Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dorothy Shapiro, An American Hero (Article# 103) 1/15/2009

One of my oldest and closest friends is Steve Kirshner, a fellow former Chicagoan currently living in Efrat. We speak regularly on the phone and get together too infrequently. Of course, as humans in the 21st century – we email. Jokes, pictures, stories, anything that catches our eye and seems like it would interest the other.

This week he sent me a terrific editorial cartoon that summed up in one picture a great sense of who we are and who our enemies our. On the left side is a terrorist dressed in civilian clothing, aiming his gun at an Israeli soldier while crouching to hide behind an Arab woman who is holding a child, using them as a shield. On the right side is the Israeli soldier in full uniform. He too is standing next to a woman who is holding a child, yet he is standing in front of them – shielding THEM from harm.

I have written several times about my nephew Yonatan, who is currently a soldier in a Golani brigade. Military service was something that he looked forward to; it is a rite of passage for the average Israeli male, whose grandfather, father, uncles and older brothers have all served in the military and whose grandmother, mother, aunts and older sisters may have done so as well (although some may have elected to serve in Sherut Leumi/National Service).

As he approached his enlistment, we all shared a mutual sense of pride in him along with our concern for his well being, should he see action. While on a live training mission at an army checkpoint, his team successfully identified and arrested a terrorist who was attempting to smuggle a bomb. Just days later, his commander was partially blinded by a female terrorist who threw acid in his face at the checkpoint. My sister (with our blessings) missed Goldie’s Seudat Hoda’a on Chol HaMoed Sukkot in order to attend his graduation from training. His leadership skills and commitment were quickly recognized with his recent selection for officer training, and he has been attending commander school over the past couple of months.

When the retaliatory air strikes began, his platoon was advised to prepare – but he assured my sister that they were only going to drill in preparation and he had no idea if and when they would be called into combat. Once the ground operation started, we knew there was a possibility that he would be called into combat, but we knew that he would not tell us until after the fact.

A week ago Monday he called my sister to tell her that he was in the neighborhood for a special driving lesson. It seems that he needed to learn how to drive a specific type of vehicle. My sister met him to say hello and he was very vague when she asked him where he was heading after his lesson.

Later that week he spoke to my brother in law and admitted that he had indeed seen action during the week. He added that his platoon had accomplished their task and he was being reassigned to his base to await further orders. This news certainly brought a measure of relief to my sister and brother in law.

She called us before Shabbat to share the news, which seemed a bit strange (not having been in the military I didn’t understand the logic of rotating a platoon back to base in the middle of a conflict) – but certainly welcome. At the end of the call, my sister said “I just hope he isn’t lying to me to keep me from worrying – even though I know he probably is”.

Little did my nephew know that one of his many cousins would see him at the front on Sunday and call one of my sister’s in laws to report that he had seen Yonatan and that he was fine. This was of course reported to my sister and he eventually admitted that he was seeing action in the Gaza region and he simply did not want his parents to go crazy with worry about his well being. He wouldn’t divulge any more information to her, possibly because he isn’t allowed to or perhaps because he didn’t want to cause any more alarm than was necessary. But he did tell her that he was OK, and she called me Monday morning to let me know.

Later that day I got an incredible follow up call from her.

I am sure that you have seen many requests for care packages for the Israeli soldiers. There are several organizations that are organizing these drives and delivering the packages. Be it simple supplies like deodorant and baby wipes, or treats like candies and baked goods, a care package makes a world of difference to a tired soldier.

As someone who goes out at least once each month to deliver pizza or other treats to the men and women serving at checkpoints and on military bases, I personally witness the soldiers joy and excitement in seeing us and being surprised with a small thank you. Yet, at least in most cases, once the package is packed and sent, one rarely hears what an impact getting the package made on the recipient. Not today.

My nephew’s platoon had care packages from America distributed to them that morning. Although most of the packages come unmarked, Yonatan’s package contained a letter along with the goodies. As the son of an American immigrant, my nephew speaks and reads English better than the average Israeli, so it was unbelievably appropriate that his package, randomly distributed, would contain this beautiful letter. (It is possible that several other packages also contained personal letters, but from my sister’s representation it does not appear that they did)

My sister paraphrased the letter for me, in between tears. Upon hearing her version, I immediately called my nephew, who was at the border resting with his platoon, to hear the letter in full. It reads:

Dear Soldier,

My daughter told me that I could help send a package to an Israeli soldier and I wanted to let you know how much I admire you and wish you well. I am almost 88 years old and had hoped that by now we would not have to be fighting for our homeland. I remember when Israel was founded and remember all the wars trying to annihilate Israel. I wish you could be home with your loved ones and not fighting. My prayers are with you and with Israel. Please be careful and be safe. May there be peace in my time.

Best wishes and Shalom,

Dorothy Shapiro
Hartsdale, NY

I cannot adequately describe how much strength and inspiration these words gave not just to my nephew, but to his buddies as well. They all got packages and just getting these gifts is uplifting, but the personal message really inspired them and touched these young men (all of whom have seen the horrors of battle in the past week) to the core.

I was glad to have the chance to speak with Yonatan and tell him how proud we are of him. I asked him how he was doing and he told me that he is OK and that he has seen a lot of things, rockets flying overhead and other things that he does not want to talk about; all I could think about was that he is still just 20.

As I said goodbye, I was able to tell him that we love him and that he should (as Dorothy so aptly put it) be careful and be safe. Knowing that he is busy and needs rest when he has the chance, I would not normally call him in the middle of a conflict. I am glad that I had a good excuse.

Later in the day my sister called to tell me how Yonatan and all of his buddies were all huddled around a cellphone, jointly composing a thank you note to be sent via email (she had enclosed an email address in the letter). He had called her to verify some spelling issues and asked me for the best way to translate a specific word. I asked her to send me a copy of his note, which reads:

Dear Dorothy,

I got your letter and package and wanted say thanks from me and all my platoon friends. My name is Yonatan. I'm 20 years old, and serve at Golani brigade. My current mission is guarding the Israel-Gaza border. Your letter really touched me, and even though things here are pretty tense - I decided I have to write you back right away.

It feels so good to know that our people, all over the world, care and stand behind us. I also wish for peace, but unfortunately our homeland is surrounded by enemies. The only answer we can provide is standing-up persistently and united in front of them and fight. Your letter gave me and my friends a lot of strength, and we wanted to let you know how much your support is important for us. I wish you won't have to see any more wars for our homeland.

With much gratitude and appreciation,


I salute you Dorothy Shapiro. You had no idea to whom your package and letter would go; you only wanted to express your very ardent support for our soldiers and our country. You made an impression upon not just one soldier, but his whole platoon and you also brought a large amount of pride to our family. We are quite grateful that you (and all those who took the time to send care packages to our military’s young men and women) could bring such joy to our nephew at a time when we are sure he and his buddies needed the very boost that you gave them. You will always be a hero in our hearts.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Another War? (Article# 102) 1/8/09

I wrote a whole bunch of introductions to this article. When it comes down to it, reality overwhelms anything I could have written. I had planned to write about our trip to Eilat (it was the first time for all of us except Goldie – who was in Eilat 20 years ago), but current events overwhelm my ability to focus on anything else.

When we originally made Aliyah, we were at an education seminar where one principal jokingly said that he defines the difference between an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) and an Oleh Vatik (old – or experienced – immigrant) as their having lived through a war as citizens. No matter how recently you have arrived or how long you have been here, he argued, you aren’t really a part of the fabric of Israeli society until you have lived through a war. I guess this makes us real Sabras, since this is our second war in less than three years.

On our way back from Eilat we had a choice to make. The longer route (traveling via the Dead Sea Highway), added almost two hours to our trip, but totally avoided the rocket zone. The shorter route, which we had taken earlier in the week, took us past Beer Sheva and through Kiryat Gat, areas that were within the “danger zone” of rocket attacks.

After discussing the issue, we decided not to let ourselves be terrorized and chose to return the “normal” way home. We also felt that it would be important for our kids to get a small sense of what other children have to live through day after day. So we had a conversation with the kids about where we were going and how to act in case of a rocket alert and then headed home.

Batya was clearly spooked by the whole thing. She kept asking if we were in Beer Sheva yet and how long it would be until we got to Beer Sheva. Unfortunately, Batya is our most sensitive kid in these areas. When we talked about going on vacation, she made sure to pour over the details to make sure we weren’t sneaking to Sderot or “the North” (she is still spooked by the Lebanon war and thinks that the entire Northern region of Israel is still a warzone).

When we got to Beer Sheva, Batya put her head down and was terrified. As soon as the city was in the rearview mirror, I told Batya that we were past it and Mordechai chimed up “Good – now nobody is going to throw bombs on us.”

I know it seems foolhardy to put our family in the danger zone, but there is a point to be made, not to our enemy, but to ourselves. Yes, we have to take care of ourselves and avoid insane risks. But we also need to keep ourselves from allowing the terror to defeat us. We need to make personal statements that say, “I acknowledge the fear, but will not let it rule me.”

I fear that our military will end up having to withdraw before the job is done. Quite frankly, I cannot actually imagine how they will get the job done. How do you defeat an army that can vanish into the civilian population until you leave? We need to have certainty that we will be safe from rocket fire, but I have no clue how we can get it. Yet, and here is the real point, it seems that we often seem to end up at a place that is good for us, even if we didn’t think so in the first place.

There are difficult military and political maneuvers ahead of our country and I have no idea how they will turn out. But I do have faith that things are not left to chance and have seen too many things fall into perfect place (especially when they seemed to be at their worst) to think that there isn’t someone at the helm of the ship.

I worry more about individuals. My nephew. The dorm counselor from our Yeshiva who was called up for military reserve duty. The neighbor who had his reserve duty extended a few weeks. For these people there are no guarantees, and we seem to pay a heavy price, in blood, for the existence of our nation.

They show up for duty and are proud of their ability to serve our nation. They often are forbidden from sharing the details of what they are doing (the soldiers are having their cellphones taken away from them when they enter the warzone). My nephew had to lie to my sister (a mother always knows) about what he was doing (so far we aren’t aware if he has entered into Gaza). These are all real people and they have real families, families just like yours.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR POLITICS ARE. You can believe in Israel or not. You can be non religious, modern orthodox, ultra orthodox or anywhere in between. It doesn’t make a difference when Jews are dying and need your support. We need you to daven for the safety of our soldiers, the same soldiers who protect you whenever you come to visit and ask nothing in return. Please remember this in shul this week when it comes time for the Mi Sheberach for the soldiers and have them all in your minds, hearts and prayers.

To end on a less somber note, I wanted to share two different “only in Israel” stories. In the first, Goldie and I were heading home after an engagement party. We were listening to the radio and the announcer said, “all you residents of the South, don’t you worry – stay tuned right here and we will tell you if there is an alert, no need to miss a minute of the music.” Goldie and I exchanged a look. It was a truly surreal moment, something we would never expect elsewhere.

Imagine our surprise when about a minute and a half later when the announcer came back on the air in the middle of a song to announce that the alert for Ashkelon had sounded and all residents of Ashkelon should immediately go to their shelters. The next time you listen to the radio, stop for a second and try to figure out what you would do if you needed to go to a shelter. Where you would go and how you would react if you were under this kind of constant threat.

We had a different tragedy in our Yeshiva this week. One of our Rabbeim lost his wife after a long illness. The family lives in the Yeshiva’s building and will be sitting shiva there all week. We have known that this was coming, but it still is not an easy thing to deal with.

As part of the arrangements, we had to notify the police about the shiva so that they would not give out parking tickets to those who came to console the mourners. Our administrator called them up and told the person who answered the phone what she needed. The response? “I am not the right person to talk to and I will transfer you to them. But I want to tell you first that I share your pain.”

That extra sentence is what makes Israel such a special place. The sense of community and belonging that we share. As Jews, we generally feel excluded from that feeling in other countries. Not here. Please daven that we get to keep being this way.

Mazal Tov to former 5 Towners and our current neighbors Mark and Yosefa Krauss on the engagement of their son Gavi. Mazal Tov also to Miriam Pinsky (who stayed with us for Shabbat a couple times when she was here for the year) on her engagement. And a very special Mazal Tov to our steady Friday morning double date couple, Tzippy and Dani Lieberman on the birth and Brit of their son Uziel.

Preparing for the Worst (Article# 101) 1/1/09

Having been away for three and half out of five weeks (NY and London), it was great to return home. Not that I don’t enjoy seeing family and our alumni, but everyone knows there is no place like home.

One of the great parts about Israeli attitudes is the commitment toward the community that the average Israeli displays. With mandatory military service and a voluntary national service program for women, Israeli youth are indoctrinated with the need to care about the well being of others at a very young age. This commitment often (although certainly not always) extends itself to a high level of volunteerism in the “nationalistic” or “Zionistic” ranks.

One of these extraordinary volunteers is Benny Pflanzer, the Manka”l (Director) of the Yeshiva I work at, Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. Aside from being some type of executive officer of his Golani battalion (I don’t understand what he does – just that it is important in the army) who is regularly called for reserve duty, he recently trained to be a paramedic and volunteers his time for Magen David Edom (“MADA”) – the Israeli emergency medical response/ambulance service.

He takes this commitment very seriously, spending time both on emergency calls and driving and ambulance when needed, in order to serve the needs of his neighbors. His dedication is actually quite intimidating at times, and I often see it as a silent rebuke for the fact that other than actually making Aliyah (which many Israelis see as a dedication beyond anything they can do), I don’t feel like I really give much back to my new country.

When he asked me what I thought about our Yeshiva serving as host for an emergency response exercise, I told him that I thought it was a great idea. Reflecting on the effectiveness of their emergency responders to the Mercaz HaRav terrorist attack, MADA was looking to stage a simulation of a similar attack in order to prepare their medics.

The medics came to the building for an educational seminar, at the end of which we conducted the simulation. In order to provide for a realistic response by the medics, they were not told about the simulation until literally seconds before it began.

Each student was given a role. Some were victims (with injury and vital sign cards hung on their necks), others were bystanders (encouraged to display shock or volunteer to help as needed) and one was even a member of the media (with video camera in hand) encouraged to be as “in their face” and annoying as possible in order to give a true realistic flavor. They were also encourage to be as realistic as possible, by screaming and yelling and creating a general sense of pandemonium.

As I prepared to video the simulation, I wandered outside to the Yeshiva’s parking lot where I found an incredibly chilling scene. In preparation for the drill, there were ambulances with flashers running and a series of stretchers lined up in a row, waiting for “victims”. Even though I knew it was a fake, it still shook me.

Once the simulation began it was truly chaotic. Our guys threw themselves into their parts wholeheartedly. As a bystander I was overwhelmed by the noise and frantic activity. While the gravity of an actual attack was not present and there were frequent smiles exchanged, there was definitely a serious approach taken to the work and all “victims” were identified, triaged, treated and “taken” by ambulance in less than 20 minutes from the start of the event.

Although we certainly hope that such preparedness is not needed, we were quite proud to have participated and be a part (minor as it may be) of preparing these dedicated volunteers to do their duty when called upon.

The simulation also served as a kind of kickoff to Channuka season. Without the heavy influence of other religions’ holidays in Israel, we are free to celebrate Channuka as an entire society. Sufganiyot began to appear in the bakeries and grocery stores and channuka candles sprouted on store counters throughout the land. And, our personal favorite, the kids started singing their channuka songs (none of which we, as American born, are familiar with).

We are no longer in the “first zone” (first year in Israel, first channuka, etc.) for many items. We are somewhat “used to” the idea that this is a Jewish country. It was a special moment for Goldie and I then, when one of our students (Daniel Bonner from Dallas, Texas) walked into the office, looked at a calendar and commented, “Is it X-mas today? I had NO IDEA!”

Yet another reminder of what makes our home special.

As we went to press this week, the latest series of violence erupted in Gaza. My nephew (Yonatan Ben Arieh), who serves in the Golani brigade, stands a very strong chance of being called into action within days, if not weeks. Please keep him and all of our men and women in the Armed Services in your tefillot as well as those bystanders who are injured or heaven forbid killed, simply so that the enemy can inflict pain upon us. May the violence end soon, may our military be successful in accomplishing their mission and may we see a safe, secure Israel very soon.

Letter to the Editor By Shmuel Katz 1/1/2009

Dear Editor,

I was quite dismayed to see Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg’s letter in last week’s paper, in which he criticizes the tone of some of my recent “Aliyah Chronicle” articles. It was all the more distressing because Rav Ginzberg’s last comment upon my articles (“A Personal Response,” April 27, 2007) imparted an inspiring sense of tremendous chizuk for Goldie and I when we were going through such trying times. To face such a sharp rebuke from a friend who has in the past been a source of inner strength and confidence—a person who enhanced our bitachon when it was truly ebbing—was quite painful. I respect and admire him and certainly hope that his letter and my response do not mar our personal friendship in any way.

Twenty months ago, Larry Gordon, publisher of the Five Towns Jewish Times, approached me with what I thought was a tremendously novel idea. He was convinced that the public would be interested in hearing about aliyah from a personal perspective and that people would respond to a personal journal of the everyday experiences of an oleh. Perhaps, he added, coming to understand that the many hurdles faced in making aliyah can be overcome will inspire others to follow in our footsteps. And thus “Our Aliyah Chronicle” was born.

Almost immediately, it became apparent that Larry’s idea was right on target. From the first week the column hit the paper, we were approached by people who told of their admiration that we were taking the plunge, of a relative who had gone before us, and even a few who thought we were making a terrible mistake. I remember a conversation I had with Rav Ginzberg, at the annual Hatzalah barbecue in 2006, in which he predicted that my articles would inspire many others to come on aliyah in our footsteps.

Over time, it was made clear to me that one of the most compelling parts of the series was my willingness to be honest about not only the highs, but the lows as well. At his son’s bar mitzvah, Larry shared some feedback he had gotten from a friend in the Five Towns about how my articles were more captivating than any other series he had read about Israel because “you never know what is going to happen with Katz. One week he is higher than a kite and the next week is the worst week he has ever had. He writes life.”

In the feedback that I have gotten from those who have chosen to follow us or are considering following us to Israel, that same message appears. They see from our experiences that there are highs and there are lows, but that the lows can be overcome and it is just that piece of reality that encourages him. I often hear, “If you could do it—with all that you have faced—so can I.”

So, at least in my opinion, the fact that I share the bad along with the good actually enhances my message. No one reading my articles can accuse me of glossing over the tough spots. Which is a good thing. The last thing I would want on my conscience is someone having a claim that I misled them or failed to be honest with them about such a life-changing endeavor.

And, according to my inbox, many of you feel the same. I want to thank Rabbi Ginzberg for inspiring feedback that I got this week from others. Last week’s criticism of my articles has inspired people to show me their support, and I appreciate it.

Rav Ginzberg also says that he misses the wonderful inspiration that my stories of life in Eretz Yisrael used to bring. The fact is that I am still writing stories about my other experiences here, such as being interviewed for the radio for the USA elections, a story about my speaking to Batya’s fourth-grade class (in Hebrew for 45 minutes) about being a kohein, and the overwhelming feelings we had in Chaya’s getting her first citizen’s ID card—I wrote all this in the month of November. (In December, I wrote two articles: one, the article in question, and the other focused on my USA trip.)

Rav Ginzberg raises additional issues, saying that what I wrote is akin to the sin of the meraglim, telling lashon ha’ra about our holy land of Israel. He certainly makes a compelling case, and asks some serious questions about the justification for my treatment of the radical chareidim and their outrageous behavior.

I am not a Torah scholar; I have no semichah or any other form of rabbinic or scholarly ordination. If I err in my interpretation of the following source or in my interpretation of halachah, I apologize.

In the Ramban’s analysis of the sin of the meraglim, he specifically states that their sin was in the use of the word “efes,” (translated as “but”). The meraglim said wonderful things about Israel, then said “but” and proceeded to tell negative things about the land. In that instance, the “but” was used as a means to say, “Yes, it is a great land, but we cannot live there, because…” This, according to the Ramban, is their sin. It’s not the fact that they told the truth, but that they lacked faith that such obstacles could be overcome by the Divine.

I defy anyone to find the “but” in anything I have written. Never have I said that people should not come to Israel, and in the article in question, I specifically closed with a disclaimer that all neighborhoods worldwide have tensions at times, and that this is simply the tension that we are facing in Bet Shemesh at the current time and my hope is that we will overcome such tensions.

I am not criticizing the Land of Israel; I am only decrying the horrible sins of those who by their actions are creating a chillul H-shem. It is their actions that are denigrating the holiness of the land—not mine. At no point do I ever say that this is an Israeli problem or something which is awful about Israel. I am even very particular to point out (on a regular basis) that we are not talking about the vast majority of chareidim, just a very effective minority.

Interestingly, it does not appear to be lashon ha’ra about Israel when I talk about issues relating to the chilonim (non-religious) or the Arabs. They live in Israel, as well, and are part of the aliyah experience. I have written about our concerns about our kids’ future military service and my nephew’s current military service—certainly topics that might make someone reconsider coming on aliyah. Yet, this didn’t seem to be of concern, either.

Rather than criticize me, I respectfully suggest that, as a religious leader, Rabbi Ginzberg should be the first in line to repudiate any connection such thugs and goons have to Torah and the holiness of Israel. All the rabbanim of Bet Shemesh were indeed quick to do so, each one of them calling for every person in the community to do “whatever he can” to stand up to such hooliganism. One of them went so far as to say that any rabbi who encourages such actions is not a rabbi in any sense of the word.

I think some of the difference between our attitudes towards the situation stems from the fact that my children are endangered by these people. My wife and daughters have to walk the streets of Bet Shemesh, and these criminals are a serious threat to their safety. One might have a different perspective if it were his own daughter that was thrown to the ground, pelted with eggs, kicked repeatedly, and called a Nazi (and other, unprintable, names).

I invite anyone who is critical of my reporting to show their own love for the land of Israel and to lead by example—by making aliyah themselves.

Shmuel Katz
Bet Shemesh

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Letter to the Editor By Rabbi AZ Ginzberg 12/25/2008

Dear Editor,

Until recently I thought I was the only one disturbed by the content and tone of my friend Shmuel Katz’s articles over the last few months; but the last installment seems to have touched a raw nerve in many others, as well.

When our friend and neighbor made the courageous decision to make aliyah with his family a few years ago he continued his valued and dedicated service to the community by keeping a diary of the challenges, problems, and benefits of the aliyah process. I, like others, read with great interest and concern Reb Shmuel Katz’s journey to the land of our fathers, and the minor setbacks and frustrations that he and his family faced, culminating with a successful aliyah.

His articles were informative, encouraging, even uplifting. I personally know of two families (and there probably were significantly more) that, after reading Shmuel’s weekly diary installments, were encouraged to take the final step to aliyah. V’chein yirbu.

But something happened.

In recent months, feeling the need to share with us some of the challenges of daily life in Ramat Beit Shemesh, in particular dealing with some of the extremists in the community; we have read descriptions of these chareidi extremists as gangsters, criminals etc.; the kind of terminology usually reserved by such secular Israeli newspapers as Haaretz or Yediot Achronot.

Most disturbing is why Reb Shmuel feels that we need to hear the “dark side” of life in Eretz Yisrael, and how this helps people become motivated about aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. If a particular person should ask him about the communal difficulties in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and it would be determined that there would be a “toeles” (purpose) in relating this information to that person, it would probably be acceptable to share this information; albeit without the name calling.

However, what heter is there to speak lashon ha’ra about Eretz Yisrael in a public forum without any toeles whatsoever. On whose halachic authority was this public criticism of life in Eretz Yisrael allowed?

Our Chazal point out that there were two terrible sins committed by Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar: one was the cheit ha’egel, and the other the sin of the meraglim. The fundamental difference between the two is that the cheit ha’egel was forgiven, but the sin of the meraglim was not. Why is that so? I once thought to explain that it was because the eigel was a sin against H-shem, and he was mochel on his kavod. However, the sin of the meraglim was a sin against Eretz Yisrael and on that there is no mechila.

Speaking publicly and disparagingly about Eretz Yisrael and about a specific group, no matter how disturbing, is a form of lashon ha’ra on the land, which the land does not forgive. Added to that is that the unacceptable categorizing of chareidim (even these extremists) as gangsters, etc. is unnecessary at best, prohibited at worst.

How did we go from advocating for aliyah to becoming an antagonist against the chareidim, or “chareidi bashing” as it’s referred to?

I once shared with your readers a story about the previous Amshinover Rebbe, zt”l, of Bayit Vegan. One day, the Rebbe’s driver, who usually wore a jacket out of respect for the Rebbe, commented, “It is so hot today, would the Rebbe mind if I take my jacket off?” The Rebbe replied, “For my part you can take off your shirt, but please don’t speak lashon ha’ra about Eretz Yisrael.”

The Gemara is replete with stories of how the Tannaim and Amoraim went out of their way never to utter a bad or unkind word about Eretz Yisrael, either the land or its people. It is related in Kesuvos (112A) that Rav Ami and Rav Assi would go from sun to shade and vice versa to avoid any feeling of discomfort in Eretz Yisrael.

Is the price of a successful aliyah to feel like an Israeli and take sides in a war against chareidim—even against the most extreme of groups? This will not encourage aliyah, nor will it inspire more Ahavas Yisrael and tolerance against even the most intolerant of us.

I miss the trials and tribulations of the aliyah process and the underlying love for the land and its people. I miss hearing of the experiences of the first yom tov, the first Chanukah, the kedushah of a Shabbos in Eretz Yisrael. And most of all I miss the wonderful inspiration that all of that gave to each and every one of us.

The consistent diary of the life and challenges of aliyah was indeed a valuable service; the chareidi-bashing and tales of communal strife in Ramat Beit Shemesh are not.

Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg

Climate Change (Article# 100) 12/18/2008

Traveling makes for a strange life. I know that there are plenty of people who travel for their jobs on a regular basis. Until we made Aliyah I was not one of them, and had really never thought that I would join their ranks.

I have to give credit to the families of the traveling parent. I calculated that my 5 or 6 trips I take each year translate into my being away for more than 10% of the Shabbatot of the year. With little kids in the house, this is a significant amount of time for me not to be home, especially since it is the only day we get to spend together as a family (remember – Sunday is a full work/school day here). This absence is certainly felt at home.

This past month was my busiest ever. I was home for 6 days (including Shabbat) out of 24 and it seemed strange trying to get back to a routine. I cannot imagine how the people who travel 8-10 times a year can manage. Thankfully, I am home for 6 weeks straight and can finally get back to a “normal” routine.

Two major events happened here in the past couple of weeks. In the first, the slates for the national elections were selected by each party. We now know who the candidates are and in what order they will get into the Knesset. We also saw how flawed the primary system for the parties is and how easily the system can be manipulated by our “leaders” (not that I have any gripes about Feiglin’s treatment – I am sure some other columnist in the paper will cover that angle for us).

The other major development, at least for Bet Shemesh, was the installation of our new Chareidi mayor. Yeah, I know it is getting boring hearing me rail on about the Chareidim, but it’s news. Since the mayor assumed his office, it appears that the more radical fringes of his community have felt emboldened to step up not just their rhetoric, but their actions as well.

It started with the mass resumption of the Shaaaaaaabbbbiiiiiiiiiiiiissssss shouters – our lovely neighbors who feel an urge to remind us all just what day it is at 3 AM. It continued when a group of thugs (there is no other word for them) came INTO OUR NEIGHBORHOOD (not theirs) and threatened to beat up a group of teenagers who were talking together in the street on a Friday night. It hit its lowest point (so far) when 3 teenage girls, all of whom were dressed appropriately, were accosted in the Chareidi neighborhood and verbally abused.

Two of them ran to safety. The third did not escape what was quickly becoming a mob. They grabbed her, threw her to the ground and proceeded to kick her. A local teen saw the beating and ran to try to get her away. He too was beaten and then told that if the Chareidim ever saw him again they would kill him.

They only got away when a woman called to them from her building (next door) and they managed to run to her apartment, where she kept them for over an hour until the thugs left before she and her husband walked them home. Although the kids were not hospitalized, they were certainly terrorized and have multiple bruises and scratches.

The initial response from the police and city were muted. They took a report and then went back to business as usual. It was only after they were flooded with calls from the greater Anglo community that they stepped up to the plate to say that they were trying to find ways to address the problem. They will not find one.

Unfortunately, the only thing these thugs respond to is the same thing that bullies respond to. Someone standing up to them. I am convinced that someone will have to be seriously injured before the “official” authorities step in and I am absolutely positive that “unofficial” authorities will end up taking matters into their own hands. There could be a real war here if things get out of hand.

The tragedy is that none of this has to happen. In my opinion, if the mayor called a meeting with the most radical of the Rabbis and told them that he will personally make sure that their schools’ discretionary funding will be cut, that the police will be scrutinizing their shuls and Yeshivot for violations, that quite frankly he will make sure that the municipality does everything to make life difficult for them – they will eventually cave in. I believe that a lot of their recent boldness is a direct result of their confidence that a chareidi mayor would never stand in their way (the same way that the general chareidi public, while not publicly supporting these people, still do nothing to thwart them in their terrorist behavior).

I know my neighbors are going to say, “How could you paint such a bleak picture of Bet Shemesh?” I can only answer that this is the truth of what we are living with in Bet Shemesh these days. I would also add that no community is free from infighting. Be it the school district election wars in the 5 Towns to the anti Semitism that is growing worldwide to the infighting between the various Chassidic sects in NY, tension is always a step away. Hopefully we will get through this as well as we can.