Good News Friday – Pollard comes home!

This week’s Good News Friday post simply HAS to focus on the amazing – and far too belated – return of Jonathan Pollard to Israel.

Jonathan and Esther Pollard kiss the ground as they land in Israel on 30th December 2020

If you want to know the background to the Jonathan Pollard case, you can read all that I have written about him at this link here.

Here is a very short potted history. He was a naval analyst in the US Navy who passed on security secrets to Israel – information that SHOULD have been passed on to Israel by the US security forces as agreed by the two countries, but the US, for whatever nefarious reasons, refused to do so. Of course Pollard broke American law, and he was caught, after being shamefully abandoned by a very embarrassed Israel, and put on trial. The sentence he received was far above and beyond any sentence ever received by any spy, even for a hostile nation, not to mention for an ally. He served every single minute of the 30 years sentence, was not allowed out for his father’s funeral, spent several years in solitary confinement, and was altogether disgracefully mistreated by the US.

After his release 5 years ago, he was still treated like a dangerous criminal, with a 7pm curfew, an electronic ankle bracelet, and was not allowed to leave his apartment or his neighbourhood at all, never mind come to Israel.

But now, since his parole has ended, and President Trump is leaving office, without any fanfare or advance information, Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther landed in Israel on Wednesday morning.

PM Netanyahu joyfully greets Jonathan Pollard as he lands in Israel, Dec 30 2020

As the pilots prepared to land, Pollard was called to enter the cockpit, where he was able to hear the Ben-Gurion International Airport control tower welcome him to Israel in Hebrew.

Pollard, who was convicted for spying for Israel while working as a naval intelligence officer in the 1980s, received Israeli citizenship during his stay at the North Caroline prison, where he was held until the parole committee agreed to release him in 2015. He was prohibited from leaving the country for five years following his release.

Due to Esther’s medical condition, the Pollards chose to fly by private plane directly from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Tel Aviv. The date for the flight was selected to allow her to continue her medical treatments. The Pollards thanked everyone who continues to pray for her recovery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pollard and his wife upon their arrival.

A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said the two recited the Shehecheyanu prayer, as Netanyahu presented the Pollards with their Israeli IDs.

“Welcome home. It’s so good to finally see you here,” Netanyahu said. “Now you can start over and live your lives free and happy. You are now home.”

A visibly emotional Pollard said, “We’re excited to finally be home after 35 years. We thank the Israeli people and the Israeli prime minister for bringing us home. No one is as proud of this country and its leader as we are.

“We hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible and move on with our lives. This is a great country with a bright future. [Israel] is the future of the Jewish people and we’re not going anywhere.”

Watch this very moving video as the Pollards kneel down and kiss the ground of Eretz Yisrael as they get off the plane:

It was both a pity and good luck that he landed in the middle of Israel’s 3rd lockdown at 5 in the morning. For both reasons, the roads and the airport were empty. The only person welcoming Pollard was PM Binyamin Netanyahu.

It was a pity of course because he should have had crowds lining the streets, waving flags and welcoming him home.

But for political reasons, so as not to antagonize the Americans and the new Democratic administration even more, it was probably best that the whole arrival was very low key.

Popular commentator Sivan Rahav Meir had the following very relevant comment to make about Jonathan Pollard’s return: (translation is mine):

אם להתעורר לפנות בוקר, אז לחדשות כאלה: בחמש בבוקר החלו להתפרסם התמונות של יונתן פולארד נוחת בישראל. מה היה כל כך מרגש ברגע הזה?
1. פולארד ירד מכבש המטוס, ואז סימן לראש הממשלה שבא לקבל את פניו להמתין רגע, עם כל הכבוד, ולפני הכל נישק את אדמת ארץ ישראל. מעבר לסיפור הפוליטי, המדיני, מעבר לאינטרסים של נתניהו וטראמפ, זה סיפור של יהודי שחוזר הביתה.
2. רגע, חוזר הביתה? הוא הרי אמריקני מבטן ומלידה, וזה בדיוק הסיפור. אלי ויזל אמר פעם שיהודי לא צריך להיות בארץ ישראל כדי לקרוא לה בית. בפרשת השבוע, פרשת “ויחי”, כותב רש”י על רחל אמנו, שמחכה עד היום לכל אחד מבניה, לכל מיליוני הפולארדים שעדיין פזורים בעולם, עד לקיום ההבטחה: “ושבו בנים לגבולם”.
3. פולארד עשה עוד משהו בשניות הראשונות שלו בישראל, לפני הנשיקה לקרקע: הוריד את המסיכה. בסוף, אחרי 35 שנים של ציפייה, הוא מגיע הנה בעיצומה של מגיפה עולמית קטלנית. מי היה מאמין שכך תיראה ההגעה שלו לכאן, בלי חיבוק אחד אמיץ שאפשר לחבק אותו. במקום להמשיך יחד עם אלפי אנשים אל עצרת תפילה חגיגית בכותל, הוא יצא ישר לבידוד ביתי. אולי טוב שכך, מבחינת היחסים שלנו מול האמריקאים.
4. אז אפשר להתעסק עם השאלה למה בכלל ריגל (ההאשמה פה אינה נגדו, ברגע שישראל חתמה איתו על הסכם – יש לה אחריות כלפיו) ואפשר לדבר על הנזק ליחסים עם ידידתנו הקרובה (סביר להניח שלא יופעלו עוד פולארדים). בשורה התחתונה, אדם שהפך לסמל, שבמשך 35 שנים התפללו עליו (יש נערים ונערות, בעיקר בציונות הדתית, שהקדישו את מיטב שנותיהם למען “יהונתן בן מלכה”), אדם שהקריב ושילם מחיר כבד, שלא זכה להביא ילדים לעולם – יוצא כעת לחירות.
5. ואז הגיעו המילים של פולארד עצמו. “זו מדינה נהדרת”, אמר האיש בלי להתלונן שהופקר, שהושאר מחוץ לשגרירות, שנשכח. “אנחנו רוצים להיות אזרחים פרודוקטיביים”, אמר, והזכיר לנו שזה לא סוף פרשת פולארד, כפי שהכריזו חלק מהכותרות, זוהי ההתחלה. פולארד מתחיל כעת את החיים שרצה. “יש למדינה עתיד מזהיר, היא העתיד של העם היהודי”, הוא המשיך. חשבנו שהנאומים הפוליטיים החשובים מגיעים בשמונה בערב, לפעמים אפילו בקצב של שניים במקביל, אבל מתברר שהנאום הכי חשוב לתקופה הזו נישא בחמש בבוקר בנתב”ג. נאום פשוט שמזכיר, בימים של פילוגים וסכסוכים פוליטיים מכוערים, שיש לנו סיפור משותף.

If we have to wake up early in the morning, then at least it’s for news like this: at 5 in the morning pictures started to be published of Jonathan Pollard landing in Israel. What was so exciting about that?

  1. Pollard descended from the plane and then signaled to the prime minister, who had come to greet him, to wait for him, with all due respect, and before everything else he kissed the ground of Eretz Yisrael. Beyond the political story, the diplomatic one, beyond Netanyahu’s and Trump’s interests, this is a story of a Jew who returned home.

  2. Wait a minute, came home? He is after all a born and bred American, and this is precisely the story. Eli Wiesel once said that a Jew doesn’t need to to be in Israel in order to call it home. In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayechi, Rashi writes about our Foremother Rachel, who waits until today for all of her children, for all the millions of Pollards that are still dispersed throughout the world, until the promise is fulfilled “And the sons shall return to their borders”.

  3. Pollard did something else in his first seconds in Israel. Before kissing the ground, he removed his mask. After 35 years of waiting, he arrives here in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. Who would have believed that this is how his arrival would look! Without one brave embrace. Instead of parading with thousands of people to a celebratory prayer at the Kotel he went straight to home quarantine. Maybe its best like that, considering our relations with the Americans.

  4. So we can discuss the question of why did he spy at all (the accusation is not against him. The minute Israel signed on an agreement with him, it had a responsibility towards him) and we can talk about the damage to our relations with our close friends (we can assume there won’t be any more Pollards). Bottom line, the man who became a symbol, who for 35 years people prayed for him (there are young boys and girls, especially in the religious Zionist circle, who have dedicated the best of their years for “Yonatan Ben Malka”), a man who sacrificed and paid a very heavy price, who has not merited to bring children into the world – has now come out free.

  5. And then came Pollard’s own words: “This is a wonderful country” said the man without complaining that he had been abandoned, that he was left outside the embassy, forgotten. “We want to be productive citizens” he said and mentioned that this is not the ned of the Pollard story as the headlines declared, this is the beginning. Pollard now begins his life as he wishes. “This country has a glorious future, it is the future of the Jewish people” he continued. We thought that important political stories are broadcast at 8 pm, sometimes even two in parallel, but it turns out that the most important speech of this period was delivered at 5 am at Ben Gurion airport. A simple speech, that reminds us, in these days of divisiveness and ugly politics, that we have a common story.

What beautiful words, both from Sivan and from Jonathan Pollard.

Welcome home Jonathan and Esther! May you have an easy klita and may Esther have a refuah shlema.

ברוכים הבאים. ושבו בנים לגבולם.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Posted in International relations, Israel news, support Israel | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Good News Friday

It’s a strange Friday-Shabbat this week, from the sadness of Asara BeTevet to the happiness of Shabbat, and it’s a bit discombobulating (I love that word!) to add some good news to the mix.

It’s also a very short day as Shabbat begins so early in the middle of winter.

But there is excellent news – even as Israel heads into its third (and hopefully last) lockdown starting on Sunday, Israel rapidly rolls out its corona vaccination campaign.

An Israeli medical worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

We began this week with the over-60s (including myself and most of my family) and health-care workers, and will hopefully soon begin vaccinating education system workers. Residents of old age homes and nursing homes will also be receiving the vaccine in the coming week. Israel is second (at the moment) in the world in the number of vaccines administered per 100 population.

In fact fears of low vaccine demand were turned on their head as vaccination centers and health fund call centers were overwhelmed by demand:

Israel was expected to end the fourth day of the vaccine campaign that began Sunday with more than 150,000 residents having been immunized. The number of vaccination centers and vaccines administered are doubling every few days. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced Wednesday that hospitals will operate vaccine centers beginning next week, further increasing immunization capacity.

By next week, some 200 immunization sites should be operating around the country. The HMOs have plans to operate mobile vaccination clinics that will travel to isolated communities and people unable to leave their homes.

The government announced they hope that Israel will achieve herd immunity by Pesach!

Israel’s vaccination drive is off to a flying start, getting shots to the population much faster than the United Kingdom, which was the first Western country to ask citizens to roll up their sleeves.

“The eve of Passover is almost three and a half months from now and I have no doubt that we will be able to celebrate the Seder with our families because of the vaccine,” said Jonathan Halevy, president of of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, in a press briefing this week.

“Before mid-April a critical mass of the Israeli population will be vaccinated, which will lead to herd immunity,” he predicted.

Last Passover was spend under strict lockdown and people were banned from celebrating with families, in what many Israelis considered a psychological low point of the pandemic.

After Britain and Israel comes the United States, which started vaccinating on Monday and has injected 0.19% of the population.

I hope they are not being over-optimistic, but certainly by the spring or early summer we can hope that the worst of the pandemic will be behind us.

This is wonderful news to take us into Shabbat. On that note I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!  💐

Posted in Slice of Israeli life, Technology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The fast of Asara BeTevet

The fast of the 10th of Tevet, Asara beTevet, falls today. It is a unique fast in that it is the only fast day that is not brought forward or deferred if it falls on a Friday.

On Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet, in the year 3336 from Creation (425 BCE), the armies of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. Asarah B’Tevet (this year, December 25, 2020) is observed as a day of fasting, mourning and repentance.

Even today, our enemies are still out to destroy us. This week, Esther Horgan Hy’d, a 52 year old woman from the community of Tal Menashe in Northern Samaria, went out for a jog in the nearby Shaked Forest near her home – and was murdered by an evil terrorist.

Esther Horgan Hy’d

Speaking to Army Radio on Monday, chairman of the Tal Menashe security committee Eliezer Roth, said that Horgan’s “entire life was devoted to peace and protecting the families. An attractive woman, who was physically active, who went to work out in a beautiful forest, completely sure she would return home.”

According to Roth, “For people who like to work out, running the forest is a completely routine thing to do. Her husband, Binyamin, told me, ‘We’ve been here for 20 years, we’ll stay here this is our place.'”

“The couple has six children, the youngest of whom is 13. The others are older, and some are married. They are good people, immigrants from France who arrived in Israel at a young age. Zionists, with a nice family,” Roth said.

Chair of the Tal Menashe council Rotem Hania, who lives near Horgan, said, “This is a difficult morning for us. Our community is quiet and we live in peace with the communities around us. Esther was an artist and a couples counselor. A happy, smiling woman who left a good feeling wherever she went. Two or three times a week she went to work out in the nearby forest. The entire community, including the children, go there to run. This is a very unusual incident and we’re all very surprised at what happened. They won’t break us. Our community is strong and united, and with all the difficulties, with God’s help, we will overcome.”

What a huge loss to her family, her community and to our nation! May Esther’s family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The terrorist murderer was caught today, but that is scant comfort to anyone.

Asara BeTevet is also marked as Yom HaKaddish HaClali, the Jewish day of mourning for those whose graves are not known. It has become something of a religious parallel to the National Holocaust Memorial Day which is marked after Pesach.

A fascinating story of Holocaust survival, which ties right in to this very day, was told to us this week. I am translating from a Hebrew WhatsApp message that has been doing the rounds. First the Hebrew, and then the English translation:

שישים אלף יהודים היו בסלוניקי שביוון ערב פרוץ מלחמת העולם השניה. קהילה יהודית חיה ותוססת. רוב הסוורים בנמל סלוניקי היו יהודים. והנמל בסלוניקי היה סגור בשבת קודש. גדולי עולם היו הרבנים שם- ביניהם הראשון לציון הרב מאיר חי עוזיאל.

על הקהילה המפוארת הזו עלה הכורת הנאצי באכזריות.

היטלר כבש את יוון בסערה כדי להבטיח את האגף הדרומי שלו לפני פתיחת מבצע ברברוסה והמתקפה נגד ברית המועצות.

מתוך שישים אלף יהודי סלוניקי- הושמדו בבירקנאו כחמישים אלף. בזמן קצר ביותר – כשאיתם צועד רבם – הרב חיים חביב. הרב האחרון של סלוניקי

מעט ניצלו.

ביניהם משפחת בורלה. שהסתתרה.

אחרי המלחמה בשנת 1961 נולד למשפחת בורלה בן. ויקרא שמו בישראל- אברהם. או אלברט.

אלברט גדל ולמד וטרינריה. את הדוקטורט שלו בביוטכנולוגיה של הרבייה קיבל מבית הספר הווטרינרי של “אוניברסיטת אריסטוטלס של סלוניקי . בגיל 34 עבר לארצות הברית. הוא נישא לאשה יהודיה בשם מרים ונולדו לו שני ילדים.

בארצות הברית השתלב בורלה בתעשיית הרפואה. התקדם מהר מאוד והצטרף לחברת פייזר שם מילא את תפקיד ‘ ראש החיסונים העולמי’.

משם הדרך קצרה למינויו למנכל חברת פייזר בשנת 2019.

לאורך השנה הוביל בורלה את מאמצי החברה למציאת חיסון לקורונה במאמצי על.

את החיסון שיציל חיים של מליוני בני אדם בעולם הוביל ודחף יהודי. בן לניצולי שואה . מסלוניקי.

החיסון שלו יגיע גם לגרמניה. בה אלפי מתים. ויציל גם שם חיים.

י יהודים אוהבים חיים.

וזה אולי נר הנשמה הכי משמעותי שאפשר להדליק השנה לכבוד יום הקדיש הכללי שיחול בעשרה בטבת.

📌 הרב איל ורד


Sixty thousand Jews were in Salonika, Greece, on the eve of the Second World War. There was a lively Jewish community. Most of the stevedores at the Salonika docks were Jews, and the Salonika port was closed on the Jewish Sabbath. The Rabbis who lived there were giants of the Jewish world, amongst them the first Israeli Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Meir Chai Uziel.

The Nazi destroyer descended upon this glorious Jewish community with cruelty.

Hitler speedily conquered Greece in order to secure his southern flank before embarking on Operation Barbarossa and the attack against the USSR.

50,000 Salonika Jews out of the 60,000 were murdered in Birkenau, in an extremely short time. They were accompanied by their Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Chaviv, the last Rabbi of Salonika.

Very few survived. Amongst those was family Bourla who went into hiding.

After the war, in 1961, a son was born to the Bourlas, and his Hebrew name was pronounced – Avraham. Or Albert.

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer

Albert grew up and studied veterinary science. He received his doctorate in the biotechnology of reproduction from Salonika’s Aristotle University. At the age of 34 he moved to the USA. He married a Jewish woman called Miriam and they had two children.

In the USA Bourla integrated into the medical industry. He advanced very quickly and joined the Pfizer company, where he served as the head of global vaccinations.

From there the way was short to his becoming the CEO of Pfizer in 2019.

All through this year Bourla has been leading the company’s supreme efforts to find a vaccine against the coronavirus.

The vaccine which will save the lives of millions of people around the world was led and pushed by a Jewish man. The son of Holocaust survivors. From Salonika.

His vaccine will also reach Germany, where thousands have died. And it will save lives there too.

Because Jews love life.

And this is perhaps the most meaningful memorial candle that is possible to light this year in honour of the day of national Kaddish which falls on the 10th of Tevet.

– Rabbi Eyal Vered.

This story gives me shivers and yet is so incredibly inspiring. And its central message – because Jews love life – is what inspires us to keep on going even in the face of unspeakable tragedy. It explains how we have survived as a nation over thousands of years of persecution and displacement, and explains how we thrive today in the face of implacable enemies.

May the memory of all those killed because they are Jews be for a blessing.

יהי זכרם ברוך.

Posted in Israel news, Judaism, Technology, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wishing Merry Christmas to my Christian friends

An empty Manger Square in Bethlehem in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic

I would like to wish all my Christian readers and friends a (slightly belated) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May 2021 be a year of good health, peace, happiness and prosperity for all of us. May this cursed plague be gone from us, and may we all be able to return to a semblance of normality in 2021, without the spectre of the coronavirus hanging over us.

The skies seem to agree with our prayers, and in a very unusual occurrence, Saturn and Jupiter “touched” each other on Monday, a display that won’t be seen again until 2080:

Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen in the sky, December 21, 2020, above Edgerton, Kansas. The two planets are in their closest observable alignment since 1226. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The solar system’s two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, came within planetary kissing range in Monday’s evening sky, an intimacy that will not occur again until 2080.

This “great conjunction,” as it is known to astronomers, occurred fortuitously on the winter solstice for those in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of summer in the global south.

The last time Jupiter and Saturn nuzzled up this close was in 1623, but weather conditions in regions where the reunion could be seen blocked the view.

Visibility was apparently better the time before that during the Middle Ages, on March 4, 1226, to be precise.

Sadly the pandemic has kept visitors and worshippers away from Bethlehem and other Christian holy sites, but we must all pray that in the coming year we will be able to resume our prayer services in our synagogues, churches and mosques with full attendance on all our festivals.

Deprived of its usual tourist influx by the pandemic, Bethlehem will celebrate a quiet Christmas this year that is less about commerce and more about religion, says its parish priest.

In a normal year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flood the Palestinian city in the West Bank, located less than 10 kilometers (six miles) from Jerusalem.

Police wearing face masks stand guard as the faithful take part in Sunday mass in the Church of the Nativity, in tBethlehem, on December 20, 2020 after it was re-opened for prayers following strict COVID-19 restrictions. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

While the lack of visitors has been devastating for business owners, it has also offered a rare opportunity for solemn worship, said Father Rami Asakrieh, Bethlehem’s parish priest.

“Sometimes there are more than half [a] million people who arrive in this period to visit the Nativity Church,” he said.

But with coronavirus restrictions making travel to Bethlehem all but impossible for foreign worshippers, the Church of the Nativity has been eerily calm in the days before Christmas.

Under the Grotto of the Nativity, the recitation of Armenian prayers by four monks echoed clearly through the basilica deserted of its typical throngs of visitors.

The Christmas Eve mass on Thursday, regarded as the most important annual event at the church, will be closed to the public.

‘Heartache and pain’

Not even representatives of the Palestinian Authority will come to Bethlehem on December 24, Asakrieh said.

“It has never happened before,” he explained, citing only past restrictions imposed during the First and Second Intifadas.

“I think that this Christmas is different because people are not busy with the external manifestations of the feast,” the priest said, referring to the gift-buying that has, for many, become synonymous with Christmas.

“Now [people] have the time, and they are obligated, to concentrate on the essential… the theological spirit of Christmas,” he said. “Less business, but more religion.”

This year, business is not as usual, as PM Binyamin Netanyahu sent Christmas greetings emphasising the new “outbreak” of peace in the Middle East:

I echo the PM’s greetings and I wish all my Christian friends a peaceful, joyful festive season and I wish Merry Christmas to all those celebrating!

Posted in International relations, Israel news | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Good News Friday – Shabbat Chanukah edition

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these posts, and while I don’t promise to be going back to making this a regular feature, I am delighted to feel “the muse” awaken within me.

It’s the first day of Chanukah today, and soon we’ll begin Shabbat Chanukah. Despite the restrictions of Covid, the government – after dithering and changing its mind – decided against a lockdown, so we are off to our son for Shabbat, which is going to fun (if noisy!).

This year’s Chanukah takes place against a strange but wonderful mix of events. The strange part of course is corona/covid. Who dreamt last year that one year hence we would be in the middle of a pandemic? In fact it’s looking likely that we might be approaching the end of the pandemic with the arrival in Israel of the first batch of vaccines. If these vaccines work, and if they are safe, and if people agree to be vaccinated – a lot of ifs I know – then the light at the ned of the tunnel is rapidly approaching, and thank G-d and all the diligent researchers and scientists and human volunteer guinea pigs for that.

The wonderful news begins here. Once again, just in time for Chanukah, an archaeological discovery made in the 1980s has just been brought to light again – a Menorah engraved on what was possibly  Hasmonean era tomb: 

In the 1980s, during a survey initiated by the Staff Office for Archaeology in Judea and Samaria, a graffito of a seven-branched menorah at the entrance to a tomb on the outskirts of the Arab village of Mukhmas was discovered. The finding was archived at the Staff Office Archaeology Unit and has been brought to light by Dr. Dvir Raviv of Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, most recently in a paper published in the archaeology and history journal In the Highland’s Depth.

one of the menorahs drawn in cistern at al-‘Aliliyat cliffs near Mukhmas. / Boaz Langford

The menorah engraving found in Mukhmas dates back to the period between the Hasmonean era and the Bar-Kokhba revolt and is considered a rare and unique find, as decorative use of the Temple menorah was rare during this period. The most prominent examples found to date include depictions of the menorah on coins of the Hasmonean ruler Mattathias Antigonus, on objects and remnants from Jerusalem, on a stone table in Magdala north of Tiberias, and the Arch of Titus in Rome.

he depictions of menorahs found on the outskirts of Mukhmas and the mention of Mikhmas (currently the village of Mukhmas) in the Mishnah as the place from which selected semolina wheat was brought to the Temple (Mishnah Menahot 8:1) may indicate that a priestly population lived there during the Second Temple period. Additionally, Mikhmas is mentioned as the dwelling place of Jonathan the Hasmonean, where he began to establish his status in Judea after the death of his brother Judah Maccabee (1 Maccabees 9:73).

I know we don’t need proof of our long connection to the Land of Israel but it is nice when we find that proof anyway!

Meanwhile, the rejection of Israel as a Jewish state is rapidly fading away as one Arab state after another is both recognizing Israel and renewing diplomatic and economic ties. In contrast to the cold peace reigning between Israel and both Egypt and Jordan, where the ties are diplomatic at most and do not extend to the street level, where the population expresses huge hostility to Israel and Israeli citizens, the new “peace breakout” between Israel and the Gulf States has been nothing short of miraculous! Israelis are flying out in droves to Bahrain and the UAE for shopping and touring, while there are many Arab tourists visiting Tel Aviv and other places.

Last night, in an unprecedented event, the Chanukah menorah was lit in Dubai in public!

Chanukah Menorah in Dubai

Adding to the burgeoning relations between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, and even Sudan, it was announced yesterday that Morocco too has agreed with Israel on restoring full ties as soon as possible:

Israel and Morocco have agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, US President Donald Trump announced Thursday, marking the fourth Arab-Israel agreement in four months.

(R-L) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Moroccan King Mohammed VI (Abir Sultan, Evan Vucci and Moroccan Royal Palace/AP)

As part of the announcement, Trump said that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region.

As his time in office winds down, Trump said Israel and Morocco would restore diplomatic and other relations, including the immediate opening of liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv and the eventual opening of embassies. US officials said it would also include joint overflight rights for airlines.

Channel 13 news reported that the White House is aiming to hold a ceremony to make the agreement official before Trump leaves office on January 20.

In their first reactions to Trump’s announcement later Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Moroccan King Mohammed VI lauded the latest normalization agreement.

“This will be a very warm peace. On this Hannukah, the light of peace has never shone brighter than today in the Middle East,” said Netanyahu at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. He said the relationship of the peoples of both countries “has long been characterized by sympathy, respect, fondness and love,” and praised King Mohammed’s “historic decision” to make peace.

King Mohammed said in a statement that Morocco would take three moves in the near future to advance relations.

First, there would be moves to facilitate direct flights to transport Jews of Moroccan origin and Israeli tourists to and from Morocco, he said.

Second, the North African nation will also seek to “resume official bilateral ties and diplomatic relations [with Israel] as soon as possible.”

Morocco will also seek “to develop innovative relationships in the economic and technological fields. As part of this goal, there will be work on renewing liaison offices in the two countries, as was the case in the past for many years, until 2002,” King Mohammed said.

The king thanked Trump for recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed region of Western Sahara.

Explaining the decision to normalize, King Mohammed cited among other reasons “the historical role that Morocco has played in bringing the peoples of the region together and supporting security and stability in the Middle East, and given the special ties that bind the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including those in Israel, to the person of His Majesty the King.”

No matter what you think of President Trump, we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to him for enabling this establishment of relations between Israel and so many Arab states. He has done more to create peace in the Middle East than all the other past US presidents combined, with all their legions of “peace processors”, talking shops and endless negotiations with the Palestinians that went nowhere.

Surely this Chanukah is a time of miracles?

May the lights of our Chanukah menorahs light up the world with peace and blessings for good health.

Wishing you all Shabbat shalom and Happy Chanukah!

!שבת שלום וחג אורים שמח

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Baruch dayan emet: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ztz”l

On motzei Shabbat this week we heard the extremely sad news that former UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks had passed away. He had only announced a couple of weeks before that he was suffering from cancer. To say that the world is in shock is an understatement.

Rabbi Sacks was not only the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of the UK, there were many times when he seemed to be the Chief Rabbi of Britain in its entirety. He was a voice of morality, integrity, reason, and amazing erudition. Yet he never allowed his erudition to appear patronizing, or above the heads of the audience he was addressing. His astonishing ability to connect with his audience, whoever they were and wherever they were, was one of his very rare talents.

He was prolific in his output, writing 20 books, producing weekly shiurim and discussions on the parshat hashavua, (the weekly Torah portion), on the festivals and more. His early death has cut off any further publications but he has left a deep and lasting legacy which we will all continue to learn and benefit from for generations.

This beautiful obituary in the Times of Israel blogs describes how Rabbi Sacks could connect to non-Jewish audiences as well as to his Jewish community.

We have lost our greatest teacher

Judaism has just lost its greatest teacher and the world has just lost the most important Jewish voice, one of the few that was able to address the concerns of all of humanity. In the flood of sound-bytes appreciating and commemorating Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, especially those uttered by Jewish spokespersons, he is recognized as very valuable, but one of many. I see things differently. He was unique, in a class of his own. He is irreplaceable. There is not a single personality in all of Jewry’s leadership worldwide who can fill the gap created by his departure. This is why his loss is so painful.

His true greatness lies beyond these specific manifestations of greatness. It is rooted in a comprehensive vision of Judaism and the world, in expansive knowledge both religious and secular-scientific, and above all in the uncanny ability to formulate a message of relevance that addresses simultaneously multiple audiences and therefore gives Judaism a relevance on the global stage in a way that no one else in recent memory (or ever?) was able to.

He was Judaism’s foremost ambassador, representative, public voice, thinker. Beyond the thousands of thoughts and dozens of key ideas, he was a model for how a deeply rooted Jewish message can speak to the entire world.

In every video he produced, and thank G-d he produced hundreds if not more, his humanity and humility come shining through.

Here are just two clips which resonated deeply with me, which demonstrate his love of Israel, his love of fellow man, and his ability to discuss deep philosophical questions in layman’s terms without patronizing or simplification.

This first clip is about his love of Israel:

And this is the second clip, just 90 seconds, which left me in tears:

His levaya in England was unfortunately held under Covid rules of limited numbers instead of being attended by thousands. You can see the hespedim (eulogies) at the graveside at Rabbi Sacks’ website.

But he will be mourned throughout the world and his loss is going to be felt by an entire generation.

May the memory of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, HaRav Ya’akov Zvi ben David Arieh z”l , be for a blessing, may he be a melitz yosher for all of us up in Heaven.

And may his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

יהי זכרו ברוך.


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