We have been through some tense and frightening days here in Israel. Operation Shield and Arrow ended at 10:00 p.m. on Motzoei Shabbos with a ceasefire. This time, the terrorists tried to frighten everyone in Israel, not just the residents of the south. And they certainly managed to create widespread fear, even in Yerushalayim. Air raid sirens were heard almost everywhere in the country, including Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh, and Modiin Illit. Of course, the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Netivot suffered much more. It is impossible to miss the overt hashgocha pratis of these days: 1500 rockets reached Israel, and one can only imagine how many more didn’t even make it across the border and fell in Gaza instead. Two people were killed in Israeli territory, one in the city of Rechovot — an Armenian Christian woman who came to Israel from Russia — and the other an Arab worker from Gaza who was employed in Israel. It should be plainly obvious, based on these numbers, that all of us here in Israel are surviving through miracles.
Here are some more precise statistics: During Operation Shield and Arrow, which was five days long, the IDF bombed 422 targets in the Gaza Strip, primarily using the air force for this purpose. The Arabs launched 1469 rockets and mortars toward Israel, of which 1139 projectiles crossed into Israeli territory. According to the IDF, the defense system known as David’s Sling intercepted two missiles, the Iron Dome carried out 437 interceptions, 291 launches were determined to be failures, and 39 missiles fell into the sea. After the ceasefire went into effect at 10:00 p.m. on Motzoei Shabbos, another 35 rockets were fired into Israel. The Palestinians claim that 33 people were killed in Gaza, including six children and three women. The rest of the fatalities, however, were men who were murderers!
Israel Shows Its Knowledge
Operation Shield and Arrow was directed mainly against the Islamic Jihad terror organization. The military operation began on the night of Lag Ba’omer and continued on Motzoei Shabbos. It began with what seemed like a trivial incident: A Palestinian security prisoner began a hunger strike for the umpteenth time and then died. In response to his death, his comrades in Islamic Jihad launched about 100 rockets toward Sderot and the surrounding Israeli settlements. At first, the Israeli government seemed to consider this tolerable, even though seven people were wounded by the rockets, including one who was seriously injured. But then the rocket fire continued, and Israel decided to react with force. In an unusual step, the Political Security Cabinet wasn’t convened to discuss the matter.
It is unclear why the cabinet did not meet. Some suggest that Netanyahu was concerned about potential leaks from the cabinet’s sessions; others suggest that he wanted to keep Itamar Ben-Gvir out of the discussions. Ben-Gvir was threatening to quit his position in the government if a military strike wasn’t launched, and Netanyahu may have wished to show everyone that a strike can be planned without him. The name of the operation, according to the IDF spokesman, alludes to the fact that it was simultaneously a defensive and offensive effort. To the best of my knowledge, the IDF’s operations are given random names generated by a computer.
The Israeli offensive consisted of aerial bombings of terror targets in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli bombings killed three senior officials in the Islamic Jihad, one of whom was the mastermind of the deadly terror attack in 2004 that took the lives of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters. The other fatalities were also connected to murderous terror attacks. Following the air force’s offensives, the Home Front Command ordered a break from routine in the south: Schools and workplaces were shut down, and the residents were ordered to stay in their bomb shelters. Public gatherings were also banned.
I will not list the names of all the terrorists killed by the IDF in targeted assassinations this week, but I will mention that the operation demonstrated the Israeli army’s precise intelligence and the resourcefulness of the pilots who were able to strike their targets with precision. Rumor has it that the entire world watched the events in Gaza with amazement. The Islamic Jihad lost many of its leaders, and they certainly had good reason to run to the president of Egypt and beg him to broker a ceasefire.
In addition to eliminating a number of top Islamic Jihad officials, the air force bombed about 40 rocket launching sites. Pictures taken from the planes showed the terrorists reacting with shock. In response, the terrorists began firing rockets at cities deeper within Israel, beyond the south. The pictures also show that a number of wanted terrorists were in the sights of the Israeli planes while their families were with them, but the pilots refrained from bombing their locations until they were alone.
Netanyahu’s Opponents Claim War Was Political
It did not take long for the warfare to be followed by political sparring. Netanyahu’s opponents went so far as to accuse him of launching the operation in Gaza in order to score political points with the citizens of Israel. After all, it is generally accepted that all differences of opinion are swept aside during a time of hostilities. Netanyahu’s critics argue that he had three reasons for beginning the operation: his loss of ground in the polls, the budgetary allocations for chareidim, and the controversy over property tax revenues. Before I explain each of these points individually, let me just say that they are correct at least in their presumption that he was feeling pressure. No one denies that these three factors have pushed him into a corner. But it is absurd to accuse him of launching a military operation on account of these issues.
Let us examine these three issues one by one. First, there are the polls. According to all the polls over the past two weeks, the Likud party has suffered a serious loss of support. In fact, a recent poll shows Benny Gantz’s National Unity Camp receiving more mandates than the Likud. This is an extraordinary development, and it merely goes to illustrate the value of silence. Gantz has been very quiet, and he has been raking in the mandates as a result. Meanwhile, Yair Lapid has been sinking just as much as the Likud. On the bloc level, the pro-Bibi bloc has also been losing ground to Bibi’s opponents.
To illustrate this point, I will cite some specific figures. According to a recent poll conducted by Dr. Menachem Lazar, the pro-Netanyahu bloc has dropped to 50 mandates, while the Jewish parties opposing him are shown receiving a total of 60 mandates (or 70, together with the Arab parties). Based on the findings of this poll, Benny Gantz and the National Unity Camp are continuing their dramatic rise; with 28 mandates, Gantz’s party is poised to become the largest party on the map, while the Likud has dropped to a mere 23 seats in the Knesset. Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid, is also continuing to weaken; the latest poll shows it receiving 17 mandates rather than the 19 predicted by the previous poll. The Shas party is shown receiving ten mandates, UTJ would walk away with seven, and Betzalel Smotrich’s party would end up with six. Chadash-Taal (an Arab party) and Yisrael Beiteinu (Lieberman’s party) would each receive six mandates as well, while Raam (the other Arab party) would end up with five. Especially surprising is the fact that the poll shows both the Labor party and Meretz crossing the electoral threshold, with four mandates each. Itamar Ben-Gvir and his party, Otzma Yehudit, are hovering around the threshold, with the polls showing them receiving only four mandates at most.
I have two comments to make about this. First of all, Netanyahu has always been very affected by the polls. Perhaps he allows himself to be swayed too much by their findings, but then again, perhaps it is justified. It isn’t completely absurd to imagine that he panicked when his party’s popularity plunged; nevertheless, it is still unthinkable to suspect him of sending the army into battle on account of electoral considerations. Second, I should note that his standing in the polls improved in the wake of the military campaign. In the few polls that have been conducted in recent days, the Likud party has been shown returning to its natural level of support, and Netanyahu has once again been named the candidate most suited to the office of prime minister by the majority of the respondents.
An Answer to the Critics
Let’s move on to the second issue that has roiled Netanyahu’s opponents: government funding for chareidim. I have reported in the past that the opponents of the judicial reform decided to incite the public against the chareidim in the hope of breathing new life into their demonstrations, which have been losing momentum. Everyone knows that there is a sizable population of enemies of religion within Israel. The many non-Jews in this country are enough on their own to account for a massive wave of hatred for Yiddishkeit. The liberal element decided to capitalize on this antipathy and began a major campaign of incitement against chareidim, exploiting the issues of the draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim, kosher electricity, and various other causes. They recently came up with another issue to stir up venomous hatred: the coalition funds that were promised to the chareidim. Those promises will have to be fulfilled now in the state budget, which is being brought to the Knesset at this time. That is the reason that this issue has become immediately relevant.
Even last week, the Treasury leaked various details of the budget to the press and warned about the economic catastrophe that they claimed would result from a surrender to the chareidi demands. Of course, this is an absurd contention, given that the previous government promised a whopping 53 billion shekels to Raam (the party headed by Mansour Abbas), and no one warned about the severe economic repercussions of the move. But the purveyors of incitement are not interested in facts, and the media has unleashed a torrent of incitement over the past few days.
The public outcry, however, did nothing to change the facts. The coalition agreements must be honored, especially since the chareidi community isn’t actually receiving extra funding at all; on the contrary, the coalition deals serve to reverse a little bit of the spending cuts that previously ate away at the community’s finances. The allocations of the coalition funds, some of which are earmarked for yeshivos, were finalized in the cabinet session on Sunday. Even with the added funds, the stipends for kollel yungeleit have still not returned to the levels that preceded the major cuts in funding. The new arrangement calls for an additional 1.18 billion shekels to be allocated for additional teaching staff in chareidi schools, while 2.5 billion shekels are to be earmarked for the government budget for yeshivos, half a billion shekels for the Ministry of Heritage, and another half a billion shekels for the establishment of a special authority for the advancement of the chareidi sector, which will operate under the auspices of Deputy Minister Uri Maklev. In addition to these funds, additional sums will also be allocated for the food vouchers that Aryeh Deri promised as his flagship piece of legislation in this government. The agitators are trying to convince the public that these vouchers are likewise intended only for the chareidim, but that is false. In fact, the lie has already been exposed in the previous distribution of vouchers, which were designated for anyone categorized in their local government’s records as living below the poverty line.
The opposition to funding for chareidim goes beyond the anonymous leak of documents, which was unquestionably carried out by someone in the Finance Ministry, and the vicious statements made by anonymous “senior officials in the Treasury.” The heads of the Finance Ministry are now going so far as to speak out openly against the move. The Finance Ministry is headed by Betzalel Smotrich, who is believed to be in favor of honoring the coalition agreements, but that hasn’t stopped its officials from speaking out against them.
Yogev Gross, the head of the Budget Division in the Finance Ministry, recently sent an unusually harsh written opinion to the government ministers, warning them of the potential economic repercussions of the distribution of coalition funds to chareidim, with a particular focus on the funding for chareidi schools and yeshivos and the Shas party’s voucher program. The Budget Division claimed that this distribution of funds will increase the chareidi sector’s incentive to refrain from participating in the workforce, will lower their level of participation in employment, and will negate the advantage enjoyed by the public school system in the receipt of government funding. Of course, although I am quoting his letter, I do not agree with a word of it. I feel that his dire predictions are as unfounded as they are infuriating.
When Betzalel Smotrich arrived at the cabinet meeting this Sunday, he commented to the reporters who swarmed around him, “Don’t forget the 53 billion shekels promised to Abbas.” This terse remark effectively summed up his response to their unspoken accusations. But as I said, the coalition’s opponents are not interested in facts. Their hatred makes reason impossible and truth irrelevant.
At the same time, this makes Yair Lapid’s reaction a million times more infuriating. The same man who gave 53 billion shekels to the Arabs in the previous government had the following to say, with every word carefully calculated to vilify the chareidi community: “This government is giving out 13 and a half billion shekels to itself. There have always been coalition funds, but nothing has even come close to this. It is corrupt, it is irresponsible, and it is a shameless surrender to extortion. This money belongs to the productive public, but this is what is being done with it instead of investing it in education for children, in lowering the cost of living, or in fortifying day care centers in the Gaza envelope.”
Lapid clearly put careful thought into every word in order to maximize the venomous impact of his comments.
The Property Tax Fund
As I mentioned, there is a third issue that has forced Prime Minister Netanyahu to deal with a public outcry. This issue concerns arnona, the Israeli property tax, and has been dominating the headlines in the media. It has already led to some fierce conflicts in the Knesset Finance Committee and has prompted the heads of a number of local authorities to threaten to paralyze the country with labor strikes.
In Israel, as is the case in many places in the world, property taxes are paid directly to the local governments. The tax is generally assessed based on the size of an apartment and its location. (Tax rates are higher in upscale neighborhoods, although it is possible that the residents also receive more services from the municipalities.) Tax discounts are available for residents with low income; a poor family can receive a discount of up to 80 percent on the tax. In general, home property taxes aren’t really a tremendous source of revenue for local governments, especially since they have to provide services, such as street cleaning in exchange, for the tax revenues. On the other hand, the property tax paid by businesses is a cash cow for local authorities. The tax rate for commercial properties is much higher, and local governments can collect a fortune from office buildings with many stories while providing the same services as on residential streets with small homes. According to the Treasury, the average residential property tax yields a revenue of 52 shekels per square meter for a local government, while the tax paid by commercial establishments is 182 shekels per square meter, well over three times the sum. This has led to a very serious problem for the country: Since commercial properties are so much more lucrative, local governments do not have any incentive to approve plans for the construction of new housing. And with demand for apartments outstripping supply, apartment prices have been skyrocketing, an issue that the government has pledged to deal with.
The Finance Ministry decided to tackle this issue by introducing a new clause in the state budget, which would set up a special fund in which the wealthier local governments, which are raking in taxes from large areas of commercial space, will be required to deposit a portion of the proceeds to be transferred to the less affluent localities. According to the proposal, every local authority will transfer a sum to the fund ranging from 10 percent to 49 percent of its annual revenue from property taxes, and the money collected by the fund will be redistributed among the local authorities based on the number of construction permits approved for residential units in each city or town. This is supposed to create an incentive for the construction of more housing and thus provide a measure of correction for the current situation.
This proposal led to sheer bedlam. As you might have imagined, the main agitators were the mayors of cities that are considered affluent. These are the cities that stand to lose from the plan, and their mayors are also the most vocal. In response to the proposal, they announced a general strike of all municipal services. They also created such a ruckus in the Knesset Finance Committee that the ushers were forced to eject several mayors from the committee’s chamber. Smotrich condemned their hypocrisy. “There are many mayors who have spoken to me and begged me to pass this bill,” he said. “They claim that they need this plan; they want to issue tenders and build housing, but they cannot be irresponsible and create a deficit as a result. There is a lot of intimidation in local governments, and many people are being silenced. That is also something that must be addressed.”
That, as I mentioned, is the third issue that has stirred Netanyahu’s anxiety.
Smotrich Talks Tough to Modiin Mayor
This latest feud has a lot to do with political maneuvering in addition to money. The mayors of affluent cities are being led in their battle by Chaim Bibas, the mayor of Modiin, who is also a leading figure in the Likud party. Now, how could a senior member of the Likud be leading a battle against Netanyahu and his own party? The answer is that Bibas has long been aspiring to take over the reins of the party. As the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities, Bibas has a good deal of power. He was elected as a member of the Likud, but he no longer considers himself subject to the party’s dictates. That, of course, is infuriating to the Likud party and to Netanyahu in particular. And that means that Bibas has fallen out of favor with the prime minister; he is no longer a prince in the Likud.
It was Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, though, who became aggravated with him this time. On Sunday, Smotrich released a public message to Chaim Bibas: “Chaim, it’s a shame that you don’t have the courage to show true leadership and to admit that we reached agreements with you on Thursday night about this law and its phrasing. You know the truth: This is a good and important law that will balance commercial property taxes with residential taxes, that will make residential construction economically worthwhile, and will encourage the construction of housing and thereby increase the supply of apartments and bring the prices down. You also know that this law will create a just balance between the local governments in the center of the country, which are in attractive locations and benefit from infrastructure that allows them to be the commercial center of Israel, and the governments located further out on the periphery. You also know that your campaign’s claims that the Finance Ministry is ‘nationalizing’ the property taxes are completely untrue. The property tax fund will serve the local governments, and the law states that not even a single shekel will remain with the Treasury. If there is a surplus of funds in any year, those funds will be returned to the local governments that paid them. You know that your claims that this has something to do with Yehuda and Shomron or with the chareidim are cynical lies, and that you are trying to exploit the divisions between the different parts of the populace. You know that this is a law that the professionals in the Treasury have been pushing for years [and these professionals do not have any interest in channeling funds to the chareidim or the residents of Yehuda and Shomron] but the lobby of the wealthier local authorities has always won, defeating the interests of the weaker local governments on the periphery of the country. You know all of this, and that is why you reached an agreement with us on Thursday, but then you caved into your friends in the wealthier local governments. That is why you don’t have the courage to stand behind the agreements that you signed.”
These are strong words; there is no question about it. Smotrich added a warning of his own: “I do not intend to give in!” In other words, he is confident that the new budget will pass with this measure included. And the budget might pass as early as this month. I imagine that I will be writing more about this story in the coming weeks.
Netanyahu Praises Porush for Lag Ba’omer Success
It has only been a few days, but Lag Ba’omer and the hilula in Meron seem to be receding far into the past. We all had many worries as the day approached, and we were relieved to see that those worries evaporated as the day went on.
On Sunday morning, Netanyahu began the weekly cabinet meeting with a compliment for Minister Meir Porush over the “effective, professional, and safe management of the hilula in Meron … on behalf of many, many people within Am Yisroel.”
Indeed, Meir Porush and the Meron project manager, Yossi Deutsch, deserve appreciation and praise. The religious public also deserves to be praised for its handling of the hilula; this year’s experience shows that the community can be respectful and compliant, provided that they are not mistreated or abused. The success of this year’s hilula, in contrast to the collapse of last year’s festivities and the catastrophic events of two years ago, will have to lead some officials to draw certain obvious conclusions. For instance, the government would have been wise to listen to Rabbi Yosef Schwinger and the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites in previous years and to allocate the funding that was needed for Meron; this year’s budget for Meron was 80 million shekels, as opposed to the yearly allocation of only 15 million shekels in previous years. Of course, the hilula this year also benefited from the Meron Law, which made it possible for Porush and his staff to ignore all the quarrelsome people who felt that they had staked their own claims to various areas in Meron. What is unfortunate is that it seems that people had to die in order for the government to wake up to the full scope of its responsibilities in Meron.
In any event, everyone was able to breathe more easily this year on Lag Ba’omer. The expansive new area for bonfires and festivities was an excellent contribution (although some critics argued that if the bonfires weren’t being held on the mountaintop, they might as well be held in Yerushalayim). Many of the other measures implemented this year also proved to be wise and effective, especially the decision to hire chareidim to serve as ushers. That definitely made a very big difference; it is much more palatable to religious visitors to receive instructions from other religious individuals than from violent, abusive police officers. Of course, there is some debate as to who deserves the credit for this idea: Porush and Deutsch or the state commission of inquiry (or, more accurately, Mordechai Karelitz, who is one of its members).
Let me make a comment here: Exactly one year ago, I interviewed Rabbi Yosef Matalon — the father of Shimon Matalon, who lost his life in the Meron tragedy — for this very newspaper. Rabbi Matalon said at the time, “If they let us [the chareidi community] take responsibility for keeping order, we will hire our own ushers and everything will run like clockwork.” Two weeks ago, this sentiment was echoed in my interview with Rabbi Meir Nachman Elchadad, who lost two sons in the Meron tragedy. So let us forget about who deserves the credit; the most important thing is that the hilula was observed with great joy and without incident.
Parenthetically, I should note that this Friday is Yom Yerushalayim. On Sunday, the cabinet will meet in Yerushalayim with Meir Porush as its host. Let us hope that this day also passes without incident. Unfortunately, there is a different kind of danger in this case, a danger posed by our nation’s enemies. But we must place our trust in Hashem.
Celebration Mingles with Sadness in Har Nof
I did not visit Meron on Lag Ba’omer, but I did attend the events in Givat Shaul and Har Nof that I mentioned in my column last week. In my neighborhood of Givat Shaul, there were very many hadlakos. One heavily attended bonfire was attended by Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Ullman, a neighborhood rov and member of the Badatz. Another moving event was a hadlokah accompanied by a group of siyumim in memory of Yekusiel Yehuda Layush, a child who passed away on the night before Lag Ba’omer one year ago.
I also attended an event that took everyone’s breath away: a double hachnosas sefer Torah at Talmud Torah HaRe’em in Har Nof, where two sifrei Torah were donated in memory of two boys from the same class who have been lost to us. One of those boys was Eliezer Yitzchok “Azi” Koltai, who was killed in the Meron tragedy. This charming young man was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and moved to Yerushalayim, where he lived until his precious neshomah was taken to Shomayim. The second sefer Torah, which was financed by local children who exchanged thousands of used plastic bottles for the deposit money, was dedicated to the memory of Aryeh Schupak, who was killed in a terror attack at the entrance to the city. Aryeh, a refined and kindhearted young man who learned in Yeshivas Harei Yehuda, was the child of immigrant parents as well.
One of the processions began on the night of Lag Ba’omer on Rechov Hakablan; the other celebration began on Rechov Chai Taib earlier in the day with the writing of the final letters in the sefer Torah. Both events somehow managed to integrate profound sadness with great joy. At the bonfire, which was attended by Mayor Moshe Lion, the fathers of both boys were honored and the participants wiped away their tears. At the seudas mitzvah, speeches were delivered by Rav Yitzchok Mordechai Rubin, the neighborhood rov; Rav Binyomin Finkel, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir; Rav Naftoli Schreiber, the menahel of the Talmud Torah; and Rabbi Avinoam Mark, the boys’ rebbi.
Two Nations in One Land
I often see indications that Israel is home to two different nations living side by side with very little connection to each other. I am not even referring to the millions of non-Jews who have been imported to Israel from anti-Semitic countries (some of whom, of course, moved on to other destinations after pocketing Israel’s immigrant benefits). Nor am I referring solely to the fact that there are profound differences of opinion and viewpoints (which is legitimate) and even enmity and hostility (which is not really legitimate) between secular Israel and the religious community. The divide runs much deeper than that; the two “peoples” within this country lead completely different lives. The religious community follows the Torah; the secular community behaves like all the nations of the world. And that creates a gaping disconnect between them.
In other countries, a non-Jew who observes his neighbor building a sukkah in his yard will likely view his Jewish neighbor as bizarre or eccentric. A non-Jew will never understand the arbaah minim, the process of baking matzos with hiddurim, or any of the other myriad details of Jewish life and practice. This is to be expected in any other country, but we are all beginning to learn that the same phenomenon exists in Eretz Yisroel, in the land of the Jews, where the chilonim live side by side with religious Jews and do not understand them at all.
This past week provided yet another example of the world of difference that exists between the two “peoples” of Israel. The chareidi press was constantly, even obsessively, covering the preparations for the hilula on Lag Ba’omer. Every detail of the plans for the day was meticulously covered, and for good reason; those details were of concern not only to the tens of thousands of people who planned to visit Meron but to those who remained at home as well. Rabi Shimon bar Yochai is important to all of us, even those who could not even afford the cost of a bus fare to Meron. As for the secular media, however, Meron was largely or completely ignored. Even if a secular newspaper saw fit to print a small news item about Meron, it would focus on a trivial detail of the festivities. To be fair, the average chareidi is often astounded by the main news stories in the secular media, which inexplicably hold the attention of the secular reader or viewer. For a chareidi, these stories seem irrelevant, with no bearing at all on the average citizen’s life.
On Lag Ba’omer, the Jewish people are revealed in their splendor and glory. There is no attempt to shape a narrative or public perception of them, no biased media getting in the way. This year, thousands of traditionally minded Jews traveled to the kever of Rabi Meir Baal Haness and then to Meron, where they davened fervently. Bonfires sprang up all over the country, since many of the people feel at least some connection to Lag Ba’omer. Even in the Knesset, in the middle of Lag Ba’omer, someone lit a candle in the Knesset shul in honor of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabi Meir Baal Haness, and as a zechus for Klal Yisroel. We also sang the piyut of Bar Yochai; copies of the text were handed out, but I saw quite a few people reciting it from memory.
Golda Meir Suspects She Was Mistaken
Last week, I commented in these pages that it is a shame that the leaders of the State of Israel do not seem capable of giving thanks to Hashem or davening for Him to protect the country, while it comes naturally to the nations of the United States and England, with their proclamations of “G-d bless America” or “G-d save the king.” It is said that a certain prime minister of Israel — a woman who held the office during the Yom Kippur War — deliberately refrained from making any mention of Hashem. When the chareidi representatives commented to her about it, she replied, “If I say anything religious, the people will panic.” That woman, of course, was Golda Meir.
On a related note, Shimon Lorencz once recalled, “The prime minister [Golda Meir] once turned to me and said, ‘I am very worried; I haven’t been able to fall asleep for many nights.’ I asked if she was referring to the security situation, but she said, ‘It is a very difficult situation, but I am hopeful that we will prevail.’ I asked her if it was because of the economic situation, and she said again, ‘That is also very difficult, but I hope we will prevail in that area as well.’
“I couldn’t help but express my puzzlement. ‘If you are hopeful that we will surmount all of our difficulties, why are you so worried?
“She replied, ‘I am worried that the day will come when my children and grandchildren will ask themselves why they should stay in Israel and face so many hardships when they could easily live in comfort in America. And then they will leave.’”
Rabbi Lorencz continued, “I asked her, ‘Do you have the same worries about my children and grandchildren?’ She replied, ‘No! They are bound to Eretz Yisroel with every fiber of their souls.’ I asked her, ‘If you are so worried that your grandchildren will leave this country, but you are completely confident that our progeny will remain here, why have you spent your entire life fighting against chareidi education?’
“‘Believe me,’ she replied, ‘I often think that I was mistaken.’”
A Mysterious Accident in the North
The Knesset has returned from its recess, and the usual process of submitting parliamentary queries and motions for the agenda has resumed as well. There was one particular query that I found very noteworthy, and I would like to share the details with you.
On the last Thursday of Nissan, at the end of bein hazmanim, a group of yeshiva bochurim took an organized trip to the north. In the parking lot of a boat rental, a bus hit several of the vacationing bochurim. The official reports about the incident stated that the bus suddenly moved toward the victims “for unclear reasons.” Some believed that the crash was the result of an error on the part of the driver, but others are convinced that he executed a deliberate terror attack. It is hard to come up with a definitive resolution to this question without a thorough investigation, but this is a very important question to answer. The most severely wounded victim was the counselor responsible for overseeing the group, who is still hospitalized in Hadassah Ein Kerem.
For some reason, although the situation was unclear, the police were very quick to decide that the crash was an accident rather than a nationalistically motivated act of terror. However, eyewitnesses at the scene claimed that the driver had acted deliberately, and they have complained that the police refused to collect testimony from them. It seemed that the officers were simply eager to close the file, write this case off as a mere accident, and move on.
This is where the parliamentary query comes in. MK Avrohom Betzalel submitted an urgent query asking for clarification as to how the police officers came to the conclusion that it was an accident rather than a deliberate act of terror, and whether it was true that they refused to collect the testimonies of eyewitnesses at the scene. He also asked for the investigation to be reopened. We will have to wait for the minister’s response, but it seems clear even now that this parliamentary query will not leave the police any choice but to investigate the matter further. And that is a laudable accomplishment on its own.
“How Can I Go to Meron in the Middle of a Sugya?”
There is still much more to write, but I am running out of space. I haven’t even written about the boycott of Angel’s Bakery, nor have I written about the terror attack in Djerba. The two fatalities in Djerba were a pair of cousins, Binyomin and Aviel Hadad; one of them had come to Djerba for Lag Ba’omer from France while the other came from Be’er Sheva, and they were both murdered there. Of course, everything is dictated from Above.
I also did not write about the draft law, which is constantly looming in our near future, or about the fact that the terrorists in Gaza fired a rocket on Sunday evening in spite of the ceasefire agreement. But for now, I will have to settle for mentioning those things in passing.
I do have one final story to share with you, though. On Monday, the day before Lag Ba’omer, I spotted a young man speaking on his cell phone in an area around the corner from the Mir yeshiva, outside the institution known as “Rav Wolpin’s kollel.” The vicinity of Kikar Zhvill was packed with yungeleit who had concluded a day of learning in the Mir yeshiva and were waiting for the dozens of buses that take them home every day. Suddenly, I heard someone shouting into a cell phone, “No! I am not going to Meron!” I obviously did not hear the response he received, but his answer boomed loudly: “We are in the middle of a sugya now. There is no way I can go to Meron!”
I turned to a yungerman who was emerging from a nearby building and asked him, “Is that man a yungerman in Rav Wolpin’s kollel?”
“No,” he replied. “He is a bochur in Rav Wolpin’s kollel who recently came here from Yeshivas Bais Mattisyohu.” I had already been aware of the outstanding yungeleit in Rav Wolpin’s kollel; I gathered now that this is a distinction they share with bochurim as well. I was also surprised to learn that the simcha halls in the Zhvill building have been modified to create a massive bais medrash. And I also discovered that the atmosphere in the kollel is one of extraordinary intensity.
“What sugya is he referring to?” I asked.
“The sugya of matnos kehunah,” the yungerman replied. “Rav Wolpin delivered a shiur about it yesterday. The bais medrash practically exploded with intensity as everyone began debating it.
“You have to understand,” the yungerman added, “Rav Wolpin’s Torah is so precious, it is as if millions of dollars are floating around the bais medrash, all for the taking.”