another round of fund raising. The rabbis did, however, manage to press their concerns with a number of Knesset members, including prime ministerial candidate Benny Begin, and were due also to meet with former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The other recent outrage to the Reform was the remark made by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron to the effect that the Jewish people are losing more members to Reform “assimilation” than they did to the Holocaust.

“If this had been said by anybody in any other country, it would have immediately been widely denounced as a fundamentally anti-Semitic statement,” said Hirsch. He said that the sentiment was nothing new; it is echoed time and again in Israeli haredi newspapers.

What was especially disturbing, said Hirsch, was that Bakshi-Doron’s statement became known to the public, yet nobody in the leadership of the country, in the government, denounced it.

“This really casts a shadow over Israeli democracy,” said Hirsch. “All societies have their extremists; one of the ways you measure the health of a society is by the reaction to these extremists.”

Hostile Intimidation

Every Saturday afternoon, spot on 5 p.m., through the summer and into autumn, a squad of Jerusalem police clip-clopped on horseback past my house on Rehov Hanevi’im, the Street of the Prophets. Half an hour later, equally as prompt, dozens of fervently-Orthodox Jews in their Sabbath best gathered outside the Fresco fish restaurant, 100 yards up the road, and rioted till sunset.

The men, bearded patriarchs in long, black, tailored silk coats and cartwheel fur hats, sweltered piously in the hottest summer on record (up to 93 F). Their wives, wigged for modesty, sweated in floral prints with long sleeves and hems below the knee.

Small boys in black knickerbockers and velvet yarmulkes twirled their sidecurls and shrilled, “Shabbes! Shabbes!” whenever a car approached. Their elders took up the raucous refrain like a chorus from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Sometimes they surged forward, jeering and leering. One week I watched an Arab family, visiting a nearby maternity hospital, turn tail and flee down the hill to the sanctuary of the Old City. If the Jews were having an Intifada, they wanted no part of it.

The police, with batons drawn, forced the rioters back — and were cursed as “Nazis” for their pains. Things turned doubly ugly when secular Israelis drove up and down with their radios blaring heavy metal in counter-demonstration.

The religious Jews were protesting that the Fresco, a cool oasis in a restored 19th-century mansion, served non-kosher Mediterranean seafood, and on the day of rest too. The restaurant, truth be told, is tucked between Prophets Street and Jaffa Road, the main drag of Jewish West Jerusalem. It interferes with no one’s Sabbath.

The rioters’ real aim was to close Prophets Street, which runs near, but not through, the Orthodox ghetto of Mea She’arim, on Saturdays. In a holy city where logic-chopping has been raised to an art form, such distinctions dictate how the rest of us live.

Last year the rioters forced the town council to close another main road, Bar-Ilan, on Saturdays. Bar-Ilan has been engulfed over the past decade by the synagogues and seminaries of an expanding Haredi suburb. They are less likely to succeed in Prophets Street, where the only ecclesiastical buildings are the Anglican School, a French convent and the Swedish Protestant Theological Institute.

The zealots campaign with total conviction and no scruples. Yeshiva students harass the Fresco throughout the week. On Fridays, they call 20 or 30 times, always from public phone boxes so that they can’t be traced. They book tables, then don’t turn up.

“They threaten to burn us down,” said Udi Me’iri, the 26-year-old chef and part-owner. “They threaten to smash up the place. They yell that cancer will consume us, that we’ll be struck by lightning.”

When Nurit Rosenberg, a 25-year-old waitress, answers the phone she is cursed as a whore. “One Friday,” she said, “I just cried.” Occasionally, the students come to the door and spit on her. They call her a shiksa. “It’s frustrating,” she confided, “it’s insulting, it’s humiliating.”

The Fresco is one of dozens of Jerusalem restaurants open on the Sabbath. In the Russian Compound, just as close to Mea She’arim, discos rock till dawn. According to a survey published last spring by the Committee to Uphold the Sabbath in Jerusalem, the number of businesses open on Friday night and Saturday has doubled in the past three years.

They logged 43 restaurants, 13 coffee shops, 26 pubs, nine night clubs, three cinemas, eight kiosks, six fast-food and takeaway shops, and 10 taxi ranks. A local paper counted another 30 eateries the committee missed. You have to book if you want to be sure of a table.

Jerusalem is at once a holy city and a capital city, the home of countless yeshivas, but also of the Knesset and the civil service, the Supreme Court, the Hebrew University and the Bezalel Academy of Art. Jewish tradition speaks of two Jerusalems, the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem. Despite the aggravation, they find ways to coexist.

Thousands of art-lovers troop every Saturday through the Israel Museum. The box office is closed in deference to the Sabbath, but they buy tickets from a “private” van in the parking lot. Jerusalem is home to Betar, the national soccer champions. Its Sephardi fans are celebrated for going to synagogue on Saturday morning and the match in the afternoon.

Yet the zealots, about 30 percent of Jerusalem’s 400,000 Jews, are slicing away at the resistance. Demography is on their side. More than 50 percent of this year’s primary school intake was Orthodox.

Fresco’s gentle chef, Udi Me’iri, is pessimistic: “They take one street after another. A lot of my friends are moving to Tel-Aviv. We tried to negotiate with a more respectable delegation that came to see us. But they wanted us either to go kosher or close. The gap is so wide that I don’t think it can be bridged.”

In the Street of the Prophets, that has a ring of self-fulfillment.