Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Snippets from Israel

Murderers on Our Turf

As you are well aware, we in Israel are living in the shadow of terror. This past week, we attended more levayos. The Arabs may have slowed the pace of their attacks, but their level of daring has increased. The murderer of Dafna Meir was apprehended shortly after the attack, in his own bed, as a result of the intensive efforts of the security services. The boy does not sleep at home every night, and the IDF soldiers, accompanied by men from the Shin Bet, surrounded the house and entered it only when they knew that he was in his bed. How did they know? The army has vast information about everything taking place in the Palestinian Authority.

Is the wave of terror subsiding? After all, the Arabs will have to grow tired of it at some point. They will have to recognize that it is accomplishing nothing. The fact that the terrorists’ homes, where their parents and siblings live, are being demolished rapidly after each attack must also serve as a deterrent factor. Now, the Minister of the Interior has ordered that any terrorists who are not killed in the act are to be stripped of their Israeli citizenship. This means that they are deprived of all of their rights, and are unable to work in the State of Israel.

This week, I rode in a taxi with a driver who lives in Beit Hanina. The Arab taxi driver informed me that he was selling everything he owns and moving to Jordan. I asked why, and his reply was frightening: “I can’t continue this way now that the relations between the Jews and the Arabs have become so strained. And if you think that the situation is almost over, you are mistaken. This is only the beginning.” Let us hope that he is wrong!

I live in Yerushalayim – not in a settlement or in Gush Etzion, but in the neighborhood of Givat Shaul. My neighborhood is not one of the places that have suffered from the wave of terror (with the exception of the attack at the nearby Chords Bridge, which was also highly unusual for the area and occurred at a place that seems, at least psychologically, to be far away – the entrance to Yerushalayim). This week, though, I felt all too close to terror – and paralyzed by fear.

On Sunday morning, as always, I was davening at the Zupnik shul in Givat Shaul when a group of bochurim burst into the room and shouted, “There are terrorists in the neighborhood!” People began to panic. Suddenly, it was all too close to home. Not only did we understand the people in Tekoa and Itamar better, we also felt what they were going through. Death was lurking at the door.

Where were the terrorists? On Rechov Reines!

Yes, three terrorists with knives were at Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s shul. What happened? Were they captured? The details weren’t important anymore; what mattered was the sudden change to our lives. The reports came at a rapid pace: “They were in Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s shul.” “They were caught literally at the door of the Talmud Torah.” “They were armed with axes.” To make a long story short, there was no point in paying attention to all the wild chatter. We were all in the grip of hysteria, myself included. We felt that our very lives were hanging by a thread. We were only a step away from death. In the end, it was reported that the “terrorists” were “merely” car thieves. Apparently, they weren’t particularly smart either; after all, what fool tries to steal a car in a city swarming with policemen? But for us, it was an experience we would not soon forget.

Arab Arrogance in the Knesset

Speaking of Arabs, the Arab members of the Knesset are continuing to encourage terror. Last Thursday, an Arab Knesset member was found guilty of insulting public officials. The targets of her insults were Arab policemen, whom she screamed at for being “traitors.”

On that note, I would like to share with you an incident that took place in the Knesset last week. But first, a bit of background. Deputy Minister Yaron Mazuz and the Palestinian members of the Knesset have not been getting along well, ever since Mazuz suggested, in a debate over the Citizenship Law, that the identity cards of Arab Knesset members who work against the State of Israel should be revoked. “I will work to take away your ID cards,” asserted Mazuz, the deputy Minister of the Interior, and the result was a torrent of criticism. This week, when Mazuz became the deputy Minister of Welfare, the Arabs saw a chance for revenge. Ahmed Tibi, who was chairing the Knesset sitting, mocked Mazuz. In my view, it was both excessive and an abuse of his position.

When the subject of Mazuz’s installation came up on the Knesset’s agenda, Tibi announced, “And now it is coming. Knesset member Mazuz, it is coming. This is the moment we have all been waiting for: the moment when Yaron Mazuz will be sworn in. It is almost here, gentlemen. And now, the declaration of allegiance of a deputy minister who will be serving in the prime minister’s office, MK Yaron Mazuz. Please come up.”

Yaron Mazuz began speaking. “Honored chairman, Mr. Ahmed Tibi….”

MK Yechiel (Chilik) Bar interjected, “I am here because the opposition decided to send a representative to see you sworn in.”

“Ahmed and Khaied are also here,” Tibi noted. “Their identity cards haven’t been taken away yet.

“Where are they? Show them to me,” Mazuz replied.

“Ahmed, on the right, is from Umm el-Fahm,” Tibi replied. “Khaied is from Rahat.”

“From Rahat. And they have their identity cards?” Mazuz asked.

“They still have them,” Tibi confirmed. “You know why I am happy?”

“Yes, Ahmed.”

“I am happy because you are leaving the Ministry of the Interior, where you have the ability to take away a person’s identity card, and you are joining the prime minister’s office, where your ability to revoke an identity card will not be as great.”

“It’s an office where you can’t do a thing!” Chilik Bar added.

“Chilik, calm down,” Mazuz responded. “First of all, be calm. I would like to respond to Ahmed. In the prime minister’s office, I am going to be overseeing the Interior Ministry, so the subject of identity cards—”

“Just a minute,” Tibi interrupted. “You are going to be overseeing Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior?”

The rancorous exchange did not end there. It may sound entertaining, but it wasn’t at all. This was the Knesset, after all. And when one of the Knesset members responded to Ahmed Tibi and called him by his first name, Tibi replied, “When I am sitting here, I am called ‘Mr. Speaker.’”

“With pleasure, ‘Mr. Speaker,’” Mazuz replied. “Honored Speaker, Mr. Ahmed Tibi.”

Mazuz was sworn in to his new office, and Tibi announced mockingly, “And now we have reached the climax of this occasion, and the suspense will now dissipate.” His mocking attitude was highly inappropriate!

Dizengoff in the Holy City

Dizengoff was the first mayor of Tel Aviv, who actually insisted on Shabbos observance in his city. Today, one of the main streets in the ultra-liberal city bears his name, to our chagrin. It is that street in Tel Aviv to which the title of this section refers.

This week, the members of the Knesset all received a large card with a number of colorful pictures and a passage from the book Yavo Shiloh. One of the pictures showed a restaurant, at the corner of Rechov Azza and Rechov Ha’Ari, open at the beginning of Shabbos. The caption reported, “This past Shabbos, all of the coffee houses until the corner of Rechov Radak were open, just like on Dizengoff.” Another image showed a page from a local publication in Yerushalayim announcing that a certain coffee house was expected to be open on Shabbos in Independence Park, in the heart of the city.

The cards’ sender drew a link between the Shabbos desecration and the terror attacks in the city, quoting the novi Yirmiyah, “Tzion has no one who seeks it,” implying that one should seek to promote the city’s spiritual well-being, and quoting Yavo Shiloh, the sefer authored by Rav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshivas Mir in Modiin Illit. In the passage quoted on the cards, Rav Aryeh states, “In Yirmiyah’s prophecy, we see that there is an unbreakable connection between Shabbos and the Beis Hamikdosh. We have learned that the entire existence of Yerushalayim depends on the observance of Shabbos, and shemiras Shabbos is what makes it possible for the Beis Hamikdosh to exist. This can be explained as follows: Shabbos is the means through which we recognize Hashem’s Kingship, and even during the week, when a person is involved in his worldly affairs, he is sustained by the recognition he achieved on Shabbos and remains committed to being a servant of Hashem. This recognition is renewed and strengthened every Shabbos, and it is what leads a person to serve Hashem throughout his life. When all of Bnei Yisroel observe Shabbos and are influenced by it, they all become servants of Hashem, and when there is a nation, there is a King. Thus, Shabbos causes the Shechinah to rest upon the world. But if they do not observe Shabbos, chas v’sholom, then they cast off the yoke of Heaven, and without a nation, there is no King. Therefore, ‘if you do not listen to Me … I will ignite a fire in its gates, and it will consume the palaces of Yerushalayim and it will not be mourned!’” This is reason enough for all of us to be ashamed.

The Judge and the Rambam

In honor of the upcoming retirement of Attorney General Weinstein and the inauguration of his successor, Avichai Mandelblit, a major general in the reserves, the secretary of the government, and a religious Jew, let us turn our attention to recent events involving Israel’s judicial system. Justice Noam Sohlberg of the Israeli Supreme Court recently announced his belief that the use of state witnesses is permitted by Torah law. “Since we have a judicial system on earth, not in heaven, and only Hashem can read the mind and heart of a human being, we have no choice but to hold our noses and use the testimony of state witnesses.” The last time a kippah-wearing judge – in that case, Elyakim Rubinstein – quoted the Chasam Sofer and the Netziv, I proved that his conclusions were false, and I feel that the same is true in this case. The Torah, after all, prohibits testifying together with a witness who is a rasha.

Sohlberg did concede that a state witness is an invalid eid, since it is forbidden to accept the testimony of a person classified as a rasha, but he maintained that it is necessitated by extenuating circumstances in our generation. He claimed to base his ruling on the Rambam, but since he didn’t provide a citation, I can’t dispute his reading of the Rambam. It should be sufficient, though, for me to quote the Yabia Omer’s ruling that it is prohibited. I do not believe there should be any question as to which of the two – Sohlberg or Rav Ovadiah Yosef – is the greater expert in the Rambam or more qualified to render a ruling.

Parenthetically, Rav Ovadiah’s ruling was released when Shomo Benizri, a government minister, was convicted on the basis of the testimony of a hostile state witness who was known to be a liar. The media claimed that Rav Ovadiah had issued the ruling in order to benefit Benizri, with whom he had a close relationship. The same arguments were made when the psak halachah was publicized during Aryeh Deri’s trial, which was another instance when a public official was convicted based on the testimony of a state witness who was a pathological liar. In that case, the judge decided somehow that the witness’s testimony could be accepted regarding the specific case, even though he had no credibility. In both cases, the accusations were wrong; Rav Ovadiah had issued his ruling almost 40 years earlier, when Aharon Abuchatzeirah, the Minister of Religious Affairs at the time, was tried on criminal charges.

Returning to the present, I will reiterate that I did not study the Rambam on which Sohlberg based his conclusion, but I am willing to wager that his inference that a state witness may be accepted in extenuating circumstances is utterly unfounded.

Abandoning Jewish Terror Victims

Not long ago, I wrote about the Israel Medical Association’s twisted directive to emergency responders to treat the most critically wounded patient at the scene of any incident first – even if that patient is the murderer. Last week, MK Yoav Ben-Tzur raised the issue in the Knesset. Perhaps because the issue was brought up only at the end of the day, the motion for the agenda did not receive much attention, even though it is a question of medical ethics that can have bearing on matters of life and death.

Ben-Tzur announced, “From this podium, I would like to call upon the director-general of Magen David Adom to change this rule immediately, since this position stands in total contrast to both human and Jewish ethics. It is inconceivable that an organization that works for the Jewish state and serves as its official emergency aid provider should issue such a guideline to its staff. It is intolerable for a medical organization that serves this state to be directed to leave a wounded citizen and to withhold treatment from him, possibly costing him an organ or leading to a prolonged rehabilitative progress, while giving the treatment that was withheld from him to a vicious terrorist who attempted to murder him. There is no international standard that can be used to justify this horrendous distortion of morality.” Incredibly, a terror attack took place at the very moment that Ben-Tzur was delivering his address.

The office of the Speaker of the Knesset asked Ben-Tzur to withdraw his motion, since it was liable to create strife. Ben-Tzur turned down the request. The government’s response was delivered by Yaakov Litzman, the Minister of Health, who spoke with uncharacteristic brevity. While he didn’t directly attack the Israel Medical Association’s decision, his opinion on the subject was clear.

“I want to address the issue in general terms,” Litzman said. “I read the position paper issued by the Israel Medical Association on the subject of which patients should be given priority in treatment, and I protest the organization’s involvement in this subject. It should not be involving itself in these matters.” Litzman praised the medical teams for their dedicated work and advised Ben-Tzur to content himself with the fact that he had spoken about the issue. Ben-Tzur asked for the subject to be transferred to a committee, and Rabbi Litzman agreed. The unanimous decision was for the issue to be brought to the Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee for further discussion.

Wasted Food

Here is a somewhat sad news item from this week. It happens in almost every home, every restaurant, and every other business: Food products are stored until they become unusable and are then discarded. In the State of Israel, 2.5 million tons of food are lost every year, making up 35 percent of the country’s production of food. The monetary value of the food wasted this past year was assessed at 18 billion shekels. The average household has been found to allow 85 kilograms of food to go to waste each year, at a monthly cost of 616 shekels. About 75 percent of the discarded food consists of fruits and vegetables. These figures appeared in the first national report on food preservation and waste in Israel, which was produced by the Leket Israel organization in conjunction with the global consulting firm BDO.

According to the report’s findings, about half of the food that is discarded is food that could be saved, meaning that it is fit for human consumption. In other words, about 1.3 million tons of food discarded each year, with a value of 8 billion shekels, could theoretically be saved and put to use. Preserving 600,000 tons of wasted food each year, which would make up only a quarter of the food destroyed in the State of Israel, would represent a savings of 3 billion shekels, the difference between the total amount spent on food by the economically weaker sector of Israeli society and that spent by normative households.

Why isn’t the food saved and distributed to the poor? The chief economist of BDO explains, “The fact that the food is not being rescued stems from the misconception that it isn’t economically worthwhile to save it, since the price at which the food can be sold is lower than the cost of rescuing it. But this is where the dissonance exists: The market price of the saved food doesn’t reflect the value it would possess if it were transferred to meet the needs of the insecure populace. Vendors, for instance, tend to think that since the market price of grade B produce is low, it isn’t worthwhile to sell the produce, while the weaker population sees the produce as a perfect substitute for grade A fruits and vegetables, since it has the same nutritional value.”

What can each of us do to reduce the waste of food? The experts say that the first priority is simple awareness. It can begin with proper home management, and it must include the sensible management of hotel kitchens, food preparation at events, and so forth. The experts suggest that we discuss the subject with our children and coworkers, in order to raise awareness and public involvement in the cause. There were other attempts in the past to rescue food from being discarded, but those attempts failed. One of the reasons was that some of the food spoiled, and claims were filed against the donors – even though the actual cause of the problem was the improper storage of the food by the chessed organizations that collected it.

Wheels of Chessed

In conclusion, let us turn our attention to the chessed organization known as Darchei Miriam. Last week, I attended an event marking the third yahrtzeit of Rav Yisroel Weingarten zt”l, the man who founded Darchei Miriam ten years before his passing. Rav Weingarten launched the organization in memory of his wife, Miriam, who passed away after suffering from “the machalah.” At first, its purpose was to provide transportation to and from hospitals for patients and their families. Following its founding, the organization expanded into other areas as well. Today, the organization provides about 150 rides every day in Yerushalayim for patients and their companions. Its drivers transport their passengers to hospitals both within the city and outside its limits.

Every ride provided by a Darchei Miriam volunteer does more than merely save the beneficiary time and the cost of a taxi. The organization’s drivers can also credit themselves with providing emotional support to the ill and their families. The dedicated drivers can tell countless inspiring stories of the results of their acts of chessed.

Rav Yisroel Weingarten brought the concept of giving to the highest possible level. He insisted on personally driving first-time patients who were just beginning treatment, and in the course of the drive, he would delicately assess each patient’s condition and gauge his level of strength. Based on his observations, Rav Weingarten would determine how he could best be of aid to the beneficiary and provide him with the proper assistance. He would also determine whether the person was in need of additional forms of aid, such as vouchers for food or clothing, or whether he should send people to visit the patient at home or in the hospital. He was a genius not only in the performance of chessed and in determining the needs of others, but also in providing assistance to those in need with the greatest possible pleasantness. His pure heart and mind worked day and night to determine how to best benefit others.

On one trip to the hospital on a winter day, Rav Weingarten noted that the secular female patient, who was accompanied to her chemotherapy treatments by her adult son, had no winter coat. Rav Weingarten purchased an elegant coat before the next drive, and in the car, he commented nonchalantly, “We recently received a shipment of excellent winter coats. If you or your son know anyone who would like a good coat, please let us know.” Without giving the matter much thought, the woman replied, “If you really have so many coats, I would be happy to take one.” She never imagined that there was only one coat, which Rav Yisroel had purchased specifically for her.

Since Rav Yisroel’s passing three years ago, his sons have further developed the Darchei Miriam organization, in memory of their parents. Carrying on their father’s legacy of altruism and generosity, the Weingartens have introduced the concept of “coffee corners” in hospitals – mainly in the wards where serious ailments are treated – where visitors and patients can relax with tea, coffee, and cookies. One of the Weingartens visits each of the coffee corners daily, stocking them with cups for hot coffee and tea, simpler plastic cups for cold drinks, coffee of every sort, milk, and a variety of pastries. The organization’s coffee stations are a major source of relief for many people, not to mention huge monetary savings, since the price of coffee in hospital cafeterias is exorbitant. Today, the organization runs 30 coffee corners.

Darchei Miriam is also responsible for the daily shuttle to Hadassah hospital. In addition to the telephone hotline for transportation, the organization now runs a regular shuttle from the Chords Bridge to the hospital. Anyone who needs to travel to the hospital in Yerushalayim knows how complicated it is to get there via public transportation, which involves changing buses several times, can appreciate how much of a relief this represents. Darchei Miriam has also expanded its medicine gemach, which provides medications that are not included in the health services basket and are donated to Darchei Miriam by family members of patients who used those medications and have passed away. To some people, this branch of the organization is known as “Ahrele’s Gemach,” after Ahrele Weingarten, the leader of the Darchei Miriam chessed enterprise. Ahrele is one of the people most beloved by the doctors in Hadassah, the hospital administration, and, more than anything else, the patients and their families. There is rapid turnover – all too rapid – in the latter category.

May none of us ever know of such things, but you should be aware that every patient lives in his own world of darkness. A diagnosis of a disease plunges a person from the world of the healthy into the world of the sick, which is a world of isolation, fear, and gloom. Darchei Miriam, along with other wonderful organizations such as Ezer Mizion, helps introduce at least a ray of light into the lives of those suffering from these ailments.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who are ill. On every Motzoei Shabbos of a Shabbos Mevorchim, a visitor to the Kosel Hamaaravi will witness a mass tefillah gathering arranged by Darchei Miriam on behalf of the ill. Their list of names is too long to absorb, and it hasn’t been getting shorter. May Hashem protect and save all of us. At the moment, Darchei Miriam is in need of volunteer drivers with cars. The readers are invited to volunteer in America.

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