Good News Friday

After the sadness and hatred of the last week we need something sweet to take us into Shabbat, so here is my latest Good News Friday installment.

My first item is so perfectly timed for the week of Yom Hashoah, and is particularly heart warming. A group of German Christians are on their way to Israel by boat, bringing with them a replica of the golden Menorah depicted on Titus’s arch in Rome, the Menorah that was looted from the Bet Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago.

What makes this project even more relevant for this week of remembrance is that, according to the Hebrew article in Ynet (via Pini), some of the members of the Menorah Project are descendants of families belonging to the notorious SS who felt they wanted to make amends. From the JPost:

A group of 11 German Christians left on a boat for Israel on Monday, bringing with them a 120-kg. gilded menorah.

The full-size replica of the Temple candelabra measuring 150 cm. is being shipped from Germany to Haifa port via Rome to the port of Haifa. It will arrive on May 5, and be presented on May 9 at a ceremony in Jerusalem.

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Members of the Menorah Project with their model Menorah, standing by the Arch of Titus in Rome

The group of independent Germans, who call themselves simply “The Menorah Project,” said they have been working on the piece for a year and a half. They raised €120,000 in private donations to fund the initiative.

“The seven-branched menorah is a symbol of the State of Israel,” said Luca-Elias Hezel, who initiated the project. “For us, it is a symbol that speaks louder and more meaningful than all words.”

He said the menorah, modeled after the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, is being given to the Jewish people with “a broad heart and in solidarity” and as a gift on Israel’s 71st Independence Day.

On its website, the Menorah Project explains its vision: “As the Jewish people need to publicly deal with injustice and robbery, we want to publicly bring back the menorah from Rome to Jerusalem.”

Today, in Rome, one can still see a replica of the menorah at the Arch of Titus, which serves as a reminder of the Roman Empire’s triumph over the Jews in Judea and their conquest of Jerusalem. The Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 CE.

Watch this short, heart-warming video:

As the project members explain, the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago was the start of the current Exile and dispersion of the Jews (the Diaspora) which was accompanied by expulsions, torture, persecution, forced conversions and mass murder, culminating in the Shoah. Thank G-d the Exile is coming to an end as the State of Israel was established and gets stronger by the day.

This Menorah is yet another symbol of the times of Atchalta d’Geula (“footesteps of the Redemption”) in which we are living.

A huge kol hakavod to this great group of Christians for their wonderful project.

And now for something completely different, but also extremely uplifting.

A new member of the Knesset, Gadi Yevarkan of the opposition Blue and White party, who is of Ethiopian extraction, welcomed his mother to the Knesset in a most extraordinary and touching way, when he was sworn in:

Lawmaker Gadi Yevarkan of the Blue and White party on Tuesday kissed his mother’s feet in a show of gratitude upon taking the oath of office as a member of the 21st Knesset.

 

“I swore allegiance today to the State of Israel, as a Knesset member and to serve the people of Israel faithfully,” Yevarkan wrote on his Facebook page. “I was so moved today to see my mother at the Knesset and for me it’s a coming full circle.

“Words can’t describe her nobility. The least I could do was to kiss her feet and bless her: ‘Happy holiday, Mom,’” he wrote.

After kissing her feet, Yevarkan hugged his mother and escorted her into the Knesset, greeting Blue and White party No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon on the way”

This was such a touching moment it brought tears to my eyes. Sivan Rahav Meir, in her usual inimitable and inspiring way, brought a deeper understanding to this beautiful gesture:

Why is the photograph of new Knesset member Gadi Yevarkan kissing his mother’s feet so moving? Why, after a full day of ceremonies and speeches honoring the opening of the newest session of the Knesset, is this photograph especially seared into our memory? In the photograph you see a lawyer, a Knesset member, wearing a suit, kissing the feet of his elderly mother who is holding a stick and dressed in traditional Ethiopian garb. At the gates of the Knesset, Gadi did something that is not connected to political parties or legislation, but rather to spirit, culture, values, tradition.

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MK Gadi Yevarkan kisses his mother’s feet as she enters the Knesset

It’s true, most of us don’t kiss our parents’ feet like that, and that’s not exactly what must be learned from this photograph. In this era of crumbling boundaries and defiance of authority, the main message this photograph sends is this: we shouldn’t forget where we came from. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our roots, of our ethnic traditions. We owe a big thank you to the previous generation (as Gadi said yesterday: “All of this is thanks to my mother.”) Gadi is reminding us to behave towards the traditions of previous generations with humility rather than arrogance, with love rather than embarrassment. To speak not only about children’s rights, but also about children’s responsibilities.

“Be holy,” these are the words that open this week’s Torah portion, and what follows after is a series of instructions explaining how to attain that holiness we yearn for. Among others, these instructions include: “Every man should have awe for his mother and father,” “Rise up in the presence of a person with gray hair,” and “Show respect for the old.” It turns out that the way to the holiness, first of all, passes by way of our relationship to those who came before us.

Translated by JewishMOM.com

Kol hakavod to MK Yevarkan on his respectful attitude to his mother, and even more for his pride in his culture and heritage which will enrich Israeli culture and hopefully inspire all our Knesset members to act more respectfully to each other and to us!

And with these heart-lifting items I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Antisemitism, Israel news, Judaism, Slice of Israeli life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yom Hashoah 5779 – 2019

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Yom HaShoah

Yom Hashoah began at sundown this evening with the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem with torches lit in memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah.

The ceremony began with the lowering of the national flag to half-mast. During the ceremony, six Holocaust survivors — Bela Eisenman, Shaul Lobovich, Fani Ben Ami, Menachem Haberman, Sara Shapiro and Yehuda Maimon — will light a flame in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in World War II.

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The torchlighters at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Jerusalem

President Reuven Rivlin addressed the audience at the ceremony:

In his remarks, Rivlin referred to the recent increase in anti-Semitism in Europe saying: “With the end of World War Two, western Europe rebuilt itself anew as the negative (opposite) of old Europe. New Europe views itself as the lighthouse of democracy and liberalism. The European community has presented to the entire world a panorama of open borders, of cooperation, of human and civil rights.

“However, today, 80 years since the outbreak of WWII, we must look at the recent reality. Europe today, like parts of the world, is changing its face again,” continued Rivlin. “Europe today, has returned to being haunted by the ghosts of the past. Perceptions of superiority, nationalistic purity, xenophobia, blatant and murky anti-Semitism, from the Left and the Right, hovering across Europe.

Recent events confirm President Rivlin’s assertions. As the decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust we became lulled into a false sense of security: “surely the world will have learned its lesson” we thought to ourselves. “We have the State of Israel with its powerful army to protect us” we reassured ourselves.

Yes, we do have Israel and the IDF. but the world has learned the wrong lesson. It learned that it can cry crocodile tears for dead Jews but it can literally get away with murder of live Jews, and it is certainly permissible, even admirable in certain circles, to hate Jews with power, Jews with guns, Jews with a country and an army.

And what this has led to is a pretzel of twisted logic, where Jews around the world become the scapegoat for Israel’s perceived “crimes”, and where Israel is turned into the Jew amongst the nations, the only country in the world condemned ceaselessly for daring to defend itself when attacked, and for holding on to land it captured in a defensive war; the only country vilified for having a national religion and ethos. And because of that exaggerated demonisation of Israel, Jews around the world become its scapegoat – and thus the vicious circle goes round.

We have seen the incessant demonisation of Israel lead to the normalization of anti-Zionism and perverse Jew-baiting, such as the antisemitism rife in the British Labour Party, the US Democratic Party with its antisemitic female trifecta , and media outlets such as the New York Times with its revolting Nazi-like cartoons.

Much worse, we saw the murderous results of this vicious hostility this week with the antisemitic assault by a white supremacist on the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, in which Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered and several others, including the Rabbi, injured.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, himself injured in the attack, has courageously used his experience as a rallying cry for Jews worldwide to be more openly Jewish, not to be afraid. Listen to his emotional words about the attack:

 

Rabbi Goldstein eulogised Lori Gilbert-Kaye in the most beautiful and moving words. Sivan Rahav Meir writes on Facebook:

“This Chabad House was built because Lori worked for Wells Fargo Bank and she helped us secure a loan to build this beautiful building. This is a house that was open to all with love, warmth, and joy. Lori set the foundation stone.
“Lori and her husband Howard and daughter Hanna and I have been through a lot over the years; we’ve had a long journey together. This wasn’t something we expected to be part of the journey. Life here at Chabad Poway has been changed in a way that was, until this past Shabbat morning, unimaginable. But we learned from our Rebbe that events like this don’t impact us in a negative way, but rather in a most positive way.
“I was walking out of my home today, and my wonderful Rebbetzin Devori, my partner in shlichus for the last 33 years, showed me a bouquet of flowers that Lori delivered to our house before the holiday this past weekend. Lori left a note with the flowers that read: ‘Wishing you a beautiful Shabbos! In loving memory of your father, Mel,’ who recently passed away. ‘His memory is a blessing. Love, Lori, Hanna, and Howard.’ That note, that was Lori. There’s a big garden out there, God took the rose of the garden. and he brought her up to Heaven.
“So the question is, where do we go from here? We’ve seen the darkness of humanity, I saw it face to face. I hope nobody ever has to see it ever again. At the same time, on Saturday morning, we also saw the best of humanity, people running into the line of fire in order to save another life.
“This event isn’t going to knock us down, it’s going to lift us up. In all my interviews after the shooting, I was asked, ‘So rabbi, when will you be reopening for services?’ And I told them, ‘Tomorrow morning! We don’t go down for one moment. No terrorist, no murderer, no evil is going to shut us down.
“Lori, Howard, and Hanna had a very special relationship with my late father. Lori’s daughter, Hanna, used to call him ‘The Alter Rebbe.’ My father spent his last 15 years here. It was on Shabbos in the same lobby where Lori passed that my father had his fatal stroke.
“Years ago, my father composed a song, ‘Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere.’ And he would point with his finger, and say, ‘Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere.’ The finger that was taken from me this past Saturday has been given to every one of you. So you can point, and realize, Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere.
“Hashem, the Lord Almighty, cried with us as we cried this Saturday. Hashem is comforting us and consoling us as we are recovering from this. The Jewish people has learned over our long and difficult history to transform one step backward into ten steps forward. We will continue growing, thriving, building, and continuing our mission to bring light and peace into the world, and to make this world a greater place, a dwelling place for G-d Almighty, until the coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our days, Amen!”

May the memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye H’yd be for a blessing and may her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Goldstein also wrote a column, together with journalist Bari Weiss, in the New York Times – yes, that very same paper that published not one but two outrageously anti-Israel and anti-Jewish cartoons this week. He writes “Today should have been my funeral” and continues:

The ambulances had not yet arrived. We all gathered outside. I don’t remember all that I said to my community, but I do remember quoting a passage from the Passover Seder liturgy: “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.” And I remember shouting the words “Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!” I have said that line hundreds of times in my life. But I have never felt the truth of it more than I did then.

I am a religious man. I believe everything happens for a reason. I do not know why God spared my life. I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland. I don’t know why a part of my body was taken away from me. I don’t know why I had to see my good friend, a woman who embodied the Jewish value of hesed (kindness), hunted in her house of worship. I don’t know why I had to watch Lori’s beloved husband, a doctor, faint as he tried to resuscitate her. And then their only daughter, Hannah, sob in agony as she encountered both her parents collapsed on the floor.

I do not know God’s plan. All I can do is try to find meaning in what has happened. And to use this borrowed time to make my life matter more.

I used to sing a song to my children, a song that my father sang to me when I was a child. “Hashem is here,” I would sing, using a Hebrew name for God, pointing with my right index finger to the sky. “Hashem is there,” I would sing, pointing to my right and left. “Hashem is truly everywhere.” That finger I would use to point out God’s omnipresence was taken from me.

I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure; a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish.

From here on in I am going to be more brazen. I am going to be even more proud about walking down the street wearing my tzitzit and kippah, acknowledging God’s presence. And I’m going to use my voice until I am hoarse to urge my fellow Jews to do Jewish. To light candles before Shabbat. To put up mezuzas on their doorposts. To do acts of kindness. And to show up in synagogue — especially this coming Shabbat.

In his vile manifesto, the terrorist who shot up my synagogue called my people, the Jewish people, a “squalid and parasitic race.” No. We are a people divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world.

So it is with this country. America is unique in world history. Never before was a country founded on the ideals that all people are created in God’s image and that all people deserve freedom and liberty. We fought a war to make that promise real.

And I believe we can make it real again. That is what I pledge to do with my borrowed time.

The Rabbi’s courage and faith are awe-inspiring and uplifting even as we shudder in sympathy at his sorrow. They are reminiscent of the bravery and resilience shown by Holocaust survivors to this day.

Another Rabbi showed similar unshakable faith in the G-d of Israel even after the Shoah. This week the Kaliver Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, passed away at the age of 96.  During the Shoah he underwent the most gruesome experiences at the hands of the inhuman Nazi Dr. Mengele, which left him disfigured, without a beard and unable to have children. Yet the Rebbe never wavered in his faith, and became an inspirational figure to generations of students, as well as instituting a project of commemoration unusual in its character.

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The Kaliver Rebbe

Sivan Rahav Meir writes:

What is the legacy of the Rebbe of Kaliv, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, who passed away yesterday at the age of 96?

1. We talk a lot about the Holocaust and the heroism displayed in it. The Rebbe of Kaliv reminded us again and again of the spiritual heroism. Not only should the physical and armed rebellion be commemorated. The faith, optimism, keeping the tradition under difficult conditions – all of these should also be commemorated. This is what he dedicated his life to as a survivor of Auschwitz.

2. His work of commemoration was ground breaking and non-sectorial. He gave many speeches to secular people and national-religious people, to soldiers and Yeshivah bachurim. He treated all of them with affection and warmth. He did not merit to have children of his own, but throughout the years he spoke and gave talks to many children. He initiated a museum as well as the publishing of an encyclopedia about the Holocaust, and composed melodies to songs. He left behind one more moving initiative: in one of his most difficult moments in the Shoah, he thought that he would never merit to say Shema Yisrael again, and he prayed that if he survived, he would make sure to say it in front of a large audience. Since he was saved, he indeed said Shema Yisrael thousands of times in front of wide, varied audiences. In the prayer book/Siddur that he published, he added this verse at the end of the prayer, in memory of those who died in the Holocaust.

3. And a personal note: A few weeks ago, my husband suggested that we go to a Kabbalat Shabbat with the Rebbe of Kaliv. I was lazy, but he insisted, because who knows how many opportunities we would have of seeing a Hassidic rebbe who is a Holocaust survivor, and on whose face one can see the experiments that Dr. Mengele conducted, but in whose eyes one can also see the faith with which he came out of there? He convinced me, and so we walked for many minutes with the children, in the Jerusalem rain, to his synagogue. We saw him singing to the Shabbat Queen, we merited to recieve a blessing from him and to hear his faint but determined voice declaring: “Shema Yisrael” at the end of the service.

We are just before Yom HaShoah. Do not be lazy like me. Go out to see with your own eyes people who were there and who still live among us.

In his memory.

Indeed the Rebbe’s influence was felt up to the top of Israeli society, as he was eulogised by President Rivlin and PM Netanyahu:

Unlike most Orthodox rabbis, Taub did not have a long beard but short wisps, something attributed to chemical burning experiments conducted on him in Auschwitz by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele. His brothers were murdered, but Taub was transferred to several other concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen.

After surviving the Holocaust, he was reunited with his wife in Sweden and resettled in Cleveland, Ohio.

The couple immigrated to Israel in 1962 where they reestablished the Kaliv community in Rishon Lezion and later in Bnei Brak. He published Kol Menachem, a 13-volume compendium on the Torah and Jewish holidays, and Shema Yisrael: Testimonies of devotion, courage, and self-sacrifice, 1939–1945, a collection of more than 500 first-person accounts of Holocaust survivors.

President Reuven Rivlin mourned the rabbi, stating, “I received with deep sadness the news of the passing of the ‘Holocaust Admor’ who suffered terribly as an inmate at Auschwitz and dedicated his life to the memory of the victims, inspired by a true love of Israel.”

“The Admor gave voice the spiritual heroism of Jews during the Holocaust and did all he could to honor the memory of its victims,” he added. “His work has particular resonance at present as we redouble our commitment to remember and never to forget. Our condolences to his family and many pupils. May his memory be a blessing.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also mourned the rabbi, noting he “dedicated himself to rebuilding the world of Torah in the State of Israel and among the Jewish Diaspora. At the same time, he was tirelessly engaged in enshrining the memory of the Holocaust, especially the triumph of the impressive spirit in the ghettos and camps.”

Netanyahu added that his passing so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day “strengthens our eternal commitment – to remember and not forget.”

Our problem today is not that we, the Jewish people should remember and not forget. How could we? With the rampant antisemitism and Israel hatred that is almost impossible. Our challenge today is to make the world remember and not forget.

As I have done in the past, I draw your attention to my Family History pages where I have recorded the history of my family during the Shoah, especially the murder of my mother’s three brothers, David, Elchanan and Uri Strauss HY’D, in Sobibor.

יהי זכרם ברוך

Never forget. May the memory of the 6 million be for a blessing.

ה’ יקום דמם. יהי זכרם ברוך

Posted in Antisemitism, Incitement, Lawfare and Delegitimization | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Guest Post: Book Reviews: Four books on antisemitism

This is a guest post by long-time reader and contributor Brian Goldfarb. This time Brian has produced a different kind of post. It is his review of four books on antisemitism, each book approaching the subject from a different viewpoint.

Brian explains:

Two of them are source books – the information people need to inform themselves in order to confront the anti-Zionists and the antisemites, as well as the ignorant, and the other two are for those who might not believe that there is still antisemitism around, 75 years after the end of WW2.

This post is particularly timely given the sharp rise in in antisemitism and Israel-hatred worldwide (see a few of my recent posts for example) and also since tomorrow night we mark the start of Yom Hashoah in Israel.


At a time like this, who needs books?

The four books reviewed are:

John Mann: “Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred”

David Brog “ Reclaiming Israel’s History”

Deborah Lipstadt “Antisemitism: Here and Now”

Bernard-Henri Levy “The Genius of Judaism”

* * * *

John Mann: “Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred”:

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Let me start with John Mann’s book. For those who have never come across him, John Mann is one of life’s heroes. He is the Labour Member of Parliament for a constituency in the English Midlands and has been since 2001. As he jokingly notes, it is possible that there might be as many two or even three Jews among his constituents. Despite this, he is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and also Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism. If this wasn’t enough, he also confronted Ken Livingstone [see YouTube video at the link] after the latter had made his infamous comment, live on television, that “a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate the Jews in Golders Green and Stamford Hill as well” (where many ultra-orthodox Jews live), and, having asked Livingstone, rhetorically, whether he was mad, looked as though he was about to hit him. Fortunately, Mann restrained himself.

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John Mann MP (Wikipedia)

His book “Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred” is a collection of essays, speeches and other writings, only one of which is by him (his acceptance speech when being given the Jan Karski Award*). The others are many of the classic, modern, discussions of and about antisemitism. Thus, Mann includes a translation of Emile Zola’s classic diatribe against the unjust verdict handed down to Dreyfus, “J’Accuse”. This is preceded (as are all the entries) by an introduction setting the essay in the context of its time.

Here also can be found Albert Einstein’s 1938 essay “Why  Do They Hate the Jews?”; an extract from Jean Paul Sartre’s “Anti-Semite and Jew”, written in 1944, shortly after the liberation of Paris; articles by Willy Brandt, Elie Wiesel, Albie Sachs, Chaim Weizmann and many more.

This book is a resource, into which one dips for inspiration and reflection, but not necessarily counter-arguments against the bad guys. What these articles and essays will do is confirm what you already knew: antisemitism, for no good reason (we Jews, collectively, haven’t done anything wrong, wicked or evil: we’ve just been), has been around for a very long time. It is indeed both the socialism of fools and the idiocy of murderous hate-mongers.

I am reading my way through John Mann’s book, and am being enlightened as I go. I hope you will be as well.

[* Jan Karski smuggled himself (as a member of the Polish resistance to the Nazis) into the Warsaw Ghetto and then escaped to the West to report on his findings. He can be seen bearing witness in Claude Lanzmann’s documentary on the Holocaust.]

* * * *

David Brog “ Reclaiming Israel’s History”

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To indulge what might, at first glance, appear to be a non-sequitur: we are frequently told that Amazon (or any other online book seller) are killing bookshops.

Happily, not so. On our last trip to New York to visit the family there, I was browsing the appropriate shelves of the local (Upper West Side of Manhattan) Barnes & Noble to see if another book on this list was on the shelves (it was!). While doing so, a different book leapt off the shelves and into my receptive hands, which would never have happened had Amazon “won”. Fortunately, many bookshops have found ways of fighting back to preserve the joy of browsing. It’s also how I found yet another of the books in this article, of which more anon. But the “Barnes & Noble” book in this case is David Brog “Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace”.

Catchy title, yes? Actually, no, but it is true to the contents.

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David Brog (Wikipedia)

My first reaction on taking the book from the shelves was to look very carefully at the description of the contents. This told me that David Brog was not only a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, but is also (at the time the book was published in 2017) executive director of Maccabee Task Force and the founding  executive director of Christians United for Israel. He also served as chief of staff to the (now late) Senator Arlen Spector (of Pennsylvania), another one of the good guys. So he seemed okay. And the book showed that my initial judgement was correct.

Brog starts well. He has a quote from Thomas Friedman, author of “From Beirut to Jerusalem”, published in 1998 (and which I read back then), at the head of his Preface: “Criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic (sic), and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction…is anti-Semitic(sic), and not saying so is dishonest” (2002). Friedman also, in the 1998 book, also called for an evacuation of the West bank, but for Israel to retain control of the ridges of the Judean Hills and mount a series of radar “listening posts” aiming well into Jordan, Syria and beyond, as a Distant Early Warning line. Very prescient of him.

At one level, one can (and, in my view, should) see this book as a replacement, or at least an updating of Alan Dershowitz’s “The Case for Israel”. which was first published in 2004 and a quick online search shows no reprints/updates since. Given that Dershowitz has become a champion for Trump, this might well be about time for this to happen. And I’ll argue that in the comments, if you wish, readers and other naysayers!

How good is Brog? How about this: page ix in the Preface: “We now know about…Israeli transgressions in detail. We know about them because Israeli scholars have documented them. And we know about them because the Israeli media has publicised them. Such is life in a free society.”

Difficult to argue with that.

Okay, so David Brog is pro-Israel. And your point, Brian, is what? It is that if we are to promote the Israel we love, the land that, despite, often, its politicians, manages to retain, against the odds, a democratic, parliamentary system, in which office-holders are not above the law (at least one ex-President has been jailed for offences committed and its current Prime Minister and his wife have been indicted for alleged offences – it is irrelevant at this stage as to whether they will be found guilty or not: the important point is that they are not above the law, unlike some high officials in allegedly democratic states who appear to claim that it is impossible to indict them while they are in office), then we need the arguments…and we need to keep them up to date.

Cheap points aside, Brog devotes his first chapter to the Jewish case for Israel and then his second to debunking the Palestinian (or, possibly, Arab, as the Palestinians weren’t invented until the late 1960s) case. Thus, he spends time examining, critically, the main early proponent for the Palestinians: Amin Al-Husseini, aka the Mufti of Jerusalem. It is important to note that, among other things, Al-Husseini was pro-Nazi and, indeed, spent World War 2 in Germany, persuading Bosnian Moslems to fight for the Nazis and encouraging the Final Solution. Why, after the war, he wasn’t arrested and made to stand trial for war crimes remains a mystery, except that an expert on the trials and tribulations of the Mizrachi (Jews from Arab lands) has suggested (as I commented here in another article a year or two ago) that the French asked for him to be let off, to avoid “trouble” in the French-controlled North Africa and Levant (Lebanon and Syria) immediately after World War 2.

So we have this from Brog:

“Thus the man who dominated Palestinian nationalism before 1964 was a shape shifter who repeatedly reinvented himself. In the span of one lifetime, Husseini was an Ottoman. a Syrian, a Palestinian, a pan-Arab, a Palestinian once again, and finally a Jordanian. In each case he embraced his new identity with convincing conviction.” (p.50)

Brog then goes on to quote Ben-Gurion (via Efraim Karsh) as saying (in 1918, note) that:

“Palestine is not an unpopulated country…By no means and under no circumstances are the rights of these inhabitants to be infringed upon – it is neither desirable nor conceivable that the present inhabitants be ousted from the land. That is not the mission of Zionism.” This gives the lie to the claim that Zionism proclaimed that “Palestine” was a land without a people waiting for a people without a land. Not even the Revisionist (right-wing) Zionists under Jabotinsky claimed this. But the anti-Zionists and the antisemites did, and do, try to argue that this is exactly what the Zionist movement, from its very beginnings, said.

Moving further into the 20th Century and the war between the Arab militias and the Jews of the Yishuv (not yet the State of Israel – after the passing of the UN Partition resolution but before the British had fully withdrawn and the Declaration of Independence had not yet been made and the Arab states had not yet invaded), Brog uncovers some fascinating quotes from Palestinian militia leaders, such as the following (p. 123)

“…Ismail Safwat – the commander of the Arab Liberation Army fighting Israel in the north – acknowledged that ‘the Jews have constantly endeavoured to narrow the theatre of operations and have not attacked a single Arab village unless provoked by it’.”

When we talk about who was to “blame” for the fighting and the deaths after the UN Resolution, it is interesting and important to note that Brog picks up a quote from a (British) Major-General Hugh(?) Stockwell  – which Benny Morris, in his book “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War” appears to miss – concerning the battle for Haifa and the Arab decision to abandon the city:

“ ‘You have made a foolish decision,’” he told Haifa’s Arab leaders. ‘After all, it was you who began the fighting, and the Jews have won’.”(p. 129)

Clearly, I could go on. As Brog does, up to the present. Indeed, he produces example after example of the Arab/Palestinian propensity, in Abba Eban’s immortal phrase, to “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

However, my intent is not to tell you the whole story but to let you know that there is a new kid on the block providing you with the arguments to refute the BDS (to be polite about them) mob when they come round, foaming at the mouth, and it’s in paperback, so you can carry it about with you when you need chapter and verse.

* * * *

Deborah Lipstadt “Antisemitism: Here and Now”

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We were lucky enough to get tickets for a Q & A with Deborah Lipstadt at the London equivalent of the Manhattan Jewish Cultural Center (or JCC) about her new book “Antisemitism: Here and Now”. I had tried to order the book in the UK, but Amazon informed me that the book was “not available” here (despite its presence on their website), so I ordered it to be sent to our daughter’s home in New York. Thus, I missed a signature on the book and had to be content with a signature on my ticket! However, I did get my question in (as a question, and not a thesis on antisemitism, followed by a “sort” of question): did Prof. Lipstadt think that August Bebel’s aphorism that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools” applied to the current Labour Party leader? The simple answer is “yes”. David Hirsh (of Engage Online) afterwards complimented me on my question (which was nice), but wished I hadn’t raised it (I want to get it put there: that antisemitism is the socialism of fools, that is): he doesn’t want to give it oxygen. Ah well, can’t win them all.

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Deborah Lipstadt ((Osnat Perelshtein)

Anyway, a little later, we were in New York (see above re the Brog book) and I collected her book and started reading it. I didn’t read the review that Anne linked me to until I’d formed my own opinion. Prof. Lipstadt explained in her Q & A that the book was not going well: it was proving difficult to write…until a colleague, to whom she explained her problem, suggested the “question and answer” format she adopted. Then, she said, the book started to write itself. I can understand Prof. Lipstadt’s problem: as a former academic, writing should come easy. However, some topics prove far more difficult than others and antisemitism is one of them. Why should someone as experienced in the field as her be exempt from this potential tripwire?

Before coming to the book itself, allow me a digression: as well as the Jerusalem Post review that Anne linked me to, I  found 4 others: two from the Times of London (The Sunday Times & The Times itself), one each from The Washington Post and the New York Times, which can, now and then, get it right on antisemitism and Israel, if it tries hard enough. [Anne notes: There is another interesting review from the Jewish Book Council].

What do the reviews tell us? The JPost one came across as a snipe at the style, never mind the content: it was all about how Lipstadt’s method fails to convince. While the (unnamed) Sunday Times reviewer does complain about this at the start of the article, s/he does allow that it makes Lipstadt’s point most convincingly, once one is used to it. Both Bret Stephens (in The New York Times) and Randy Rosenthal (in The Washington Post) get to the point without digression. The most interesting (because, oddly enough, the most “journalistic”) is Daniel Finkelstein’s in The Times. If you need reminding, he is the grandson of Alfred Wiener, the eponymous founder of the library bearing his name, and subtitled “the Holocaust Library” (and where I volunteer twice a week). His is also the most “Jewish”: he starts with an albeit sick Jewish joke and then goes on to make the point (that the other three make, in fairness) that antisemitism has never gone away, despite our best hopes since the end of World War Two and the destruction of Nazi Germany.

I would urge you all to search out these reviews (and any others you can find) for yourself.

So, all that said, what of the book itself? I found the book thoroughly readable and convincing: indeed, I’d put it on the same level as Dave Rich’s book about the UK Labour Party: “The Left’s Jewish Problem”. The Lipstadt book, like his, is not an instruction manual for fighting antisemitism and the BDS movement: rather, it is for those who either are not sure that the problem is as bad as so many appear to think or, alternatively, that it can be, in effect, ignored as being confined to the lunatic fringe. The bad news is that is that bad, indeed, it may even be worse than we think (which is not something that I ever thought I’d hear myself say, in 2019, three-quarters of a century after the end of WW2).

Unlike the Mann and Brog books, this is a book for those who need to remind themselves that antisemitism, even when disguised as anti-Zionism, is, sadly, alive, well and as malignant as ever.

* * * *

Bernard-Henri Levy “The Genius of Judaism”

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So, that’s three of the four books: two source books (or “how to confront the unbelievers with the facts”) and an “if you think it’s all over, think again” refresher. What, then, of there fourth book?

I had high hopes of this: I noted, above, of the serendipity effect of browsing in bookshops. Having collected the Lipstadt book from our daughter in New York, we went off to visit friends in Connecticut. They took us to New Haven, where Yale University is situated. Opposite the Yale University Museum of Art is a bookshop, called Atticus (and for those of you who are ahead of me, yes, their complimentary bookmark carries a…Finch: the link between Harper Lee, “To Kill A Mockingbird” and Yale is beyond me, but it’s a good literary joke). Browsing the store, I found a book by the wonderful US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “In My Own Words”, specifically for my wife, the lawyer and judge, and she found for me “The Genius of Judaism” by Bernard-Henry Levy. My initial thought was that here was a book by a genuine public intellectual (despite that being an over-worked label, even if justified in his case) that I might actually understand.

Bernard Henri Levy (Times Higher Education)

I need to explain that last comment. This is not meant to be an example of false modesty: outside my own subject (Sociology), I find that experts in other fields do sometimes find it difficult to communicate with us lesser mortals (something, I suspect, all experts are guilty of, without exception).

As far as the first half of his book was concerned Levy proved me wrong: it is very clear exposition of the nature of antisemitism, especially as he came across it in France and in the wider literature he read as he was growing up. However, the second half of the book left me behind. It might be the translation or it might be the style, but I found myself unable to complete the book, partly because it seemed to become increasingly metaphysical as he delved into his own journey into his Jewish heritage. I accept that the failing might be mine, not his.


Anne adds:

Brian, thank you very much for these very interesting book reviews, and in fact for bringing them to our attention in the first place. I don’t necessarily agree with all the views in the books (Brog’s especially seems likely to grate on my political nerves), but they are all addressing the issue with the same wish – to educate the world and to protect the Jewish people.

It is so sad that 70-80 years after the Holocaust, we still need to educate ourselves and the wider world about the nature of antisemitism while at the same time suffering from it all over the world, from America to Britain to France, Germany. Let us also not forget Israel, where the antisemitism suffered by Israelis takes the form of a refusal by the Arabs to accept any Jewish presence anywhere in the land of Israel, and expresses itself in vicious war.

Posted in Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Passover synagogue shooting and a despicable NYT cartoon: the face of American antisemitism today

We emerged from Pesach only to hear the most dreadful news from Poway, near San Diego in California. A hate-filled antisemite, all of 19 years old, burst into the Chabad synagogue and opened fire, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and 2 members of an Israeli family who had come to America to get away from their rocket-battered hometown of Sderot, 8 year old Noya Dahan and her uncle Almog Peretz.

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Lori Gilbert-Kaye Hy’d

There were acts of supreme heroism during the attack, particularly from Lori Gilbert-Kaye Hy’d who jumped in front of the Rabbi to protect him, and instead took the brunt of the bullets which killed her.

Three other people were injured, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 57, who was leading services at the time and was shot in both hands.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, injured in the attack on Poway Chabad synagogue

The other two were Noya Dahan, 8, a girl originally from Sderot in Israel who was hit by shrapnel in the face and leg, and her uncle Almog Peretz, 31, who was shot in the leg as he ushered children in a playroom to safety, according to media reports. Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the two were injured, adding that the consul in Los Angeles, Avner Saban, had spoken with the girl’s mother and offered help.

Her friend Audrey Jacobs, a community activist, said Gilbert-Kaye had jumped in front of Rabbi Mendel Goldstein — Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s son — “to take the bullet and save his life.”

“Lori you were a jewel of our community a true Eshet Chayil, a Woman of Valor,” Jacobs wrote on Facebook. “You were always running to do a mitzvah (good deed) and gave tzedaka (charity) to everyone. Your final good deed was taking the bullets for Rabbi Mendel Goldstein to save his life.

“Lori leaves behind a devastated husband and 22-year-old daughter,” she added.

No one was quite so thoughtful as Gilbert-Kaye, said Lisa Busalacchi, her friend since second grade. “It’s not like she gave a million dollars for a building, but if someone was sick or someone died, she was the first one there with food or asking what she could do,” Busalacchi told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview.

Busalacchi said that Kaye was deeply committed to the congregation, and had recently traveled to New York to attend the wedding of Rabbi Goldstein’s daughter. “It made sense that she was [at Chabad]; it was her whole life,” she said.

Gilbert-Kaye was in synagogue to remember her late mother during Yizkor, a memorial service held on major Jewish festivals, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Her husband, a physician, was in synagogue with her. When he started to perform CPR on a victim and realized it was his wife, he fainted, according to the report.

“God picked her to die to send a message because she’s such an incredible person,” her friend, Dr. Roneet Lev, told the newspaper. “He took her for a higher purpose to send this message to fight anti-Semitism.”

Apropos of nothing, Gilbert-Kaye would drop off gifts at her friends’ homes, Busalacchi said. And she didn’t send one card for a birthday or anniversary, she sent three or four. “Literally it was no less than three cards for every occasion,” Busalacchi said.

Rare was the Friday night that the Kayes did not have Shabbat guests — often there were 10 or more people at the table. She would invite friends to the family’s sukkah on Sukkot, and host a break the fast after Yom Kippur. She made her own challah, and recently forwarded a Passover carrot kugel recipe to Busalacchi.

Truly the words “Eshet Chayil” – a woman of valor, apply to Lori Gilbert-Kaye. She gave her life to protect the Rabbi without thinking of her own safety. From the tributes from friends we learn that she was a wonderfully warm, giving and dedicated woman. What a tremendous loss to her family, her community and to Am Yisrael!

May her memory be for a blessing and may her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the other victims were also heroic in their reactions:

Witnesses said the injured rabbi continued his speech calling for unity and peace despite suffering gunshot wounds to both index fingers.

“The rabbi said, ‘We are united,’” said congregation member Minoo Anvari, who said her husband witnessed the shooting.

“He prayed for peace,” she said, according to the Chabad website. “Even in spite of being injured he refused to go to the hospital until he spoke. And he finished his speech and he then left the synagogue.”

“We are strong; you can’t break us,” Anvari said.

Rabbi Goldstein also serves as a Jewish chaplain at the local San Diego police department.

He underwent surgery and would have to remain hospitalized for several days, according to Dr. Michael Katz, trauma chief at Palomar Medical Center, according to the San Diego Jewish World.

According to Jacobs’ Facebook post, the family of the injured Israeli girl and her uncle “moved to San Diego from the Israeli city of Sderot to get away from the terrorism and the constant attacks on their community.”

Sderot has been targeted by thousands of rockets fired by terror groups in the Gaza Strip over the last 15 years.

See Israeli activist Hen Mazzig‘s twitter timeline:

The Chabad Shul of Poway, California

The terror attack shocked visiting Israeli and veteran medic Shimon Abitbul who was in Poway for his grandson’s brit:

A deputy director for the Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance service, Abitbul has served as a paramedic in some of the country’s deadliest conflicts. Most notably, he was the rescue service’s station chief in Kiryat Shmona, his hometown on Israel’s northern border, which was battered by Hezbollah rockets during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Luckily, with his bitter experience of terrorism in Israel, he knew exactly what to do:

“At this moment, I put my grandson on the floor, and my body on him, and I shut his mouth. No screaming,” Abitbul said. “After seven shots, I heard the rabbi scream: ‘Don’t stand! Lay down!’”

And now he knows about antisemitism in the States too:

One day after the shooting, Abitbul said he was in a state of disorientation and shock. He had been unaware, he said, of the extent to which anti-Semitic violence was taking place in the United States — that it could infect a community such as Poway.

“I come here to visit my grandson and my child about every six months,” he said. “This is the first time that I learned about the anti-Semitism here.”

Abitbul went on, “You come here and you think: This is the greatest democracy in the world, and you see what’s happened in the synagogue. You can’t imagine it.”

May all the wounded have a speedy and full recovery, and may the bereaved know no more sorrow.

At more or less the same time as the antisemitic assault on the synagogue, the New York Times International Edition saw fit to publish a cartoon so heinous, bigoted an blatantly antisemitic that it would not have been out of place in the infamous Der Sturmer of the Nazis.

The antisemitic cartoon in the New York Times (Seth Frantzman)

Seth Frantzman writes furiously in the Jerusalem Post about the Time’s pathetic excuse:

You thought that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s comments about foreign loyalty or “Benjamins” were problematic. The International Edition of the Times just said: “Let me show you what we can do,” with a cartoon of a yarmulke-wearing, blind US President Donald Trump being led by a dog with a Star of David collar and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s face for a head.

This is what The New York Times thinks of us Israelis. Even if they subsequently said it was an error, they thought it was okay to print a cartoon showing the US president being blindly led by the “Jewish dog”?

And not only that, those who watched as it went to print thought it was fine to put a Jewish skullcap on the US president. Dual loyalty? No need to even wrestle with that question.

It used to be that we were told that Trump was fostering “Trump antisemitism” and driving a new wave of antisemitism in the US. But the cartoon depicts him as a Jew. Well, which is it? Is he fostering antisemitism, or is he now a closet Jew being led by Israel, depicted as a Jewish dog? We used to say that images “conjured up memories” of 1930s antisemitism. This didn’t conjure it up; this showed us exactly what it looked like.

The Nazis also depicted us as animals. They also put Stars of David on us. Antisemites have compared us to dogs, pigs and monkeys before. It used to be that it was on the far-Right that Jews were depicted as controlling the world, like an octopus or a spider.

But now we see how mainstream it has become to blame the Jews and Israel for the world’s problems.

No other country or minority group is subjected to such unrelenting and systematic hatred by mainstream US newspapers. No one would dare to put an Islamic leader’s face on a dog, with Islamic symbols, leading the US president.

Of course not. The editor would stop that.

They’d be sensitive to this issue. They would err on the side of not being offensive. The night editor, the assistant editor or someone would say: “This doesn’t look right.”

Imagine the days when racists tried to depict US president Barack Obama as a closet Muslim. We know the tropes. So why put a yarmulke on Trump’s head? When it comes to Jews and Israel, there is no depth to which they will not sink.

And an apology after the fact isn’t enough.

This cartoon didn’t end up in the International Edition of The New York Times by mistake. It was chosen; it was put on a page by someone. It was checked and re-checked.

I know. I’m an Op-ed Editor. When I used to run cartoons in my section, no fewer than four people would see it before it went to print. At the International Edition of The New York Times, it should have been more than four. And they all thought it was fine? What that tells me is that there is a culture of antisemitism somewhere in the newsroom.

THERE ISN’T just one problem with this cartoon. There are numerous problems.

So this cartoon wasn’t just mildly antisemitic. It wasn’t like “whoops.” It was deeply antisemitic.

The New York Times acknowledged this in a kind of pathetic way. They admitted that the cartoon “included antisemitic tropes.” It then noted, “The image was offensive and it was an error of judgement to publish it.”

That’s not enough. An error of judgment would imply that it was just a kind of mistake. “Tropes” would imply that to some people it is antisemitic, but that it’s not clear as day.

But this is clear as day.

This isn’t like some story of unclear antisemitism. This isn’t a dog whistle. This is a dog. This is antisemitic on numerous levels. It’s time to say no more. It’s time to say “They shall not pass.”

Bret Stephens, formerly editor of the Jerusalem Post and now one of the editors of the New York Times himself, also published a blistering criticism of this despicable cartoon in his own paper:

As prejudices go, anti-Semitism can sometimes be hard to pin down, but on Thursday the opinion pages of The New York Times international editionprovided a textbook illustration of it.

Except that The Times wasn’t explaining anti-Semitism. It was purveying it.

It did so in the form of a cartoon, provided to the newspaper by a wire service and published directly above an unrelated column by Tom Friedman, in which a guide dog with a prideful countenance and the face of Benjamin Netanyahu leads a blind, fat Donald Trump wearing dark glasses and a black yarmulke. Lest there be any doubt as to the identity of the dog-man, it wears a collar from which hangs a Star of David.

Here was an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer. The Jew in the form of a dog. The small but wily Jew leading the dumb and trusting American. The hated Trump being Judaized with a skullcap. The nominal servant acting as the true master. The cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.

The image also had an obvious political message: Namely, that in the current administration, the United States follows wherever Israel wants to go. This is false — consider Israel’s horrified reaction to Trump’s announcement last year that he intended to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria — but it’s beside the point. There are legitimate ways to criticize Trump’s approach to Israel, in pictures as well as words. But there was nothing legitimate about this cartoon.

So what was it doing in The Times?

The problem with the cartoon isn’t that its publication was a willful act of anti-Semitism. It wasn’t. The problem is that its publication was an astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism — and that, at a publication that is otherwise hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice, from mansplaining to racial microaggressions to transphobia.

The question answers itself. And it raises a follow-on: How have even the most blatant expressions of anti-Semitism become almost undetectable to editors who think it’s part of their job to stand up to bigotry?

The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice. But as I noted in a Sunday Review essay in February, anti-Zionism is all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism in practice and often in intent, however much progressives try to deny this.

Add to the mix the media’s routine demonization of Netanyahu, and it is easy to see how the cartoon came to be drawn and published: Already depicted as a malevolent Jewish leader, it’s just a short step to depict him as a malevolent Jew.

But the publication of the cartoon isn’t just an “error of judgment,” either. The paper owes the Israeli prime minister an apology. It owes itself some serious reflection as to how it came to publish that cartoon — and how its publication came, to many longtime readers, as a shock but not a surprise.

I’m still surprised at Stephens’ willingness to accept that the NYT is capable of self-reflection and capability to change. Its anti-Zionism and tolerance of antisemitism is well documented by many media watchdogs. I fear the time is long past when anything can be improved at the NYT or any of its media allies like the BBC or CNN.

And the danger is not just in souring relations between Israel and the US. The danger is that cartoons like that in the Times are what lend legitimacy to extremists like the terrorist who carried out the assault on the Poway synagogue. One thing definitely leads to the other.

In the Seder service we say “in every generation they rise up to destroy us” – and it’s not only in every generation, but in every place: whether in Europe, Britain, America and of course in Israel surrounded by implacable enemies.

But we must not forget the last half of that passage: “And Hashem the Almighty saves us from their hands”.

Posted in Antisemitism, Incitement, Media and journalism, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Chag Same’ach – Shvi’i shel Pesach, the 7th day of Pesach

Pesach is drawing to a close,  the week seems to have flown by with visits to Jerusalem, family get togethers, and generally eating and enjoying ourselves (and finally, the beautiful weather after a very cold rainy start!).

The seventh day of Pesach, “Shvi’i shel Pesach”, begins tonight, running straight on into Shabbat tomorrow night, giving us an “8-day Pesach” along with our fellow Jews in the Diaspora (who celebrate an extra day of the festival).

One of our visits was to the Kotel, as we do every Pesach and Sukkot, in order to fulfil the mitzva of aliya le’regel (pilgrimage). Despite the cold weather the Old City was packed to overflowing, and the kotel saw over 750,000 visitors this Pesach! This is almost a miracle in itself!

Shvi’i shel Pesach is the day the Children of Israel finally crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai Desert after fleeing Egypt, witnessing the miraculous Splitting of the Sea.

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The splitting of the Red Sea

Crossing the Red Sea was not merely a physical feat for the Israelites. It was an expression of courage and faith, for the first one to jump into the sea, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, jumped into the sea before it had split. He had complete faith in Hashem that a miracle would occur. It was his faith that inspired the Israelites to follow him.

The Temple Institute writes:

(Exodus 14:15)

Nisan 20, 5779/April 25, 2019

One week ago, we all sat at our Seder and told the story of how G-d redeemed us, (not just our forefathers, but us), from Egypt. How, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm He delivered us from slavery. One minute we were slaves, and the next minute we were bnei chorin – a free people!

But it wasn’t quite like that. Yes, it is true that at midnight of the fifteenth of Nisan G-d struck the firstborns of Egypt and Pharaoh, defeated, devastated, and utterly demoralized, told the children of Israel to leave Egypt at once. And Israel did, marching into the unknown with their unleavened bread. But soon after, Pharaoh, in one last tragic stroke of egotistical madness, did an about face and ordered his legions to pursue the escaping Israelites into the desert, where he was certain he could capture them and bring them back.

And that brings us to what we celebrate tonight, the Seventh, and final, day of Passover: the crossing of the Sea of Reeds and leaving the nightmare of Egypt behind us forever. It is true that G-d blessed Israel with two ‘free-people’ and ‘nation-building’ commandments just before leaving Egypt, the commandment to be responsible for the marking of the new moons and seasons, and thereby captains of our own destiny, and the commandment of the Passover offering, the bold performance of which united us as a people and fused our fate forever with the G-d of Israel. But there was one final step which the newborn nation needed to take before finally meriting to say goodbye to Egypt forever: Israel needed to demonstrate its ability to take the initiative, to forge ahead with the complete trust that the G-d who liberated them would be with them always, every step of the way. “HaShem said to Moshe, Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel!” (Exodus 14:15) It is time, G-d was saying, for you, Israel, to take your own steps. You decide where your future lies, and don’t let anything, even the seemingly impassable sea which lies before you, to stop you. I, HaShem, believe in you. Show me that you believe in yourselves!

And so they did. They plunged into the sea, and G-d opened a path to their freedom, to their future and to the land of Israel and the building of the Holy Temple. On the first night of Passover we are instructed to tell our story in the first person: “G-d redeemed me from Egypt.” On the seventh day of Passover we must also tell our story in first person: “I took that first step into the Sea of Reeds, I earned my freedom that day.” Every day we must merit our freedom from the darkness of Egypt. And the very first essential step is to believe in the G-d of Israel, who believes in us! Chag Sameach – A Happy (seventh day of) Passover to us all!

May we all be similarly inspired and encouraged to keep our faith even when times are difficult, and to show courage even in the face of dire danger, just like our forefathers did when they left the slavery of Egypt for the freedom of being a sovereign nation serving Hashem.

I wish you all Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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Chag Kasher Ve’sameach – Happy Pesach!

Chag Same’ach! The Seder plate, Matza, wine and the Hagaddah

This blog is going on semi-vacation over the next week during the Pesach (Passover) festival until after the chag (it finishes on the night of  26th April, running straight into Shabbat on the 27th). If you would like to learn more about Pesach, have a look at Aish’s website or Chabad.

We’re heading out to our daughter and son-in-law (and their many children!) for the Seder, together with our younger son and a good friend – so it’s definitely not going to be a quiet Seder night!  While the weather looks to be unseasonally cold and rainy, at least for the first days, we still hope to go on day trips to Jerusalem and other sites around Israel during the intermediate Chol Hamo’ed days.  And then the 2 day finale to Pesach will be spent at our older son and his family. That does not look like it will be any quieter than the first day! 😀

For your edification, here is a (very) potted history of Pesach from the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem:

For some deeper thoughts to ponder on Seder night, here is the wonderful Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on The Odd Seder Invitation:

 

And just a little added value for your entertainment, here is a slightly different version of the Pesach story – the Lion King Passover, as sung by the excellent Six13 band:

I would like to wish all my readers, along with all of Klal Yisrael, a chag kasher vesame’ach – a happy and Kosher Passover. May we all merit to celebrate in rebuilt Jerusalem “speedily in our days” as we say in the Seder.

Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’Samea’ach!

!שבת שלום וחג כשר ושמח

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