Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

My Take On The News

Netanyahu Goes to France

As usual, this has been a week of endless news. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Israel and then returned to America and all is well. And while Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu made a secret trip to Jordan two weeks ago, last week saw him traveling to France in a visit that was duly publicized. He met with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who joined the chorus of voices expressing “concern” about the proposed overhaul of Israel’s judicial system. Macron warned Netanyahu that the judicial reform is liable to cause harm to relations between Israel and France. The conclusion I draw from this exchange is that the damage caused by the anti-government protests in Israel (see below) has the potential to be horrific.

Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassador to France, Yael German, decided to boycott Netanyahu’s visit. German is a political appointee of the previous foreign minister, Yair Lapid. (She is a member of Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, and previously served as health minister in his government.) She has already resigned from her post, claiming that she cannot represent Netanyahu in a foreign country. German claimed that Netanyahu hinted before he arrived that he did not want her to be at his side in France. This may indeed be the truth. Meanwhile, a French court disqualified the election of Meir Chaviv, a kippah-wearing Jew, to the French parliament, and Chaviv received word of the verdict when he was meeting Netanyahu and a group of French economists. In a dramatic demonstration of how the tables tend to turn, Netanyahu whispered to him that he might be appointed the next Israeli ambassador to France instead.

In other news, the Likud party is in turmoil. A member of the Knesset named Dovid Bittan warned that if Netanyahu does not find an appropriate position for MK Dovid Amsalem, the party members will not allow his decision to go unopposed, although Bittan did not specify the reaction that this would evoke. But he is right about one thing: Many people in the Likud feel that Netanyahu has betrayed his own close ally, Amsalem, whom we have written about in the past. When Gideon Saar and Zeev Elkin broke ranks with the Likud to launch their own party, it was also spurred by their resentment of Netanyahu’s lack of gratitude. We can only hope that the conflict will somehow be resolved this time.

From Sudan to Bnei Brak

Now that we have dealt with Jordan and France, let us move on to Sudan. Last Thursday, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and announced that Israel and Sudan will be signing a peace agreement this year. During his visit, which received the approval of the United States, the two countries agreed on the text of the treaty. The peace agreement is due to be signed at a ceremony that will be held after the regime change in Sudan, which is transitioning to a civilian government.

At a press conference held in Ben Gurion Airport a few hours after his return to Israel, Cohen said, “My visit to Sudan today has laid the foundations for a historic peace agreement with an Arab Muslim country of strategic importance. The agreement between Israel and Sudan will add to the stability of the region and contribute to the national security of the State of Israel. The signing of this peace agreement will open the door to the establishment of proper relations with other countries in Africa and reinforce our existing ties with the countries on that continent. A connection between Israel and the countries of Africa is in the best interests of us all.”

After his return from Sudan, Eli Cohen paid a visit to another destination that you may find surprising: Rechov Raavad on Bnei Brak, where he visited Rav Gershon Edelstein with his children on Friday to receive a brocha from the rosh yeshiva before Shabbos.

On a similar note, the country of Chad opened an embassy in Israel this past Thursday. The opening ceremony was attended by Mahamat Deby, the president of Chad. Prime Minister Netanyahu hailed the occasion as the result of a process that came to fruition after years of work. And Chad is not the only country to further its relationship with Israel; Azerbaijan recently announced the opening of its own embassy as well.

Former Pilot Threatens Netanyahu

Of course, the biggest news story in Israel these days is the anti-government demonstrations. At several recent events, various public figures threatened to take up weapons against the government if they see no alternative. This threat was made by a lawyer at a recent conference, and the sentiment was echoed by a former air force pilot at a demonstration in Tel Aviv. The incitement against Netanyahu has reached unimaginable heights, to the point that there have even been calls for his assassination. The very same pilot, in fact, declared outright that he felt the prime minister should die!

This situation is rapidly spinning out of control, as is evidenced by an unusual statement made by Ronen Bar, the head of the Shabak. In a conversation with police chief Kobi Shabtai, Bar remarked, “I have identified an increase in the scope and severity of statements calling for physical harm and violent action against the prime minister and other elected representatives of the public.” According to a warning issued by the Shabak, the authorities have decided to adopt a policy of zero tolerance against anyone who calls for violence or any form of attack against an elected official, or anyone who calls for demonstrators to be harmed.

The state prosecution, in a public statement of its own, announced, “We have recently given approval for the police to open an investigation into several cases of serious public statements that may be subject to punishment as crimes of incitement to violence. We will not hesitate to approve criminal investigations in any instances of public speech that extends beyond the limits of the freedom of expression, regardless of the political camp with which the perpetrator is affiliated. In relevant instances, we will even press charges against the perpetrators.”

Indeed, the police have already opened an investigation into the aforementioned pilot, Zev Raz, who has been summoned for questioning. But I would advise you not to be overly impressed by this; after all, right-wing figures have been summoned for questioning much more quickly for making statements much less overt than Raz’s flagrant call for violence. The double standard may still be alive and well.

Netanyahu appears to be stunned by the rhetoric against him. Before returning home from France, he told the media, “New red lines are being crossed every day. I already thought that the threats against elected officials, including myself, had crossed every imaginable boundary, but then we heard today that there was an explicit threat to assassinate the sitting prime minister of Israel.” Netanyahu added, “I expect the law enforcement agencies to act immediately against anyone who incites or threatens murder, and I also expect the leaders of the opposition to speak out against it with the same force with which I have spoken. We are living in complicated times, and we must do everything that is expected of us as responsible public leaders. We cannot afford to be silent on this issue.”

The passions of the anti-government demonstrators are actually being stoked by the media, which has joined the battle against Netanyahu and his regime despite the fact that the press is supposed to remain impartial. For instance, a headline in a popular newspaper announced this Sunday, “About 60,000 people demonstrated throughout the country yesterday against the plan to weaken the judicial system.” I personally doubt that there were really 60,000 people at all the demonstrations in total, but even if there were that many protestors, it is really not a very impressive number — yet the newspaper’s editors saw fit to report on the protests as if they were very meaningful. The description of the judicial overhaul as “the plan to weaken the judicial system” is also an example of the newspaper’s bias and its deliberate choice of specific language to subtly shape the public perspective.

The Attorney General as an Enemy of the Government

There are some efforts underway to resolve the conflict between the Supreme Court and the government; attempts have been made to encourage dialogue between the two institutions, and President Yitzchok Herzog is trying to broker a compromise between them. It is impossible to predict whether these efforts will be successful, although many believe that both sides are genuinely trying to prevent an escalation of the tensions.

At the same time, the flames of controversy have been stoked by the current attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, who was appointed to her position by Gideon Saar, the justice minister in the previous government. Baharav-Miara recently went on the record stating that she considers the plan for judicial reform unacceptable. It was also reported that she felt that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is currently facing criminal charges in court, should be barred from advancing the judicial reform plan since it might have an impact on his own criminal case, which makes any involvement on his part subject to a conflict of interest. The Likud party was outraged by her statements, and someone even commented that if there is anyone who has a conflict of interest, it is the attorney general herself, since she knows that the current prime minister is interested in seeing her dismissed from her position.

In response to the attorney general’s arguments, Netanyahu sent a letter to the Supreme Court informing them that he disagrees with her and that he sees no problem with his involvement in the reform. His need to involve the court was triggered by the fact that Baharav-Miara had copied the court on her letter to Netanyahu and called on them to examine the petitions claiming that he should not be involved in the reform. This means that she has essentially joined the petitioners and is siding with them against the prime minister and the elected government of Israel. And that is truly outrageous.

Will Deri Return to the Government?

The coalition is still intent on bringing Aryeh Deri back into the government, and Deri’s detractors are being hypervigilant in their efforts to keep him out of power. On Friday, Haaretz published a so-called “investigative report” that claimed that Deri is continuing to lead the Interior and Health Ministries from his home despite his removal from both positions.

The newspaper based its claims on the “revelation” that Deri had met in his home with senior officials from both ministries, while the two Shas party members who took over the ministerial portfolios, Yoav Ben-Tzur and Michoel Malchieli, were not present. The truth is that this wasn’t much of a story at all, and everyone anticipated from the outset that the meetings would trigger these allegations. The Shas party explained that Deri was acting in his capacity as the chairman of the party, which makes him responsible for seeing to it that the coalition agreements between the Likud and Shas will be honored — and that objective entailed meeting with representatives of the two government ministries.

But is there actually a chance that Deri will return to the cabinet or to the two ministries that he was previously heading? There is an initiative underway that may make this possible. At this time, the Likud is advancing a law that would prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on any government appointments approved by the Knesset and the cabinet, such as the appointment of a president, a state comptroller, or… government ministers. This law has been categorized as a Basic Law, since the Supreme Court always claims that it does not interfere with Basic Laws. After all, if it were passed as a regular law, the Supreme Court could simply argue that it is unconstitutional and strike it down. Of course, there is still a chance that the court will decide to overturn the new law even if it is labeled a Basic Law. But if that happens, Yariv Levin has promised an all-out war against the court.

In the interim, Aryeh Deri was slightly more candid than usual at the most recent weekly meeting of the Shas party, when he described the campaign of persecution he has been facing for the past 30 years. “Most of you were still children when it began,” he told them. “All the injustices and crimes that are being revealed in Netanyahu’s trial do not even begin to compare to the torment that the police and prosecution inflicted on me.”

Deri revealed a small portion of the injustice surrounding the conviction handed down to him by Judge Yaakov Tzemach, and he astounded his listeners when he informed them that he was acquitted in the so-called “public case.” This is a fact that is hardly remembered anymore; Deri is regularly lambasted as a convicted felon even though he was cleared of all charges pertaining to his behavior as a public official.

Another Lie Exposed

Deri went on to speak about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling disqualifying him from serving as a cabinet minister, a story that was more familiar to his audience. “Many people have challenged me about a specific detail,” Deri said. “Even though I never told the judge who ruled on my case that I was retiring from politics permanently — which the Supreme Court justices claimed I said — I have been asked why I didn’t correct the judge when he claimed that that was what I said. In other words, why did I allow him to have the misconception that I had made a statement that I never intended to make?”

Until this point, various answers have been offered for this question. Deri has previously told everyone, including the four reporters who interviewed him on the air earlier this week, that he wasn’t paying attention when the judge spoke. His lawyers, on the other hand, have argued that Deri did not believe that it was his responsibility to correct the judge. But this Monday, he dropped a bombshell: “We have now looked into the matter, and we discovered something shocking: The judge never actually said that!” This revelation cast the Supreme Court’s ruling against him in an extremely questionable light.

Deri added another compelling argument that he has made in the past: “If the plea agreement really called for me to retire permanently from politics, then why didn’t the prosecution object when I ran in the election for the 25th Knesset? After all, if I hadn’t paid the fine, they would certainly have argued that I had violated the agreement, and the same should have been true of the fact that I was running for a seat in the Knesset. This is an ironclad proof that there was never an agreement for me to leave politics permanently, and no one ever thought that I was removing myself from the world of politics altogether.”

He went on to raise another interesting point: “Under the Rabin government, when the court disqualified me from serving as a minister, they argued that the voters did not know that I was under indictment and that they would never have voted for me if they had been aware of it. This isn’t really a legitimate argument, but even if it were valid, this line of reasoning does not hold water today. Nothing has changed since the election, and there isn’t a single Shas voter in the country who didn’t know that I was planning to be a minister!”

What Is the Point of Fining the Police?

There is much more to be said about the travesties of justice committed by the judicial system in Israel. For instance, the courts have ruled on three separate occasions that the police must compensate chareidim who were beaten by the police.

In the first case, the courts ruled that the police should compensate a chareidi from Beit Shemesh who was arrested on suspicion of taking part in a protest. The police were ordered to pay 13,000 shekels to the victim for searching him without justification and for delaying his release from jail for almost a full day.

The second case involved a chareidi lawyer from Meah Shearim; a police officer was caught on camera shoving the man to the ground in an unprovoked attack. In this case, the judge ordered the police to compensate the victim with a sum of 15,000 shekels. This incident also led to outrage that forced the Department of Internal Police Investigations to open an inquiry into the matter. In November 2020, the commander of the police unit involved in the incident was indicted and presumably dismissed from the police force.

In the third case, a judge in Yerushalayim ordered the police to pay 24,000 shekels to a chareidi resident of Beit Shemesh for a series of abusive acts committed against him, including his arrest, the poor conditions to which he was subjected while he was detained, and the refusal of the police to release him even after the court ordered him freed.

Personally, I feel that there is a problem with these rulings: The required payments were imposed on the police force rather than the individual officers. Even if the police force is fined, the money is paid by the state; the offending policemen are not required to pay out of their own pockets. I believe, however, that the only way to effect true deterrence is for violent police officers to suffer personally for their misconduct. Until the officers themselves are disciplined, I do not see how the court’s decision will prevent such things from occurring in the future.

A Tzaddik Decrees and Hashem Fulfills

This week marks the shloshim of Rav Yosef Lieberman, the author of Mishnas Yosef. Rabbi Avrohom Leuchter, a yungerman who was close to Rav Lieberman, related that his wife once experienced a complication before the birth of a daughter, and he hurried to Rav Yosef to ask him for advice. “Give a donation to the kupah of Rabi Meir Baal Haness and it will work out,” Rav Lieberman told him. Rabbi Leuchter followed his advice, and the situation was resolved.

After the due date passed, he grew concerned that the doctors might decide to induce labor or to administer an epidural, and he returned to Rav Lieberman to seek his guidance once again.

“Do nothing,” Rav Lieberman told him after hearing the story, “and she will have an easy birth.”

“But her due date has already passed,” Rabbi Leuchter pointed out.

“It will be an easy birth, after Shabbos,” Rav Lieberman said.

“The siyum hashas at Shomrei Hachomos is being held on Motzoei Shabbos,” Rabbi Leuchter added. “I would be disappointed to miss it.”

“She will give birth on Sunday morning,” the rov replied.

“But my wife wants to have time to organize the house before she gives birth,” the yungerman pointed out.

“She will give birth at night,” Rav Lieberman said.

“My wife is also afraid,” Rabbi Leuchter said. “She wants the rov to give her a brocha for a quick labor.”

“It will be a natural labor and will be less than 20 minutes long,” Rav Lieberman replied.

That Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Leuchter and his wife visited the Kosel together. They returned home and then left for the hospital at 7:05 p.m. They arrived at 7:36, and she was brought into the delivery room at 7:47. Less than 20 minutes later, at 8:04, the child was born.

“On another occasion,” Rabbi Leuchter told me, “I brought the rov to davening and I moved the Gemara that he had left on his shtender, so that he would find it easier to lean on the shtender. Nevertheless, he asked me to put the Gemara back. ‘I don’t want to waste even the few seconds that it will take to return the Gemara to the shtender after davening,’ he said.”

Then he added one final story: “Rav Lieberman’s son-in-law, Rav Menachem Mendel Fuchs [the rov of Kiryas Shomrei Hachomos in the neighborhood of Ramot], once helped him get into bed, but after a few minutes had passed, the rov called out to him and said, ‘I need to get up now.’ Rav Fuchs asked him why he needed to get up so soon, and Rav Lieberman replied, ‘I have a meeting.’

“‘A meeting?’ Rav Fuchs repeated in puzzlement. ‘With whom?’

“‘I made an appointment to meet with Ravina and Rav Ashi,’ the rov replied.”

Are Israel’s Borders Too Open for America’s Tastes?

Israel recently took a step toward entering America’s Visa Waiver Program, when it was revealed that the visa rejection rate had dropped below 3%. Ambassador Tom Nides has already welcomed the development, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was photographed standing proud in light of the news. However, America presented additional criteria for Israel’s inclusion in the program — including allowing Palestinians to enter Ben Gurion Airport on their way to the Palestinian Authority — that are proving to be a bitter pill for Israel to swallow. This seems to imply that admission to the program isn’t exactly within arm’s reach.

At the same time, something else came to light in the course of the talks over the waiver program: America is disturbed by Israel’s lax immigration policies. The American authorities are worried about the prospect of an influx of Russian oligarchs and Ukrainian criminals who have entered Israel over the past decade, and especially during the recent war. They are also concerned that if the gates between Israel and America are opened, thousands of questionable characters (and possibly even spies) will make aliyah to Israel, pocket the immigration benefits offered by this country, and then continue on their way to New York. America has enough illegal immigrants seeping through its own borders; it does not want to have to deal with those who slip past Israeli officials as well. For that reason, the Americans are concerned that a blanket visa exemption for Israeli tourists might be a problem for them, and America has asked Israel for clarification on its policies on immigration from the countries in question.

To make the irony clearer, let me rephrase what is happening here: The poor, embattled State of Israel has been opening its gates generously — and with a certain lack of responsibility — to potential immigrants, while the wealthy, “enlightened” United States of America views this policy as reckless and dangerous. They consider the Israelis to be fools. At the most recent weekly cabinet meeting, the government approved several American requests, which will soon be brought to the Knesset to be passed into law. The goal shared by both countries is for Israelis to be permitted to travel to America without visas as early as October 1 of this year.

Kellerman Calls for Return of Security Guards

The neighborhood of Neve Yaakov hasn’t even come close to recovering from last week’s terror attack. This past Motzoei Shabbos, a gathering was held at the shul adjacent to the site of the attack. Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Rishon Letzion, attended the event, as did Minister of Religious Affairs Michael Malchieli, who is a resident of the neighborhood.

Deputy Mayor Yisroel Kellerman, a representative of Degel HaTorah, has been asking for a few practical measures to be implemented to increase security in the neighborhood. He claims that the entrance to Neve Yaakov used to be manned by security guards, but this practice was discontinued. The reason it was stopped wasn’t that there was no need for security; rather, it was done to create the impression that Neve Yaakov is no different from any other Jewish neighborhood and that it is not a dangerous area. There is some logic to the desire to create that impression, but the unfortunate reality is that it is indeed a dangerous area. After all, there are Arab neighborhoods directly adjacent to Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev.

A member of the neighborhood Shomrim informed me that when the police were trying to capture the terrorist, they called on Shomrim to assist them. The person responsible for security cameras in the neighborhood was spending Shabbos in Ramot, and the police picked him up to bring him back to Neve Yaakov, where he was asked to open the office where the cameras are controlled so that they could trace the terrorist’s steps together.

The footage revealed a deeply unsettling detail of the incident: The terrorist actually drove into the heart of the neighborhood and then turned around and returned to the area of the shul. The reasons for his actions are unclear; it is possible that he felt that he did not find enough potential victims in the center of the neighborhood and therefore returned to the entrance. The videos also revealed that as he made the U-turn, the terrorist passed a young chareidi couple walking with a stroller but decided for some reason to leave them alone. Their lives were miraculously saved. The yungerman in the video, who subsequently discovered his brush with death, decided to arrange a seudas hodaah and to consult with a rov about whether he should bentch gomel. This turned out to be a major halachic question.

The attack in Neve Yaakov has focused more attention on a question that I have raised in the past: Is it necessary to arrange for better security in chareidi neighborhoods, where the residents are generally unarmed? There is reason to believe that terrorists have recently discovered that they will encounter much less armed opposition in a chareidi neighborhood, which might make such areas particularly attractive targets to them. At this point, it is certainly necessary to come up with a solution to this problem.

The Victim’s Parents were in Elad for Shabbos

When I visited the family of Eliyohu Mizrachi, one of the victims of the murderous attack in Neve Yaakov, I spotted two kuntresim on the table written by Rabbi Sholom Arush, a prominent rov in the Breslov community. One of the title pages exhorted the reader to “love everyone as you love your own child.” I was struck by this sight, which I took as a sign of Klal Yisroel’s unique nature: We are persecuted and regularly attacked for being Jewish, but we remain perennially loving. I also caught sight of a pile of copies of a tefillah for ahavas Yisroel and unity written by Rabbi Moshe Simcha Tzarfati, one of the victims of the Meron disaster.

In the days since the attack, a couple of remarkable stories have surfaced regarding the incident, two of which are connected to Lev L’Achim, the famed kiruv organization.

A gentleman named Doniel (originally known as Dmitri) learns at the Lev L’Achim midrasha for adults in Neve Yaakov, and he and his wife are on the road to becoming baalei teshuvah.

Last week, Doniel was unfortunately thrust into the limelight when his son, Ilya Sosnaski, was killed in the terror attack in Neve Yaakov, and his friends from the midrasha shared his sorrow and grief. Amazingly, they revealed that on the Shabbos when Ilya was killed, Doniel and his wife were participating in a Shabbos program run by Arachim in a hotel in Elad. On Friday night, the police arrived at the hotel to inform them that their son had been seriously wounded and to urge them to come to the hospital to see him before he passed away. They asked a rov if they should make the trip on Shabbos, and he advised them not to desecrate the Shabbos. The couple therefore remained in the hotel throughout that Shabbos, returning to Neve Yaakov only after Shabbos had ended.

It is astounding to contemplate the emotional turmoil that must have assailed them throughout that Shabbos. The fortitude they displayed by refusing to travel on Shabbos to see their dying son, even though the concept of Shabbos observance is relatively new to them, is mindboggling.

A Narrow Escape

Ben (Binyomin) Yitzchakov and Chaim Marzeyev are two young men who regularly learn in Midrashat Ori V’Yishi, the program for youths operated by Lev L’Achim in the nearby neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev. Ben is an occasional visitor to the midrasha, but Chaim is a constant presence there and even regularly brings friends to learn with him.

The program was originally known as Moshcheihu, and founded on the initiative of Rav Uri Zohar. “Rav Uri guided us and constantly oversaw our work,” the director of the midrasha told me. After Rav Uri passed away, the name of the facility was changed to Ori V’Yishi, in his memory, and another day was added to its schedule. Until that time, there was a regular shiur on Tuesdays; the beis medrash now began opening on Wednesdays too, when the young clientele was afforded the opportunity to learn with yungeleit. The program for youths is overseen by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Zuzot, while a parallel midrasha for adults is run by Rabbi Yossi Weinbach. “We began with three boys, and today we have 60,” Rabbi Zuzot told me.

Chaim Marzeyev never misses a chavrusa or a shiur at Ori V’Yishi. He first became acquainted with the midrasha after a “chance” encounter at a Maariv minyan that he happened to attend, for what he thought would be a one-time experience. Rabbi Zuzot struck up a conversation with him, which started Chaim on the road to his own religious revival. Today, he wears tzitzis and is highly motivated to take further strides in his observance.

Last Friday night, Chaim and his friend Ben had a brush with death on the streets of Neve Yaakov.

The two boys were on their way to a shiur in Neve Yaakov when they heard gunshots. For some reason, whether it was curiosity or because they were hoping to help the victims, they hurried toward the source of the sounds, only to discover that the terrorist was still there. The terrorist opened fire on them and hit Ben in the stomach, while Chaim was not struck.

Someone recently shared a recording with me, in which Chaim can be heard recounting his harrowing experience to the director of the midrasha and his friends. “My friend and I were on our way to a shiur,” he related. “We were on Rechov Chayei Odom when we suddenly heard shooting. We started to run in the direction of the gunshots … and then the terrorist saw us and began firing on us. He shot my friend in the stomach, but I, boruch Hashem….” Chaim’s voice trailed off for a moment and then he continued, “Hashem loves us. He saved us.”

On Motzoei Shabbos, Chaim sent a group message to his friends from the midrasha asking them to daven for Binyomin ben Yosef, a mutual friend who had been wounded in the terror attack. There were a variety of responses; one young man wrote, “Hashem yerachem!” while another asked, “Did the terrorist try to run you over?” The wounded victim corrected him, “The terrorist tried to shoot him.” Then he added, “At the shiur this Tuesday, Chaim and I invite all of you to join us to recite Nishmas and drink a l’chayim.”

I will conclude this discussion with one more remark: Do not make the mistake of thinking that calm has been restored in Israel. This week, the Shabak thwarted two terror attacks right before the terrorists could carry them out. We all still need significant Divine protection. In the south, the Iron Dome was used this week to intercept an unidentified projectile. There was also a rocket fired at Israel. The specifics are still not clear, but we must certainly continue davening for Hashem to protect us all.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Last week, I wrote about the visit to the Knesset of the Shuvu delegation from overseas. Today, I would like to add one small but entertaining anecdote: When I was waiting at the entrance to the Knesset building to greet the arriving visitors, I overheard a member of the Knesset Guard whispering into his walkie talkie, “The bus is at Kedma.” I didn’t pay much attention to his report, since I assumed it was simply a routine update for his colleagues. I knew that he was referring to the bus carrying the visitors from Shuvu, who were due to be hosted in the Knesset building for a series of meetings with members of the government.

But then, when the first members of the delegation — Rabbi Aharon Pam, Avrohom “Abe” Biderman, and Yosef Hoch — entered the building, I heard the guard again reporting, “The rabbis are arriving.” This time, it seemed strange to me. I couldn’t understand why he felt the need to relay this information to his colleagues.

From the entrance to the Kedma wing of the Knesset building, the visitors made their way to the Finance Committee chamber. MKs Yaakov Asher, Avrohom Betzalel, and Yinon Mashriki greeted them, while they were addressed in the committee chamber by Moshe Gafni, Yoav Ben-Tzur, Yitzchok Pindrus, Uri Maklev, and Yossi Taib, as well as Amit Halevi of the Likud party and other figures in the government. Over lunch, they were also addressed by MK Uriel Bosso, who is a grandson of the Baba Chaki, the brother of the Baba Sali. Eitan Himmelstein of Shuvu stood at the entrance to the building when they arrived and identified each member of the group based on a list that he held. A copy of that list had been submitted to the Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms a week earlier. The first name on the list was “Rabbi Biderman.”

About half a minute after the delegation members began arriving, a group of security guards rushed up to the door and announced that they wanted a brocha from the rov. I realized very quickly what had galvanized them into action: All these guards are in the process of increasing their religious observance, and are all great admirers of the famed mashpia Rav Elimelech Biderman. They all listen to his drashos and eagerly read Beer HaParshah, the weekly compilation of his teachings.

One of the guards noticed the name “Rabbi Biderman” at the top of the list and was certain that Rav Elimelech Biderman himself would be arriving. He decided to share the news with his friends, so that they could all have the opportunity to meet the famous rov and receive brachos from him. That was what led them all to rush to the Kedma entrance to greet the arriving dignitary. When they realized that it was a case of mistaken identity, they settled for brachos from Rabbi Aharon Pam instead.



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