Thursday, Jul 29, 2021

My Take on the News

Obsessing Over Trump

I don’t know to what extent Donald Trump is a part of your daily lives, but here in Israel he plays a starring role in all the newspapers almost every day. Last weekend, there was a large article written about a group of students who were visiting the White House and who were surprised when they suddenly met President Trump, who decided to make a kind gesture to the group. That would be a very nice story on its own, but there are articles about your colorful president in every Israeli newspaper every day.

On a random day, one newspaper reported that a spokesman for the White House insists that Obama ordered Trump’s communications monitored before the election. This is a newsworthy issue, to be sure, but it was only one of the Trump stories that the paper covered. Later in the same day’s issue, the newspaper reported that the president of CNN declared that Trump’s statement that the media is the enemy of the public is dangerous and unprecedented. That was the second article about Trump in a single day. And then there was there was a third article, describing how some members of the Knesset suggested that anti-Semitic incidents in America might be linked to Trump’s election.

Then, of course, there was the incident that took over the headlines: Last Tuesday, Netanyahu was being interrogated by the police again, when he received a telephone call in the middle of his questioning … from President Trump. The call had something to do with Iran. Netanyahu asked the interrogators to wait for a short time, and he left to speak with the president of the United States in a different room.

In short, I don’t know how much attention is given to Trump in the frum media in America, but here in Israel, he appears on almost every page of the newspapers.

Netanyahu Also Loathes the Media

Speaking of Donald Trump, I should mention that there are some things that he has in common with Prime Minister Netanyahu – and one of those things is their loathing for the media. Trump is convinced that the media is out to get him, and it is impossible to say for certain that he is wrong. As a sharp-witted fellow once said, “The fact that I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t out to get me.”

Netanyahu feels persecuted by the media even more than Trump does. Netanyahu and his spokesmen have recently changed the style of their responses to aggressive questions from the media. He has begun taking an antagonistic approach toward the media, even launching personal attacks against them. He accuses them of having a personal agenda against him and being obsessive in their hatred of him. This new style has itself become the subject of much discussion.

Raviv Drucker is one of the journalists who attack Netanyahu at every opportunity and who endeavor to publicize every scandal that concerns him. Listen to how Netanyahu once used the right of response that he is granted by the rules of ethics: “The desperate and pathetic efforts of the politician Raviv Drucker to slander the prime minister with an unending stream of lies and brainwashing is intended as character assassination against the prime minister and his family members. That is nothing new for Raviv Drucker; his agenda is transparent, and the entire public is aware of it.” To an investigative journalist named Ilana Dayan, Netanyahu gave a lengthy, withering response, which she was forced to read aloud at the end of her televised report. Her facial expression belied her humiliation. Among Netanyahu’s comments was the following statement: “Ilana Dayan is one of the leaders of a choreographed frenzy against Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose aim is to topple the right-wing government and bring about the establishment of a left-wing government.”

This leads us to the surprise: One of the newspapers in Israel conducted a survey of public opinion regarding the relations between Netanyahu and the media. Two-thirds of the public are hesitant about Netanyahu’s new style, but at the same time, 45 percent of the public agrees with Netanyahu’s stance against Raviv Drucker. In other words, they disagree with the way Netanyahu is speaking, but they believe that he is inherently correct. Half of the people surveyed agreed with the statement, “The Israeli media is hostile to Binyamin Netanyahu and is defaming him without appropriate reason.” Even the question of whether Netanyahu was correct in his scathing attack on Dayan received an affirmative answer from 45 percent of the survey group. In short, the animosity between Donald Trump and the media in America is mirrored by the relationship between our prime minister and the media here. Actually, it seems that the situation here is much more severe.

No Embassy in My Backyard, Please!

There was another process that was quietly taking place during the days before Purim in Yerushalayim: A delegation from the American Congress arrived to investigate the possibility of moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. What were they looking into? The discussion no longer revolved around the idea of the relocation, but around its practical execution. They examined various suitable buildings in Yerushalayim in case the embassy will actually be relocated. So while we have been hearing from Trump’s inner circle that the move is no longer going to take place – or, to put it in more diplomatic terms, it must be “examined closely” – America has been sending personnel to scout out suitable locations.

If I understood correctly, the delegation was sent by the Subcommittee for National Security of the House of Representatives, which is headed by Congressman Ron DeSantis and Congressman Dennis Ross. The honored guests met with various heads of state and other important officials, who were supposed to give them an overview of the diplomatic and security ramifications of moving the embassy to Yerushalayim.

We, the chareidi community, do not have a clear position on the subject. We do not see the relocation of the embassy to Yerushalayim as something that will boost our national pride, since we have no national pride. We are more concerned about taking unnecessary steps that may lead to an escalation of tensions. But, as always, we prefer to remain on the sidelines and be silent. Incidentally, the new ambassador of the United States to Israel, David Freidman, has already announced that he will not live in the ambassador’s official residence in Herzliya and that he will seek an apartment in Yerushalayim instead. The previous ambassador, Dan Shapiro, has already moved to Tel Aviv, where he has found a job with a research institute and lives in the area of Gush Dan. It is an interesting development.

The residents of Yerushalayim in general, and especially the residents of Givat Shaul, the neighborhood at the city’s entrance where I myself reside, are anxiously following the developments in this unfolding story. The reason for this tension is that one of the buildings that America is investigating is the historic home of the Diskin Orphanage, a large, imposing building with a massive courtyard that is located at the entrance to the city. It will cost the United States a fortune to convert the building into an embassy, but money is the least of the American government’s problems. For us, it would cause a major headache. That is all we need in our neighborhood. The other option is a building in the neighborhood of Arnona, near the walls of the Old City, where the American consulate is currently located. If the embassy is going to be relocated to Yerushalayim, we would prefer that it be placed there…

Unwelcome Intervention from the Courts

Last week, the district court in Yerushalayim heard a petition against the girls’ high schools in the city of Elad. In response, the court ruled that each high school should serve the populace of its locale.

Let me explain. As you may know, one of the greatest problems facing the chareidi community in Eretz Yisroel is admission to girls’ high schools. Every year, thousands of girls finish eighth grade in the elementary schools of the Bais Yaakov system, and then they must enroll in high schools. And every year, hundreds of girls find themselves without a high school at the beginning of the year.

Why does this happen? That is something that many are struggling to understand. It is clear that many girls are not accepted to schools because they have applied to schools that are above their academic (or religious) level. That is the same as the situation that exists in the Yeshiva of Chevron, for instance, which accepts only 600 out of the 2,000 applicants every year. Everyone understands that there is nothing wrong with that: The yeshiva does not accept bochurim whom it believes to be below its level. The same thing takes place in the girls’ high schools, but the subject there has become much more emotionally charged. Some claim – and their contention is apparently based on many actual incidents – that many girls are turned away from high schools because of their ethnicities, and not because they are inherently unsuited for the schools.

Naturally, emotions run high over this subject. If a good girl is not accepted to a school because she is Sephardic, it is clear that that is wrong. On the other hand, the schools do not want to become Sephardic by definition, just as the Yeshiva of Chevron wouldn’t want the majority of its bochurim to be Sephardim. You are fortunate not to have this problem in America; it is wonderful that Sephardim and Ashkenazim marry into each other’s families in America. Here in Israel, unfortunately, we haven’t yet reached that point.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv each dealt with this issue extensively in their times. In recent years, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman has been addressing it. A committee of rabbonim has been formed in Yerushalayim to assess whether every case of a girl’s rejection from a high school was justified, and to see to it that there will not be a single girl who does not have a school to attend. Indeed, there has been progress over the past three years. The number of girls stuck at home has been reduced from hundreds to dozens, and then to a mere handful of individuals.

One of the ideas suggested in the past was for all the high schools to be designated as local schools. In order to explain that, let me clarify the reason that the same problem does not exist in elementary schools. The elementary schools of the Bais Yaakov system accept every girl, regardless of her academic level or her family’s extraction. The Bais Yaakov school in Givat Shaul, for instance, accepts every girl in the neighborhood, and the same is true of every Bais Yaakov in every neighborhood of Yerushalayim. There is no discrimination, because every school is assigned to a specific area. The proposal is for the high schools to operate in the same fashion, with each school catering to all the girls in its own neighborhood rather than accepting girls from a variety of other locales. The idea seems to be excellent, but the existing schools will be disbanded if it is implemented.

What happened now is that the court decided to implement this idea in Elad, calling for all the girls from the eighth grade to move up to the ninth grade class in their own local high schools. The court’s decision has led to an uproar – not so much because it was a bad decision, but rather because the court is meddling in our affairs. As far as we are concerned, we would oppose the court even if it ruled that everyone must say Modeh Ani every morning.

The Death of a Famous Photographer

This past week, a famous photographer passed away. His name was David Rubinger. I am not sure if any of you have actually heard his name, but I am certain that most of you are familiar with one of the photographs that he took: a picture of three soldiers gazing forward on the day the Kosel was liberated. In the picture, the Kosel is behind them. In order to capture the effect he desired, Rubinger lay down on the ground to take the picture. The picture actually shows five soldiers: Three are in the foreground, two wearing helmets while the third is holding his helmet in his hands. It is a famous image, and it was captured by Rubinger, who has been documenting the history of the State of Israel in pictures for many years. For a long time, he worked as Time Magazine’s official photographer in Israel. He has captured history in his photographic images.

Rubinger took thousands of pictures. Another of his famous photographs shows Menachem Begin helping his wife, Aliza, put on a shoe while they were on a flight to a meeting with the president of the United States. One very famous picture shows Golda Meir washing dishes in her kitchen. There is also a picture of Ariel Sharon with the sheep on his farm. And, of course, he photographed Begin, Carter and Sadat at the signing of the peace agreement at Camp David. Rubinger also took many photographs of the lives of chareidi Jews in Yerushalayim, but those pictures are less famous. One of his most beautiful pictures shows Rav Amram Blau demonstrating against an “Ad Delo Yoda” parade in Yerushalayim, which he viewed as a breach of propriety.

Rubinger was a close friend of mine. He spent a good deal of time in the Knesset and we had many conversations. I once tried to help him with a personal problem that he had with his apartment, which involved the Ministry of the Interior. In appreciation for my help, he gave me copies of some very special pictures that he had taken when Rabbi Itche Meir Levin served as a minister in the government. One of the pictures shows Rabbi Levin giving a few coins to a young boy selling newspapers.

This week, the members of the Knesset were asked to write their farewells to Rubinger in a special book. I enjoyed reading the comment from Yaakov Peri, the former head of the Shin Bet who serves today as a member of the Knesset. Peri praised the deceased photographer highly, describing him as a mentsch. Rubinger, who did not grow up in a religious home and did not know much about Yiddishkeit, had great respect for his mitzvah-observant fellow Jews.

Bennett and Deri Together

Now that we have raised the issue of the girls’ high schools, I must make note of another incident that took place last week. It occurred at a joint press conference held by Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Education, and Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior and chairman of the Shas party. The subject of the press conference was the new regulations that had been issued concerning girls’ high schools. It was a special occasion not only because Bennett and Deri were together, but also because the press conference was held in the offices of the Shas party. Naftali Bennett therefore had to come from his own office to Deri’s office in order to participate. That is not to say that it was a long trip for him; on the contrary, the two offices are located in close proximity to each other. But the location made it clear that Bennett was the secondary player.

Still, this press conference was more than a mere show. It dealt with a subject of tremendous importance: The education minister revealed that after many months of behind-the-scenes discussions, his ministry had formulated a series of strict regulations intended to force the principals of girls’ high schools to accept all of the girls finishing eighth grade. There would not be one girl who remained at home. Bennett praised Aryeh Deri and MK Yaakov Margi, the head of the Knesset Education Committee, for their tireless work on the subject. He noted that their dedication clearly stemmed from their sense of the issue’s importance.

Aryeh Deri, in his own speech, added a few comments. He admitted that he has lost a tremendous amount of sleep over this issue. In the past, he pledged to assist the girls of the Sephardic community in this respect, and he asserted that he was happy to be able to present good news to them. Let us hope that this is indeed the beginning of a positive trend.

Of course, it is noteworthy that Bennett has now become a loyal partner to the chareidim. This is the same Naftali Bennett who asserted his “brotherhood” with Yair Lapid in the previous government. At the time, the two joined forces to embitter our lives and to do everything in their power to harm us. Is this a form of teshuvah, or is it simply a newfound friendship based on political gain? No one can truly know the answer to that question. Either way, it is clear that we are better off with Bennett on our side than we would be if he was against us. He has now apologized for his past actions.

A Politician’s Birthday

Believe it or not, Naftali Bennett returned to the offices of the Shas party just a few days later. This time, he was accompanied by Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and several prominent Knesset members, such as former defense minister Amir Peretz, Shelly Yechimovich, and Dudi Amsalem, along with all the Knesset members from UTJ. The room was also filled with employees of the Shas party and of the Knesset. This time, there was a very different impetus for the gathering: It was Aryeh Deri’s birthday.

Deri was very surprised. At Mincha, he had noticed that there was a good deal of commotion taking place, and all sorts of people kept peeking into the room to see if the davening had ended. Deri asked me if something had happened, and I told him that the Ministry of Religious Affairs had held an event just an hour earlier (which was true) and that people were looking for a minyan for Mincha. When the birthday cake was brought in, Deri was astonished.

This is not the place to quote all of the speeches that were delivered at the birthday party. Let me say simply that everyone had high praise for Deri. All of the speakers admitted that they had found Deri to be the type of person they had never imagined he could be. The Minister of Justice related that she sits next to Aryeh Deri during cabinet meetings and she enjoys every word he utters. Bennett asserted that there isn’t a single problem that Aryeh Deri cannot solve, and that every member of the government turns to him for help resolving complex issues. “It’s more than that,” Moshe Kachlon added. “Whenever a complicated issue comes up, after we have all discussed it, the prime minister turns to him and says, ‘Well, Aryeh, what do you say?’”

“If you want to be precise,” Bennett added, “Netanyahu usually calls him ‘Rabbi Aryeh.’”

The most interesting comment came from Shelly Yechimovich, a former correspondent for Kol Yisroel. She interviewed Aryeh Deri many years ago, during the criminal investigation that targeted him, and at the end of the broadcast Deri was rushed to the hospital because of chest pains. Yechimovich was always accused of precipitating the incident by treating him brutally. When she spoke this week, she mentioned that episode. “We weren’t always on friendly terms,” she said, “but I must say that ever since he returned to politics, and now that I myself am a politician, I respect him very much. I never knew before how intelligent he is and how sensitive he is to the suffering of others.”

Rav Shach’s Answer

In light of the issues that have arisen concerning girls’ high schools, I would like to share a story that I heard this week.

The principal of a girls’ high school once approached Rav Shach with a question. One of the students in his school had become engaged and her wedding date had been set, but she had then learned that the chosson had a certain physical blemish. It had no bearing on his life expectancy, but it was a physical defect nonetheless, and she asked the principal if she should abandon the shidduch. This was a question of immense gravity, of course, and its complexity was compounded by the fact that the kallah was an orphan. The principal boarded the first bus to Bnei Brak and made his way to Rav Shach’s home. Rav Shach listened carefully to the story and said, “No matter what you tell her, it won’t be good. If you tell her to cancel the shidduch and she marries someone else, then whenever they have conflicts – which happens to everyone – she will always think that things would have been better if she had remained with her first chosson, and she is suffering because she listened to her menahel. On the other hand, if you advise her to remain with this shidduch, she will spend the rest of her life feeling that she married an imperfect person because of her menahel, and that if she hadn’t listened to you, she would have found much better shidduchim.”

The menahel left Rav Shach’s home feeling hopeless. When he returned to his school, he told the girl that Rav Shach did not know what she should do. The girl burst into tears and exclaimed, “If the menahel doesn’t know and Rav Shach doesn’t know, then how should I know?”

The menahel returned to Bnei Brak once again and told Rav Shach that the girl had wept bitterly over the situation. “Tell her to come to me,” the rosh yeshiva instructed him.

The orphaned kallah went to Rav Shach’s home, and he conversed with her at length about various things. Finally, he said to her, “I will now be like a parent to you. Whenever you have a question, come to me.” But he did not answer the actual question that had brought her to him in the first place.

The next time she came, Rav Shach spoke with her at length again, but he mentioned nothing about the original issue. The girl then began to boast to her friends that she had a new father figure who cared for all her needs: Rav Shach himself. On her third visit to Rav Shach, he told her that he felt she should not abandon the shidduch. She accepted his advice, and to this day, she is still happily married.

Upon hearing about Rav Shach’s response to the girl, the menahel decided to travel again to Bnei Brak to gain an understanding of what had changed. After all, the gadol had told him at first that nothing he could say to her would satisfy her, but now he had an answer for her. Rav Shach’s response is one that should be studied carefully by every parent and teacher: “When she asked you this question, she was asking you as a menahel, and you had to answer her as a menahel. A menahel is forbidden to make mistakes; if he does, his students will resent him. But I gave her the feeling that I was like her father, and a father doesn’t always have to be right. A father can make mistakes and still remain a father. A child will not resent him, even if he is wrong.”

The Bais Yisroel’s Insight

In conclusion, I would like to share a story told by Rav Yossel Czapnik.

One of the chassidim of the Bais Yisroel of Ger, whose 40th yahrtzeit was marked just two weeks ago, once had to travel to Switzerland for health reasons. As any good chossid would do, he went to take his leave of his rebbe before his trip. The Bais Yisroel asked the chossid to purchase a certain special item for him while he was in Switzerland. When the chossid arrived, the first thing he did was to begin searching for the object that the Bais Yisroel had asked him to buy. He made his way from one store to another, searching for the item the rebbe had requested, but all his efforts were of no avail. When he returned to Eretz Yisroel, the chossid related to the Bais Yisroel that he had made every effort to find the item, but he had not succeeded.

The Bais Yisroel replied, “I knew that it was impossible to find it in Switzerland. The reason I asked you for it is that I knew that if a person is busy looking for something for his rebbe, it will be impossible for him to commit aveiros.”

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