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.

Orthodoxy and ethics

One of the most prominent Orthodox rabbis of our time, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, related the following story in the July 12-18 issue of the International Jerusalem Post:

“Let me tell you a true incident which for me is a metaphor of our times. A young man attended a yeshiva in Safed.

“The first morning, he arrived a bit late for breakfast and there was no milk left for his coffee. He went to the grocery, purchased a container of milk and placed the container in the yeshiva refrigerator with a sign, ‘Private property.’

“The next morning, the container was gone.

“He bought another container, on which he added to the previous sign, ‘Do not steal.’

“The next morning, that container, too, was missing.

“He purchased a new container, adding to the sign, ‘Questionable gentile milk’ (halav akum). This time no one took his container; he left the yeshiva.”

A year and a half ago in this column, I recounted a similar story that Rabbi Riskin had told me many years ago. It was about 10 candidates — handpicked talmudic scholarshe interviewed for the position of rosh yeshiva (head of yeshiva). Nine of them said that they would not return an extra electric shaver accidentally sent to them by a non-Jewish-owned department store. They contended that the halachah — one does not return a lost item to an idol worshipper — forbade them from doing so.

Unfortunately, pointing to Orthodox Jews who are not ethical in order to dismiss Orthodox Judaism has always been a popular pastime among many non-Orthodox Jews. One would have more respect for such criticisms if non-Orthodox and irreligious Jews were equally critical of themselves. The secular Yiddish press comprised the West’s most supportive group of Stalin and communism, and radical Jews were disproportionately involved in supporting that movement, one of the two monstrous, genocidal evils of the 20th century. Today, the Jews who are among the leading anti-Israel activists in the Western world are virtually all non-Orthodox. And the assimilation rate among non-Orthodox Jews is incomparably higher.

So no group of Jews ought to be casting stones, since all of us live in glass houses.

Moreover, at least the Orthodox have important voices like Rabbi Riskin, who criticize fellow Orthodox Jews on ethical grounds. Where are analogous Reform, Conservative or secular Jewish voices? One regularly hears liberal Jews — Reform, Conservative and secular — denouncing the Orthodox and denouncing political conservatives, but what about criticism of their own? When was the last time a liberal Reform rabbi spoke of the moral dangers of secularism? Or attacked the left for its widespread Israel-hatred? Is there a Reform rabbi who criticized the Reform movement’s former head for telling a Muslim audience that he “respects” the Muslim veil?

Nevertheless, the ethics problem within Orthodoxy is real.

I first confronted this dilemma when I was a student at a prominent yeshiva high school.

My classmate Joseph Telushkin and I conducted a survey and found fewer than five students among the 120 students in our grade whom we could identify as not cheating on tests.

When I later taught at Brooklyn College, I was told by Jewish and non-Jewish faculty that graduates of yeshiva high schools were the students most likely to cheat on tests.

A non-Jewish listener once called my radio show to ask me if Orthodox Jews are permitted to speak on the Sabbath. I asked him why he asked such a question. He told me that he lives in an Orthodox Jewish area of Los Angeles and that on Saturday mornings, when walking his dog, he would say “Good morning” to Jews wearing black hats walking to synagogue. They just don’t respond, he told me, and that’s why he wondered if speaking on the Sabbath is forbidden to Orthodox Jews.

In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox Charedi community comprises about 9 percent of Israel’s population and receives about half of the country’s welfare payments — despite the fact that the recipients are nearly all healthy and young.

Charedi men who serve in Israel’s armed forces are increasingly humiliated, ostracized and even beaten when they return to their Charedi communities (see the Jerusalem Post, for example).

It would be very valuable to see data — if such data exist — on how many Israeli Jews in the 65 years of Israel’s existence came to Judaism and how many were alienated from Judaism as a result of observing how Orthodox Israelis lead their lives. 

To many Orthodox Jews’ credit, these examples are troubling. Also, one should not forget the role played by the Charedi first-responders to terror attacks in Israel, as well as the low incidence of drug use and the strong family life that characterize Orthodox Jews. And, among the ultra-Orthodox, there is a group, Chabad, that does stand out for its nonjudgmental love of Jews and for acts of kindness.

But Orthodoxy must address the ethics problem, if for no other reason than to preserve its own credibility. If Orthodox Jews are merely ethically no better — forget worse — than non-Orthodox Jews or, for that matter, religious Christians, what does that say about Orthodox Judaism? If its huge number of laws don’t generally produce better people, what’s the point of Orthodoxy? 

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Leading haredi rabbi in Israel: Say no to national service

The senior rabbi of the Lithuanian haredi Orthodox, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, said yeshiva students should not agree to enlist in National Service.

The rabbi's decision, quoted Monday in the haredi daily newspaper Yated Ne'eman, comes a day after Israel's Cabinet approved a temporary law that would allow yeshiva students to perform national service in place of the military.

“We must warn publicly against this serious and dangerous phenomenon, which only aims to destroy the foundations of our existence, against the essence and mission of a yeshiva student to devote his life to studying Torah,” the newspaper quoted Shteinman as saying.

The Cabinet's decisions and similar actions are “harming the foundations of Judaism,” he reportedly said.

Steinman's statements appeared in an article inside the newspaper as opposed to a signed statement on the front page, where his pronouncements are typically placed, The Jerusalem Post reported, showing that the rabbi may be trying to walk a fine line between his own convictions and those of rabbis who have taken an even more hard-line stance.

Shteinman has previously backed the formation of an all-haredi army brigade and the Tal Law that exempted yeshiva students from army service, according to The Jerusalem Post. The Tal Law was found to be unconstitutional.

Shteinman's predecessor as leader of the Lithuanian haredi Orthodox movement, the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, also rejected national service and other programs geared to the haredi community.

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.”

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 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.

Just Say No, Even on Purim

One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until one cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” (Talmud, Megillah 7b).

Purim is like the Jewish topsy-turvy day.

Unlike many Jewish holidays, which are marked by serious and meaningful customs like lighting the menorah or holding a seder, Purim’s main edict seems to be: have fun.

On the holiday that celebrates the downfall of the evil Haman and the saving of the Jewish people from destruction, adults and children alike dress up in costumes, put on satirical spiels and conclude the holiday by eating a festive meal — and getting drunk.

Now, concern over the rise in teenage alcoholism in the Orthodox community has led some rabbis and organizations to protest this last custom.

This year, the Orthodox Union (OU) and the National Council for Synagogue Youth (NCSY) have produced a brochure aimed specifically at teenagers to combat the issue of drinking on Purim.

The brochure is being distributed to some 10,000 OU synagogues and NCSY chapters throughout the country and can also be downloaded from the NCSY Web site (www.ou.org/ncsy).

The two-page pamphlet features cute diagrams printed in wine-colored text. It explodes the idea that you’re “supposed” to drink on Purim, and has catchy headlines that include “Breaking News: A nonalcoholic version of wine is now widely available! It’s called grape juice.”

“Purim in general is an amazing wonderful holiday but a lot of kids take it to excess,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, national director of NCSY. “It’s important to send a message in this brochure that this is not carte blanche. It’s not a Jewish frat party where it’s OK to get trashed in this 24-hour period.”

Burg said that Purim was chosen to launch the pamphlet because it’s a major holiday in the Orthodox community.

“Over the years drinking on the holiday has been taken to excess and I don’t even think we realize it,” he said.

But combating drinking on Purim is not the end goal of course; it’s putting an end to teenage alcoholism and all forms of substance abuse — a trend that’s on the rise, say those who work with teenagers.

Some current events have made the problem more pressing. In November 2004, 42 high school kids were arrested for drug and alcohol abuse at a party of a Livingston, N.J., yeshiva student. And, just last month, an Encino boy died from a drug overdose while in yeshiva in Israel, while four others were arrested there on drug dealing charges.

Many in the Orthodox community have recently demanded some institutionwide action against an often hidden problem among kids. And Purim — along with other religious events that encourage drinking — has also come under fire.

Last month, the OU called for an end to Kiddush Clubs — an ever-popular Shabbat morning custom where some synagogue congregants leave services during the haftarah reading for bite to eat and a drink or two.

Despite protests from congregants, some synagogues have taken action. Young Israel of Century City was among the first, sending out a letter to its members to say that a Kiddush Club “sets an inappropriate example for our children,” and citing a young man who said the beginning of his substance abuse began as a child with alcohol at his shul’s Kiddush Club every Shabbat morning.

Certainly, the rise in substance abuse among teens is not confined to the Orthodox community, but the OU’s new task force signifies that the religious community is taking notice.

The whole community is in denial, said Rabbi Mark Borowitz, the founder and director of Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish rehabilitation house who himself is a recovering alcoholic.

“None of us have wanted to face this problem,” he said. “And the OU should really be commended for saying OK, we have this issue and we’re not just going to sit around and do nothing.'”

Borowitz says teenage alcoholism is on the rise across the board.

“Kids are looking for something to get out of themselves and that’s always problematic,” he said. “As things get worse in the world there’s more hopelessness and there’s more need to escape.”

Burg said that the community’s denial of the problem is melting — and that the OU’s new anti-drug task force will help. Under the banner of “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools,” the new program will hold meetings, provide educational material and guest speakers throughout the country. In addition, NCSY has posted materials on its Web site discussing the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. There is also a sign-up list for kids to publicly promise to avoid taking drugs and alcohol.

“We want our kids to have a clean, moral life,” Burg said. “And we need to bring a heightened awareness to parents to keep their eyes open. Teenagers are not adults. They still need love and a hug and understanding.”

Burg, who is hosting 150 teenagers this year at his house, will lead by example: this year he will only serve grape juice.

Yeshiva Spy Kid Videos Find a Niche

Eight-year-old Sruli Slodowitz from Pico-Robertson likes dressing up as his favorite hero; no, it is not Batman, Superman or even Harry Potter — but Agent Emes, “an ordinary kid with an extraordinary mission” who is the 11-year-old protagonist in a new mystery adventure video series for Jewish children.

Agent Emes (from the Ashkenazic pronunciation of the word emet — truth in Hebrew) learns in yeshiva by day and battles the forces of evil at night. As a yeshiva student he wears black pants, a white shirt and a yarmulke — at night, as Agent Emes, he dons a trench coat, fedora, mustache and sunglasses and he heads down to the Tov Me’od (Hebrew for very good) Headquarters by way of a revolving bookcase and foils the evil plans of Dr. Lo-Tov (Hebrew for no good).

The “Agent Emes” videos are the latest attempt to do what some educators and Jewish producers say is absolutely necessary in this visual age — to give children Jewish content in a language they understand: the media. While the Christian community has managed not only to entertain their own, but infiltrate the mainstream children’s video and film markets with funny series like the 3-D animated “Veggie Tales” series, which teaches theology and values to kids, the Jewish community is still struggling to find the money and vision to produce videos, DVDs and television shows that Jewish children will watch because they want to, not just because they have to.

“Jewish educational videos and DVDs for use in schools, camps or in Jewish homes are a very important complement to the other kind of learning that Jewish children engage in,” said professor Sara S. Lee, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. “I think that the Jewish videos are good, but they can’t compete with the millions of dollars that are invested [in children’s shows] for PBS. That’s unrealistic.”

But people like Leibel Cohen, the Pittsburgh filmmaker who produces the “Agent Emes” series, or Jay Sanderson, the CEO of the Jewish Television Network (JTN) and the executive producer of JTN’s “Aleph… Bet… Blastoff” puppet series, which is broadcast on public television and sold as videos, think that the Jewish community can produce programming of which they don’t have to be embarrassed.

“I wanted to create something that was done on a professional quality level,” Cohen told The Journal. “What was out there until now [in Orthodox children’s entertainment] was very inexpensively produced, and recognizable as being subpar to the other programs that are out there. Within our obvious budget limitations, the ‘Agent Emes’ videos are well acted and professionally lit, and the sound is good and the writing is good.”

So far there are two episodes in the “Agent Emes” series: “The Fish Head,” where Agent Emes makes the world safe for shofar blowing by preventing Dr. Lo-Tov from creating rotten rams horns, and “Rabbi Napped,” where Agent Emes retrieves his kidnapped rebbe (teacher). Cohen’s son, Sholom Ber, plays the title role.

Cohen produced the videos for $20,000 each, and though they have a certain corny sweetness to them, it’s possible that children raised on visual diets of gargantuan budget productions like “Finding Nemo” or “Toy Story” will be unimpressed. Nevertheless, the nascent series is fast becoming a hit in Orthodox homes across America, and Cohen is hoping to market the series to Conservative and Reform homes and schools, as well.

Orthodox parents contacted for this article said their children watch the videos repeatedly, and the Agent Emes Web site guestbook has myriad testimonies from people all around the world who profess their love for the videos.

While “Agent Emes” is at the mid- to lower-budgetary scale of Jewish children’s entertainment and primarily aimed at Orthodox households, the “Aleph… Bet… Blastoff” series, which costs JTN about $100,000 per episode to produce, is on par with a program like “Sesame Street” and is specifically aimed at children who are less educated about their Jewish identity. In these videos, the Mitzvah Mouse sprinkles the puppet children with magical matzah meal and takes them on journeys to meet famous Jewish people, like Abraham and Maimonides, and teaches them lessons about why it is cool to be Jewish. Sanderson estimates that the shows have been watched by millions of children, and he thinks that the community should be producing more of them.

“Strong Jewish programming has a particular value, because it makes Jewish children feel like they are a part of something,” he said. “The Jewish community seems to have unlimited resources to spend on education, but it’s the same old, same old. Generally, the Jewish community just wants to build another day school, but 75 percent of Jewish kids are not even going to consider going to those schools. Who is going to reach those kids who sit in front of a TV? The Jewish community has been afraid and reticent to speak the language that kids want spoken, which is media and which will make them feel like their identity is important.”

For more information on Agent Emes, go to
www.agent-emes.com. For more information on the Jewish Television Network, go to
www.jtn.com .

Acts of Vengeance

Twenty thousand mourners, seething with anger, followed the bodies of Binyamin and Talia Kahane through downtown Jerusalem to the Givat Shaul cemetery last Sunday night. Most of them were Orthodox yeshiva students, admirers of Meir Kahane, the assassinated founder of the Jewish Defense League and of the outlawed Kach party. The rabbi’s son and daughter-in-law, aged 34 and 31 respectively, had been shot by Palestinian gunmen as they drove home from a Jerusalem Shabbat to the West Bank settlement of Kfar Tapuach. Five of their six children were injured.

The funeral procession rapidly degenerated into a riot. In King George Street, young men burst into a kebab bar and chased terrified Arab workers up to the second story, while the crowd outside chanted: “Lynch! Lynch!” In the Rehavia suburb, the march paused outside Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s heavily guarded official residence. “Kill the traitor!” they yelled. “Death to traitors! Hang him! Ehud the murderer!” Ten policemen were injured in the confrontations.

Baruch Kahane, the murdered man’s brother, told the mourners: “There is no exemption from God’s obligation to take revenge.” Noam Federman, a leading Kach activist in Hebron, exhorted them: “Wake up, Jews. Take your fate into your own hands.”

No one this week is dismissing their words as windy rhetoric. The Kach fanatics, reduced to a bunch of spray-painting sloganeers since an Egyptian shot Meir Kahane in New York 10 years ago, no longer feel isolated. The daily armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians are dragging the mainstream closer to the fringe. Settler rabbis, subdued since one of their disciples, Yigal Amir, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, are preaching against the “treason” of ceding the Temple Mount to Palestinian rule. Opposition politicians, reluctant to call Israel’s most-decorated war hero a traitor, say Barak has “merely” gone insane.

The morning after Binyamin Kahane’s funeral, political commentator Hemi Shalev wrote in Ma’ariv: “The entire region is sitting on a powder keg, the Temple Mount is the primed fuse, and all that is missing is a match… A divided people is united in a rare consensus of despair at the present situation, and fear of what is to come.”

The Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI, is stepping up surveillance of the radical right and reinforcing the guard on sensitive sites like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. “All scenarios are possible,” said a senior security man.

Three doomsday scenarios are being taken seriously. All three have been tried, successfully or otherwise, over the past 20 years. They are:

An attack on a Muslim shrine, like Al Aqsa mosque, which the “Jewish underground” once plotted to blow up so that the Jewish Temple could be rebuilt.

A massacre of Palestinians, along the lines of the slaughter of 29 Muslims at prayer by Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler physician, in Hebron.

The assassination of Barak or other ministers identified with the peace process.

Prof. Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on Israel’s radical right, said this week: “The motivation of the Kahane people to strike is very powerful. They may not do it today or tomorrow, but I think they’re cooking something. They probably also feel they have a public behind them, a lot of sympathy and support.”

Sprinzak, dean of the Lauder School of Government at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, Israel’s first private university, argued that Kach had cultivated an ideology of Jewish revenge even before the murder of Binyamin and Talia Kahane. “For them” he said, “it’s not a necessary evil, not a matter of self-defense; it’s a virtue. They believe that striking a gentile constitutes a holy act.”

At the same time, he went on, Kach had suffered a sense of guilt for failing to avenge the blood of its charismatic rabbi. This would only intensify with the death of his son and ideological heir. “They did not live up to Kahane’s legacy,” Sprinzak said. “This is another powerful drive to take revenge now.”

The professor was less sure about the broader settler right, who have surprised many observers by their relative restraint during the three-month Intifada. They were, he explained, very pleased that their job was being done for them by the army and felt they were part of a consensus.

Now, all would hinge on whether there was a last-minute deal between Barak and Arafat. “If there is, they’ll go bananas. If not, they’ll sit back and say, ‘We told you so. You can’t trust Arafat.'” Unless, that is, Palestinian terrorism pushes their patience to the breaking point.

Modern, Orthodox and Scared

The placard near the escalator of New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel directed seekers up to the ballroom level for the founding convention of Edah, the fledgling voice of Orthodox liberalism. Stenciled below the arrow in bold blue letters, as if to fortify the fainthearted, was the slogan: “The Courage to Be Modern and Orthodox.”

Upstairs, a crowd of some 1,200 Orthodox Jews — triple the organizers’ expectations — milled about in an atmosphere almost giddy with excitement. After years of retreating before rising religious and political conservatism in the Orthodox community, they had come from across North America to reignite the moderate spirit of what used to be called Modern Orthodoxy.

“It’s an amazing outpouring,” said Rabbi Chaim Seidler Feller, Hillel director at UCLA. “The Modern Orthodox community has come out in droves to cry out, ‘We are here; we can’t be ignored any longer.'”

Edah was formed two years ago to press for greater tolerance and openness in the Orthodox community. Run on a shoestring budget out of a tiny Manhattan office, the group sponsors lectures and seminars and runs a controversial internship program for Yeshiva University rabbinic students. The conference was its debut as a national membership organization.

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.