Monday, May 10, 2021

My Take On The News

The Passing of Rav Chaim Meir Wosner zt”l

This week, we suffered the loss of another tzaddik. The recent spate of tragedies has left all of us reeling in grief and pain. This time, it was Rav Chaim Meir Wosner zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin and son of Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, who passed away at Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital at the age of 82. Rav Chaim Meir was considered a talmid muvhak of his father and had succeeded him in several positions. In the late 1980s, he moved to London to serve as the rov of the Yetev Lev community of Satmar. In the summer of 2009, his father asked him to return to Israel in order to assist him with the leadership of his yeshiva, as well as the rabbonus of the neighborhood of Zichron Meir and the oversight of the Shevet Halevi communities.

Rav Chaim Meir had several connections to the American community. Out of his thirteen children, three sons hold rabbinic positions in America: Rav Mordechai Zev, the rov of Khal Machazeh Avrohom in New York; Rav Moshe Shimon, the rov of Chateau Park in Lakewood, and Rav Yisroel. In addition, one of his sons-in-law, Rav Shraga Feivush Hager, is the Kossover Rebbe of Boro Park, and another son-in-law, Rav Aharon Shimon Taub, is the son of the Kaliver Rebbe of the United States.

This crushing tragedy comes on the heels of many other painful occurrences over the past week, including many severe cases of coronavirus affecting young women and new mothers. We were also dismayed to learn this week of the death of an infant suffering from Covid. At the same time, we have been greatly encouraged by the news of many people who have recovered from the virus. We are all davening that Hashem will finally put an end to our troubles.

Discovering Ourselves in the Year of Corona

It has been over a year since the world was thrown into turmoil by a bat in China, and fear is still rampant. We do not truly have the tools to put an end to this plague; we have discovered the limits of science and the human intellect. Any vaccine seems potentially vulnerable to new mutations, and we find ourselves wondering if the pandemic will continue forever.

At the same time, the year of the coronavirus has brought out the best in many of us. We have seen bnei Torah clinging to their learning under the most oppressive circumstances. The botei medrash continued pulsating with activity, and the sounds of Torah learning echoed in the streets, along with the tefillos that reverberated in courtyards, on porches, and in capsules throughout the country.

Thanks to the coronavirus, we have rediscovered our family units and ourselves. We were spared from spending hours at all sorts of simchos without even understanding for whose benefit we were there. We became more focused on our purpose, more tolerant of others, and less hasty to leave our homes.

Personally, I made a major discovery of my own. I have always wondered about the posuk that states that “he who withholds his rod despises his child,” but my own experience during this period taught me that what is perceived as cruelty can sometimes be the greatest kindness. For instance, some people had “compassion” for their elderly parents and visited them along with children who turned out to be carrying the coronavirus. That compassion was actually cruelty, just as a father may appear to be merciful to his child by sparing him from discipline, while he is actually guilty of being cruel. Likewise, one of my sons “cruelly” refused to permit his children to visit me, and my health was fortunately spared as a result.

Meanwhile, davening at home exposed me to words in the tefillos that were unfamiliar to me; it gave me the time and presence of mind to pay attention to entire passages that I had barely noticed in the past. Suddenly, I was no longer at the mercy of a chazzan who was rushing to reach the end of davening; I no longer had to hurry to catch up in time for Borchu or Kedushah. I began with Modeh Ani, and I had no need to rush; I was in charge of my own siddur and my own davening. I was never late for davening in my own home, and I had time to discover Pesukei Dezimrah and to concentrate on every word.

Speaking of Pesukei Dezimrah, in the first “Hallelukah,” the pesukim praise Hashem for His kindness to many different types of downtrodden and oppressed individuals. Surprisingly, one of the pesukim states that Hashem “loves the tzaddikim.” Why are the tzaddikim included in this list of people who are suffering? The Kotzker Rebbe explains this to mean that Hashem loves the tzaddikim who sit among the unfortunate and oppressed. I humbly thought of a different explanation: The list of individuals in these pesukim doesn’t necessarily reflect different types of suffering. Rather, it is a list of people who have various needs and desires, all of which are satisfied by Hashem. A tzaddik longs for Hashem’s love just as a downtrodden person yearns for justice, a starving person craves bread, and an orphan seeks encouragement. And all of them have the same compassionate Father in Heaven, Who provides for their needs.

The year of the coronavirus has also brought out the glory of our chessed organizations, which engaged in a wide range of endeavors, from providing for the needs of the sick and of people in quarantine to offering actual lifesaving medical assistance. This motzoei Shabbos, I wanted to send a package of food to Bnei Brak, and someone suggested that I should solicit the aid of an organization known as Mechubarim L’Chaim. Ten minutes after I placed the call, there was a knock at our door; a volunteer had come to collect the package. “I just happened to be in the area,” he explained, “and I am on my way home to Bnei Brak.” One hour later, the food had reached the elderly couple for whom it had been prepared.

It has been a year of darkness, but there have been many points of light.

UTJ: Gafni in the Top Slot

Let’s move on to political news. Last Wednesday and Thursday, all of the parties submitted their slates for the upcoming election. The makeup of the various parties is now final; no more alliances or changes can be made.

The religious community has been spared from the pernicious influence of some of the people whom they feared, such as Ron Huldai and Avi Nissenkorn, as well as others who have dropped out of the world of politics. In another piece of good news, the specter of conflict that hovered over United Torah Judaism was banished, and a united list was submitted once again. This time, there has been a change: For the first time, the first position on the list will be occupied by Moshe Gafni, a member of Degel HaTorah, rather than by a representative of the Gerrer faction of Agudas Yisroel. The mounting concern that Degel HaTorah might choose to run independently led Agudas Yisroel to acknowledge the new balance of power, which places the Litvishe party in the position of the dominant partner in their alliance. Unfortunately, there is still some discord within the ranks of Agudas Yisroel itself, but we have no reason to discuss that.

Shas submitted its own list as well, which came with some new names. Two of the party’s longstanding members, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchok Cohen and Deputy Welfare Minister Meshullam Nahari, will be leaving. Nevertheless, experienced members of the party claim that the two men will continue making contributions to its success.

Meshullam Nahari began his political career as an aide to Rabbi Moshe Maya, who served as the Deputy Minister of Education and granted a wide degree of latitude to Nahari. The Minister of Education at that time was Yossi Sarid, who wasn’t exactly fond of chareidim. Sarid had a sharp tongue, and he claimed that Nahari was nothing more than a “decoration” in the Education Ministry. Nahari worked quietly to achieve his goals, and when Sarid left the ministry, he discovered that Nahari had been effectively running the education system.

Nahari is widely hailed for his detailed knowledge of governmental and his powerful grasp of all the relevant information on any topic. He is quiet and unassuming, with a perpetual smile and a photographic memory. His analyses are thorough and his conclusions are accepted without question by officials in every branch of the government. There are some issues that are particularly important to him, and he has made tremendous accomplishments in those areas.

I was present in the Knesset when the parties submitted their slates. I had a brief conversation with Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was very excited and managed to get into a conflict with an Arab activist. (The Arab’s permit to enter the Knesset was revoked after the incident.) The proceedings in the Knesset were as fascinating as ever, and even more interesting on account of the coronavirus-related limitations. I will report more about this toward the end of the campaign period, which will draw to a close in about a month.

An Expected Merger

Last week, I ventured a guess that various parties on both the right and the left would unite. I predicted that Betzalel Smotrich, whose current party is known as Religious Zionism (not to be confused with the Yamina party led by Naftoli Bennett, who was Smotrich’s partner until their recent split), would unite with Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of Otzma Yehudit. It was a fairly obvious prediction, since both parties were shown by the polls to be hovering in the vicinity of the electoral threshold. Both men are responsible enough to refrain from making a mistake that might cause tens of thousands of right-wing votes to go to waste and thereby wipe out the party representing religious Zionism. Smotrich would never take that risk, and Ben-Gvir has already been burned in two elections, squandering 70,000 votes in the first and a staggering 100,000 votes in the second, as he failed to cross the electoral threshold each time.

Sure enough, my prediction came true. It happened at the last possible moment, on Thursday afternoon, but the union took place nonetheless. The right-wing bloc was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief as a result. There is a third faction in their alliance: the Noam party, which is under the spiritual leadership of Rav Tzvi Tau, a very prominent figure in Yeshivat Merkaz Harav. Rabbi Tau is my neighbor and I see him often at minyanim.

There are now two major parties vying for the right-wing vote: the union of Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party and Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit, and Yamina, which is led by Naftoli Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Yamina itself includes plenty of religious Zionist figures, such as MK Matan Kahane (a former pilot), Nir Orbach (former secretary-general of the NRP, which became known more recently as Bayit Yehudi), and Alon Davidi, the mayor of Sderot and a former head of a yeshivat hesder. Their list also includes nonreligious politicians, such as Ayelet Shaked herself.

The Religious Zionism party is led by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, both of whom identify closely with the hardened core of the religious Zionist movement. They have also received the support of the religious Zionist rabbinate. Their list includes a representative of the Noam party, as well as Mrs. Orit Struck, who is a prominent activist in the area of Chevron, the Meoras Hamachpeilah, and the Yehuda-Shomron region in general. The chareidim are hoping that both right-wing parties will succeed and that Bennett will choose to support Netanyahu. As far as Smotrich is concerned, they do not even need to hope; there is no question that he will remain loyal to the current prime minister.

The Left Fails to Unite

I also predicted that there would be similar unions on the left, and in that case I was wrong. There are no alliances on the left, but their failure to unite is utterly senseless. Merav Michaeli, who chairs the Labor party, refused to join forces with any of her natural partners. Ron Huldai, Benny Gantz, and Ofer Shelach all tried to form an alliance with Labor, but Michaeli did not respond to their overtures until the last minute. In the eleventh hour, both Huldai and Shelach announced that they were dropping out of the race. Why didn’t they simply unite with each other? For one thing, they lacked experience; for another, their egos were simply too inflated. Then again, it is possible that they simply became blinded at the right moment. As we know very well, the hearts of kings and officers are in the hands of Hashem.

Thus, Run Huldai has been removed from the playing field. Yes, the man who haughtily declared that the election would come down to a choice between “two leaders—Netanyahu and Huldai,” and who tried to position himself as a potential replacement for Binyomin Netanyahu, was forced to slink back to the Tel Aviv municipality with his tail between his legs, as the expression goes. Ofer Shelach, who resigned from Yesh Atid to launch his own party, probably regrets that move now that he, too, has returned home. The two followed in the footsteps of Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, who likewise made the choice to leave the world of politics.

At this time, the left side of the political map belongs mainly to Meretz and Labor, and possibly Blue and White as well. According to the latest polls, Labor has been gaining popularity at the expense of Meretz and Blue and White. We will never know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. In any event, it should not bother Netanyahu at all, since he has no reason to expect support from either Meretz or Blue and White. As far as he is concerned, the left-wing parties can squabble over their constituents without affecting him in the slightest.

From the chareidi standpoint, there is actually one other party that should be considered part of the left: Yisrael Beiteinu. Its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, is both anti-religious and anti-Netanyahu. What does that make him if not a leftist?

Positive Prospects for the Right-Wing Bloc

The biggest question is where Gideon Saar and Naftoli Bennett will place their respective loyalties. If Bennett supports Netanyahu after the election, the right-wing bloc will almost certainly cross the threshold of 61 mandates. And if Saar supports Netanyahu, his victory will definitely be secured. The problem is that Gideon Saar has backed himself into a corner by pledging vehemently that he will not support Netanyahu. If he makes an about-face after the election, it will be very hard for him to explain the move. On the other hand, we witnessed an even more radical reversal after the last election, when Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi, and Avi Nissenkorn dumped Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon in order to partner with Netanyahu. So it would seem that the possibilities are endless.

This week, I saw an advertisement for Gideon Saar’s New Hope party in B’sheva, the newspaper of the political right. “If you vote for Bennett, you will get Netanyahu,” Saar informed the readers dramatically. “Only a vote for Gideon Saar will change the regime.”

Personally, I cannot understand Saar’s logic. Does he really think that people despise Netanyahu with such passion that a supporter of Naftoli Bennett will switch his vote from Yamina to New Hope for this reason alone? Something about this is very strange to me.

In any event, as I explained last week, the current situation isn’t all that disheartening. Together with the chareidim and the political right, the Likud is expected to easily cross the threshold of 61 mandates—at least, if Naftoli Bennett joins the alliance. There is little question that Yamina will end up with far fewer mandates than the initial polls projected. The earliest estimates placed Bennett’s party in the range of ten to twelve mandates, but he has fallen substantially since those surveys. This is nothing new: Bennett has enjoyed the same high performance at the beginning of every campaign, only to fall to a more accurate estimate of his power—between five and seven mandates—as the election drew closer. After one election in particular, he didn’t even manage to cross the electoral threshold. But there is also a chance that the right wing will reach 61 mandates even without including him.

As of now, the polls show the Likud party receiving about 30 mandates, and there is a significant chance that it will receive even more. Bennett’s party, Yamina, will probably earn between eight and ten mandates. UTJ and Shas will likely earn a minimum of 16 mandates together, and possibly even 18; the Shas party can easily reach ten seats in the Knesset. Smotrich and Ben-Gvir might even receive six mandates, but they should receive at least five. It is also possible that the Likud will siphon off some of Yamina’s voters. But regardless of how the votes are apportioned, the prospects are not bad at all.

The Skies Remain Closed

On Friday, the government extended the closure of the skies for an additional two weeks until February 20. This, of course, has caused plenty of hardship for people who left Israel to travel to other countries and who planned to return after a week or two, only to find themselves stranded abroad. The government has begun to take pity on those travelers and has decided that anyone who left Israel before January 25 is now permitted to return. Emergency flights to Israel are being arranged for this purpose from Frankfurt, Budapest, Dubai (where thousands of Israelis are stranded), and even New York. It is the non-Israelis who have the greatest problem—such as the many Americans who live in Israel but have never obtained Israeli citizenship and were visiting America when the closure was imposed. For these people, the government established an Exceptions Committee, which reviews individual cases and decides whether the travelers meet the criteria for readmission to the country.

This week, I received two requests for help that illustrated the hardships this situation has created. One of the requests came from a Belgian yungerman who lives in Yerushalayim and had flown to Antwerp to help his elderly parents. He is stranded in Belgium and is unable to return to Yerushalayim, where his wife and three children are anxiously waiting for him. I believe that the Exceptions Committee agreed to allow him to enter the country. Another request came from the rosh yeshiva of a yeshiva for American students in Yerushalayim. He explained to me that this is the registration season for his yeshiva, and the yeshiva’s enrollment during the coming year is entirely dependent on his being in America during this period of time. He requested special permission to leave Israel, and I referred him to the aide of Uri Maklev, the Deputy Minister of Transportation, since the Transportation Ministry is responsible for issuing permits to leave the country. I presume that he will inform me during the next day or two whether he was successful. If I don’t hear from him, I will assume that he succeeded; if he doesn’t manage to obtain the permission he is seeking, I am confident that he will contact me again.

The government’s decision to extend the closure of the airport is a sign of the severity of the situation. And the situation is indeed very grave.

Fears of an Outbreak on Purim

The coronavirus itself does not care about the circumstances. It doesn’t take a break because of the election, nor does it bend to the government’s decisions. It is not troubled by extenuating circumstances that seem to require some measure of relief.

Here are a few statistics: The number of confirmed Covid infections in Israel has risen to about 680,000. Boruch Hashem, almost 600,000 people have recovered from the illness, and the death toll has passed 5,000. Of course, the number of deaths received much attention in the campaign ads run by Netanyahu’s opponents, as if the prime minister himself is responsible for the death toll. On a global level, nearly three million people have lost their lives to this virus.

The coronavirus has become a major factor in the election campaign. Netanyahu had hoped that the record vaccination rate in Israel would boost his performance in the polls and that the Israeli public would support him (quite justifiably) as a result of his vaccination campaign. His opponents quickly denounced the Pfizer vaccine as unsafe. It has since been revealed that the vaccines have met all expectations, and the prime minister’s rivals immediately shifted to a different tactic. This week, a new advertisement proclaimed that Bibi has broken a world record: With stores shuttered in Israel for over 180 days, our country leads the world in lockdown time during the pandemic. Once again, it is as if Netanyahu himself is to blame for the existence of Covid.

Here in Israel, there is great concern about the upcoming holiday of Purim. Even last year, Purim was a cause for worry. The holiday is a time of large celebrations, both in yeshivos and in chassidish courts, as well as large family gatherings. It is also customary for groups of yeshiva bochurim to go from home to home in order to raise money for the funds that provide for chassanim in their yeshivos. Severe limitations will certainly be imposed on the Purim festivities this year, which will place limits on the usual yeshiva fundraising and on family seudos throughout the country. That is unfortunate, but we have little choice in the matter.

Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of the secular media was exposed this week once again. The levayos of gedolei Yisroel last Sunday received enormous amounts of attention, both in the newspapers and on televised news programs, as the chareidi community was heavily criticized for the large crowds. Yet when a massive funeral took place in the Arab village of Tamra, the media did not make a fuss about it. On the contrary, they attacked the police for inadvertently killing the Arab youth whose funeral attracted tens of thousands of participants; the massive funeral doubled as a protest against the police themselves. Not that we needed proof of the media’s double standard, but this was an egregious example.

Hadassah Hospital Warns: No Food for Patients

Professor Zev Rothstein, the director-general of Hadassah Hospital, has warned the country that in another week, the hospital will no longer be able to provide food for its patients. This sounds quite frightening—but I would like to set the record straight.

I have mentioned in the past that the directors of Israel’s public hospitals staged a protest outside the prime minister’s office, and that they ended their demonstration when the Finance Ministry agreed to provide them with vital funding. Nevertheless, that infusion of cash wasn’t sufficient to deal with the danger of the hospitals collapsing due to an overload of patients. That is the reason that Professor Rothstein decided to sound the alarm.

But I have my own observations to add. Having visited several wards in Hadassah Hospital in recent days, I can assure the professor that the food is not only satisfying but also of excellent quality, and that the facilities are sanitary and clean. I am referring both to the maternity ward, which earned high praise for everything from the staff to the food (with the exception of the rooms; for some reason, it seems that the smallest rooms are given to chareidi mothers, while other patients receive more spacious accommodations), and to other wards in the hospital.

During these times, we must be especially appreciative of the righteous women who volunteer for Ezer Mizion and distribute food every day to family members accompanying their loved ones in the hospital, as well as to Rebbetzin Gabbai, who distributes refreshments every day in Machon Sharrett, and to the group of Yerushalmim who make sure that the hospitality center on the ground floor of the hospital is perpetually stocked with food for anyone in need. (Yes, this room is managed by people who look exactly like the men who participate in the notorious demonstrations in Mea Shearim. In fact, they might even be the same men!) Above all, we must be appreciative of the Darchei Miriam organization for the 41 coffee stations stocked with drinks and refreshments that it maintains in various hospitals, providing over one million cups of coffee every year. Those who purvey incitement against the chareidim have conveniently forgotten the contributions of these organizations.

Prejudice in the Hague and a Cure at Ichilov

This week, the International Criminal Court announced that it would permit an investigation into complaints of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. This followed the de facto recognition of the Palestinian Authority as a state, a recognition that made it possible to apply the Rome Statute to crimes allegedly committed in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Yerushalayim. The ICC’s decision came in response to a request submitted over a year ago by a special prosecutor appointed to examine allegations by the Palestinian Authority, who sought permission to investigate crimes allegedly committed by Israel and Hamas during the war in Gaza in 2014 and during demonstrations on the border between Israel and Gaza in 2018. The same prosecutor also announced in the past that she was considering opening an investigation into Israeli construction in the settlements in the West Bank. On a practical level, the court’s decision is problematic for Israel because it is technically capable of placing sanctions on the country and summoning Israeli citizens, soldiers, and officers for questioning. The Israeli government reacted with shock and outrage, fiercely condemning the court’s decision. In this case, it is quite clear that Biden’s election had an impact on the United Nations and other international bodies.

On a different note, Ichilov Hospital published new details last Friday about an experimental drug for the treatment of coronavirus patients. The drug, which was produced in Ichilov, cured 96 percent of the patients who were treated with it during the first experimental stage. This medicine, known as EXO-CD24, is based on a protein recognized from the field of cancer research. The function of the protein is to calm the immune system, which tends to attack itself during the second stage of Covid and causes respiratory difficulties. The 24CD protein is introduced into the body through the inhalation of exosomes, hormone-like substances that release the protein in the lungs. The inhalation treatment takes several minutes, and the protein calms the immune system, allowing the patient to experience relief.

The second stage of the coronavirus is known as a cytokine storm, which produces symptoms similar to those caused by the flu. This stage occurs in 5 to 7 percent of coronavirus patients, primarily those in high-risk groups. “To date, in spite of the endless efforts that have been made, there is no drug that has proven effective in treating coronavirus,” the doctors in Ichilov said.

Netanyahu Asks Supporters to Stay Away from His Trial

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s criminal trial began. Lockdown and pandemic notwithstanding, the trial began on Monday. This was actually a preliminary stage of the trial, in which Netanyahu and the other defendants were required to deny or admit to the charges. Netanyahu, of course, denied the charges, adding that the cases were completely fabricated, that he was the victim of a witch hunt, and that his enemies were trying to make an illegitimate regime change through the courts rather than at the polls. This was quite a severe accusation; Netanyahu was essentially accusing the state prosecution of exploiting their power in order to unseat him. He made this statement at the beginning of this week, before the trial began, and he asked his supporters to refrain from coming to the courthouse. On account of the coronavirus, he said, he preferred to forgo a public show of support.

As could be expected, the prosecution and the defense clashed over every possible detail of the case, such as whether the investigation into Netanyahu had received the requisite approval and whether some of the evidence should be discarded on the grounds that it wasn’t acquired through proper means. Of course, they also argued over the timing of upcoming sessions of the trial. It will be very interesting to hear the opening address of the lead prosecutor, as well as the testimony of Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla and the main witness in Case 4000. The defense will probably ask for that portion of the trial to be delayed until after the elections, in order to prevent it from influencing the voters, while the prosecution will argue that the election should have no bearing on the proceedings in court.

Netanyahu is required to be present for the court sessions from morning until night, three days a week. At the same time, he is also supposed to continue running the country, which is a very difficult task to accomplish from within a courtroom. It will be very interesting to see if the judges allow him to leave the court in order to attend to the nation’s affairs.

An Emotional Speech in the Knesset

Over the past ten days, a series of newly minted Knesset members have been sworn in to their positions for a short period of time and have delivered their maiden addresses. Since many members of the Knesset resigned (in order to join other parties), their vacant seats had to be filled by new lawmakers. Some of the newcomers were clearly aware that they would not be in the Knesset 50 days from now, after the election, and that they were unlikely even to be remembered. One of the newcomers, a member of the Likud party, was a man named Shevach Stern. And while it is most likely that we will not be seeing him in the future, I was particularly moved by his speech, part of which I will share with you here.

“Mr. Speaker and members of the Knesset,” Stern began, “I am about 70 years old, and I haven’t yet had the privilege of addressing the Knesset of Israel, the seat of the new government of the Jewish people in their ancient land. Now that I have this privilege, I must recite a brocha: Boruch shehecheyanu vekiyimanu vehigiyanu lazeman hazeh. I am proud to tell you about my parents—my mother Fraidy, zichronah livrocha, and my father, Rav Naftoli Stern, zichrono livrocha. They were both survivors of the conflagration that engulfed the Jews of Hungary during the years 5704 and 5705. My mother was always very reticent; she did not tell us anything about that period, for she did not want our sensitive souls to be affected. My father, on the other hand, never stopped telling us his stories. He described how he arrived on the train from Satmar to Birkenau with his first wife and his four children. As the waltz “Blue Danube” played in the background, the wicked doctor ordered him to the right and sent his wife, Blima, and their children to the other side. All that he saw of them after that, he told us, was when an old man pointed to the smoke rising from the crematoria and said, ‘Your family is there.’

“From my father’s story, I learned that I am part of the first generation after the Holocaust, and that my four siblings were murdered by the enemies of all Jews,” Stern continued. “My father suffered through a year of horrific tribulations, burying many of his friends, but he never lost his good humor, his hope, or his faith. He would often quote the posuk, ‘He who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by chesed,’ and I carry that posuk with me everywhere I go. When he returned from the camps, he built a new family together with my mother, and I had the good fortune of being one of the four children in that second family. I am proud to be one of their children and, even if it is only for a short time, to be one of the 120 elected representatives in this parliament….

“I am proud to represent my peers from cheder, the children born to Holocaust survivors in Tzefas, where Reb Shayale used to rap on our knuckles with a ruler while teaching us Torah, always with great love. He taught me to read, and he taught me Maseches Beitzah, which means that the Daf Yomi that I am learning today is a sort of closing of a circle for me.”

There were other speeches that were less enjoyable to hear, including the address of Vladimir Beliak, who announced that we have reached the end of an era. “The new generation of Russian immigrants will begin to fight for their rights,” he declared. In other words, the non-Jewish immigrants from Russia have decided to take a combative stance. “We have the Novy God, and that is our holiday,” he asserted, in one of the less belligerent lines in his speech. But the million non-Jews who live in Israel today are not to be faulted for the situation. The blame lies instead with those who brought them here.

“I Am Not a Levi!”

One rainy night, I spotted Rabbi Koenig, a pleasant yungerman and Breslover chossid who lives in my neighborhood, on Rechov Yehonasan ben Uziel. Rabbi Koenig was hurrying down the street, and I called out to him from the comfort of my car and offered him a ride. He was happy to accept the lift and informed me that he was heading toward the Yesh supermarket.

“This is a privilege for me,” I told him as he took his seat in the car. “Now I have a great tzaddik and an accomplished chazzan in my car.”

He looked at me in surprise. “How did you know that I can sing?”

“You forgot that I used to sit next to you in the Pressburg shul before the pandemic,” I replied. “I heard you sing Kabbolas Shabbos at your seat every week, and I enjoyed your melodious voice.”

I proceeded to share an entertaining anecdote with the yungerman. Rav Shalom Cohen had once spent Shabbos at his son-in-law’s home in our neighborhood, and on motzoei Shabbos I had brought my children to him to receive a brocha. During our conversation, he had told us the following moshol: A man was once called up to the Torah for Maftir as “moreinu hagaon Reb Shlomo halevi.”

As he made his way to the bimah, the man informed the gabbai indignantly, “I am not a levi!”

The gabbai countered, “But you don’t have a problem with being called moreinu hagaon?”

Rav Shalom used this analogy to convey a point, but I had quoted it for the sake of the story itself. Koenig was quick to catch the implied criticism and to deflect it. “I didn’t see any reason to respond when you called me a great tzaddik, since it was obviously false praise, and it was clear that you were joking. But since there was some truth in your claim that I am an accomplished chazzan, I asked how you knew about it,” he said.

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