A Joyous Yom Tov Draws to a Close
Pesach has now come to an end. The days of Pesach are truly sublime days; it is a time of spiritual elevation. With all due respect to New York, Miami, Boston and elsewhere, the Yom Tov is best enjoyed in Eretz Yisroel, and most of all in Yerushalayim. Pesach can be sensed in the air – and not only because of the thousands of bonfires that were ignited to burn chometz. There were many festive events, both on a small scale and on a national level, such as the Shas party’s event held at Teddy Stadium in Yerushalayim, attended by over 20,000 people. The thousands of attendees defied the predictions of heavy rain despite the fact that the stadium has no roof. Thousands of people also traveled to Yerushalayim to visit the Kosel Hamaarovi. My apartment overlooks the highway that leads into the city, and I was able to see the heavy traffic throughout the day. Multitudes of people visited our beautiful city over the course of the Yom Tov.
Then there was the flow of visitors to the home of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. At the beginning of the Yom Tov, word began to travel that the rosh yeshiva was feeling well and would be pleased to receive visitors. The news spread throughout Bnei Brak, and masses of people flocked to his home, each of them hoping to be among the few who would be allowed inside. The mass pilgrimage to the apartment on Rechov Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak continued throughout the chag.
There were hardly any political developments over the Yom Tov, and absolutely nothing of interest took place in that respect. But there was an important story of a different sort: the drowning in the Kinneret. The weather on Chol Hamoed turned out to be misleading, and the Kinneret, which appeared calm and inviting, quickly became turbulent. According to reports from the police and rescue workers, forty people were swept into the waters on the same day of Chol Hamoed. 37 of the victims were rescued, but three could not be found. Their bodies were found at the end of the Yom Tov. The searches for the missing swimmers accompanied us throughout Chol Hamoed and the last day of Pesach. It was very saddening.
Our Isru Chag, which is the last day of Pesach for you, is the date of the Moroccan holiday of Mimuna. Mimuna is a holiday that was originally religious in character, but has become secularized and politicized in many places today. This year, it found us in the midst of a subtle political clash between Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon and Prime Minister Netanyahu concerning the series of benefits that Kachlon wishes to introduce for the disabled and the poor. Netanyahu was wise enough not to be drawn into an outright conflict, even though Kachlon held a press conference without notifying him in advance. Rather than criticizing Kachlon, Netanyahu praised the initiative. Of course, he described it as a welcome initiative of the government, not the finance minister.
The Supreme Court Rules Against Us
As could be expected, the Supreme Court has ruled against us once again. Last Wednesday, the court ruled that the Tel Aviv municipality is permitted to grant licenses to business owners to operate their establishments on Shabbos “in limited areas.” Chief Justice Miriam Naor approved an amendment to the municipal bylaws that would permit the opening of stores on Shabbos at the Tel Aviv port, the Yaffo port, and the railway station near Menashiah. All three are major commercial areas that have become, to our great chagrin, hubs of commercial activity on Shabbos. The amendment also permits stores to operate in gas stations, and allows the city to increase the number of restaurants and pharmacies that may operate on Shabbos throughout the city. Naor also ruled that an additional amendment to the bylaws should also be considered to have been approved, which permits grocery stores in various areas to operate on Shabbos.
These amendments to the bylaws were made after the Supreme Court ruled in the past that the municipality is not permitted to refrain from enforcing its existing bylaws effectively. At the time, those laws included the prohibition for businesses to operate on Shabbos. That is, the court accepted the petition of the union of business and minimarket owners who claimed that their own livelihoods would be severely harmed if other grocery stores were permitted to open on Shabbos. The same court has now adopted the opposite stance. I am certain that there is no need for me to elaborate on the significance of this verdict, or on the pain and outrage that it has evoked.
In one of the chiloni newspapers, I found an opinion piece on the subject titled, “A Black Day for a Jewish and Democratic State.” The writer noted that the judicial proceedings against the opening of stores on Shabbos were the initiative of Tel Aviv’s grocery store and minimarket owners; they were not the work of religious entities. Their argument was simple: The city of Tel Aviv was not enforcing the law that prevents storeowners from operating their businesses on Shabbos, and that enabled large companies to present unfair competition to the owners of small businesses. Even if the violators of the law were fined from time to time, those minor penalties did not even begin to serve as a deterrent.
The writer mentioned that the Tel Aviv municipality had decided to allow businesses to open on Shabbos in several areas, noting that no Minister of the Interior has ever been willing to approve that decision. Instead, the matter was referred to the Supreme Court for its ruling. Then he concluded his discussion with the following comment: “This question is far from being an issue that is only religious, or even mostly religious. The Supreme Court, which supports the underdog and upholds social justice only on the rarest occasions, has given its permission today for small businesses to be trampled simply because they are small. Naor and her colleagues on the court are sending a clear message: Large businesses that have the ability to exert political pressure can violate the law with impunity for extended periods of time, and can ultimately receive a stamp of approval for their actions. For all of these reasons, it is a black day not only for the Jewish character of the state, as Shabbos is again being publicly trampled, but also for its democratic character. The concept of equality under the law has been shoved into a corner, and the violators of the law have come out as the winners.”
The mayor of Tel Aviv declared exultantly that his city had remained “free.” The majority of the public, meanwhile, felt that the country has changed its direction. The chareidi representatives wasted no time informing the prime minister that a new law must be passed to prevent such a flagrant violation of the status quo. One thing is clear: We are at the beginning of a major battle, and there is no telling how it will end.
A Stabbing on Rechov HaGai
One week before Pesach, there was a stabbing on Rechov HaGai, in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Rechov HaGai is a street that has seen violence on many occasions. Despite the already increased presence of police and soldiers on the street, it is impossible to assign a guard to every individual. On Shabbos of Parshas Vayikra, at 3:00 in the afternoon, a 17-year-old Arab noticed two religious youths making their way down the street. He began following them, and at a certain point he approached them and stabbed them both with a knife. The victims received first aid on the spot and were rushed to Hadassah Hospital, fully conscious. In medical terms, their condition was listed as “stable” and their wounds were “moderate.” But despite the doctors’ evaluation, the victims’ suffering is horrendous.
The stabber, who was in Israel illegally, attempted to escape. He was not planning to commit a suicide attack; he hoped to return to his home in Shechem after assaulting his innocent victims. The police pursued him as he climbed the steps to an Arab residential building, and when the residents refused to open the door for him, he raced back down the stairs and attacked one of the policemen who were chasing him. At that point, another police officer shot and killed him.
As I mentioned, this street has seen many episodes of violence in the past. In October 2015, on Chol Hamoed Sukkos, Aharon Benita and Rabbi Nechemiah Lavie were killed there. The latter was murdered when he came to the aid of the wounded Benita. Aharon’s wife was seriously wounded in the same attack, and their young son was lightly wounded. One week later, a Jewish youth was stabbed in the back of his neck by an Arab woman. The victim managed to shoot the terrorist and injure her. In November 2015, a terrorist attacked two Border Guard officers and stabbed one of them; he was shot and killed. In February 2016, two Border Guard policemen were lightly wounded in another stabbing attack. In March 2016, a 50-year-old Arab woman attempted to stab officers of the Border Guard. One week later, a chareidi Jew was stabbed on an adjacent street; the terrorist in that incident was captured. In May 2016, a talmid in the Shuvu Bonim yeshiva, who learns and lives in the area, was stabbed in a nearby alley. In December 2016, a policeman and a Border Guard officer were lightly wounded when an Arab stabbed them with a screwdriver.
Perhaps I should explain something here: The Border Guard is an entity that lies somewhere between the army and the police force. The officers of the Border Guard are policemen, but they wear green uniforms, whereas the members of the police force itself wear blue uniforms. The main function of the Border Guard is to defend the country’s borders, including those within the state. That is why you will always hear about three different categories of personnel: soldiers, police officers, and members of the Border Guard.
Murder at Ofra Junction
Four days before the Seder night, on Thursday, a fatal terror attack took place at Ofra Junction. It was a vehicular terror attack in which the driver of a car deliberately rammed his vehicle into soldiers standing at a bus stop at the junction. One soldier was killed and another was lightly wounded. The soldier who was killed was 20-year-old Elchai Teharlev Hy”d of Talmon.
The terrorist lives nearby, in the Arab village of Silwad. He is a member of the Hamed family, a large clan in Silwad, most of whose members are identified with Hamas. The terrorist was driving northward on Route 60, from the direction of Yerushalayim, and upon approaching the bus stop, he accelerated and ran over the two soldiers who were standing behind it. The lightly wounded victim, who is 19 years old, was transported to Hadassah Har Hatzofim Hospital. Eyewitnesses to the attack related that after it occurred, they realized that they had seen the terrorist driving past the junction several times in order to determine if there was a crowd at the bus stop, until he finally decided to accelerate and drive into the group. The murderer had been arrested two years earlier after he attempted to infiltrate the community of Adam in the Binyamin region. Shortly after the attack, a battalion of soldiers from the IDF entered the Arab village in order to raid the perpetrator’s home. The operation led to clashes between the soldiers and local Palestinian youths.
The Arab perpetrator was lightly wounded and was taken to the hospital for treatment. What will happen to him now, you ask? He will be given the best, most humane possible medical treatment, and he will then be put on trial and sent to prison, where he will enjoy a pleasant existence along with hundreds of his friends. In the meantime, he will receive a generous monthly stipend from Hamas or the Palestinian Authority, and at some point he will be released in the context of a prisoner exchange or diplomatic agreement.
Permit me a word about the medical treatment provided to wounded terrorists. During the week before Pesach, I went to visit a patient at Shaare Zedek Hospital. While I was there, I was asked to visit the family of a yungerman named Ben-Ezra, who had been injured in a traffic accident two days earlier on Rechov Sarei Yisroel in Yerushalayim. I was told that my visit would give them an emotional boost, and I hurried to the intensive care unit, where the yungerman was hospitalized. The intensive care unit, of course, is the ward dedicated to the patients in the most critical condition, who require constant monitoring and care. My companion filled me in on the identities of the patients in each of the rooms in case I wished to visit them as well. One of the rooms was occupied by a daughter of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, Rebbetzin Trager from Antwerp. The hospital staff was deeply impressed by the rebbetzin and her family members.
At the end of the corridor, I noticed two policewomen sitting on chairs. Each of them wore an armband bearing the words “Military Police.” I inquired about the reason for their presence, and I was told that the room at the end of the corridor held a female terrorist who had attempted to murder police officers. She had been in the hospital for nine days at that point, and she was receiving the most superb medical care possible. Two policewomen were stationed outside her door at all hours of the day.
Need I say more?
The Terror Attack at Kikar Hatzanchanim
Throughout the Yom Tov, there was an increased police presence in Yerushalayim, and in the Old City in particular. Our enemies work hard to turn all of our Yomim Tovim into times of mourning. They consider it an even greater victory when they execute terror attacks during Jewish holidays. For that reason, the police are on a heightened state of alert, and a closure is imposed on Arabs who are not from East Yerushalayim. Nevertheless, the Arabs make attempts to bypass the checkpoints and the police protection.
And so there was a terror attack on Friday of Chol Hamoed, in the center of Yerushalayim, at Kikar Hatzanchanim. I wrote about the attack in a separate article. They say that the stabber was mentally disturbed; his defense attorneys are already claiming that he is mentally incompetent. But the incident certainly dampened the enjoyment of the Yom Tov for all of us.
The attack took place on the light train, near the closest station to Shaar Yaffo. For some reason, the light train has become the site of frequent terror attacks. Each time, people become frightened and disconcerted, but life returns to normal within a very short time.
The city will remain on alert for several more days. The country observed Yom Hashoah on Monday, and next week the country will mark Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for the fallen soldiers of the IDF. Immediately afterward, the country will be celebrating Yom Haatzmaut. I have some things to say about this, but that will have to wait for next week, bli neder.
A Chesed Industry
Every year, I am astounded once again by the extensive chesed operations that take place before Pesach. There is an entire industry of tzedakah and chssed, with distributions of chicken, fruits and vegetables, and even shoes and suits. In every neighborhood, various chesed operations are arranged to benefit the residents who cannot contend with the expenses of the Yom Tov.
We have all grown accustomed to these programs, to the point that we do not pay much attention to all the special sales, the distributions, the store vouchers, and the kimcha d’Pischa envelopes that are such common sights in our communities. But these things are the products of remarkable chesed enterprises that are fueled by the hard work and creativity of hundreds of organizers and philanthropists, whose efforts result in enormous benefit to families of bnei Torah, families blessed with many children, and other people of limited means. Thanks to their efforts, many people are able to properly enjoy the Yom Tov, rather than struggling to afford it.
I personally witnessed the distribution conducted by the Shaarei Tevunah community in Ramot, and I found it amazing. Half a street was closed off to accommodate the merchandise. I also saw the vouchers distributed by the Darchei Miriam organization, which arranged for children of sick parents to receive vouchers for the purchase of shoes and suits. Then there were the food baskets distributed by the Ohr Leah organization. Thousands of families flocked to the organization’s offices to receive the baskets. And these are only a few of many examples.
On Rechov Rav Attiyah in Yerushalayim, a huge crowd gathered for the sale arranged by Rav Avrohom Betzalel. Rav Betzalel made connections between the local tzedakah fund, a number of philanthropists in France, and various textile importers, and the results were astounding. Two thousand vouchers were distributed to 2,000 yungeleit in 40 kollelim, enabling them to purchase a pair of shoes or a new suit for 150 shekels, rather than 400 or 600 shekels. Shirts and talleisim were also sold there. Even the purchasers who were not entitled to vouchers paid only the importer’s price, which was about 30 percent cheaper than the price in stores. The area was overflowing with shoppers. And once again, this was only one of many such programs. I am certain that the organizers of all these distributions and sales will be richly rewarded from Shomayim.
The Yom Yerushalayim Festivities
Not long ago, I wrote in this column about the budget for the festivities marking the jubilee of the liberation of Yerushalayim and the Kosel Hamaarovi. I argued that we, the chareidim, are the major community in the city and the funds should therefore be placed under our jurisdiction. Furthermore, Yerushalayim is a city of kedushah, and it is the Kosel Hamaarovi that was liberated. Therefore, the festivities should have a Jewish character in keeping with the Torah. I added that we, the chareidim, understand the meaning of Yerushalayim better than others, and that at least a portion of the funds ought to be earmarked for the restoration of additional shuls in the Jewish Quarter and similar institutions. This logic, however, seems to have been lost on the government.
The exact breakdown of the budget has now been released by Minister of Culture Miri Regev. The full sum allocated for the jubilee celebration is 12 million shekels. The funds are drawn from three sources: 5 million shekels from the Ministry of Culture, 5 million shekels from the Finance Ministry, and 2 million shekels from the prime minister’s office. The planned events are: a torch lighting ceremony marking 50 years since the reunification of Yerushalayim, “the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish nation,” on Yom Haatzmaut; an opening event on the 22nd of Iyar to mark the beginning of the jubilee festivities; a memorial service for the Jews of Ethiopia who perished en route to Eretz Yisroel to be held on the 28th of Iyar; a government-run celebration of the reunification of Yerushalayim, also on the 28th of Iyar, the date of Yom Yerushalayim; a light and sound presentation on the walls of the city that will be accessible to the wider public; a memorial service for the fallen soldiers who lost their lives during the Six Day War; and an assortment of other events to be held by the various ministries of the government. But what about the sanctity of Yerushalayim and the special Jewish character of the city? Where do those things fit into these plans? To that question, the Minister of Culture responded, “The ceremonies will include references to the Jewish and religious dimension of the city.” That is all.
At the end of Adar, I also wrote about the rampant Jewish ignorance that plagues the country’s highest-ranking officials, and I mocked the prime minister’s office for the panic that set in when Jason Greenblatt, the visiting emissary of President Donald Trump, announced that he had a “chiyuv.” I also mentioned the bodyguard assigned to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, who accompanied him to the Knesset shul and had no idea how long Minchah was supposed to take. The other day, I met Edelstein – at Minchah, of course – and he commented to me with a smile, “Be careful what you write about the security guards. They may not know how to daven, but they know how to give a beating…”
Soldiers on the Kiruv Front
If you saw them on the street, you wouldn’t notice anything unusual about them. They look no different than any other yungeleit, but they are actually combatants on the front lines of the war for Jewish souls. Ignoring any conventions and labels, they work tirelessly to bring all lost Jews back to their Creator. They are the yungeleit of Lev L’Achim, and true to the organization’s name, they are men with great hearts and tremendous caring for their brethren.
On Monday night, they gathered for their annual asifa.
We have all met Jews who are estranged from our religion, but most of us simply shake our heads in sympathy and move on. These yungeleit, though, do much more than that: They leave their families and even their chavrusos, and they travel to the unassuming centers of kiruv: a bomb shelter in Ramle, a midrashah in Netanya, or a simple hut in Armon Hanetziv. Their intensive efforts have led to major changes in the characters of many neighborhoods, as hundreds of secular high school students have been drawn to the midrashot and have moved on from there to yeshivos, until they finally became ordinary talmidim in regular yeshivos. I myself encountered a former student of a chiloni high school who is now a talmid in a yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer. There is nothing about him that indicates that he was completely irreligious just three years ago.
At this year’s annual maamad maranan v’rabbanan, the dedicated workers of Lev L’Achim were treated to a show of respect and admiration by the gedolei Yisroel. The astounding shailos that were raised in a question-and-answer session led by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein stunned the audience. And a shmuess from Rav Chizkiyahu Mishkovsky enabled the volunteers to gain an even greater understanding of the significance of their work. At the “dibbuk chaveirim,” the yungeleit had a chance to draw inspiration and encouragement from each other, and at a panel discussion led by Rav Uri Zohar, one of the leaders of Lev L’Achim, they were exposed to a tiny glimpse of the revolution that their work has produced.
Here is one story that illustrates the incredible dedication of the volunteers of Lev L’Achim.
One week, a certain yungerman was asked to volunteer for additional hours. Despite his gaunt, even somewhat sickly appearance, he is actually one of the organization’s most successful kiruv workers. Without any particular strategy or training, he captivates his irreligious brethren with the simple air of truth that he exudes – the truth of the Torah. That particular week, many of the regular volunteers were occupied studying for an exam, and the national coordinator needed to find substitutes to fill in for them with their regular chavrusos. This yungerman, as always, was prepared to offer his services.
“But I am only available until 8:00 in the evening this week,” he added in his characteristic soft voice. “I have to be home by 9:30 every night.” After a moment, he explained, “I am marrying off my daughter today, you see. This week is the week of sheva brachos.”