Rockets in the South
As usual, this country is continuing to produce news stories with dizzying speed, and I am not sure that is a good thing at all. Sometimes I envy the citizens of countries where the newspaper headlines generally deal with nothing more dramatic than ecological issues. I will tell you all about the events of this past week, but I must begin with an issue that we had thought we could finally put behind us: the security threats to the residents of the south. Last weekend, two rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel around 9:00 on Friday night, targeting Israeli communities in the Negev. This, of course, was extremely disconcerting. Imagine an entire region of the country living under fear of Katyusha rockets. That is no way for anyone to live!
One of the rockets exploded in an open area in the regional council adjacent to Gaza. As a matter of policy, the government does not identify the precise locations where rockets land, in order to prevent the terrorists who launch the rockets from figuring out if they should continue shooting in the same direction. In any event, the rocket did not cause injuries or damage. The second rocket exploded within the Gaza strip itself.
Israel responded and IDF fighter jets attacked targets in the Gaza strip associated with the Hamas terror organization. “The attacks on those targets harmed the ability of the Hamas terror organization to arm itself,” the IDF said. The military spokesman announced to the world, “The air strike was carried out in response to the rocket fire from the Gaza strip into Israel this evening. The IDF relates with great severity to any terrorist activity directed at Israeli territory, and it will continue doing anything necessary to combat any attempts to harm the citizens of Israel. The Hamas terror organization is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza strip, and they will bear responsibility for the repercussions of terror against the citizens of Israel.” It is possible that the army was merely waiting for an opportunity to eliminate certain terror targets in Gaza, and the rocket fire on Friday night was used as a pretext. On the other hand, Israel’s army is generally careful to avoid launching an airstrike unless it is in response to an attack. The reason is simple: Our government is somewhat fearful of the world’s reaction.
Here is a general picture of the situation in Israel today. Of course, we are still grappling with the Covid crisis, as is everyone else in the world. We also have all of our usual political turmoil and all the accompanying conflicts, and there have been plenty of street protests as well. There has also been some pleasant news, such as the arrival on the scene of two new chareidi Knesset members. After Ariel Bosso of Shas and Yitzchok Pindrus of Degel HaTorah joined the Knesset last week, as I related to you at the time, the Israeli parliament welcomed yet another two chareidi lawmakers (a likelihood that I also noted last week): MKs Eliyohu Bruchi of Degel HaTorah and Eliyohu Chossid of Agudas Yisroel. Bosso joined the Knesset after Aryeh Deri resigned (from the Knesset, not from the cabinet), while Pindrus entered the parliament in the wake of the resignation of Meir Porush (after the government decided that deputy ministers could also resign from their positions to make way for other legislators). Eliyohu Chossid was able to enter the Knesset on the heels of his fellow Gerrer chossid, Yaakov Litzman, who took advantage of the Norwegian Law to give up his seat, while Bruchi took the place of Uri Maklev, another member of Degel HaTorah.
Avi Berkowitz Comes to Yerushalayim
Of course, one of the main issues of this past week has been the application of Israeli sovereignty in the area of Yehuda and the Shomron. As I have mentioned in the past, this issue has divided the nation; some view the Trump peace plan as a historic opportunity, while others consider it a disaster in the making. What is most incredible about this is that the plan’s opponents include both right-wing and left-wing activists. The scheduled date of the annexations is imminent: At the end of this week, President Trump’s plan will allow Israel to extend its sovereignty over 30 percent of the area of Yehuda and the Shomron. Will this actually happen? One part of the government—namely, the Likud—is interested in applying sovereignty immediately while ignoring the provision of the plan that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Another part of the government—the Blue and White party—insists that any action taken by Israel must be approved by the American government. The question then becomes whether the Americans would allow Israel to annex the territories in question without living up to its obligations under the deal.
Meanwhile, an American delegation arrived in Israel, headed by Avi Berkowitz, the young man who was once a talmid in Yeshivas Kol Torah. The group arrived on Friday and met with Netanyahu on motzoei Shabbos and with Benny Gantz on Sunday. Berkowitz has already stated publicly that it might be preferable to postpone the annexation, at least for a short time. One factor that might justify that decision is the simple fact that Trump might not be president for much longer. In any event, I have discussed this issue and the stance of the political right in a separate article.
Neither the prime minister’s office nor the American team was inclined to release details about the visiting delegation’s schedule. It is quite possible that the mapping committee, which includes Knesset speaker Yariv Levin and the director-general of the prime minister’s office, Ronen Peretz, has met with Berkowitz; however, neither side divulged any details of their interactions. Both the Israelis and the Americans seem to have accepted the presumption that nothing will be done on July 1, and that the window of opportunity for applying Israeli sovereignty will remain open for at least the coming two months.
The exact areas that are due to be placed under Israeli sovereignty have yet to be determined. This is hardly surprising, in light of the many sensitive issues bound to be affected by the move, as well as the vast potential repercussions. Both Israel and the United States have been reviewing different options, ranging from the immediate application of sovereignty over 30 percent of the area to a more gradual process that would involve multiple stages of annexation. There is also some uncertainty regarding the Jordan Valley, which is a sensitive issue for the kingdom of Jordan. One proposal that has been floated is for Israel to apply its sovereignty only in the areas that are further within its borders, while others have suggested that it should begin with the settlements on which there is a national consensus in favor of annexation. In other words, although this is a fundamental issue, ambiguity and disagreement are rife.
An Arrest on Rechov Balfour
This brings us to a demonstration outside the prime minister’s official residence that led to a major uproar. Left-wing activists demonstrate regularly against Netanyahu outside his home on Rechov Balfour in Yerushalayim (which is near the Kings Hotel and Rechov King George). During the demonstration that took place this past Friday night, the police claim that some of the protestors left the sidewalk and began blocking vehicles from entering Rechov Azza. The police insist that after several warnings were issued, they had no choice other than to arrest the organizers and several other demonstrators. The organizers of the protest, meanwhile, claim that the police were biased against them, and that the street could have been closed for a short period of time in order for a demonstration to be held.
The police arrested several of the protestors, one of whom happened to be Amir Haskel, who is also a brigadier general in the army reserves and a cousin of Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana. The police accused Haskel of blocking the street outside the prime minister’s residence, while the left claims that the arrest was politically motivated. Many public figures condemned the police for the arrest, including Benny Gantz. Moshe Yaalon went so far as to call on the police commissioner to resign. Dozens of politicians spanning the political spectrum issued statements in response to the incident.
Amir Haskel, who is 67 years old, was a high-ranking official in the air force who served in numerous positions of seniority. By the time of his discharge in 2002, he had racked up 8000 in-flight hours. He was one of the driving forces behind the “Witnesses in Uniform” program, which brought thousands of IDF officers and soldiers to Poland on organized missions. Haskel himself was the guide for many of the groups. But there is another side of his personality that is less charming. Haskel was a participant in the protests in Goren Square in Petach Tikvah against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in which the demonstrators called upon Mandelblit to act against Prime Minister Netanyahu. In 2019, Haskel spoke at one of the demonstrations and declared, “Being talent and fluent in English is not a guarantee of moral integrity.” Of course, this was an undisguised jab at Netanyahu.
It is clear, then, that Haskel is a regular participant in street protests. Which is not to say that there is anything illegal about the demonstration itself, but it should be clear that he was hardly a naïve first-time protestor unaware of what he was doing. In fact, this was not even his first arrest.
The organizers of the protest claim that the police acted against them with brutality partly because the Netanyahu family had remained in their residence in Yerushalayim over the weekend, rather than returning to their home in Caesaria. Minister of Internal Security Amir Ochana declared in response, “I expect the police force to enforce the law and maintain order regardless of who is disturbing it, without concern for the violators’ family connections, rank, or political affiliations.”
The police, for their part, released their own version of the story on the following day: “During an illegal demonstration that took place last night near the prime minister’s residence, hundreds of protestors blocked a major road and prevented cars from passing for a prolonged period of time, disrupting the public order. Consequently, several of the protestors were arrested, including a man who was identified as a leader and organizer of the illegal demonstration. After he was questioned on suspicion of disturbing the peace and participating in an illegal protest, the investigators wished to release him under specific conditions and with an order to stay away from the site of the protest, but he refused to accept the terms. Consequently, the police had no choice but to detain him. The police emphasize that we will allow everyone to exercise his legal rights to freedom of expression and to protest, but we will not allow anyone to commit such a blatant violation of the law and to disrupt the public order.”
In response to the uproar over Haskel’s arrest, right-wing activists pointed out that during the protests over the expulsion from Gush Katif, the police had beaten two brigadier generals (Effie Eitam and Yisroel Eldad, both of whom later became members of the Knesset), and no one uttered a peep in protest.
As the police mentioned in their statement, Haskel was detained after refusing to promise that he would not return to the vicinity of Rechov Balfour. On Sunday, a judge ordered him released unconditionally; the ruling was based on the freedom of expression enshrined in law. Which leads us to the next glaring question: What about chareidim who are arrested in the course of a public protest? Aren’t they entitled to the same freedom of expression? Why do the police have the right to beat and detain members of the chareidi community?
The Battle Against Covid: Do the Ends Justify the Means?
This protest against Netanyahu was sparked by several issues, especially the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and its indifference to the many people who have lost their livelihoods. The issue of Israeli sovereignty (or annexation or occupation, depending on whom you ask) in Yehuda and the Shomron has also inflamed passions on the left.
One of the reasons for the protest was the government’s use of surveillance technology to monitor the movements of ordinary citizens by tracking their cell phones. The protestors’ anger is completely understandable; they fear that the Shin Bet will be too quick to utilize the power at its disposal. This was a decision that did not pass easily in the coronavirus cabinet. There is always the concern that if the Shin Bet is allowed to use technological means to monitor the movements of coronavirus patients or others who were ordered to remain in home isolation, even if it is meant to prevent those people from violating the law and infecting others, it is impossible to predict where this will lead. Once the use of this technology is permitted for one purpose, it might be exploited for other uses as well, such as retrieving stolen property or monitoring prisoners who are supposed to remain under house arrest. Even if one argues that it is correct to use this technology in the battle against the coronavirus, who can guarantee that the Shin Bet will draw the line where it is supposed to?
The issue of cell phone tracking is a serious issue. The Shin Bet can use the cell phone of any citizen to determine his exact location at any point in time. That is the most undemocratic phenomenon that can possibly exist. Therefore, one can certainly understand why a demonstration would be held against these tactics. At the same time, the coronavirus is a serious threat that has already caused the loss of many lives, and one might argue that the goal of defeating the virus justifies the use of any means.
At this time, the coronavirus has created a very bad situation indeed. The number of infections is rising, and the statistics are frightening. Nevertheless, many have questioned whether the government’s actions are correct. For instance, the government decided to impose a closure on the chareidi city of Elad, as well as three neighborhoods in Ashdod and another three neighborhoods in Teveria, all of which are almost entirely populated by chareidim. This created the unpleasant sense that as long as the residents of an area are chareidim, anything goes. Moreover, it isn’t clear that a closure is an appropriate response at all. Perhaps it would be better for the coronavirus hotels to be reopened. After all, a closure essentially means imprisoning the sick and the healthy together. Where is the wisdom in that?
Close Scrutiny in a Knesset Committee
The government has also come under fire for apparently making decisions that are not based on facts. Did anyone bother checking the exact figures before deciding to impose a closure on Elad? The city of Elad petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the closure, and it quickly became apparent that the government did not have all the necessary information on the issue. Still, that isn’t to say that the court actually sided with the city. On Friday, the judges refused to rule that the government had made a mistake and that the closure should be cancelled, and an additional hearing was held on Sunday. Ultimately, the court rejected the city’s petition, which was an outcome that could have been predicted—not only because the court always rules against chareidim, but also because, as a matter of principle, it avoids interfering with government decisions of this nature.
Meanwhile, Mooney Maatok, the government-appointed mayor of Teveria (who was tapped to replace Ron Kobi) expressed outrage over the closures imposed on certain neighborhoods in the city. This points to another important question: What authority does the mayor of a city possess regarding the decisions made in the battle against corona? In Bat Yam, the mayor decided to close the beaches on Friday due to the spike in infections in the city. At the same time, the beach in Rishon Letzion, which is adjacent to the Bat Yam beach, remained open. The chareidi beach near the Galei Sanz hotel was closed. These were decisions made at the discretion of the mayors of these cities, and the basic question that must be answered is whether the mayors possess the authority to make any decisions regarding the coronavirus crisis. And if they do have that authority, then why is no one listening to the mayor of Elad, who is arguing against the closure of his city?
Due to the closure in Elad, public buses were barred from entering the city. As a result, thousands of residents of Elad walked to the entrance to the city and waited there to board buses to their respective destinations. This is another flaw in the government-imposed closure, which led thousands of people to crowd together in a small area just outside the city limits. Where is the logic in that?
The Knesset Constitution Committee is responsible for determining the legality of various initiatives taken by the Knesset. Today, the committee is headed by Yaakov Asher of Degel HaTorah. On Sunday, the committee held an intensive discussion regarding the battle against the coronavirus, discussing such issues as the powers invested in local government and the decisions of the coronavirus cabinet. Asher demanded explanations from the government, and he did not seem willing to let the matter rest until every decision had been thoroughly probed. Anything that requires the approval of his committee will be subject to rigorous analysis, and any apparent discrimination against chareidim will certainly be carefully investigated.
Government Restrictions to Be Tightened
Now that I have mentioned Ron Kobi, the disgraced former mayor of Teveria, I would like to add one more point. You certainly remember the many hateful statements, which bordered on anti-Semitism, that he publicized in the past. This week, Kobi posted the following: “Who brought the coronavirus here? You opened the skies to airplanes from New York filled with chareidim who had contracted corona and had no health insurance there. You brought them here and look what you have done!” You may recall that I quoted the Israeli newspaper Maariv, which carried the same inflammatory and groundless accusations. Evidently, Kobi swallowed their absurd claims and has decided to inflate the story even further. And this is no laughing matter, for there are plenty of people who will fall for his vicious incitement. One should not be surprised when various facilities, including hospitals, react by barring chareidim from their premises.
On Sunday evening, the new Minister of Health, Yuli Edelstein, held a press conference at which he announced that the ministry would be issuing stricter regulations. “The guidelines are not pleasant,” Edelstein said, quoting his own statements at the meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, “but they are forced upon us by the situation, in order to avoid another general shutdown of the economy. The plan that I presented calls for limitations on weddings and bar mitzvahs, restrictions on shuls, limitations on gatherings, remote testing in schools of higher education, requiring employees in the public sector to work from home, and recommending that private businesses also have their employees work remotely. “We are in the middle of a second wave of infection,” he asserted.
The plan that Edelstein presented would call for the following measures: Attendance would be limited at religious events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and brissos, and restrictions would be imposed on shul attendance. Gatherings would be limited, and students in colleges and universities would take tests remotely, without being required to be physically present, in order to prevent mass infections among students, teachers, and their family members. The ministry also recommended requiring employees in the public sector to work from home and recommending that private employers organize capsule systems or allow their employees to work remotely. “At this time, we do not intend to force anything on private businesses,” Edelstein stressed. “We will only make recommendations about how to protect their employees and their customers.” He claimed that there is a “populist competition” regarding who can show the greatest disregard for the need for precautions against corona. “Some people have argued that we should not be afraid of the numbers,” Edelstein said. “Some will accuse me of sowing panic. It is very easy to create populistic discourse in order to score points with certain people. It is easy,” he added, “but it is also dangerous.”
Getting to the Kosel
I am not sure if any of you have visited the Kosel in recent days. In fact, I doubt that many of you have been in Eretz Yisroel at all recently. The trip to the Kosel has become a nightmarish experience. At this time, there are renovations taking place on the stretch of road leading from the parking lot in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to the Kosel. The area under construction is only a few hundred meters long, but the work began several weeks ago and it is expected to continue for another few weeks, and the road has been closed to vehicular traffic for the duration of the project. This means that it is impossible to travel to the Kosel (or to bring passengers to the Kosel) by car. The only option is to park in the vicinity of Kever Dovid and to proceed on foot to the Kosel, which makes for quite a long walk. And there is no guarantee that a parking spot will be available even there!
By the way, last week, a historic agreement was signed between the municipality of Yerushalayim and the Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company for the construction of an elevator that will connect the Jewish Quarter to the Kosel. This special elevator, whose construction will come with a price tag of 55 million shekels, will transport mispallelim from the Jewish Quarter to the Kosel plaza and is expected to provide a much-needed solution for tens of thousands of people who have found it difficult to visit the Kosel due to a lack of accessibility. At the ceremony marking the signing of the agreement, Mayor Moshe Leon declared with great emotion, “Today, we are signing a historic agreement for which hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting eagerly for decades. We are expanding the circle of mispallelim at the Kosel and are giving the opportunity to visit the Kosel comfortably and without difficulty to people who might be more eager than anyone else to pray to their Creator. This is a great day for Yerushalayim, for the State of Israel, and for the entire Jewish people.”
Itzik Laari, the director-general of the Yerushalayim municipality, added, “Under the mayor’s direction, we have worked hard to remove all the obstacles that stood in our way. This is one of the most complicated projects ever to be undertaken in Yerushalayim. There were moments when it seemed that the project did not have a chance of succeeding, but we believed in it and were able to achieve the desired results.”
Herzl Ben-Ari, the director-general of the Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company, was one of the signatories on the deal. “This is a day of glad tidings for tens of thousands of families including mothers with small children, disabled people, and elderly people who have longed to visit the Kosel but lacked the ability to do so,” he declared. “Today, with the signing of this agreement, we can look them in the eye with pride and satisfaction and say to them, ‘We have removed all the barriers; the Kosel is in your hands!’”
Let us hope that this vision comes to fruition soon, and that the work does not take place at the same lackadaisical pace that we are used to witnessing.
Bus Woes at the Kosel
On the subject of the Kosel, MK Moshe Arbel raised an issue in the Knesset last Wednesday that seems to be perpetually on the public agenda: the subject of public transportation in the area of the Kosel. He actually spoke about two separate issues, each of which tends to hamper visitors from easily accessing—or leaving—the Kosel. One was the aforementioned construction work on the road leading from the Jewish Quarter to the Kosel. The government had promised that the work would be completed no later than the month of Adar, but Arbel pointed out that they are predicting now that it will take another month or two before the project is completed. He also broached the subject of bus transportation to the Kosel, regarding which he raised two issues: the inadequate frequency of buses arriving at the Kosel and the fact that the buses often do not pick up passengers from the entrance to the Kosel plaza.
Arbel’s question was approved as an urgent parliamentary query, and it was the first topic of discussion in the Knesset on Wednesday. “Mr. Speaker, members of the Knesset, and honored deputy minister of transportation,” Arbel began. “Recently, some important construction work has been taking place on the road leading to the entrance to the Kosel Hamaaravi. As a result, private cars are unable to enter the Old City. But not only has public transportation not been increased in the area, but people have been forced to wait for a long time outside the Kosel for buses to come. I would like to ask two things: How long will private cars be barred from coming to the Old City? And how long will visitors to the Kosel suffer from Egged’s inadequate service?”
The response was delivered by Uri Maklev, the deputy minister of transportation. Maklev began by pointing out with a smile that he is still accustomed to being in the position of asking questions rather than answering them. His reply, on behalf of the government, was long and detailed, but he did not have much encouraging news. He claimed that the road had been reopened, but he had been misinformed. According to an employee at the Yerushalayim Development Authority with whom I spoke, the construction is scheduled to continue until August. Maklev added that even while the road was closed, visitors to the Kosel could park at Har Tzion. This is true, but it is an enormous hassle.
“In any event,” Maklev added, “I hope that we can all agree that the Kosel Hamaaravi is not just a tourist site. It is a tourist site as well, but it is primarily a place for davening.”
“It happens to be the most heavily visited tourist site in the country,” Yariv Levin interjected. “But I agree that it is more than a tourist site.”
Maklev agreed with Arbel’s criticism of the fact that public buses often do not drive up to the entrance to the Kosel plaza. “This causes confusion and uncertainty for people who are waiting there and wish to take the bus,” he said. “It also causes people to miss the bus, because they do not know that the bus will not come there. There has been an attempt to solve that problem by installing electronic signs at the bus stop, which are controlled by the security guards. With the push of a button, a guard can turn on a message informing the public that the buses will not be entering the gate at that particular time of day. But even that solution does not work; the sign must be activated manually, and it is never done.” In other words, the problem has not been solved!
A Scandalous Leak
Prime Minister Netanyahu was up in arms after a recording of the director of the Shin Bet speaking at a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet was leaked to the media. Now, even though this wasn’t a classified meeting of the Security Cabinet, and the public technically has the right to know about anything associated with the coronavirus, this leak was considered to have crossed a red line. After all, it was a recording of a conversation that took place in a closed meeting and involved the director of the Shin Bet. It was unethical, it was improper, and perhaps above all, it was illegal. The law states clearly, “Any public servant who provides information he obtains by virtue of his position to a person who is not authorized to receive it must be sentenced to imprisonment for three years.”
To the prime minister, the leak was appalling. At the following meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, Netanyahu opened the session with a fierce condemnation of the unidentified guilty party. “Before anything else is discussed,” he announced, “I would like to make a comment about the serious offense of the recording from the coronavirus cabinet that was leaked to the media. I do not remember anything of this sort happening in all my years as prime minister, whether it was in a meeting of the government or the cabinet. The recording and subsequent leak of a conversation with the head of the Shin Bet is a very serious offense. It is something that we cannot simply allow to pass. I ask everyone involved, including the attorney general, to permit a thorough investigation. We cannot allow this type of behavior to take root or to be repeated.”
Netanyahu’s outrage was both predictable and reasonable, especially due to his natural sensitivity to security concerns. Moreover, this is only the latest in a series of leaks to the media, including one case in which a reporter was included on a conference call involving the members of the cabinet. That incident was also completely unprecedented. The prime minister appealed to Attorney General Mandelblit to open an investigation. This would mean investigating ministers in the government and other high-ranking officials, and possibly even ordering them to submit to a polygraph test, which would be highly unpleasant for everyone concerned.
The request for an investigation in the upper echelons of the government seemed to be backed by the fact that a similar step was taken in the United States. In 2017, White House press secretary Sean Spicer summonsed his staff to his office and demanded that they surrender their cell phones so that he could investigate who was behind the leak to CNN about the expected appointment of Mike Dubke to the position of White House communications director. If the enlightened, democratic United States of America allows its officials to investigate leaks from within the government, then Israel can do the same….
Former Shin Bet director Yaakov Peri, who was also a government minister (and, you may remember, was once interviewed in this newspaper) was also in favor of the investigation. “It is an act of complete audacity to record and release a conversation in a closed government forum dealing with the emergency situation created by the pandemic,” he said. “Aside from the security threats, leaks of this nature might prevent people from speaking their minds in these forums. When a person fears that his comments will be publicized, he tends to moderate his remarks and not to express his opinion openly.”
What was Mandelblit’s response? He announced very quickly that he would not order an investigation into the leak. He spoke about freedom of expression and all sorts of other meaningless platitudes, but the bottom line is that he responded to Netanyahu with a resounding no. There is no love lost between the two.
The Erev Rav in Eretz Yisroel
This week marks the 26th yahrtzeit of the Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda (Zalman Leib) Halberstam. The more I learn about his incredible life story, the more I find myself captivated by this historic figure. And the more I learn his teachings, the more I become filled with reverence for him. The rebbetzin of the Klausenberger Rebbe recently passed away in America at a ripe old age, and a publication of the Sanz chassidus featured some fascinating accounts of the spiritual heights reached by the Rebbe and his rebbetzin. I read in wonder about the Rebbe’s unimaginable ordeal during the Holocaust, and I marveled at his superhuman strength of character.
The Klausenberger Rebbe’s first wife, who was killed along with their eleven children, was the daughter of the rov of Sighet. His second wife was the daughter of Rav Shmuel Dovid Ungar, the rov of the city of Nitra, who starved to death during the war and was buried in a forest. The few surviving members of Rav Ungar’s family included one of his daughters and his son-in-law, Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl. It was Rav Weissmandl who made the shidduch between the Klausenberger Rebbe and his sister-in-law.
The Klausenberger Rebbe’s accomplishments were as wondrous as his life itself. His journey took him from the Nazi death camps and the displaced persons camps in Europe to the flourishing institutions and chassidish court that he founded in America, and then to Eretz Yisroel, where he founded Kiryat Sanz and Laniado Hospital in Netanya, as well as the Mifal HaShas program. The Rebbe had the power to breathe new life into Jews who had been devastated by their wartime experiences, a capacity that he demonstrated time and again. This past Monday, Mifal HaShas held its 463rd test for the program’s participants throughout the country, 37 and a half years after the program was first founded. On Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5743/1983, the Klausenberger Rebbe visited the testing location in a Talmud Torah in Bayit Vegan, accompanied by Rav Binyomin Kluger, the Sanzer chassid who is still responsible today for overseeing the testing program. Every Shabbos, I have the good fortune of receiving a copy from Rav Kluger of the Klausenberger Rebbe’s shiurim on the weekly parshah, which are replete with mussar ideas, fascinating chiddushim, and illuminating anecdotes. In the issue dealing with Parshas Korach, the Rebbe is quoted speaking about the situation in Eretz Yisroel.
“Unfortunately, there are people who call themselves Jews but fight against Hashem and against the observance of Shabbos and against all that is sacred to Yisroel, and who cruelly beat those who seek to stand in the breach and preserve those things that are holy. These people are heretics who deny all matters of emunah … and after all that, they still call themselves good Jews and honest Israelis….
“When I was traveling to raise funds for the construction of Kiryat Sanz,” he continued, “I spent several weeks in the countries of South America. When I arrived in Panama, I found the entire city in an uproar, as everyone was heatedly discussing something that had happened there. There were two communities in the city, a community of Sephardim and a community of Ashkenazim. The Sephardic community consisted of fine, upstanding people, and they had an outstanding yungerman [Rav Rachamim Levi] who served as the rov of the community and delivered shiurim to them. The Ashkenazim, however, had strayed from the path of Torah, but there were still some Jews from the previous generation there who did not want their children to study in the government-funded schools. For that reason, they recruited a teacher from Eretz Yisroel to come to them and teach their children. This emissary from Eretz Yisroel arrived in the middle of Yom Kippur, and the entire community was outraged by the fact that a Jew would travel on Yom Kippur. They were so appalled by this incident that when I told them that I had come to raise funds for a community in Eretz Yisroel, I had to reassure them that I had no connection to the sinners there.
“Look how immense was the wickedness of this heretic, who did not refrain from traveling on Yom Kippur,” the Rebbe declared. “Yet in spite of that, he viewed himself as a person who was coming to teach others about Judaism and to combat intermarriage. This is our great tragedy in this golus, when most of the Jewish people do not know how to distinguish between good and evil or between light and darkness.”