Locust swarm crosses from Egypt into Israel


A swarm of locusts that descended on Egypt has begun to cross into southern Israel.

A small swarm of the destructive cousin to the grasshopper was discovered Monday in the Ramat Hanegev region near the border with Egypt. They are expected to be exterminated Monday night or early Tuesday morning, Ynet reported.

A black cloud of more than 30 million locusts swarmed over parts of Egypt including Cairo and Giza beginning on Saturday, causing millions of dollars worth of damage, according to Egyptian Agricultural Minister Salah Abad Almoman.

A hotline was set up in Israel for farmers to call if they see signs of locust infestation.

The locust attack comes some three weeks before the start of Passover, which recalls a destructive plague of locusts, one of the 10 plagues that the Bible says was sent by God in order to free the Jewish slaves.

The world must not remain silent


Following is the text of a speech Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and director of the Simon Weisenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, delivered at the community memorial for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg at Chabad House in Westwood on Nov. 30.

What is there to say or speak? What has become of our world? First, let me express my heartfelt sympathy to all the victims in Mumbai of this horrific attack, Jews and non-Jews, the families of the murdered, the maimed and the traumatized.

Every Saturday night when Shabbat concludes, Jews around the world make a special blessing, “Blessed are you Almighty, who has separated the holy from the secular, light from darkness.” Never has there been such a clear Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackdistinction between the world of light and the world of darkness.

In one community, a wonderful 29-year-old Rav Gavriel Holtzberg and his 28-year-old wife, Rivkah, of blessed memory, were in their Chabad house, and what were they doing my friends? Helping people — meals for strangers, places to stay for travelers, counseling for the downtrodden and forgotten, kosher food and a place to pray and study for those seeking spiritual sustenance.

They could have stayed in Israel or in the United States. They had a child who died of genetic illness and another who is hospitalized with the same ailment. They had no political motivations — all they wanted to do was work hard for a better world.

On the other hand, the young men who came by boat — they too had a task: who should they murder? Should it be the doctor making his hospital rounds, nurses at their stations, a mother shopping for her family, a grandmother walking near the hotel with her grandchild or anyone who just happened to look in their direction?

The world has never experienced such a plague of darkness like the plague of Islamic fundamentalism that reveres death over life, that teaches young people that the preferred way to get to heaven is by murdering and maiming.

Even the worst murderers in the history of mankind, the Nazis, who gassed millions — for themselves would do anything to live another day. That’s what Eichmann and Mengele did when they were on the run.

The world should be very clear — achieving martyrdom by killing innocent civilians is an abomination. It is a concept that desecrates religion, denigrates humankind and defames God himself.

But it is not only the terrorists who bear the responsibility — it is the religious leaders who programmed them, inspired them and sent them, who are equally culpable. Joseph Goebbels and Julius Streicher never killed anyone, but they were named as war criminals at Nuremberg because, on a daily basis, they poisoned the minds of tens of millions of Germans. That is exactly what the imams of the Islamic fundamentalists do.

The world must not remain silent. We have the tools to at least do something. The United Nations must make suicide terror a priority. Why is it that the General Assembly can call special sessions on drug cartels, on AIDS, on disarmament, on apartheid — all crucial issues — but it has not yet called for a special session on the greatest crime of the 21st century — suicide terror?

The other day, I saw someone on television making the point that we must understand the grievances of the terrorists, that the world has neglected them. My friends, if there is anyone who has grievances in history, it should be the Jewish people and, particularly, the generation of survivors of the Holocaust, who witnessed one-third of world Jewry gassed and murdered.

They, too, had grievances, but did you ever see children of survivors blowing up hospitals, hotels, schools and restaurants?

Yet what was their reaction? They picked themselves up by the bootstraps, taught themselves how to smile and love again, educated their children to dignify the world and not to destroy it, to contribute to it and not to demean it.

In keeping with that tradition, I’m sure that 2-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, who was miraculously saved, who has no parents to bar mitzvah him or to escort him to his wedding, will learn about his parents and will grow up following in their footsteps, teaching kindness and love and finding good in people.

And to you, the supporters of the terrorists, wherever you are, your concept may be new, but we’ve seen your prototype before — you’re not the first to threaten our humanity. For 3,500 years we’ve seen your likes during the pogroms, the Inquisition and the Holocaust, and we’ve never changed our belief.

To use a metaphor that is appropriate for the forthcoming Chanukah festival — that one cruse of light that emanated from the Chabad house in Mumbai has contributed more to humanity than your whole ideology and way of life.

The Jewish people whom you seek to destroy will still be here long after you and your haters have been deposited in the dustbins of history.

Unwelcome Visitors Plaguing Israel


 

In strong language a week ago, the United States renewed its security warning against travel to Israel. Nevertheless, millions of visitors are certain to ignore it — including both the most welcome tourists and the least desirable arrivals of all.

Five hundred million visitors return to Israel in good years and bad, either wintering here or dropping in en route to other destinations. I was part of a group of Israelis who gathered last week to welcome them in the marshy rain-soaked countryside. In order to greet them up close, we were cautioned not to talk loudly nor make sharp movements. Wrapped in ponchos and wearing old sneakers, we all carried one indispensable apparatus — binoculars.

We were rewarded with the sight of multitudes of flamingos and kingfishers, warblers and spoonbills, mallards and herons, gulls and cormorants. Flocks of majestic pelicans rose to circle and fly in perfect formation in search of further meals and further vistas. We saw egrets nobly nodding, ducks gliding upon ponds, stilts treading nimbly upon muddy flats and storks perching upon one leg or two. I was surrounded in that short morning with the symmetry and grace of more birds than I had ever seen trekking elsewhere.

Israel is the beneficiary of this gorgeous spectacle because it fortuitously lies on the aviary migration routes from Europe to Africa, offering among the best bird sighting opportunities in the world.

But other, much-less welcome airborne visitors are descending these days upon this part of the world. Duplicating the biblical plague upon Egypt, millions of locusts are zooming in upon the towns and fields of Israel. These winged grasshopper-like creatures, colored a garish pink and measuring up to three inches long, blanket their destination in dense swarms.

The locusts originate in West Africa, to which they are endemic. Inadequate control measures have ballooned their numbers to epidemic proportions, creating the world’s worst locust outbreak in 15 years. They are now invading as far west as the Canary Islands and to the east in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. Two people who witnessed the last locust attacks in Israel almost half a century ago during the 1950s vividly described to me their repulsion at being caught in a living cloud of insects. One had his car enveloped in a swarm; the other recalled her body covered with crawling creatures, the feeling of them moving through hair and over cheeks, and the sound of them crunching underfoot. It was a loathsome sensation whose memory never faded.

The swarms upon Israel are at their inception; at present the country is escaping maximum damage to greenery and crops. Although locusts are notoriously ravenous and can daily consume more than their own weight, the appetites of these young locusts are immature and they have not reached the egg-laying stage. Swarms have thus far landed in the south of the country where most of the agriculture is in covered hothouses and hence inaccessible. The trick will be to eradicate the pests before they breed and before they reach farther north where crops grow in the open air.

During the promise of Mideast peace prior to the intifada, Israeli ornithologists established contact with their Jordanian and Palestinian counterparts to foster bird tracking and research. Although the birds continue to arrive heedless of political strife, the cooperation of the scientists has per force been greatly reduced. For example, gatherings among Israeli, Arab and Palestinian children to learn about the birds that crisscross their common skies have been suspended.

However, the prospect of a locust disaster has begun to galvanize Israelis and Arabs to join hands in at least some way. Israel has been sending plane after plane into the sky to spray against locusts. With the full cooperation and approval of the Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture in Amman, Israeli planes sprayed along a region of the Negev on both sides of the border between Israel and Jordan, thus protecting both countries. Israel is awaiting response from Egypt on its offer to spray the locust breeding grounds in the Egyptian Sinai Desert.

The Mideast contains extremes of beauty and ugliness, of blessings and curses, of hope and despair. Bringing exquisite birds and loathsome pests, the heavens, too, bear this out.

The threatening cloud from the sky might succeed in uniting human beings on the ground. Perhaps they will perceive their common interest to be continued cooperation even after the marauding insect invaders have been banished.

 

For the Kids


In Parshat Behar the Israelites are taught about shmita (sabbatical). Every seven years, the Jews in Israel must not farm their land so that the soil may take

a rest. So, what does this have to do with

 

Mother’s Day falls on May 9 and is like a once-a-year sabbatical for mothers. It is her day to rest, to not have to cook, shop or work. So give your Mom a nice Mother’s Day this year. She’ll appreciate that breakfast in bed so much, and will be able to return to working and caring for you with renewed energy!

Kids Page


Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, will be celebrated on May 20. The letters lamed and gimmel, which spell the word “lag,” have a value of 33.
It’s a time to light a campfire with your parents and friends, and to make toy bows and arrows (my kids love to make foam-tipped arrows).

Here is a story told about Lag B’Omer: For many weeks, Rabbi Akiva’s students were struck by plague. It is said that it happened because they were disrespectful to each other; 24,000 students died. But, on Lag B’Omer, the plague stopped. Rabbi Akiva began to teach his five remaining students. From that day on, the light of Torah began to spread again. This is one reason given for lighting bonfires on Lag B’Omer.

A Portion of Parshat Bo


In last week’s parsha, the Israelites sat back and watched as God brought seven plagues upon the Egyptians. This week, we read of the final three plagues. All of a sudden, the Israelites are told that they must help God in the last plague. How? They must smear the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses. Why? So that God will know not to strike those houses with the plague of the killing of the firstborn. Instead, God will pass over those houses. But God is all-knowing. Doesn’t God know which houses are Jewish?

God has made a decision. It’s time for the Israelites to start taking some responsibility. Yes, they were slaves, but they did not have to take care of themselves. It is now time for them to become a nation. It is time for them to take action and learn about right and wrong — just like children. So God says: you must participate in your release from slavery. You will become free — and with freedom comes responsibility.