Thursday, May 6, 2021

My Take on the News

Yesh Atid’s “Accomplishments” Have Been Fully Reversed

The Knesset, which is the source of countless news stories and other interesting anecdotes, has begun its summer recess. We haven’t even reached Rosh Chodesh Av yet, but the vacation is already beginning. The summer recess will end after Sukkos 5777.

The past week in the Knesset was marked by high tensions between the opposition and the coalition – or perhaps, better yet, between Yesh Atid and the chareidi parties. There were also tensions within the coalition itself. Political battles have been fought over every subject, but the fight over approving a biennial budget continued until the very last moment. The opposition tried to torpedo the initiative with a filibuster in the Knesset Finance Committee, but they succeeded only partially. There has been much fighting, but the coalition has still won. Another struggle involved the Mikvah Law, a bill that allows the management of a mikvah to prevent it from being used for a Reform conversion. MK Avigdor Lieberman and his party zigzagged a bit over this law, but it was ultimately approved.

One thing is clear: As the Knesset wraps up its business for the year 5776, it has undoubtedly erased every one of the “achievements” of Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid. The Mikvah Law is one example of this, but the most salient case is that of the Liba (Core Curriculum) Law. This law was a chiloni effort to force the chareidim to teach secular studies in our schools, regardless of whether we wanted it. The law dictated that any chareidi school that did not teach secular subjects would not be able to receive government funding. The coalition agreement between Likud and UTJ, as well as the agreement between Likud and Shas, stipulated that new legislation would be passed to overturn this requirement. The new law doesn’t prohibit secular studies in chareidi schools; it states simply that the government cannot compel a school to teach specific subjects, and that government funding cannot be made contingent on those subjects being taught. That new law was passed this past week.

This marked the end of the era of the Lapid edicts. With the passage of this amendment, the last remaining decree was eliminated. The forced draft and conscription quotas passed by the previous government, under pressure from Lapid (and with the support of Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party), were annulled long ago. Thus, we are now entering the summer recess with a certain sense of relief.

Lapid Admits His Mistake

The amendment to the Core Curriculum Law was approved at 2:00 in the morning last Tuesday. The coalition chairman stood on the side of the room and watched carefully as the Knesset members voted for or against the amendment. Many of the lawmakers were dozing off in various places, some of them even outside the building, and he had to make sure that there would be a majority in favor of the amendment. Meir Porush, as the deputy minister of education, spoke at the Knesset podium to conclude the long and emotionally charged debate. When he was finished, MK Dovid Bittan motioned to him to continue speaking, as the requisite majority was still missing from the plenum. To his credit, Porush managed the task very well. Despite the late hour, he was alert and lively.

The deputy education minister used the time available to him to teach a lesson to the Yesh Atid party. When Porush first presented the bill, he quoted a highly insulting propaganda video that Yair Lapid had produced, which claimed that the chareidi education system would cause one million children to remain ignorant and unlettered, incapable of integrating into society, and that the chilonim would have to bear the burden of supporting them. At the time, Porush derided Lapid for his exaggerated figures, pointing out that there are only 40,000 students in the chareidi system altogether. He also pointed out that the new law does not stipulate that secular studies will not be taught; it simply removes the element of coercion. These statements elicited a shout from Mickey Levi of Yesh Atid, who is known for his vociferous protests. This time, he shouted angrily that my-take-on-the-news_03Porush is a liar.

To be fair, Lapid himself lied as well: His video claims that the government has decided to abolish the core curriculum for schools. In truth, the core curriculum still stands; the government merely decided not to make it compulsory. That is a very big difference. All in all, this is another case in which we have not been able to explain ourselves properly, and our enemies have used that against us. But let us return to the discussion in the Knesset.

In his address that night, Porush said, “I must say something. I have been called a liar at this very podium, and I would like to quote the video released by Yesh Atid: ‘The government of Israel has decided to abolish the core curriculum. This means that close to one million citizens will not learn mathematics or English. They will not be able to support themselves, and they will live lives of poverty. Do you know who will have to support them? Do you know who will carry these people on their shoulders throughout their lives?’ The person who called me a liar was himself uttering a falsehood. And I expect you to amend your words.” Porush then addressed Lapid directly. “You said that the government has decided to cancel the core curriculum. Now you must admit the truth; admit that you made a mistake. I have quoted your video word for word, MK Lapid. Isn’t that true?”

Yair Lapid replied, “You didn’t lie. There was a mistake.”

“It was my mistake?” Porush pressed.

“No, it was our mistake,” Lapid admitted. “You didn’t lie.”

“I already knew that you were mistaken,” Porush said.

“Porush, you didn’t lie,” Lapid repeated.

“I knew that this afternoon,” Porush said again. “But why did Mickey say that I lied?”

“Porush, listen to me,” said Lapid. “Mickey didn’t see it.”

“He called me a liar!”

“Meir, when a person confesses and repents, you should show mercy,” Minister Uri Ariel interjected.

A tally of the votes revealed that it was a good thing that Porush had spoken at length. The amendment passed by a narrow margin of 37 to 34. It was also a good thing that Porush managed to induce Lapid to admit to his error, as the Yesh Atid rhetoric in this case had already passed all the bounds of decency. The video’s dire predictions of one million citizens of Israel becoming a drain on society were not only insolent, but pure incitement. In total, there are only 40,000 students in the chareidi school system. Then there was the endless mantra of “Who will support them?” It was the usual Yesh Atid propaganda.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that studying the core curriculum is no guarantee of success, and Lapid himself is evidence of that. Lapid looks like a million dollars, knows how to write, is a master of the media, and probably studied the core curriculum, yet he was a dismal failure as the country’s finance minister. Everything he touched simply fell apart. There was no finance minister in the history of Israel who was more inept and despised than Lapid. On the flip side, the lack of a core curriculum does not guarantee failure, and Yaakov Litzman is a prime example. I am not certain if Litzman sounds better in English, but in Hebrew he is a poor speaker, and his screen presence is highly unimpressive. Nevertheless, no one denies that he is a success story. He has been receiving widespread acclaim for years, and he is considered the paragon of an accomplished minister.

Expanding the Knesset Shul

Every year during the Knesset’s summer recess, renovations are carried out in the building. During the three months of vacation, the employees of the Knesset spend their days on the job as usual, although there isn’t much work for them to do. The Knesset has almost 700 regular employees who are not affiliated with the lawmakers themselves or with any government ministers. These workers include gardeners, electricians, stenographers, ushers, and security guards.

There is one thing about the Knesset that is very nice: Every employee feels that he is part of a large family. Everyone who works in the Knesset, from the legal advisor of a Knesset committee to the average worker in the printing department, feels a sense of connection to his fellow employees. The Knesset printing department, I should add, is deserving of an article in its own right. Most of the department’s members wear yarmulkas; one of them even lives in Mattersdorf. It is one of the most widely admired departments of the Knesset, providing services to everyone affiliated with the parliament, and it is also one of the most efficient departments. The Knesset saves huge sums of money by having all its printing work done within the building itself.

The sense of family among the Knesset members is even more pronounced among those who are religious. This is something that is evident at the tefillos in the Knesset every day. Dozens of employees daven in the Knesset shul every day. On a regular workday in the Knesset, they are joined by the parliamentarians themselves and their aides. It is very pleasant to watch as the Knesset speaker sits among everyone else at the daily minyanim, without the slightest pretense of superiority. Things were not always that way.

The Knesset shul is one of the parts of the building that will be renovated this summer. It will be expanded significantly, and a removable wall will be installed so that it can be enlarged even further when necessary. We have been asking for this expansion for years, but our requests have gone unheeded. This year, it is finally underway. That is what happens when the Knesset speaker is one of the mispallelim in the shul.

Now, where do you suppose the aron kodesh will be kept during the renovations? That’s right: in my office.

Mysterious Guests

I have no explanation for the following story: Last Wednesday, I noticed a group of imposing-looking men in the Knesset. Of course, I wanted to know who they were and why they were there, but the guards accompanying them could tell me only that they were going to the offices of the Kulanu party, which is headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon. My curiosity – or perhaps my sense of mission – grew even more intense.

I asked if they were guests from America, hoping that I would have another story to share with the readers of the Yated. The guards confirmed my guess, but that was still not enough for me to surmise their identities. Next, I turned to an usher for information: In the Knesset building, the ushers receive a list of every group of visitors scheduled to arrive each day, and the usher whom I questioned told me that they were members of Congress or of the Senate.

Who were they meeting with? The usher didn’t know. He knew only that they had been scheduled to meet in the Zionist Camp’s offices, but at the last minute the delegation was sent to the offices of the Kulanu party instead. But who were they? And whom were they meeting? I took a picture of the group, and one of the men immediately approached me and politely requested, in American-accented Hebrew, that I refrain from taking pictures. Naturally, that caused my curiosity levels to rise even further – along with my suspicion. Were these men Reform Jews? Were they Christians? Who were they scheduled to meet, and why were they so concerned about my photographing them?

Ultimately, I learned that they were meeting with MK Omer Bar-Lev, a member of the Zionist Camp party with close ties to the Reform movement. Still, I had no idea what had prompted the meeting. I called Bar-Lev’s aide, who did not know the name of a single one of his guests, although he knew that they were Republicans. When I pressed him for more information, he told me that he didn’t know the purpose of the meeting. There was audible strain in his voice in response to my call.

So, as you can see, I have no information to share – other than the accompanying picture.

Looking Out for Lost Soldiers

One final note from the Knesset: Last week, there was a series of ceremonies and events marking the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. These events, which were attended by all the highest-ranking government and army officials, included a special discussion in the Knesset. During that discussion, the subject of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul was raised.

Goldin and Shaul were the two soldiers lost in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge two years ago. They are presumed to have been killed, but their bodies are still in the possession of Hamas, which appears to be using them as a deplorable type of bargaining chips. Last Wednesday, at the end of the day, MK Yoav Ben-Tzur submitted a motion for the agenda concerning the two soldiers. Not a single government official responded. Actually, we had known all along that that would be the case; the government has already made it clear that it has nothing to say on the subject. As a sign of protest, Ben-Tzur announced that he would speak for only two of the ten minutes allotted to him.

“Mr. Speaker,” he began, “the motion for the agenda on this subject was prompted by the solidarity visit paid by our friend, Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen, the deputy finance minister, to the Shaul family’s tent. There are no words that can fully express the pain, the anger, the grief, and the yearning that Zahava and Herzl Shaul feel in the absence of their son. The same is true of Leah and Simcha Goldin, the parents of Hadar. Oron and Hadar were heroes of Operation Protective Edge. They were kedoshim and tehorim. No words can describe the feelings of their mothers or the frustrations of their fathers. Mr. Speaker, I am very saddened by this. But another reason that I am speaking so briefly is that there is no minister responding to me. I think, to say the least, that that is a bizarre decision. The brevity of my words is, among other things, a sign of my protest against that. Gentlemen, allow me to quote Zahava Shaul’s words: ‘I am addressing the government of Israel and the man who heads it. The situation as it has been until now cannot continue. For a year and a half, nothing has happened. This must change, even if it requires a change in our thinking and our strategy, or it demands action. I am not qualified to offer suggestions, but I have no doubt that we must think differently and we must do everything possible to see to it that Oron and Hadar return home.’ These words were spoken by Zahava Shaul, Oron’s mother, who is a heroic and long-suffering woman. My friends and Mr. Speaker, I ask all of you to give encouragement to the parents and families of Oron and Hadar, to embrace them and tell them that our hearts are with them. Thank you very much.”

A ferocious response came from Oren Hazan, a member of the Likud party who is constantly at odds with Prime Minister Netanyahu. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “my colleague, Knesset member Yoav, remarked that it is ‘bizarre’ that there is no representative of the government in the plenum to respond to his motion for the agenda. But I think that it is much worse than that. I think that it is simply a disgrace that the government of Israel is acting with such contempt and prolonging the pain of these families, literally adding insult to injury. Mr. Prime Minister, if you are listening to me, I want you to know that all of us are keeping you in the position that you hold. All of us are at your side – at least all of us within your own party – in the face of the constant smear campaigns against you. I am now asking you to be at the side of the Shaul and Goldin families in the same way. We cannot allow ourselves to relate to them with such disdain. It is unacceptable that the State of Israel attests that it is fighting terror, while at the same time it is transferring millions of dollars in compensation even to Hamas, albeit indirectly, while our sons and brothers, some of the best youths of this country, are languishing in enemy hands, their fates unknown.”

The Ambassador and the Secretary of State

Bamachaneh, the official magazine of the IDF, which I assume has no parallel in any other country, has dedicated an entire issue to the subject of the Second Lebanon War. There were two items in the issue that I felt were worthy of quoting here. One was an article by Danny Ayalon, who served as the Israeli ambassador to Washington at the time. In the article, Ayalon describes his dealings during the war with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and with Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor of the United States. At one point, Ayalon relates that he received a phone call from Dan Harel, the IDF military attaché in Washington, when he was in the middle of an interview. “I went out during the commercial break,” Ayalon says, “and I was shocked when Harel told me that we had a shortage of bombs and that the Americans couldn’t release armaments to us because Rice hadn’t signed for them.” In those days, Israel received its armaments from American military aid. When Ayalon approached her, Rice claimed that she hadn’t seen the form on her desk, and she signed for the release of the weapons.

“We were successful that time,” Ayalon continues, “but if we had needed to ask for another shipment from the Americans, it would have been much more difficult. Right after that conversation with the secretary of state, there was the incident in Kfar Kana when a stray IDF bombshell struck the village and killed dozens of civilians. Condoleezza Rice was very angered by that, and her entire attitude toward the fighting changed dramatically after that incident. The pressure on us to reach a ceasefire increased dramatically.”

Another article was written by Lieutenant Colonel Giora Levi, who had been the commanding officer of Lieutenant Colonel Emanuel Moreno, one of the soldiers killed during the war. “I was angered by the fact that they didn’t wait until the next day to bury him,” Levi relates. “I felt that a hero like Emanuel should have received a funeral during the daytime, so that everyone could attend… When I got to Yerushalayim that night, I was shocked to see that the entire city was at a standstill. The roads were filled with thousands of people on their way to Har Herzl to pay Emanuel their final respects. All the security officials were there, as were all the commanders of our unit throughout its history.”

Levi relates that Moreno was the type of soldier who was known to volunteer for every task. He also describes when the seeds of his admiration for Moreno were first planted: when he was among the soldiers who captured Mustafa Dirani in his home. “In general,” Levi relates, “when you invade a house, with all the commotion and adrenaline that go along with that, you tend to be quick on the trigger. The slightest suspicious movement can evoke a volley of gunshots. But when Emanuel led a group of soldiers into Dirani’s home, his wife began screaming as they burst into the house. Many people would have shot her instantly upon hearing her screams, but Emanuel saw that she wasn’t dressed appropriately, and he quickly covered her in order to preserve her dignity. I have commanded many excellent soldiers,” Levi concludes, “and I don’t know how many of them would have been capable of acting that way.”0

Moreno, incidentally, is one of the few fallen soldiers of the IDF – and perhaps the only one – whose picture is not allowed to be published, even ten years after his death.

Encounter with the Lev Simcha in Lakewood

In conclusion, let us take another trip down memory lane. Two weeks ago, we marked the yahrtzeit of the Lev Simcha, Rav Simcha Bunim of Ger zt”l, who passed away in 1992. The Lev Simcha was a remarkable rebbe with a heart of gold. He was widely loved, and he cared deeply for his chassidim. The Lev Simcha also pioneered the practice of chareidim moving out of their established population centers in Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim. He sent his chassidim to live in Arad, Ashdod, Chatzor, and other places as well, but before sending his followers to live in those far-flung locales, he saw to it that chareidi enclaves that would offer everything a chareidi family would need would be established. The entire chareidi community of Israel is deeply indebted to him.

Every year, on the Lev Simcha’s yahrtzeit, I remember one of my greatest missed opportunities. It took place when I was learning in Lakewood, where I spent just a few months before relocating to the Yeshiva of South Fallsburg. I had a brother in Lakewood who was a well-known yungerman and had a close relationship with the rosh yeshiva. My brother was a tremendous masmid and spent many hours learning in one of the small rooms in the yeshiva. In those days, the entire yeshiva was housed in a single building. My brother later moved to Flatbush to live near his father-in-law, Reb Reuven Shimon Beck zt”l, who was also the father-in-law of Rav Gershon Bess, well-known rov in Los Angeles. Reb Reuven was Rav Avigdor Miller’s right-hand man and the gabbai in his shul on Ocean Parkway. At the time, it was he who recorded and distributed Rav Miller’s shiurim on cassette.

My brother was a close friend of another Israeli who lived in Lakewood, Reb Moshe Solomon, who managed a hotel of sorts. His policy was to offer free food and lodging to anyone who had nowhere to stay and no money to pay for his accommodations. It was certainly impossible for him to run a profitable business that way. I was one of the many guests who were invited to eat in the hotel dining room free of charge.

It was there that I saw the Lev Simcha. This took place in 1980, when he had already become the rebbe of Ger. He assumed the mantle of leadership in 1977 after the passing of his brother, the Bais Yisroel. The Lev Simcha was alone in the hotel, unaccompanied by any entourage or even a single gabbai. He had come to visit a relative who was staying there alone. He spent several days there, and I was told that he came every year. Throughout this time, I was only a few steps away from him, yet it never occurred to me to approach him – or perhaps I was too timid to do so. I have no doubt that the Lev Simcha would have agreed if I had requested an opportunity to ask him a few questions. He might even have been glad to engage in a brief conversation with a Litvishe bochur from Eretz Yisroel. To this day, I regret the missed opportunity. I still carry the image of the Lev Simcha in my heart. To think that I didn’t even take a picture of him in the hotel!

Allow me to conclude with a vort from the Lev Simcha himself. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we daven to Hashem, “Kasveinu b’sefer hachaim lemaancha Elokim chaim – Inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, G-d of life.” The Lev Simcha read the phrase differently. He shifted the comma one word over, so that it read, “Kasveinu b’sefer hachaim lemaancha – Inscribe us in the Book of those who live for Your sake.” In his view, it was a tefillah to be numbered among those who live for the purpose of serving Hashem. And that was exactly the way he lived his own life.

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