Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Snippets From Israel

But that is merely a side point. Far more horrible is the campaign of hatred against the political right and the chareidim. The campaign against the chareidim was prompted by a single deranged chareidi man who committed a violent attack, and the right has been targeted because someone burned down a house in the Arab village of Dura, near Shechem, and wrote “Nekamah” on a nearby wall. A baby was burned to death in that fire, and several members of the Arab family were hospitalized in serious condition. No one had any doubt that the perpetrators of the murderous arson were right-wing youths, and a campaign of incitement began. And I stress the fact that it was actual incitement, not merely a wave of condemnations.

It should be noted that at this moment, it remains unclear whether the arson was committed by Jews at all. On one hand, it seems like a foregone conclusion that it was, but on the other hand, it is by no means a certainty. Some claim that there was a criminal motive and the fire was part of a feud between Arab clans. Let us hope that it becomes clear that the fire was not the work of a Jew, and the hatemongering Left, along with the media that supports it, will receive a stinging slap in the face.

Presidential Condemnation

No, we are not referring to Barack Obama, who, in the course of an official address last week, brought the tension between himself and Prime Minister Netanyahu to a peak that hasn’t been reached in many years and will likely not be reached again. Rather, we are referring to the president of the State of Israel, Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, who lives in Rechavia, Yerushalayim.

Among the condemnations of the arson, which may be legitimate, was one issued by President Rivlin. But in response to his words, Rivlin himself was harshly condemned by the political Right. Why, they demanded, doesn’t he make the same harsh statements when Jews are murdered by Arabs? They were particularly incensed by the wording of his response: “People of my own nation have become murderers.”

The other public figures — Herzog and Livni — who hurried to Tel Hashomer Hospital to visit the Arab family were treated to similar criticism by those wondering why they haven’t displayed the same alacrity in visiting Jews whose family members were murdered. The Right published a list of dozens of names of Jewish babies who were murdered in recent years.

Images of Rivlin clad in a Nazi uniform or in a keffiyeh were published as expressions of the rage that his comments evoked. Of course, the police launched an investigation. Rivlin, for his part, was not fazed. He explained himself in a series of interviews that he hurried to conduct over the weekend. In one interview, he declared, “I haven’t changed one word of my positions,” in response to the accusation that he had moved to the left since assuming the presidency. Rivlin claimed that his positions have always been the authentic positions of the Israeli Right, dating back to Jabotinsky.

It has been a difficult week indeed, and a hot one in every way. But we hope that all of this will now become history. We are now heading into the month of Elul. In just three days, thousands of yeshiva students and tens of thousands of yungeleit will return to their places in the country’s botei medrash. In hundreds of shuls, Sephardim will begin reciting Selichos early in the morning. In every shul, the shofar will be sounded after Shacharis. Elul will begin and everything will start to look different.

“Write About Elul!”

On that note, about twenty years ago, I was visited in my home by Rav Chanoch Karelenstein. That means, by the way, that Rav Karelenstein climbed about 100 steps to get to my apartment, which is in an old building in Givat Shaul. It was a particularly grueling climb for him. I opened the door and was startled to see him. I was one of the few who already knew that he was suffering from cancer. We were close friends, and I was one of the few people to visit him in the hospital where he was receiving treatments. Since I had a car, I drove him there on many occasions.

He was approximately 30 years old, making him a very young avreich, but he was already viewed as a future gadol hador. He was an outstanding genius, with encyclopedic knowledge of the entire Torah and a maggid shiur at Yeshivas Heichal HaTorah MiTzion (the yeshiva of Rav Tzvi Kushelefsky), as well as the head of the yeshiva ketanah branch of that institution. He delivered shiurim in a number of yeshivos and had thousands of talmidim. He also authored a series of volumes of mareh mekomos on Shas, along with works of chiddushim under the title Chok Hamelech and a series of shorter works on the various Yomim Tovim, which attested to his vast knowledge of Medrashim, maamarei Chazal, commentaries on the Torah, and even Kabbolah. He was a unique person, with a heart of gold and a radiant face, whose heart and home were always open to others.

“What happened?” I exclaimed when I found him standing on my doorstep.

“I want to ask you for a favor,” he said.

“But why did you have to come all the way here?” I asked. “If you had called me, I would have come to you right away.” We were neighbors, after all.

He sat down, sighed and rested for a moment. He then said, “I wanted you to see how important it was to me.”

Then he asked me for his “favor”: “Please write ‘Elul’ in the newspaper.” He wanted the word “Elul” to appear in large letters on the first page of the newspaper for which I wrote at the time, to awaken people to the arrival of the month, albeit without mentioning his name. I told him that it wasn’t the common practice, and that a newspaper isn’t a mussar sefer, but he was insistent. “It isn’t the practice? Then you will make it the practice!” I followed his instructions that year and the following year, and I have continued doing so ever since. It wasn’t the practice at the time, but interestingly, all the newspapers in Israel began following my example — including those that no one would have dreamed would do such a thing.

Rav Chanoch Karelenstein passed away sixteen years ago, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, 5760. His passing came as a great blow to the Torah world. All of the gedolim visited his home to express their condolences to his family. Through his wife, who is a granddaughter of Rav Aryeh Levin, he had a connection with Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, both of whom had visited him frequently during his illness. Ever since that conversation, I have remained faithful to his will, and with your permission, I will use this platform as well to call out, in his name, “Elul!”

Michael Oren Shares a Memory

On the subject of the rampant hatred that has been circulating these days, let us note that last Tuesday, despite the Knesset recess, the Knesset convened for a special discussion prompted by the death of the Arab baby. Many members of the Knesset spoke, including Michoel Oren of the Kulanu party. He is better known as Michael Oren, and some insist on calling him Ambassador Oren, since he served in the past as the Israeli ambassador to Washington.

On one hand, I am very fond of Oren. On the other hand, I am still disappointed by his failure to attend a Shuvu event at the Capitol several years ago, during his tenure as ambassador. I was present at that impressive event, which took place in one of the reception halls named after former U.S. presidents. There were over a dozen distinguished senators there, including John McCain. I spoke with Oren’s aide several times before the event, asking him to see to it that the ambassador would attend in honor of Shuvu and the distinguished guests. But the aide refused to give me a definitive answer. “We’ll see,” or, “We’ll look into it,” were his responses. Of course, Oren did not come. He had “previous commitments,” I was told. I know what “previous commitments” can mean. When I returned to Eretz Yisroel, I had to hold myself back from approaching the foreign minister at the time, Avigdor Lieberman, to tell him that our ambassador couldn’t make the effort to make a five-minute trip in order to take advantage of an opportunity to strengthen our bond with Israel’s most important friends in the Senate and Congress.

In any event, allow me to quote from Michael Oren’s speech in the Knesset this past week: “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Members of the Knesset, one night approximately 45 years ago, a racist person filled with hate placed a bomb in the shul of my community in the United States. The next day, all of us — the entire community, along with the members of other communities, both Christian and others, together with the priests and rabbis — stood together, side by side, facing the ruins of the shul. I will never forget that. At that time, we promised to fight against prejudice and against hate, and we expressed our great distress over what had happened. That incident affected my life very much. It influenced my decision to come to Israel, to take my future into my hands as an Israeli, and to fight against prejudice and for the sake of freedom. Therefore, in my eyes, the hatred that caused a Molotov cocktail to be thrown into the home of the Dawabshe family, burning the entire family and killing a baby, is the same exact hatred that caused that bomb to be planted in my shul in the United States. Hate is hate and terror is terror; there are no distinctions. Therefore, the time has come for all of us, on both sides of this room, to stand side by side in our condemnation, to express our sorrow for both families, and to wish the wounded a quick and complete recovery.”

It is a fantastic story, assuming it is accurate. Michael Oren, who is now 60 years old, was born in America on May 20, 1955, and came to Israel in 1979 at the age of 24, ten years after the event he described.

A Misreading in the Knesset

At that same special Knesset discussion, we witnessed a painful sight. It can be very sad to see a respected Knesset member, a native of Eretz Yisroel and a successful businessman, fail to properly quote a posuk that every child in cheder knows. Erel Margalit of the Zionist Camp, a former member of the Yerushalayim City Council and a successful hi-tech businessman, also spoke at the session, and like many of his colleagues, he sought to impress his listeners by quoting a relevant posuk. Naturally, many of them quoted the prohibition of murder, “lo sirtzach.” Margalit made the following statement:

“I call on everyone in this legislature to wake up, to remember that life and death come from the tongue, and to put an end to the distortion of Zionism, the distortion of Judaism, the distortion of what it means to be Israeli, and the distortion of democracy. It must be stopped now, before it is genuinely too late. I speak to you as a father who has three daughters in Yerushalayim, who sends them to the city and raised them here when there were terror attacks taking place here.

“I would like to conclude with a quote from Tehillim,” he continued. “This should remind all of us what it means to be Jewish and to be Israeli: ‘Who is the man who desires life, who loves days to see goodness? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking falsehood. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.’”

It was a beautiful quote, perhaps even appropriate for the occasion, but instead of reading the words as “midabeir mirmah,” he read them as “midevar mirmah.” It may be understandable that Margalit, who hails from Kibbutz Naan and holds a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, does not know the posuk by heart and therefore had to read it from a printed page. It seemed that not only was that the case, but he didn’t know how to read the vowelized text.

A “Spotty” Record

One of the best compliments that our government representatives have received in recent days came from an organization that isn’t exactly among our fans. A group calling itself Al Mishmar HaKnesset recently released its assessment of the handling of issues concerning religion and state by the Nineteenth Knesset, which was run by Yesh Atid and Yair Lapid. The report criticizes the Knesset’s lack of success. That may help you understand the group’s agenda.

“There was a historic opportunity,” the report asserts. “For the first time, the connection between religion and state was placed on the public agenda during the election campaign. A number of parties chose to make this issue one of their main causes. Many of the citizens of the State of Israel began to feel hope. The results of the elections were also surprising, and when a coalition consisting of the more moderate parties in the Knesset was formed, the hope for historic change occupied a place of honor. The results of the Al Mishmar HaKnesset report on the Nineteenth Knesset, though, indicate that an opportunity was lost. The Knesset began with a series of initiatives in a number of relevant areas, and during the course of its term, topics such as marriage, conversion, equality in sharing the burden, kashrus reforms, and the nature of Shabbos in the public sphere were an integral and inseparable part of the public dialogue. But at the end, these subjects faded away to a whimper. Only 5 percent of the parliamentary activities of the Knesset dealt with issues of religion and state. Out of that 5 percent, only a small number of the initiatives were passed into law or enshrined as government decisions. It would be difficult to say that those that were adopted as government policy have created dramatic changes or deal with core issues in any significant way. In the area of religion and state, the Nineteenth Knesset therefore has a spotty record.”

Their “failure,” of course, is our success.

Menachem Begin’s Son

As Elul approaches, I would like to settle an old “debt.” I promised to write something about MK Binyomin Begin. I do not know why, but I am fond of him. Not long ago, he found me in an exuberant mood in a corridor in the Knesset building and asked, “What’s happening today?”

“I have a question that you must answer,” I told him.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Yesterday, I read that your father’s father was named Zev Dov. Why is your name Zev Binyomin?”

“Oh,” he laughed. “You will have to keep quiet for at least four minutes so that I can tell you that story. I was born in 1942,” he explained. “I am 72 years old. Parenthetically, just today I read an article by a lawyer who questioned why the government allows two 70-year-olds to chair committees. You see, he feels that at the age of 70, one can no longer accomplish anything, and I am 72. As Yechiel Kaddishai would say, I am ‘oiver v’botul.’”

At that point, I took out my cell phone to record him, and he bristled with indignation. “You can either listen to me or use your phone, but not both!” he insisted.

I apologized and explained that I was merely attempting to record him, but Begin remained insistent. “There is nothing to record,” he said. “It isn’t all that important.” I returned the phone to its sheath; there is no arguing with Zev Binyomin Begin. That is to say, one can argue, but any such attempt is doomed to fail. He inherited many things from his father, and his stubbornness is one of them.

I prompted him to continue. “So you were born in 1942, in Tel Aviv.”

“Yes, and my family didn’t know exactly what was going on in Brisk at the time. They knew that Jews were being taken to the ghetto there, but they didn’t know exactly what was happening, other than the fact that the situation was very bad. In other words, they didn’t know if my grandfather was alive. And we don’t eat kitniyos…”

That is to say, they are an Ashkenazic family, and it is not their minhag to name a child after a grandfather who is still alive.

“My father asked a prominent rov — I don’t know who, although I would like to know who it was — and he told him to call me Zev, but to add a name, in which case it would be fine either way. ‘Zev’ was for his father, and in case his father was still alive, I would be called Zev Binyomin, which is a different name.”

“But why Binyomin?” I asked.

“That is a question I don’t know how to answer. Perhaps it was after Herzl, although Herzl was Binyomin Zev and my name is Zev Binyomin.”

I reminded him that the names Zev and Binyomin go together in the Torah, but Begin wasn’t satisfied. “In the Torah, Binyomin comes before Zev. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why the Zev comes first, but I do know that it was a friend of my mother who suggested giving me the name ‘Binyomin.’”

We parted ways, but I suddenly heard his voice thundering through the corridor. “Tzvika!”

I returned to him immediately and found him chuckling. “You forgot to ask the most important question!” he informed me.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Why everyone calls me Benny and not Zev.”

I admitted that he was correct.

“At first, they did call me Zev,” he revealed, “but in October or November of 1942, when I was about half a year old, my father became the head of the Etzel. And I will let you in on a secret: It was my mother who made my father become the head of the Etzel. She told him that she felt it was his mission and his obligation. Then they were afraid to call me Zev, because the British knew that any family that had a child named Zev who was about two or three years old was likely to be a revisionist family. So they began calling me Binyomin, which quickly became ‘Benny.’”

“Benny Sasover,” I said.

“First Benny Halperin, then Benny Sasover, and then Benny Kenighofer. Finally, in 1948, they were able to call me Zev again, but it didn’t work anymore. I remember my mother telling my friends that anyone who called me Zev would receive a coin each time they used the name, but that didn’t work. In the school where I studied, they called me Zev. ‘Begin, Zev,’” he says, imitating the way the teacher used to read his name. “To this day, if anyone calls me Zev, I know that they were in that class in school.”

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