Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Show Me The Money (Article# 78) 3/20/2008

As you are I am sure experiencing in the USA, the USA financial crisis has really hit hard in our circles. The average Israeli, with his Shekel based income has not seen changes beyond the normal inflation, but anyone with a dollar based income or dollar linked businesses has really suffered in the time we have been here. Us included.

Although the prices for general goods (food, clothing, etc.) had been relatively stable (things have definitely gone up the last few weeks) since our arrival, with each tumble of the dollar, my monthly earnings fell lower and lower. At this point, I have lost over 25% of my take home pay to currency fluctuations. That is NOT a typo.

Anyone else with a US income or dollar linked income has seen similar losses. Businesses as well.

Our Yeshiva lost well over 6 figures (in dollars) of expected income due to the falling dollar – money that we had not expected to need to raise. Of course, our employees and vendors expect to be paid in Shekel no matter how our income arrives and these losses have been both unforecasted and a cause of distress. Every other Yeshiva, Seminary or any other tourist based business that gets its revenue in dollars has seen similar problems.

It had gotten so bad that we decided to change our income stream and instituted a new policy for the upcoming year that our tuition would be quoted and paid in shekels. While it has definitely created confusion for the families of next year’s students, the elimination of the risks involved in the currency fluctuation will definitely be worth it.

With such a tremendous dip in income, it has become difficult for people in our circumstances to budget our expenses. We literally have no idea how much we will bring home each month and cannot forecast our lives in any meaningful and direct way. It hurts in other ways as well.

While we are very happy in our current rented home, eventually we will want to purchase a home of our own. Many Olim come and settle in as we have, renting a home and getting a sense of the neighborhood before committing to a major investment in a home. Unfortunately, with the fall of the dollar, it takes a lot more money to buy a home here.

Most major purchases (like homes) used to be priced by the dollar, but with the degradation of the value of the dollar, these prices have also converted to shekels. When we decide to buy a home, we will be converting dollars into shekels pay for it. If the dollar stays as low as it has fallen, it will significantly limit our choices. Along with those of many other families.

In fact, I would not be surprised if the dollar’s weakness is the cause of a drop in the amount of olim that come to Israel in the next couple of years. I know that we planned out Aliyah with a calculation on what we would be spending on buying a house and how much we would need to earn in order to pay for our living expenses. While the math for that calculation stays the same, the numbers certainly change and living here becomes much harder.

Speaking about people coming to Israel, my youngest brother Ozer just spent a week long visit with us. He came on his pilot trip, looking to set things up for his family’s Aliyah this coming summer. His visit really brought a major sense of déjà vu. I could not help but reflect back to our pilot trip – choosing a neighborhood and looking at homes, looking for schools, interviewing for jobs and of course, visiting the family that was already here.

We are pretty sure he has found a place to live and he learned a lot about the school system here for his kids. I know my kids enjoyed having him here and they are definitely excited to be going in a few short months to greet the whole family at the airport as they come here to stay.

I know this is repetitive, but it is at these times of year that we miss you the most. Holidays and celebrations are simply not the same without having a chance to share them with Bubbees and Zaidees, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, etc. Even though we have developed new friendships here, our old friends are definitely missed as well.

On behalf of Goldie and myself, I wish you a Purim Sameach. We look forward to celebrating Purim together with you in Israel for many years to come.

Will we ever learn? (Article# 77) 3/13/2008

What a disgusting and horrible week. To read that the leaders of my country still want to be fooled by those who wish to weaken and destroy us and continue on such a reckless path is enough to make anyone sick. How is it possible that a person can see the destructive course of action a murderous animal took last week, that the same person can then watch his friends, family and people openly celebrating and glorifying the murder of innocents and still want to appease such “people” by giving in to their demands?

I wanted to avoid this subject in the worst way. I thought about the many other things that happened before the slaughter at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav on Thursday evening, but it is all I’ve been able to think about.

I got the first call via a text message from our Yeshiva instructing all students to immediately contact their dorm counselors and restricting everyone to the building (standard practice in a high alert situation). I knew that something was up.

My sister then called to check on how far we were from the attack, and filled me in on some details. I immediately tuned to CNN to see i) coverage in English and ii) what story you were being told. I also started to write an email to our students’ parents to let them know that everyone was OK and accounted for when I heard the announcer talk about the attack on the “Yeshiva” seminary in Jerusalem with no further description. Imagining the fear and anxiety parents were experiencing from 6,000 miles away, I immediately sent out an “everyone is safe” message to our parents.

Although in truth I was wrong. Everyone was not indeed safe.

Our Yeshiva went to the joint funeral the next morning as a group. Although I did not attend (I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it to the city – security was tight and there was lots of traffic) personally, it was important to us to get as many people together to stand in support of the families of the victims and with Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. I cannot say that it was a “learning” experience or any kind of experience. This was not a time to “experience”, it was simply a time to grieve.

It was simply an overwhelming night.

In one of my first articles I wrote about the Israeli connection with Yom HaZikaron and how almost everyone knows someone (friend/acquaintence or relative) who was killed in a war. The longer we live here, the more we too are identifying and connecting with such tragedies.

Our moment this week came in a Friday morning call from our dentist. Chaim, our oldest, had an appointment scheduled for later that day and he was calling to ask us to please move Chaim’s appointment up a couple of hours. He needed to make the change so that he could attend the funeral of his nephew – one of the students killed Thursday night.

Goldie mentioned to me that she would like to randomly pick one of the families and go be menachem avel to them. I get very uncomfortable in a shiva house and in truth the idea is unsettling to me. Especially with strangers who speak a different language. But, we might well do it – because we cannot think of any other way to somehow bring comfort to these families who are going through such heart rendering grief.

I cannot help but contrast in my mind the way we and our enemies feel about such tragedies. Even the CNN announcer seemed to lose some of his composure when he was first informed that they were celebrating in Gaza over the news of this attack. While the worldwide media is usually pretty pro Arab, the disgust in his voice that people should act in such a way in recognition of such barbarism was clear.

This wasn’t just a couple of radicals either. People were passing out candies in the street to children. They were shooting off fireworks and their guns in celebration. It was a major holiday for a significant number of the residents of our land there. The family of the terrorist proudly displayed Palestinian and Hamas flags on their home (until it was razed).

We unfortunately also kill civilians. These civilians are used as human shields by Hamas soldiers as they fire rockets into Sderot and the Negev. When we kill civilians, we openly confess our regret that we did so and our wish that terrorists not put them in the line of fire.

Yet the left will continue to doggedly press their way forward in “exhausting every opportunity” to reach a “peace agreement”. Yesterday they even announced that there was an “unofficial” truce reached with Hamas. How could we tell? Well, our activities in Gaza itself have ceased (we will probably target actual bombers by air attack) and the number of rockets flying into Israel from Gaza have GONE DOWN. That’s it.

What an awesome deal our government has made. They are allowed to continue to bomb us on a daily basis, while we stay out of the area. Is this the big peace plan that the peacenicks have in mind? Let’s admit once and for all that the only “peace” our enemies have in mind for us is seeing us all “resting in peace”.

Next week I will again be able to talk about soldiers and pizza, Adar celebrations Israel style and many of the other wonderful things that happen here this time of year. For this week I can only think of those kids who are forever gone to us. I can only think of them and hope and pray that they are the last loss we have to suffer and that this loss somehow (although we will most likely never understand how) serve as a catalyst for the betterment of our people and our nation. I hope that things calm down and that the future only holds more news about which kids did what and how our Purim and Chol Hamoed went.

Standing a Post (Article# 76) 3/6/2008

Unless you are a hermit (and if you are reading this paper, it is clear that you are not), you know that the level of violence in Gaza and other spots has increased lately. In discussions with Larry Gordon (editor of the 5TJT) I commented to him how there seems to be a mini cycle of escalations and withdrawals as each side tests the boundaries of the other side.

This is part of our existence here in Israel, the constant concern about security and safety. It exists in such a contrast to the general daily life in which we (and especially our children) enjoy incredible amounts of freedom and independence in our daily activities. The kids do so much on their own here without needing adult supervision, since everyone looks out for the kids.

As the tensions ratcheted up, I had a chance to speak with my sister about my oldest nephew Yonatan, the first Katz (OK – so his name is Uzan) to serve in the Israeli army. He finished his basic training and had just returned back to the base after a week at home to begin advanced training (his training takes the better part of a year, I think). As we talked, she mentioned that she hadn’t spoken to him all week, which was unusual, but shrugged it off as a probable result of a multi day training exercise in which he is incommunicado.

She confided to me that her real concern was for the possibility that he would be called to active duty either in Gaza itself or doing security watch in another area of high concern. I didn’t think they would do that, with a group of soldiers still in training, but she assured me that depending on the needs of the situation the army would not think twice. After all, they have completed basic training and if assets are needed, then they are needed.

We ended the conversation hoping that the needs of the country would not come to that. Of course, I could stop writing at this point and you would already know the rest of the story.

The very next morning Goldie came to talk to me all shaken. While I was out, my sister had called to tell us that she had finally heard from Yonatan. He had been out traning in the field, but had just been told that this week they were being assigned to a one week rotation doing security patrol duty in a settlement in an area that has a high arab concentration (that is all I will say). It seems that this assignment is definitely a part of the advanced training that he was scheduled to get – although he wouldn’t tell her if it was supposed to happen at this stage of their training or they advanced it because of a specific need.

In either case, by now he is out there somewhere. Most probably on a post with 3 or 4 of his “buddies”. Standing a post for 8-10 hours at a time. All of them with a gun in his hands, protective gear on his body and a target on his back.

He does this for himself for sure. It is certainly a rite of passage in this country, our country. Yet, he does it for his parents as well. His parents, his brothers, my family and even yours. He is standing this post putting his safety and his life on the line so that each and every one of us can continue to live here in security and safety. No matter what your politics are, if you are the biggest hawk or dove, you cannot deny the fact that as things stand today it is Yonatan Uzan and the thousands like him who stand posts every day that allows us all to remain in our country – either to live or to visit.

On the first day of basic training, unbeknownst to him, members of his unit were trying to put together a minyan before morning wakeup. They had nine men and needed another. Suddenly, one of them remembered seeing “Uzan” with a pair of tefillin as he settled his gear into his locker for the first time the day before. They ran to get him and even though he didn’t expect to be able to have one in this very specialized combat unit, with most of its members being non religious - he has been the tenth man of the minyan ever since.

Even though I have said this before, I ask you again to think of him as you daven. Think of Yonatan and the thousands of other men and women who volunteer to stand up and be a shield to defend us, the Jewish people in our home. Although he (or they) is not your son, he is someone’s son.

A mother and a father who love him dearly raised him and watched over him as he grew. They nurtured him and instilled in him a desire to do this very noble thing that he is doing. They taught him to care for his country and its people. They were caught a little unprepared for this to happen quite so soon, even though it was something they knew could happen.

And now they have entrusted his well being to He whom we all rely upon for well being and they (along with the parents of all the service men and women) pray that their precious treasure will be returned to them safe and sound.

You don’t have to approve of the government or its policies. You don’t have to like some of the things that people here are doing. Just daven for us, your family here who are in need of your prayers and of divine protection and guidance. Daven that our youth should be protected from harm and that they successfully protect us in turn.

Unfortunately, one of the sources and continuing signs of our exile is the fact that we Jews cannot seem to get along with one another and we faced those issues this week as well. Although she has not shared all the details with us, Goldie’s oldest friend Chaia Broderick (who made Aliyah just a month after us) was involved with an incident on the bus to Tzfat.

She had gotten on the bus in Jerusalem with a girlfriend to go to Tzfat for Shabbat, and they sat in the front half of the bus. THIS WAS NOT A “DESIGNATED” SEPARATE SEATING BUS. The bus continued on and some men got on the bus and demanded that the two of them move to the “women’s section” at the rear of the bus. They refused.

As Chaia relates it, the men continued to yell at them and the women, afraid that they would be attacked (one woman was slapped around on a bus in a similar confrontation several months back) called to the bus driver for help. He ignored them. Chaia insisted that she needed to be in the front half of the bus so she would not get motion sickness and would not move. Eventually, when they saw she would not be moved, the men retreated.

This intolerance of other people and their way of life (of which I am guilty as well as evidenced by my repeated criticism of the chareidi element in our midst) and inability to simply work things out between ourselves is awful. I just wish I knew how to solve it.

A nice place to visit (Article# 75) 2/29/2008

It seems as if the people at Hasbro heard from a lot of people in just a few days. The day after I (among others) wrote them an email objecting to their decision, they made another change to the Monopoly website, removing the country designation from every city listed.

They issued a release claiming that the original decision to remove Israel as the country of Jerusalem was made and enacted by a mid level staffer, without consulting upper management. They added that they had never intended to list the country of each city on the actual game in any case, so this change was basically immaterial.

A few days later they took all the cities names off the voting board, announcing that they would keep the results of the voting secret until the conclusion of the vote. Since Jerusalem was in position number 4 when the voting was made secret (having risen 3 or 4 places in a couple of weeks time), I cannot help but wonder if this change was made with a concern for us finishing in a very high voting position. We’ll see.

Although I get feedback on a regular basis, I have never before responded in the paper to a reader. This week I got an email from a reader who lives in Jerusalem. His comment was (I am paraphrasing) that if I was truly concerned about the fate of Jerusalem, I should live there. His inference was that as a resident of Jerusalem his concern and opinion was somehow more valid than mine.

Well, since I deleted your email I don’t know your name, but whoever you are – I object! When the bombs fell in Haifa and Tzfat, it wasn’t only the residents of those cities who were legitimately concerned. As the bombs fall in Sderot, we all must stand united side by side to protect our brethren, regardless of where we live.

Unfortunately, not enough of us care this way. If our government would care about Sderot the way they care about Tel Aviv or Herzliya, they would not let bombs fall there every day without furious response from our side. I stand with Sderot as much as I stand with Jerusalem and as much as I stand with Bet Shemesh and I don’t have to live in those cities to care about them. As should you.

We got some good news from Chaim this week. We had been preparing his college application for next year and planning for him to be in YU next year. Even though he would normally have been in twelfth grade next year, having achieved his High School equivalency diploma and completed a year of study in Israel, we had agreed to allow him to go to YU the following year.

He has been having an exceptional year of learning in Yeshiva. Every report has been positive and glowing and we have been very happy that his adjustment has been going well so far. So it was terrific for us to have him tell us that he had decided that it would better for him to come back for a second year in Yeshiva, before heading off to college.

He’ll still have a head start on his peers, having earned a year and a half of credits for the time he is in Yeshiva here, but will also have the opportunity to mature some more before heading off to college on his own.

It snowed again in Jerusalem last week. We have actually had a much better rainfall the past few months. Even though the water levels are still very low and it will take a couple of good rainy seasons to correct them, we have finally had a couple of months to smile about and we will probably not hit drought conditions this year. Even though this is the year of Shmitta, we still need the rain.

Jerusalem, ISRAEL (Article# 74) 2/22/2008

I was gonna take a week off this week. I arrived home safely from my trip to America and other than my luggage missing my flight and spending an extra 6 hours in London, there wasn’t much to talk about and I was looking forward to some downtime.

One thing I did do last week was vote on the “monopoly” website for Jerusalem, Israel to be a space on the new “world” version of the board game Monopoly. Apparently, as a marketing ploy the Hasbro company is having internet voting to be named a space in the game. The top twenty cities get in, with another twenty cities having a run-off for the final two spots.

Every other day or so, I have been seeing either emails or newspaper articles about “getting out the vote” and making sure that Jerusalem gets not only a spot on the board, but a valuable ranking as well. When I first voted, we were ranked either 7th or 8th and I had been seeing a lot of comments in emails that people should get the word out and move us up in rank. To vote go to

This morning, I was checking my email when I saw a flood of people commenting on a new change to the voting website. Apparently, the voting push has been somewhat successful, as Israel had moved up to 4th place in the voting (we have sunk back to 5th position since then). However, that wasn’t the most dramatic move for Jerusalem.

Apparently, somebody complained to Hasbro and they have changed the way they describe Jerusalem in the voting. Hasbro has apparently decided that Jerusalem, Israel’s capitol city, is no longer part of Israel and has deleted any reference to Israel from the voting. Istanbul is still in Turkey, Riga is still in Latvia, yet Jerusalem has been hyperspaced into nothingness.

I cannot imagine that Hasbro has thought this through. Even though I will agree that most of the world hates us (Jews or Israel – take your pick), the fact that Hasbro would so brazenly remove the “Israel” tag from its site is astonishing. They will almost certainly hide behind the UN not recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel or some other nonsense.

So what can we do?

The people of Beit Shemesh (at least) are in frenzy over this. At least one lawyer has already contacted a USA law firm to file suit (and posted the details in an email) and there have been numerous emails encouraging people to contact Hasbro directly to protest this decision. Whether by email or phone, I agree that each person who sends Hasbro a personal message of disgust for their stance on Israel.

I encourage you to either call them by phone at 888-836-7025 (I got this number from their customer service website) or write them an email in the form on their website at (also from their website) - or even both.

I myself wrote,

“Dear Hasbro,

I am disgusted and outraged at your blatant removal of Israel as the country of Jerusalem. Hasbro is a US corporation and the US government has recognized Jerusalem not only as being in Israel but as its capitol. As a dual Israeli/US citizen, I am embarassed that any US company would bow to Anti Semitic pressure and take such action.

Since you are holding a vote and encourage the democratic process, I am encouraging everyone on my email list or that I may come in contact with to vote. Not on your website, but with their wallets. I cannot support a company that knowingly discriminates against my people and my country.


Shmuel Katz”