A Visitor from the States
The election campaign for the office of president of the United States has been heating up. In the Democratic Party, it does not seem that there will be many surprises, so it is only natural that the public curiosity tends to focus on the Republican Party. At the end of the day, who will be the candidate to run against Hillary Clinton? Will it be Mike Huckabee or Marco Rubio? Will Jeb Bush, like his brother, manage to step into his father’s shoes, or will Ted Cruz perhaps have a surprise win? Or will it be Lindsey Olin Graham? The odds do not seem to be in his favor right now, but then again, who would have believed ten years ago that Barack Hussein Obama would be president?
Graham, as everyone knows, has taken a strong pro-Israel stance in the hopes of wooing Jewish voters and other supporters of Israel. Two years ago, Graham led the push in Congress for a bill giving America an open mandate to go to war against Iran. Recently, perhaps motivated by the upcoming election, Graham has become a vocal opponent of Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. An attorney by profession, Graham has served in the United States Air Force. Today, he represents South Carolina in the Senate.
What does this have to do with the topic of this column, stories from Israel?
Last Wednesday, I was walking down a corridor in the Knesset building, as usual, when I suddenly encountered Dan Shapiro, the United States ambassador to Tel Aviv. I greeted Shapiro and he returned my greeting, but he seemed unusually preoccupied and heavily focused on the man accompanying him, who looked vaguely familiar but whom I could not identify. My curiosity was heightened when I noticed Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington and now a member of the Knesset from the Kulanu party, jostling to get into a picture with the visitor. He even asked someone to photograph him alongside the man. “Who is this?” I asked Shapiro.
“It’s Lindsey Graham,” he replied.
Of course, I shook his hand and greeted him. Perhaps, in a few months, I will be able to boast that I shook the hand of the president of the United States. On that note, I should mention that Obama, too, visited Israel as a senator shortly before he became the presidential candidate. At that time, I was leaving the Knesset building one day when I saw several dark vans driving toward the helipad next to the building. My curiosity piqued by the sight, I followed the cars and watched as a young, thin man emerged and boarded a helicopter. That, of course, was Barack Obama.
Back to Graham: Last night, he was interviewed on an Israeli news program and spoke with more Israeli sentiment than Israelis themselves demonstrate. He expressed his dismay over the weakness Obama has been displaying in Syria and proclaimed the need for supervision of the agreement with Iran. He also declared that the upcoming elections will be “a referendum on Obama’s policies.” Any Republican president, he asserted, would be tougher than Obama. And then he made another pointed statement: “If I become president, the Israelis can sleep well at night. I won’t throw you under the bus.”
The Shliach Tzibbur’s Prayer
Some of the new members of the Knesset have surprised us.
A Knesset member’s first speech from the podium is like his calling card, and since the Twentieth Knesset began operating, large portions of its daily schedule have been devoted to the introductory addresses of new Knesset members. The reason for this is simple: There is nothing else to fill the time. The government still has no bills to pass, and the members of the Knesset are unable to propose new laws until the bills have been on the table for 45 days. As a result, the lawmakers have devoted a number of days to discussions of various topics, thus giving us “Herzl Day” and “the Day for the Blind” (of course, no connection is intended between the two), as well as “Students’ Day” and “Jerusalem Day,” and then, of course, there are the introductory addresses. We present you with a selection of excerpts from some of the speeches.
Oren (Assaf) Hazan, of the Likud party, said: “Rabbi Akiva used to say that ‘Love your friend as you love yourself’ is a great rule in the Torah. For me, it is a way of life. To conclude my introductory address, I would like to quote a sentence — or, to be more precise, several sentences — from the prayer of the shliach tzibbur on Yom Kippur. It is a prayer that is filled with reverence and humility, two motifs that I believe that we, as representatives of the people, are obligated to adopt every day. These are the lines: ‘I have come to stand before You and plead for Your nation, Israel, who have sent me, even though I am not worthy or fit for it. I therefore ask of you, the G-d of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, Hashem, the Merciful and Compassionate G-d, the G-d of Yisroel: Please let me succeed in the path on which I am going, as I seek mercy for myself and for those who have sent me. Please turn all suffering and evil into gladness and joy, life and peace. Blessed are You, Who hears prayers.’ I would also like to thank my father, MK Yechiel Hazan, and my mother, Aviva Gouetta Hazan, as well as my brother, Amram Omri, and my sister, Leilah Leihi; without their support and assistance, I would not be standing here. I would like to thank Hashem, and I would like to thank all of you, the Jewish nation.”
Here is a quote from Eli Cohen of the Kulanu party: “Mr. Speaker of the Knesset and honored Knesset members, the Mishnah in Maseches Avos commands us, ‘Know where you come from and where you are going.’ About a month ago, I had the great privilege of taking a pledge of allegiance to the Knesset of Israel.”
And the following from Professor Yossi Yonah of the Zionist Camp: “In his address at the swearing-in ceremony for the members of the Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu quoted a verse from the Haggadah Shel Pesach: ‘You shall live by your blood.’ That is a terrible way to begin the new term; it is a vision of the prophets that decrees that we will continue having our blood spilled until the End of Days. But Jewish tradition provides us with another, entirely different vision, the vision of the prophet Yeshayah, who describes an era when ‘nation will not lift up sword against nation, and they will not learn war anymore.’ The path to this day will be long, winding, and full of pain, but it is possible. I entered the Knesset on the basis of this hope, and I promise to keep this hope before my eyes throughout my daily activities. This is my commitment both to those who supported the party of which I am a member, the Zionist Camp, and to those who did not support it. As Rabban Gamliel says in Maseches Avos, ‘All who work on behalf of the public should work for them for the sake of Heaven.’ Thank you.”
There are many young, energetic parliamentarians in the Twentieth Knesset, and many of them appear to hail from traditional homes. It seems likely that we will find partners for our struggles in all the parties, even in places we wouldn’t have thought to look, such as the individuals quoted here. And then there are Knesset members such as Orli Levi of Yisrael Beiteinu, who revealed this week that she keeps Shabbos. It is reasonable to assume that her brother, Jackie Levi, another newly-elected Knesset member, is also Shabbos observant. The two Levis are the niece and nephew of David Levi, who served as deputy prime minister under Menachem Begin, and of whom Begin was very fond.
And all of them can draw inspiration from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. There has never been another Speaker of the Knesset who has been so meticulous about davening with a minyan. Speaking of Edelstein, it bears mentioning that he disappeared from the Knesset this week, along with several other legislators. The lawmakers traveled to Eilat to participate in a sports competition. Edelstein is one of the top ping-pong players in the country. Most of the others played soccer.
Preserving Shabbos in Tel Aviv
Over the past few days, several sources have reported on the visit paid by the chief rabbi of Yerushalayim to Yaron Tzidkiyahu at the latter’s delicatessen in Machaneh Yehuda as a sign of appreciation for his refusal to desecrate Shabbos. Tzidkiyahu is a time-honored Yerushalayim icon, and his store is a well-known fixture in the Machaneh Yehuda market, in the heart of Yerushalayim. He is indeed deserving of tremendous admiration for his refusal to open his store on Shabbos, but the news outlets that publicized the report left out a very important part of the story: the attempt that was made to force chillul Shabbos upon him.
This story concerns the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv, which is currently under development. This complex has become the heart of the culinary world of Tel Aviv, with 100 restaurants and food establishments slated to be operating there soon, most of them offering “prime merchandise.” Well-known restaurateurs have opened establishments there, at the cost of millions of shekels, with colorful names such as Claro, Branja, Wilhemina and Zhazho. One publication has labeled it “the hottest spot in Tel Aviv.” That simply indicates the madness of Israeli society today.
Sarona’s developers asked Yaron Tzidkiyahu to open a branch of his business in the covered section of the complex, which has an area of 8,700 square meters. They believed that such a move would be beneficial both to them and to Tzidkiyahu. Tzidkiyahu was interested in the deal, but he backed out when they stipulated that his eatery — which was to be a delicatessen and pickle store —be open on Shabbos. “No way,” was his automatic reaction.
And then the negotiations began. Tzidkiyahu refused to sign until the developers agreed, in his words, “to accept us as we are.” Kashrus and tradition, he added, are part of the “personality” of his business. “We are Yerushalmim who have come to Tel Aviv, but we will remain Yerushalmim.” When recounting the incident, he added that as far as he is aware, there will probably be no more than one or two other establishments that will be kosher and will be closed on Shabbos. The rest of the complex will be open even on Shabbos. Who knows how many other proprietors would have preferred to close their businesses on Shabbos but were unable to withstand the pressure?
Emotions Run High in Be’er Yaakov
Before Shavuos, I visited the yishuv of Be’er Yaakov for a siyum conducted by several students in the yeshiva there in memory of my mother, who passed away last year on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. I do not know why the siyum evoked so much emotion in everyone, but it was quite a powerful event. Be’er Yaakov is a small settlement located between Ramle and Rishon Letzion. If not for the Torah institutions that are located there, it would be virtually unknown. Those institutions include Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov, which was headed in years past by Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapira zt”l and Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l, as well as the Be’er Yaakov Seminary, which my father founded. There is also Yeshivas She’airis Yosef, which was formerly headed by Rav Nissim Toledano zt”l, one of the most renowned Sephardic rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel and one of the country’s most prominent roshei yeshiva. Rav Toledano was a close talmid of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l and was brought to Be’er Yaakov by my father.
There were a number of factors that combined to make the siyum a moving event for me. First, there was the fact that the bochurim took it upon themselves to learn entire masechtos independently and thereby finish all of Shas together. There was also the bochurim’s singing, as well as the setting of the event and the dignity with which it was conducted. There were the drashos of Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz, the mashgiach of the yeshiva, and of my oldest brother, Rabbi Avrohom Yaakovson.
The connection between my family and the yeshiva dates back many years. My father first came to the community after his marriage in order to serve as a maggid shiur in the yeshiva, at the behest of both Rav Wolbe, who served as the mashgiach of the yeshiva, and Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapira, who was both the rosh yeshiva and the mara d’asra. Rav Moshe Shmuel later asked my father to take his place as the mara d’asra of the community. He was very successful in that capacity, and he bore the community’s burdens on his own shoulders for fifty years, with my mother at his side. During the yeshiva’s first years, its “dormitory” was in my parents’ home. They acted like surrogate parents to some of the bochurim. This was the situation 65 years ago.
Rav Yitzchok Dovid Shapira, the rosh yeshiva, delivered a highly insightful drashah. “At a siyum,” he said, “we speak to the masechta, telling it, ‘Hadran alach — We will return to you.’ We promise not to forget it, and we ask it not to forget us. It is a dialogue between the person and the Gemara. And this is not merely a flowery metaphor. The Torah is real. It is an actual entity and it speaks to us. The Torah is alive and it exists, although not everyone can communicate with it…”
He went on to discuss why a siyum overrides the laws of aveilus and why it is permitted to eat meat at a siyum. The Gemara teaches us that since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, Hashem has nothing in the world, as it were, other than the “daled amos of halachah.” Throughout the world, the rosh yeshiva explained, there may be devastation, sorrow and destruction, but these things are not permitted into the four amos of halachah. Those four amos, as it were, are Hashem’s “corner,” and even when the rest of the world is filled with sadness, the “daled amos of halachah” contain only joy. Thus, a siyum does not actually cancel aveilus. Rather, at a siyum, there is no place for the signs of mourning.
Hypocrisy and Demagoguery
This past Monday, the Knesset discussed a motion of no confidence in the government submitted by Yesh Atid. We will quote their claims in their own words: “The conclusions of the Alaluf Commission for the war on poverty are not being implemented because of the billions that the prime minister handed out in coalition agreements, at the expense of the public.” This, of course, is a reference to the funds that were promised to the chareidi community. But the line we have quoted, as well as the address delivered by Meir Cohen, who served until recently as the Minister of Welfare, obfuscated the reality of the situation. Responding in an address of his own, Yariv Levin protested Yesh Atid’s ongoing effort to incite the chiloni community of Israel against the chareidi sector of society. In fact, Yesh Atid’s statements are nothing less than blatant hypocrisy.
The Alaluf Commission was established by the previous government with the aim of coming up with solutions for the terrible epidemic of poverty in the country. Among other things, the commission advised the government to reinstate the child stipends that had been taken away from families, essentially taking food out of the mouths of children. About a year ago, three members of the Knesset from the Shas party – Aryeh Deri; Yoav Ben-Tzur, who is now in America as a member of a parliamentary delegation; and Avraham Michaeli, who is no longer in the Knesset – made a series of proposals based on the commission’s findings.
One of the bills they advanced, which called for an exemption from medical copayments for the chronically ill, was brought to the Knesset in the month of Cheshvan, 5775. The proposal states explicitly, “This bill was prepared in accordance with the recommendations of the report of the commission for the war on poverty in Israel, headed by Mr. Eli Alaluf, which was publicized on the 25th of Sivan, 5774.” Aryeh Deri also mentioned this explicitly when he presented the bill to the Knesset. Health Minister Yael German of Yesh Atid opposed the bill, and the rest of the coalition therefore voted against it. The proposal was voted down by a majority of 41 to 23. Aside from German, the bill’s opponents included Minister Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid, Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levi (who served, in that position, as Yair Lapid’s deputy), and the other Knesset members of the Yesh Atid party.
Two weeks later, Deri returned and asked the Knesset to approve another legislative proposal based on the Alaluf Commission’s recommendations. This time, it was Meir Cohen, the Minister of Welfare, who asked the government to vote against the bill. Twenty-five Knesset members supported it, while 37 voted against it, including Meir Cohen, Yaakov Peri, and Mickey Levi – all of them members of Yesh Atid. And now, the very same Meir Cohen got up this week and submitted a no-confidence motion on the basis of the funds that were allocated to the chareidim, as if that is the reason the recommendations of the Alaluf Commission haven’t been implemented as laws, while Cohen himself is responsible for blocking some of those very recommendations.
Furthermore, the funds that were allocated to meet the chareidi parties’ demands were, for the most part, for an increase in the government’s child stipends, which Alaluf also supported. In a word, Cohen’s speech was sheer hypocrisy. Actually, it was both demagoguery and hypocrisy. As Aryeh Deri recently commented to someone who lamented the fact that the party members must constantly be present at the Knesset plenum, “Would you prefer that we be the ones submitting motions of no confidence, while Lapid must be constantly in the plenum?”
The Righteous Women of Our Generation
We will conclude this week’s column with a story of Hashgachah Protis, true friendship, and mesirus nefesh. This is the story of Elaine (Elka) Phillipson, nÃ©e Fein, and Mildred (Mina) Gutterman, nee Steinman, two women who led lives that were heavily intertwined and followed nearly identical courses, resulting in the two developing a close friendship that made them almost like sisters. Both women went to Norway from Lithuania many years ago in order to escape anti-Semitic persecution in the land of their birth, and both flourished despite the lack of Jewish life in the cold Norwegian climate. Both subsequently moved from Norway to the neighboring country of Denmark, where they worked tirelessly for fifty years, with the dedication and devotion of the classic Jewish mother, to raise beautiful families. Each of them was a genuine heroine in her own right.
Upon their arrival from Norway, both women made their way to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, hoping to find a religious chosson. Each of them found just that in the Machzikei Hadas community in Copenhagen. The two settled in the vicinity of the chareidi community, in order to raise their children the way children should be raised. They lived in adjacent homes on a street lined with elegant villas, and each day, the women took turns taking their children — Michoel and Dovid Gutterman and Binyomin and Doniel Phillipson — to learn in cheder after their day of general studies had ended. Both were self-made women, who rose to greatness through painstaking effort, elevating their families along with them.
In the Machzikei Hadas community, where my grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, and then my father served as rabbonim, both families were considered paradigms of two Talmudic adages: “A person who comes to purify himself receives Divine assistance” and “Nothing stands in the way of desire.” After the two families had maintained their friendship for about 50 years, the Phillipson family moved to London, where the family patriarch, Reb Shlomo (“Shloime”), developed a close connection with Rav Elchonon Halpern and became known as one of the most distinguished members of his kehillah. His sons, who became outstanding bnei Torah, moved to America, and the parents followed them several years ago. Today, the entire family lives in Monsey, and one of the sons has become a highly successful businessman, philanthropist, and supporter of Torah study. He is a major supporter of Shuvu, among other organizations.
The Gutterman children also moved to the United States after their marriages, with the exception of one son, Reb Chaim Michoel, who lives in Yerushalayim and serves as the director of Shuvu. As a result, Mrs. Gutterman came to spend many hours shuttling back and forth between Kennedy International Airport in New York and its counterpart, Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
The distance between the two families did not erode their friendship. Mildred and Elaine continued meeting often and speaking on a daily basis. The last time they spoke was on the Thursday before Shavuos. As a preface to that story, it should be noted that several years ago, Avrohom (Erich) Gutterman zt”l became ill, and his good friend, Shloime Phillipson, “happened” to be in Eretz Yisroel at the time. Shloime was at Avrohom’s bedside when his neshamah left him.
Before Shavuos this year, the bond between the two families was proven again to be powerful even in death. On the Friday before Shavuos, Mildred Gutterman came to Eretz Yisroel for Yom Tov. The El Al flight landed with a slight delay, and for some reason, things were moving along at a sluggish pace as the plane sat in the airport. Mildred looked at her watch worriedly. No one enjoys landing on Erev Shabbos, and the members of the ultra-Yekkishe community of Denmark enjoy it less than anyone. Mildred wasn’t sure if she was imagining things, but she was almost certain that she saw a chevrah kadishah car approaching the plane.
When Mrs. Gutterman arrived in Yerushalayim, her son informed her of the passing of her beloved friend, Mrs. Phillipson. The levayah took place at the Shamgar funeral home at 4:15 on the Erev Shabbos before Shavuos. The family was able to sit shivah for only a few hours, since the onset of Shavuos canceled the remainder of shivah. The two women had spoken just the day before, as they had done for so many years, and now Mrs. Gutterman accompanied her lifelong friend to her final rest on Har Hamenuchos.
I attended the funeral as a representative of my family in order to pay our last respects to a tzadeikes who was one of the founding pillars of the Machzikei Hadas community and who taught many people, both through her own example and by other means, that it is possible for a human being to reach unfathomable spiritual heights. The speakers included her husband, Reb Shloime — whom I remember from his visits to Be’er Yaakov during my childhood as a Danish baal habayis; today, he is a tzaddik and talmid chochom — who painted a verbal portrait of his wife as a great woman, whose accomplished children and good deeds alike speak volumes about her.