Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

My Take on the News

 

A Brazen Accusation

I have commented in the past that no one should envy Prime Minister Netanyahu or his cabinet. They are struggling to deal with challenges that are absolutely mind-boggling. As time goes on, this situation is growing progressively more severe. Netanyahu has to worry about a government that is in the process of falling apart, a draft law that doesn’t stand a chance of being accepted by everyone, and a cabinet whose members are constantly attacking him and engaging in incitement against him. His chief enemies within the government, of course, are Benny Gantz (who appears to be on his way out of the government, in fact) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Perhaps it also bears mentioning that Gallant was fiercely condemned this past week by the majority of the Likud party during their weekly meeting.

Netanyahu’s worries do not end there. There is also the fragmented state of his coalition in the Knesset, which is barely managing to survive; a large number of MKs have already declared that they will not support the current draft law when it is brought to a vote. He is also struggling to deal with the rising tensions in his relationship with President Biden, along with the announcements of several European leaders that they intend to recognize a Palestinian state. To top it all off, the International Criminal Court in The Hague seems to be poised to issue international arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant. Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, announced just a few days ago that he plans to have the warrants issued against Netanyahu, Gallant, and leaders of Hamas. For Israel, this is a twofold slap in the face; it gives legitimacy to the claim that the country is guilty of war crimes (as requested by South Africa) and it equates Israel’s leaders with the heads of Hamas. This essentially draws a ludicrous equivalency between Netanyahu and Sinwar, at a time when the Israelis are fighting for their lives while the terrorists of Hamas are trying to kill them. Of course, the Arabs greeted the news from The Hague with glee. The pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that the Israelis were shocked by the ICC’s move (which is indeed the case).

The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant include causing destruction, using starvation as a war tactic, blocking the supply of humanitarian aid, and deliberate attacks on civilians during a conflict. Of course, this is absolutely outrageous. But if this decision receives official recognition from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the court issues an order demanding that Israel cease fighting in Gaza, then the issue will be transferred to the UN Security Council, which will be called upon to approve a resolution ordering Israel to end the war. Diplomatic officials in Israel told the press, “We always expect the United States to veto decisions in the Security Council that are hostile to Israel. Nevertheless, we have not discussed the matter with the US administration, and we have not verified with them that the veto will be imposed.”

Dozens of members of the Knesset signed a statement condemning the ICC’s approach. The only MKs who refused to sign the document were the Arabs, of course, and the members of the Labor party. What else would you expect?

The New AntiSemitism

Netanyahu was justifiably offended by the news from the international court, not only on his own behalf but as a representative of the State of Israel and the IDF. Here is his full response: “The absurd and false order of the prosecutor in The Hague is not directed solely against the prime minister of Israel and the Minister of Defense; it is directed against the entire State of Israel. It is directed against the soldiers of the IDF, who are fighting with supreme heroism against the lowly murderers of Hamas who attacked us with horrific cruelty on October 7. Prosecutor in The Hague, with what audacity do you dare compare the monsters of Hamas to the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world? With what audacity do you compare the Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, beheaded, and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is unparalleled, in morality that is unmatched? As the prime minister of Israel, I reject with disgust The Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas. This is a complete distortion of reality. This is exactly what the new anti-Semitism looks like. It has moved from the campuses in the West to the court in The Hague. What a disgrace.”

To the citizens of Israel, Netanyahu said, “I promise you one thing: The attempt to tie our hands will fail. Eighty years ago, the Jewish people had no defense against our enemies, but no more. I repeat what I said on the evening of Yom HaShoah at Yad Vashem in Yerushalayim: As the prime minister of Israel, I pledge that no pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who are trying to destroy us. We will overthrow the evil regime of Hamas and achieve complete victory. In the face of the lies in The Hague, I say, ‘The Strength of Israel will not lie!’”

Two Shocking Videos Released to the Public

The nationwide anguish over the plight of the hostages in Gaza is still as powerful as ever. Many days have passed and no progress has been made. There is a widespread sense among the public that the cabinet is not doing enough for them, but I am certain that that is not true; there isn’t much that anyone can do, and Hamas’s cruelty is without parallel. Nevertheless, this sentiment has seeped into the public consciousness and has created a mood of despondence.

Last week, the Israeli public was shocked by two new video clips showing the hostages in Hamas captivity. The first was taken shortly after October 7 and shows a young girl who has already returned home, boruch Hashem. The video, which was discovered in the terrorists’ cameras, was taken to be used for Hamas propaganda but was subsequently discarded. Even though the girl has already returned home, it was painful to watch her pleading in the video for her freedom.

The girl in question, Ella Elyakim, is eight years old and was filmed together with her 15-year-old sister, Dafna, a few days after she was kidnapped from her parents’ home. The video was discovered by Israeli soldiers during a search of a building in Gaza and was examined by the IDF immediately after it was found. Ella informed IDF officials that on the day the video was taken, the terrorists had her change her clothes several times and even made sure to brush her hair and to change the bandages on her arm to create the impression that she was being cared for properly and humanely. Ella and Dafna Elyakim, who were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz, were returned to Israel in the third wave of hostage releases and were reunited with their mother after 51 days in captivity.

This video, one of several that were discovered by the IDF in recent weeks, was released by the army. Another horrifying video, which showed the horrific moments of the abduction of female IDF lookouts at an army base in the south, was released by a different entity, the Forum of Hostages’ Families, with the goal of stirring public sentiment both in Israel and throughout the world against Hamas once again. This video was circulated by prominent media outlets in Israel and throughout the world. The painful images show the young women being treated with indescribable barbarism by their captors. Anyone who saw this video, which was recently screened for the members of the cabinet, could not help but weep. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the young ladies in the video were murdered at a later point in time.

Does Rabi Shimon Not Want Us?

If anyone thought that the government went too far by shuttering Meron for Lag Ba’omer, they have surely been disabused of that notion by now. On Thursday evening, one day after it was declared a closed military area, multiple missile strikes were reported on Route 90, the highway leading to Meron. On Wednesday morning, roadblocks were placed at the entrances to the settlement of Meron, and police began enforcing the order that designated the entire area and the kever of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai as a closed area. Dozens of people tried to make their way to the community on that same day, about three days before Lag Ba’omer, when a small group of thirty authorized visitors were scheduled to participate in three hadlakos in a severely restricted version of the annual hillula. Since the war began, about 260 rockets have fallen in the area, which has been suffering from frequent shelling due to the presence of an air force base on the mountaintop, which tends to draw enemy fire. The limited bonfires that were held in Meron were all that could be permitted in light of the circumstances. High praise is due to Michoel Malchieli, the Minister of Religious Affairs, and the ministry’s hardworking director-general, Yehuda Avidan, for quickly arranging for heightened festivities in Teveria on the yahrtzeit of Rabi Meir Baal Haness. They also deserve accolades for the idea of preparing the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik to accommodate much larger crowds than usual on Lag Ba’omer.

Despite all these alternative solutions, one cannot escape the feeling that Rabi Shimon does not want us in Meron. For some people, this thought is exquisitely painful. The depth of this emotional pain can be understood only by someone who is acquainted with those who have a strong emotional connection to Meron. The past few years have been extremely agonizing for them: First there was the Covid pandemic, then there was the tragedy on the night of Lag Ba’omer, then there were severe restrictions imposed on visitors to Meron, and now the site has been closed due to the fear of missiles.

Last week, the Meron Law passed in the Knesset by a vote of nine to three. I looked at the records to find out who voted against the law, and I discovered that the opposing votes were cast by three members of Yesh Atid: Vladimir Beliak, Tatiana Mazarsky, and Mickey Levi. The first two, I felt, presumably grew up in a different culture and could not be expected to appreciate the hillula of Lag Ba’omer, but what about Mickey Levi? He is a Sephardic Jew. What could be the reason for his opposition?

The nine votes in favor of the bill were cast by Eliyohu Bruchi and Yitzchok Pindrus of UTJ; Yoni Mashriki and Simon Moshiashvili of Shas; Boaz Bismuth, Nissim Vaturi (who chaired the session), and Tzega Tzenush Melaku of Likud; and Tzvi Sukkot and Limor Son Har Melech of the Religious Zionism party. And in case you were wondering why Meir Porush, who addressed the Knesset during the same discussion, didn’t vote in favor of the bill, the answer is simple: Porush is not a member of the Knesset.

Two Hundred Ushers But No Hillula

I was present at a session of the Public Security Committee when the bill was debated and approved, and I found the proceedings fascinating. To the credit of the committee chairman, Tzvika Fogel (a member of Ben-Gvir’s party), it should be acknowledged that he has the ability to conduct committee meetings at a quick pace, without allowing eccentric individuals to slow the progress of the meeting or to prattle pointlessly. In fact, one person who attended the meeting claimed to be representing Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai himself, but Fogel handled the situation expertly. The discussions were quick and to the point. I believe—although I can’t be certain—that the committee received classified information indicating that Hezbollah was planning to attack Meron on Motzoei Shabbos, when large crowds began to arrive. This was implied at the beginning of the meeting, when the chairman mumbled something about “the information we received earlier.” I gathered that this had taken place at a closed meeting with officials in the defense establishment. When the committee began its open meeting, the radio reported that another barrage of missiles had been launched Meron, and the chairman remarked, “It seems that they are aware of our meeting, even though it isn’t broadcast live.” He was clearly referring to the previous, closed meeting, since the open session of the committee was indeed available on live broadcast.

Meir Porush and Yossi Deutsch were present at the committee meeting, along with some representatives of Meron who came to ensure that the residents’ rights would not be violated. It took a long time for a conclusion to be reached. Some people framed the law as a proposal to hold a limited hillula in Meron, but the Home Front Command representatives vehemently set the record straight. “There will be no event at all,” they said. “Meron will be designated a closed military zone.”

“As far as we are concerned, there is no event at all,” a police official added.

“That’s very clear,” Fogel concurred. “The bill that is on the table will permit only a symbolic event consisting of a maximum of three bonfires, with a minyan of people at each one.”

I was seated to the left of a man named Chaim Rosenstein, who was identified by his name tag as the deputy director-general and head of the Meron division of the Ministry of Yerushalayim Affairs and Israeli Heritage. On my other side sat the director of the Kinneret division of the Water Authority, who promised me to explain the reason for his presence later in the evening. Next to him were two representatives of the Home Front Command, Major Annan Sarchan and Moshe Even-Chen, director of the northern division.

“If the area is going to be a closed military zone, then there is no need for a law to be passed,” Fogel said. “Let us delete the irrelevant clauses and adjust the remaining parts of the law to fit the situation.”

“What does it mean for it to be a closed military zone?” Deutsch asked.

“And what is our status, in practical terms?” Porush added.

MK Merav Ben-Ari, the only Knesset member who participated in the meeting, piped up. “If there is an order for the area to be closed and there is no need for a law, then isn’t this a waste of time?”

“We need a law in case something changes,” Porush said.

“If anything changes, it will only mean that there are more restrictions,” Sarchan offered.

The committee dealt with every possible detail of Lag Ba’omer in Meron, including how many tents would be permitted and where they would be erected, and how many ushers would be hired. Amazingly, the plan was for 200 ushers to be hired, while each hadlokah would be attended by no more than ten men. Meir Porush voiced his opposition to the idea of making ushers hired by his ministry responsible for preventing unauthorized visitors from entering Meron. “As far as I am concerned, you can be the ones to hire the ushers,” he said. Chief Superintendent Barak Arussi questioned the committee about whether the tents would be intended for the police or for the ushers. In any event, he made it clear that the police would be tasked with preventing unauthorized visitors from gaining access to Meron, and the ushers’ job would be to direct visitors at the site. “Even at a soccer game, the organizers bring and pay for the ushers,” he pointed out.

“Why are so many ushers needed? Why should we endanger them?” Ben-Ari asked.

“I am preparing for Lag Ba’omer without a hillula as if there were a hillula,” the police representative replied.

The committee members were also troubled by the prospect of a media presence in Meron. Someone pointed out that there might be two thousand reporters covering the presence of ten people at the site. Another debate arose as to whether Rav Stern of Meron should be permitted to visit the tziyun. Although the area would be declared a closed military zone, he was a local resident and perhaps should have been given that right. This led to a broader discussion regarding what would happen at the tziyun itself. “We pledged to preserve the tradition,” Deutsch said adamantly. But this led to the question of whether another minyan of men would be permitted at the tziyun (making a total of forty authorized visitors) and whether the residents of Meron would be permitted to visit it. The committee members even discussed the precise definitions of tefillah, an event, and a hadlokah as they pertained to the restrictions imposed on Meron. The police insisted adamantly that there would be no presence there at all. A closed military zone, they insisted, is closed to everyone. But Fogel was nonplussed. “If someone lives in Meron, why shouldn’t they go to the tziyun?” he asked. This gave rise to the question of how the authorities would decide who qualifies as a resident of Meron.

Next was a debate over who was responsible for enforcing the Home Front Command’s regulations. Was it the police? The army? The ushers? Porush and Deutsch? “I understand that we are responsible for providing freestanding bomb shelters,” Chaim Rosenstein said, “but what can we do if a thousand people infiltrate the area? Will I be responsible for them? I’m not equipped to handle that.”

MK Tali Gottliv entered the room like a tornado, marched over to the chairman, and whispered something to him. Someone had apparently promised her that she would be allowed to address the committee as soon as she arrived, so that she could leave immediately. She delivered a short speech, stressing the imperative of “venishmartem” and the fact that Israel is in a state of war. “The enemy is watching Meron,” she warned her listeners.

Twisted Coverage of the Committee Session

It isn’t often that I have an opportunity to see very clearly how a committee session is misrepresented in the media. This time, however, I have clear firsthand knowledge of that fact. As I mentioned, I was present at the committee session, and I can attest that the way it was covered in one particular newspaper was a complete distortion of reality. The headline read, “Hezbollah Targets Meron But Chareidim Insist on Holding Hillula at Any Cost.” This is absolutely untrue. As I mentioned, Major Annan Sarchan made it clear at the outset that the area would be declared a closed military zone, and no one challenged this decision, which was clearly unassailable. Nor did anyone utter a peep when the police representative announced that there would be no hillula at all.

The article went on to relate, “The barrage of rockets was fired minutes before the National Security Committee convened to discuss whether the hillula of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai should be held next week in Meron.” This is also a false statement. The topic of the discussion wasn’t whether the hillula should be held, but rather the emergency orders pertaining to the proceedings in Meron in the absence of a hillula. The decision was made to permit only three hadlakos with ten participants at each, for a total of thirty people altogether, plus a minyan at the tziyun. No one, however, proposed at any point that the hillula should take place.

And the falsehoods continue: “The committee session was attended by Meir Porush, Minister of Yerushalayim Affairs and Israeli Heritage, and project manager Yossi Deutsch. These two men remained in their seats for hours as they sought to convince the committee members to allow the hillula to go forward.” Well, it’s true that the two men didn’t leave their seats; I can only imagine what would have been written if they had left the committee chamber. But it is absolutely untrue that they lobbied for the hillula to proceed as usual. They share the same concern for human life that motivated everyone else. There was a unanimous agreement that the regular festivities of Lag Ba’omer would not take place but that the traditions should be upheld nonetheless, albeit under unprecedented restrictions. Porush even said that he would be completely willing to forgo the presence of the 200 ushers he had been ordered to hire.

The article goes on to claim that Porush called for the residents of Meron to be permitted to visit the tziyun. This, too, is false. The request actually came from the representatives of the Justice Ministry, who also called for the press to be permitted at the site. Deutsch brought up the issue of the tefillah at the tziyun when that clause was under discussion. While it’s true that Porush called for the families of the victims of the Meron tragedy to be granted access to the mountain, committee chairman Tzvika Fogel took a step further and pledged to permit memorial services on the mountaintop.

Finally, the article reports that the chareidim pushed for the bill to be approved in the Knesset. In reality, this pressure came from everyone—Fogel, the police, the army, and everyone else involved. And the purpose of the bill was to legislate the unusual regulations for this year, at the behest of the investigative commission. That is all.

Where Does This Malice Come From?

I will never understand the people who seem to thrive on harassing and defaming others. For one thing, I am baffled by the uproar that arose this past week against the holders of diplomatic passports, which led to a frenzy of heated discussion in the media. According to the organization that pushed for some of the names to be publicized, an intensive discussion over the subject was held with the Foreign Ministry. But do they really have nothing better to discuss?

The witch hunt began when someone discovered that Yair Netanyahu holds a diplomatic passport. There is actually a very good reason for this: The document makes it possible for him to travel together with his bodyguards. That revelation should have taken the wind out of the agitators’ sails. As it turns out, diplomatic passports have also been issued to the wives of all the prime ministers, to Mayors Huldai and Leon of Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim, and to former Minister Yuval Steinitz as well—not because of his own position but because he is married to a judge on the Supreme Court. Former Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi also holds a diplomatic passport, and a few well-connected Likud members seem to have been issued such documents as well. But the real question is why this bothers anyone. The obsessive focus on this issue seems petty and foolish.

Another example is the sudden outpouring of condemnation against Avshalom Peled, the new nominee for the position of police chief. This is an echo of the case of Gal Hirsch, who was hit by a flurry of accusations as soon as his candidacy for the position was announced. Hirsch was forced to withdraw from the running, and it seems that Peled is facing similar opposition now. I don’t know Peled personally, and I am not an expert on his background. I can tell you only what is written about him: “While carrying out the Disengagement plan, he oversaw the Aviv brigade, which dealt with evacuating settlements and handling disruptions of the order.” But I am amazed by the hypocrisy of the agitators who lurk in the shadows and consistently spread bad press about anyone who is nominated for a promotion of which they do not approve. One must wonder where they were until now and why they kept the information hidden until they had the chance to mine it for explosive repercussions. Even more to the point, where do their bottomless pools of malice emanate from?

The obsessive antagonism to Binyomin Netanyahu is perhaps the most blatant example of all. I don’t know if it’s hypocrisy, evil, or some combination of both—as a great rov once commented that politics is an outgrowth of two negative middos. After the secular celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, the media rushed to draw attention to Netanyahu’s absence from the festive events, while reporting in the same breath on the protests that he faced on Yom Hazikaron. One commentator characterized Netanyahu’s absence as follows: “The prime minister and his wife, who absented themselves from Yom Haatzmaut events due to their cowardice, recorded a message in advance in which they did not take a shred of responsibility, and which should have been thrown into the garbage.” I am not a colleague of Netanyahu’s attorneys, but as an ordinary citizen, I have to wonder what he could possibly do to avoid this barrage of criticism. If he shows up at a ceremony, he will be pilloried for brazenly offending the hostages’ families. And if he doesn’t show up, he will also be pilloried for brazenly offending the hostages’ families. If he doesn’t send a prerecorded message, he’ll be castigated for it, but if he does, the reaction will be the same. In fact, it has been reported that Sara Netanyahu is suffering from a slipped disc or something of the sort, and she is unable to attend public events at this time. Perhaps Netanyahu was simply trying to avoid appearing in public alone. Moreover, what did this reporter mean when he wrote that Netanyahu and his wife recorded a message in advance? Did Mrs. Netanyahu join her husband in the video? I didn’t watch it, but I am confident that she does not appear in it. So why drag her into the story at all?

Chazal tell us that hatred can cause a person to take leave of his sanity. I would add that the Israeli media has furnished us with more evidence of that truism than we will ever need.

A Segulah from the Torah

This past week has brought us a series of drashos, public gatherings, and other events commemorating the yahrtzeit of Rav Gershon Edelstein. Rav Gershon’s actual yahrtzeit is the 10th of Sivan, but since this past year was a leap year, the twelve months following his petirah have already come to an end, and a series of events have been scheduled spanning the month from the 10th of Iyar, the twelve-month mark since his passing, through the 10th of Sivan. Perhaps it will be l’illui nishmas Rav Gershon, then, for me to share a comment made by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman that struck me as deeply meaningful and in the spirit of the values held dear by both gedolim.

The seven weeks of the Omer, as we all know, are a time for introspection about our fulfillment of the halachos and principles of bein adam lachaveiro. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a new collection of Rav Shteinman’s teachings on this topic was recently published by Rav Moshe Sechayak. This volume contains a fascinating account attributed to the renowned mashgiach, Rav Chizkiyohu Mishkovsky. Rav Mishkovsky once visited Rav Shteinman to speak to him about a family with a daughter who had spent many years searching fruitlessly for a shidduch. Rav Shteinman sighed and lamented the misfortune of the many Jewish girls who still haven’t found their zivugim. Then he said, “I can tell you what the Torah says about this. The Torah tells us that Rochel Imeinu gave up her own rights by revealing to Leah the simanim that Yaakov had given her, which led Yaakov to marry Leah. Now, Rochel might easily have come to regret this action over the years. She might have told herself that if she hadn’t given up the simanim and had been Yaakov’s only wife, then she would have been the mother of all twelve shevatim. However, the Torah tells us that the truth is exactly the opposite. When the posuk states that ‘Hashem remembered Rochel,’ Chazal explain that He remembered her act of giving up the simanim. This means that there was a decree in Shomayim for Rochel to remain childless, and it was only because she gave up the simanim to Leah that she was blessed with the two children who were born to her.

“You see, the only segulah for shidduchim and children that appears in the Torah is the segulah of being mevater—giving up something for others,” Rav Shteinman continued. “When a person gives in to someone else or takes another person into consideration, Hashem will take his own needs into consideration as well. By doing this, he will be able to bring all kinds of good things and yeshuos upon himself.” Rav Shteinman, who always stressed the importance of giving to others, added in his conversation with Rav Mishkovsky, “Some people think that it is easy to be mevater, but the truth is that it’s extremely difficult. But when a person takes someone else’s benefit into consideration and shows that he is willing to give up something that is due to him for another person’s sake, then Hashem will seek his benefit as well. That is the advice that the Torah gives us!”

The Humility of Rav Shimon Baadani

Rav Shimon Baadani was a paragon of humility who often saw nothing wrong in performing the most mundane favors, even when many would have seen it as beneath his dignity. According to a story that recently came my way, Rav Baadani once agreed to help sell an apartment that belonged to an acquaintance who lived out of the country. One day, a potential purchaser had made an appointment to view the apartment, and Rav Baadani asked one of his sons to show it to the prospective buyer. Upon hearing this, the rebbetzin whispered to him, “I told our son yesterday that if he came home late, he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house today.” Rav Baadani did not utter a peep in response; he simply stood up, took his hat and jacket, and went to meet the potential purchaser on his own.

A talmid related, “I once visited Rav Baadani to ask for a brocha. We had a brief conversation, and he asked me when I would be returning to yeshiva. I responded that I would be leaving shortly. Before I could leave, however, a man who lived in Yerushalayim showed up at Rav Baadani’s house to seek his advice about something. ‘Are you driving to Yerushalayim after your visit here?’ the rov asked him. The other visitor confirmed that he was, and Rav Baadani pointed to me and said, ‘There is a bochur here who learns in Yerushalayim and is heading back to his yeshiva. Can you give him a ride?’ He did not consider it beneath his dignity to arrange a ride for me, even though he was an illustrious rov and I was a simple bochur.”

Celebrating the 26th of Iyar

I don’t know who is responsible for writing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s letters, but I have to give the person credit for doing a good job. This week, I read a letter concerning an event that is due to take place next week. I am familiar with the event and I know how to craft an appealing piece of writing as well, but I am prepared to admit that I would not have been successful in writing a letter like this one, and I certainly couldn’t have outdone it.

The event to which I refer is known as the Day of Liberation and Salvation from Nazi Germany. The rest of the world celebrates this occasion on May 9, but in Israel it is also commemorated on its Hebrew anniversary, the 26th of Iyar. I was involved in the passage of a law to that effect a few years ago, which was passed by then-MK Yoav Ben-Tzur (today the Minister of Labor). The law was first drafted in response to a request from Gavriel (German) Zakharyaev, whom I have written about in the past. Zakharyaev is a very interesting man who lives in Moscow, where he owns a large commercial center. I have visited it, and I can attest that the most beautiful part of the complex is the shul that was built for the customers’ use. Tens of thousands of people from Moscow and its suburbs, including many Jews, visit this shopping complex regularly, and there is often a need for minyanim. The shul even houses a kollel, which is funded by Zakharyaev as well.

German Zakharyaev is the vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress and is involved in major activities to benefit Yiddishkeit. He also views himself as a representative of Caucasian Jewry and serves as a patron of all the Caucasian kehillos and shuls throughout the world, including those in Israel. Many remember him as the man who donated three Sifrei Torah at once several years ago: one to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, another to the Knesset shul, and the third to the Kosel. He is also known for the Mishnayos program that he launched, known as Anachnu V’tze’etzaeinu, which sees children learning millions of Mishnayos every year in memory of the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Several years ago, Zakharyaev came up with the idea of commemorating the Jews’ liberation from the Nazi death camps on its anniversary on the Hebrew calendar. On his initiative, and with his funding, commemorations have already been held for several years in multiple communities in Europe, including Moscow, and at the Kosel. For the past few years, as I mentioned, the practice has been enshrined in a law passed in Israel, and the commemoration is organized jointly by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Kosel Heritage Foundation. This week, in honor of the annual event, letters were written by President Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu. I read Netanyahu’s letter, which I found to be succinct but meaningful. I will quote a few relevant lines:

“In keeping with this beautiful tradition, you will be holding a gathering for davening and thanksgiving once again this year at the Kosel Hamaarovi in Yerushalayim to commemorate the decisive victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany during World War II.” Netanyahu goes on to draw a connection between that victory and the events of today, “when we are forcefully striking the lowly murderers of Hamas who attacked us on Simchas Torah.” Returning to the subject of the Holocaust, Netanyahu continues, “The unprecedented brutality of our enemy [the Nazis] would have brought an even greater tragedy on us and all of humanity, if not for the fact that the Nazi beast was halted by defensive battles and an offensive that will be remembered for all generations. And the same is true today,” the letter continues, returning again to the present day. “As a state that desires life, we will continue to stand strong against those who seek to destroy us, until we have achieved total victory. We will strike those who seek to obliterate us, we will crush evil, and we will guarantee the eternal survival of Israel, with Hashem’s help.”

Let me point out that the words “with Hashem’s help” are not my addition to the prime minister’s letter. They were actually included by Netanyahu—or, at least, the staffer who writes his correspondence. The letter concludes by showering accolades on the Ministry of Religious Affairs, headed by Michoel Malchieli; the Kosel Heritage Foundation and Rav Shmuel Rabinovich; and German Zakharyaev, who is a personal acquaintance of the prime minister.

Jews in Europe Fear Antisemitism; Senior French Officials Condemn Hamas

“Since the massacre on Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel, a wave of antisemitism has washed over Europe,” said Rav Pinchos Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis. “Jews are considering removing the mezuzos from their doorposts and covering their yarmulkes. At the same time, we are continuing to see a powerful thirst for Torah and Yiddishkeit.” Facing an audience made up of dozens of European rabbonim, Rav Goldschmidt added, “We are in constant contact with all the Jewish communities in Europe, and we will continue providing them with every form of assistance or any resource that is necessary to prepare an appropriate infrastructure for their development.”

This week, I was present at the CER’s rabbinical convention in Lyon, France. The discussions were led by the chairman of the standing committee of the CER, Rav Menachem Gelley of the London Bais Din. Rav Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, rosh yeshiva of Chevron, was a guest of honor at the convention. At the opening session, Rav Goldschmidt gave an overview of the recent activities of the CER, the largest rabbinic organization of recent times.

The convention began with the recitation of Tehillim, led by Dayan Yichye Toubol of Lyon, for the safety of the Jews of Eretz Yisroel and the return of the hostages. On the first day of the convention, the rabbonim discussed a broad range of topics including giyur and Jewish identity; the relationship between European rabbonim and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; the increase in antisemitism in Europe; funding for security for European kehillos, and, of course, the many hardships facing the Jewish communities in Europe due to the targeting of shechitah and milah by liberal activists.

The community that hosted the event, led by Rav Doniel Dahan, is one of the most distinguished communities in France. The city of Lyon is home to about 40,000 Jews today, who make up over 50 distinct kehillos. There are dozens of shuls and botei medrash in the city, as well as mikvaos, a bais din, an outstanding kashrus system, Talmudei Torah, girls’ schools, yeshivos, a seminary, and four kollelim.

Rav Aharon Shmuel Baskin, the secretary-general of the CER, informed this newspaper that the discussions will continue until Wednesday night, and there will be a special event attended by senior officials in the French government and the mayor of Lyon. He expressed confidence that this year’s convention will expand the collaboration among the dozens of rabbonim throughout Europe.

On Monday evening, we attended a gala event at one of the most upscale venues in Lyon, which was attended by officials in the French government and the local municipality. The French officials expressed unanimous support for Israel and the Jews and voiced their abhorrence for the actions of Hamas.

 

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