My Take on the News

Benny Gantz’s Surprise Election Bid

Israel has entered an election period, after the Knesset dissolved itself last week. Now, if you have been keeping abreast of events in the Knesset, you are probably aware that it still convened this week on Monday and Tuesday, and you may be wondering how that was possible. The answer to your question is that the Knesset can meet and pass legislation even during its recess, provided that the coalition and the opposition agree to it. That is what happened in this case: Since there were several bills awaiting a final vote, the lawmakers agreed to open the Knesset this week for that purpose.

The battle is already beginning to heat up. Almost all of the country’s polling institutes were quick to publish the results of their latest surveys, and Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has maintained his solid position at the top of the charts. The Likud party, under his leadership, appears to be maintaining its power, with 30 mandates, and some of the polls even show the party gaining influence. And all the polls show that Benny Gantz is poised to shake up the entire political scene.

Gantz is a former chief of staff of the army. Since his departure from that position, Gantz has had no public involvement. Even his political positions are unknown; no one knows if he is aligned with the right, left, or center, or whether he is a capitalist or a socialist. Yet, despite his silence – or perhaps because of it – the polls show a party under his leadership winning a sweeping 15 mandates, which is an extraordinary number. If this is true, he will have a dramatic effect on the political scene, as Gantz’s success will come at the expense of many other parties. For instance, all the polls until now have shown Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, winning between 15 and 20 mandates. With Gantz entering the picture, those projections have dropped to 11 mandates (a development that would be welcomed by the chareidi community). The Zionist Camp, which was expected to win between 12 and 20 mandates, has now dropped to seven.

It also seems that the egos of the various political players are contributing to tilting the scales in Netanyahu’s favor. If Lapid were to step aside and allow Gantz to take over as the head of Yesh Atid, for instance, his party might actually find itself on equal footing with the Likud, and Netanyahu’s power might be threatened. There is no chance, however, that Lapid will subordinate himself to anyone. On the other hand, Avi Gabbai offered Gantz the position of chairman of the Likud party, but Gantz refused.

No one understands how it is that former generals in the army have become magnets for voters, but somehow it seems to work.

Netanyahu Plays the Persecution Card

Meanwhile, it seems that Netanyahu might base his campaign on the claim that he is being persecuted by the establishment. He still remembers the election when the Shas party won 17 mandates after basing its campaign on Aryeh Deri’s conviction and sentencing by the courts. The campaign’s slogans were “He Is Innocent” and “J’Accuse” (Deri’s accusation of misconduct against those who had targeted him). The Israeli public demonstrated their lack of faith in the police, the prosecution, and the courts by granting the Shas party a record 17 seats in the Knesset. The country was shocked by the outcome of the election, and it seems that Netanyahu is now trying to copy its success.

Netanyahu has already announced that even if he is indicted, he does not intend to resign from his position or from the Knesset unless he is convicted. Of course, this led to plenty of indignant reactions, and there is no doubt that someone will petition the court to force him to step down if he is indicted, but the prosecution hasn’t yet decided to press charges. Although the attorney general seems likely to press charges against him, Netanyahu hopes that he will wait until after the election. He certainly prefers to run as a candidate whom the police have recommended indicting, rather than someone who is actually facing criminal charges. The Israeli public’s loathing for the police is likely to win him several mandates.

This week, Netanyahu met with the leaders of the political right. He wore a blue shirt, as if to portray himself as “Mr. Security,” since he is both the prime minister and the defense minister, while still appearing ordinary and accessible to the people. He was gracious and polite, and he also had good news to share with them: The Knesset, with Netanyahu’s approval, recently passed a law that legalized several settlements.

The Knesset – The Seat of Confusion

The Knesset, the parliament of the State of Israel, often strikes me as a madhouse. It is an oasis of insanity, where many decisions that seem to have no basis in logic or common sense are made. Almost all the political pundits assumed that the elections would be scheduled to take place after Yom Haatzmaut, so that the country would go to the polls after listening to Netanyahu’s speech on Mount Herzl, with the celebratory atmosphere of the day and all the festive and pompous speeches still ringing in their ears. But that did not happen. The experts also claimed that Yair Lapid couldn’t possibly renege on his intention to support the draft law, yet he did. The Knesset is simply a place of instability.

It is also a place of surprises. I was there last week when the leaders of the coalition announced the dissolution of the current government, citing a sense of “fiscal and national responsibility.” Everyone was shocked. Some of the Knesset members – mainly those who will not be present in the Twenty-First Knesset – walked around with their heads lowered. MK Yitzchok Vaknin, who announced that he will not be returning to the Knesset, commented that if the vote had been taken anonymously, the Knesset wouldn’t have dissolved itself.

One of the most baffling moves in this saga came from Yair Lapid. I have been listening to his recent speeches, which are filled with hatred and incitement. Over and over again, Lapid maligns the chareidi community, accusing them of draft evasion and of stealing public funds. He could easily give lessons on sowing discord and inciting one segment of the population against another. But as the posuk states, “The heart of a king is in the hands of Hashem.” Lapid is notorious for his political zigzagging, and the same posuk concludes, “He will tilt it wherever He desires.” Hashem can take any political leader and twist their will to do as He desires. In the end, everything He does is for our benefit. It was Lapid’s reversal that led to the elections being called, and I am certain that he will come to rue the day that the Knesset voted to disband.

In any event, the Twentieth Knesset is now taking its final breaths. It will probably continue to be analyzed until the elections. There will be endless talk about the laws it passed, the depths of bad behavior to which it descended, and many more such things. Overall, this government’s term was a particularly stormy period, in which the Knesset was intimidated by the Supreme Court, which used its authority to press a proverbial gun to the religious community’s heads, as well as to defile everything that is sacred. Army service for yeshiva bochurim, ersatz conversions, Reform prayer at the Kosel – everything has been fair game for judicial interference. To the credit of the chareidi community’s politicians, it should be noted that they have conducted themselves superbly. Every one of them has done the maximum that could be expected of him, and has adhered staunchly to the directives of his rabbeim.

The Ambassador Comes Home

At this time, any employees of the state who wish to be included in a list of candidates for the upcoming Knesset must resign from their posts. That is required by law, and one of Israel’s politicians who has taken that step is Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. In the past, Danon was a senior figure in the Likud party and held a ministerial position, but he relinquished his positions in order to accept his ambassadorial post. It is likely that he considered this to be a wise move for his future. There is a general sense in Israel that the position of ambassador to the United Nations is a springboard for further political advancement. Chaim Herzog, who was a member of the Knesset and later president of Israel, was also an ambassador to the UN, as were several other famous figures. Perhaps the most well-known of all, of course, is Binyomin Netanyahu.

So Danny Danon is now returning to Israel, where he intends to enter the Likud primaries. Netanyahu says that he has already chosen a replacement for Danon, but he is not yet prepared to divulge the next ambassador’s identity.

A Matter of Public Opinion

As I mentioned, the Knesset recently passed a law that finally legalized a number of settlements, which were established not merely with the government’s tacit approval but with its express encouragement. In some cases, these communities were even built on the government’s initiative.

Why did it take so long to sort out their legal status? There were many factors that prevented the government from recognizing them – the opposition of the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, fear of Obama and the European Union, and other such deterrents. It all boiled down to a matter of the world’s opinion. Now, however, with elections on the horizon, the government – especially Netanyahu and the Likud party – is more concerned about public opinion within Israel than about the opinion of the rest of the world. With all due respect to the world, it is the Israeli public who will be making their choices at the polls in a few months.

A Million Starving Children

Two weeks ago, a report was released by Latet, a charitable organization in Israel, that claimed that there are one million children in Israel who are going hungry. One million! Of course, the issue was raised in the Knesset. Here is an excerpt from the comments made by MK Yinon Azulai:

“Last week, the annual poverty report compiled by the Latet organization was released. According to the report, there are about 2,304,000 poor people in the State of Israel, including 1,041,000 children. This is an appalling statistic…

“The government does a tremendous amount for the sake of the poor in an effort to narrow the gaps,” Azulai asserted. “Our government is a socially-minded government. I am looking at this from my vantage point in the party to which I belong. Minister Aryeh Deri, who has given out coalition funds, has used this money for public transportation and for water, irrespective of which sector received the funds. The purpose has always been to narrow these gaps. In the Ministry of the Negev and Galil, he has arranged summer camps and has done many other things, and he deserves to be applauded for it. He is one of the leading socially-minded ministers. But we are still not doing enough. It cannot be accepted that in a properly run country, the Ministry of Welfare should diminish its funding for the stipends for Pesach that are provided by the chesed organizations that have taken this extensive work upon themselves. These are massive organizations, and it behooves us to give thanks to them – whether it is Chasdei Naomi, Yad Eliezer, Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, or, of course, Latet, or any other organization that is involved in chesed; I do not have the time to enumerate all of them. But – and this is a major but – in order for these chesed organizations to be involved in things aside from helping the poor, we must continue minimizing poverty and closing the major economic gaps within our society. From this place, I call upon the Minister of Welfare to do that. We are prepared to forgive him for the fact that he is not here now, but let him act for the sake of those poor people by increasing the government funding and narrowing the gaps.”

“I Lost the Children”

Another important speech was delivered in the Knesset last week by MK Michoel Malchieli, who called on the government to protest the rise in anti-Semitism in France, which led to the recent desecration of dozens of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg. If the government does not respond to such a provocation, he pointed out, then they will still be giving a message – the wrong message. With that, he embarked on a verbal offensive.

“I would like to draw your attention, Minister Bennett, to something that is happening at this time,” Malchieli said. “There has been a wave of thousands of Jews immigrating from France. At this time, thousands of Jews are making aliyah from France. This is a phenomenon from earlier times that is now recurring. About seventy years ago, thousands of Jews came to this country, mainly from the countries of the east. Today we are asking ourselves – and they, too, are asking themselves, after so many years: Why didn’t the State of Israel absorb them into religious institutions? …There are many stories about Jews who were here about 60 or 70 years ago and wondered – and we can now repeat this question – why the State of Israel placed them in secular places. After all, they came from religious families; they came from places where they were raised in the path of the Torah. Today, we maintain that people did not know about this at the time, that it wasn’t possible for awareness to be spread. But, gentlemen, at this time there are thousands of Jews immigrating from France, people who studied in Talmudei Torah in France. They didn’t attend public schools there. Some of them didn’t even attend religious Zionist schools. They are coming here today, and the people of the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs aren’t even giving them the option of registering in Talmudei Torah and yeshivos. Seventy years ago, there was a spiritual Holocaust here. People who were born into religious families were taken, their yarmulkas and peyos were taken away, and their religion was forcibly stripped from them. And the same thing is happening today, as well. I met the members of a family who came to Israel five years ago. The father is a talmid chochom, a religious, chareidi father, who is a rov, but he told me, ‘From a spiritual standpoint, I have lost my children. I have lost all of them.’ And then he said, ‘Why did I come here? Is this the country of Israel to which we davened to return? In France, we observed every halacha. Why did we come to Eretz Yisroel?’ Today, as well, the Ministry of Immigration and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs are hiding information… Unfortunately, even today the State of Israel is drawing the thousands of Jews who came here away from their religion. These are people who are innocently unaware of the other options that exist here.”

It was a piercing criticism of the Israeli government. In recent years, the French Jewish community has undergone a spiritual revolution. Even religious Jews in France who do not identify as chareidim send their children to Otzar HaTorah and to ordinary yeshivos. But those same families are now coming to Israel and innocently enrolling their children in schools that identify with the national religious sector, if not in schools that are outright secular. Naftali Bennett, who heads both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, responded to Malchieli by promising to examine the situation and to rectify the issues he raised.

The Healer of the Sick

There are some things that we know, yet we are constantly astonished to discover anew. One of those things is the concept of Hashgocha Protis, and the fact that some apparent misfortunes are often revealed to be the best possible things that could happen to us. Sometimes, this happens even when a person cannot imagine what good could possibly emerge from a situation.

Here is a case in point: Last week, a yungerman was scheduled to undergo an operation. It wasn’t a particularly serious operation, but it was still a surgical procedure. He arrived at Beilinson Hospital on the day before his surgery date for the required tests, and the next morning, he appeared at the hospital again at the scheduled time, at 6:45 in the morning only to be informed that since the nurses were on strike; the operation had been postponed until 4:00 in the afternoon.

Understandably, the delay was extremely frustrating, and the wait seemed interminable. That afternoon, however, a prominent specialist arrived in the ward in order to check on a private patient. For some reason, the doctor decided to glance through the files that were sitting on the nurses’ desk, which related to the patients who were awaiting operations. He “happened” to notice the yungerman’s file, and after examining its contents, he declared, “There is no need for surgery in this case. Ten days of antibiotic treatment will resolve the problem!”

Libel on the News

On December 23, the Knesset Economics Committee announced the findings of its investigation into the infamous “Shabbos flight” and the subsequent incitement. The fourth paragraph of the report states that El Al had been asked to submit the results of its internal investigation for the committee to review by the same date. According to Eitan Cabel, the chairman of the committee, El Al failed to meet that demand. He speculated that the company officials hadn’t yet reviewed the report themselves.

On the weekend of that notorious flight, the country reveled in maligning the chareidi community. Stewardesses on the flight claimed that they had been the victims of violence perpetrated by the chareidi passengers. Those claims were later revealed to have been outright lies. The company made some insolent comments about its religious customers, and the media fiercely attacked the chareidim. The worst of all was Channel 10, which doctored a video taken in the plane’s cabin to make it appear as if the chareidi passengers had been screaming, shouting, and cursing at the flight crew. The original video actually showed the chareidi passengers singing peacefully. This wasn’t just fake news. It was intentional libel.

In any ordinary place of work, the people responsible for such a travesty would have been fired immediately. But that wasn’t Channel 10’s response. Instead, they released the following laconic statement: “Unfortunately, there was a technical glitch in the editing of the video; an apology will be issued on the program tomorrow. The video was only a small clip from a lengthy debate in the studio, which was properly balanced and respectful toward all sides.”

A Change of Heart

He was sitting in front of me in shul on the morning of Asarah B’Teves, and I first noticed my aggravation mounting when he placed his hat on the table behind him – that is, directly in front of me. I diagnosed him immediately as a man who lacked proper chinuch. Along with that, I didn’t care for the siddur he was using, or even for the tallis he was wearing. But above all, what sort of chutzpah was it to place his hat in front of another person? If it disturbed him when it was on the table before him, then it was now disturbing me instead. If it had interfered with the placement of his siddur, then now it was my siddur that did not have a place on the table. I don’t know the Selichos of Asarah B’Teves by heart any more than he does…

I fought the urge to reprimand him and to toss the offending hat in his face. When the gabbai began selling the aliyos, he purchased the first aliyah – “bimkom kohein” – and I felt as if my self-control was beginning to evaporate altogether. I knew that he was a levi. Why did he feel the need to wrest this aliyah away from any ordinary Yisroel who could have purchased it, thanks to the absence of a kohein? When he approached the bimah to whisper his name to the gabbai, I could barely contain my indignation.

But then the gabbai, Reb Moshe Eisenbach, announced my name. This young man hadn’t purchased the aliyah for himself. He had decided to honor me with it instead. Suddenly, my entire perspective was transformed. His hat was no longer a nuisance to me; after all, why should it disturb me? It wasn’t even sitting on top of my siddur! And his tallis was perfectly kosher, after all; there was no reason for it to trouble me either. As it turned out, I decided, he was actually a very nice fellow!

The Pressburg Rebbetzin

The mourning notices issued by Mosdos Pressburg Yerushalayim may have sounded unusually effusive, but the truth is that everything that was written was an understatement. The notices announced the petirah of “the righteous rebbetzin, who hailed from an illustrious family and pursued tzedakah and chesed … who stood at the side of her husband, the Gaavad zt”l, in all of his actions … Rebbetzin Miriam Schreiber-Sofer a”h….”

The righteous rebbetzin was an aishes chayil in every sense, blessed with an ayin tov and a kind heart. She was the queen of the Pressburg community in Givat Shaul. As the notices indicated, she also had a distinguished pedigree. She was a daughter of Rav Betzalel Stern, author of Shailos Uteshuvos Betzeil Hachochmah and one of the most illustrious members of the Pressburg community. And she truly pursued chesed; she didn’t merely perform chesed for the needy, but actually went out of her way to find every possible opportunity to assist others. She lived her life for others, and she was a perpetual source of support for her illustrious husband, Rav Simcha Bunim Schreiber-Sofer zt”l, who was a direct descendant of the Chasam Sofer.

Last Cheshvan, the family visited the kever of the Betzeil Hachochmah on Har Hamenuchos and returned to the rebbetzin’s home for a seudah in honor of his yahrtzeit. At the table, they were joined by a stranger. When they asked him who he was, he replied innocently, “The rebbetzin noticed me on Har Hamenuchos and asked if I was hungry. When I told her that I was, she invited me to this seudah.”

Several years ago, the rebbetzin went to the home of a woman who worked as a typist. This woman, who was saddled with the burden of caring for her large family and had recently given birth, had taken on a job that the rebbetzin had offered her. The typist informed the rebbetzin that the work would take her two hours. Any other woman would have found somewhere to spend those two hours, or at least would have spent the time reciting Tehillim. But the 70-year-old Rebbetzin Schreiber had a different idea: She spent the following two hours tidying up the woman’s home.

One Shabbos several months ago, during the course of her grueling illness, the rebbetzin made her way laboriously up the stairs leading to her apartment. Her strength was completely depleted by the time she entered her home, and she asked her grandson, Betzalel, not to wake her for seudah shlishis. “I simply don’t have the strength to get out of bed,” the rebbetzin said.

An hour later, the rebbetzin’s grandson was surprised to find her sitting in her kitchen, immersed in conversation with a woman from the neighborhood who was desperately in need of encouragement. The rebbetzin prepared a cup of coffee for her neighbor and sat with her for a period of three hours. Rebbetzin Schreiber may have been lacking physical strength, but her ability to give to others was endless.

The rebbetzin was the reason that the ezras noshim of the Pressburg shul was filled to capacity every Shabbos. Women would come to the shul to daven, but also to hear a kind word from Rebbetzin Schreiber. She was an incredibly refined individual, who was universally recognized as spiritual royalty.

In recent years, the rebbetzin became ill, but that did not prevent her from continuing to act as a powerhouse of chesed. Her smile infused many women with a sense of vitality; her dedication uplifted innumerable spirits.

Her levayah on Wednesday was attended by masses of people, some of whom crowded into the courtyard of the Pressburg Kollel, while most of them filled the nearby street. Hespeidim were delivered by Rav Avrohom Yaffa Schlesinger of Geneva, another son-in-law of Rav Betzalel Stern who also serves as the rov of the Betzeil Hachochmah shul in Yerushalayim; Rav Yisroel Yitzchok Mendelson, the rov of Komemiyus-Yerushalayim; and others.

The Givat Shaul community has suffered the loss of a woman who showered kindness on every poor or needy soul she met, a woman who succeeded in perfecting herself, and who always served her Creator with utmost dedication and sincerity.