Friday, January 30, 2009

Annual Super Bowl Prediction - Using Jewish Sources

It’s not easy for me to make a prediction in this, a rare non-Patriot year. But since I’ve almost always been right (my personal favorite being Pats-Rams in 2002), I must meet the challenge.

So who will it be: Steelers or Cardinals?

I find myself scanning for clues: How about the Ten Commandments? “Thou shalt not steel…” seems to be imploring me to lean Arizona’s way. But further inquiry is required.

First - the Steelers:

The modern Hebrew word for steel is “Peled,” from the three letter root meaning “to consume in flames,” based on Nahum 2:3: “For the LORD restores the pride of Jacob, as the pride of Israel; for the emptiers have emptied them out, and marred their vine-branches. The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet; the chariots are fire of steel in the day of his preparation, and the cypress spears are made to quiver.”

Now…wait a second here. What color is that shield again? What color are those valiant men? Red….Cardinal Red.

Is the steel then fiery or is the Pittsburge secondary being burnt by the valiant Cardinals? With the skill of the Arizona receivers, that is entirely possible.

Steel, as we know it, didn’t exist in biblical times. Looking at the concordance, we find a connection to the Hebrew word for copper, nechoshet, a word familiar from the song “Jerusalem of Gold.”

Think of that song… “Yerushalyim shel zahav (Gold), v’shel nechoshet v’shel ORE.” “Ore” means light, but the English transliteration of the word points to something else. To quote from the Wikipedia: Iron ore is the raw material used to make pig iron, which is one of the main raw materials to make steel.

Pig iron? Does this correspond to the football or to Steeler Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham?

In the Bible, the word for iron is typically barzel. The “Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols” informs us that iron has long been seen as a powerful protector against demons. One explanation has it that the first plague on Egpyt, blood, impacted water in vessels of wood and vessels of stone, but not water found in vessels of iron. The four letters of that word also correspond to the first letters of the names of the Jacob’s four wives, Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah and Leah. “Rock is hard,” says the Talmud (Bava Batra 10a), “but Iron cuts it.”

So if we were playing “Rock, Paper , Scissors,” no doubt the Steelers would win – but it’s a Super Bowl.

So now let’s take a look at Arizona:

According to “Birds of the Bible,” nearly 400 different kinds of birds can be found in the region of Israel, of which about 25 are found only in Israel. Birds are mentioned widely throughout The Bible, with literal and metaphorical usage. But nary a cardinal can be found.

While there is to my knowledge no “cardinal” in the Bible, other NFL bird teams are well represented: seahawks, falcons, ravens and eagles appear together among the unkosher birds listed in Leviticus, chapter 11. The hawk is listed among unclean (unkosher) birds of prey, just below the raven. Falcons also appear there, in some translations.

Interestingly, the Cardinals supplanted the Seahawks as NFC West champions, and then had to defeat both the Falcons and Eagles in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Steelers beat the Ravens three times on their way to the Super Bowl. But the Cardinals bested more birds, so on that alone, they might be considered to be flying higher this week.

The word “cardinal” as an adjective means “fundamental,” as in the Hebrew – “Yesodi” or “Ikari.” (A “Mispar Yesodi” is a cardinal number). Nachman of Bratzlav stated, famously, “All the world is a narrow bridge; but the IKAR – the cardinal rule – is never to be afraid.”

Cardinals are fearless.

“Yesod” is also one of the divine emanations in the Kabbalistic system known as the Sefirot. It is the most masculine of these emanations, corresponding to the phallus. Given the fact that Super Sunday could well be dubbed “National Testosterone Day,” that seems to give the Cards another edge.

Given that the team is based in the Pheonix area and plays at a stadium named for the “University of Pheonix,” it is interesting to note the mythological bird known as the Pheonix is red in color. What is the symbolism of the phoenix?

The phoenix symbolizes long-life, re-birth, transformation or immortality. It can also mean to 'rise from the ashes." In Jewish folklore, it is said that the phoenix was the only animal not to join Adam in his banishment from the Garden of Eden. So it might still be found there.( If not there, then maybe on golf course in Scottsdale.

Like the Cards’ ageless quarterback and the team itself, the Pheonix is immortal. In Western legend, the phoenix, or Red Bird, rises from the ashes of its own funeral pyre to live again. What other team could look so lousy in December and yet rise from the dead a month later?

Check out the Immortal Red Bird at this British Museum site.

Speaking of red, check out this verse from Exodus 35:7: "And rams' skins tanned red, and skins of dolphins or porpoise.” Sure enough, this year the Cardinals this year “tanned” (beat) both the Rams and the Dolphins – although admittedly they lost to the 'Skins.

Finally, there is Psalm 18. In verse 34 it states: “He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.” So it looks as if the Steelers will be broken.

By whom? Verse 10: “And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.”

That bird-like imagery seems to favor Pheonix. While my head says Pittsburgh, the texts seem to be “Raising Arizona.” And the verses here indicate a final score of 34-10. As astounding as that would be, it’s no less amazing than the Cardinal’s being in this game in the first place.

To quote from that Coen Brothers movie, “And this here's the TV. Two hours a day, either educational or football, so you don't ruin your appreciation of the finer things.”

Enjoy the game.

…of course it must be stated that in no way do I condone gambling, and past performance should not be an indicator of future results…

The Shabbaton and the Texture of Jewish Life

I subscribe to a service that sends me a "Daily Halacha" a snippet of Jewish law to chew over each morning.

Just this week, I was reminded that "One should train oneself to only sleep on one's side, and it is a serious transgression for one to sleep lying on one's back or stomach. (Mishna Brura 239:1)" Also, you might be interested to learn that "When one removes one's shoes at night one should untie and remove the left shoe first. (Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Brurah 2:5 MB8 756" and "One should not sleep in one's regular clothes, and one should not place one's clothes under the pillow {as this will cause one to forget one's Torah learning}. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 71:5."

While a number of these laws are not entirely relevant to the lives of many Jews, including myself, I find it endlessly fascinating to explore the intricacy of Jewish Law. True, some of the logic found in these halachot may be questionable, but they are a clear sign of the premise of all Judaism, that God is most certainly in the details.

Last week's Shabbaton was a reminder of that. What made it so successful - and what makes ANY well-run 24 hour Shabbaton worth about 200 hours of in-class Jewish learning - is that Judaism is LIVED rather than talked ABOUT. When Judaism is LIVED, Shabbat comes to mean much more than simply attending a two hour service with kiddush. A Shabbaton includes those services, to be sure - and we made sure that our services would be truly "out-of-the-box" experiences. When else do we begin the Morning Blessings with a vigorous game of Hebrew "Simon Sez?" When else do we enable students and parents to debate with one another what exactly they would ask of God? - some of the answers were astounding. Where else would we precede Lecha Dodi on Friday night by going around and having each student give us his or her "Wow of the Week?" - When one student said that his "wow" was in making friends with his "worst enemy," that became MY "wow of the week."

But services are not the point of Shabbat. If God is in the details, than Shabbat is too. It's in the fact that nearly 50 kids got by for an entire day without texting or turning on a computer. Shabbat is the day when nothing is virtual - everything is REAL. Shabbat was being at the ping pong table or even playing pool. The pool table was getting so popular that for a while I thought there was going to be trouble in River City. But nothing was wagered - it was simply everyone having fun together. At one point I scanned the large, comfy community room of Isabella Freedman and saw clusters of people playing "Apples to Apples" (the Jewish version, of course), Uno, or simply schmoozing, reading or learning Jewish texts with our guest scholar-in-residence. God was even in the details of the enormous icicles being admired by some of the kids, or the magnificent view of the frozen pond at sunset. God was in the details of doing a few spirited Shabbat songs before Birkat ha-Mazon, and God was certainly in the detail of hearing some 6th graders read torah for the first time.

We may or may not sleep on our sides or put shoes on in the prescribed manner, but the full texture of Jewish life can only be understood if it is seen as an entirety and not a compartment. We're not Jewish simply on Tuesdays at 4 and Fridays at 6. We're Jewish all the time. Every moment of our lives should be imbued with Jewish sensitivities and informed by our rich value system.

Every detail of our lives can be a Jewish detail, even if it seems as trivial and "unreligious" as how we tie our shoes. We're not just Jewish every waking hour. We're Jewish when we sleep too.

God is in the details.

Letter from an Israeli Soldier

I received this today from Yitzhak Sokoloff of Keshet - our Israel Tour Company. This powerful letter speaks for itself.

Dear friends,

This letter from an Israeli soldier who served in Gaza just reached me. It reminded me of a very similar experience that I had in Lebanon as part of the IDF in the first Lebanese war. If only we could find a way for history to stop repeating itself..I thought that you would find it worth reading.

Shabbat Shalom,Yitzhak Sokoloff
Keshet: The Center For Educational Tourism in Israel


An Open Letter to a Citizen Of Gaza:

I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home:By: Yishai G (reserve soldier)Hello,While the world watches the ruins in Gaza, you return to your homewhich remains standing. However, I am sure that it is clear to you that someone was in your home while you were away.

I am that someone.I spent long hours imagining how you would react when you walked intoyour home. How you would feel when you understood that IDF soldiers had slept on your mattresses and used your blankets to keep warm.

I knew that it would make you angry and sad and that you would feel this violation of the most intimate areas of your life by those defined as your enemies, with stinging humiliation. I am convinced that you hate me with unbridled hatred, and you do not have even thetiniest desire to hear what I have to say. At the same time, it isimportant for me to say the following in the hope that there is eventhe minutest chance that you will hear me.

I spent many days in your home. You and your family's presence was felt in every corner. I saw your family portraits on the wall, and I thought of my family. I saw your wife's perfume bottles on thebureau, and I thought of my wife. I saw your children's toys and their English language schoolbooks. I saw your personal computer andhow you set up the modem and wireless phone next to the screen, just as I do.

I wanted you to know that despite the immense disorder you found inyour house that was created during a search for explosives and tunnels (which were indeed found in other homes), we did our best totreat your possessions with respect. When I moved the computer table, I disconnected the cables and lay them down neatly on the floor, as I would do with my own computer. I even covered the computer from dustwith a piece of cloth. I tried to put back the clothes that fell whenwe moved the closet although not the same as you would have done, but at least in such a way that nothing would get lost.

I know that the devastation, the bullet holes in your walls and thedestruction of those homes near you place my descriptions in aridiculous light. Still, I need you to understand me, us, and hopethat you will channel your anger and criticism to the right places.I decided to write you this letter specifically because I stayed in your home.

I can surmise that you are intelligent and educated and there arethose in your household that are university students. Your children learn English, and you are connected to the Internet. You are notignorant; you know what is going on around you.

Therefore, I am sure you know that Qassam rockets were launched from your neighborhood into Israeli towns and cities.

How could you see these weekly launches and not think that one day we would say "enough"?! Did you ever consider that it is perhaps wrong to launch rockets at innocent civilians trying to lead a normal life, much like you? How long did you think we would sit back without reacting? I can hear you saying "it's not me, it's Hamas."

My intuition tells me you are not their most avid supporter. If you look closely at the sad reality in which your people live, and you do not try to deceive yourself or make excuses about "occupation," you must certainly reach the conclusion that the Hamas is your real enemy.

The reality is so simple, even a seven year old can understand: Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, removing military bases and itscitizens from Gush Katif. Nonetheless, we continued to provide youwith electricity, water, and goods (and this I know very well asduring my reserve duty I guarded the border crossings more than once,and witnessed hundreds of trucks full of goods entering a blockade-free Gaza every day).

Despite all this, for reasons that cannot be understood and with alack of any rational logic, Hamas launched missiles on Israeli towns.For three years we clenched our teeth and restrained ourselves. In the end, we could not take it anymore and entered the Gaza strip,into your neighborhood, in order to remove those who want to kill us. A reality that is painful but very easy to explain.

As soon as you agree with me that Hamas is your enemy and because ofthem, your people are miserable, you will also understand that thechange must come from within. I am acutely aware of the fact thatwhat I say is easier to write than to do, but I do not see any otherway. You, who are connected to the world and concerned about your children's education, must lead, together with your friends, a civiluprising against Hamas.

I swear to you, that if the citizens of Gaza were busy paving roads,building schools, opening factories and cultural institutions insteadof dwelling in self pity, arms smuggling and nurturing a hatred toyour Israeli neighbors, your homes would not be in ruins right now.If your leaders were not corrupt and motivated by hatred, your homewould not have been harmed. If someone would have stood up and shouted that there is no point in launching missiles on innocent civilians, I would not have to stand in your kitchen as a soldier.

You don't have money, you tell me? You have more than you can imagine.Even before Hamas took control of Gaza, during the time of Yasser Arafat, millions if not billions of dollars donated by the world community to the Palestinians was used for purchasing arms or takendirectly to your leaders bank accounts. Gulf States, the emirates -your brothers, your flesh and blood, are some of the richest nationsin the world. If there was even a small feeling of solidarity between Arab nations, if these nations had but the smallest interest in reconstructing the Palestinian people - your situation would be very different.

You must be familiar with Singapore. The land mass there is not muchlarger than the Gaza strip and it is considered to be the second most populated country in the world. Yet, Singapore is a successful, prospering, and well managed country. Why not the same for you? My friend, I would like to call you by name, but I will not do sopublicly. I want you to know that I am 100% at peace with what mycountry did, what my army did, and what I did. However, I feel your pain. I am sorry for the destruction you are finding in yourneighborhood at this moment.

On a personal level, I did what I couldto minimize the damage to your home as much as possible. In my opinion, we have a lot more in common than you might imagine. I am a civilian, not a soldier, and in my private life I have nothingto do with the military. However, I have an obligation to leave my home, put on a uniform, and protect my family every time we are attacked. I have no desire to be in your home wearing a uniform again and I would be more than happy to sit with you as a guest on yourbeautiful balcony, drinking sweet tea seasoned with the sage growing in your garden. The only person who could make that dream a reality is you.

Take responsibility for yourself, your family, your people, and start to take control of your destiny. How? I do not know. Maybe there is something to be learned from the Jewish people who rose up from themost destructive human tragedy of the 20th century, and instead of sinking into self-pity, built a flourishing and prospering country.It is possible, and it is in your hands. I am ready to be there toprovide a shoulder of support and help to you.

But only you can move the wheels of history."

Regards,Yishai, (Reserve Soldier)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shabbaton 2009

We just returned from an extraordinary Shabbaton at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center. About 70 of us were there, including most of our 5th, 6th and 7th graders, along with parents, teen volunteers, teachers and other staff. Special thanks to Darice Bailer, who coordinated the whole thing, with lots of help from our Board of Ed and Al Treidel; to Rabbi Ed Harwitz, our special guest, who entertained and enlightened all ages, and to all who attended for making this a Shabbat to remember. Among the many highlights was the sight of several 6th graders reading Torah for the first time, having just learned how in their trope class. We played lots of games, sang, prayed (in totally out-of-the-box ways), relaxed, talked, ate, ate and, well, ate. I heard a rumor that some people may have slept too. The facilities were lovely and the snow covered view was peaceful pristine. At the end of Shabbat, Dan Young took some photos of the group - a sampling is below. More will be uploaded to our TBE website in the near future.

Click on the photos to enlarge. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Madoff, Jews and Judaism

With Gaza and the Inauguration now in the rear view mirror, guess what story is still simmering - no, boiling - its way back to the surface?

The question of how Jews should respond to Bernard Madoff has been the subject of several mainstream media articles this past week. Today, Reuters chimed in: US Jews struggle to come to grips with Madoff, which discusses my proposal for excommunication. Prior articles this past week include the New York Times' Is Madoff Not So Good for the Jews? Discuss, the New Yorker's Reckoning: Thief or Crook?: The Talk of the Town: The New Yorker, Bloomberg's recent article. and last but most provacatively, Newsweek's ‘Uncle Bernie’ And the Jews.

Also of note is last week's op-ed in the Jewish Week, Get Angry Over Madoff Scandal and Nextbook's Casting the First Stones. The Forward has an interesting op-ed looking at the case for bringing Madoff before a Jewish court, a Bet Din, at

And here is an updated list of Madoff's victims and how much they lost.

Everyone's talking about it. Now we need to see something done about it. I doubt I'm the only one who is tired of seeing the headline, "Jews Ruminate."

For those who wish to see more background on why I've been calling for a united and most serious response from the Jewish community, see my Madoff postings.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Dream Fulfulled

We have made such a long journey from the moment of Dr. King’s famous speech until the moment when our new president takes the oath at noon tomorrow. And yet. And yet. The journey has not been long at all.

From one end of the national mall to the other – it just takes ten minutes to drive – if you are lucky with the lights. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol steps the view is almost unobstructed. You can see from end to end.

But this journey has taken a generation – over 40 years. ‘Arbaim shanah akut bdor…’ says Psalm 70. For 40 years we wrangled in the wilderness.
A generation of loathing and fear. How often we rebelled.

How often we did provoke God – and how often did we scorn one another. How often did we lose hope and because of that, we lost our way.
For 40 years.
Through that horrible night in Memphis, through the pain in our inner cities, Detroit, Los Angeles;
Through the racism of the busing crisis in Boston;
Through Farrakhan and Kahane;
Through OJ and Rodney King.
There have been 40 years of wandering since we first dared to hope, from the moment when Martin Luther King began this journey.

Martin Luther King said back then about hope:


And fight for it we did.
And fight for it we do.
Psalm 27 states: “Yea we have had faith that we would see God’s goodness in the land of the living.” “KAVEY EL ADONAI, HAZAK V’YAMATZ LIBECHA, V’KAVEY EL ANDONAI”

And now, we HAVE seen God’s goodness, in the land of the living!

Have HOPE in the Lord. Be strong, take courage – and hope in the Lord.

Hope has been a primary theme of our president elect. In 2004 at the Democratic convention, he defined it in a manner similar to Dr. King:

“I’m not talking about blind optimism here, “ he said, “the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores…. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too.”

Hope, in short, is something born of our shared stories – stories that have been for the most part, stories of degradation.

Of slavery and exile.

Of homelessness and hopelessness.

Of the Amistad and the Warsaw Ghetto.

Of the mighty rivers of Babylon and the Mississippi.

Born of hate and innocent blood – that is where our hope comes from.

It comes from the depths.

How could we continue to hope during those dark, dark days?
How can we keep hope alive in our own?

We have seen first-hand that hope can happen amidst the floodwaters and the ashes, the shattered promises and broken levees; because it comes from a simple act of turning.

The distance from the Lincoln memorial to the Capitol steps is very short. But in order to get from one to the other – you have to turn around. For Jews, the art of repentance is as simple as that act of reorientation, of turning around, of facing the other way – of facing our neighbor.

The dream in our day is that close to fulfillment - A simple matter of turning around.
It took all these years, but tomorrow at noon, every child born in this country will be able to say that he or she has a chance to become President.

For the first time, there truly will be no child left behind!

It will be a moment of humility and pride for all of us, for every child – and every adult.

A moment of hope enduring and a promise fulfilled.

Our new hope is born of freedom, as symbolized by the tall structure marking the halfway point between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol – the monument to the man who led our ragtag troops into that epic battle for freedom.

We can say it as of noon tomorrow – we’ve gone half way on our journey – we are now free!

But the dream has not yet been completely fulfilled.

There is still injustice in our land.

There is still poverty and segregation, fear and depravation.

There is still bigotry in this land.

And so, as we turn our attention from today to tomorrow, from the Lincoln memorial where Dr. King spoke, to the steps of the capitol where Barack Hussein Obama’s beautiful name will be called to the service our country as its President, we must, each of us, recommit ourselves to the dream and to service.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “To be is to stand for.”

We all must stand up to fear and never fear to take a stand!

We all must join hands to defy despair.

We’ve come so far – yet we’ve so far to go.

But there is a buoyancy to our steps, a purposefulness to our gait, and determination in our eyes.
We HAVE overcome!

We HAVE overcome!

We HAVE overcome!

And we shall overcome – we shall overcome - even more – some day…beginning at noon... tomorrow.

Thoughts on MLK Day

On this historic day before the Inauguration, some reflections from Dr. King and Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi who marched with King, and whose yahrzeit fell this past Friday:

- Martin Luther King, Jr. "I Have a Dream" speech

"What is the meaning of integration? To integrate means to unite, to form a whole. Integration means (unity), mutual respect and concern. True unity is not attained by going to the race track together. True unity is not attained by the reverence we share, by the commitments we cherish, by going through moments of insight together, It will not be attained by riding on the same bus, by the mere placing of children together in the same room. It will be attained by sharing moments of joy, cultural values, insights, commitments."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, Feb. 25, 1964

"Now let us begin. Let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity, with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."
- Martin Luther King Jr. "The Strength to Love"

"Faith comes over us like a force urging us for action.... It's power is revealed when man is able to exercise defiance in the face of adversity.

We cannot stem the tempest of evil by taking refuge in temples, by fervently adoring the restrained omnipotence of God. Our task is not only to enjoy; to change, not only to accept; to augment, not only to discover the glory of God. And life is refulgent with possibilities of creating the good."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, "To Be a Jew: What Is It?"

"Faith is taking the first step when you don't see the whole staircase."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"To be is to stand for."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel

Israel and Gaza: Required Reading for January 19

With the crisis (hopefully) abating, I've disabled the Jerusalem Online news report that has been appearing on top of this blog. You can now access it directly at

While it is very difficult to measure victory in the Middle East, where, as the old saying goes, "to the victim belongs the spoils," Israel seems to have acheived its primary goals in this go-round, and all in time to be out of Gaza before Barack Obama takes the oath of office tomorrow. Yossi Klein Halevi. The general feeling is that the Israeli public mood will determine for the world whether Israel has "won" or "lost" this round, and that mood is vastly comlicated by the election campaign that has suddenly swung into full gear. The right wing, which has gained ground in the polls, will claim that not all those goals were acheived. But the soldiers leaving Gaza today are in a far better mood than they were when leaving Lebanon two years ago.

But the best news coming out of Israel yesterday may have been the announcement that an enormous natural gas field has been discovered just off the Israeli coast, holding enough gas, it seems, to enable Israel to become an energy exporter.

To see an update of "Gaza by the numbers" go to the Israel Project website and scroll down.

With the dust now settling, while we examine the rubble that was much of institutional Gaza, we also need to re-explore must of the rabble that was supposed to be objective reporting. A look at the website of CAMERA,, helps us to do that. Much attention, for example, has been given to Bill Moyers' Rants Against Israel — And Jews, along with NPR Gaza Coverage. You might want to take a look at these before making your annual pledge to public TV and radio. CAMERA also has its own Myths and Facts about the Fighting in Gaza.

Here is an interesting and introspective Reuters commentary aiming to explain how hard it is to achieve objectivity and fairness in the fog of war. At least this commentator tried to explain the alleged bias, which other news outlets refuse to acknowledge.

For further analysis of the military situation as it now stands, see:

ANALYSIS / Israel preparing for Iran bid to restock Hamas rockets Ha'aretz

Analysis: The operation is over but the war continues Jerusalem Post

Analysis: Sharm e-Sheikh summit gives needed boost to Egypt and ...Jerusalem Post

ence enabled calm'
Barak visits injured soldiers, says 'our troops dealt Hamas a blow it's never known before' (YNet)

'Back Abbas in Gaza crisis' Arab League leaders meeting at Kuwait economic summit voice opinions on recent Israel-Hamas conflict. UN chief Ban says Arab unity is crucial, Egypt's Mubarak questions efficiency of violent struggle against Israel (YNet)

In his commentary, Marc Shulman, at, is cautiously optimistic: "When the ceasefire was announced yesterday, Israeli Minister of Defense Barak stated that this will not be the last war. Nobody can doubt the truth of that statement, but without jumping to any conclusion too quickly, it is possible that something may have changed fundamentally in the world of Palestinian resistance. This is the first time since 1967 that Israel has clearly won a one sided victory at a very low cost."

And finally, a prayer for peace from Ritualwell:

Our Divine Guardian, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the beginning of our redemption. Shield it beneath the wings of Your steadfast love and spread over it the shelter of Your peace. May a spark of Your spirit inspire the actions of its President, Prime Minister, officials, judges and advisors that they may follow the path of righteousness, liberty and freedom. Strengthen the hands of those who build and protect our Holy Land and grant them salvation and life. Grant peace to this land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.

Be near to all the people of Israel throughout the lands of their dispersion. Plant within their hearts the love of Zion, and may those of our people are so inspired come to Jerusalem, Your city, which bears Your name. Spread Your spirit over all the inhabitants of our land. Uproot hatred, jealousy and evil; plant in our heart love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. And speedily fulfill the version of Your prophet: Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn more any more.

Lo yisa goi el goi cherev, vi-lo yilmidu od milchamah.

And let us say: Amen

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Israel and Gaza: Required Reading for January 18

Some late headlines:

Olmert: Israel will pull all Gaza troops as soon as possible

A ceasefire went into effect today. In a powerful Speech by PM Olmert Announcing Ceasefire, Jan. 17: Olmert said:

For weeks I have been watching the people of Israel day and night as we make the unprecedented effort to fight for and realize our right of self-defense. I saw the brave soldiers, our dear and beloved sons; I saw their commanders and the spirit which buoyed them; I saw the residents of the South, their fierce sprit; and the leadership of the mayors who took care to provide for the needs of their residents; I also saw the actions of the Home Front Command, which quietly and efficiently coordinated the assistance campaign for the southern region; and I heard the bereaved families.

Dear families, the things you said, the pain you expressed, the fierce spirit you demonstrated - these are the foundation for the people of Israel’s strength. On behalf of the entire nation, on behalf of the Government of Israel, I share your profound pain and thank you for the encouragement, the strength and the inspiration your strong stance has granted the entire nation.

I also wish to say something to the people of Gaza: even before the military operation began, and during it, I appealed to you. We do not hate you; we did not want and do not want to harm you. We wanted to defend our children, their parents, their families. We feel the pain of every Palestinian child and family member who fell victim to the cruel reality created by Hamas which transformed you into victims.

Your suffering is terrible. Your cries of pain touch each of our hearts. On behalf of the Government of Israel, I wish to convey my regret for the harming of uninvolved civilians, for the pain we caused them, for the suffering they and their families suffered as a result of the intolerable situation created by Hamas.

The understandings we reached with Egypt, the international backing of the United States and the European countries - all these do not ensure that the firing by Hamas will stop. If it completely stops - the IDF will consider withdrawing from Gaza at a time which it deems right. If not, the IDF will continue to act in defense of our residents.

This is the time to convey our appreciation and gratitude, first and foremost to you, Mr. Minister of Defense, for your work, for the tremendous effort you made, for your skill, professionalism and the understanding you demonstrated throughout he operation - thank you very much. I wish to thank the soldiers of the IDF, their commanders, the Head of the Southern Command Yoav Galant, and the Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi; to the Israel Security Agency, its fighters and its head, Yuval Diskin; to the Mossad and its hidden fighters, headed by Meir Dagan; to the Israel Police and the emergency services, Magan David Adom and the Fire Department.

Blessed is the nation with such an army and such security and rescue services.
I wish to express my hope that tonight the first step towards a different reality, one of security and quiet for the residents of Israel, will be taken. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the people of Israel, its fighters and their commanders for the fierceness of spirit and the social solidarity they demonstrated over these past weeks.

This is the secret of our strength - it is the foundation for our power and it is the hope of our future.

An excellent source of information is - which disseminates information and sources for journalists seeking an unofficial Israeli perspective on the news. You can also find information there for letters to the editor or to elected officials.

Recent selections there include: U.S., Israel Sign Memorandum of Understanding on Ceasefire

Sen. Clinton Deplores Indoctrination of Palestinian Children and Hamas’ Use of Children as Human Shields

Iran-backed Hamas Fires at Israeli Troops from Civilian-Filled UNRWA Compound

Friday, January 16, 2009

Israel and Gaza: Required Reading for January 16

As we appraoch MLK Weekend and a most historic Inauguration Day, we reflect on the perilous world we live in and how deeply we as Jews desire to forge a world where peace prevails. It appears that, despite the devastation that is a necessary part of war, Israel may have taken steps over the past few weeks that will lead to this being a more peaceful planet. Carrying the torch for those who respect human life and reject extremist views, the soldiers of Tzahal have displayed remarkable courage. In the fog of war, mistakes are made, yet the Israelis have continued to hold themselves to the highest possible standards of morality, higher even than the rest of the world holds them to - including the hypocritical, two-faced and morally blind members of the international community and media who condemn them.

In his daily update last night, Marc Shulman wrote:

Psychologically, the events of the last few days seem to have broken Hamas. When the war first began, Izadim el Qassam (Hamas' military wing) said it would defend the border. Then it said it would defend the built up areas. When they failed to do that, they claimed they would defend Gaza City. Now the IDF has penetrated to wherever it wants to go in Gaza and it is clear to everyone that Hamas' claim of having a significant military force is worthless. This is probably the ultimate success of the mission.

I concur with that analysis. Israel has achieved the clear military victory it needed, despite the fact that rockets still land on Israeli towns. Now, with the war having been won, it is time to win the peace. If negotiations yield anything less than an iron clad assurance that Hamas will not be able to rearm, Israel should and will resist. Too much blood has beens spilled to accept half a loaf on that issue. Israelis in the south have lived in fear for too long. And if Hamas continues to be defiant, that only gives the Israelis more time to do more damage to Hamas' ability to harm others (including their own people). As David Horovitz wrote in today's Jerusalem Post, Israel's deference to Egyptian sensitivities enabled Hamas to build up its military strength. If the diplomats fail again, the next confrontation will be far worse.

Israelis above all do desire peace. And so to illustrate that point, and to usher in this historic week in the spirit of MLK, I offer a couple of YouTube clips with contemporary versions of that quintessentially Jewish prayer, "Oseh Shalom," "May the One who brings peace to the heavens bring peace to us ansd to all of Israel, and all the world - Amen." These links offer the image of children - and in the second one, a popular ad this past year in Israel for a cell phone company, expresses the eternal yearning of all Jews, secular, religious, young and old. Hamas teaches its children to hate and fight. Israeli kids dream of living in peace and harmony with their neighbors.

Oseh Shalom:

1) (thanks to Janice Rosenstock for suggesting this one)


- Here is the audio of the song in its complete form: audio of the song in its complete form
- and here is the story of the creation of this commercial: the story of the creation of this commercial

Even for those who don't speak Hebrew, the energy of Israel's secular youth cunture comes through - and keep in mind that what they are singing is the JEWISH PRAYER FOR PEACE. Ancient lyrics, but a new, new song. A song about a hope that never ends.

And isn't this weekend, after all, about the audacity of hope?

Shabbat Shalom

Today's required reading: (See also

A.B. Yehoshua / An open letter to Gideon Levy

Today's Myths and Facts: #67: Iran’s Interest in Gaza War

From the New Israel Fund:
Jewish and Arab Neighbors Hold Hands for Peace
Last Saturday 300 Jews and Arabs from the Wadi Ara region of Israel demonstrated against the harming of innocent civilians in Gaza and the surrounding Israeli region. The rally was organized by NIF grantee Awareness for You, which runs empowerment courses for Arab women in the village of Kfar Kara. MORE>

Jewish Goalkeeper Defends Arab Mayor
In an effort to rekindle the spirit of coexistence created through Israeli soccer, Meir Cohen, the Jewish captain of the Arab-owned Bnei Sakhnin team, has defended the city's mayor Mazan Ghanem. Ghanem transformed Bnei Sakhnin into a leading Israeli soccer club and has been an ally of NIF in the struggle against racism in the stadium. MORE>

Critical Currents: War, Human Rights and Democracy
The Jerusalem Post

More News:

The Dahiya Doctrine: Applying Disproportionate Force - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff- The head of Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, spoke a few months before the war of the "Dahiya Doctrine." The destruction in Gaza is reminiscent of what the air force did to Beirut's Shi'ite Dahiya quarter in 2006. Israel has made it clear that it is capable of inflicting enormous damage if provoked in such a way that it feels compelled to respond. The Israeli operation in Gaza was completely disproportional. Al-Jazeera faithfully broadcasts all the announcements issued by various unknown Palestinian factions about their alleged successes in the Gaza fighting. The running captions at the bottom of the screen report non-stop on wholly fictitious events. The Popular Resistance Committees announce they have destroyed a Merkava tank; there are numerous false reports about IDF soldiers being killed. Hamas propaganda films immortalizing a strike on Israeli soldiers are broadcast over and over again. The viewer can't help but conclude that, at any moment, Hamas' forces are about to reach Gaza's northernmost point and that the IDF is fighting a desperate battle to push them back. When Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh eventually emerges from his bunker, he will proclaim his organization the victor - and plenty of people in the West Bank will be ready to believe it. Haniyeh will have a harder time convincing Gazans. One Gazan journalist, noting Hamas claims of delivering surprises to Israel, said this week: "Hamas' only surprise were the more than 1,000 dead we suffered." (Ha'aretz)

Israel Closing In on Hamas HQ in Gaza City - Amos Harel and Avi IssacharoffIsraeli military pressure has destroyed most of the Palestinian defenses in the heart of Gaza City.

Hamas: We will not accept Israel cease-fire demands

Rift Apparent in Hamas on Cease-Fire - Salah Nasrawi and Sally Buzbee

Olmert: UN Compound Shelled in Response to Hamas Fire - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday that Israeli troops had shelled a UN compound in Gaza in response to fire coming from the building. "The Israeli forces were attacked from there and their response was severe," Olmert's office quoted him as telling Ban. "We do not want such incidents to take place and I am sorry for it. I don't know if you know, but Hamas fired from the UNRWA site." (AFP)

Obama's UN Ambassador Nominee: UN "Unfairly Condemns Israel" - President-elect Barack Obama's choice for U.S. envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, noted at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday that many try to use the UN "willfully and unfairly to condemn our ally Israel." Rice served in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for Africa. (AP)

Israelis Overwhelmingly Back Gaza War - Shashank BengaliIsraelis aren't blind to civilian deaths or to mass suffering in Gaza. However, Israelis support the war against Hamas by more than four to one. If you lived here, many say, you would too. Polls show that Jewish Israelis see the war as necessary and justified, despite the deaths in Gaza and massive destruction of Palestinian homes and property. The public attitude here is that there's no peaceful way to deal with a foe such as Hamas, which doesn't recognize Israel's existence and whose fighters have fired thousands of rockets into Israeli towns over the past eight years.

Aerial Evacuation Time of IDF Wounded: 45 Minutes - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post) The IDF has reduced the aerial evacuation time of wounded soldiers from Gaza to an average of 45 minutes, Col. (res.) Nof Erez, head of aerial evacuations in the Gaza Division, said Thursday.

U.S. Sees Gaza Rebuilding as Opportunity for Abbas

Fatah Cracks Down on Hamas in West Bank

Hamas in Tactical Rethink - Abraham Rabinovich- The battle in Gaza is the first time Hamas has engaged the Israel Defense Forces in large-scale combat as an organized military force. Hamas hoped to humble the IDF by employing unconventional, quasi-guerilla tactics in densely built-up areas a conventional army would have difficulty dealing with. In ten days of ground combat, however, Hamas offered only sporadic resistance, melting away before the Israeli advance while suffering heavy casualties and inflicting few.

Hard Lesson for Hamas - Editorial (Globe and Mail - Toronto)

On Proportionality - Michael Walzer (New Republic) - Before the six months of cease-fire (when the fire never ceased), Hamas had rockets that could only hit nearby small towns in Israel. By the end of the six months, they had far more advanced rockets that can hit cities 30 or 40 kilometers away. Another six months of the same kind of cease-fire, which is what many nations at the UN demanded, and Hamas would have rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv. And this is an organization explicitly committed to the destruction of Israel. How many civilian casualties are "not disproportionate to" the value of avoiding the rocketing of Tel Aviv?

Hamas, Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda: 21st Century Nazis - Samuel Rodriguez (Washington Post) - Hamas, Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda are not political extensions of an ethno-ideology contextualized within the framework of a religious narrative. These groups represent nothing less than an unbridled commitment to murder, destruction and terrorism. Accordingly, the prophets and ministers of this hybrid religious/political cult preach from the canon of fear and chaos, vociferously advocating the message of religious totalitarianism. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Perceptions of Victory - Yossi Klein Halevi- When the fighting in Gaza ends, and Ismail Haniyeh emerges from his bunker beneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and proclaims victory amid the ruins, how credible will that boast be among Palestinians and among Arabs generally? In the Middle East it is not enough to objectively lose or win a war; perception often overtakes and determines reality. A crucial factor is what Israelis themselves believe and communicate. If the Israeli public remains convinced that the IDF has restored its credibility, that the military command is trustworthy and its soldiers are fighting more effectively and with greater motivation that they have in decades, then Haniyeh's inevitable declaration of victory will appear less credible in the Arab world. (Shalem Center)

Giving Voice to Anti-Semitism - Frank Furedi- I have always criticized the tendency of some commentators to dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. However, in recent years, especially since the eruption of the latest conflict in Gaza, anti-Israeli sentiments often mutate into anti-Jewish ones. Recent events indicate that in Europe the traditional distinction between anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish feelings has become confused and blurred. The most worrying development in Europe is not the visible signs of radical Muslim and far-right vitriol directed at Jews but the new culture of accommodation. What has emerged is a slightly embarrassed "see nothing, hear nothing" attitude that shows far too much understanding towards manifestations of anti-Semitism. Sometimes even politically correct adherents of diversity and anti-racism manage to switch off when confronted with an anti-Jewish comment. The writer is a professor of sociology at the University of Kent in England. (The Australian)

Do Ordinary Iranians Understand the Israel/Hamas Conflict Better than the Experts? - Clifford D. May- Jeffrey Gedmin is president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, whose Iranian service, Radio Farda, has been receiving messages from its Iranian listeners regarding the war in Gaza. Here's a sampling (translated from Farsi): "The clerical regime is lying. It was not Israel who started this war." "Any other country [apart from Israel] would have done the same a long time ago." "Hamas should be destroyed. This cowardly group is taking cover in hospitals and residential areas. The people of Gaza should help Israel." "As long as [Iran's rulers] are helping Lebanon and Palestine, we're not going to have a decent living." "In my opinion, it would be better if our leaders, together with their supporters, would relocate to Palestine....This way we would have peace and quiet in Iran and our economic situation would improve." The writer is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (National Review)

Save Gaza by Destroying the Heart of Terror - Natan Sharansky (Bloomberg)

Israel Is Communicating with Gaza - Safa Joudeh (TIME) Israel has infiltrated local Gaza news channels and radio broadcasts. While watching the news, we see the screen go black, and a message comes up for a few moments, saying something along the lines of, "You will witness our wrath." We turn off the television and turn on the radio, only to hear another message from the Israeli military. In addition, almost all the residents of Gaza have been receiving recorded messages from the IDF over the phone. Then there are the thousands of leaflets Israel has been dropping from the sky.

Reporter's Notebook: An emotional disconnect By HAVIV RETTIG GUR (JPost) Responsibility for suffering in Gaza rests solely on Hamas, Israelis say.

Israel Info Center

Gaza War Info Links

Myths & Facts -

Best Daily News Digest - Daily Alert:

Call the US State Department to support Israel at their Israeli-Palestine phone line: 202-647-3672

Media Monitoring: Be vigilant in responding to anti-Israel news stories, blog postings, op-eds, letters to the editor on campus media. Incorrect information or information presented without context could be challenged with letters-to-the-editor. See here for a model Op-Ed.

Contact your Member of Congress: You can reach out to your Member of Congress, and urge Members who have not done so to make a statement of support for Israel's right to defend itself. Here's a template letter by the UJC/JCPA Israel Advocacy Initiative.

Make your voice heard on: Facebook , Twitter , blogs, etc. You can utilize these UJC/JCPA talking points.

Post your thoughts on: President-Elect Obama's website.

Support the IDF during this difficult time and help the FIDF in their efforts to keep up with demands from the ground for care packages, hygiene kits, enlistment kits, etc. You can earmark your donation to Operation Cast Lead at

Quick Facts on Humanitarian Aid :

Kerem Shalom cargo crossing is scheduled to open for the transfer of humanitarian commodities. 80 truck loads of medical supplies, medication, and food commodities including donations from Greece, Jordan and Egypt are expected to cross into Gaza.

The fuel depot at Nahal Oz is scheduled to convey some 200,000 liters of fuel both for the power station and other humanitarian needs. The depot was closed for the last week due to security concerns that impeded the ability to operate the crossing.

At the request of various embassies, an evacuation of some 200 dual nationals is also planned to take place. Arrangements have been made for dual nationals to leave Gaza to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge.

NEW Media Resources:

Israel Trauma Coalition, supported by the UJA Federation of New York, on-the-ground update
Quotes from Arab Leaders Supporting Israel

Behind the Headlines

Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center: Hamas's Military Force in the Gaza Strip

Operation Cast Lead Power Point Update

Quick Facts on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Israel (with JCRC Exec. Vice President Michael Miller)
Video: Eyewitness News , CBS , and NBC
Articles: New York Times and the New York Daily News

A rare video interview with former President of the Islamic Youth Movement: Fox News December 4, 2008, Complete Video Interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef
Escape from Hamas - Part 1
Escape from Hamas - Part 2
Escape from Hamas - Part 3 - "Hamas torture and kill their own people"
Escape from Hamas - Part 4
Escape from Hamas - Part 5
Escape from Hamas - Part 6

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Israel and Gaza: Required Reading for January 14

Here are today's "Required Reading" selections. We seem to be headed toward a very complicated end game, with some key decisions ahead for the Israeli leadership, which seems divided on the short term goals. Stay tuned....


Myths and Facts Online
“The UN’s human rights reporter is an objective source on conditions in Gaza.”
“Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are a legitimate tool to resist the occupation.”
“Israel withdrew from Gaza and imposed a blockade to intentionally create a humanitarian crisis.”

Israel is well within its rights- Alan Dershowitz (Jpost)Under int'l law, it has the right to declare all-out war against Hamas.

Video: Anti-Aircraft Gun and Rockets in Gaza Mosque (Israel Defense Forces)

An unsung hero rescuing lives at the Gaza-Israel checkpoint

Hamas has agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza based on Egypt's proposal, Arab sources told Ynet Wednesday....Full story

International Red Cross: Israel's Use of White Phosphorus Not Illegal - Bradley S. Klapper- The International Red Cross said Tuesday that Israel has fired white phosphorus shells in its offensive in Gaza, but has no evidence to suggest the incendiary agent is being used improperly or illegally. In response to accusations by human rights organizations, Peter Herby, head of the ICRC mines-arms unit, said: "It's not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it's being used in any other way." Herby said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is legitimate under international law. (AP)

ANALYSIS / Hezbollah seeking to change the rules of the game
Group wants to create situation in which it can freely fire rockets into Israel without sparking all-out war.

Harel & Issacharoff: Is Hamas waiting on Obama for Gaza truce?

'No ceasefire without Shalit'
Hundreds of teenagers rally in Tel Aviv, demand soldier's release be made part of any truce deal

American Public Backs Israel Firmly in War with Hamas - William Douglas (McClatchy) The American people are squarely behind Israel and overwhelmingly think that using force against Hamas is appropriate, according to a new McClatchy/Ipsos poll. 44% of Americans support Israel's use of force, while only 18% considered Hamas' use of force appropriate. 57% think that Hamas is using excessive force, while only 36% said Israel was. When it comes to who's to blame for the latest Middle East crisis, 44% said Hamas, 14% said Israel. When asked whether the U.S. should favor a Palestinian state, 45% said it shouldn't, 31% said it should. Americans aren't sure that President-elect Obama will be able to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 51% said they weren't confident that he could, 32% said they were somewhat c onfident and 10% very confident.

48 Hours after Wedding, IDF Soldier Critically Wounded in Gaza - Nadav Shragai, Dana Weiler-Polak, and Nir Hasson -Two weeks ago, 2nd Lt. Aharon Karov got leave from his paratroop unit so he could attend his own wedding. Less than 48 hours after marrying Tzviya Mordechai, he was called back to his unit, and on Monday night he was critically wounded in an explosion in a booby-trapped house in northern Gaza. (Ha'aretz)

When the Gaza Dust Settles - Robert Satloff- Once the immediate crisis comes to an end, the Obama-Clinton team will face a choice in how to fulfill the new president's commitment to invest heavily and early in the Arab-Israeli peace process. On the Israeli-Palestinian track, there are two principal schools of thought, reflected in two sets of studies produced by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a joint effort by the Council on Foreign Relations/Brookings Institution. The Washington Institute studies call for a combined top-down/bottom-up approach toward strengthening the Palestinian Authority and enhancing prospects for Israeli-PA negotiations; the relevant chapter in the CFR/Brookings study calls for findings ways the U.S. can engage Hamas. It is important to recognize that these are "either/or" options. It is not possible to engage Hamas and build up the PA a t the same time. Engaging Hamas would undermine whatever popular support remains for the Mahmoud Abbas-Salam Fayad government, bring an abrupt end to the Dayton (U.S. security coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton) effort to "train and equip" PA security forces, compel Egypt and Jordan to change course in terms of their own approach toward the PA, and buoy radical actors from Gaza to Beirut to Tehran. Given both personnel choices and strategic imperatives, it is unlikely that the Obama-Clinton team will choose to engage Hamas. The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

To Deter or to Defeat Hamas - Moshe Arens - It does not seem likely that a terrorist organization could be deterred from pursuing its aims. Terrorist organizations do not generally own substantial assets that are vulnerable to attack, and striking them seems to increase their support from their fanatical fans. Their leaders, if killed, are quickly replaced by others. Al-Qaeda cannot be deterred; it has to be defeated. Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, cannot be deterred. It attaches no value to life, whether Muslim or Jewish. Israel is concerned over the loss of life in Gaza during the current round of fighting, but Hamas is not. If a cease-fire is established before Hamas' rocket capability has been eliminated, the group will be seen as the victor. If rockets cease falling, it will be clear who won this conflict. The writer served as Israel's M inister of Defense three times. (Ha'aretz)

The Gaza-Egypt Smuggling Tunnels Must Be Closed - Dore Gold (Wall Street Journal)
When Israelis look back on what caused the current conflict in Gaza, they point to their government's decision in September 2005 to leave the narrow "Philadelphi Route" that runs along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. More than Israel's disengagement from the Strip as a whole, the abandonment of this strategic area made full-scale war inevitable.
Anticipating the end of the Gaza war, there is already talk that the peace process can simply be picked up where it was left off and pursued with new determination. But the crisis over the Philadelphi Route has taught Israel a bitter lesson about relinquishing critical territory: It was a cardinal error to leave this strategic zone at the perimeter of Gaza, even if Israel wanted to get out of the Strip in its entirety. Israeli leaders including Yitzhak Rabin have warned that Israel must never leave the Jordan Valley, the equivalent perimeter zone in the West Bank.

Why you should come to Israel- Israel 21C, By Benji Lovitt Do you remember me? I lived in your fine city just a few years ago. When I arrived, you were still "HOTlanta" and anybody who was anybody ...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Statement of the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism on our hopes for peace and safety in a time of war

January 9, 2009 / 13 Tevet 5769

The Conservative/Masorti Movement supports the State of Israel, its government and military, in its current operations to protect the citizens of Israel's southern region and offers our prayers and material assistance to its soldiers and their families.

We lament Hamas’ unrelenting and finally intolerable barrage of rocket fire on Israel’s cities and civilians.

We pray that a leadership of the Palestinian people emerges that will honor a verifiable and monitored cease fire and negotiate an enduring peace.

We pray for peace.

We particularly commend the many efforts on the part of our colleagues in the Masorti Movement and Schechter Institute to provide substantive and spiritual support for soldiers and civilians in areas affected by rocket fire.

When the Holy Blessed One created the first human being, God showed the human the Garden of Eden, and said: “See My works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I have created, I created for you. Consider this and do not destroy My world: for if you do, there is no one to set it right.” Ecclesiates Rabbah 7:13

We believe that the task of humanity is to preserve God’s Creation and for people to live cooperatively.

Even a mighty hero, once the arrow leaves one’s hand, one can no longer make it come back. Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Tractate Shirah §4.

We pray for a speedy and effective end to this conflict. We pray for minimal losses.

Whenever destruction of the wicked takes place, there is grief for them above. Zohar Bereshit, I:57b

We know that God mourns losses on all sides. Saddened by this war, we dedicate ourselves to help Israel speedily fulfill its mission to live with security and in lasting peace with its neighbors.

But every person shall sit under their grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb them. For it was the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Micah 4:4

So may it be God’s will

Israel and Gaza: Required Reading for January 13

It has rarely been easy to be a Jew and supporter of Israel. This week is case in point. Even our friends don't seem to "get it." Israel stands alone, more than ever. Yet Israel's very unity is a clear indication of the justice of their cause. Rarely has Israel fought a more just war, and rarely have they fought it more justly.

A cartoon has been making the rounds that shows with utmost clarity what is going on here. It's at the top of this blog entry.

Ithank everyone who has sent me articles to include and apologize that not everything is here. One thing I've decided not to include are the links to online polls. While I don't dispute their impact on morale - and I encourage people to be heard - my purpose here is more to help you to become more educated and sophisiticated observers, so that you can help to educate others as to the issues at hand. Now more than ever, people need true information to counteract all the distortions out there. But when the time comes where we all need to sign a major petition or write a congressman, you'll hear about it here.
Prior Myths and Facts links:
Operation Cast Lead
American Attitudes Toward War in Gaza
Examples of IDF Warnings to Gaza Civilians
Fact Sheet #64: Fabricated Casualty Numbers in Gaza
Fact Sheet #65: Where Is Hamas in UN Cease-fire Resolution?
Hamas Rocket Attacks on Israel [Photos]
Hamas’s Human Shields
Israel Strikes Back Against Hamas Terror Infrastructure in Gaza
Israel's Humanitarian Aid in Gaza
Israel Gives Humanitarian Aid to Gaza [Photos]
Myths and Facts About The Gaza War
Number of Daily Rocket Attacks on Israel During Operation Cast Lead
Palestinian Qassam Rockets Pose New Threat to Israel
Hamas Rocket Ranges Increase and Threaten More of Israel
Threat to Israel from Qassam and Katyusha Rockets in the West Bank (Map)
Kassam and Katyusha Threat (Map)
Rocket Fire at Israel (2008) [graph]
Threats to Israel: Palestinian Rocket Attacks in 2008 (Maps)
PM Olmert's Remarks at the Press Briefing on the Operation in the Gaza Strip (12/27/08)
Sderot Rocket Attacks [photos]
Senate Unanimously Supports Israel in Gaza Conflict (1/8/09) [pdf]
Stories From The Gaza War You May Have Missed
Stories From The Gaza War You May Have Missed 2
Stories From The Gaza War You May Have Missed 3
World Leaders Side With Israeli Response to Hamas Terror

From today's Daily Alert:

How Badly Has Hamas Been Hurt in Gaza? - Tim McGirk (TIME) - The Israelis say they have identified more than 400 known Hamas militants among the Gazans that Palestinian sources say have been killed in the fighting. Israeli military sources said that using intelligence from 120 suspected Hamas militants captured during the first hours of the ground invasion, the IDF found and blew up dozens of launching sites and rocket factories. One thing is certain. Every symbol of Hamas rule in Gaza, every government building, police station and office block, has been replaced by a very large hole.

Israelis United on War - Ethan Bronner: While tens of thousands have poured into the streets of world capitals demonstrating against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, antiwar rallies in Israel have struggled to draw 1,000 participants. The Peace Now organization has received many messages from supporters telling it to stay out of the streets on this one. As the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post put it on Monday, do Israelis really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right? The answer is yes. "Where was the world when our cities were rocketed for eight years and our soldier was kidnapped?," asked Yoel Esteron, editor of a daily business newspaper. Israel, which is sometimes a fractured, bickering society, has turned in the past couple of weeks into a paradigm of unity and mutual support. What looks to the world like a disproportionate war of choice is seen by many here as an obligatory war for existence. (New York Times)

Palestinian Rocket Fire from Gaza Continues - Yanir Yanga - Palestinians in Gaza fired four rockets into Israel on Tuesday morning. On Monday, Palestinians fired 19 rockets at Israel. (Ha'aretz) See also IDF Operations in Gaza Continue - Anshel PfefferIDF infantry, tanks, combat engineers, artillery, and intelligence units continued to operate against Hamas targets throughout Gaza. During the operations, IDF troops engaged approximately fifteen squads of armed gunmen. About 30 gunmen were killed early Tuesday, and four IDF soldiers were wounded. (Ha'aretz)

Gunmen Shoot Across Israel-Jordan Border Gunmen opened fire at an Israeli Border Police patrol along the Israel-Jordan border in southern Israel on Tuesday morning. There were no casualties. (Ha'aretz) See also Three IDF Soldiers Wounded by Palestinian Fire in West BankPalestinian militants opened fire on an Israel Defense Forces patrol near the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba early Tuesday, wounding three soldiers. (Ha'aretz)

Miracles and Wonders - Abe Selig - Walking through the rubble on the floor of Gabi Ben-Hamu's Beersheba home on Sunday, everyone was talking about miracles. The outside wall was pockmarked with holes from a Grad rocket strike as hundreds of ball bearings and pieces of metal sprayed through the air. Ben-Hamu recalled the moments just after hearing the siren, when he and his wife had rushed their three small daughters into the apartment's safe room, and within seconds, heard an earth-shattering boom. But by getting into the safe room and closing the door, a disaster had been prevented. (Jerusalem Post)

Olmert: We Will Continue as Long as It Takes - Roni Sofer - During a visit to Ashkelon on Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "If after this whole effort we discover that rockets with increasing ranges are making their way into Gaza that can reach up to 80, and even 100, kilometers, how will we see ourselves? How will our neighbors see us?...We want to finish, but only if the two conditions that we are demanding are met - an end to the strengthening of Hamas and to rocket fire....The Israeli people...are no longer willing to sustain Kassam attacks." "We will continue for as much time as necessary in order to remove this threat." "I hear from the entire Israeli people: Keep going, keep moving on condition that you reach the achievements for which you went to battle." (Ynet News)

The Threat of the Human Shield Strategy Hamas Uses Extends Beyond Israel, Gaza - Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman - What if Osama bin Laden and company were holed up in a bunker underneath a hospital in Afghanistan occupied by women and children deployed as shields? Would President Obama launch an immediate strike with cruise missiles or hesitate because of the hostages? Would such a move thwart future 9/11's and be viewed as the death knell of al-Qaeda? Or would there be a firestorm of international protest that the American response was a "disproportionate" violation of humanitarian international law and even a "war crime"? Does anybody remember the thousands of French civilians killed by the Allies during World War II's Normandy invasion? Human shields are the weapon of cowards who violate every pr inciple of humanitarian international law. Use of human shields constitutes "perfidy" under Article 147 of the Geneva Convention. The international criminals who use human shields are "common enemies of humankind." Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. (U.S. News)

Hamas' No-State Solution - Bret Stephens - It isn't merely Israel's right to exist, or the Palestinian Authority's, that Hamas denies. It denies Palestine's as well. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is merely an affiliate, has never been keen on the concept of the nation-state. But in choosing Hamas and the fantasy of pan-Islamism over secular Palestinian alternatives, Palestinians are also choosing to abandon Palestine itself. Good luck to them with their corner of the caliphate. (Wall Street Journal)

Facing Reality in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - David Gelernter - There was no such thing as "Palestinian nationalism" until modern Zionism created it out of whole cloth, by placing enormous value on a piece of land that used to seem as precious to its landlords as a rat-ridden empty lot in a burnt-out neighborhood in the middle of nowhere. The Jews gradually got possession of an arid stony wasteland - and they loved it. They turned it into a gleaming, thriving modern nation, not only a military but an intellectual powerhouse. And so it is only natural that the former owners' descendants want it back. Any competent psychologist will agree: When someone is mooning over a thing he can't have because it belongs to someone else, the responsible and humane course of treatment is not temporizing sweet-talk but a blunt lesson in the facts of life. "No, you c annot have my wife (girlfriend, husband, etc.), and we are not going to negotiate over it." There is no irreconcilable difference in the fight between Israel and the Palestinians. There is only greed and envy. The problem will be solved as soon as the world stops trying to solve it. (Weekly Standard)

The Fog of War: Root Causes and Resolution - Irwin Cotler- The root cause of the current Gaza conflict is the unwillingness of Hamas - and its Iranian patron - to accept the legitimacy of Israel within any boundaries in the Middle East. Hamas calls publicly, in its charter as well as its contemporary declarations, for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be. Jews everywhere - not just in Israel - are referred to as inherently evil, as responsible for all the evils of the world, as defilers of Islam. This culture of hatred is where it all begins. (Jerusalem Post)

Every Item a Potential Booby Trap in Gaza - Abraham Rabinovich - (The Australian) In Hamas strongholds in Gaza, the Israelis assume entrances to unoccupied houses are booby trapped. They gain entry by opening a hole in a side wall. Explosive devices have been found in profusion, attached to anything from dolls to pianos. On Sunday, a soldier found an entire school building and an adjacent zoo rigged with explosives.

It's Not Israel's Fault It Has a Strong, Well-Run Army - Yoel Marcus (Ha'aretz) We need to be thankful for the decision to launch the Gaza operation, if only because the offensive has pulled the wraps off the huge arsenal of rockets they have in Gaza, capable of reaching Beersheba. If Israel had not acted now, we would have woken up one morning to find missiles in Tel Aviv, special delivery from Iran via the Philadelphi tunnels. The operation is not a reprisal raid but a defensive war meant to clip Hamas' wings before it surprises us with a Palestinian version of the Yom Kippur War.

World Must Not Condemn Israel's War on Hamas - Ari Shavit (Ha'aretz) The war on Hamas is a war for Israel's sovereignty. It was launched due to repeated rocket attacks after Israel's disengagement from Gaza. It is up to every decent person who wants Israel to strive for peace to support its fight for sovereignty.

Israel Destroys Nasrallah's "Spider Web Theory" - Guy Bechor (Ynet News) According to the "spider web theory" of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Israel is a weak and indulgent country that would not dare hit its enemies too hard. Today, Israel has proved to whomever needed this proof that Nasrallah's spider web no longer exists. The Israeli home front is not crying out in the wake of rocket attacks, but rather, shows impressive endurance.

Joe the Plumber Calls on Obama to Help Israel (AP) Joe the Plumber called on President-elect Barack Obama on Monday to help Israel in its campaign against Hamas. The plumber-turned-war correspondent, whose real name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, has been unabashed in his support of Israel's campaign against Hamas and has been touring Israeli towns hit by Palestinian rocket fire.

Israeli Film Named Best Foreign Language Film at Golden Globes (AFP) The Israeli movie "Waltz With Bashir" has been named best foreign language film at the Golden Globes awards of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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Marc Shulman's Daily Analysis

Thanks to Karen Hainbach for forwarding this article:
"A Terrible Shame" from the Ottowa Citizen.

Finally, I print below, a very important discussion of the morality of this war, a responsum just released by the Schechter Institute, a key Masorti think tank and school in Israel. Although it is rather lengthy, it is a very important part of the public discussion that all Jews must have as we make the case for this just war:

What Can We Learn from our Sources About the War in Gaza?
By Rabbi David Golinkin

Much has been written about the current war against Hamas in Gaza. What can we learn from our sources about the current conflict?

Responsum: (1)
During the past eight years, Palestinian terrorists have fired many thousands of rockets at civilian targets in Israel. To be more specific, since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, in order to allow the Palestinians to govern themselves, and December 31, 2008, terrorists fired 6,300 rockets and mortars at civilian targets in Israel. Finally, on December 27, after many explicit warnings, the State of Israel decided to react by bombing launch cites, terrorist bases, homes of Hamas leaders and some 600 tunnels which have been used to smuggle weapons and rockets. It then sent in ground troops in order to stop the constant barrage of rocket attacks on civilian targets. The moral situation is extremely complex because the Hamas terrorists purposely hide behind civilians, in Mosques, schools and even hospitals. It is difficult for our soldiers, officers and leaders to know what to do.

Our Sages taught us in Pirkey Avot (5:22) “hafokh bah vahapekh bah d’kholah bah”, “turn it and turn it again for everything is in it”. That is why, in times of trouble, Jews have traditionally gone “back to the sources” in order to find comfort and guidance. The sources below attempt to do just that.

I) Palestinians Are Not the Seven Nations
There are some Jews who want to kill Palestinians or expel them from Israel on the basis of the biblical obligation to destroy the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1-2; 20:16-18). However, King Solomon already ignored this command and did not destroy their descendants (I Kings 9:20-21). Furthermore, our Sages emphasized that this command does not apply to other nations (Midrash Tannaim to Deut. 20:15, ed. Hoffmann, p. 121) and Maimonides ruled that the memory of the seven nations “has been lost” (Laws of Kings 5:4). He may have based himself on Mishnah Yadayim 4:4 that Sennacherib King of Assyria already came up and mixed up all of the nations. Therefore, the law of the seven nations has not been applicable for over 3,000 years.

II) Self-Defense
On the other hand, there is no doubt that it is permissible to kill terrorists in self-defense, for the following three reasons:

a) The Torah rules that if a “thief is discovered tunneling [into a house for housebreaking] and is beaten and dies, there is no bloodguilt in his case” (Exodus 22:1). Rava explained that the thief assumes that the home-owner is going to defend his property and he, in turn, will be willing to kill the homeowner. Therefore, the Torah is telling us: “If somebody comes to kill you, kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72a). In other words, if someone tunnels into an individual’s home in order to steal, and even more so if he intends to kill that person, that person should kill the attacker as an act of self-defense. It is worth noting that the Torah gives the example of tunneling, one of the standard activities of the Hamas terrorists.

b) Furthermore, a group of Jews is allowed to defend itself against attackers, even on Shabbat. This was first determined by Mattathias and the Maccabees, after the Greeks killed 1,000 Jews on Shabbat – men, women and children - because they would not defend themselves. “Let us fight against every man who comes to attack us on the Sabbath day; let us not all die as our brethren died in their hiding places” (I Maccabees 2:29-41).

The Talmud ruled (Eruvin 45a) that if a group of non-Jews besieged Jewish towns on Shabbat in order to kill Jews, the Jews go out in their armor and desecrate Shabbat. Furthermore, in a border town, the Jews go out in their armor and desecrate Shabbat even if the non-Jews only came to rob the town. And so ruled Maimonides (Laws of Shabbat 2:23) and the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 329:6-7). The Rema adds (ibid.): “and even if they have not yet come but only want to come”. In other words, in a border town, a pre-emptive strike against the enemy is permissible on Shabbat even in order to protect property; kal vahomer, how much the more so, to protect lives on a weekday.

c) Finally, two sources go much further. They state that a war of self-defense is not only permitted but rather required. Midrash Shmuel determines (22:2, ed. Buber, p. 110) that David’s war against the Philistines – which was self-defense – was a mitzvah, a commanded war, or a hovah, an obligation. Moreover, Maimonides ruled (Laws of Kings 5:1) “which war is a commanded war? …to help Israel against an enemy who attacks them”.

Thus, according to Jewish law, if a person comes to kill you, you should kill them first; a group of Jews is allowed to fight on Shabbat in self-defense; and a war of self-defense is a mitzvah or obligation.

III) The Attitude toward POWs and Non-Combatants
On the other hand, there are sources which warn us not to harm prisoners or innocent people. We are told in the Second Book of Kings (6:21-23) that the Prophet Elisha asked God to temporarily blind the troops of Aram and he then led the troops to Samaria. The King of Israel asked Elisha: “Shall I strike them down?” Elisha’s reply is not entirely clear, but according to Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (ad loc.), he replied: “Would you strike down with your sword and bow people whom you captured?!

Similarly, Philo of Alexandria stated in the first century c.e. that Jews do not kill non-combatants (The Special Laws 4:224-225):

The Jewish nation, when it takes up arms, distinguishes between those whose life is one of hostility and the reverse. For to breathe slaughter against all, even those who have done little or nothing amiss, shows what I would call a savage and brutal soul.

When I was a reservist in the IDF, I used to guard Palestinian prisoners. I therefore know from first-hand experience that Palestinian prisoners are treated well. Indeed, the prisoners had better living conditions than the reservists who were guarding them, including couches, TVs, stoves and more. As for non-combatants, that is obviously a major challenge in Gaza, which is densely populated and where the terrorists use civilians as human shields as standard procedure. Nonetheless, Israel takes great efforts not to harm civilians and there is a ceasefire every day for three hours in order to allow trucks of food into Gaza.

IV) Two Words of Warning before Every Battle
We must teach our soldiers to remember two sources when they go out to fight our enemies:

1. When Jacob heard that Esau was coming, it says: “And Jacob was greatly frightened and distressed” (Genesis 32:8) and the midrash explains: “frightened – lest he be killed; and distressed – lest he kill” (Genesis Rabbah 76:2; cf. Ginzey Schechter, vol. 1, p. 60 and Rashi on the verse).

2. When Israel left Egypt “the angels wanted to sing. Said God: “My handiwork [=the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea -- and you are singing?!” (Megillah 10b).

V) A Jew Must Share in the Distress of the Community
We have learned in Ta’anit fol. 11a:

Our Rabbis have taught: When Israel is in trouble and one of them separates himself from them, then the two ministering angels who accompany every man come and place their hands upon his head and say, ‘So-and-so who separated himself from the community shall not behold the consolation of the community’. Another Baraita [Tannaitic source from ca. 200 c.e.] taught: When the community is in trouble let not a man say ‘I will go to my house and I will eat and drink and all will be well with me.’ For of him who does so Scripture says, “And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine – Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die (Isaiah 22:13).”…But rather a man should share in the distress of the community, for so we find that Moses, our teacher, shared in the distress of the community, as it is said, “But Moses’ hands were heavy, and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon (Exodus 17:12).” Did not then Moses have a bolster or a cushion to sit on? This is then what Moses meant to convey, “As the Israelites are in distress, I too will share with them. He who shares in the distress of the community will merit to behold its consolation”. Perhaps a man will say, “who is there to testify against me? The very stones of his house and its beams testify against him…In the school of R. Sheila it was taught: The two ministering angels who accompany every man testify against him…R. Hidka says: A man’s own soul testifies against him… And some say: A man’s own limbs testify against him…

The message of this passage is clear: when Jews or the State of Israel are in trouble, other Jews must share in their distress by taking part in solidarity missions and demonstrations and by donating tzedakah in order to help those in distress. Some cynics say that missions and demonstrations are a waste of time; they are not. They give encouragement to the Jews of Israel who are constantly criticized by the United Nations and many countries and they strengthen the Jewish identity of the participants. During the past few weeks, Schechter students and staff have donated food and toys to communities near Gaza and hosted families and children who sought respite from the rocket attacks. This is at it should be. Jews must share in the distress of the community.

VI) Israel and the Nations of the World
The next passage appears in Midrash Esther Rabbah (7:13, to Esther 3:9, ed. Vilna, fols. 12c-d):

“If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed” (Esther 3:9). Resh Lakish said: When the wicked Haman said to Ahashverosh: “Come let us exterminate Israel”, Ahashverosh replied: “You cannot prevail against them, since their God will not entirely forsake them. See what he did to the kings who preceded us and who laid hands upon them and who were much mightier and more powerful than we are. Whoever comes against them to destroy them and whoever schemes against them is wiped out and becomes a byword to all mankind. How much the more so we who are not equal to those others. Let me hear no more of this.” In spite of this, the wicked Haman pressed this upon Ahashverosh on every occasion, and tried to persuade him to oppress Israel. At length, Ahashverosh said to him: “Since you are so insistent, let us consult the wise men and the magicians.”

He thereupon convened all the wise men of the nations. When they were all assembled before him, he said to them: “Is it your desire that we destroy this nation? They all replied with one voice: “Who is he who presumes in his heart to do so!” (Esther 7:5)… If you destroy Israel, [the world cannot stand]; for it stands only through the merit of the Torah which was given to Israel… Furthermore, all the idolaters are called strangers before [God]… whereas the Israelites are called near ones… Furthermore, they are called sons, as it is written “Israel is my son, my firstborn (Exodus 4:22)… And if a man seeks to lay hands upon the relatives and children of [God], how shall he escape, since He rules over those above and those below, and the soul of all living is in His hand to raise up or to cast down, to kill or to bring to life? Take a lesson from the previous kings who transgressed by laying hands on Israel; see what happened to them, as for instance to Pharaoh and Sennacherib.”

Haman thereupon said to them: “The God who drowned Pharaoh in the sea and performed for Israel the wonders and mighty deeds of which you have heard is now old and cannot do anything, since Nebuchadnezzar has already gone up and destroyed His house and burnt His temple and exiled Israel and scattered them among the nations. Where is His strength and might, since He is now old?!…

When he spoke to them in this fashion, they came round to his opinion and agreed to destroy Israel, and they wrote letters and signed them... [Their letter details how the Jewish people “took advantage” of the poor Egyptians, Amalekites, Sihon and Og, Midianites, and Sisra.]

The author of Kohelet wrote (1:9) “v’ein kol hadash tahat hashamesh”, “there is nothing new under the sun”. This midrash, which was apparently edited in the eleventh century (see Zunz-Albeck, Hadrashot B’yisrael, Jerusalem, 1947, pp. 129-130), could have been written yesterday. All we need to do is substitute Haniyeh or Ahmadinejad for Haman; and the United Nations for “all the wise men of the nations”. It should be noted that “the wise men of the nations” do not tell Ahashverosh not to destroy the Jews because it is immoral; only because it is too dangerous. When Haman tells them that the Jewish God is now weak and unable to protect the Jews, they immediately agree to kill all of the Jews. The United Nations as a body does not want to destroy the State of Israel, but there is no question that many of its members want to harm the State of Israel if they think they can get away with it.

VII) “Af Al Pi Khen” – Despite it All
Yosef Hayyim Brenner (1881-1921) was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Palestine in 1909. He was an important proponent of Labor Zionism and made important contributions to modern Hebrew literature. He wrote the following passage in a book review published in 1917:

Our youth throughout the world must now know the truth about the Land of Israel. They should know that the place is not a bed of roses, that the land is poor, hardly magical, settled by others wherever something could be done, hard to settle where it is still unsettled… Wages are low, food is scarce and expensive, the needs are greater than our capacity; lofty spirituality can be found at every corner, and on top of that, malaria eats up body and soul…

All of this should be known in the Jewish Diaspora, and should give birth to a sentiment of “af al pi khen” – “despite it all" in the hearts of our youth! That same "despite it all" that should come at the end of all the negative calculations… Despite it all! Especially when in Eastern Europe the future is very grim, and the present is very gloomy - for there is nothing to lose, for the yearning calls to start everything from scratch and whatever happens, happens!... And only that halutz [pioneer], whose “despite it all” becomes part of his very being, only that halutz who is ready for everything – and not only in words, only he should be allowed to come. He and no one else. (2)

Af al pi khen – despite it all – this has been the motto of the State of Israel since it was founded. Arab armies and terrorists have been trying to destroy the State of Israel since 1948 and yet we have built a vibrant Jewish State which is the only democracy in the Middle East. We shall persevere despite it all because “The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalms 121:4). Am Yisrael Hai!

David Golinkin
17 Tevet 5769


1. This responsum is based on my articles in Insight Israel, Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 76-79 and Insight Israel, Second Series, Jerusalem, 2006, pp. 193-199. For further discussion of some of these issues, see Rabbi Brad Artson, Love Peace and Pursue Peace, New York, 1988; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, “A Time for War and a Time for Peace”, Los Angeles, 1987; Rabbi Reuven Kimelman in: Steven Katz, ed., Frontiers of Jewish Thought, Washington, D.C., 1992, pp. 309–331; Yitzhak Blau, Tradition 34/4 (Winter 2000), pp. 39–60; Torah Sheb’al Peh 43 (5762) (five articles).

2. Yosef Hayyim Brenner, Ketavim, Tel Aviv, 1978-1985, p. 1622. My thanks to Rabbi Dr. Einat Ramon for sharing this passage and to Rabbi Ramon and Etka Leibowitz for their preliminary translation.

Prof. David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate it, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at The opinions expressed here are the author's and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

The Schechter Institutes, Inc. is dedicated to the advancement of pluralistic Jewish education in Israel and Europe. A non-profit organization, it supports four educational institutions based in Jerusalem, Israel: ● Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies: A Graduate School for Israeli Educators, where 550 students learn Jewish studies within a pluralistic environment ● Schechter Rabbinical Seminary which trains Conservative/Masorti rabbis in Israel ● TALI Education Fund which provides Jewish studies programs for 35,000 Israeli children in 183 state schools and kindergartens ● Midreshet Yerushalayim which provides Jewish education to over 2000 Russian immigrants in Israel and Jewish communities in the Ukraine and Hungary.