Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

My Take on the News

 

Three Soldiers Killed in Border Incident

There was a highly unusual incident on the Egyptian border. The border between Egypt and Israel is generally quiet; the two countries are at peace. But that makes this incident even more disturbing. The prime minister gave voice to the hard feelings circulating in the country in the cabinet session on Sunday when he remarked that this incident demands a thorough investigation.

Let’s begin with the known facts: Three IDF soldiers, one female and two males, were killed this Shabbos in an exchange of gunfire in the Paran region. The killer was an Egyptian soldier who was killed after infiltrating Israel via the Egyptian border. I won’t go into too many details here, but I will say simply that it is widely believed that this was a serious lapse on the part of the Israeli army.

The IDF spokesman released the following statement: “A clash with a terrorist in Israeli territory developed into an exchange of gunfire, and the soldiers and commanders identified the target and shot and killed him, but IDF forces continued searching the area. It seems that a single terrorist infiltrated Israel and killed the male and female soldiers between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning. When they did not respond over the radio, the platoon commander came to their position and found them dead. Another soldier was killed in an exchange of gunfire with the terrorist, and a wounded victim was evacuated by helicopter to Soroka Hospital in light condition with wounds to his hand. There was no advance warning about this terror attack. It is most likely that the terrorist who was killed in the second incident was the one who perpetrated the first, but the army is searching for additional terrorists. According to the IDF, the terrorist was an Egyptian police officer. An investigation is currently being conducted in complete collaboration with the Egyptian army.”

A spokesman for the Egyptian army reported, “This morning, a member of our security forces was chasing drug smugglers at the international border. During the pursuit, he crossed the border and became involved in an exchange of gunfire that led to the deaths of three members of Israel’s defense force and the wounding of two others, along with the death of the Egyptian defense officer. We send out condolences to the families of the victims and our best wishes for a speedy recovery for the wounded.” Of course, neither Israel nor Egypt is interested in fomenting an international incident, even though this episode could easily lead to friction between the two countries.

The most important questions are why the infiltrator was able to kill the two soldiers at their position (and why it took their comrades so long to find them), and what led to the third soldier’s death. After the bodies of the first two soldiers were found, the IDF began a search for the terrorist, which led to the exchange of gunfire that took the life of Staff Sergeant Ohad Dahan. But there are clearly details of this story that are still unknown. Why was the IDF so hesitant to take action? And how did the Egyptian terrorist enter Israeli territory without being noticed? Is this the cost of Israel’s complacency?

Another Death from the Sbarro Bombing

Speaking of terror, the following is a story that could happen only in Israel: A murderer was dying of cancer, and a clamor arose from many self-proclaimed noble souls insisting that he should be returned to his home so that he could die in the company of his family. The Prison Service’s parole committee decided on Wednesday to refer the case of Walid Daka, the terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for killing an Israeli soldier in the 1980s, to a special committee dedicated to requests from prisoners with life sentences. A medical officer in the Prison Service felt that Daka’s days were numbered and that his life was in immediate danger; however, the government was opposed to releasing him, on the grounds that his illness does not meet the criteria for early release. Daka actually recently completed his life sentence and is now serving a sentence for a different crime, but the original committee ruled that it lacks the authority to deal with Daka’s request and that he must continue being handled as a prisoner serving a life sentence. Just to make the situation clear, I will inform you that Walid Daka is a citizen of Israel who was educated in the Arab school system in Israel and joined the terror group known as the Popular Front. In 1984, he was part of a group of terrorists who kidnapped Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam and murdered him after subjecting him to unspeakable torment. Their evil is utterly unfathomable. And now there are Israeli protestors who are calling for mercy for this murderer.

In other terror-related news, Chana Tova Feiner Nachenberg was pronounced dead in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv this Wednesday. Mrs. Nachenberg had been in a coma since she was severely wounded in the bombing of the Sbarro’s restaurant on Rechov Yaffo in the year 2001. She was unconscious for a full 22 years! The suicide bombing at Sbarro’s took place on August 9, 2001. The terrorist entered the restaurant in the afternoon, when it was filled with customers, and detonated a powerful explosive. This was one of the deadliest and most horrific terror attacks ever to occur in Israel. The victims of the bombing included five members of the Schijveschuurder family: both parents and three of their children. Two other children from the family were seriously wounded. The bombing took the lives of 15 people, including eight children, and wounded about 140 additional victims. The death toll has now risen to sixteen.

A Major Military Drill

Last weekend, many people in Yerushalayim were surprised to hear the sounds of explosions and to see airplanes flying through the city’s skies. It gradually became clear that they were not witnessing actual warfare of any kind, but something might have been afoot: The IDF had begun a massive military drill, which even required the prime minister, the defense minister, and the highest-ranking officers in the army to gather in the command center. The exercise was given the name Firm Hand, a rather pretentious name—and as I often point out, I firmly believe that there is no place for pretentiousness at all with respect to Israel’s military strength.

The drill began in the middle of last week and is slated to continue this week as well. It will simulate simultaneous hostilities on multiple fronts: in the air, at sea, on dry land, and in cyberspace. This drill is meant to evaluate the IDF’s preparedness for an extended battle on multiple fronts at once and will involve the participation of regular and reserve IDF forces from every division of the army. The forces will practice contending with various challenges and incidents unfolding simultaneously on multiple fronts: The air force will practice operating in more than one location, including simulated strategic strikes deep in enemy territory, while the navy will carry out combat training that will include both offensive and defensive operations. In addition, the Northern Command will carry out an exercise as well. During the drill, Israeli citizens will witness the movement of planes in the air as well as defense forces on the ground, including armored military vehicles.

The Iranian Connection

Of course, the connection to Iran cannot be overlooked. Israel has been working hard to caution the world about the dangers of a nuclear Iran, a prospect that is being ignored by every international body. Netanyahu has based his recent warnings on a document released by the International Atomic Energy Agency expressing a concern that Iran may be on the road to developing a nuclear bomb. For the time being, Israel is also concerned about the prospect of a new nuclear pact between Iran and the United States. As of now, Iran has a stock of enriched uranium that is 23 times the quantity permitted to it. Even more concerning is the fact that the Iranians possess 114 kilograms of uranium that has been enriched to 60 percent, which brings them even closer to the threshold of nuclear military power. The latest report from the IAEA seems to reinforce the notion that the Iranians are approaching the point of possessing nuclear weapons, and some believe that they have already reached that point.

There are indications that the United States and Iran are on the verge of signing a new nuclear agreement. According to a senior official in the defense establishment, a delegation of high-ranking American officials visited the Sultanate of Oman several days ago and met with an Iranian delegation to discuss the details of the agreement. According to the report, the agreement under discussion includes the immediate removal of all sanctions on Iran and would require the United States to allow frozen funds from banks throughout the world to be transferred to Tehran. In exchange, Iran will cease enriching uranium and will halt its nuclear program, as well as gradually withdrawing from Syria and Yemen and reducing the tension in the region. It was also reported that the agreement would permit Iran to export oil freely.

Although Binyomin Netanyahu has a tendency to panic easily, this time it seems that the panic is justified. And that is why the military drill may indeed have a connection to Iran.

Mossad Operative Killed in Italy

It began as an innocuous-seeming news report about an accident at sea, but it has developed into what seems like the plot of a suspense novel—except that it is quite real.

A boat carrying several Israelis recently capsized in Italy, and one of the passengers was killed. While this seems to have been a fairly ordinary, if tragic, accident, the Italian newspaper La Republicana reported that the boat was carrying 20 Israeli and Italian intelligence agents at the time of the accident. According to this report, most of the Israelis survived the accident and were immediately flown to Israel on a military plane. The fatality was a Mossad agent whose identity Israel disclosed after a few days of silence. The Israeli report wasn’t particularly forthcoming with information: “A 50-year-old retired member of the defense service was killed when a boat overturned on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. According to Italian media outlets, four other people were killed in the accident and five were injured. The boat, which was carrying about 25 passengers, capsized due to inclement weather including strong winds.” The man was identified as Erez Shimoni.

The victim was buried in Israel on Wednesday. Many Mossad operatives attended the funeral, all of them wearing coronavirus masks to hide their faces. Mossad chief Dovid Barnea said in his eulogy, “He was killed in a tragic accident while visiting Italy on behalf of the Mossad. I knew him from a different trip and from our shared service in the organization over the course of many years. At this occasion, I would like to speak about him as a person, a friend, and a Mossad agent who served in intelligence and other roles and who dedicated his adult life to national security. I knew him as a professional of the highest caliber, a very pleasant person who loved others, and a man with a good heart and a calm, quiet nature.”

This leaves us with one major question: Was the deceased merely a former Mossad operative or was he still actively working for the agency? What was he doing in Italy along with his colleagues from the Mossad? It seems very likely that they were on some sort of intelligence mission; some believe that the agents were tracking Russian oligarchs who were in contact with Iran.

Outages Spark Outrage

A major heat wave hit Israel last Friday, with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat wave was accompanied by spontaneous fires, sandstorms that were powerful enough to uproot trees, the collapse of construction cranes, and plenty of other adverse effects. At Ben Gurion Airport, a fierce sandstorm nearly caused officials to bring a halt to all air traffic. Due to the extreme weather conditions, Fire and Rescue Commissioner Eyal Caspi signed an order prohibiting the lighting of bonfires. He also instructed the firefighting service to beef up its forces in order to be prepared to respond quickly to any blazes that might erupt.

But that was not all. The heat wave led to record consumption of electricity, and the electric company began initiating deliberate power outages in order to contend with the high demand. As it turns out, the outages took place in areas populated by chareidim, mainly in the cities of Bnei Brak, Ashdod, and Modiin Illit. This meant that tens of thousands of chareidi families endured hours without electricity, which meant that they were deprived of air conditioning and even of food for Shabbos.

Chareidi Knesset members began voicing their protests as soon as Shabbos ended. Several of the MKs submitted urgent motions for the agenda to force a Knesset discussion about the decision-making process that led to the outages and the preparations in place for extreme weather situations, including the possibility of storing electricity in reserve or arranging for local production of power to provide a backup for the national power service. The memorandum accompanying the proposal explains, “Last Friday, there was a severe heat wave throughout the country that led to very high consumption of electricity. This heightened consumption caused certain malfunctions and deliberate electric outages. This situation, in which citizens found themselves suffering from intense heat and lacking electricity while they were preparing for Shabbos, indicates the need for a sweeping discussion in the Knesset about the preparations for unusual weather conditions, including the possibility of local electricity production or storing electricity for later use.” The authors also called for a review of “the manner in which the decisions were made to shut off the electric supply and how the areas for the electric outages and the duration of the outages were determined, as well as the system for notifying the residents of those areas before a planned power outage.” This also led to a flurry of accusations as to who was actually responsible for the deliberate outages: the electric company or a different company that provides services to it. But regardless of who was behind the decision, it is clear that this was a discriminatory act against the chareidi community.

Nides to Leave, Blinken Cancels Visit

I have a few items to report to you about the state of Israeli-American relations at the moment. First, the United States ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, is expected to be leaving his post in the coming months. Nides, who has been serving in the position for only a year and a half, recently gathered the embassy staff to inform them of his planned departure. He attributed the decision to personal considerations and a desire to spend more time with his family. The American government and the Prime Minister’s Office were likewise informed of his decision. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken were informed several weeks ago. As you are probably aware, there is some tension between Israel and the United States at this time, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has yet to be invited to visit the White House.

In addition, Secretary of State Blinken recently informed the Foreign Ministry that he would be canceling a planned visit to Israel. This cancellation comes against the backdrop of strained relations between Israel and America and, again, the fact that Netanyahu has yet to be invited to visit the White House. Blinken’s trip to Israel was scheduled to be only 12 hours long, as part of a more extensive tour of the Middle East. The American government did not make any official announcement about the cancellation, which spares them from having to deal with the issue on a public level.

It was reported that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is planning to meet with his American counterpart, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in Europe at some time during the coming weeks. To avoid drawing attention to the fact that Netanyahu hasn’t been invited to Washington, Gallant will not be meeting with Austin there. Due to the security situation in Israel, the urgency of the Iranian issue and the conclusion of the hostilities in the south, Gallant and Austin’s respective offices realized that their meeting could no longer be delayed until Netanyahu received his invitation. For that reason, they decided to arrange the meeting in Europe instead.

Speaking of official visits, King Charles of Great Britain is about to pay an official visit to Israel. And in another piece of news concerning international relations, we have learned that Hungary is planning to transfer its embassy to Yerushalayim. In short, things are hardly boring here in Israel.

Telz Stone and Telz

Here is a story that you may find interesting: You are probably familiar with the community of Telz Stone, otherwise known as Kiryat Yearim, which was founded by the roshei yeshiva of Telz in America. Of course, the Telz yeshiva in America is a direct continuation of the Yeshiva of Telz in Lithuania. Last week, the city of Telz, Lithuania, and Telz Stone in Israel signed an agreement to become sister cities. Mayor Tomas Katkus of Telz was a guest in Telz Stone, where he was greeted at the entrance to the town by the mayor of Telz Stone, Yitzchok Ravitz (yes, the son of the famed MK Avrohom Ravitz), who spearheaded the process that led to the sister cities agreement for the purpose of strengthening and deepening the historic connection between the city of Telz, the famous yeshiva that bears its name, and the settlement in Israel that was named after the kedoshim of Telz. A reception was held at the memorial on Rechov Rav Gordon in the center of Telz Stone.

The mayor of Telz was accompanied by the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, the deputy ambassador, and the members of his staff. On the Israeli side, Mayor Ravitz was joined by Meir Porush, the Minister of Yerushalayim Affairs and Jewish Heritage, and members of the Sorotzkin family, who are descendants of Rav Eliezer Gordon, the rosh yeshiva and rov of Telz during the years between 1870 and 1910. Yitzchok Ravitz remarked that the main streets of Telz Stone, Rechov Rav Gordon and Rechov Rav Bloch, are named after the rabbonim of Telz and that the oldest street in the community is Rechov Kedoshei Telz, which was named in memory of the Jews of Telz who were martyred al kiddush Hashem on the 20th of Tammuz 5701/1941. “This community was founded by Jews who hailed from the city of Telz and in memory of the kedoshim who were martyred,” he said. “Here in this community, we are carrying on the legacy of its founders by learning Torah, performing mitzvos, and serving Hashem. This is our tradition. We never forget our glorious past, and we are well aware of where we came from. The present for the Jewish people is based on our past; that is the most important foundation of Yiddishkeit. This visit and the sister cities agreement are intended to deepen that important bond and to carry the memory of the kedoshim of Telz into future generations.”

Meir Porush related that his father, Menachem Porush, had maintained a special connection to Yeshivas Telz in Cleveland and had benefited from their dedication and support for Chinuch Atzmai. The mayor of Telz declared that the city of Telz would do everything in its power to keep the yeshiva’s memory alive. “We have made it a top priority in our city to honor the memories of the Jews who lived vibrant lives full of spiritual meaning, and the yeshiva and its rabbonim as well,” he said.

A festive event in honor of the visiting mayor was later held at Mayor Ravitz’s home. During the meal, Ravitz surprised his guest by conveying a message from Rabbi Yitzchok Shapira, the chairman of the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, who has been working hard to restore Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe. Rabbi Shapira informed the mayor that the ESJF intends to fund the renovation and restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Telz, where several of the roshei yeshiva of Telz are buried. Mayor Katkus expressed his gratitude to Rabbi Shapira and asserted that the municipality is prepared to begin the work immediately and will provide any aid the organization requires.

Angel’s Executives Come to Bnei Brak to Apologize

The family of Rav Gershon Edelstein is receiving streams of visitors from all over the country, while hespedim delivered by leading roshei yeshivos and close talmidim of Rav Gershon, as well as his family members, are taking place throughout the country. I would like to mention two of the high-profile shiva visits.

First, the Edelstein family was visited by Binyomin Netanyahu during the shiva. Netanyahu has visited Rav Gershon’s home in the past, when he was astounded by the rosh yeshiva. This time, upon his arrival, Netanyahu received a small card from Rav Gershon’s grandson, Motti Paley. The family has been handing out copies of this card, which lists a number of recommendations that Rav Gershon made to people seeking encouragement or yeshuos: to daven for others in need of Divine salvation of the same nature, to learn mussar for five minutes a day, to recite several perokim of Tehillim every day, to judge others favorably, to engage in shemiras haloshon and to refrain from criticizing others, and to pacify anyone who has been antagonized while refraining from holding grievances against others. Netanyahu read the card and said, “If we did this, we could close the Knesset!”

Another episode that received significant media attention was the visit of Yaron Angel of Angel’s Bakery and Omer Bar-Lev, the chairman of its board of directors. Bar-Lev recently participated in a demonstration outside Yeshivas Ponovezh in Bnei Brak, where he slammed chareidim for failing to share the national burden by serving in the army and for plundering the public coffers (in his view, of course). This was seen by many chareidim as an affront to Rav Gershon Edelstein, since the demonstration took place outside his home, and it led to a spontaneous boycott of Angel’s Bakery. The bakery’s executives have apparently realized that their business is in trouble, and someone advised them to pay a visit to the rosh yeshiva’s family and to apologize for the offense. They arrived bearing unequivocal letters of apology. Rav Gershon’s children accepted their apology and the boycott was proclaimed ended.

A Shailah After the Fact

The following is a true story concerning the boycott of Angel’s Bakery.

“Ezriel, there is a phone call for you!” the rebbetzin called.

Reb Ezriel, a posek whose rulings are constantly sought by many questioners, was engrossed in the preparations for a shiur he was scheduled to deliver the next day. Although there are specific hours in the day when he is available for questions, there are some people who always seem to call outside of his official hours. “Who is it?” he asked.

“The nudnik,” his rebbetzin replied.

The nudnik is a person who always asks intelligent questions but tends to present them in a roundabout way, taking an inordinate amount of time to get to his point. Reb Ezriel tries to keep his conversations with this man as brief as possible, but he could tell that this question, like the others, would be preceded by an unnecessary but lengthy preamble.

The caller began by informing the rov that he had undergone cataract surgery. “What is your question?” Reb Ezriel asked him.

“Just a minute, Rabbeinu, you must hear this,” the caller said. “Rabbi Firer sent me to a doctor in Shaare Zedek named Adi Aboulafia. Now, what can I say? I discovered a wonderful man with an excellent staff, and everything went like clockwork.”

Boruch Hashem,” Reb Ezriel said. “Now what is the question?”

“Why is the rov in such a rush?” the caller asked, in a completely unhurried tone. “I am getting to it. The surgery was successful. I was actually deathly afraid, but the doctor was not only an excellent surgeon but a wonderful man as well. He was reassuring and encouraging. He came out to see me before the operation and then again afterward. He was a real mentsch. I had to fast for six hours, and they told me in the recovery room that they wouldn’t let me go home until I had had something to eat and drink so that they could make sure that I would keep the food down.”

“My friend, what is your question?” the rov repeated for what seemed like the umpteenth time.

“I’m getting up to the question now,” the caller said. “My son was with me, since a person can’t go to the hospital for surgery without a companion, and he went out to buy me something to eat. I didn’t want to eat the sandwich they offered me, because I was concerned that it might require netilas yodayim and I didn’t know where they had bought it from. So my son brought me some bourekas, which I ate, and I had some coffee, and everything was fine….”

“But what is your shailah?” the rov asked in exasperation.

“Well, you see,” the caller replied, “when we were leaving the hospital, my son showed me where he had bought the bourekas, and I saw that it was a branch of Angel’s Bakery. What do I do now?”

Encouragement from Rav Gershon

I did not have the privilege of being a regular visitor to Rav Gershon Edelstein, but I did visit him on a couple of occasions, and I also heard him speak at various events. One of my grandsons also had a bris in his home. In addition to that, I had one particularly memorable encounter with Rav Gershon, which I would like to share with you.

A bochur who learned with my son in yeshiva was finding it difficult to adhere to the yeshiva’s schedule, and my son asked me to bring his friend to two of the gedolei hador, Rav Shalom Cohen and Rav Gershon Edelstein, to receive their brachos and encouragement. I knew that Rav Shalom Cohen would be attending a bar mitzvah in Bnei Brak on a particular day, and I drove there with my son and his friend. We managed to meet with Rav Gershon that day. I was somewhat worried about the meeting with Rav Gershon, since I knew that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to present any background information to him in advance, but Rav Gershon somehow knew exactly what to say to the bochur. The young man emerged from that meeting beaming with joy.

I will not quote the entire conversation, but there is one comment that I will repeat. The bochur told Rav Gershon that he found it challenging to learn and to sit in the bais medrash for hours on end, and Rav Gershon told him that the key to success was to enjoy his learning. Without deriving pleasure from it, the rosh yeshiva said, the bochur would not be capable of succeeding. The young man heard him out and prepared to leave, but before we could make our way to the door, Rav Gershon called him back. Rav Gershon looked at his young visitor and asked, “Do you really think it isn’t hard for me as well?”

A Reluctant Acceptance

Finally, let me share one more story that involves both Rav Gershon Edelstein and Rav Uri Zohar.

Rav Uri frequently called Rabbi Yosef Knepelmacher, the principal of Nesivos Moshe, to ask him to accept various potential students who were striving to make strides in their observance and Torah learning. In one particular case, Reb Yosef found it very difficult to accept Rav Uri’s request. The Alon brothers, who were the subjects of his call, seemed very unlikely to integrate well into the school.

Nesivos Moshe is a network of kiruv schools established in the wake of a trip to America taken by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and the Gerrer Rebbe. Kadima, the school where Reb Yosef serves as principal, has a student body of 300 boys and has been very successful as a kiruv institution. The Alon brothers are the sons of Avi Alon of Moshav Nordia. The two boys had a powerful desire to learn Torah, and Rav Uri considered it his duty to help them.

When I asked Rav Uri if Lev L’Achim had any connection to the Kadima school, he replied simply, “Lev L’Achim is associated with everything that is holy.”

After listening to Rav Uri’s request, Reb Yosef tried to explain the reasons that he felt that the school wasn’t a good fit for the boys, but Rav Uri responded evenly, “Who paskened for you that they are not good candidates for your school?”

“That’s what my experiences tells me,” the principal replied.

“What if I asked you to receive a psak from a gadol?” Rav Uri asked. “Would you do it?”

“Absolutely,” Reb Yosef said.

“In that case,” Rav Uri said, “please go to Rav Gershon Edelstein and ask him to pasken on the issue.”

Reb Yosef Knepelmacher made his way to Rav Gershon, who greeted him warmly. The school principal explained the situation with all its complexities. Rav Gershon listened attentively to his arguments and then asked, “So what is your shailah? Why would you accept the boys?”

“Rav Uri Zohar says that if we accept them to the school, there is a significant chance that the entire family will become religious as a result,” Reb Yosef said.

“In that case,” Rav Gershon replied, “I do not see any room for doubt. If Rav Uri Zohar says that, then there is no alternative. You must accept them.”

Today, Reb Avrohom (“Avi”) Alon’s older son is a talmid in a yeshiva and is one of the top bochurim in his shiur. His two brothers will soon be graduating from Nesivos Moshe and seem to be destined for greatness. Their father, meanwhile, has spearheaded a spiritual revolution on his moshav, where he pushed for a kollel to be founded and a mikveh to be built. Last summer, Rabbi Yosef Knepelmacher’s son woke up early every morning to hurry to Moshav Nordia for a yeshivas bein hazemanim program organized by none other than Reb Avrohom Alon—the father of the children whom Reb Yosef was hesitant to accept to his school.

At the time of the incident, Rav Gershon didn’t merely give a psak; he decided to help make sure that Rabbi Yosef Knepelmacher would have the resources he needed to succeed with the two young boys. While the principal sat before him, the rosh yeshiva asked his grandson to bring him a ledger containing the numbers of various educational advisors and institutes, and he read off a list of numbers to Reb Yosef, identifying specific organizations that could assist each of the children and asking him to take down their contact information. “And if they aren’t cooperative,” Rav Gershon said, “tell them that Edelstein sent you.” Then he added, “Rav Uri Zohar is right; if the family’s spiritual future is hanging in the balance, then you must accept them!”

 

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