Thursday, Jul 29, 2021

My Take on the News

Waiting for a Solution at Hadassah

The saga of the pediatric oncology ward at Hadassah has yet to come to an end. It is a sad and painful situation for everyone concerned: for Professor Mickey Weintraub, the director of the department; for Professor Zev Rothstein, the CEO of Hadassah; and certainly, for the sick children and their parents.

About two months ago, I wrote in these pages about the grievances of the mother of a sick girl who is a patient at Hadassah. “There are children in Yerushalayim who are fighting for their lives,” she proclaimed. I explained that the pediatric hemato-oncology ward in Hadassah was collapsing. The hospital had decided to merge the adult and pediatric bone marrow transplant units and to take in additional sick children from overseas, which had led the doctors of the department to resign. The Minister of Health gave his backing to the hospital director – and rightly so, from his perspective, in order to preserve the integrity of the health system. The parents, meanwhile, are outraged. Their concern is the well-being of their suffering children, which is seriously threatened by the lack of medical care.

The situation has only worsened since that time, and the country is in an uproar. The court-designated mediator, retired Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, has failed in his efforts to reach a solution, and the Supreme Court will be forced to intervene. The state was ordered to explain why it will not allow two or three of the doctors to transfer to Shaare Tzedek, but it isn’t clear what two or three doctors will be able to accomplish, and I cannot imagine who devised such a wholly inadequate solution. Two or three doctors cannot possibly constitute an entire department. The parents spoke about establishing a proper department in Shaare Tzedek, to which the director-general of the Ministry of Health responded, “We have checked again with all the professional authorities regarding whether it would be correct to open a new department in Yerushalayim, and the response we received was in the negative. If we split the department, we will end up creating two departments that are both weak and ineffective. These children need a single strong unit in Yerushalayim.” The Supreme Court rejected their claim.

What will happen now? Rothstein, who has been accused of arrogance and apathy, has written an emotional open letter to the doctors, calling upon them to “come home” and apologizing for his actions. The letter also pleads with them to put the past behind them and to begin with a blank slate. Let us hope that will happen.

Lapid Counts on Voters’ Short Memories

A few words are in order about Yair Lapid. I have been reading about the polls. According to one recently released survey, the public has tremendous faith in Lapid. I find that absolutely astonishing. The poll also found that 71 percent of the Israeli public consider him a fitting candidate for the office of prime minister. Once again, I ask: Why? Based on what? What has he accomplished in his life? Where has he demonstrated his abilities? True, he is – or was – a talented writer, if a bit too left-wing for my tastes, but is that really enough for him to qualify to lead a country divided by controversy and facing constant threats?

Lapid does not have a rich or impressive military record. Like his father before him, he managed to make it through his army service as a “jobnik,” writing for the military magazine Bamachaneh. Nor does he have a track record of impressive economic accomplishments. On the contrary, he was a failure as the Minister of Finance, and economists consider his tenure a source of shame. What is it about his résumé, then, that makes people think he is qualified to lead the country? What is propelling the Yesh Atid party to such popularity among the voters?

Not long ago, after several public figures joined the party, Lapid wrote to his constituents, “These are people who have come here to work. Not one of them asked for anything in exchange for joining Yesh Atid. They have come to us because they are no longer prepared to define themselves by their differences, by the things that divide and set people apart. Rather, they want to create unity and connections. We all believe that we must – must! – restore our society to transcending political divisions. We must create dignified dialogue. We must listen to each other rather than shouting at each other. And we must define common goals and then see to it that they are achieved.

I find it astonishing that Lapid dares to speak about unity. He, who speaks pompously about the need for “dignified dialogue,” is the one who incited the Israeli public against us, the chareidim, with his incendiary motto, “Where is the money?” Is there any limit to his lies and hypocrisy? But it gets worse. The man who epitomizes persecution of the chareidim went on to write, “From its very first day, the Yesh Atid party has dedicated itself to the cause of uniting Israeli society. The job of a leader is not to incite Israelis against each other, but to prevent incitement.”

Considering its source, that is an utterly shocking statement.

Look Who’s Talking…

As much as Lapid is an absolute zero in terms of accomplishments, he is nonetheless a masterful writer. This past week, Lapid sent an e-mail to his colleagues in the Yesh Atid party with the text of his address at the annual Herzliya Conference, which always features speeches from the political leaders of the country. I read the speech in disbelief: Lapid criticizes one member of the Labor party for disparaging another politician, and another party member for making racist allusions. And this comes from the son of Tommy Lapid, the man who epitomized racism and mudslinging.

“In my five and a half years in politics, I have met more convicted criminals than I encountered throughout my entire life before that time,” Lapid declared. “It is true that there have always been people under investigation and there has always been corruption, but there was a time when people at least felt shame. Today, they simply go on the offensive. They threaten the Supreme Court, they threaten the rule of law, and they threaten freedom of expression.”

What is he referring to? Is Yariv Levin, the Minister of Tourism, corrupt? Is Ayelet Shaked corrupt? In any event, Lapid has no business condemning others for this behavior, considering that his previous home was Yediot Acharonot. He bemoans the fact that politicians are not paying the price for their mistakes, and he criticizes the media for siding with them, but did he pay for the devastation and rancor that were left in his wake in the Finance Ministry?

“Politicians who are prepared to defame other politicians are invited to studios, receive time on the air, and make headlines,” Lapid fumed self-righteously. “Anyone who wants exposure knows that this is the way to get it: by attacking someone else.”

But is Lapid himself innocent of this behavior? In that very same address, he targeted numerous politicians with his invective, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Aryeh Deri, Miri Regev, and MK Motti Yogev.

“Even the legislative process has become part of the machinery of defamation,” Lapid went on. “Over the past two years, many proposed laws have been introduced in the Knesset that have no real meaning, neither legislative nor practical. The sole purpose of these bills has been to foment conflicts that will create news stories and score public relations points.” My response: Isn’t that precisely what Meir Cohen did with his proposed law concerning chareidi seminaries? The law didn’t have the slightest chance of being passed. His entire goal was to “foment conflicts that will create news stories,” in Lapid’s own words. And what about the Kosel agreement law, an exact replica of the suspended Kosel compromise, which was proposed in the Knesset this past week by the Yesh Atid party? That law, too, has no chance of passing. The sole purpose of the proposal is to embarrass part of the coalition and to stir up conflict and ill will. What, then, gives Lapid the right to take others to task for this same behavior?

“To lie is to win. To defame is to win. To destroy the fabric of Israeli society is to win.” Thus spoke Yair Lapid, the man who adopted the question of “Where is the money?” as his party’s motto – a question that paints a false picture, that defames an entire sector of society, and that certainly destroys the fabric of Israeli society. And then he asked, “Does anyone know what the government plans to do in order to close the social gaps?” Again, this is the man who duped the country’s poor with his “social revolution” when he was serving as Minister of Finance.

“There is a plan,” Lapid went on, “but the first step to carrying out that plan is for us to stop attacking each other. If we want something good to happen, we must learn to work together once again, to be united, a single nation, am Yisroel echad. That is what we are suggesting. That is our way.”

Well, let him focus on his own flaws before he preaches to others.

Why Did the Mayor of Nazareth Illit Visit Bnei Brak?

Last week, the mayor of Nazareth Illit and his deputy visited the homes of the gedolim in Bnei Brak. One reason that this should come as a surprise is that it is difficult today to gain admittance to the homes of Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein, and it is even more difficult to visit the home of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. It is also surprising because the mayor of Nazareth Illit, Ronen Plot, seems to be as far removed from Yiddishkeit as anyone could be. He is a Russian immigrant, as is his deputy, Alex Gadalkin. In the pictures taken during their visit to Bnei Brak, the two are seen wearing white yarmulkas, with their eyes shining. Several days later, Plot visited the home of the Belzer Rebbe, where an agreement was sealed for a Belzer enclave to be established in the city.

With that, the mystery was solved. Sometimes, the people who seem furthest removed from Yiddishkeit turn out to be the most helpful. Nazareth Illit is very far from the center of the country; it is in the north, near Yokneam and Carmiel, and very close to Meron and Tzefas. But today, it is one of the cities that the chareidi community views as a potential source of new housing. There is already a chareidi neighborhood, Har Yonah, in the city, and if that initiative succeeds even more, it will become a chareidi population center of the north. But in order for it to succeed, it requires not only the cooperation of the city’s chiloni mayor, but his enthusiastic support. Indeed, Mayor Plot, who was recently elected (to replace the previous mayor, who was forced to resign, yet who seemed to have been the best possible mayor for the chareidi community) was elected with the support of the chareidim and promised to work together with them. He has also not disguised his desire to see chareidi families taking up residence en masse in his city. Plot and his deputy were accompanied on their visit by Reb Gershon Berlin, a representative of Degel HaTorah in the Nazareth Illit municipality.

During his visit, Plot praised the chareidi members of the Knesset for the assistance they have extended to him in the context of their government work. Likewise, he expressed his gratitude and appreciation to Aryeh Deri as Minister of the Interior and to Moshe Gafni as the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. He also expressed the hope that his city will flourish and that the chareidi community there will thrive. He received warm brachos from the gedolim with whom he met.

There may have been some people who were surprised by the warmth and friendship displayed by Ronen Plot toward the chareidi populace, but I did not find it surprising at all, nor would anyone else who has spent time in the Knesset. Before assuming this position, Plot served as the director-general of the Knesset. Everyone here knew him, and we all recognized that he was one of the most honest and decent people ever to hold the position. Part of his impetus for running in the mayoral elections was the urging of his chareidi friends in the Knesset. Plot is Russian, and the city of Nazareth Illit is considered a Russian stronghold today, and he was the best Russian we could find.

indian prime minister meets moishy holtzberg

A major news story concerned the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Israel.

India is a country slightly larger than Israel, with a larger populace and with significant influence on economic matters. The visit of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, included an emotional meeting with Moishy Holtzberg, whose parents, Reb Gavriel and Rivky, ran the Chabad house in Mumbai, India, and were murdered in a terror attack when Moishy was only two years old. In his meeting with the Indian premier and Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, Moishy, who is now eleven years old, revealed to the two prime ministers that he missed India. Modi replied that the young boy is welcome to visit his country whenever he desires to do so. Netanyahu himself then invited Moishy to join him on his next visit to India.

Moishy was smuggled out of the Chabad house in Mumbai during a terror attack nine years ago. He was carried to safety by Sandra Samuel, his nanny, who brought him to Eretz Yisroel after the attack that took his parents’ lives. He was accompanied to his meeting with the prime ministers by Samuel herself, who has remained at his side, and by his grandparents on both sides. I happen to know one of his grandmothers, whom I meet whenever I visit Boro Park. She is the manager of a clothing store there, and I always find it heartwarming to speak with her.

You Never Lose from Giving In

We all know that one can never lose from giving in. That is what we have been taught by our seforim kedoshim and by the gedolei Yisroel, and indeed the facts speak for themselves. But if any more proof was needed for this idea, the following incident certainly supplies it.

On Sunday, the 17th of Sivan, a wedding was held in the Neos Yerushalayim Hall in Bnei Brak. The guests celebrated joyously, as lively music played by keyboardist Amiran Dvir caused their spirits to soar. At the end of the reception, the chosson’s friends surprised him with a large cake made to resemble a Shas. It is known in his yeshiva that he has already completed Shas, and some believe that he has completed it twice. Indeed, I remember him conducting a siyum at the engagement.

The wedding was originally supposed to be held in the Shiras Yerushalayim Hall on Rechov Kanfei Nesharim in Yerushalayim. It was moved to Bnei Brak so that an actual band could play at the event. It began when the chosson expressed a desire, mainly for the sake of his friends, to have an ordinary band at his wedding. In Yerushalayim, the standard practice follows the gezeirah established some generations back to permit only a drummer to play at weddings in the city. The chosson’s desire became the subject of a major debate within the family, and it was pointed out that some poskim would permit the use of a band, for various reasons, because they maintain that the gezeirah is no longer in effect, or because Rechov Kanfei Nesharim does not have the halachic status of Yerushalayim. The kallah’s father, though, was not willing to rely on these opinions. Nevertheless, out of a desire to accommodate the chosson’s wishes, he allowed the wedding to be held in Bnei Brak instead.

Parenthetically, Rav Uri Zohar related to me that when he married off his own son, he consulted with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about a similar dilemma. He informed Rav Shlomo Zalman that there were likely to be many chilonim from Tel Aviv in attendance at the wedding, especially since the kallah was a daughter of the renowned singer Arik Einstein, and he feared that it might cause a chillul Hashem if they concluded, based on the lack of music, that a chareidi wedding is inferior to a chiloni celebration. Rav Shlomo Zalman ruled that he was actually obligated to have a full band playing at the wedding. One of his reasons was that Bayit Vegan, where the wedding was held, is not considered part of Yerushalayim with respect to this halacha.

But let us return to the more recent wedding. In this case, changing the venue of the wedding was not an easy task to accomplish. It required extensive negotiations with the owners of the Shiras Yerushalayim Hall, since the hall’s contract states that a person who reserves the hall then cancels the reservation is required to pay a large penalty. Ultimately, the situation was resolved amicably and the hall in Bnei Brak was reserved.

Three days before the wedding – on Thursday, the 14th of Sivan – the ceiling at the Shiras Yerushalayim Hall collapsed. Miraculously, no one was injured, and some good people arranged for the wedding taking place there at the time to continue at the Belzer wedding hall, where the chassidim were already celebrating the sheva brachos of the Belzer Rebbe’s grandson. In fact, the crowd in the hall was so large that no one even noticed that an entirely new wedding party had joined them…

After the collapse, all of the weddings that had been scheduled to take place in Shiras Yerushalayim had to be rescheduled for other halls instead. The Shiras Yerushalayim Hall has not been functioning since the incident. Of course, even the wedding that had already been moved to Bnei Brak would have had to find an alternative venue had the families not already made a change in plans. With only three days left until the wedding, they would have been forced to improvise a solution of some sort and to spread word of the wedding’s new location to all of their invited guests. But since the kallah’s father chose to give in to the chosson to accommodate his desire for music at the wedding, the families were spared that hardship.

Extending Mazel Tov Wishes to a Paragon of Chesed

Speaking of weddings, last Thursday, the wedding of Yosef Abramowitz, a talmid in Yeshivas Bais Medrash Elyon in Bnei Brak, was held. The wedding was attended by many gedolei Yisroel because the kallah is a daughter of Rabbi Chananya Chollak, the head of the Ezer Mizion chesed organization, and his late wife, Rebbetzin Leah a”h, who also dedicated her life to easing the plight of other Jews who were suffering.

Rabbi Chollak recently began an intensive campaign to assist people struggling with mental health issues. He understands that these problems are genuine medical conditions like any other, which require professional diagnosis and treatment until the patient is healed. In our community, though, people tend to disregard the symptoms until far too much damage has been done. Last week, Ezer Mizion’s mental health services division hosted a convention at the Tamir reception hall in Yerushalayim. The participants at the event came away with the clear understanding that mental health problems can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death. And they learned one more thing as well: that Rabbi Chananya Chollak allows himself no rest when other people are suffering.

Rabbi Chollak still lives in the same apartment where Ezer Mizion was founded. He drives a vehicle that was retired from service as an Ezer Mizion ambulance, and he works out of an office that is not luxurious by any standards. He is still the same “Chananya” that he was in 1979. And that is precisely what is exceptional about him. Despite his decades of public service, his desire to help others still hasn’t faded in the least.

Let me tell you a story: Two weeks ago, a yeshiva bochur arrived at Ezer Mizion’s headquarters in Bnei Brak at 11:20 at night, hoping to be seen by a doctor at the emergency clinic located in the building. Since he arrived long after the clinic’s official hours were over, the staff told him that he would have to wait until the following day. Nevertheless, Rabbi Chollak – who was still hard at work in his nearby office, despite of the late hour – overheard the conversation and came out to help the bochur himself. In his eyes, the young man did not deserve to be sent back to his yeshiva without being seen, even if he had arrived long after the doctor’s official hours had ended. And so Rabbi Chollak himself treated the bochur. The young man later asserted that the personal attention he had received from Rabbi Chollak had done even more for him than the medical ministrations. And that is another testament to the nature of Ezer Mizion and Chananya Chollak.

The novi Yirmiyahu declares, “Chachomim heim l’hara.” On these words, the Steipler Gaon once commented that people often turn to a talmid chochom when things are bad for them, but they forget to return to the talmid chochom to inform him when the situation has improved. It therefore behooves us, the people of Eretz Yisroel, to publicly proclaim our gratitude to Rabbi Chollak and to emphasize all the good that he has done for all of us.

Inspiration from Children

We have entered the season of Chumash parties in our children’s schools. I recently wrote about a Chumash party that was held at Talmud Torah Achiezer in the neighborhood of Bayit Vegan. This week, I would like to tell you about a similar event at a different Talmud Torah, Shaarei Daas, in the Ramot neighborhood.

As I noted at the time, there are some things in life that never fail to evoke an intense emotional reaction, regardless of how many times one has experienced them. A young child’s Chumash party is one such event. It is always deeply moving to see the school’s investment in its charges, to watch the dedicated rabbeim tending to their young pupils and even hurrying to adjust every paper crown that shifts out of its spot on a child’s head. And it is even more thrilling to listen as a microphone is passed from child to child, and each young boy has his turn to announce, “I am a big boy who learns Chumash and my name is Ariel Weisenstern” – or Shimon Zelaznik, or Menachem Twito, or Refoel Rockove, as the case may be.

This time, I would like to share an amazing vort that was told to us by Rav Yochanan Rosenthal, one of the administrators in the cheder. Rav Yochanan has quoted this idea, which is an insight of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, in the past as well. “We all know the rule of kol haschalos kashos, that all beginnings are difficult,” he said. “Therefore, if a person must make a new beginning every day, it will always be difficult for him. But if all the days in a person’s life are part of one long progression of Torah learning, it won’t be difficult. A person who lives that way will find that even when he sleeps, it is part of his pursuit of Torah. And since he never makes a new beginning, life will be much less difficult.”

The event was also graced by the presence of Rav Nosson Zochovsky of Bnei Brak, grandfather of a boy named Yisroel Meir Zochovsky. He spoke and quoted Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, who noted that the Gemara states (Shabbos 119b) that the posuk of “Al tig’u b’meshichai – Do not touch My anointed ones” refers to tinnokos shel bais rabbon, children who study Torah. But why should a child who learns Torah be considered an “anointed one” of Hashem? Rav Yosef Chaim explained that every Jewish child has the potential to become a “Moshiach” in his own right.

The event was attended by proud fathers and grandfathers, and the class consisted of dozens of children. One of the boys promised, speaking on behalf of all of his peers, that they would all do their best to enable their parents, grandparents, and rabbeim to derive nachas from them. I looked around, and I noted the presence of the rabbeim, who have the annual privilege of preparing their students for this milestone in life, and the menahalim of the cheder, who could easily teach others about the proper way to produce a Torah-centered event. And I realized what was so incredibly moving about the event: The children were driven by an inner passion that had been painstakingly instilled in them by their rabbeim.

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