Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

My Take on the News

Another Shooting in Huwara

There are two main topics dominating the public agenda: the judicial reform, along with the protests opposing it and the pressure on the government to come up with a compromise, and the security situation. Even as I write this, the media is reporting on another terror attack in Huwara. This new incident took place in the same area where the brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv were murdered exactly two weeks ago. At that time, a resident of the area explained to me that the road where the attack occurred does not run through the Arab community of Huwara. Rather, it is a major road that is used by all the Jewish residents of the area.

Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, was interviewed on Sunday. He astonished his interviewer by revealing that he was seated in the ambulance headed to the hospital in Petach Tikvah with one of the victims while they spoke. Naturally, Dagan spoke cautiously and sparingly, since the victim was still conscious. Furthermore, he did not want to divulge any details that might complicate matters for the security services. But he did not refrain from calling on the government to change its mode of operation. At the very least, he insisted, the security checkpoints in the area should be restored in order to provide some measure of protection for the local Jewish residents.

What may be most infuriating about this incident is the fact that the attack was celebrated with joy in Arab communities within Israel. It isn’t only in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, and other enemy countries that the Arabs have been rejoicing over their brethren’s acts of terror and violence; even within Israel itself, they have welcomed acts of violence targeting Israelis. That is exactly what happened last week, when the entire country was abuzz about a “security situation” shrouded in secrecy. It was only two days later that the gag order was lifted and it was revealed that the entire security apparatus had been preoccupied by a daunting threat, and even the prime minister had postponed his trip to Germany for several hours to engage in discussions about the matter.

The Attack Ends Miraculously

The terror attack in Huwara on Sunday evening ended with a miracle. It began when an Israeli couple traveling on the road in Huwara suddenly came under a hail of gunfire, which injured the driver seriously and his wife somewhat less seriously. Paramedics from MDA and medics from the IDF provided treatment at the scene and transported both victims to Beilenson Hospital in Petach Tikvah. At first, it was incorrectly reported that the couple’s three children had also been in the car with them; however, this turned out not to be true. According to eyewitnesses, the terrorist walked down the street and opened fire at point blank range at the victims’ car. During the shooting, the terrorist’s gun malfunctioned and he threw it away and fled. This, of course, was an unmistakable miracle.

Another stroke of hashgocha protis was the fact that the driver, who was seriously wounded, is an expert shooter, and despite his injuries, he managed to empty a complete cartridge of ammunition in the direction of his would-be murderer. This may well have saved his life and that of his wife. In any event, at this time everyone is davening for a speedy recovery for Alexander Dovid Dov ben Sara (Stern), a resident of Itamar and former member of the US Marines.

The official statement from the IDF read: “A terrorist shot at an Israeli vehicle and wounded two civilians. The terror attack took place in the village of Huwara in the Shomron. IDF officers and the wounded civilian shot and struck the terrorist, who fled from the scene. The IDF forces provided first aid to the wounded victims, who were then transported to a hospital. After pursuing the perpetrator and searching the area, IDF soldiers located the wounded terrorist and arrested him. The soldiers confiscated the weapon that the terrorist had used to carry out his attack. The terrorist was transferred to the security services for further questioning.”

This attack took place concurrently with a summit between Israel and the Palestinians at Sharm El-Sheikh, where the Israeli government is being represented by Shabak director Ronen Bar and by Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of the National Security Council. The goal of the summit was to lower the rising tensions before the Muslim month of Ramadan. This summit, which is the second stage of a forum that began in Aqaba last month, also includes delegations from Jordan, Egypt, and the United States.

Ramadan is an entire month that is beginning now and that always gives rise to concern about increased terror activity. As always, we are being reminded that the lives of the Jews of Eretz Yisroel depend on constant miracles.

An Alarming Infiltration

Last week, an Arab Israeli civilian was reported to have been seriously wounded in the vicinity of Megiddo in the course of a terror attack of unusual severity. The security services have realized that this was a new and different kind of terror attack, one that requires the entire defense establishment to be prepared to deal with terrorists penetrating Israel from across the border and with the remote detonation of explosives. During the incident in question, a terrorist managed to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon and planted a bomb at the Megiddo junction before traveling northward, where he was eliminated while wearing an explosive belt.

The operation undertaken by the terrorist clearly required professional training, both for him to be capable of planting and operating explosives and for his surreptitious infiltration of Israel to succeed. Due to the complexity of the operation, we can only conclude that the terrorist was a highly trained and skilled fighter who was deemed capable of infiltrating a civilian populace, carrying out operations that included activating an explosive, and then presumably attempting to return to his point of origin. The training for this operation must have been lengthy and in-depth.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant didn’t reveal much about the information that Israel has gathered. In a statement to the public, he said, “There was a tremendous potential for harm. Those who are responsible for this attack will regret carrying out an act of terror against the citizens of the State of Israel and against the state. We will find the appropriate timing, and we will act in the proper way to strike back at him.”

The IDF is heavily involved in guarding Israel’s borders. To date, many attempted infiltrations have been detected and thwarted by Israeli forces. At the same time, there is a plan in progress to develop a technological system to prevent penetrations at the border, which has already been approved and is slowly beginning to be implemented. Billions of shekels have already been invested in this project, which will involve the use of physical barriers and security cameras. But until it has been completed, the border will not be hermetically sealed, and Israel will have to prepare for the possibility of a recurrence of last week’s chilling incident.

A Father at His Children’s Graves

An old adage has it that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, it might even be worth two thousand.

This week, two pictures caught my eye and proceeded to haunt my thoughts; both of those pictures are connected to the horrific acts of terror that have occurred in Israel in recent days. The first is an image of Rav Avrohom Noach Paley visiting the graves of his two murdered sons on Har Hamenuchos in Yerushalayim and sobbing over their gravesites. Rabbi Paley has been hospitalized since the terror attack and regained consciousness only a few days ago, at which time he was informed that his two sons had been murdered. He visited their kevorim last week, and the sight of his raw grief was painful to behold.

The second picture featured a Shacharis minyan at the site of the terror attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. Dizengoff is at the center of the entertainment district of Tel Aviv, but that did not deter a large number of people from gathering there to daven in the aftermath of the terror attack. Such is the nature of Klal Yisroel: In spite of the persecution and travail that our nation faces, we survive on account of our faith.

The attack on Dizengoff Street was only the latest in a series of traumatic events that have rocked this country, following on the heels of incidents such as the murder of Aryeh Schupak at the entrance to Yerushalayim and the deadly terror attack in Ramot that claimed the lives of the two Paley boys and the yungerman Alter Shlomo Lederman. The Arabs’ hatred seems to know no bounds; the attack in Tel Aviv took place concurrently with an attempt at mass murder in the city of Beitar Illit. In addition to all that, there is the plague of deliberately staged “accidents” unfolding on the roads of Yehuda and Shomron. Two-year-old Hadar Noga Lavie of the settlement of Shiloh, who was seriously wounded in a crash involving a Palestinian car, died of her injuries in Shaare Zedek Hospital last Friday, making her the latest victim of this brutal trend of violence.

An Elimination in Damascus

On a related note, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad movement was “mysteriously” eliminated in a commando operation carried out in the heart of Damascus. Of course, the Islamic Jihad blamed Israel for the operation, declaring in a statement that “he died in an assassination that had all the telltale signs of the Israeli occupier.”

The Syrian media reported that the terrorist was gunned down in the early morning hours near his home in a suburb of Damascus, northwest of the Syrian capital. Blaming the Mossad, the Islamic Jihad movement vowed to avenge the terror leader’s death. “We hold the Zionist enemy responsible for this crime,” they declared. “We will continue to fight the enemy and to react to all of its crimes against us. The Al-Quds brigades will continue their work and will go on fighting on every front to protect Palestine and the Al-Aqsa mosque.” Their statement also made note of the large number of Arab fatalities in recent days, mainly due to IDF activities in Shechem and Jenin. “We will not be deterred by the number of victims or the lives sacrificed by our courageous sons everywhere,” they declared belligerently.

At the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about the elimination of the terrorist and the threats from Islamic Jihad. “The Israeli government is continuing its fight against the Iranian nuclear threat,” he announced. “I just met with the chancellor of Germany and stood on the platform in Berlin where the Jews were deported. Unlike in the past, we are going to be able to protect ourselves. The Jewish state will not permit another Holocaust to happen. During the Holocaust, the Jews were defenseless, but now, eighty years later, Germany is asking the Jewish state for defense systems. Today, we help others defend themselves. Our forces operate around the clock. Anyone who tries to harm the citizens of Israel will have his own blood on his hands. We are reaching terrorists everywhere.” That last sentence might have been an allusion to the liquidation in Damascus. But I must add that while Netanyahu’s response was correct, his bravado and confidence in Israel’s power were out of place!

The Protests Begin to Create Pressure

I have grown weary of writing (and reading) about the protests against the judicial reform, but the demonstrations are only growing more intense and have remained a major news story. Last motzoei Shabbos, about half a million people staged demonstrations in various locations across the country. And while it’s clear that these half a million protestors are vastly outnumbered by the voters who supported the right wing in the recent election, which received about two million votes, the protests are nonetheless beginning to make the government nervous. The champions of the judicial reform have also been cowed by the widespread talk of refusal to serve in the army. Officers in the reserves announced that they will simply not show up for their service, and a large number of pilots in the air force have declared that they will not come to training exercises. This is all utterly unprecedented.

The situation has reached the point that certain senior figures in the Likud, including a man by the name of Yuli Edelstein whom you might remember, have been calling on the government to come up with compromises. Moreover, even President Herzog, who decided to promote his own outline for the reform, has been advocating with all his might for the provisions of the overhaul to be softened. And while Justice Minister Yariv Levin has still insisted that he will show no flexibility at all, and the legislative blitz is still underway, there is much speculation that something is about to change.

What could change? For one thing, some of the laws might be temporarily paused. As far as the Likud party is concerned, the most critical aspect of the reform at this time is the change in the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee. That is the issue of greatest import to Yariv Levin in particular and to the right in general. It is widely believed that after this bill is passed in all of its readings, there will be room for discussion with regard to the rest. The problem is that the chareidim are the sector most likely to be negatively affected by any compromise or capitulation, which will likely jeopardize the draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim.

Anti-Chareidi Incitement Heats Up

This actually leads us to a very important point. I didn’t want to write about this until now, since the topic was brought up only in closed conversations and was not meant for public discussion, but it now seems to have gone from speculation to reality. Aryeh Deri has already warned several times that the moment will come when the people will turn against the chareidim. Unfortunately, this is happening at this moment, and it is already accepted as fact: The opponents of the judicial reform have reached the conclusion that to shake the foundations of the government and strike a blow at the right-wing bloc, they must target the chareidim. As a result, there was a small demonstration last week outside the Bnei Brak home of Moshe Gafni.

That small protest might be only a taste of what is to come. The organizers of the protests have declared their intention to bring a large crowd to Bnei Brak this Thursday for a demonstration. Their goal is to create volatile tensions between the chareidi community and the general public by fostering the impression that the chareidim are actually the force behind the judicial reform initiative. This is, of course, completely untrue, even though the chareidim certainly need the override clause, which is one part of the reform package, in order to cement the draft deferment. The anti-reform movement is trying to frighten the chareidi parties at this time, and while it is unclear if there is a direct connection, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, the Rishon Letzion, declared in a drosha on motzoei Shabbos that it is important at this time for both sides to begin a dialogue.

The protest organizers seem to be confident that if they manage to turn the tide of outrage against the chareidi community, they will achieve their goal of stopping the legislation. For that purpose, they have already been letting loose with terrible statements against the chareidim, alongside violent declarations and actions directed against government ministers and against the prime minister. Their calls for death for various government figures are echoing alongside their jeering cries for the chareidim to go to the army, and that vicious rhetoric is now dominating the public discourse.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed this point as well at the beginning of the cabinet meeting last Sunday, when he declared, “We will not accept violence from any direction. There must be a pragmatic and fair discussion about the judicial reform, which will be conducted with proper discretion and while protecting everyone’s rights.”

The prime minister added, “We will not accept anarchy, and we will not accept violence from anyone. I expect the chief of police and the police force to enforce the law that prohibits violence and the blocking of highways. I expect the Shabak and the prosecution to act firmly against those who call for the assassinations of government ministers and members of the Knesset or of the prime minister and his family; I expect them not to turn a blind eye to those actions or to cut corners in prosecuting them. I expect the chief of staff of the IDF to fight against the phenomenon of refusal to serve; there is no place for that. We will not make peace with these things.”

At the end of his address to the cabinet, Netanyahu repeated, “We must have a pragmatic and fair discussion about the judicial reform. The balance between the branches of the government, a balance that has been violated in Israel, is part and parcel of any democracy. There is a broad consensus that that balance must be restored. We were elected for that purpose, and that is what we will do. We will do it judiciously and responsibly, in a way that preserves the basic rights of all the citizens of Israel, without exception.”

A World of Falsehood

There is a world of truth, and there is a world of falsehood. We are living in the world of falsehood, but just how far does that falsehood go? Very far, it seems. Take, for instance, the cries of fury that were heard when the police decided to flex their muscles just a little bit against the protesters who were blocking major highways. These anarchists have been calling explicitly for a day of rage and even an intifada, like the worst of our enemies, but then they shed crocodile tears when the police display their wrath. Parenthetically, if anyone thought that these demonstrators would be refined and meek after years of living in comfort in northern Tel Aviv, that impression was proven wrong this week when they showed that they are nothing less than violent hooligans who are capable not only of blocking intersections and knocking down roadblocks but even of assaulting innocent passersby, breaking vehicle windshields, and biting police officers.

And now the protestors are appalled at the way they were treated by the police. Why weren’t they similarly appalled when the police beat chareidim with clubs, sprayed skunk water, galloped around on their horses, beat innocent people, and took dozens into custody? Why weren’t they horrified when the devotees of Ahuvya Sandak returned from demonstrations at the entrance to Yerushalayim with broken bones?

As I said, we are living in a world of falsehood, and it seems that these lies can go very far.

Demonstrators Crossing the Line

Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu visited Germany last week, and in order to make it to the airport for his outgoing flight, he was forced to escape from Yerushalayim through subterfuge. The protestors made every effort to block the route from Yerushalayim to the airport, and the media reported that Netanyahu would travel by military helicopter, which would take off from Hadassah Hospital. In the end, this turned out to be a smokescreen, as he took off from a helicopter pad near the Knesset and landed at Ben Gurion Airport next to the plane that was to carry him to Germany.

The more important point, however, is what he heard during his visit to Germany. The German chancellor advised Netanyahu to soften the measures in the judicial reform package. I can’t help but wonder why the German chancellor thinks that it is his place to give unsolicited advice of any kind to Netanyahu. There is little doubt that this was the work of certain people in Israel who have no qualms about tarnishing the country’s image in the eyes of the nations of the world. In fact, there is no need to speculate as to whether this is true, when it is public knowledge that former prime minister (and former prison inmate) Ehud Olmert has been calling on other world leaders to boycott Netanyahu. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

On another note related to the protest, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Minister of National Security, spent this past Shabbos on a moshav known as Beit Aryeh. At davening on Shabbos morning, he was surprised to hear a cacophony of shouts emanating from outside the shul windows. A group of protestors had assembled outside the shul, and they proceeded to shout into megaphones and to play loud, disruptive music. According to some accounts, they also threw rocks. This certainly took the disruptive demonstrations to a new level. Couldn’t these people at least have shown some respect for a shul? It appears that they have lost any vestiges of dignity that they might have still possessed.

Seven Shekels for a Food Basket

I don’t know how kimcha d’Pischa campaigns operate in America, but I can tell you that it is an enormous enterprise here in Israel. Dozens of chessed organizations and numerous communities distribute massive quantities of food products in advance of yom tov. There are entire neighborhoods where the residents organize group purchases of many products, in quantities that make it possible for them to receive greatly reduced prices. The same is done in many individual kehillos. There are also many chessed organizations that distribute food baskets to poor families, which is the topic that I wish to address here.

The government tries to help those chessed organizations; after all, they are simply doing what the government itself should technically be responsible to do. Every country in the world has a duty to assist its needy citizens, and the Israeli government is merely living up to a small portion of its duty. There was a time in the past when the government’s contribution was respectable, but it has steadily diminished in recent years, to the point that the state funding for every food basket from a particular organization last year was—hold onto your hats—a “whopping” seven shekels. That’s right; it was less than two dollars! That, of course, is an absolute disgrace. Rabbi Eliyohu Cohen, who heads the organization Ohr Leah and who was interviewed in these pages several years ago, told me that he doesn’t even bother applying for this government funding, since the paperwork that he was required to submit for it would cost him more than the grant that he would receive.

This year, at least, the government grant is due to be increased. Yaakov Margi, the Minister of Welfare, appeared this week before the Special Committee for Bridging Social Gaps in the Periphery, which is headed by MK Avrohom Betzalel, and announced that he would be adding several million shekels in funding for the nonprofit organizations providing those distributions for Pesach. Aryeh Deri announced at the same time that he had managed to procure some interim funding in order to increase the food vouchers that he promised during this election campaign. In other words, there might be some good news in store for the many people living in poverty in Israel.

Discriminatory Hiring and Shabbos at Ben Gurion

I was confused when I came across the following news item: A woman responded to a help wanted ad from James Richardson, the company that operates duty free stores in Ben Gurion Airport, but she was rejected when they discovered that she keeps Shabbos. The woman is now suing the company for discrimination. The company claimed in response that it respects everyone and does not discriminate against anyone and that it plans to investigate the incident in question. Now, I was confused for more than one reason. First of all, I couldn’t understand how anyone can force a company that does not observe Shabbos to hire a worker who does observe Shabbos. Second, I couldn’t imagine why the company would have hidden the reason for its decision. Why didn’t they explain candidly that they did not hire the woman because the job requires seven workdays every week? Clearly, the company understood that it would be deeply embarrassing to admit that it engages in chillul Shabbos.

Which leads to a very simple question: Are the duty-free shops in Ben Gurion Airport open or closed on Shabbos?

If the stores are open, then the religious community ought to be made aware of it. I say this in spite of the fact that the same stores deliberately and overtly refuse to sell their chometz before Pesach and somehow are not challenged for this, even though it is also reprehensible and should offend every religious Jew, not to mention the fact that it creates halachic problems for customers purchasing their chometz products after Pesach. Perhaps the fact that this behavior goes unchallenged should be a source of embarrassment for the religious community.

Emphasis on Mussar

I sensed in advance that it was coming, and sure enough, the words “and the main thing is mussar” were soon heard.

In any discussion about any makom Torah, Rav Gershon Edelstein is always quick to remind his listeners of the pivotal importance of mussar. “Chazal tell us that when someone comes to cleanse himself, he receives assistance from Shomayim,” Rav Gershon explained. “Maintaining a mussar seder is the act of coming to cleanse oneself. But some people do not understand the importance of a mussar seder.” These words were spoken at a presentation where Rav Gershon appeared alongside all the other senior roshei yeshivos of our generation, in honor of the launch of a new yeshiva that is due to open this coming Elul in the city of Beit Shemesh and is already being hailed as an outstanding place of learning.

Rav Gershon often quotes the mishnah in Pirkei Avos that adjures us, “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the earth and live a life of hardship while you toil over the Torah. If you do that, you will be happy and it will be good for you. You will be happy in this world, and it will be good for you in the World to Come.” After quoting this mishnah, Rav Gershon often asks rhetorically, “You will be happy in this world?” And then he declares, “Yes, you will be happy in this world!” In this particular speech, Rav Gershon invoked this idea again, explaining that the Torah as the antidote for the yetzer hora is the source of that joy in this world—and that the power to combat the yetzer hora rests particularly in the seforim that delve into the means of developing yiras Shomayim.

Additional drashos were delivered by Rav Boruch Weisbecker and Rav Dovid Cohen, two of the luminaries of our generation. They spoke about the importance of establishing a yeshiva of this nature and predicted that it would flourish. They also spoke highly of the two partners in the yeshiva’s founding: Rav Yisroel Meir Druk and Rav Elazar Meirovitch.

The Man Who Didn’t Want to Daven

I will conclude this column with an interesting story from the Knesset. On Monday night, the Knesset was busy continuing the process of passing the bills in the judicial reform package, ignoring the shrill protests of the self-proclaimed guardians of democracy. In the lounge area behind the Knesset’s main chamber, which is accessible only to people who are authorized to enter the plenum, Avigdor Rafaeli, an affable fellow and one of the supervisors of the Knesset ushers, was relaxing in an armchair. When he caught sight of me, he smiled. “Is it true that you wrote in an internal email that you missed Maariv and are trying to organize a minyan?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “I wish I could succeed.”

“What’s the problem?” Avigdor demanded. “Let’s make a minyan right here!” Avigdor has been reciting Kaddish for his mother, and he therefore had a vested interest in finding a minyan. In fact, this week marks the end of his eleven months of mourning. He is one of those simple-looking Jews who often turn out to be genuine diamonds beneath their outer layers of gruffness. Avigdor used his radio to summon a few ushers who were interested in davening, and one of the MKs of United Torah Judaism informed the party members that a minyan was being formed. Someone else alerted the members of Shas, and Abutbul and Bosso soon joined us. When we were just one or two men short of a minyan, a tall, imposing-looking young man with a large head and a small yarmulke passed by. Avigdor quickly called out to him, “Did you daven Maariv?”

“No,” he replied.

“Would you like to join us for a minyan?” Avigdor asked him.

“No,” the young man said again. In response to the shocked silence that followed, he added, “I haven’t davened Maariv in fifteen years, and I am not interested now either.”

“What if you would be the tenth man?” someone asked him.

“If I am the tenth man, I will complete the minyan for you,” he said. “But you asked if I wanted to daven, and the answer is no.”

How were we supposed to react to that? On the one hand, it was very sad to hear this. It seemed as if the young man had once been religious and had left the fold. At the same time, it was at least encouraging to note that he hadn’t developed animosity toward religion; in fact, he still seemed to have retained some connection to it, as was evidenced by the yarmulke on his head. His behavior was an enigma to us, but we ended up having no need for him to join us, since Minister Yitzchok Wasserlauf and his aide, Alon Nuriel, entered the lounge area and we quickly began the minyan. Wasserlauf, who is Ashkenazic, led the davening and, of course, omitted the kapitl of Shir Hamaalos after the Shemoneh Esrei and went straight to Aleinu.

Avigdor, who is Sephardic, called out in alarm, “Wait! What about Kaddish?”

Wasserlauf motioned to him that there was no need for concern, and that Kaddish would be recited after Aleinu.

I later made some inquiries about the young man with the yarmulke and discovered the facts about him. I will leave it to you to evaluate the situation for yourselves. This young man actually has no interest in wearing a yarmulke at all; in fact, he is very far removed from Yiddishkeit altogether. However, he is a spokesman for Minister Ben-Gvir, and since he works in the Knesset and is sometimes seen on television, he has decided that he does not want his mother to see him without a yarmulke, which would cause her significant aggravation. He has therefore decided to wear a yarmulke at all times, even though he is not religiously observant in any other way.

One cannot be sure, but I feel that Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev and the Rebbe Reb Elimelech would have made a delightful case out of this young man’s conduct.

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