Snippits from Israel

Burning Candles and Flying Bullets

 

The first item on our review of this week, of course, is Chanukah. In Eretz Yisroel, Chanukah is a time when everyone leaves their kollelim and schools – and, lehavdil, their offices – early in the day and runs home to light their menorahs. It is an impressive sight: Every day, just before sunset, the streets are filled with people rushing in every direction. I envy all those people, who are passionate not only about the mitzvah itself, but also about fulfilling it at the proper time. Each of them lights the menorah at whatever time his own practice dictates – at shkiah, at tzeis hakochavim, or at 12 minutes after shkiah – but they all share a firm commitment to absolute punctuality. They will stand tensely beside the menorah, waiting until the precise moment arrives for the candles to be lit. Ashreichem Yisroel.

 

Then there was the story of Yossi Cohen, who has served previously as the deputy director of the Mossad. Before that, he headed the Mossad’s European branch. He wears a yarmulka, which makes him highly unusual, although Yoram Cohen, the outgoing head of the Mossad, also wears a yarmulka and lives in the neighborhood of Ramot. A graduate of Yeshiva Ohr Etzion, Yossi Cohen hails from a religious family whose presence in Israel dates back seven generations. After his previous stint in the Mossad, Cohen became the head of the National Security Council and held the title of National Security Advisor to the prime minister. This past week, he was appointed the new director of the Mossad.

 

Unfortunately, this past week we saw additional terror attacks. Last Wednesday, Shaul and Rachel Nir were attacked while returning from the community of Avnei Cheifetz, where their daughter lives, to their home in the Jewish Quarter of Yerushalayim. Their daughter is a widow. Her husband, Nati Ozeri Hy”d, was murdered in a terror attack 13 years ago. The grandparents from Yerushalayim visited their widowed daughter and orphaned grandchildren – one of whom was wounded in the same terror attack that killed his father – to light the Chanukah menorah. While they were driving home, terrorists in a passing vehicle shot at their car. The security forces found signs that the couple’s car was hit by 23 bullets. The hail of gunfire caused Shaul to lose control of the car, which veered to the side of the road. He was wounded seriously and his wife was lightly wounded.

 

On the same day, another terror attack took place in Chevron. Shortly before 1:00 in the afternoon, a terrorist attacked an IDF officer who is regularly stationed there on guard duty, stabbing him in the head and hands. The terrorist was shot and killed by local Jewish residents. A Shabak investigation revealed that this terrorist is the cousin of another terrorist, who perpetrated a stabbing attack at the Me’oras Hamachpeilah just two days earlier. Frightening!

 

On that note, I found myself stuck in an unexpected traffic jam on the road to Ramot one day during this past week. The reason for the congestion, I discovered, was that the police had decided to perform a surprise inspection. In practical terms, that meant that a police car was blocking two out of the three lanes, forcing all the cars to merge into a single lane while two policemen with their guns drawn stood and scrutinized every vehicle as it passed. This was clearly the result of some intelligence that the Shabak had received.

 

This past week also brought us an embarrassing incident at the prime minister’s residence: While all of the Knesset members from the Likud party were attending a candle-lighting ceremony, the Netanyahu family’s new dog, Kaiya, bit one Knesset member and the husband of another. That was a most unpleasant episode.

 

This past week also saw the release of a report on poverty in Israel. We will write about it next week, bli neder. For now, suffice it to say that most of the reactions to the report blamed the poverty levels on the previous government, and on former Finance Minister Lapid’s decision to cut the government child allowances.

 

Provocations at the Kosel Hamaarovi

 

If you thought that we would at least be able to enjoy the lighting of the Chanukah menorah in peace, you were unfortunately mistaken. Even that experience was taken away from us by the Women of the Wall, who decided to turn it into yet another ruckus over their agenda.

 

First, a bit of background: On every night of Chanukah, there is a hadlokas neiros ceremony at the Kosel plaza. On each night, the Kosel Heritage Foundation invites different prominent individuals to light the candles. The invitations are extended to rabbonim, politicians, and other public figures. This year, Binyomin Netanyahu and Rav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman were invited to light the first candle. On the other days, the honored guests included other rabbonim, government ministers, officers in the army and police force, and other noted individuals.

 

This year, the Women of the Wall demanded that one of their own be invited to light the menorah as well. The issue was brought to the courts and, of course, was discussed in the Knesset as well, leading to a major hue and cry. This is the same group of women that has demanded the right to read from the Torah at the Kosel plaza. By court order, the women have already been given their own designated area at the Kosel Hakoton. They have already proven themselves to be experts at poisoning the atmosphere and fostering discord. They are also champions at manipulating the media to their advantage.

 

Rav Shmuel Rabinovitz, the rov of the Kosel, is responsible for conducting the lighting ceremonies and for determining who will receive invitations. Therefore, it was also his responsibility to deal with the new demand of the Women of the Wall. I will not go into the details of the incident, but it should be noted that in this case as well, the court ruled that the women were to be included in the candle-lighting.

 

At the lighting ceremony, as he was surrounded by Border Guard police stationed in Yerushalayim, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke. “We can raise the wages of our soldiers, as we have done now,” he declared, “but your true reward is the contribution that you make to the eternality of the Jewish people, which will never be defeated. We are now standing here, not far from the Kodesh Hakodoshim. We have overcome every obstacle and every challenge, and I believe that this holiday, especially at this time, symbolizes the restoration of Israel and the Jewish people’s eternal survival.”

 

The Women of the Wall attempted to enter the area with a menorah of their own and were initially repelled by the security guards, who told them that they could not bring their own menorah to the Kosel plaza. A Knesset member from the Zionist Camp who was with the group insisted that they were indeed entitled to do so, and they ultimately succeeded in bringing the menorah into the women’s section of the plaza and lighting it there after the large crowd had dispersed. The sounds of protest from the women’s section were heard on the other side of the mechitzah as well.

 

Chanukah at the White House

 

The president of Israel also held his own public ceremony, to which the volunteers of the various chareidi emergency medical organizations – Ichud Hatzalah, ZAKA, and the like – were invited.

 

President Ruvi Rivlin found time on Chanukah to visit America, where he was a guest of President Barack Obama, lighting a menorah at the White House.

 

Rivlin managed to arouse the ire of many Israelis with an article he published in the Washington Post, in which he criticized the State of Israel, accusing it of “abandoning” East Yerushalayim. The cabinet ministers were quick to condemn Rivlin himself. “It is not acceptable for the president to criticize the state, especially not in other countries,” Yuval Steinitz declared. Another minister called Rivlin “the champion sycophant.”

 

At the White House ceremony, Rivlin and Obama went out of their way to show that they were friends, as if to hint something to the contrary about Netanyahu. In his speech, Rivlin compared Netanyahu to the shamash of the menorah. Why? Because he is the leader of the world. I must admit that I didn’t exactly understand the comparison. Also, Rivlin lit the candles from the wrong side…

 

Trump Scraps Plans to Visit

 

This past week, Donald Trump’s intention to visit Yerushalayim was also in the headlines. Netanyahu may have been hoping for some peace and quiet, but Trump’s planned visit undoubtedly shattered those hopes. Actually, Trump’s visit to Yerushalayim has been planned for a while, and he had a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu scheduled for December 28. But last week, Trump made his famous statement that all Muslims should be barred from entering the United States until the situation is reevaluated.

 

In Israel, the left declared its opposition to Trump. A Knesset member from the Meretz party signed a petition to Netanyahu to cancel his planned meeting with Trump and to condemn him. The letter received almost 40 more signatures from various members of the Knesset, all of them – or almost all of them – from the opposition. At the same time, Yitzchok Herzog, the leader of the opposition, did not join the protest, nor did he even reject the possibility of holding his own meeting with Trump during the latter’s visit to Israel. His office released the following statement: “Trump’s words are shocking and give rise to revulsion. Our office has not yet received a request to meet with him, and we will consider the request if it comes. Herzog hopes that when Trump visits Israel, he will learn that his positions are incorrect and he will see the reality in which the Arab populace is growing and developing, and that it is possible to create a strong and fruitful coexistence if we relate to people with equality and respect.”

 

Netanyahu’s office released a statement explaining that the prime minister’s meeting with Trump had been arranged two weeks earlier, before Trump made his call to prevent Muslims from entering the United States. The statement added that “the prime minister will meet with any candidate from either party who visits Israel and asks to meet with him.” Trump was reportedly considering visiting the Har Habayis as well, but the firestorm in Israel led the Republican frontrunner in the presidential race to announce that he was cancelling his visit to the country altogether.

 

The Knesset’s Secret

 

The Knesset is more than just the parliament of the State of Israel. It is also the workplace of hundreds of government workers. Like any other government office, the Knesset has a director-general, and he has several deputies working under him. The only difference between the Knesset and other government offices is that the Knesset does not have another Knesset overseeing it. Even the state ombudsman barely has permission to monitor the Knesset’s activities. Senior officials in the Knesset even doubt that the Yerushalayim City Council has the right to dictate to it on subjects such as municipal property taxes and permits for additional construction.

 

The Knesset receives the greatest number of requests for entry permits of any institution in the State of Israel. Of course, such permits are granted to the employees of the Knesset, as well as to the employees of the various political parties. Senior government officials and prominent figures in the country’s economy all carry permits to enter the Knesset building, as do many journalists, military and security officials, and heads of prominent organizations. And then there are the drivers, the maintenance workers, the hundreds of lobbyists, the former members of the Knesset, and the heads of the country’s municipal and regional councils. Anyone with the slightest trace of importance, even in his own eyes, seeks to be graced with a permit for unfettered access to the Knesset. These permits can come in handy even in banks or at the airport.

 

There was one Knesset speaker in the past who was very popular with his party by virtue of the numerous entry permits that were handed out on his orders. The Knesset’s oversight unit attempted to restore a measure of order to the issuing of permits, and it may have even succeeded. Another Knesset speaker cut the number of permits in half, and nothing terrible happened as a result.

 

Why am I mentioning this now? This past week, a major judicial dispute took place between the Knesset and another body promoting government transparency and freedom of information. The latter body is demanding that the Knesset release the full list of individuals who hold permits to enter the building, while the Knesset claims that it is not required to report to anyone, either for security reasons or simply because it is the highest authority in the country and answers to no one else. The battle, which has been taking place with little public awareness, is now at its height.

 

Embarrassment at the Podium

 

Here is another tidbit from the Knesset: At the beginning of Eliyahu Ben-Dahan’s tenure as the Deputy Minister of Defense, he made a serious parliamentary gaffe. Ben-Dahan, a member of the Bayit Yehudi party who was once the head of the office of the Rishon Letzion, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, was responding to an urgent parliamentary query about segregation between Jews and Arabs on buses in Yehudah and Shomron. Ben-Dahan went up to the podium and began speaking vehemently in defense of the segregation, unaware that the Minister of Defense himself had given in to the cries of indignation and announced the cancellation of the program several hours earlier. The Knesset members had a good laugh at Ben-Dahan’s expense, to which the flustered deputy minister responded, “I didn’t know that. No one told me. I am new in the job.”

 

Two weeks ago, Ben-Dahan found himself in a similar predicament. First, he was rebuked by the Minister of Defense, who had received a harshly worded letter from the deputy attorney general’s office. Ben-Dahan then took the podium in the Knesset to respond to a query from Chaim Yellin about the establishment of memorials for fallen IDF soldiers. “Time after time, we hear about bereaved families fighting to preserve the memories of their loved ones,” the query read. “My question is: Why do the families of fallen soldiers have to wage the battle for their loved ones’ memories on their own? Why isn’t your office responding on this matter to the families of the soldiers who fell in Operation Protective Edge?”

 

Ben-Dahan delivered a lengthy response, concluding with the statement, “Our examination has shown that we did not receive any complaints from the families of soldiers from Operation Protective Edge on this subject, with the exception of one request that was handled individually, without any delay.”

 

In response, Yellin spoke up. “Honored Deputy Minister,” he said, “your answer is not correct. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have asked the question. I believe that you have been misled again. The bereaved families from Operation Protective Edge joined together. A meeting was held with them and nothing came of it.”

 

Ben-Dahan responded, “If that is true, then I was given incorrect information and I assure you that I will not permit that. I will receive an answer…”

 

Where’s the Money? You Have It!

 

Sometimes, we might benefit from reading the professional financial newspapers of the State of Israel. Recently, I saw a headline that declared, “Where is the Money, Lapid? It’s Where You Left It!” The writer was reporting on a belligerent press conference held by Yair Lapid, the former Minister of Finance who was beaten in the previous elections and has been relegated to the benches of the opposition.

 

“‘This isn’t a budget. It’s a clearance sale!’ Lapid accused MK Moshe Kachlon. ‘You can’t simply stand on the side. You are the Minister of Finance. Stop this! Who manages the state’s money? Why is anyone able to extort anything he wants?’ Lapid demanded, reviving his trusty mantra: ‘The citizens of Israel are asking: Where is the money? The answer is that it has been distributed to your buddies: the individual settlements, the yeshivos, the caucus members, and anyone who is close to you. No one was excluded – except for the weak middle class.’”

 

This isn’t the first time that Lapid has used the provocative question, “Where is the money?” This was his catchphrase during the election campaign for the previous Knesset, when he garnered 19 mandates. He battered the chareidim relentlessly with his rhetoric, entering the Knesset on their scarred backs. Of course, much has happened since then, and we have been freed, at least partially, from his tyranny.

 

In the article, the chiloni writer responds to Lapid’s ranting: “‘Where is the money?’ has become the opposition’s standard question. In the previous Knesset, the chareidim and the left asked this question, because the previous Minister of Finance did exactly what Kachlon is doing now. Who was managing the country’s treasury under the previous government, when hundreds of millions of shekels were channeled to Bennet’s Bayit Yehudi party because of the coalition agreements? Who was in charge when 25 million shekels were allocated for the funding of the Shmittah year and religious services, another 25 million shekels were allocated to strengthening Jewish identity, 30 million shekels were distributed to the local councils in Yehudah and Shomron (before the addition of another 40 million shekels in security grants), 125 million shekels were allocated for Zionist education, and 100 million shekels were granted to the settlement unit? Yes, that’s right: former Minister of Finance Yair Lapid!”

 

Yesh Atid, the writer concludes, is suffering from the same plague that afflicts every other politician: hypocrisy and a short memory.

 

“Elico” and the Chihuahua

 

They called him “Elico.” Actually, he was known as Seren (Captain) Elico. He served on a base of the armored corps in the south, although he wasn’t actually a member of the armored corps. As a military professional, he was assigned to serve as a liaison to the base – Camp Emmanuel, otherwise known as “Julis” – and he flourished in that position. By the time that fateful Shabbos arrived, he was informed by his commander that he would soon be promoted to the coveted rank of rav seren (major).

 

Not every officer in the IDF had a cell phone at the time, but Elico did. One Shabbos, his phone rang, and he answered it; he wasn’t yet shomer Shabbos. His father was on the line, speaking in an anxious tone.

 

“Hello, Abba. What happened?” Elico asked.

 

“Don’t ask… Shukaleh is alone at home.”

 

Oy!” Elico could not help but let out a cry of dismay. Like his parents, he loved little Shukaleh like a child. It was distressing to imagine him locked up alone in the house, wailing and frustrated.

 

“The problem is that we didn’t leave him any food!”

 

Oy,” Elico repeated. He began to walk toward the forest at the edge of the base; he didn’t want his superiors to see the tears in his eyes. “Where are you? Why don’t you go home?”

 

“Don’t ask,” his father mumbled again. “We’re at a religious seminar.”

 

“What?” Elico was surprised to hear himself shouting. “What did you say?”

 

His father revealed that he had accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a seminar held by Arachim (or perhaps a similar organization, such as Hidabroot or Torah V’Emunah). The friend had promised him that the hotel was elegant, the food was incredible, and there were fascinating lectures. What could go wrong? The couple had arrived before Shabbos and had planned to stay for only an hour or two before returning home, but the lectures were riveting and they felt uncomfortable being mechallel Shabbos when their hosts were so pleasant and polite. The only solution they could think of was to call Elico on his base. He could drive to the hotel, take the key, and go home to feed Shukaleh. Then he would return the key to them before making the trip back to the base.

 

Elico was prepared to undertake the task. He couldn’t bear the thought of allowing poor Shukaleh to suffer from malnutrition. Shukaleh was the beloved family pet, a white and brown chihuahua that was the delight of the entire family.

 

“Don’t worry,” Elico’s father whispered into the phone. “I am speaking to you from the public phone next to the swimming pool. There is plenty of food and the lectures are amazing. Come to the lecture hall when you get here. You will find us there.”

 

Dressed in his neatly pressed army uniform, Elico had no problem locating the lecture hall. He strode confidently inside, embraced his parents, and took the key to their house. At home, he encountered little Shukaleh, who jumped for joy upon his arrival. Elico prepared three meals for the dog and then returned to the hotel.

 

“You have nothing to fear,” he said laughingly as he returned the key to his parents. “The mission has been accomplished.”

 

Shabbat shalom,” his father greeted him. “Come sit with us….”

 

His parents were enthralled by a lecture being delivered by a rov. Elico sat down to listen to the lecturer, who did not bear much resemblance to his mental image of a rov. He found the lecture thoroughly enjoyable, and he remained at the seminar until Shabbos had ended. Elico wasn’t sure if he was motivated by curiosity, enjoyment, or a simple desire not to desecrate the Shabbos.

 

To make a long story short, “Elico” became “Reb Eliyahu” many years ago. He is married and has many children and grandchildren, all of them learning in yeshivos or kollelim. Today, he is as familiar with the pages of Shas as he once was with every part of his military base. He can review all six volumes of the Mishnah Berurah in his mind at lightning speed. Even if he tried, he would find it difficult not to come up with an answer to a shailah. Reb Eliyahu, who is an outstanding talmid chochom, was fortunate enough to learn under the greatest poskei halachah of the generation, some of whom have already gone on to Next World, and earned acclaim from all of them.

 

This week, Reb Eliyahu was appointed to serve as a dayan and posek in Beit Shemesh.