November 17, 2018

Rocket Fired at Be’er-Sheva: Is War in Gaza Imminent?

Palestinians celebrate after Hamas said it reached a deal with Palestinian rival Fatah, in Gaza City October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

1.

Gaza is, again, on the verge of war. Israel has no desire to have such war, but when rockets are fired at Beer Sheva and towards Gush Dan – the urban center of Israel – it might have no choice other than to act. Hamas’ calculations are more complicated. War is dangerous for Hamas, but apparently its leaders concluded that they can no longer sustain the current, miserable economic situation. Egypt is trying to mediate, but a war in Gaza is faraway – a headache, not a crisis. The Palestinian Authority seems to want war. If Gaza burns it puts the Palestinian issue back on the table, it gives the PA a little hope that a Hamas defeat would make it – the PA – the alternative. And of course, a war in Gaza would provide the PA with an opportunity to attack Israel in international forums.

A war in Gaza is a small victory for the Palestinian Authority.

2.

Many critics of the above-mentioned players complain that they have no strategy for Gaza. This is true – because no one wants to have a strategy for Gaza that comes with responsibility for Gaza.

Israel pulled out and wants to have nothing to do with Gaza.

Egypt is wise enough to never take over this mess again.

The PA wants to rule Gaza – but not to pay the price of having to fight for Gaza.

For Hamas, Gaza is merely a launch pad for greater enterprises.

So it’s true: everybody uses tactics, some tactics of delay, some tactics of inflammation. The players have no long-term plan. The critics have no long-term plan. And even in case they have a plan, there is no one to implement a plan.

3.

What Gaza needs is what used to be called – in the good old days – nation building. But we all remember how difficult, unsuccessful, costly, demanding, violent and deadly nation building can be.

Any takers? I didn’t think so. Israel will definitely not be a nation builder in Gaza. If that’s the strategy proposed by outsiders – Israel is likely to stick to tactics. Contain, deter, delay – and from time to time have war.

Hamas Leadership Reportedly Agrees to Possible Ceasefire With Israel – With Conditions

Sebastian Scheiner /Pool via Reuters

Hamas leadership has reportedly agreed to a possible five-to-10-year ceasefire agreement with Israel. However, Israel has signaled that they will only sign onto an agreement in which Hamas releases Israeli soldiers they have held captive since 2014.

According to the Times of Israel, Egypt hammered out a ceasefire agreement that will re-open the Refah border crossing with Egypt as well as loosen restrictions on the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel. The agreement would also hand over control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority and hold elections in six months, which would be the first time they would be held in Gaza since 2006.

The agreement would also set forth humanitarian efforts for Gaza and begin negotiations with Israel over the Israeli soldiers that have been held captive in Gaza.

Hamas’ leadership agreed to the deal, and an Israeli official is reportedly going to Qatar to talk about enforcement of the deal, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the family of Oron Shaul, one of the deceased Israeli soldiers held captive by Hamas, in a letter, “For the deal to have practical and moral validity, its first stipulation must be the release of our sons…. A deal without the return of our sons is a surrender that only serves as evidence of our country’s weakness.”

Most recently, Hamas has been terrorizing Israel by launching rockets and incendiary kites and balloons into Israel and organizing riots at the Israel-Gaza border to breach the fence.

Egypt had previously brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas on July 14, but the ceasefire was ignored by Hamas, prompting Israel to retaliate.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five takes on the weekly parsha

Photo from Max Pixel

PARSHA: B’SHALACH, EXODUS 14:10-12

“As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, ‘Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”?’ ”

Rabbi Eve Posen
Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, Ore.

As a parent of young children, I live in a world of contradictions. I always have two simultaneous thoughts running through my head: wanting my children to remain forever in the stage they are currently in, and at the same time, wanting them to move out of this terrible phase and mature already. And it never fails: The minute they’ve reached a new milestone, I go through the same emotions again.

A popular way to examine the relationship between God and the Israelites is as that of parent and child, and the notion of stages of growth fits that comparison perfectly. When they found themselves in Egypt, naturally the Israelites were unhappy as slaves. The minute they were free, the harsh realities of that freedom made them yearn for the comfort of what was familiar.

This tendency is human at a basic level. No situation, no moment in time is going to be without its own harsh realities. In reading about this phase of the Israelites’ journey into freedom, we are reminded to take a step back and reflect as objectively as possible before proceeding. We can attempt to wish away the phase, or we can stand up and set about doing the work necessary to change the reality into something better.

Does that mean I won’t long for the days of easier airplane trips and reliable nap schedules? Of course not. But I will do so knowing I made the most of each phase to prepare myself for the next one.

David Sacks
TV writer who podcasts at Torahonitunes.com

Because I make my living as a comedy writer, people sometimes ask me if God has a sense of humor. My answer is that God created humor. When you look at the Torah, the clearest example of an actual written joke is when the Jews ask Moshe if he brought them to die in the desert because … “there weren’t enough graves in Egypt.”

It’s total sarcasm and, in my opinion, hilarious. Which brings us to a deeper question: Why create humor? According to the Baal Shem Tov, humor brings a person’s mind from a place of constricted consciousness to a place of expanded consciousness.

When you’re in a place of expanded consciousness, you see the totality of creation before you. You see God’s presence and goodness acting upon everything. And you realize that anything and everything that happens is an expression of HaShem’s love for us — whether we can understand that in the moment or not.

Constricted consciousness is, of course, the opposite: the understandable impulse to take things too literally, believing that events are not a part of something greater. Humor and laughter, while great in themselves, are actually subsets of a larger topic: joy. One of the surprising things I learned when I started studying Torah was the importance Judaism puts on happiness. As Rebbe Nachman put it, people are sad because nothing is going right for them. But what they don’t realize is that nothing is going right for them because they’re sad.

Rabbi Ari Lucas
Temple Beth Am

In hindsight, the choice to move from slavery to freedom seems inevitable. But it rarely is. Patrick Henry famously proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death.” But the Israelites in this passage seem to be saying, “If liberty means death, then we’re OK with slavery.” Not exactly the romantic freedom cry one might hope for from our Israelite ancestors.

Yet their expressions of reluctance carry an important lesson — that freedom requires making an active choice to leave the comforts of the status quo. In Henry’s time, there were Tories who preferred loyalty to the British crown to revolution. Gallup polls from the early 1960s show that large portions of Americans disapproved of the actions of the Freedom Riders and others engaging in civil disobedience for racial justice.

History and Torah remind us that the path toward freedom is rarely, if ever, inevitable. We must leave behind the comforts of the status quo — the world as we knew it — for the unknown dangers of the wilderness. In fact, every one of the Israelites who left Egypt will “die in the wilderness.” But Moses had the faith and courage to recognize that even if they did not reach the Land of Israel, their children would. Progress is not inevitable. It requires leadership, faith and courage — for us, just as it did for our ancestors.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Ohr HaTorah Synagogue, Academy for Jewish Religion, California

First take-away: Be careful of sarcasm with God. The Israelites could have said it straight: “We are afraid we are going to die here.” Instead, they belittle God (sarcasm is always belittling) and say “ … you brought us to die in the desert.”  Perhaps it had not yet occurred to God that this generation should die in the desert. Through this bit of contemptuous irony, the Israelites put the idea in God’s mind. Perhaps God’s unspoken response was, “Now that you mention it … ” Nearly everyone of this generation actually does die in the desert. The Israelites put the thought in God’s mind — and divine thoughts have the tendency to become reality.

Second: What does sarcasm say about its speaker? As a form of irony, sarcasm is a version of saying something, but in a different way. Sarcasm is a punitive form of irony. The intention is to ridicule. It is a form of lashon harah, destructive use of speech, and ona’ah be’devarim, inflicting hurt through words. We know from the Talmud (Bava Metziah 59b) that God can tolerate nearly all sin — you do your time in gehinnom (purgatory) and then come up to eternal bliss. Only one category of person stays in hell — those who call people by derisive names in public. God can tolerate weakness, but not meanness through words. God does not want such folks in heaven, and apparently not in the Promised Land, either.

People think: I am angry and afraid, so I get to talk how I want. Not true.

Rabbi Sari Laufer
Stephen Wise Temple

After a friend recommended that I follow @bymariandrew on Instagram, it started to seem as if Mari’s life somehow paralleled mine. Knowing nothing about her other than her illustrations, it seems that, like me, she is going through some big transitions — among them, moving. Last summer she posted an illustration showing a bunch of squiggly lines tangled together, captioned: “City Map When You First Arrive.” Next to that was a map with places labeled: Your best friend’s house. The best night of your life. Your favorite coffee shop. The caption: “How A City Map Looks When You’ve Lived There a While.”

Looking behind them in this moment, the Israelites see the city map they’ve always known. Even with its pain and fear, even with its degradation and narrowness, it is comfortable because it is known. Looking forward, the Israelites can see only the squiggly lines — the wilderness, the uncertainty … the unknown.

Kol hatchalot kashot, our rabbis teach. All beginnings are difficult. It is a teaching I have repeated often this year as my family and I started anew (back) here in Los Angeles.

It is hard to start over. It is hard to leave behind what we know, even when what we know is Egypt. It is hard to see only the squiggly, to not be able to imagine the map of a place you will come to love, a community you will come to build.

To step forward into the unknown is difficult and it is necessary. Then. Now.

Torah Talk: Parashat Bo with Rabbi Amy Joy Small

Rabbi Amy Joy Small was is the Senior Rabbi of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue of Burlington, Vermont from 2016. Previously, Rabbi Small worked in Jewish innovation by creating and directing Deborah’s Palm Center for Jewish Learning & Experiences in Morristown, New Jersey. Through Deborah’s Palm Center, Rabbi Small taught and facilitated Jewish experiences for adults, emphasizing questions from our everyday lives, explored through Jewish texts and ideas.

Rabbi Small has served congregations in New Jersey, Michigan and Indiana. She is a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, where she served on the board for many years. She is a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Storahtelling Maven, and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity, Honoris Causa, from RRC in 2012.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) – features the final three plagues of Egypt, the People of Israel’s departure from Egypt, and the first Passover celebration. Our discussion focuses on the idea of maintaining positivity and recognizing the point of view of the other in our struggle for Justice.

Previous Torah Talks on Parshat Bo:

Rabbi Joel Zeff

Rabbi Adam Zeff

Rabbi Zvi Grumet

Rabbi Nissan Antine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Babylonia vs. Egypt Smackdown – A Poem for Haftarah Bo by Rick Lupert

Jeremiah (still not a bullfrog)
told by the Lord (maker of bullfrogs and
Jeremiah, and Egypt, and rivers, and
Babylonia, and Nebuchadnezzar, and
everything really)

that Egypt (former site of all
Israeli construction firms, still conducting
tests after the river turned red, still
working on a backup plan for when the
lights go out, still mourning the loss of
their first born)

is going down (down, as in the Babylonians
are coming down, and on the way they’ll
scoop up our folks for a little exile and
weeping, but when they get into the Sinai
they’re really going to make a nothing
out of everything you’ve got, Pharaoh.)

I don’t think the Babylonians had it
out for us (us, the bagel makers, the
land harvesters, the doers of what
we’re told by the Lord and the ones who
claim to be hearing from the Lord, lest
we get shipped off to Babylonia.)

It’s just that we were in the way (the way,
as in the big area of promised land between
where the Babylonians and Egyptians
separately hang out.) (Hang Out, as in
where they live their lives, conduct their
businesses, eat their food, and hosted their
former slaves or brand new exiles.)

Not to worry says the Lord to Jeremiah
(still, still not a bullfrog) and goes on to
confirm, oh yes, there will be weeping
by the rivers, but, pack light, we’ll be back
in a generation or so.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five takes on the weekly parsha

Photo from Pexels.

PARSHA: BO, Exodus 10:1-2

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons what I have wrought of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Lord.’ ”

Rabbi David Woznica
Stephen Wise Temple

Why does God harden the heart of Pharaoh and his courtiers? The Torah gives two reasons: so that God can place “signs among them” and so that future generations will recount what God did.

What God did was take the Israelites out of Egypt, an act Jews recount every week. Two events in Jewish history are so central that they are included in the full version of the Friday night Kiddush blessing: the creation of the world and the Exodus from Egypt. Both events reflect God’s power. Each of them also reveals an additional important aspect of God — that God is above nature (as creator of the world) and that God cares about the world (as demonstrated by the Israelites’ liberation from slavery).

God is all-powerful, supernatural and cares.

These facets of God are particularly important when it comes to prayer. While prayer has many forms, we frequently appeal to God to use power to intervene. And we often ask God to intervene to stop nature’s course — to halt a life-threatening disease, for example, or avert a natural disaster. Knowing that God cares about the world is vital to meaningful prayer. After all, if we didn’t believe God cares and has a sense of justice, prayer would seem hollow.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to create a more just world. More than 3,000 years later, we continue to feel the impact.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Chabad.org

There’s only one way to understand anything in Torah. You have to read it as a teaching in your life. Because that’s what Torah is, first and foremost. And that’s what your life is — a commentary on that teaching.

It also helps to read the Hebrew. This translation renders the phrase bo el Paro as “go to Pharaoh,” but it can also be translated as “come to Pharaoh.”

God says to each one of us: Pharaoh is the big, mean world out there. Pharaoh is scary. Pharaoh is powerful. Pharaoh is obstinate. There’s just no way around Pharaoh. And Pharaoh holds you captive, as his slave.

God tells you, “Come with me. You’re not doing this alone. You just do your thing and I’ll take care of the rest. Then you’ll be free.”

There’s a reason He set it up that way.

Because you weren’t put in this world to do the possible, the predictable, the natural and the obvious. You were put here to transcend nature. To allow miracles to enter. To make sure the world will never be the same again. So that the whole wide world will recognize that it’s not just a world. It’s a divine masterpiece — one big, amazing miracle.

To do that, Pharaoh needs to be impossible. And you need a lot a faith and chutzpah. Like Moses.

May we all make our grand escape from Pharaoh’s slavery really soon — sooner than we can imagine.

Rabbi Jill Zimmerman
The Jewish Mindfulness Network

Every year when I come upon this verse, I wonder about the relationship between freedom and a hardened heart. Psychologist Erich Fromm argues that every evil act a person commits deadens the person’s own heart and when this is repeated, a person increasingly lessens her freedom to change. Fromm writes that there is “a point of no return, when man’s heart has become … so deadened that he has lost the possibility of freedom.”

Our path out of slavery requires a practice in which we examine the state of our hearts and take steps to keep it open, even in the face of conflict. For example, we can include a daily check-up of our heart in our personal practice: to whom and to what have we closed our hearts? Can we bring kindness to our own emotional bruises, gently encouraging ourselves to stay expansive?

Sometimes, just sitting with your hand gently on your heart, inhaling compassion, is powerful. In the presence of love, our hearts blossom. When we are hurt, we close down, often with the false belief that doing so will protect us from further pain. Our families, communities and the world itself need our tender hearts. Freedom itself depends on the openhearted — people who have the courage to feel the pain and to walk boldly, with trust and strength, into the wilderness ahead.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro
The Open Temple, Venice, Calif.

Two words in this verse are spark plugs that drive the engine of our story for generations: bo (come) and eleh (these). Bo is a command directing one toward a complex act of fecundity. For Noah, it was “Come into the ark,” the command to endure the destruction of the world for its renewal. For Moses, it is “Come to Pharaoh,” an imperative toward the completion of the anti-creation story of the Ten Plagues, which will birth the greatest experiment from the ancient world, one that continues to evolve through all of us today: the nation of Israel.

But why state, “I will show these my signs in the midst of them”? As Ramban reminds us, “these” refers not just to Pharaoh and the Israelites but to generations to come. God informs Moses that there is a reason behind all of this suffering — a master plan that will play out for generations.

When entering into Parashat Bo this week, what if we ask ourselves: What are the signs in our midst? Where are our hearts hardened? What destructive vermin eat at the fabric of our society? Where does darkness lurk and what ultimate loss must be endured for an era of transformation and rebirth to arise? How much more suffering must we witness until we all understand that there is something larger than just ourselves conducting the rhythms and music of this ceaseless song of creation, and that our modern-day Pharaoh is, indeed, our partner in redemption?

Rabbi Elan Babchuck
Clal — The National Jewish Center or Learning and Leadership

Few verses in Torah have inspired more spilled ink than this first one, which raises the question of free will. How can it be that Pharaoh is punished so brutally when it was God who hardened his heart in the first place? And what about us? If we’re hardwired a certain way, will we be afforded the opportunity to change — to immerse ourselves in the heart-softening work of teshuvah? Is teshuvah even possible?

As they did so many times in their relationship, Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish disagree about this issue. Yochanan is concerned that heretics will forgo repentance because the nature of their hearts is in God’s hands, while Lakish argues that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened only after invitations to repent.

While the conversation between these two sages is relatively unremarkable, it is noteworthy that if they had listened to each other only a bit more carefully, they might not have suffered the tragic fate that took them both from this world. Deep in the throes of what would become their final learning session, they disagreed about an issue and both said things they would later regret. But despite their previous years of loving friendship, they remained hard-hearted and unrepentant until both eventually died of grief — of broken hearts, as it were.

Sometimes the insights we need most are right in front of us. If we are able to soften our hearts just enough to truly hear them, we will open ourselves not only to teshuvah but to more honest and compassionate relationships with those we love most in this precious world.

The Day the Fish Left the River – A Poem for Haftarah Va’eira by Rick Lupert

The Day the Fish Left the River - A Poem for Haftarah Va'eira by Rick Lupert

I’m starting to feel bad for Egypt and
all the trouble they’re about to have with their fish.

I realize I was a captive there for hundreds of years
though I have no physical memory of this.

I think there’s a name for this kind of empathy –
a syndrome that didn’t exist back when we

were slinging stones to build pyramids.
But now as we remember getting out

Pharaoh is a crocodile and he’s got hooks
in his mouth, and all the Nile’s fish are

sticking to his scales, and all the fish are
leaving the river altogether, leaving Egypt

nothing to eat, and unbuilt buildings to build
all by themselves, all because Pharaoh,

the crocodile Pharaoh, claims to own the river
Claims to be responsible for the wealth of the river,

the now empty river – And now it’s his people’s turn
to vacate for forty years. (Nobody gets out of

the forty year punishment.) I have no idea where
they went – Just that they were unimportant

wherever that was. Until they got to go back
(did I mention it was forty years?) to their river

to their dust. Forever humbled, and doomed
to topple. I only believe so much in prophesy

but I turn on the news and there’s no-one
called Pharaoh anymore.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Five takes on the weekly parsha

Photo from Pixabay.

PARSHA: Shemot, EXODUS 2:11-12

“Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

Rabbi Marc Angel
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

This passage usually is understood to mean that Moses wanted to be sure he would not be seen when he slew the Egyptian. But it might be understood differently.

Moses was outraged by the entire system of slavery. Confronted with an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, he realized that “there was no man” — the oppressor had become a savage beast, the oppressed had become a work animal. The human element had vanished; there was no mercy, no mutual respect, no sympathy for each other. He could not deal with the injustices taking place in Egypt — a land where “there was no man,” where people had been reduced to animal status, to being objects rather than subjects.

The Torah’s story of the redemption of the Israelite slaves is ultimately a profound lesson teaching that each human being has a right to be free, to be a dignified human being, and to be treated as a fellow human being (as well as an obligation to treat others as such). Slavery is an evil both for the oppressor and the oppressed. It is a violation of the sanctity of human life.

When human beings treat each other as objects, humanity suffers. We can retain our own humanity only when we recognize the humanity of each of our fellow human beings.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald
American Jewish University

One of the great mysteries of Moses’ life is when he learns his own origin story. We, the readers, know well that the infant Moses was saved by a collection of rebellious women — the midwives who deliver him and do not turn him over to the authorities, the mother and sister who hatch a desperate plot to place him in a basket on the Nile, the princess who takes a foundling into the palace and raises the child there as a son.

However, the texts are silent on when and how the young Moses discovers his slave origins. All we learn is that at some point in his early adulthood he goes out and sees Hebrew slaves and identifies them as “brothers,” and then unleashes lethal violence against their taskmaster.

Had Moses known of his true origin for many years, holding his shame and anger at bay, until one day he snapped and couldn’t take it any longer? Or was it that Moses learned of his origin just in that moment and this fateful encounter happened as he fled the palace in disgust and despair? Or, perhaps most intriguingly of all, could it be that Moses never actually learns the true circumstances of his birth, but comes to identify with slaves as brothers, to see injustice done to one as injustice done to all?

Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny
Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles

What gave Moses the sense of urgency, the need to go out from his place of privilege and question what was happening out in the world beyond his? Verse 11 tells us that Moses went out toward his kinsmen — implying that it was a sense of kinship with the laborers that drew him to be a witness to their struggle. The commentator Sforno notes that it is that very same sense of kinship that led Moses to avenge the death of the Hebrew man.

What would our world look like if we were all compelled by a sense of kinship with those who occupy the circles that ripple out just beyond our doors? We might all become more powerful observers of the struggles of our fellow humans, and we might even be moved to act on behalf of those who are suffering. May our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood with our neighbors lead us into ever richer relationships within our communities.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger
Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood

This is the first of several passages in Moses’ story in which we see the unfortunate results of his rage, anger and lack of control. We see deep compassion in Moses, who is clearly upset and outraged at the cruel treatment of the Hebrews. These attributes will be necessary in the future leader. But he could have used the power of his position to end the beating. Instead, we see Moses’ dark side. His anger and rage cause him to strike and kill the Egyptian and hide him in the sand. Moses knows his actions are wrong.

We see other times when Moses’ anger controls him. When he comes down Mount Sinai with the tablets and smashes them, he also slaughters more than 3,000 as punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf. God did not demand their deaths, yet Moses’ anger was uncontrolled. We see his anger flare in the Book of Numbers, when Moses strikes the rock instead of speaking to it so the water will flow for all to drink.

Even the great Moses was human, bound by emotion. Maybe we are to question and wonder about controlling such outbursts. They did Moses no good in the end. Was he denied entrance to the Promised Land because his anger got the best of him? What might have happened if Moses had used his princely position to help stop the cruelty toward the Hebrew slave? We are left to wonder whether God might have written us a different story if humanity acted with forethought.

Rabbi Reuven Wolf
Maayon Yisroel Chasidic Center

Young Moshe enjoyed an idyllic life, being raised in the palace by the king’s daughter. Living in comfort and luxury, he was satiated, safe and secure. But Moshe was not content to remain in the protected bubble of royal life. Instead, he decided to venture out of his comfortable home to see how his Jewish brothers and sisters were faring, ready to do anything he could to help them. And indeed, when Moshe saw that “an Egyptian man was hitting a Jew,” he immediately jumped in to save his Jewish brother, though that came at the cost of risking his own life.

We all can learn an invaluable instruction from Moshe’s behavior. We may be content and satisfied, absorbed in the affairs of our own lives, reluctant to disturb the precious equilibrium we have finally found. We may even find ourselves in the “palace of God,” immersed in a spiritual life of connection to God and self-improvement. Yet, it is vital that we look beyond ourselves. It is vital that we care about how others are doing. It is vital that we inquire how our Jewish brothers and sisters are faring. And if, indeed, we find a Jew who needs help, it is incumbent upon us to do anything and everything we can — to the point of totally putting ourselves on the line — to help.

TABLE FOR FIVE: Fives takes on the weekly parsha

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

PARSHA: MIKETZ, GENESIS: 42:1-3

“When Jacob saw that there were food rations to be had in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you keep looking at one another? Now I hear,’ he went on, ‘that there are rations to be had in Egypt. Go down and procure rations for us there, that we may live and not die.’ So 10 of Joseph’s brothers went down to get grain rations in Egypt.”

Bruce Powell
Head of School, de Toledo High School

When Jacob asks, “Why do you keep looking at one another,” I actually laughed out loud, wondering how many times I looked at someone else to act.

How many times in our community have we asked for volunteers, and the same 36 righteous souls keep appearing, while others stand silent? How many times have I stood silent when our leaders have reached out to me for help? How many of us recognize that “silence” is a powerful, often negative response? How many of us look to others to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership? And how many of us step up to lead?

Jacob goes on to say, “I hear there are rations to be had in Egypt.” Indeed, the deToldeo High School board and I are constantly looking for “rations” (read: donations for tuition assistance so that no family is turned away from a Jewish education). Here again, when we are asked to give “rations,” how many of us look to the “other” to make a gift, or do we look the other way? And how many of us write the check, or serve the poor, or provide for the person standing at the end of a freeway off-ramp?

In this Hanukkah season, a time of “dedication,” may we, indeed, dedicate ourselves to fulfilling the Jewish notion of prayer, l’hitpalel, to judge oneself. May we not look to the “other”; rather, may we truly “see” the “other,” and ensure that we all “go down and procure rations” together as a community so that “we may live and not die.”

Rabbi Mimi Weisel
Hasidah

There’s an apparent problem: a famine. There’s an apparent solution: Go down to Egypt, where there is food, and bring some back.

But it can’t be that straight­forward. Jacob’s sons didn’t come up with this idea on their own; Jacob saw what his sons didn’t. He had visionary insight.

In addition, the sons’ reaction is not one of readily acknowledging the obvious. Why do they simply look at one another? Was this an unusual scenario for them all to be gathered together with their father addressing them, apparently giving them some sort of charge? Were they simply curious about what he would say to them? (After all, we see their reaction before his words to them.) Were they wondering about the wisdom of their father’s request? Were they wondering about the soundness of their elderly father’s mind? Would his idea be realistic? Could it be achieved?

Or were they simply afraid? Afraid of the risks? Afraid of taking the initiative?

They ultimately follow their father’s directive, and go. They go together as a group of 10 — the Jewish holy minyan, which implies the group is accompanied by Divine spirit.

What does it take for us to heed the visionary’s insight, to step forward to care for others? When do we look away from seeing only ourselves and instead look outward to see the needs of others? When do we look to the guidance of others to know how to help?

What are you afraid of? What’s holding you back?

Go forward — and know you don’t have to go alone.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David–Judea Congregation

It is noteworthy that the text uses the verb “he [Jacob] said” not just once but twice in the course of the two verses. (The second is translated here as “he went on.”) Whenever a biblical figure speaks twice without the interlocutor responding in between, we infer that the first speech elicited only a tense and awkward silence. Jacob’s question as to why his sons are sitting and doing nothing when it’s patently obvious that they need to repair to Egypt and its food stocks immediately is met with no response by his sons. Why? What are the brothers thinking and afraid to say?

Joseph’s brothers have exactly one association with Egypt: It was the destination of the Ishmaelite traders to whom they had sold their brother Joseph years earlier. Whenever they contemplated traveling to Egypt for food, they were instantly paralyzed by the fear of encountering there a poor, miserable slave, threadbare and enduring hard labor, who looked uncannily familiar. When Jacob — still unaware of what had really happened to Joseph — called them out for their inaction in the face of the family’s hunger, they could not utter a syllable in response. The horror of even possibly having to confront the living consequences of their inexplicable act seemed worse than dying by famine.

After Jacob’s second request, the brothers do go. But “Benjamin the brother of Joseph, Jacob did not send, lest an accident befall him.” This was a family haunted by stories and secrets of the past.

Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh
Temple Israel of Hollywood

When we don’t have enough food, not only do our bodies break down, but we can’t focus on accomplishing the basic aspects of our lives: learning in school, working at a job and being kind when interacting with others. Within these three verses, the Hebrew word for “food rations,” shever, appears four times. Shever comes from the three letter Hebrew root, “to break” or “to fracture.”  It’s as if the Torah is warning us: When there’s no food, we break.

In the United States today, 1 in 8 people don’t have enough food, which is equivalent to 42.2 million people, including 13.1 million children and 5.7 million seniors. In California, 13.5 percent of households are food insecure, meaning they lack access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Marissa Higgins writes in her essay “I Grew Up With Food Insecurity,” “Research shows that children growing up in poverty consume more potato chips, candy, fries and soda than their wealthier counterparts … it’s not hard to understand the motivation behind these choices: when you’re poor … you want food that’s filling, flavorful and easy to eat. When I was hungry, I did not know how to prepare healthy proteins, like chicken or tofu. We didn’t have a blender or a juicer. But we did have a microwave for ready meals, and I did have two hands which could open a bag of chips in a matter of seconds.”

Jacob was able to direct and motivate his children to acquire food for his family so they wouldn’t break. Will we do the same for people who are food insecure today?

Rabbi Ken Chasen
Leo Baeck Temple

In this week’s portion, Miketz, Joseph’s brothers are sent to Egypt by their father, Jacob, to procure food amid a famine. Significant time passes before the brothers — in next week’s portion, Vayigash — affect a tearful reunion with Joseph, as Judah speaks the unexpected soliloquy that inspires Joseph to reveal his identity.

Judah’s speech, therefore, seems simply to be the result of an inspired moment of conscience. However, our ancient rabbis teach that Judah’s words aren’t spoken from a sudden attack of integrity. They had been slowly growing inside all the brothers’ hearts from the very moment they had sold Joseph into Egypt.

In the Midrash Rabbah, we are reminded that Jacob instructs “his sons” to seek famine relief in Egypt (Genesis 42:1), while just two verses later (42:3), it is “Joseph’s brothers” who depart on the trip. Why the change from “Jacob’s sons” to “Joseph’s brothers”? The Midrash describes this as a hint at the brothers’ longtime unity over their regret at having sold Joseph into servitude. Every day, they had been saying to one another, “When will we go into Egypt to bring our brother back to his father?” When Jacob urges them to seek provisions in Egypt, they at last have their opportunity to set things right by bringing home Joseph.

So it is with our greatest misdeeds, as well. We don’t set things right through sudden epiphanies. Only a long walk down the road of teshuvah — self-understanding, remorse and determination to act — possesses the power to heal.

Israel Loved the Sinai That Is Now a Killing Field

Burned out cars near the Al-Rawdah mosque in the northern Sinai, where extremists killed more than 300 people. Photo by Mohamed Soliman, Reuters

It was a bit of heaven. Now it’s a chunk of hell.

In the wilderness where the Hebrews received the Law, Muslim extremists are now killing one another.  And in Israel, hands are wringing and hearts are breaking.

In a grisly, familiar pattern, some 30 armed men entered the Sufi Al-Rawdah mosque in northern Sinai on Nov. 24, mechanically firing automatic weapons and hurling grenades into innocent worshipers of the mystic Islamic sect. More than 300 people were killed, including 27 children.

As tragic as this was, it’s long been typical in the once-sacred desert of Moses. ISIS has broken the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Since 1979, when Israel dutifully returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, the striking ridges and shady passes of the western Negev Desert remained an alluring gateway to the region’s pristine beaches.

For some time, and especially now, the view from the Israeli side has been somber and painful.

Israel took control of the Sinai in 1967 after the Six-Day War and then fell in love with the peninsula, turning it into an internationally revered haven of exploration and ecology. The Israelis built national parks, enriched dry riverbeds and cultivated osprey eggs so that birds — rather than missiles — could fly.

For some time, but especially now, the view from the Israeli side has been somber and painful. The jagged landscape of reddish, biblical mountains casts long shadows and has grown very ominous. Where tourists, cartographers and mountain climbers once gathered, hyperintensive, bloody, fatwa-driven terrorist wars are turning the sacred sands bloody and gruesome.

As one who has visited and traveled extensively in the Sinai desert, I can attest to its awesome beauty, environmental fragility and the loving care Israel once provided. Egypt’s interest in Sinai’s coral reefs, wadis and mountain ranges has little to do with maintaining the region’s natural balance.

It’s undeniable that both nations have dealt with the Sinai first in terms of geopolitical strategy, but Israel went much further. The Jewish state was never the host nation for sectarian terror conflicts that have scattered the peaceful Bedouins and stained the sands of time. Israel loved the Sinai. I hiked, camped and broke bread there with the savvy and hospitable Bedouins who now live in fear and terror.

Like an unabashed foster parent, Israel cared for the crystal waters of Aqaba, maintained the organic equilibrium of the desert birds and fish, and explored and studied the remarkable wilderness canyons.

When I reached the crest of Mount Sinai in 1979 to perform bat mitzvah ceremonies for two American girls, I saw the sun rise over a terrestrial glory that resonated with both spiritual and physical transcendence. The Egyptians had risked its desert child four times with war; the Israelis had turned it to peace. Similarly, the place where Israel left behind greenhouses and schools in Gaza is now a Hamas missile launching pad.

If people of the world would learn more about Israel’s poignant connection to the land, they would at long last have a healthy insight into Israel’s real sensibilities.

Meanwhile, the tragic Islamic Winter has consumed the vanished Arab Spring and made bitter the winds of Sinai.


Rabbi Ben Kamin is the author of “I Don’t Know What to Believe: Making Spiritual Peace With Your Religion” and other books.

Sunday Reads: Trump identity politics; decline in U.S. Jews’ influence on Israel

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah display Hezbollah and Iranian flags as they listen to him via a screen during a rally marking the 11th anniversary of the end of Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, in the southern village of Khiam, Lebanon August 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

U.S.

Perry Bacon Jr. on the Arpaio pardon:

The trio of major announcements made by President Trump’s administration on Friday night — the departure of national security aide Sebastian Gorka, the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the release of a formal memo from the president ordering the Pentagon not to accept transgender people as new recruits in the armed forces — illustrate two important things about the president’s governing style. First, one of the defining features of the Trump administration is that he embraces a kind of conservative identity politics, in which he promotes policies supported by groups that he favors and that may have felt marginalized during Barack Obama’s presidency. The second is that Trump’s support for those policies is not contingent on the presence of ousted aides like Gorka and Steve Bannon, who agree with him on these positions.

When the hurricane is over, Trump vs. the GOP will go back to being a significant political story. Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports:

many senators and their aides are flabbergasted by the public criticisms from the leader of their own party. They say Trump hasn’t shown a willingness to understand policy, often has more concern for his own news media coverage than anything else, and has run a White House riven by scandal and turmoil. In one recent meeting with legislators, he interrupted on several occasions to veer off topic, two senior GOP aides said, even as the health care legislation was simultaneously falling apart on Capitol Hill. There is widespread disappointment in Trump’s presidency among the party conference, said three people familiar with their feelings. Many of the senators have long distrusted Trump. The only one to endorse Trump was Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator whom Trump made attorney general — and has since publicly trashed.

Israel

Sometimes the obvious should be written: Israel has nothing to learn from Europe on terrorism. Read Yaakov Katz:

[O]n Tuesday, in a final briefing to the press before leaving the country after four years as the EU envoy, Faaborg-Andersen said that Israel can learn from Europe how to effectively combat terrorism. “Fighting terrorism,” he said, “is an endeavor that requires the whole tool box of instruments.” One of those tools, he went on to explain, is a “strong security dimension,” which Israel uses effectively. But, he added, there are other aspects involved as well, including “de-radicalization,” working with social services, and education. Now that is an interesting idea considering how many of the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Europe are carried out by citizens, some born and bred in their respective countries. In Israel, a small percentage of the attacks – like the recent one at the Temple Mount – are carried out by Israeli Arabs. Most are perpetrated by Palestinians.

David Ignatius sees opportunity for Israeli-Arab cooperation:

The Trump administration seems to envision an “outside-in” strategy for breaking the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. The U.S., it’s hoped, could eventually bring together Israelis and leaders of the major Arab states for a peace conference. Trump’s unusually close relations with both Israel and the Gulf Arabs are part of this strategy.

Middle East

Adam Taylor on Trump and Egypt:

The strict punishment of Egypt may be a recognition of how seriously the United States views the North Korean threat. In an email to today’s WorldView, Berger noted that Egypt’s alleged procurement of missile parts from North Korea was “almost as bad as it gets” in terms of sanctions violations… Will Trump’s action finally compel Egypt to break ties with North Korea? Elmenshawy thinks it will work. “What Cairo receives from its strategic relationship with Washington is not replaceable by any other country,” the columnist said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is going to get a lot of this in his visit to Israel:

US ambassador Nikki Haley sharply criticised the UN peacekeeping commander in Lebanon on Friday, saying he is “blind” to the spread of illegal arms and reiterating a call for the force to do more about it. He says there is no evidence it is actually happening.

Jewish World

I might write more about this article next week, but in the meantime, just read Samuel Freedman:

We have never been further from Israel than we are at this point. And we find ourselves at that distance because, after all the invocations of Jewish peoplehood, after all the salutes to us as a “strategic asset,” we American Jews have never been made to feel less necessary to Israel’s success or survival than we are today.

A JPPI paper that was published last week – by my colleague Dan Feferman and me makes a somewhat similar point:

[T]here seems to be a decline in the collective power of the U.S. Jewish community to influence Israeli decision-making. Once unified around larger organizations, this community has become more diffused in recent years. Politically, the once close-to-monolithic major groups have to compete with foundations and organizations who have their own, sometimes-contradictory agendas. Moreover, due to Israel’s much grown economy the U.S. community has also become less influential in its ability to wield power through massive philanthropy. Add to these facts the rising numbers of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. who will less questioningly support Israel while non-Orthodox Judaism seems, at least from the perspective of many Israelis, to be on the decline (low birthrates, intermarriage, etc.) and you have a weakening of the second arrow in the non-Orthodox movements’ quiver. Moreover, in the eyes of many Israelis, when the U.S. Jewish community does come together to influence Israeli policy, it at times does so in ways that contradict Israel’s interests, at least as defined by the supporters of the current government. There is even some sentiment within the current government that Evangelicals and non-Jewish conservatives are today, perhaps a greater source of support for Israel and especially this government’s policies, than is mainstream Jewish America. 

North Korean nukes: Has President Trump reached his “Leit Breirah” moment?

People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Previous U.S. Presidents have kicked the proverbial North Korea nuclear can down the road. Now it appears that President Trump may soon have to choose between continued “deterrence and containment” or some form of military action to stop Kim Jong Un from having an arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBM’s targeting America’s heartland.

During the Cold War, MAD (mutually assured destruction) worked to straitjacket nuke-laden adversaries. But who’s to say if mad Kim Jong Un can be deterred? Every president from Bill Clinton on thought they could make a deal with the Kim dynasty and in the end got played. That hasn’t stopped Republicans and Democrats alike weighing in with advice and warnings to President Trump.

Perhaps a good place to for Trump to look for perspective is the 1981 decision by the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Against prevailing world opinion and Middle East expertise, he ordered the Israeli Air Force’s incredibly daring raid to take out Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor. 

That damaged facility wasn’t totally destroyed until the U.S Air Force did it during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Ironic, since earlier the Reagan Administration joined the rest of the UN Security Council in condemning Israel and even delayed delivery of new F-16s. Yet what Israel did in 1981 was a game changer. You don’t have to be a general to understand how different the world would have been in 1990 if a nuclearized Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Still, a recent front-page New York Times article evaluating Trump’s options quotes experts who, incredibly, criticize Begin’s bold move for two reasons: Jerusalem violated a UN Security Council resolution and the Israeli PM could have delayed any action until there was a verifiable “imminent threat.”

The President of the United States, cognizant of his oath of office to defend and protect the American people cannot take cover behind “experts” or sanctimonious UN resolutions in face of a looming existential threat.

Setting up “imminent threat” as the standard or litmus test for taking action sounds reasonable—but not when you are confronted by perpetrators of unimaginable evil. Back in the 1930s, experts and elites in England lined up behind Neville Chamberlain as he pursued just such an approach with “Herr Hitler.” Some of the appeasers were fascists, some on the left. Rationale people, remembering WWI carnage, even had every reason to avoid another war. The problem was, instead of taking early and painful action against the Nazis, Chamberlain and Company allowed the cunning Hitler to constantly move the goal posts until it was too late. Chamberlain’s unwitting “delay of game” strategy would lead to 55 million dead in the catastrophic WWII.

Let’s be honest. For years, the U.S. allowed the Kims to move the goalposts, constantly re-defining what is an “imminent threat.”

It’s now left to the Trump team, which includes seasoned military leaders to draw a real red line on Pyongyang to ensure that Americans wake up tomorrow to embrace the future, not confront a nuclear holocaust.

President Trump may also want to read up on Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir who had to consider launching a nuclear weapon strike when the Jewish state—the victim of sneak attack by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, 1973, was in danger of being overrun in the early stages of that bitter war. Meir later admitted that her “heart was very much drawn” to a preemptive strike—like Israel’s in 1967 against Egypt’s Nasser— but was scared: “1973 is not 1967, and this time we will not be forgiven, and we will not receive [American] assistance when we have the need for it,” Golda later testified.

Thankfully, Israel was able to prevail sans nuclear weapons—but at a very high cost of dead and wounded. Golda Meir made mistakes in the lead-in to the Yom Kippur War. Unclear after all these years is exactly what those “mistakes” were. Was she right—or wrong—to refrain from a preemptive strike? One thing is clear that Israel has always been willing to deploy “a secret weapon”—in Golda’s words— Leit Breirah”: “we have no choice but to act” when our survival is at stake.

Today, President Trump does have choices about the NK nuke threat—none easy. Has he arrived at a Leit Breira moment that could trigger preemptive action? Or can he afford—and for how long—to give diplomacy one more a chance?

And will more words and more sanctions convince Kim to back down or prove to him that the US lacks the guts to act.

The answers to these questions will have grave consequences not only for Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and Americans, but also for the Gulf States, Egypt, and Israel who are being menaced by an aggressive Iran emboldened by sweetheart nuclear deal with the P5+1 led by President Obama.

Think and say what you may about Donald Trump’s presidential style or choice of words. At this moment, we should all pray that he and his team take the right path…

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Sunday Reads: America’s pessimism, Netanyahu’s troubles, Egypt’s children

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 25. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

US

Americans are still pessimistic, reports PEW, not just the same Americans:

A 67% majority of the public says they are dissatisfied with how things are going in this country today, compared with 28% who say they are satisfied. This represents little change over the past year. In fact, the share of Americans expressing satisfaction with national conditions has been no more than about 30% for well more than a decade. In late October, just prior to the election, only 11% of Republicans and Republican leaners said they were satisfied with how things were going, while 52% of Democrats and Democratic leaners said they were satisfied. Today, these views are nearly the reverse: 49% of Republicans now say they are satisfied, while just 11% of Democrats agree.

Curt Mills summarizes the War Against McMaster. Just so it’s clear: Israeli officials claim that the McMaster is anti-Israel campaign is baseless:

A seemingly-coordinated hard-right campaign is underway to force McMaster from office, at the same time that McMaster has conducted a lightning-speed purge of the National Security Council that has claimed several Bannon acolytes and old loyalists to previous National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. And notably, and perhaps confusingly, McMaster has garnered the public support of prominent neoconservatives.

 Israel

Herb Keinon asks: is this Netanyahu’s end?

Netanyahu often says that all his actions are motivated by a desire to ensure the security of the country and its citizens. The public believed him, which is why he was elected prime minister on four occasions. Running the country under indictment, however, would raise questions about whether there are other factors behind his decisions. The coalition parties may be soon be faced with the decision about whether that is indeed a healthy way to rule the land.

Before celebrating (or mourning) Netanyahu’s demise, take a look at the polls:

The latest Knesset survey by Dr. Yitzhak Katz’s Maagar Mohot polling agency shows the Likud opening up a 10-seat lead over its closest competitor, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. While the Likud would, according to the poll, win 30 seats, Yesh Atid would win just 20… According to the latest poll, Netanyahu’s present coalition partners would retain 66 of the 67 seats they currently hold, with a net loss of just one mandate.

Middle East

Egypt does not need so many Egyptians:

Last month, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi cited the increase in population as one of the country’s gravest dangers. As part of its efforts to curb population, the government has sent a draft law to the parliament cutting number of times Egyptian women can take paid maternity leave, from three times to only two. The draft law retains the four months of paid maternity leave as granted under the current law. Some members of parliament have suggested granting state subsidies on food to families who only have two children.

Middle East human rights violations is nothing new. Now the Saudis are getting ready to execute 14 men – and the Washington Post is rightly upset by this:

The latest sign of this backwardness is the fate of 14 Saudi men, all from the country’s Shiite minority, who are facing execution for allegedly staging protests in the kingdom. As The Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan reported , the men are charged with terrorism-related offenses, but human rights groups say confessions from the defendants were extracted under torture. Among those condemned to death are Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, who, after attending pro-democracy protests inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, was arrested at an airport in December 2012 as he was leaving the country to visit the campus of Western Michigan University, which he was thinking of attending. 

 Jewish World

Some Australians has it backwards, but this story ought to worry every Jew who doesn’t live in Israel:

The Land and Environment Court backed the decision by Waverley Council to prohibit the construction of the synagogue in Wellington St, Bondi — just a few hundred metres from Australia’s most famous beach — because it was too much of a security risk for users and local residents. Jewish leaders are shocked the decision appears to suggest they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists — and that the council has used their own risk assessment of the threat posed by IS against it.

And in Ireland, there is the curious case of a columnist still believing the old fables about Jews and money. Some Jews were more offended than others by his column (he argued that Jews are better paid in the BBC because they are good negotiators):

Let me make this clear. I am not the embodiment of some flattering characteristic shared by all Jews. When you generalise about Jewish people, you are talking about me, a Jewish person, and millions of other Jewish people, who are like and unlike me in countless ways. The only thing that I am by virtue of being Jewish is exceptional at using Yiddish expletives. Can I say shmuck in a family newspaper? Is that okay now? The stereotypical Jewish person that Myers depicts in his original article and also the Jewish person he paints in his apology are two sides of the same coin. And that person is not a real Jew. It is a figment of the imagination that does not exist in reality.

‘I have a feeling the war is going to start tomorrow’: Three days in June 1967

Ariel Sharon, third from left, meeting with his officers a week before the start of the Six-Day War, May 29, 1967, at their headquarters somewhere in southern Israel. Photo by Micha Han/GPO via Getty Images

Five days before the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, the American reporter Abraham Rabinovich arrived in Jerusalem. When the war ended, he decided to remain and write an account of Israel’s lightning victory. Over the next two years he interviewed close to 300 soldiers and civilians. 

In this excerpt from the 50th anniversary edition of “The Battle for Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest,”Rabinovich recounts the days leading up to the war’s start and the decisions of the Israeli politicians and generals on the ground.

(JTA) — The date for war was fixed on Friday, June 2, 1967, the day after Prime Minister Levi Eshkol relinquished the defense portfolio to Israel’s military icon, Moshe Dayan. For two weeks, Eshkol had blocked his generals’ demand for a strike against Egypt, but the signing of a defense pact between Jordan and Egypt had finally convinced him that war was inevitable.

At a meeting with Eshkol and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Dayan said that if the cabinet on Sunday approved a preemptive strike, the air force would carry it out the following morning. He rejected as irrelevant the army’s plans for attacking the Gaza Strip and the coastal guns overlooking the Tiran Straits, which Egypt had closed to Israel-bound shipping.

The army’s primary task, he said, was the destruction of Egypt’s tank divisions, the core of  its army. The brazenness of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in sending his army into Sinai, banishing a U.N. buffer force, and closing the straits meant that he no longer feared Israel. Therefore, Dayan argued, his challenge must be met head-on. The army would bring the Egyptian tank formations to battle and leave the Straits of Tiran and Gaza Strip for later. Rabin said that nothing would be done to provoke the Jordanians in order not to draw forces away from the Egyptian front. Jerusalem’s Old City was on no one’s agenda.

Air Force Commander Motti Hod had never revealed details of the preemptive strike to his colleagues on the general staff. Even now, at a meeting Saturday night, June 3, he revealed only one element: zero hour. The planes would strike at 7:45 a.m. Intelligence knew that the Egyptian air force mounted patrols from first light until 7 a.m. in anticipation of a possible Israeli attack out of the rising sun. At 7:45 the Egyptian pilots would be back at their bases having breakfast. Senior commanders lived off base and arrived about 8 a.m. They would still be in their cars when the planes struck. At zero hour, Israel’s armored divisions would shed camouflage netting and cross into Sinai.

Dayan, in his first press conference as defense minister that Saturday night, declared that the time for a spontaneous response to the closing of the straits had passed. A diplomatic solution, he said, would now be sought. At an English-language newspaper in Jordanian Jerusalem, skeptical journalists joked that they should run Dayan’s soothing remarks under the headline “Israel about to attack.”

Sunday morning, at the crucial cabinet meeting, several ministers asked that a decision be put off, but for the first time Eshkol came out clearly for war. Washington’s objection to an Israeli first-strike, while officially still in place, had softened,  he said, in the wake of the Jordanian-Egyptian pact. Washington had not flashed a green light, “but the light was no longer red.”

Dayan warned that if the Egyptians struck first (“to do to us what we want to do to them”), one of their first targets would be the nuclear reactor at Dimona, which the Egyptians believed was about to come on line. “Our only chance of winning the war is to initiate it and shape it,” he said. The cabinet voted 12-2 for military action.

Gen. Hod summoned his base commanders after the cabinet decision and informed them that the long-mooted attack would be launched in the morning. In the first wave, 160 planes would attack. Only 12 planes would remain behind  to guard Israel’s airspace.

Gen. Uzi Narkiss, commanding the Jordanian front, met Sunday night with his brigade commanders for a final briefing. He had been informed of the cabinet’s decision but gave no hint of it to his officers. On a wall map, an intelligence officer reviewed the Jordanian deployment. Five infantry brigades on the West Bank had been reinforced by an additional brigade, held in reserve 10 miles east of Jerusalem. Troops had been shifted in substantial numbers from rear encampments to the front line and Jordan’s two armored brigades were poised to cross the Jordan River to the West Bank. A large Iraqi force was expected to take up positions threatening  Israel’s narrow waist within a few days.

At Narkiss’ request, his brigade commanders rose in turn to outline their operational plans. The commander of the Jerusalem Brigade, Col. Eliezer Amitai, was restrained. The Jordanian army was considered the best in the Arab world. In the War of Independence, the Israeli army had failed to dislodge it from any  fortified position. The British officers who commanded the Arab Legion, as it was known then, were dismissed by Hussein a decade later and replaced by Jordanian officers but the army’s reputation remained.

Israel’s Jerusalem Brigade had more than twice as many men as the Jordanians opposite them in the city but it was a hometown unit of reservists, many of them over 30. Contingency planning called for an elite regular army unit to break through stout Jordanian defenses to relieve the 120-man garrison on Mount Scopus, a mile behind Jordanian lines, if it was threatened. But it was doubtful whether elite units could be spared for the task in a multi-front war.

At an Israeli position on Mount Zion, adjacent to the Old City, a platoon commander challenged one of his men to chess Sunday evening. There was little conversation as they concentrated on the board. Suddenly the officer looked up and said, “I have a feeling the war is going to start tomorrow.”

At Tel Nof air base, pilots were wakened at 3:45 a.m. on Monday, June 5. Filing into the briefing room, their eyes focused on the terse announcement on the blackboard: “Zero Hour 0745.” When all were seated, the squadron leader said, “Good morning. We go to war with Egypt today.”

In nearby orange groves, Col. Motta Gur’s reserve paratroop brigade had spent the night in anticipation of boarding troop carriers for a jump into Sinai. An officer rose before dawn and looked expectantly towards the air base but could see no sign of unusual activity. The troops were wakened at six, and the orchards were soon bustling. The men were making coffee when a succession of roars erupted from the airbase. As the sound intensified, planes began to rise above the tree line — dozens of them following each other into the sky like children playing tag. Low-slung with bombs and rockets, the aircraft wove themselves into formations of four and headed southwest at treetop level. At the airfield, a mechanic wept as the planes swept past him, wave after wave, glinting in the sky like a sword unsheathed. In the orchards the paratroopers watched in silence, awed by what they were seeing and by what they knew must come. They then drifted off to write postcards home. “We’re seeing the start of the war,” wrote one. “We hope it’s finished soon. We’ll do what we can to finish it soon.”

In the afternoon, Col. Gur was informed that the fast-moving tank divisions in Sinai would overrun the paratroopers’ planned target.  The brigade was being sent instead to Jerusalem to break through to Mount Scopus. No one in authority mentioned the Old City. Some, however, were beginning to think about it.


Abraham Rabinovich is a journalist born and raised in New York City. He is the author of six books, including “The Yom Kippur War,” “The Boats of Cherbourg” and “Jerusalem on Earth.” He lives in Jerusalem.

What to expect from Trump’s Israel visit

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump will be departing on Friday for his first foreign trip overseas with stops in Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Israel and the West Bank. Daniel Kurtzer, former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told Jewish Insider, “What Trump is trying to do is contrast his close closeness to Israel with that of Obama. Obama didn’t go for the first four years and Trump is going in the first four months.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The visit to Israel is part of a long term US strategic investment towards the process, noted Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum. “Someone in the White House has learned the lesson from the last administration where it was clearly a mistake not to go to Israel early on. (They) realize that if you are going to get the Israelis to make concessions, it’s probably a good idea to actually go to Israel and show the Israelis some love.”

The White House’s showering of love towards Israel is concerning many in Jerusalem, explains Daniel Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017. “When it comes to President Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, both sides are nervous about what this trip, and events beyond it, could produce. Trump is unpredictable, and his team is inexperienced in Middle East negotiations,” he told Jewish Insider.

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may be uncomfortable abiding by Washington’s demands to cut stipends to terrorists’ families, he still likely appreciates the renewed attention. Abbas is “primarily looking at the revival of interest in the Palestinian issue and his own role as chairman of the PLO as an unexpected political bananza. What he is going to try and do is try to get maximal advantage particularly in terms of his own domestic political credibility,” explained Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “As long as the Palestinian issue has been resuscitated — almost brought back from the dead really by Trump —  and he’s standing next to Trump whether in the White House or Ramallah, and there is serious prospects for some benefits on-the-ground, his position which was otherwise very shaky politically becomes really unassailable.”

With Trump’s unpredictable nature and the threats of a Twitter war launched against Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kurtzner emphasized the willingness of both sides to please Trump. “They (Netanyahu and Abbas) are going to try and put on the best face they can: neither one wants the responsibility of failure to be on their doorstep,” he stated. At the same time, Shapiro emphasized the deep underlying challenges preventing any genuine breakthrough between the parties. “Neither Netanyahu or Abbas have any trust in the other, and both face severe domestic political constraints and gaps in their respective positions on the core issues,” he noted.  “So whether they agree to start talks under Trump’s sponsorship, or simply stall for time, they are very likely to fall back into deeply ingrained habits of preparing not for success, but for winning the blame game when failure comes.  That may be the biggest challenge facing Trump’s initiative.”

Yet, for all of the focus on how the trip will impact Israelis and Palestinians on-the-ground, Koplow suggests that the visit may have an additional purpose. “Going abroad and having a high-profile trip where you are seated by leaders in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican it looks good and certainly won’t escape anyone’s notice that it’s coming at a time when things at home are getting dicey and this won’t be the first President to go abroad and try to use good headlines and nice photos from overseas to push away some trouble he is having at home,” he said.

Moses

Do you dream of Egypt? Or seek traces
of your journey before God lays you down like Isaac
at Moriah and takes away your breathing?
Do you remember Sinai where you were sorely tried?
Or seek evidence that the lengthy sojourn
in Pharaoh’s court was not of your imagining?
Do you feel the sea tearing in half? Or remember
those who dared to flee into its breach?
Perhaps your feet still move in a desert rhythm
and will not stop even here on Mount Nebo
though you watch the others cross a river beyond you.
Haven’t you pleaded for your life? What have
you to say, Bush of Burning who is not consumed? Mountain
of the Stone Tablets? And you, Moses, do you lie back
upon your rocky bed, close your eyes and feel
the cool kiss of God upon your lips, your soul drawn
out of your body like a hair drawn out of milk,
sons dispersed like seeds, no burial place?


From “Lithuania: New & Selected Poems.” Myra Sklarew, professor emerita at American University, also is the author of “Harmless,” “If You Want to Live Forever” and the forthcoming “A Survivor Named Trauma: Holocaust and the Construction of Memory,” SUNY Press.

My iPhone is my Egypt

Photo from Pexels

What is your Egypt?

The people, the food and the storytelling are what I love most about the Passover seder I go to, but I also really like the updates to the ritual. We spill drops of wine as we name the ten Biblical plagues, but we count off ten modern plagues as well, like hunger and terrorism. Traditional symbols are on the table, like horseradish for the bitterness of slavery and salt water for tears, but there’s also an orange, an innovation from the 1970s, standing for feminism and against homophobia. (An orange? Seriously? There’s a story.)

I’m especially partial to this twist: We sing Avadim Hayinu, “Once were slaves in Egypt,” but we also ask the question I began with, as a metaphor, and in the present tense. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits,” a tight place. In the story the Book of Exodus tells, the enslaved Jews are liberated from Egypt. Our seder asks us, What pharaoh owns you? What tightness binds you? What constriction do you need to free yourself from?

I’m writing this before the first night of Passover, so this is a prediction, but a safe one: I’ll be amazed if there’s anyone at our seder who won’t have a little Egypt in their pocket or purse. Everyone will of course silence their ringers, but I’d be surprised if a few of us don’t manage to sneak a peek at our screens; if many of us won’t be fighting a compulsion to do that several times an hour; and if most of us, in the moments between seder and meal, don’t check out what came in while we were asking why this night is different from all other nights.

On all other nights, there are smartphones on the table.

I’ll admit it: I’m rarely without my iPhone, even for a few minutes (you know: in case of an emergency, or my kids are trying to reach me, or I don’t want the plumber to go to voicemail). Some studies say that on average, people check their phones every six-and-a-half minutes, 150 times a day; some say – yikes – as many as 2,617 times a day. Whatever my own number is, it’s bound to be embarrassing. Like most people, I can rattle off one reason after another to excuse that frequency. It’s for work. It’s for news. It’s for stoking my civic outrage at you know who. It’s for Yelp or Uber or Google or Netflix. It’s for weather, scores, maps, directions, texting, posting, liking, Skyping, tweeting, eating, friending, mating. It’s for playing games, taking pictures, getting a jump on my email, working out to my playlists, killing time while I’m riding an elevator, standing in line, waiting for the water to boil.

This is madness.

We’re as adept at justifying being phone junkies as addicts are at rationalizing their habit. We’re hooked on stimulation, on that spike of happy that hits our neurons when a NEW! NOW! NEXT! attracts our attention. Boredom terrifies us; to endure it without our iBlow would be like going cold turkey ten times as hour. But as MIT professor Sherry Turkle says, there’s a downside to calling our dependence on digital devices an addiction. It implies that our behavior is personal weakness, that it’s futile to resist. What needs our attention isn’t the cause of what ails us, but its toll on our wellness. What wants therapy is how our gizmos narrow the rest of our lives – how, as Turkle writes in “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” they constrict “our capacity to be alone and together,” how they contract “our ability to understand others and be heard.”

Turkle identifies a crisis of solitude and a crisis of empathy in our lives. “As we struggle to truly pay attention to ourselves,” to experience boredom and anxiety and the “rich, messy and demanding” feelings inherent in human relationships, “we struggle to pay attention to each other.” The more time we spend online, or itching to be online, the less time for “the risks of face-to-face conversation. But it’s there that empathy is born and intimacy thrives…. It’s often when we stumble, or struggle for our words, or are silent, that we reveal ourselves most to each other and to ourselves.”

Turkle is no Luddite. She describes the moment when, very nervous, about to give the first talk of a book tour, setting her iPhone on the podium to start a timer, she got a text from her daughter: “Mom, you will rock this.” Yes, the message was digitally delivered. But that didn’t undo its affect or its effect. “It was like a kiss.”

We need an intervention. We need to practice undivided attention – to each other, in conversation, and to ourselves, in solitude. “We don’t have to give up our phones,” she says, “but we have to use them more deliberately, …by working to protect sacred places, spaces without technology, in our everyday lives.”

Our madness is recent. The iPhone is just 10 years old. Still, that’s long enough for me to want a new ringtone: “Let my people go.”


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Egypt and Jordan: Don’t give up on two-state solution

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (unseen) at the presidential palace in Cairo Aug. 2, 2015. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/REUTERS.

he heads of Egypt and Jordan said a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on having two states.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan met Tuesday in Cairo.

“The two sides discussed future movements to break the gridlock within the Middle East peace process, especially with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration taking power,” read a statement issued after the meeting.

“They also discussed mutual coordination to reach a two-state solution and establish a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital which is a national constant that cannot be given up.”

The leaders also reportedly discussed Jerusalem and the maintenance of the status quo on the Temple Mount.

The meeting came days after the Israeli daily Haaretz first published a report revealing that one year ago, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a secret meeting in Aqaba that included Abdullah and al-Sisi.

The deal would have included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries.

The meeting also comes after last week’s meeting in Washington, D.C., between Netanyahu and  Trump, in which Trump did not commit to a two-state solution in a break from U.S. policy from the early 2000s.

The sun shines on us all equally

Photo from Pexels

Parashat B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

“In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise] before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would you utter song before me!”

— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 39b

This week’s Torah portion contains one of the most powerful — and ethically challenging — teachings in the Torah as the Hebrews cross the Sea of Reeds, to be followed by the Egyptians, who are drowned. Jews are taught not to take joy in the pain of others. This is especially true when it is the pain of our enemies. The Bible and Talmud are full of remonstrations against this practice, and yet, sometimes it is all too easy to succumb to our yetzer hara (evil inclination) and do just that.

I will always retain the sad memory of walking into a cigar lounge in 2014, and hearing many of the people there cheering as they watched CNN. I thought it must be some sporting event; instead they were watching the destruction of a terror tunnel into Israel, and the people were cheering at the death of the Palestinian terrorists.

Dozens of parents had just lost their children, siblings had lost their brothers, and children had lost their fathers, and we could be assured that they all would hate Israel forever. In my mind, there was nothing to celebrate. Remembering the teaching of how God chastised the angels when they started to celebrate the death of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds, I accepted that it was necessary to destroy the tunnels, but simply wrong to celebrate the agony of others. Pharaoh, those terrorists and other adversaries are not our “enemies.” Rather they are adversaries that need to be defeated — but still respected as creations of God.

It is an important Jewish understanding — and particularly important now — that we don’t need to polarize our world even more by viewing the world through the lens of “enemies,” but instead respect all of life strongly enough that we work to change those adversaries into friends.

It seems that almost daily we read about incidents of hate around this country, from both sides of the political aisle. Instead of the healthy debate that is illustrated throughout the Talmud by our Sages, we see conservatives and liberals viewing the “other” not as wrong, but as evil. Each side seems to revel in any shortcoming by the other. History has shown repeatedly that if we continue down this path of celebrating the pain of our adversary, it leads only to a mutual pain for everyone involved.

So how can we regain a healthy and respectful dialogue with those whom we oppose? How can we learn to do what we believe we must without sacrificing our Jewish essence?

One of the many answers that our tradition teaches can be found in the holiday of this weekend, Tu B’Shevat. As we remember the goodness of God’s creations, as we celebrate the gifts that God has given to all of us no matter what our beliefs, our Sages teach that it can influence our behavior to embrace our personal differences and respect every other human. The celebration of nature has the potential to lead us to understanding. In nature, we find a balance that we can emulate in our interpersonal relationships.

There is an ancient text, “Perek Shirah” (Chapter of Song), that reminds us to treasure all of nature, and as a byproduct, to treasure all others, even if we disagree with them. It includes prayers about all aspects of nature — from the elements to plants to animals — and teaches us that when we really appreciate these Divine gifts, we change how we act with others. The idea is simple: bring balance and harmony to every relationship in nature, including between your friend and foe, and the benefits will extend from this world to the next.

As the political climate becomes polarized and it is difficult to stay centered, it is incumbent upon us to remember this Jewish teaching. Let us not only celebrate this magnificent holiday of Tu B’Shevat, but return to nature and appreciate the gifts that God has given us all. Maybe then we can bring real harmony into the world.

My prayer for all of us is to appreciate the divine gifts of life, including the disagreements we have with other people, and to use these disagreements as bridges to understanding and respecting one another — making adversaries into friends and remembering that we are all children of the same God.

The many faces of the Jewish refugee

Since the global refugee crisis took over front pages and cable networks, a popular statistic in the Jewish world has been the number 36. It’s mentioned frequently by politically attuned and progressive-leaning clergy as the number of times, at minimum, Jews are commanded in the Torah to care for the stranger in their midst, for they were strangers in the land of Egypt.

But there’s no need to look as far back as the Exodus to remember a time when Jews were strangers in a strange land. The face of the modern refugee is kaleidoscopic: Syrian, Afghan, Rohingya, Yazidi, Sudanese, Congolese. This effect is found in miniature within the many colors of the Jewish refugee over the last century: Persians, Russians, Iraqis, Poles, Germans, Algerians, and others who have sought respite in America.

In the few days since President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions, the anti-Nazi theologian Marvin Niemoller has enjoyed a new vogue for his verse: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. … Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” Today’s body politic has reimagined these lines as, “First they come for the Muslims, and then we said, ‘Not this time!’ ”

By compelling them to reach outward, to march for and alongside Muslims, the recent protests have caused American Jews to look inward and to draw on their own past. A look inside the very long — and yet very recent — history of Jewish refugees reveals a diversity that reflects today’s global refugee crisis, as well as its pervading narrative of persecution and hardship.

Collected below, edited for clarity and length, are six of these Jewish refugee stories, in their words.

cov-ebrahimi-then

From left: Simon Ebrahimi, his daughter Maryam and wife, Nahid, in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, shortly after arriving from Iran. Below: the portrait for his 2012 novel.

cov-ebrahimi-useAfter a few months, we arrive at the New York airport. I’m with two little children and my wife. And my wife, who knows my temperament, she said, “You just don’t argue with anybody. Let’s go through this.” I said, “Fine.” So the guy calls me and says, “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” I said, “Excuse me?” “You Iranians,” he says. “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” … The third time, which is, you know, typical, he came and he said, “You still didn’t respond to me.” I said, “You know what, why don’t you and I go to Iran together and release the hostages? It’s a simple solution!” 

— Simon Ebrahimi, 79, Woodland Hills

 

cov-milana-vayntrub-small

Milana Vayntrub as a toddler, newly arrived from Soviet Uzbekistan. As an adult, she has earned national fame in a series of AT&T commercials.

cov-milana-vayntrubThis is little me on the front steps of our apartment building in West Hollywood, in my coolest athletic gear. Most people living in that community were immigrants and it brought us so much closer together knowing we had this generous network of friends and babysitters we could rely on. A few years after arriving to America, my grandparents immigrated and moved in next door. My grandmother used to make Russian dumplings by hand and sell them to delis. She used her earnings to pay her way through school, where she studied English and accounting. Last year, she was able to comfortably retire. She’s a huge inspiration.

— Milana Vayntrub, 29, Hollywood

 

cov-igor-mikhaylov-old-kiev-1983

Igor Mikhaylov (center) in 1983 with his family in Kiev. Below: Mikhaylov with his wife and sons in 2013.

cov-igor-mikhaylov-yom-kippur-2013-75-of-1My family and I left the Soviet Union in 1989 when I was 10. We were escaping anti-Semitism, which was rampant. Jewish refugees could not go directly to the U.S., and places like Austria, where we were initially settled, were overrun with refugees. The situation could get very heated, with Austrian protestors holding picket signs that said, “Shoot the Jews!“ and yelling “Sterben!” — “Die!” Later, we settled in a beautiful Italian coastal town, Santa Marinella. It had magnificent views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, palms, beach and a medieval castle, but none of it was really enjoyable since we were living in limbo. People had heart attacks, aneurisms, nervous breakdowns. Then came the vetting process and questions such as, “Were you ever members of the Communist party?” The only correct answer was “No!”  Who would check? How can you prove it?

— Igor Mikhaylov, 38, Granada Hills

 

cov-penina

Penina Meghnagi Solomon (above, second from right) with her family in a refugee camp in Italy in 1967, after fleeing Libya. Below: in 2013.

cov-penina-nowI can remember the black sky from the burning. And we were in terror because they were looking for the Jews. … We lost everything. We had property, we had money in the banks. … I remember coming in [to the refugee camp in Italy] and not knowing where we’re going to sleep, what we’re going to eat, whatever. I was 17. And my mom was a widow at that time. … But maybe because my personality is I’m always looking to the positive on anything, I was happy to leave [Libya]. I was happy to leave to a place where I was subjugated to always worry, always with the head half turned back, you never know when you’re going to be pinched or someone’s going to try to kill you. So for me, we were on our way to freedom and it was a good feeling.

— Penina Meghnagi Solomon, 67, Valley Village

 

cov-geminder

Bob Geminder (right) with his brother George and cousin Muriel shortly after he arrived with his family in the U.S. after the Holocaust. Below: Geminder in Los Angeles in 2016.

cov-geminder-nowI was 12 years old. Knew no English pretty much, just some really bad words that the soldiers taught me at the German [displaced persons] camp. … This [photo above] was in East Orange, N.J. — that was kind of our first stop in America. … We were at that DP camp in Germany in Regensburg for about a year and a half, and that was kind of my first schooling. That’s where I learned the alphabet, I learned what two plus two is — you know, some math.. … The big joke in the Regensburg camp was, “Don’t worry about it — you’re going to find money on trees in America.” Me, being a foolish 12-year-old, I started looking at the trees.

— Bob Geminder, 81, Rancho Palos Verdes

 

cov-tabby-mom-tabby

Tabby Refael (left) with her mother in the 1980s, shortly before emigrating from Iran. Below: Refael with her son in 2017.

cov-tabby-nowThe black-and-white photo features my mother and me in Iran in the mid-1980s. Iran printed the word “Jew” next to our names on our passports. Months later, on the same document, the Americans printed the three greatest words that have ever been written about us, stamped in a miraculous, indisputable promise: “Protected Refugee Status.” That alone should tell us something about the differences between repressive theocracies and redemptive democracies. I am eternally grateful to Congress and to HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for the gift of a renewed life, as this photo of my son and me in America in 2017 conveys. It also captures my inner joy at not having had to wear a mandatory Muslim head covering in more than 28 years.

— Tabby Refael, 34, Pico-Robertson

Would Obama be acting differently at the UN had Hillary won?

In a quick turn of events, Egypt has decided to delay on Thursday a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.

While there is still a chance that the UN Security Council could vote on a similar resolution within the coming days or weeks, Egypt has reportedly indicated that it would not reintroduce the resolution before President Barack Obama leaves office on January 20, 2017.

Obama had been planning on abstaining, thereby allowing the resolution to pass, according to NBC News. Congressional leaders have intensified the pressure on Obama to veto the Egyptian-led proposal. These stunts at the UN serve only one purpose—to defame and delegitimize the democratic State of Israel,” Speaker Ryan emphasized. Even within Obama’s own party, the President faced resistance. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer emphasized, “Any workable and long-lasting solution to this conflict must come about through direct, bilateral negotiations, and this resolution undermines that effort.”

The Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations also issued a statement welcoming the vote’s postponement and urging the resolution’s withdrawal. Interestingly, J-Street did not issue a public statement on the resolution and kept its focus on the campaign to oppose David Friedman’s nomination of Ambassador to Israel.

Trump’s firm stance against the UN draft may have played a significant role in influencing Cairo to defer the resolution. “Remember you have all of these allies and adversaries out there trying to figure out what is Trump going to do when he actually becomes President,” explained Aaron David Miller, former veteran State Department advisor on the Middle East, to Jewish Insider. “I am not sure (Egyptian President) Sisi wants to put himself in a position as one of the opening acts of the administration to be on the wrong side of Mr. Trump on this issue.”

Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research, at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, credited “the deepening strategic ties between Egypt and Israel” in an interview with Jewish Insider. Citing the countries’ joint interests in the fight against Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, “Sisi was probably reluctant to scuttle those ties,” he added.

Since the Obama Administration’s likely intended for the settlement resolution to pass, Miller cited Obama’s personal ideological commitment to the Palestinian cause motivating him to abstain.  “Frustration and real resentment that the Israelis weren’t listening combined with the fact that the administration was running out of time propelled them either to abstain or to vote in favor,” he explained.

The question looming over the debate is whether the Obama administration would have acted differently if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency?

“A lot of Democrats would like for him to veto. The party is in bad shape, not only did they lose the presidential election but they also lost… both houses of Congress,” Elliot Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jewish Insider. “They don’t need things that weaken the party further yet Obama is willing to see that happen. Had Clinton won, he would have had even less reason to be concerned about the condition of the Democratic Party,” Abrams added noting the numerous reports that the White House was willing to abstain on the UN resolution.

Schanzer believed that Clinton would have been unlikely to issue a public condemnation of the UN draft, in contrast to Trump. Rather, the former Secretary of State would have probably told Obama not to proceed with the abstention telling the White House: “You are going to tie my hands as the next president and make my life more difficult because it will appear as if I gave my blessing to this Security Council resolution,” Schanzer said.

Obama would have likely consulted with Clinton before making a decision, emphasized The Wilson Center’s Miller. Although he cautioned that it is difficult to predict, Clinton generally adopted a less hardline approach to settlements than Obama, which could have impacted her policy on this resolution, Miller said.

Lost in all of the media coverage about the role of Trump and Sisi in delaying the resolution was the Obama Administration’s apparent willingness to allow a resolution to pass that said that settlements have “no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.” (Generally, White House officials call settlements illegitimate). Miller suggested that reporters clarify the Obama Administration current position whether they believe Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem are in fact “illegal.”

With the resolution’s future hanging in the balance, Abrams emphasized that domestic pressure on the White House may be the only remaining factor that could influence the President given the Israelis longstanding opposition. “The only hope I think would be people whose opinions the President may value more, democrats above all tell him that this will hurt the party and hurt his own reputation,” Abrams noted.

Egyptian Olympian lashes out after Israeli flag photobombing

An Egyptian Olympian who appears in a viral photo featuring an Israeli flag said on Facebook that she was photobombed by “dirty” people and there will “never be peace between me and these people in my life.”

Doaa Elghobashy, 19, a volleyball player, has been harshly criticized on Arab social media since the Israeli Embassy in Cairo shared the photo, which was initially shared by the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs.

In a similar incident this week, the popular Tunisian singer Saber Rebai drew fire for appearing in a photograph with an Arab-Israeli soldier whom Rebai said he did not know was Israeli.

According to Ynet, Elghobashy told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm a-Saba that the photo was “a conspiracy against me to try and discredit my name.”

“It isn’t possible that I would take a picture with an Israeli because between these people and ourselves, it is not possible to have peace,” she said. “The Israeli woman was not with a flag, but when the picture was taken, she hoisted the flag without me knowing. You can see that in the picture.”

Elghobashy failed to medal at the Rio Games, but drew attention for being the first Olympic athlete to play beach volleyball in a hijab, according to The Times of Israel.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace accord in 1978, but anti-Israel sentiment remains pervasive in Egyptian society.

Egyptian judoka sent home over handshake refusal with Israeli

Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby has been sent home from the Rio Olympics after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson following the end of their bout, the International Olympic Committee said on Monday.

El Shehaby, who was sent home by his own team, lost the fight on Friday and was reprimanded by the IOC for his actions.

The IOC acknowledged that the rules of judo do not oblige players to shake hands but said El Shehaby's behaviour went against the Games' “rules of fair play” and “spirit of friendhsip”.

“The Egyptian Olympic Committee has also strongly condemned the actions of Mr Islam El Shehaby and has sent him home,” the IOC said in a statement. “The President of the National Olympic Committee issued a statement saying they respected all athletes and all nations at the Olympic Games.”

After Sasson defeated El Shehaby and the pair retook their places in front of the referee, the Egyptian backed away when Sasson bowed and approached him to shake hands.

When called back by the referee to bow, El Shehaby gave a quick nod before walking off amid loud boos from the crowd .

“The Disciplinary Commission (DC) considered that his behaviour at the end of the competition was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic Values,” the IOC said.

“The DC issued a 'severe reprimand for inappropriate behaviour' to the athlete. It noted….the shaking of hands after a match is not in the competition rules of the International Judo Federation.”

“As well as a severe reprimand, the DC has asked the Egyptian Olympic Committee to ensure in future that all their athletes receive proper education on the Olympic Values before coming to the Olympic Games,” the IOC said.

El Shehaby, 32, had reportedly been pressured by fans on social media not to show up for the match with his Israeli opponent, who went on to win bronze in the +100kg category, because it would shame Islam.

“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules. It happens between friends and he's not my friend,” El Shehaby said after the bout.

“I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religion or different beliefs. But for personal reasons, you can't ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this State, especially in front of the whole world,” he said. 

Egypt was the first Arab power to make peace with Israel, in 1979, but the treaty remains unpopular among many Egyptians.

Turkey, Egypt, Africa: How ‘hard-liner’ Netanyahu pulled off a diplomacy trifecta

The conventional wisdom has it that earning the sobriquet “the most right-wing government in Israeli history” does not lead to diplomatic successes.

In recent weeks, on the Turkish, Egyptian and African fronts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proving the conventional wisdom wrong.

How is it that the head of a government beating a hasty retreat from the two-state solution scored a triumphant tour of Africa, hosted a convivial summit with an Egyptian foreign minister for the first time in nearly a decade and renewed full ties with Turkey?

Here’s a look at what Netanyahu’s diplomatic successes mean – and their limitations.

Oh, Bibi, Bibi, it’s a wild world

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, talks about retreating from America’s preeminent role in the world. Although he is adamant that he is pro-Israel, Trump has suggested he could charge Israel for the billions in defense assistance it receives.

Similarly Europe, overwhelmed by a refugee crisis, is becoming more insular and, for the first time in decades, faces the prospect of falling apart as a common political force, with Britain’s planned exit from the European Union and other countries contemplating similar actions.

Meantime, calls to target Israel – or its settlements – with boycotts are increasing across the continent.

“In Israel, there’s broad recognition for no substitute for the U.S-Israel alliance. It remains crucial,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank with a focus on the Middle East. “There’s also a recognition that we are going through a turbulent period, and from a diplomatic perspective there are ways to defray some of these challenges.”

Among them: Enhance security ties with Egypt, reinvigorate decades-old ties in Africa and mend ties with Turkey.

The shared Sinai threat

The vastness of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, its strategic positioning between Asia and Africa, and the porous nature of its Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea coasts have been like catnip to terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

That poses a shared challenge to Israel and Egypt, and has helped already friendly ties between the nations; Israel was one of the few countries to celebrate the 2013 coup that removed the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and brought to power Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

Israel in recent months quietly has allowed Egyptian forces entry back into the peninsula, effectively allowing Egypt to abrogate one of the tenets, demilitarization, of the 1979 Camp David Peace Agreement. Commensurately, Egypt has allowed Israel to target terrorists with drones.

“You have a closely coordinated counterterrorism strategy in the Sinai,” Schanzer said. “You have intelligence sharing, increased numbers of Israelis are operating in the Sinai.”

That helps explain why Sissi was willing to send his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to Israel this week for a high-profile visit – effectively warming up a peace that Sissi’s predecessors preferred to keep cool. Keeping the Sinai secure trumped the domestic blowback Sissi knew he would endure for the visit.

Preempting the Palestinians, France and (maybe) the Obama administration

The French are trying to kick-start peace talks with the Palestinians under an international umbrella. The Palestinians hope to advance statehood recognition during the U.N. General Assembly launch in September. And President Barack Obama may deliver his own post-U.S. election surprise, setting out the U.S. parameters for a final-status arrangement.

All are anathema to Netanyahu, who favors direct talks with the Palestinians, where Israel is able to exercise greater leverage. Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, appeared to favor the direct talks track, saying his visit was part of Sissi’s “vision for establishing peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — bringing this long conflict to an end.”

Bringing Egypt into the configuration increases pressure on the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to direct talks, said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Egypt is the P.A.’s lead patron in the Arab world, and Abbas can ill afford to alienate Sissi.

“While the PA president has had no problem rejecting Netanyahu’s call to resume talks amid disbelief that anything concrete will emerge from them, bringing Egypt into the picture raises the cost of any such rejection,” Makovsky wrote on the think tank’s website.

Turkey is more about what Erdogan needs

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, pressed for the rupture with Israel in 2010 after Israel’s deadly raid on a Palestinian convoy aiming to breach Israel’s blockade with Gaza. Now he’s the force behind the reconciliation.

Erdogan is dealing with restive Kurds in the south, the chaos in Syria across his country’s border and the blowback from his decision recently to take tougher measures against the Islamic State. He needs to smooth waters elsewhere.

Reestablishing ties with Israel not only returns an important trade partner to eminence and restores full security ties at a time of crisis, it addresses a longstanding U.S. demand that its two most important allies in the Middle East reconcile.

“Erdogan is starting to realize he’s overstretched; Turkey is dealing with so many problems at once,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “Erdogan is realizing he has to pull back.”

Back to Africa

The last time there was a movement on the rise to isolate Israel — in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Arab League used oil leverage to pressure third parties to join their boycott — Israel countered by quietly reinforcing ties in Africa.

The ties, established in the 1950s and 1960s, already were a point of pride for Israel, identifying the Jewish state not as a colonial anomaly, as the Arab nations would have it, but as a postcolonial triumph of an indigenous people.

That very much was the point of Netanyahu’s four-nation African tour, said Schanzer.

“One gets the sense we’re revisiting history amid the new boycott movement — and it’s yielding dividends,” he said.

The tour coincided with the 40th anniversary of an Israeli commando raid on Entebbe in Uganda, where terrorists were holding Israeli airplane passengers with the sanction of the country’s then dictator, Idi Amin. Netanyahu’s elder brother, Yoni, was killed leading the rescue effort.

But the tour was more than symbolic, participants said. Netanyahu traveled with 80 men and women representing some 50 businesses, and was well prepared to assist them, according to Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar energy and social development enterprise.

Abramowitz said he shook hands on $1 billion worth of deals during the four-nation tour.

“A fully coordinated government initiative brilliantly executed in every country by the Prime Minister’s Office, the embassies and the Israel Export Institute, it was clockwork,” he said.

Egypt’s foreign minister visiting Israel, first time in a decade

The foreign minister of Egypt is in Israel to discuss his country’s recommendations for peace between Israel and the Palestinians with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sunday’s visit by Sameh Shoukry is the first by an Egyptian foreign minister since 2007, according to Netanyahu.

Speaking at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said the visit “teaches about the change that has come over Israel-Egypt relations, including President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sissi’s important call to advance the peace process with both the Palestinians and Arab countries.”

 

“The Egyptian foreign minister is coming on behalf of the president of Egypt; we welcome him.”

Shoukry, who has been foreign minister for two years, visited Ramallah for the first time two weeks ago to talk about Egypt’s peace plans with Palestinian leaders, Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu and Shoukry are scheduled to meet in the afternoon and evening.

They also reportedly will discuss coordination between their two countries over the search for wreckage of the EgyptAir flight that crashed in May after some was recovered off the coast of Netanya on Thursday. The flight from Paris to Cairo crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing the 66 passengers and crew on board.

Egyptian peace plan looks to engage ‘most extreme elements in Israel’

Last year’s Egyptian television series for Ramadan “Harat al Yehud” (Jewish Quarter) displayed nuance and nostalgia toward Egypt’s mid-century “Israelites.”

This holiday season’s “Alqayasar” (The Kingpin) reveals a full-frontal hardening of attitudes toward the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians of Gaza.

“Alqayasar” portrays the evil deeds and shady alliances of a terror cell leader who uses tunnels near Rafa to commute between his hideouts in the Nile Delta and the Gaza headquarters of Islamist groups, where he also meets up with Palestinian mafia dons and hatches a series of plots against the Egyptian homeland.

Much of the action takes place in the North Sinai, where Egyptian forces are in the third phase of a struggle against the local branch of ISIS, dubbed Operation Martyr’s Right by the army chiefs in Cairo. 

Both the Ramadan holiday and the “Alqayasar” series have several more weeks to go, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the show’s virtuous and now digitally savvy Egyptian army will ensnare the fictional kingpin by the time the country celebrates Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the month of fasting.

Less certain, however, is the outcome of efforts by real-life Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, commonly known as Sisi, to quell a Sinai insurgency and motivate the Israelis to conclude a statehood deal with the Palestinians.

Both items are linked in Egyptian strategic thinking. 

One year ago, Sisi told a visiting delegation from the American Jewish Committee that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute “will eliminate one of the most important reasons relied upon by terrorists to attract people to join their cause.”

Last month, the Egyptian president said his country is willing to exert all possible efforts to make a final peace deal work between Israel and the Palestinians.

Sisi made a direct appeal on Israeli TV channels pledging that, once an agreement is reached, both peoples will be able to overcome the layers of animosity currently separating them, “just as the Egyptians and Israelis have.”

While Cairo and Jerusalem now enjoy unprecedented levels of security cooperation, neither the Egyptian military nor its diplomats have ever reconciled themselves with Israel’s 2004 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. 

At the time, the army expressed fears of the consolidation of a Hamas-controlled entity on the edge of the Sinai and fretted over the possibility that an Islamist Gaza would militarize the Muslim Brotherhood.

The political echelon saw the move as a deviation from the Bush roadmap, which in part reflected the 2002 Saudi Arab Peace initiative. 

As far as Cairo is concerned, events since the withdrawal have proven these pessimistic forecasts accurate. 

Saeed Okasha, in-house Israeli affairs analyst for the quasi-governmental Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Sisi’s new initiative is connected to the rise of ISIS militancy — the radical Islamist group claimed responsibility for the October explosion of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai and is believed by many Egyptians to be the likely culprit behind the downing of the EgyptAir flight from Paris in May — and, as importantly, the emergent threats posed by Iran to the Sunni Arab states.

“The IS presence in the Sinai, the provision of weapons to the Muslim Brotherhood from Gaza and the lack of a breakthrough on Palestinian statehood are related problems for us,” Okasha said in an interview with the Journal. 

“But now we are facing [a] new reality where both the Arabs and Israelis don’t trust the Americans to coordinate a peace effort, and the Saudis have joined us in an effort find to a solution that frees us to confront Iran.”

A poll released by the by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the IDC Herzliya on the eve of its annual conference seems to demonstrate that public opinion in Egypt and the Gulf is aligned with Sisi and Saudi King Salman.  

More Saudis (41.6 percent) and Egyptians (32.1 percent) think the next U.S. president should get behind a regional agreement, rather than force direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, which garnered only 18.9 percent approval in the Saudi kingdom and 25.5 percent from Egyptians. 

Both Egypt’s and Jordan’s ambassadors to Israel participated in this year’s Herzliya conference.

“It’s time to activate the Arab Peace Initiative,” said Egypt’s ambassador, Hazem Khairat, referring to the regional framework conceived by the Saudis under the rubric of all Arab states fully recognizing Israel, in return for an independent Palestinian territory resembling something close to the 1967 borders.

“The two-state solution is the only way to end this conflict. There is not much time left, and there is no other alternative,” Khairat said.

Eran Lerman, a senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center, thinks regional realities in 2016 have generated positive changes in the Israeli-Egyptian relationship. 

“Both face the same threats to their security — Iran, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood — even if the Egyptian order of priorities is the reverse of the Israeli.”

The Al-Ahram Center’s Okasha says Egypt won’t even let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s Defense Minister deter efforts to broker a deal. 

“We think Israeli public opinion will be more convinced by an agreement backed by someone like Lieberman. If you want real peace, you have to do it with the most extreme elements in Israel,” Okasha said.

“And that is what [Anwar] Sadat achieved with Menachem Begin.” 

Shavuot: a holiday unmarked by date, without ritual, unconfined by space

The literal translation of Shavuot is the Festival of Weeks” because of the holiday’s connection with Passover. In Rabbinic Hebrew, this festival is called Atzeret because it is similar to Shemini Atzeret, which follows the festival of Sukkoth. However, unlike Shemini Atzeret, which is celebrated immediately after Sukkot, Shavuot is celebrated only seven weeks after Passover. Even so, these two holidays have one and the same meaning: summing up and emphasizing the significance of the festival that preceded them.

Passover’s meaning is simple and straightforward: it is a festival of freedom, celebrating the beginning of our national existence and focuses – especially in the context of the Exodus – on the significance of freedom. The primary, most basic meaning of freedom is the removal of shackles, the end of bondage. But even without shackles, an existence without purpose is meaningless. For even with the best of intentions, one cannot liberate a thing or a person that does not have a will of its own. One can sever the chains that tie a chair to its place, but this will not grant it freedom, because freedom means inner will and aspirations.

When they left Egypt, the Children of Israel were liberated from slavery, but still did not have a will of their own More than that, in their first weeks of desert wandering, they were not yet freed from the vicissitudes of life: they experienced hunger and thirst, and they also learned that not all of their wishes can be fulfilled. Although they walked in the desert with full Divine protection, they had only very little awareness. The People of Israel were just like an infant, aware only of its most basic feelings.

At the end of this fuzzy period of searching for meaning, of attempting to reach awareness, comes the Giving of the Torah. Indeed, Shavuot not only marks the end of this primal, childish era: it is a transition into a totally different stage. An Exodus from Egypt without the giving of the Torah would be deliverance without liberty, a purposeless shattering of fetters, an end to slavery but without freedom. The Giving of the Torah, surely the most significant event in Jewish history, endows sense and meaning not only to the Exodus but to Jewish life in general. This moment sets up the great framework, towards which the entire Jewish nation is moving.

Our Sages point out that Shavuot is the day in which the Torah in its entirety was given to us – but it is not the festival of the receiving of the Torah. Receiving the Torah comes through our individual and collective understanding of its contents, aspirations and goals. We receive the Torah when we accept it within ourselves, as part of our thinking, experiences and desires.

This is an extended process that takes not weeks, months or years, but many generations. It also does not happen simultaneously for everyone.  The Jewish people encompassing all generations – both as individuals and as a nation — is still in the process of the receiving of the Torah. This is our greatest existential challenge, and it is not an easy one. Indeed, not everyone embraces it with understanding or with serenity and joy: some approach it out of a profound ecstatic experience. Many feel the elation of finding a solution, while so many others merely plod along. But all of us are in it.

that is why Shavuot has a unique status among the three Pilgrimage Festivals. In Passover, in addition to its special rites, there are also special foods; in Sukkoth, there are many rites, as well as all the limitations stemming from living in the Sukkah. On Shavuot, however – which is the only pilgrimage festival that lasts only one day – there are no special rites, either food- or lodging-wise. This is because Shavuot is, itself, the opening to the sphere from which everything else flows and stems.

Perhaps this is why the Torah was given in a place that is not a place – an indistinct point in the desert – and at a time which is not a time – because the precise date of the Giving of the Torah is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah. In fact, the Torah does not even state anywhere that Shavuot is indeed the time of the Giving of the Torah!

This festival expresses, then, how the Torah – which is not confined or limited by time or space – is given to human beings who live within time and space. The Giving of the Torah is a sort of “sleeve” from a higher world to a lower world; and after being there for a short while, the Children of Israel are called upon to take the memory of this encounter with a higher reality, so totally different from our existence, and live it. This is no simple feat; and indeed, both as individuals and as a nation we have been tackling for millennia with this question: how can we, in the reality of our existence, attain eternal freedom and be members of a “nation of priests” that is God's “special treasure,” a nation that throughout its history is struggling to be holy?


Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz is the author of more than 60 books. He is best known for his groundbreaking commentary on the Babylonian Talmud and is working on a forthcoming commentary on the entire Bible.

Avigdor Lieberman jokes about curbing his fiery nature

In first remarks as Israel's designated defense minister, right-wing settler Avigdor Lieberman joked about his fiery reputation: “I have undergone surgery to lengthen my fuse.”

In a more serious vein, the Soviet-born 57-year-old struck a conciliatory note, emphasizing “a strong commitment, to the peace, to the final status agreement (with the Palestinians).”

After Wednesday's signing ceremony, military officers, diplomats and Palestinian leaders were left asking whether this combative figure would pursue a less confrontational line after he formally re-joins the cabinet next week.              

Lieberman, who had a modest stint in Israel's armed forces, has in the past threatened to bomb Egypt's strategic Aswan dam and to assassinate Hamas leaders. He agitated Washington with his opposition to peace talks with Palestinians.

Youssef Al-Mahmoud, a spokesman for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, said that by bringing in Lieberman, the Israeli government “is mixing extremism with craziness.”

The former foreign minister also angered the Israeli top brass, whom he will oversee, by joining protests last month against the court-martial of a soldier who shot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brushed off any “crying and whining” at his pick for the second-most powerful cabinet post, part of a deal to broaden the religious-nationalist coalition government.

Netanyahu on Sunday had underlined his own leading role in national security was not about to change. “I've been looking out for Israel's security,” he said. “I haven't done such a bad job in my years as premier, and that is how it will be now.”

But the men have had a chequered relationship and the courting of Lieberman came as a surprise as he and Netanyahu have been sharply dismissive of one another.

Lieberman went from being chief of staff to Netanyahu in his first term as premier in the 1990s, to openly feuding with him while serving as his foreign minister in the last government, to mocking him from the opposition.

Lieberman had been critical of Netanyahu’s efforts to patch up relations with Turkey after a deadly 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish–flagged ship that was protesting against Israel’s Gaza blockade and said the prime minister had lacked a clear strategy on the Iran nuclear issue.

SUPPLE AND PRAGMATIC

Some observers argue that, for all his bluster, Lieberman is a supple and pragmatic politician who will view the defense portfolio as a chance to cultivate national security credentials that, unlike the ex-generals who have filled the post, he lacks.

“Why the panic?” political commentator Yoel Marcus asked in the liberal Haaretz daily. “This is a democracy … And as a rule, important (and unimportant) decisions aren’t made by one man. Calm down … The defense minister is not omnipotent. In reality, he decides much less than most people think he does.”

An immigrant from Soviet Moldova, Lieberman served two years as an Israeli army conscript, with the rank of corporal.

Several former Israeli defense ministers have criticized Lieberman's appointment to the sensitive post.

The last “civilian” to become defense minister, ex-trade union boss Amir Peretz, managed the 2006 war with Hezbollah guerrillas that calmed the Israel-Lebanon border. He developed the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, over objections from a military more accustomed to taking the fight to enemy territory.

Now a center-left opposition lawmaker, Peretz predicted no problem with Lieberman's professionalism, but rather, with his past pronouncements about the folly of peace-making and in favor of tougher Israeli crackdowns on Palestinian violence.

Palestinian officials said that with Lieberman, who lives in a settlement in the West Bank, back in the cabinet as defense minister prospects for reviving statehood negotiations that collapsed in 2014 had grown dimmer.

The Defence Ministry runs civil affairs in the West Bank, where Palestinians live in friction with Jewish settlers.

“Without a doubt, the question of the 'command spirit' will arise, with some in the ranks wondering whether this defense minister has, effectively, revised military ethics, especially regarding open-fire regulations,” Peretz told Reuters.

“The defense minister is, in a sense, the 'prime minister of Judea and Samaria',” Peretz said, using a biblical term for the West Bank. “It is a role that requires supreme sensitivity for humanitarian needs, which can have a big impact on statecraft.”

“GO TO HELL”

Over the years, Lieberman has angered Israel's first Arab peace partner, Egypt. In 2008, he said then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could “go to hell” for never paying an official visit to Israel.

As foreign minister, Lieberman opposed Netanyahu's terms for salvaging troubled bilateral relations with Turkey and was mostly sidelined in Western capitals, which preferred to correspond directly with the premier on the delicate diplomacy.

Lieberman would be harder to circumvent as defense minister, given the depth of Israel-U.S. security ties. Those now face a big test as Netanyahu tries to coax the White House into raising U.S. defense grants to Israel, currently at $3 billion a year.

The Obama administration has publicly said it “looks forward to working” with whoever replaces Moshe Yaalon, the former Israeli military chief of staff who resigned as defense minister last week in protest at Netanyahu's cabinet reshuffle.

Privately, some U.S. officials sound less than happy about Lieberman's ascent. Not only do his past views on the Palestinians run counter to one of the administration's core policy pursuits, but he has for years worked to bring Israel closer to Russia.

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from 2009 noted “Moscow's impression that the Russian-speaking Lieberman is one of their own”. They also said Russia saw him as “more pragmatic on the peace process than his typically harsh rhetoric suggests.”

Egypt reportedly pushing for Netanyahu-Abbas summit

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi reportedly is coaxing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet face to face.

Sissi, according to Ynet News, is hoping to organize an Egypt-led peace summit in Cairo where the two leaders, who haven’t met formally since 2010, would negotiate directly. Sissi’s efforts come as France is organizing an international Israeli-Palestinian peace summit to take place in the fall.

Sissi has been advocating a fresh round of talks recently and has made contact with both sides regarding his initiative; neither has declined. He could be in a unique position to influence both leaders, according to Ynet, because of Egypt’s strong diplomatic ties to the P.A. and close security cooperation with Israel.

“There is a real opportunity for peace even if in the short term there is no real basis given the conditions in the region,” Sissi said on Egyptian television, according to Ynet.

US, Egypt discuss reviving Mideast peace talks while Netanyahu appoints hard-line minister

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi to discuss how to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, along with other shared concerns.

Meeting in Cairo Wednesday, Kerry “expressed his appreciation for [Sissi’s] recent statement of strong support for advancing Arab-Israeli peace,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

The statement did not provide details on any specific peace efforts under discussion, although on Tuesday Sissi expressed support for a French initiative to jump-start negotiations, an initiative Israel has opposed. Also not clear is whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment Wednesday of far-right politician Avigdor Liberman as foreign minister will affect Egypt’s support for promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Sissi said Tuesday that Egypt would “make every effort” toward a solution. His announcement came hours after French President Francois Hollande said a summit of representatives of 20 countries that had been scheduled for May 30 would be postponed because Kerry cannot attend.

Describing the French initiative as a “real opportunity,” Sissi called on the sides to “please, reach an agreement so a solution can be found.”

In a statement of response issued Tuesday, Netanyahu thanked Sissi and said, “Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President el-Sissi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue.”

It is not clear how Liberman’s ascent to the Foreign Ministry — part of a restructuring in the Israeli governing coalition — will affect discussions with Egypt.

Liberman, of the hard-line nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, served as foreign minister from 2009-2015.

Netanyahu had sought Liberman as a partner since after the most recent elections in March 2015. But Liberman had criticized Netanyahu harshly over what he saw as his tepid conduct of the 2014 Gaza war. As coalition negotiations ended last year, Liberman chose to sit in the Knesset opposition, claiming the new government would not abide his hawkish principles.

Netanyahu had engaged in increasingly serious talks recently with the rival Labor Party. Labor chairman Isaac Herzog, whose poll numbers have only fallen since the 2015 elections, appeared eager to join the government. He hoped to serve as foreign minister and push Israel toward renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

“Today is the day he gave up on the chance to lead a great change in our future,” Herzog said of Netanyahu in a Wednesday night news conference. “We will not give the crazy government of Liberman and [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett a day of silence. I will unite all the forces to turn their lives into a nightmare until we replace them.”

Liberman’s appointment will mean the ouster of the current defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, who had attempted to be a voice for moderation against critics to the government’s right.

Yaalon drew verbal fire from far-right activists after criticizing the soldier who killed an immobilized terrorist in Hebron in March. This month, he and Netanyahu clashed after Yaalon defended Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who in a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech compared aspects of Israeli society to trends that occurred in 1930s Germany.

The pro-settler Jewish Home party, another coalition member, cheered Yaalon’s exit, approvingly calling the imminent government “the most right-wing ever in Israel.”

“Bogie is leaving, and that’s good,” Jewish Home said in a statement Wednesday, using Yaalon’s nickname, according to Israeli media reports. “This was a year of tremendous damage to the IDF. A year of abandoning soldiers, a year of a horrible culture in the army. Bogie needs to go home, and he’s going.”