Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

My Take on the News

Terror Rears Its Head Again

It was Wednesday, and the Knesset members were preparing to leave the premises. In just a few hours, the building would be empty, as a weeklong summer vacation would begin. It would be much shorter than the standard summer vacation enjoyed by the Knesset, but at least the building would be closed for a full week. Meanwhile, the lawmakers were waiting for another bill or two (related to corona) to arrive from the Finance Committee so that they could complete their work for the day.

We were all still shaken from the events of the previous night, when a security incident had taken place in the north. All the residents of several communities near the northern border had been instructed to remain in their homes, as sniper fire had been directed at the soldiers patrolling the border. Incredibly, the prime minister had arrived in the Rimonim hotel in Tzefas for a family vacation just a few minutes earlier. Of course, Netanyahu hurried to the military command headquarters in the north. The incident came to an end a few hours later, and the prime minister took the opportunity to make some boastful statements, proclaiming that he would not allow Hezbollah to test Israel, and that the country would respond strongly to any acts of aggression. Defense Minister Benny Gantz also reacted to the shooting with a public statement: “Tonight, the security challenges have continued both in the north and in the south. We will continue to work to bring complete quiet to the south. In the north, we will not allow Nasrallah to harm our soldiers or our state. We will respond fiercely to any incident that takes place in the north.”

Earlier that day, Netanyahu had informed the Israeli people, “Above all, I am here to protect your lives. We will continue to bring you security, and to bring peace with it. We will protect the security of Israel.” A picture posted on the same morning bore the legend, “For the first time in 56 years: Not a single Israeli citizen has been killed in a terror attack for an entire year!”

And then came the shocking turnaround. The media flew into a frenzy, issuing reports in rapid succession. “Terror attack in Petach Tikvah!” a newscaster announced breathlessly. “One victim was severely wounded.” The severely wounded victim was quickly reported to be in critical condition. Soon enough, he became a fatality, the victim of a stabbing attack perpetrated by an Arab terrorist.

As soon as this news arrived, nothing else seemed to matter. The Knesset’s legislative work seemed insignificant, and even the issues of Uman and the coronavirus paled in comparison. The victim’s identity was soon revealed: Rabbi Shai Ochayon Hy”d, a 39-year-old Breslov chossid and father of four and a man whose entire life revolved around Torah learning, who was killed while returning home from kollel.

The Police Were Afraid to Kill the Terrorist

The terror attack took place at the Segulah Junction in Petach Tikvah, a heavily trafficked location. The paramedics who arrived on the scene provided first aid to the victim and then transported him in critical condition to Beilinson Hospital, where the doctors pronounced him dead. Eyewitnesses related that the terrorist had stabbed his victim several times, in a mad frenzy. The terrorist was captured by the police and interrogated by the Shin Bet. The authorities announced that he is mentally unstable. The witnesses also related that the police were hesitant to shoot the terrorist. One eyewitness added, “If not for the fact that a heroic civilian began pursuing the terrorist, he would have stabbed several other people as well. During that time, I heard one police officer warn another to be careful. What is the meaning of this nonsense?”

The terrorist, Khalil Doikat, is a 46-year-old father of six who lives in the vicinity of Shechem. He has a permit to work in Israel, and he does not have a record of engaging in terrorist activities. An initial inquiry shows that Doikat has a history of mental health issues for which he was recently treated by medical and welfare services in the Palestinian Authority. He was captured after being pursued by a civilian who shouted, “Terrorist! Terrorist!” The police then took him into custody and transferred him to the Shin Bet.

Another witness related, “I was sitting still in my car, and I saw the terrorist running. The weapon he was holding wasn’t a knife; it was a sword. It was disgraceful; a civilian chased him and overcame him, while the police were afraid. But I have no complaints against them; they are afraid of the Machash [Police Internal Investigations Department]. How have we reached a situation in which the police are afraid to shoot? They are concerned simply because they don’t know who might be filming them. They should have shot the terrorist; he was standing directly in their line of sight. What is the point of using tasers from a distance? They should have eliminated him! Why do we need this terrorist? For the Supreme Court to decide whether to demolish his home? He killed a man and destroyed a family. We are declining. I am a right-wing voter, but the Likud will no longer receive my vote. My vote will go to the party that is stronger.”

A Policeman Must Know Whom to Beat

This week, I read the following: “Deputy Superintendent Guetta, who was caught on video assaulting a protestor in Yerushalayim, was questioned under warning in the Machash and was given a distancing order for 24 hours. In the video, Deputy Superintendent Guetta is seen pouncing on a protestor outside the prime minister’s residence and beating him after he falls to the ground. At the end of the interrogation, he was barred from the police stations for a day. One of the detainees who was assaulted relates, ‘The superintendent choked me. I have bruises.’ The court released all the detainees, adding that their claims of police brutality would have to be investigated by the Machash.”

I am not sure why the officer was barred from all police stations for a day, but I know that whenever chareidi protestors are beaten by the police, the Minister of Internal Security always claims that police officers cannot be suspended without an investigation. Guetta’s problem isn’t that he was violent; it is that he did not realize that left-wing protestors may not be beaten or manhandled. Leftist demonstrators are embraced by the media, the courts, and the Machash. If he wanted to use force, he could have done so with impunity under the usual circumstances: at chareidi protests at Kikar HaShabbat or in Mea Shearim. It should be noted, though, that there have been reports that the policeman was assaulted by the protestor first. That would not make it justified for him to beat the man, but it does change the picture.

I also have another comment to make regarding the conduct of the police. On two recent occasions, thousands of motorists found themselves stuck in major traffic jams at the entrance to Yerushalayim on Friday afternoons and arrived at their destinations shortly before Shabbos. In both cases, traffic was blocked by cars that had stalled or been involved in accidents, and the police had directed all other vehicles into a single lane rather than moving the damaged cars to allow the traffic to continue to flow. On any other day of the week, this would be a foolish way to handle such a situation. On erev Shabbos, it is an injustice to religious motorists. Of course, no one should travel between cities immediately before Shabbos, but that does not excuse the police for their actions. Everywhere else in the world, the first thing that the police do after a traffic accident is to remove the damaged cars that are blocking traffic. Why shouldn’t the same be done in Israel?

A Miracle in Netivot

So there has been terrorism in the north, as well as in the center of the country. In the south, it has become almost routine, Hashem yishmor. At the same time, we were all shaken by a recent brush with disaster in the southern town of Netivot.

The incident occurred when a cluster of explosive balloons landed in a playground in Netivot. Seconds after the balloons touched down, the attached explosives fell off and a powerful explosion shook the area. This occurred in a playground that is frequented by dozens of frum children every day. There were ten children playing there when the balloons landed, but b’chasdei shomayim, there were no fatalities.

One of the children related, “We play soccer every afternoon after school. Today, during the game, one boy noticed that an explosive device had fallen off a balloon, and he shouted to all of us about the danger. We all raced toward the exit from the playground, and then a tremendous explosion shook the area. My friend, who wasn’t able to run fast enough, was lightly wounded by shrapnel from the bomb. If our friend hadn’t noticed it, we could all have been killed.”

A woman who witnessed the explosion related, “When the explosion occurred, there was a large group of chareidi children in the playground; suddenly, there was a loud boom. The explosive device fell to the ground without the balloon; it became detached while it was still in the air, and it fell into the playground and caused a massive explosion.”

Immediately after the incident, a group of police officers and sappers arrived on the scene, and the area was cordoned off. In recent weeks, hundreds of explosive balloons have been launched in Gaza toward the Israeli settlements in the south, causing dozens of fires every day.

An official statement from the police force related, “The officers of the Israel police force were called to respond to the appearance of a cluster of balloons with a suspicious object attached to it. The balloons had landed in Netivot, in the vicinity of a group of children, and had exploded. Police officers and sappers arrived at the scene immediately, and the area was sealed until the sappers had finished dealing with it professionally. From an investigation conducted by bomb experts, we have determined that the explosives became detached from the balloons and fell to the ground. There were no injuries and there was no financial damage.”

In other words, it was nothing short of a miracle.

Which Head of State Is Lying?

All the usual anti­-chareidi incitement has been continuing apace, as have all the disputes and conflicts that the coronavirus has brought in its wake. Today, there are two main issues of contention. One is the maximum number of mispallelim that will be permitted to occupy a shul at one time. After a long period of government obstinacy, which led the chareidi public to lose much of its remaining faith in the country’s decision makers, it was finally agreed that the size of a shul should be taken into account in determining its maximum occupancy. Now the various officials are simply debating the exact details.

The next issue is the question of Uman: whether anyone will travel there for Rosh Hashanah and the disinformation is unending. The president of Ukraine recently announced that he had accepted a request from Prime Minister Netanyahu to prevent Israelis from entering his country. Netanyahu hurried to object, claiming that he had made no such request. One of them is clearly lying; the question is who. Meanwhile, Roni Gamzu wrote a letter to the Ukrainian president and asked him to bar Israeli travelers from his country; this evoked the ire of Ministers Deri and Litzman. Gamzu hurried to claim that he had written the letter at the prime minister’s request, yet Netanyahu was quick to deny it.

Last weekend, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein held a press conference in honor of the establishment of a Health Ministry command center at the airport. He spoke about Rosh Hashanah and reminded us about the events of this past Pesach. “Please do not organize large Yom Tov meals,” he begged the Israeli public. “Those gatherings are liable to cause another increase in infections.” As for the Yomim Noraim davening, he said, “We expect the local governments and rabbonim in shuls to divide the congregations into as many minyanim as possible, in order to prevent large gatherings.” Roni Gamzu, the coronavirus project director, added some veiled words of criticism of the politicians. “I am not certain that all the politicians and members of the Knesset understand what we are doing here and the path that we have chosen to take,” he announced.

Vicious Incitement in the Israeli Media

As I mentioned, there has also been copious anti-chareidi incitement, in the form of a never-ending deluge of accusations against the chareidi community both in the Knesset and in the media. Newspapers run cartoons featuring hateful caricatures of chareidim, while the Knesset listens to speeches filled with ugly rhetoric. And there are also many newspaper articles and columns dripping with hatred for chareidim. Allow me to quote several lines from an article written by Nechemiah Strassler, a respected opinion writer in Haaretz who is considered an expert economist. This will give you an idea of the type of vicious hatred that the newspaper seeks to pump into its readers.

Strassler begins his article with the story of a small child who recently sat shiva after his father passed away from corona. It was truly a sad story; the child’s father, uncle, and grandfather have all recently passed away. Yet Strassler cites this story as “evidence” that the chareidi members of the Knesset are not sufficiently cautious in observing the guidelines of the Ministry of Health. That is nearly tantamount to claiming that the chareidi MKs themselves were responsible for the death of the boy’s father!

“All of this,” Strassler continues, “is in addition to the brutal pressure being exerted by Menachem Porush [that, of course, is a mistake; he was referring to Meir Porush] and Yaakov Litzman on Professor Roni Gamzu to allow 30,000 Breslov chassidim to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.” Strassler goes on to deride Porush and Litzman with harsh language, forgetting that the leadership of the Breslov chassidus is planning to impose very strict health restrictions, with clear and rigid guidelines, on the chassidim visiting Uman.

Of course, Strassler could not fail to cite the canard that Covid was spread in Israel by Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn. “Gamzu already surrendered to Aryeh Deri, when he allowed 12,000 avreichim from Brooklyn to enter Israel,” he declares haughtily. Of course, this is a mistake; the new dispensation to enter the country was granted to bochurim and single girls, not yungaleit, and the number is far less than 12,000. But Strassler continues, “He surrendered again when he did not impose restrictions on red chareidi cities such as Modiin Illit.” Now, this is completely false; the decisions regarding closures were made by the coronavirus cabinet, not by Gamzu, based on the statistics published every day. Strassler concludes, “Soon enough, he will have to wage a fierce battle regarding the mass tefillos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

Strangely, he does not appear to see any reason to mention the huge anti-government demonstrations….

A Major Responsibility

When we discuss the many controversies stemming from the coronavirus, whether they pertain to allowing American yeshiva bochurim to enter the country, permitting Israeli travelers to visit Uman, or imposing closures on chareidi cities, we must remember one crucial point: Responsibility is, as they say, the name of the game.

Last week, leaders of the Breslov chassidus met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The prime minister sat facing Rav Sholom Arush of Yerushalayim and Rav Ephraim Kenig of Tzefas. Nachman Benshaya, an askan of the Breslov community who organized the meeting, emerged from it with a sense of buoyancy. “We finally felt that someone was listening to us,” he related. Of course, he was hinting to the contrast between Netanyahu and Roni Gamzu, who has remained vehemently opposed to allowing the chassidim to travel to Uman.

Let me make one point clear: The issue is only the coronavirus, and how to balance the fear of the virus spreading further with the chassidim’s desire to visit Reb Nachman’s grave. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who occupies a central role in the discussions concerning the issues of Uman and of permitting visitors from abroad to enter Israel, has been working hard to find a way to reconcile his responsibility to prevent infection with his equally weighty responsibility to enable his constituents to practice their customs. Netanyahu, who is probably less capable of understanding the importance of Uman to the chassidim, is also trying to find the middle ground.

Immigration Schemes

Last week, a report in Maariv by religious reporter Kalman Liebskind sent shock waves through the country. Every week, he reports on a story that brings shame to the judges of the Supreme Court; last week, he discussed the topic of immigration to Israel. Here are a few of the statistics he reveals: “In 2018, there were 17,879 immigrants from the former Soviet Union. About 40 percent of them, or 7,139, are no longer in Israel today. Over one fifth of the members of that group who left our country, about 40 percent, departed during the first month after their arrival…. In 2019, there were 22,683 immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Out of that group, 9,419 people, or about 41 percent, are no longer with in the country. Four thousand three hundred one of those immigrants simply arrived in Israel, took their new passports, remained here for less than a month, and then disappeared.”

The opening words of the article make the significance of these statistics very clear: “In defiance of warnings from the police, Yisroel Beiteinu demanded changes to the law that placed restrictions on the issuance of an Israeli passport. The result: Over half the immigrants who come from Russia to Israel take their passports and then leave the country.”

If you have been reading my reports, I doubt that you are surprised!

At the end of the winter, I wrote a long article in the wake of Avigdor Lieberman’s fierce attacks on the Rishon Letzion, Rav Yitzchak Yosef, who had warned a group of rabbonim about non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were entering the country. (Rav Yitzchak cautioned them, “Hundreds of thousands of goyim have come to this country because of the ‘Who Is a Jew?’ law. Some of them are communists or hostile to religion or despise religion altogether. They are not Jews at all.”) At the time, I quoted a researcher in Bar Ilan who claimed that most of the people who came to Israel in the first wave of immigration from the Soviet Union did so because of the need to leave their places of origin, not because they were drawn to Israel per se. What she said at the time echoes Liebskind’s analysis today: These immigrants did not come to Israel because of Zionist ideology. In fact, according to Liebskind, they did not immigrate at all. They came to Israel, collected their benefits from the government, and left.

In that article, I quoted Tzvika Klein (Makor Rishon, 1 Kislev 5780), who revealed that as soon as the law was changed to permit immigrants to receive passports as soon as they arrived in Israel, thousands of people began coming to Israel, receiving Israeli passports, and then continuing on their way, either relocating to other countries or returning to their countries of origin. He added that many people had come to Israel and received the “absorption basket” of benefits for new immigrants, which amounts to tens of thousands of shekels per person, and some of them continued receiving those benefits long after their departure from the country, as they concealed the fact that they had left Israel.

“It is a veritable industry,” I wrote at the time. “‘Olim’ come to Israel, collect their profits, and leave. Some of them leave the country clandestinely so that their stipends will continue pouring into their bank accounts. They are not Jewish, and they are thieves.” I also cited statistics that proved that the majority of immigrants are not Jewish even by the criteria set by the government, and that according to halacha, many more are not Jewish. An overwhelming majority of the immigrants from Russia and Ukraine during the period spanning from 2012 to 2019 were certainly not Jewish and many were even anti-Semitic. The government’s statistics themselves make this clear. Rav Yitzchak Yosef’s remarks, which were made in a closed forum, were completely truthful, as painful as they may be.

As time passes, the audacity of the immigrants’ representatives in the government, especially the Knesset members of Yisroel Beiteinu, becomes ever more apparent. The voters who send these people to the Knesset are plundering the state coffers. They are non-Jews who are draining the funds of the National Insurance Institute and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, yet they have no qualms about slandering the Torah world. Senior officials in the Jewish Agency admit that there is an entire industry that revolves around procuring Israeli passports (which are preferred over Russian passports) so that the bearers can travel to Europe or Canada.

This is due to the folly of the Israeli government. No one denies that the policy that requires the government to issue a passport immediately to an immigrant, rather than waiting until a year after the date of immigration as was done in the past, was instituted under pressure from the MKs of Yisroel Beiteinu. The law was passed in spite of the opposition of numerous professional bodies, including the police, the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and many others. It has spawned a widespread habit of defrauding the government and swindling money from it through ersatz immigration that has nothing to do with Zionism. And these very MKs have the audacity to lambast the yeshivos for taking funding from the government!

Hadar Can Be Back Before Rosh Hashanah

It is not often that intense emotion pervades a Shas party meeting, but when Professor Simcha Goldin pours out his grief, no one can remain unmoved. What can be said to a person who has only one simple request—for his son to be given a proper burial? This is not a pretentious or extravagant demand; it is a simple request for something that every human being takes for granted.

“There was an agreement with Hamas, but the soldiers [i.e., the bodies] were not returned,” Professor Goldin related. “In another two months, they will sign another ceasefire agreement; will our children still not return?” We all found ourselves listening to him with bated breath. Simcha Goldin was neither combative nor impassioned; he simply spoke dispassionately. “I am telling you,” he said, “that neither Netanyahu nor Kochavi nor Gantz is demanding the soldiers’ return as part of the agreement.”

Simcha Goldin’s eloquence and terse style should be familiar to anyone who has listened to his speeches over the past six years, since his son Hadar was killed on erev Tisha B’Av 5774. “We learn in Maseches Megillah that the brocha of hatov v’hameitiv was instituted only after the fatalities in the Bar Kochva revolt were brought to burial,” he added. “My children and I do not recite this brocha in bentching. I told this to Rav Yitzchak Yosef.

“I am asking you to be my messengers,” he added. “My son was a gaon. At the age of 19, he wrote a peirush on Mesillas Yeshorim. A copy of Mesillas Yeshorim was found among his possessions with the margins densely packed with handwritten comments. Those comments were developed into a sefer: Eich Livnot Chaim—Chavrusa b’Mesillas Yeshorim im Hadar Goldin. Several editions of the sefer have been published. Hadar was a tzaddik and a gaon,” Simcha asserted, showing me a copy of the title page of the sefer. “Today, he is lying in disgrace like a dog, with no one making any effort to bring him to a Jewish burial. There can be no greater disgrace to a person. Plagues do not come without a reason. It is the month of Elul now. I spoke with the prime minister, and I can tell you with certainty that it is possible to bring him home before Rosh Hashanah, along with Oron Shaul.

“I need you to be on my side,” Hadar’s father concluded. After he had addressed the entire gathering, Professor Goldin and Aryeh Deri met privately to discuss the matter further.

We Can’t Say No to Those Who Don’t Say No

Ezer Mitzion has begun a fundraising campaign.

I had no doubt that it would happen. It has been a long time since there were other matching campaigns or charitable drives. And the coronavirus, which brought an explosion in requests for charity along with a concurrent decrease in donations, emptied the coffers of Ezer Mizion, along with many other organizations.

On Sunday, a group of people met in the organization’s headquarters. These men, who formed the core of the organization’s fundraising effort, were charged to mobilize a broader circle of volunteers, who would in turn work to inspire an even broader circle of activists. I was asked to address them, and I remarked, “I can never say no to someone who has himself never said no.” Now, some might say that it would be better to speak in positive terms. Rav Uri Zohar once quoted Rav Chaim Brim as remarking, “I saw a note at the mikveh that said, ‘The mikveh will close at 5:20 p.m.; no one will be permitted to enter after that time.’ I would have phrased it in a positive way: ‘The mikveh will be open until 5:20 p.m.; one may enter it until then.’” In this case, however, it seemed like a stronger statement to proclaim that I could not say no to the organization than to announce, “One must always say yes to those who say yes.”

I shared my memories of my own time as an Ezer Mitzion worker, on the orders of Judge Oded Mudrick. “I was convicted,” I related, “but I also had a great zechus. I became acquainted with an organization for which giving to others is part of its DNA. The Ministry of the Interior boasts that it is at the side of every Israeli citizen from birth, when he receives a birth certificate, until death, when he receives a certificate of his passing. Well, that is a distinction that it shares with Ezer Mizion, which maintains a stock of supplies ranging from the needs of infants the elderly. And the organization’s services continue after death as well. Most chessed organizations have a particular area of specialty; Ezer Mizion specializes in every area.

I once visited a yungerman who had been injured in a motorcycle accident. It did not cross my mind to help him change his bandages while I was there, but when Rav Chananya Chollak arrived, he helped the young man loosen the bandages that had adhered to his exposed skin, and spent a long time assisting him. As he turned to leave, he caught a glimpse of the man’s wife, who was sitting in the living room, and immediately exclaimed, “You are dehydrated!” Fifteen minutes later, she was hooked up to an intravenous infusion that had been brought form Ezer Mitzion. And Rav Chollak’s industrious spirit has been infused in the hundreds of employees and thousands of volunteers who work under him.

I reminisced about the day camps for children with special needs that operated years ago in the Beer Yaakov seminary, and Rabbi Zev Schechter related the following story: “We had reached our maximum capacity, and every child had a yeshiva bochur for a counselor. Suddenly, I was informed that I had an urgent phone call to take in the office. I hurried to the office and picked up the phone, and a clear, regal-sounding voice resounded over the line: “This is Yankel Alter, and I would like to request very much that you accept another two children.” He explained to me that it would be a veritable salvation for the family if we agreed.”

Those camps are among the many various divisions of the organization. Last year, Ezer Mizion set a record by accepting 6000 boys and girls with special needs in its day camp, providing a sorely needed reprieve for 6000 sets of parents.

Rabbi Schechter continued with a story of hashgochah protis: “Two years ago, I hosted a good friend of ours from Canada by the name of Dovid Farjun, who had also donated an ambulance. We were sitting in a restaurant in Kiryat Shmuel when we were approached by a distinguished-looking woman pushing a child in a wheelchair. ‘Are you Zevy Schechter?’ she asked. ‘Do you remember me?’

“Indeed, I did remember her. She was Rebbetzin Azulai, the wife of Minister Dovid Azulai zt”l. We had been in contact with each other in the past. She pointed at her grandson and said, ‘Thanks to Ezer Mizion, he is able to go to Talmud Torah. He was in a car accident and lives with his grandparents. Every day, an Ezer Mizion ambulance brings him to his school in Haifa.’

“The boy expressed his thanks to Ezer Mizion, and I asked him, ‘Do you remember the words on the side of the ambulance?’

“Sure enough, the boy remembered. ‘How could I forget? I see it every day,’ he said. ‘The sign says, ‘Donated by Reb Dovid Farjun….’”

Dovid Farjun was astounded to hear this. Zevy smiled and both men shed a tear.

The staff of Ezer Mizion certainly has many other fascinating tales of hashgocha protis to share. But in any event, I stand by my initial comment: One does not say no to people who never say no to others.”




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