Good News Friday

It’s hard to be believe another week has already passed, but with Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut in the middle the week felt somewhat shortened.

In the spirit of Yom Ha’atzmaut, this week’s Good News Friday edition will focus on Israel’s national achievements.

Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut

Every year we are astonished anew at Israel’s wonderful population statistics. This year Israel’s population stands at 8,345,000! – a statistic which would have seemed barely imaginable to our founding fathers when the newborn nation struggled to hold its own at the Declaration of Independence:

The Central Bureau of Statistics has published new figures ahead of Independence Day showing that the country’s population stands at 8,345,000, some 10.4 times greater than the 806,000 at its founding.

Jewish residents number 6,251,000, comprising 74.9% of the population. The Arab population, which stands at 1,730,000, represents 20.7% of the general public. Non-Arab Christians, members of certain religions and new immigrants who according to the population registry are not part of any religious group, comprise 364,000 people (4.4%).

Israel’s population grew by 2%, or 162,000, from the previous Independence Day. A record 176,000 babies were born during that period, and 44,000 residents died. Some 32,000 people made aliyah since last year’s celebrations. Israel holds a record when it comes to immigration: some 3,500,000 people made aliyah since the state’s founding (41.9% percent).

Some 75% of Jewish residents are native born and the capital, Jerusalem, is the most populated city in the country, with some 815,300 residents (9.8% of the population).

The Azorim Hi-tech Park in Petach Tikva

Not only did our population grow, but our economy grew at a massive rate during the 4th quarter of 2014 as well:

The Israeli economy grew 7 percent in the last quarter of 2014, its highest rate of growth in recent years, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported.

In the third quarter of 2014, the Israeli economy grew only 0.3 percent while the war with Hamas was ongoing. The economy grew 1.5 percent in last year’s second quarter. By the end of 2014, Israel’s total economic value crossed the trillion-shekel threshold and reached its highest-ever amount: 1.09 trillion shekels ($278 billion).

Not only do we have a growing population and booming economy but we seem to have the coolest president too. :-)

President Reuven (“Rubi”) Rivlin came up with the idea (or at least he actively promoted it) of an “internet choir” of hundreds of Israelis who will join together over the internet to sing a love song which also could show our love for Israel.  The song is “Ahavtiha” – “I loved her”, originally performed by veteran popular Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi.

The website Hebrew Songs has the translated and transliterated lyrics

Here is Rubi singing his part of the song with Shlomo Artzi (whom I at first didn’t recognize with his white hair! I’m feeling old…) sitting next to him and singing along:

And here is the finished result:

Isn’t that a beautiful idea? And the result is just great! If only Am Yisrael could stay as united as this in our ordinary day-to-day lives, and not just on Independence Day or G-d forbid in times of tragedy.

May the coming year bring even more news of growth, Aliya and unity to Israel and the entire Jewish nation!

Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom.

Posted in Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chag Atzma’ut Same’ach! Happy 67th Independence Day Israel!

Yom Atzma’ut Same’ach! חג עצמאות שמח!

It’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and, as remarked upon by both local and foreign observers, the country swings in a schizophrenic kind of way from the mourning, sorrow and remembrance of Yom Hazikaron to the flag-waving patriotism and general merry-making of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Festive prayers and dancing at the Kotel

Prayers marking the transition from the mourning of Yom Hazikaron to the celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut were held in synagogues throughout the country. Hundreds attended the prayers at the Kotel which were led by Rabbi Uri Sherki whose son was murdered just last week in another Palestinian car-ramming attack. Rabbi Sherki pleaded for unity:

Hundreds of people flocked to the Western Wall (Kotel) on Wednesday night, to inaugurate Israel’s 67th Independence Day.

The prayer was organized by Rabbi Uri Sherki, who rose from the weeklong shiva mourning period earlier Wednesday for his son, Shalom Yohai, who was killed in last week’s brutal car rampage attack in Jerusalem.

There is a direct line, and endless chain [of events] stretching from [the Biblical] Saul and Jonathan to the political assassinations of today,” he continued. “After words of David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, he stood up and established the kingdom, first in Hevron and then in Jerusalem.”

“We, too, have to remember that from the heroism of the fallen, we need to go and build our country bravely and humbly, in body and soul,” he said, emphasizing the importance of Jewish unity.

“We will sanctify God’s name wherever we are – and to all the people of Israel, secular and religious, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, right and left-wing, we will love them freely, and thus we will see redemption speedily in our days,” he concluded.

May Shalom Sherki HY’D’s memory be for a blessing and may his family know no more sorrow.

In a change from previous years, I attended the festive prayer service in my daughter’s community of Karnei Shomron; the shul was packed and people sang the psalms and prayers with great gusto. The highlight of the service was the blowing not of one, but 4 Shofars in a deafening blast followed by a rousing rendition of “Next year in Jerusalem!”.

The prayers were followed by some dancing and then a very entertaining show put on by the town’s residents. Every age group took part, from kindergarten to grandparents, and I had huge nachas from seeing my grandchildren perform in various dances, flag bearing and banging on the darbuka. :-)

In the morning, if the weather holds (which is looking a bit iffy) we’ll be taking a hike through the local wadi, Nachal Kaneh, and later on the rest of the wider family will be arriving at my daughter’s for our traditional “mangal” – barbecue, although if it starts raining (as the forecasters unfestively announced), we’ll have to move indoors and try not to burn the house down!

Israeli Arab journalist Lucy Aharish lights an Independence Day torch with tears in her eyes

Earlier this evening the day’s official events kicked off with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mt. Herzl, and in a marked change from ever before, this year an Arab was honoured with one of the torches:

Lucy Aharish, an Israeli-Arab news anchor and actress, was among the 14 torch lighters in the official ceremony kicking off Israel’s celebrations of 67 years of independence on Wednesday night. Almost breaking down at the ceremony, she was the only one of the honorees to give part of her brief address in Arabic.

Aharish, 33, a Muslim Arab whose parents hail from Nazareth but who was educated in Jewish institutions, instantly became a target of far-right criticism when it was announced earlier this month that she had accepted the honor of lighting a torch at the state Independence Day ceremony.

Some left-wing critics said her accepting the honor constituted an agreement to serve as a fig leaf of the government.

From the extreme right — Lehava, a group acting to prevent intermarriage and other integration by non-Jewish citizens in Israeli life — was prevented by the police from protesting against Aharish’s involvement in the event.

Aharish was teary-eyed when she took her turn at the ceremony, saying she was lighting the torch “for all human beings wherever they may be who have not lost hope for peace, and for the children, full of innocence who live on this Earth.

“For those we were but are no more, who fell victim to baseless hatred by those who have forgotten that we were all born in the image of one God. For Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular, Arabs and Jews, sons of this motherland that reminds us that we have no other place, for us as Israel, for the honor of mankind and for the glory of the State of Israel,” she said.

Aharish, the only Arab lighting a torch in the ceremony, also spoke in Arabic, saying: “For our honor as human beings, this is our country and there is no other.”

In an interview with the Times of Israel this week, Aharish defined her identity as Israeli first and foremost.

“Today, when people ask me ‘What are you?’ I say that I’m an Israeli,” she said. “I’m not ashamed of my Israeliness. Then I’m a woman, and then I’m an Arab Muslim. That’s the order: Israeli, woman, Arab Muslim.”

What a remarkable woman! Israel can be proud that Ms. Aharish is proud to be an Israeli.

Speaking of women, in the spirit of the day, here is a salute to the women of the IDF with the stories of 4 female soldiers of the IDF (h/t Elchanan):

On the same theme, here is a beautiful video produced by Nefesh B’Nefesh, on why Olim (immigrants to Israel) love Israel:

Look at this a beautiful project undertaken by the Knesset – a display of children’s drawings of the Israeli flag.

And here is a salute to Petach Tikva!  Yay for my hometown! (h/t Shelley). At least no. 55  of the 67 +1 reasons why I love Israel. :-)

 2. Who says we’re not traditional? Seventy- three percent of us fast on Yom Kippur, 84% in Jerusalem.

4. My supermarket features pins and tape at the entrance before Succot, anticipating the need to hang up children’s artwork in the tent-like booths.

8. The entire Cinema City in Jerusalem changed over to Passover mode on the same day.

9. When a new pharmacy opened on a trendy Jerusalem street, across from an old one, the buzz was about whether such close competition was allowed in Jewish law.

10. Israeli invention: a featherless chicken.

15. The news announcers say, “Moadim l’simha,” during Passover, and everyone knows that the greeting refers to the intermediate days of the holiday.

17. We treat over 90% of our wastewater, more than any other country. Our biggest garbage dump has become a terrific park.

18. Our average public healthcare is ranked superior to that of the United States, and everyone, employed or not, has coverage.

24. A new Israeli stamp features the Cyrus Declaration from 538 BCE, in which the Persian king allowed a return to Israel, as reported in the Book of Ezra.

The glue on the stamp is kosher.

25. Big signs off highways announce: “Shmita is observed here” – leaving the land fallow – and many hurried to plant before the sabbatical year began.

26. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund suspends tree-planting for a shmita year.

27. Importing vegetables from Hamas farms isn’t a peace initiative – it’s a shmita initiative.

28. An Israeli porcupine dug up a 1,400-year-old oil lamp.

33. El Al ground crew and flight attendants dress up for Purim.

34. TV news anchors wear costumes on Purim; TV marks Purim with Monty Python movies.

48. Don’t tell those who shout “apartheid”: Gaza farmers attended a seminar in northern Israel and learned to double their watermelon crop.

50. No wonder folks in Tel Aviv enjoy a beer. Bronze-Age beer mugs were recently discovered in the city.

51. Saveur Culinary Travel Awards 2014 named Israel’s airline a winner of the Inflight Wine award.

52. National Geographic listed Tel Aviv as one of the top 10 seafront city meccas.

53. In 2014, Twitter users from around the world labeled Tel Aviv one of the top 10 hottest destinations to visit that year.

54. Despite all the beer, beaches and partying, Tel Aviv won the World Smart City award as part of Smart City Expo in Barcelona, beating 250 competitors.

55. Nonetheless, the biggest export city isn’t Tel Aviv; it’s the pioneering city of Petah Tikva, literally the “opening to hope.”

64. Simha. We score high on the world’s happiness tests.

65. We offer sports tours, wine tours, chocolate tours and now the healthy Salad Trail tour of our country.

68. Jewish Agency statistics for 2014 show that immigration to Israel hit a 10-year high with the arrival of about 26,500 new immigrants, the largest group arriving from France. Welcome my brothers, welcome my sisters.

One of my favourite comic columnists, Benji Lovitt, has also produced his annual “why I love Israel” columns with a very funny list. Here are some highlights:

42. I love that despite living in the desert, our desalination plants allow us to have a water surplus. That’s like living on the sun and having ice in your freezer.

43. I love the complete cognitive dissonance I experience when processing the hyper-Jewish names of our fashion designers: Yaron Minkowski, Maor Radwinowitz, and Irena Burshtein. Move over, Coco Chanel, and make room for the next big thing, Shuki Yankelfish.

44. I love that we name our parking lots after former Prime Ministers. In Golda’s famous words, “We will only have peace when our drivers love Kvish 6 more than they hate honking.”

47. I love the ideological, uplifting names the pioneers gave our cities: “Opening of Hope” (Petach Tikvah), “The First to Zion” (Rishon L’Tzion), “Gift of G-d” (Netanya)… If Herzl had accepted the offer of Uganda, I’d be writing this from Rishon L’Jungle.

56. I love that you can drive the entire country without losing your favorite radio station.

57. I love that on Friday afternoon, Galgalatz radio will list the Shabbat times and announce the weekly parsha. “Coming up next, Kanye, Taylor Swift, and Lech Lecha.”

58. I love that on consecutive Saturday nights before the election, a left- and right-wing rally each attracted thousands to Kikar Rabin. They should have just met on Wednesday, played sheshbesh, and let the winner run the country.


64. I love that during Operation Protective Edge, our national airline continued operating flights when so many foreign carriers stopped out of fear. El Al got so much love, it was like the romantic comedy when the girl realizes she should dump the a-hole because her true love was right there all along.

65. I love our country’s powerful sense of community you feel most in times of need. Despite the fear that lone soldier Sean Carmeli’s funeral would be unattended, twenty thousand people showed up to support him. A lone soldier is anything but.

66. I love not only that so many people refused to cancel their trips to Israel during the war but that so many decided to come because of it. There was nowhere in the world I would have rather been and if you’ve never been here or can’t understand that, I invite you to come today, next week, next year, or whenever. Otherwise you’ll be missing out on one of the most special places on the planet.

67. I love that I’ve had this once in a lifetime experience and it’s not over yet.

I’ll say Amen to that! I’m sure if we put our minds to it we could think of another 67 reasons why we love Israel – and many more besides.

Happy Birthday Israel! Chag Same’ach! I won’t say עד מאה ועשרים – ad me’ah ve’esrim (until 120) – because I hope you live till thousands of years old!


Posted in Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yom hazikaron 5775 – Israel’s Memorial Day 2015

The ceremony for Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, at the KotelYom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, began this evening at sundown with a very moving ceremony at the Kotel. President Reuven Rivlin addressed the audience and the nation:

President Reuven Rivlin began speaking at the official ceremony at the Western Wall (Kotel) before bereaved families on Tuesday night, noting how the shared experience of having loved ones who fell defending Israel unites all segments of Israel’s society.

“Last summer, I traveled far and wide, across this country. I visited the homes of beloved and wonderful boys who fell defending the country during Operation Protective Edge,” the president said. “The geography of pain, as I learned, stretched the length and breadth of the country, yet it did not divide it.”

“Death struck at the door of many, regardless of their religious beliefs. No camp was left untouched by death. I saw the sons of the Kibbutzim, of the settlements, of the villages, towns and cities, Jews and non-Jews, lone soldiers and new immigrants.

“I got to them though, too late. I got to know them, when they were already gone. I watched them laughing in home movies, I saw them smiling in photographs, hugging their nephews, holding their girlfriends hands, who are left bereft.

Aside from physically defending the state, Rivlin also spoke about the mission of defending the essence of the state, saying the Jewish people will not “make do with survival,” but instead will “live” as a free nation with creativity and vision.

“For the Jewish people, survival alone has never and should never suffice,” he said.

“The DNA of this nation is one of faith and creativity. We insist on survival because we believe in life. Because we believe in a vision of being a free nation.

“From the ashes we have risen. Over the graves of our children, siblings, parents and friends, we have risen from misery and despair to have hope and faith. This hope and faith is what leads us on our path…

“The deaths of those who died defending our home, forces us to deepen our commitment to building that home; as a more just home, as a more compassionate home, as a home where not only those who have fallen, but all those within it are equal.  This is our debt to their heroic deeds, and their lives which were lost.”

Binyamin Netanyahu also spoke movingly:

“This day is the most difficult for us,” related the PM, whose brother Yoni was killed during the famous IDF operation to free hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. “The warm embrace that we receive strengthens us but it cannot console us for the terrible loss. The pain rends our hearts, the grief chokes us and the longing will never go away.

“On Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, we recall the heroism of those who gave their souls for the existence and security of the State of Israel,” he said.

“To our sorrow, in the current Middle East we are obliged to continue fighting for our existence, and our existence here is not self-evident without this sacrifice.

“Only thanks to the iron wall, every brick of which is held by our sons and daughters of the IDF and the security services, only thanks to them can we continue to live our lives here and continue to raise our children and grandchildren here.”

Since this time last year over 70 soldiers and civilians, killed last summer during Operation Protective Edge, Tzuk Etan, were added to the awful list of Israeli victims of war and terror, along with 31 terror victims.

Heading this list of victims are the three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frenkel, Gil-Ad Shayer and Eyal Yifrach, whose kidnap and murder sparked the vicious missile onslaught from Gaza onto Israel’s population which triggered the whole war.

In memory of Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal, this beautiful song was written by popular Israeli performer David D’Or, and was performed jointly by several singers including David D’Or, Avraham Fried, Kobi Aflalo, Yishai Ribo, Yonatan Razel and David Broza.  Other singers include Liad Fisher, Amir Ben Gal, Gavriel Lederman, Chanan Einstein, Yedidia Yosef and Yehuda Malka.

The lyrics are so emotional they bring tears to the eyes, and are so poetic in the way they pick up on the boys’ names and use them in reference to Biblical verses which describe the travails we all went through last summer. (h/t Reality).

Here the words in Hebrew on the right, with my English translation on the left.

Song for the 3 teensWatch and listen and remember:

It is of utmost importance for us to remember not only those who were killed but those who were terribly injured and maimed during the fighting. One of those was Yehuda Hayisraeli, a soldier who was terribly injured during the war and has not yet woken up. In the meantime his wife has given birth to a son, and is struggling with her husband’s situation. Here is her heartfelt, terribly moving post from Facebook:

“In less than 48 hours it will come. Memorial Day. Ceremonies will begin. The memories, the stories of the fallen. Everyone will remember those fallen heroes who defended the country with devotion and tell their life stories. They are in pain, they weep, they miss their loved ones.

But this is not your day Yehuda .. God forbid. Because you’re alive. You’re with us. No matter that you to did not return from war last summer. No matter that we suffered a loss and nobody assures us we’ll get you back .. it does not matter that your life stopped in a moment, the dreams, desires, the aspirations, yours and ours as a family.

You do not even know you have lost a friend in the same incident that led to the injury ..

And I’m sad, I’m sad because I want Yehuda to be remembered. The one that we lost in the meantime .. not the lying in bed, frail and helpless. I want them to know who you were, what you did, what were your aspirations, what you believe .. you deserve it! And I feel that I too am slowly forgetting ..

It is true that they gave their lives for the country and died as heroes. But you continue to give daily your soul, you fight, with courage and heroism, because you know that in this war you must not give up. You cannot surrender. You continue to bear the results of your sacrifice then, every day.

And you deserve it! You deserve that you will be remembered as a great man, because you were.. that you will be missed, people will learn from you ..

But God forbid .. you are here. You’re with us. And after all, we do not eulogize a living person.
So we will continue to act with restraint, to want to talk about who you are but do not dare. to miss you and hope that one day you will come back .. and you will continue, you will continue to fight every day, every hour, and give up all your normal life for the people of Israel. Because that’s what you always wanted to do ..
Just please Yehuda .. I beg you .. that this should be the last Memorial Day for us. ”


I add here a message which Yehuda sent to me a few days before he was injured in order to remember who Yehuda is..

The message was written at the funeral of Lieutenant Colonel Dolev Kedar, who was killed by an anti-tank missile, a few days before Yehuda was injured.

“Tuesday, the funeral of Battalion Commander Geffen. Operation Protective Edge. The campaign that we all wanted, we all understand the importance and necessity and on the other hand, without contradiction, are pained by the loss of our heroic brothers boys who died for the sanctification of G-d’s name.

I think that any serious military commander reaches a point where he internalizes the importance of diligence, of learning, of the mission of our profession as soldiers and commanders ..

Diligence, diligence, diligence.

Internalize that what we are doing here is not a game and not fun, but an investment, devotion, endless giving to the people of Israel. And this is a mission that must not be abandoned for a moment. We must internalize the importance of the dedication, the laying oneself on the altar of the homeland for the sanctification of G-d’s name in the world, by strengthening the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel.

May we merit to sanctify life through endless dedication of all normal life, in whatever capacity, throughout all our lifetime. “

What an amazing spirit and strength of character is expressed in these words!

Please continue praying for a refuah shlema, a complete and speedy recovery for Yehuda Yitzchak ben Iris Hayisraeli.

May this coming year see no more additions to the list of Israel’s fallen heroes.

May the memory of our fallen be for a blessing for all of Am Yisrael. Yehi zichram baruch.

יהי זכרם ברוך

Posted in Defence and Military, Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chutzpah of the week: Iran? Russia? The ICC?

The week has barely started but I think it is safe to announce the candidates for this week’s Chutzpah of the Week Award. (No, this is not a regular occurrence on this blog even though the daily news provides us with plenty of material).

The S-300 missile system

First up for the Award is Vladimir Putin, President-for-life (at least for the moment) of Russia, who announced last week that they have lifted the ban on selling S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

Any delivery of an air-defense system would complicate airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the U.S. should the diplomatic track fail.

Iran thinks that Russia will deliver the missile system this year, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Interfax news agency in Moscow on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the defensive systems didn’t come under the U.N. arms embargo, and that Russia implemented the S-300 ban voluntarily. “This was done in the spirit of good will to stimulate progress in the negotiations,” he said, adding that it was no longer necessary.

The White House professed themselves shocked! Shocked I tells you! that the Russians managed to restrain themselves for so long.

President Barack Obama said on Friday that he was “surprised” that Russia had waited as long as it did to seal a deal to sell missile defense systems to Iran, given the tensions between Russia and the United States, Reuters reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday lifting a ban on the delivery of S-300 anti-missile rocket systems to Iran, a move to which Washington responded with concern.

Obama said on Friday that the sale was initially set to occur in 2009, but Russia put it on hold at the United States’ request. Putin said on Thursday the sale was resumed because of progress in nuclear talks with Iran.

Responding on  Thursday to the S-300 sale, the top United States military officer, Martin Dempsey, said it will not affect America’s ability to strike at Tehran’s nuclear facilities if necessary.

“We’ve known about the potential for that system to be sold to Iran for several years and have accounted for it in all of our plans,” Dempsey told a news conference.

The Russians managed to put even the White House to shame in their use of weasel words to justify the sale, overriding Israel’s objections:

Russian president Vladimir Putin has said he believes that lifting the ban could encourage Iran to finalize a nuclear deal with the six world powers by the end of June. He has reassured Israel that the S-300 does not endanger the Jewish state.

Sure, the missiles themselves don’t endanger Israel, but the nuclear missiles that those S-300s are protecting certainly DO endanger the Jewish state!  How easy it is to twist words into meaning whatever you want them to mean, just like Humpty Dumpty.

But maybe Putin’s perfidy wasn’t so unexpected, since Russia has always liked to play both sides against the middle, anything to prop up the faltering ruble and the sinking Russian economy.

What was shocking though, even to seasoned Israeli analysts, was the equanimity with which Obama reacted to the news of the Russian missile sale:

Israeli analysts expressed shock and amazement Friday night at US President Barack Obama’s stated openness to Iran’s demand for the immediate lifting of all economic sanctions, and his defense of Russia’s agreement to supply a sophisticated air defense system to Iran.

There was no immediate official Israeli response to the president’s comments, which were made after the start of Shabbat in Israel, when politicians generally do not work.

“Jaws dropped” around the studio, said the Channel 10 News diplomatic commentator Ben Caspit, as news broke of Obama’s declared empathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to supply Tehran with the S-300 missile defense system.

“Obama is something else,” Caspit added. “He’s decided to take America out of the wars…”

The station’s news anchor, Alon Ben David, chipped in, “He’s amazed that the Russians honored an agreement with him [for this long]? That’s what is astonishing.”

Responded Caspit, “This is the new America. We had better get used to it.”

I would remind readers that Israel’s Channel 10 is not exactly known for its right-wing views (to understate madly), which makes this criticism all the more noteworthy.

Adding to the general insanity of Obama’s reaction is the fact Iran marked its Army Day with calls of “Death to America”. You’d think they’d show more gratitude to the man who has effectively set them on the road to nuclear freedom. And let’s not even think about their calls of “Death to Israel”. That was a “non-negotiable” point for Iran, and the US let them get away with it.

Just a couple of days following the stunning announcement of the missile sale, Putin warned Israel not to dare sell arms to Ukraine, because, you know, what’s sauce for the goose is most definitely not kosher for the gander.

Russian President Vladmir Putin warned Israel Saturday against a “counterproductive” sale of weapons to Ukraine, in response to his own divisive decision to supply the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran.

“It’s the Israeli leadership’s choice,” the Russian leader said. “It’s their right to do what they think is appropriate.” But, he warned on Russian state-run media, “It will only lead to another round of conflicts, to a rise in the number of victims — and the outcome will be the same.”

Putin defended his decision to sell the system to the Iranians, saying Russia’s 2010 ban against it was voluntary and not connected to other sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

US officials say the sale is more a sign of Russia’s economic woes and less a desire to cause controversy in the West.

Russia has found itself under a mounting series of sanctions from the West since it annexed Crimea last March and was then accused of supporting militants fighting Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine.

“It actually does indicate that Russia’s willingness to engage in a controversial transaction like this one is an indication of how weakened their economy has become,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

“It isn’t a particular surprise that Russia may be pretty desperate to generate some income,” Earnest told reporters.

So that’s all right then… I’m sure that’s going to reassure Israeli citizens as they see the Iranian nuclear weapons program being protected by Russian missiles.

The next candidate for the Chutzpah of the Week Award goes to the ICC who is refusing to investigate ISIS for war crimes:

As Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says, it is a betrayal of the Nuremberg Tribunal:

Coming in the context of this 70th Yom HaShoah, the statement by Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC): “…I have come to the conclusion that the jurisdictional basis for opening a preliminary examination into this situation [the crimes of ISIS] is too narrow at this stage” — is a betrayal of the ICC’s original aspiration to follow the historic example of the 1945-46 Nuremberg Tribunal.

The politicization of the ICC has added to the emptiness of the “Never Again” catch-phrase, compounded by the “ever again” fear of the “G-word” (Genocide) political and financial repercussions.

The insult is doubly insulting since the Palestinians, those bastions of progressive liberalism, officially joined the ICC on 1st April specifically in order to sue Israel for war crimes. What’s the betting that the ICC will exonerate ISIS and find Israel guilty?

chutzpahSend in your vote for the winner of this week’s Chutzpah of the Week Award and let us know in the comments what your reasons were.  You can choose more than one answer.


Posted in Defence and Military, International relations, Mideast news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Good News Friday

Pesach is over and with it the mad rush to clean and cook and prepare and eat and… well, you get the picture. So it’s about time I posted another Good News Friday post. :-)

This week’s installment consists of several interesting items I found on Facebook. First is an amazing archeological discovery underneath the streets of the City of David in Jerusalem:

ASTOUNDING! Archeologists have discovered several incredible artifacts during the excavation of the City of David’s Herodian Road Aqueduct in Jerusalem.
Biblical treasures like the etching of a menorah and a golden bell are not only echoes of a time long ago, but reminders of the ancient and indomitable Jewish spirit and culture.

You’ll have to watch it for yourself!

From the ancient to the brand new, crossing a few centuries along the way, last week Tel Aviv celebrated its 106th anniversary! I will translate from this Facebook post:

Exactly 106 years ago from yesterday (11th April) 66 crazy people stood in the middle of a sand dune with two boxes of shells and raffled off pieces of desert to each family.

They called it Tel Aviv and dreamed of the first Hebrew city.

But even the craziest one among them could not have dreamed that this sand dune, within only 3 to 4 generations, would be able to stand next to New York, London or Paris – and look down at them.

Happy Birthday my dear one. You’re the best. :-)

From Wiki:

The official date of the founding of Tel Aviv was 20th Nissan 5669 (11th April 1909), the 5th day of Hol Hamo’ed (the intermediate days) of Pesach.  On this day the group of founders met on the sands north of Jaffa to raffle off amongst them the location of the building plots that they owned.

Mazal tov Tel Aviv!

I second that Mazal Tov. With all the complaints that we have about Tel Aviv’s traffic, its crowded streets, its huge buildings, it is astounding what the founding fathers and then the city’s mayors and residents managed to create under the very difficult circumstances of war, mass immigration, poverty, and political and diplomatic adversity. The city is a huge, bustling, lively business, cultural, economic and hi-tech powerhouse, and all Israelis can be extremely proud of their “second city” which in many ways serves as its first.

Another Facebook story, which I could not find anywhere else on the web strangely enough, is the wonderful victory of Israel’s Olympic artistic gymnastics team who won the gold medal at the Gymnastics World Cup in Pesaro for their ribbons exercise (h/t Debi Z):

What pride!
What a joy!
Israel‘s women’s team gymnastics in the World Cup in Pesaro won the gold medal a few minutes with their ribbons exercise with a score of 16.900 points.
The Ukraine national team won the silver medal with 16.850 points and the bronze medal went to the Bulgarian team with 16.800 points.
Later the team will compete with the combined exercise.
We wish you many more medals to add to your collection!

Indeed, this is a fantastic achievement. May the team go on to much more success.

Some interesting scientific and medical breakthroughs have been taking place in recent days in Israel too.

The solar field on top of the Knesset building

The Knesset building itself has now become the “greenest” parliament in the world:

On March 29, the Knesset unveiled a 4,560-square-meter (50,000 square feet) solar field on its roof and those of surrounding buildings. Although the 1,500 solar panels are the highlight and the most obvious aspect of the greening of the Knesset, they are by far not the only way in which the Knesset is conserving energy. The Green Knesset Project, launched in January 2014, involves 13 different ecologically conscious projects at a cost of NIS 7 million ($1.8 million).

“Today is the closure of a circle. Eight years ago, we had a dream of making the Knesset a green parliament,” MK Dov Khenin of the Joint Arab List, chair of the Knesset environmental caucus, told a group of reporters he met in a Knesset hallway on his way to the solar-field unveiling ceremony.

There are many other energy-saving green developments that have been implemented in the Knesset – though if the developers would only use all the hot air that comes out of the politicians’ mouths, they could probably fuel the entire State of Israel for years! :-D

On the medical front, an Israeli team has found two proteins that can suppress cancer:

A team of Israeli researchers at the Technion has discovered two proteins that can suppress cancer and control the cells’ growth and development.

The study was conducted in the laboratory of Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, an Israeli Nobel-prize winner in chemistry, and led by Dr. Yelena Kravtsova-Ivantsiv. The team included research students and physicians from the Rambam, Carmel and Hadassah Medical Centers.

In a paper published in the journal Cell last week, the researchers showed how the proteins could repress cancerous tissues and detailed how a high concentration of a protein called KPC1 and another called p50 in the tissue can protect it from cancerous tumors.

The research also detailed how the ubiquitin process — a cell system responsible for breaking down damaged proteins that can harm cells and tissues and co-discovered by Ciechanover, for which he won the Nobel — has a role in the mechanism.

The study is still in its initial stages but what a wonderful development this would be! Kol hakavod to the whole research team and to Prof. Ciechanover who once again has justified his Nobel Prize.

Another fantastic invention is a nano-bullet to fight brain cancer:

The worst form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), is considered largely incurable by doctors. Victims generally die within a year and a half of being diagnosed with the tumors. It’s such a devastating disease that the National Academy of Sciences calls it “the Terminator.” But an innovative nanotech-based “end-run” around cancer cells by Tel Aviv University researchers could provide doctors with a new way to treat – or even cure – GBM and other malignant killer cancers.

The technique, developed by Prof. Dan Peer of TAU’s Department of Department of Cell Research and Immunology and Scientific Director of TAU’s Center for NanoMedicine, has proven itself in the past: It’s based on the “cancer bullet” system Peer and other TAU researchers developed that delivers chemotherapy directly to cancer cells, using bioadhesive liposomes (BALs), consisting of regular liposomes reduced to nano-sized particles that attach themselves to the cancerous cells. Peer and Prof. Rimona Margalit, with whom he developed the method, have published several studies showing its effectiveness.

That research was done on ovarian cancer tumors, and it proved to be effective – but that wasn’t the case when it came to GBM, Prof. Zvi R. Cohen, Director of the Neurosurgical Oncology Unit and Vice Chair at the Neurosurgical Department at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital in central Israel, contacted Peer to discuss whether anything could be done for individuals suffering from the aggressive and fatal form of brain cancer.

With the same methods he and Margalit used to target ovarian cancer cells, Peer delivered RNA genetic interference (RNAi) material to human brain cancer cells transplanted into mice. The material was delivered directly to the tumor site using lipid-based nanoparticles coated with the polysugar hyaluronan (HA) that binds to a receptor expressed specifically on glioma cells, comparing the results with a control group that was treated with standard chemotherapy methods.

The results, said Peer, were “astonishing,” with the RNAi material hitting the cancer cells directly and extending the life of the test group versus the control group by a significant factor.

Kol hakavod to Professors Dan Peer, Zvi Cohen and to all the researchers involved in this development. Once again we see Israeli scientists and medical professional working to improve the lives of all humans. Just don’t let on to the BDS – I’m sure they’ll want to avoid such “Zionist-tainted” treatment!

And with this uplifting news I wish you all Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh tov for the new month of Iyar starting this coming week.

Posted in Israel news, Culture, Arts & Sports, Slice of Israeli life, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Yom Hashoah 5775 – 2015: Escape to the Far East

Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah began at sundown this evening with the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem.  This year’s torch-lighters were all survivors who went on to rebuild successful lives in Israel.  As in previous years, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned of a “comatose, delusional” world in the face of the Iranian threat and excoriated the world for not learning the lessons of the Holocaust:

“The main lesson of the Second World War, for democracies, is that they cannot turn a blind eye to tyrannical regimes,” Netanyahu said during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem museum to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Appeasement towards these regimes increases their aggressiveness,” the Israeli leader continued. “If this aggressiveness is not curbed in time, humanity may find itself in far greater wars in the future.”

Netanyahu noted that “ahead of World War II, the world attempted to appease the Nazis. They wanted quiet at any price, and the terrible price did come.” Six million Jews were murdered, as were millions of others. The lesson was clear, he said: Only standing firm in the face of violent, tyrannical regimes could ensure the future of humanity. But that lesson, he said, had evidently been forgotten.

Just as the Nazis sought to destroy Europe, Netanyahu said, so does Iran seek to wreak havoc in the Middle East and beyond, and to annihilate Israel.

World leaders utter the words “Never again” but don’t mean them, he charged.

Yesterday evening our shul held a fascinating talk given by the children of an unsung Jewish hero of the Holocaust, Zerach Warhaftig, who was one of those who signed Israel’s Independence Scroll, and later served as Minister for Religious Affairs in several Knessets.

Although Rabbi Warhaftig’s political life is well-known, I had no idea that he played such an important role in the escape of thousands of Polish and Lithuanian Jews to Japan and Shanghai, aided by the Righteous Gentiles Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul in Lithuania,  and Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch Consul also in Lithuania.

Here are their stories, and how the three men came together at the right time in the right place to save thousands upon thousands of Jews from the claws of the Nazis, putting their careers and even their lives at risk.

It was Jan Zwartendijk’s daring which gave Zerah Warhaftig the idea of applying for visas to such an exotic place as Japan:

The only other possible destination was the Far East. Getting there required crossing the USSR from west to east on the Trans-Siberian train, and then finding a ship that will take them to another country. The obstacle was getting exit visas from the USSR, and getting an entrance visa to another country. No country was willing to accept the Jews.

Nathan Gutwirth and Chaim Nussbaum, two Yeshiva students with Dutch citizenship from the Lithuanian Telshe Yeshiva, asked the acting Dutch consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Jan Zwartendijk if he could help them get to Curacao, a Dutch island in the West Indies.

Jan understood their situation. He contacted L.P.J. Decker, the Dutch Ambassador in Riga, for advice and received a note saying that: “No visas were necessary for Curacao. The governor has exclusive authority to issue landing permits to foreigners, a power he rarely exercises.”

Nathan Gutwirth and Chaim Nussbaum asked Zwartendijk to write only the first sentence in their passports. Zwartendijk agreed and entered “Curacao End-Visas,” omitting the fact that the Island’s Governor  had to approve their landing once they got their.

With this “revised” visas, the two yeshiva students went to Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kaunas. They asked for transit visa through Japan. He issued them transit visas valid for ten days in Japan. With the Dutch and Japanese visas, the students were able to obtain Soviet exit visas.This allowed them to travel to Vladivostok via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and from there, by boat to Japan.

Gutwirth asked the advice to Zorach Warhaftig, a leader in the Jewish community in Vilnius (later to become Minister of Religious Affairs in Israel).  Warhaftig told Gutwirth to go back to Zwartendijk and ask if he would be willing to give the same notation to anyone who applied for it, and to add a consular stamp to make it look like a visa. Gutwirth made that request and Zwartendijk agreed. Warhaftig spread the word, and within hours, dozens were at Zwartendijk’s door.

Decker and Zwartendijk had intended to issue the modified visa just to few people. Zwartendijk agreed to extend it to anyone who asked.  In the next 4 days (July 24-27) he wrote about 1,300 visas by hand. He issued another 1,050 with the help of a stamp over the next five working days (July 29 – August 2).  The highest-numbered surviving visa known to date is No. 2,345, issued on August 2 to Eliasz Kupinski and family.

Neither Zwartendijk or Sugihara were professional diplomats. Zwartendijk was businessman who was asked by Decker to replace a Nazi sympathizer. Sugihara was an intelligence officer.

The Japanese consul knew the visas weren’t real, but he issued transit visas to the Jews anyway. People who arrived in Japan sent their visas back to relatives still in Vilnius to be reused. Sugihara issued close to 2,000.

Fully aware of the questionable the documents, Japan allowed every Jew who used them to land. All of them were sponsored by the Jewish community in Kobe, Japan.

Sugihara was able to stay a few more weeks. He continued to hand out transit visas even after he was forbidden to do so by his superiors. Chiune Sugihara was expelled by the Soviets. He requested an extension claiming illness, then continued to issue visas until the last moment. He was deported on August 31, 1940. Even when he was on the departing train, he threw transit visas to Jews through the the train window.

Chiune Sugihara’s story was as follows:

Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese spy was sent to Lithuania as a Japanese consul to learn what were Nazi Germany military intentions in the region. On the morning of August 1st, Chiune Sugihara saw a group of Jews standing outside his fence, begging for transit visas. For ten days he telegraphed Tokyo asking for instructions. He received no answer. On August 11 he issued the 10 days transit visas. He continued granting transit visas while in Lithuania, ignoring official orders from his superiors to stop. He issued as many transit visas as he could to fleeing Jews; sending them to Japan and the Dutch West Indies.

Chiune Sugihara was expelled by the Soviets. He requested an extension claiming illness, then continued to issue visas until the last moment. He was deported on August 31, 1940. Even when he was on the departing train, he threw transit visas to waiting Jews through the the train window.

He is credited with saving 6,000 lives.  Throughout the war, the Japanese government resisted German calls to institute Anti-Semitic policies and to exterminate the Jews living in the Shanghai Ghetto in Japanese controlled China.

Explaining his heroism and simple humanity, Chiune Sugihara’s explains:

“Everyone in life has an opportunity to do a good deed. Do it and leave it alone. Don’t write about it or publicize it; don’t make money from it. Just do what’s right because it’s right.”

The answer is breathtaking in its simplicity. How sorely lacking the world was of more such heroes then, and even today!

Zerach Warhaftig‘s role in the dramatic escape reads like something out of fiction:

Zerach Warhaftig, a religious orthodox zionist, was the head of the Polish Rescue Committee. An organization which was committed to rescue Jews. The organization operated in the orthodox Jewish circles in Poland. Zerach remained in Warsaw until the last moment and then, together with his wife, he crossed the border to Lithuania, just before the city fell into the hands of the Nazis. He took with him several hundreds British certificates for immigration to Israel.

During this period, many of the Jewish leaders who realized that it was just a matter of time before Lithuania became under Nazi or Soviet control, left the country. Zerach Warhaftig, although he himself had plenty of legitimate British travel certificates to Israel, remained with his wife in Lithuania in order to help other Jews escape.

First, Zerach went to Vilnius (Vilna ), a city with a rich Jewish history and many Yeshivot (religious Jewish schools). Thousands of Polish Jewish refugees were already in the city. A group of activists, religious zionists, joined him and they became the rescue center for Jews. Zerach distributed the British immigration certificates that he brought to hundreds of people who used them to immigrate to Israel through Sweden. He called all the Jews in Lithuania to get Polish passports and leave Europe immediately. He met with the heads of all the Yeshivot, urging them to live Europe, but because of the bad experience the yeshivot had in WWI, when they moved from one place to another, while mistreated by the Germans and the Russians, this time, they decided to stay put.

Zerach Warhaftig tried to convince the heads of the yeshivot that it was only a matter of time before Lithuania was captured by the Germans (who would kill all the Jews), or by the Russians (who would send all the religious Jews to Siberia). He was not able to convince them. He moved to Kaunas (Kovno), which was Lithuania’s capital at the time, to be near the foreign embassies in order to get visas for Jews, so they could exit Europe.

Zerach Warhaftig and his team knew that they were running out of time. They worked hard to get as many religious Jews out of Europe, before it was too late. They forged and handed out fake visas. For fear of being captured and imprisoned, Zerach and his team did not keep an office; they  distributed the certificates from benches in public parks, and constantly moved from one place to another.

Zerach Warhaftig was finally succeeded in convincing the leaders of one Yeshiva, the Mir yeshiva, to apply for Polish passports in the British embassy in Kaunas. The Mir yeshiva was the only large European yeshiva that survived the war intact, preserving the culture, the knowledge, and teaching methods of the the great European yeshivot.

In July 1940,  Lithuania gave up its independence and joined the Soviet Union. Time was running out for the Jews. As described in the article Jan Zwartendijk – Righteous Among the Nations,  Zerach found an escape route from Europe through Russia to Japan.

To get a Soviet exit authorization was impossible. As a last resort, Zerach forwarded a list of 2,000 names of religious and secular Jews to Stalin, asking his permission for the Jews to travel across the USSR from west to east and then exit the country. It was a risky a request since it gave the Soviets a list of names, which they could have considered troublemakers and arrest. However, a miracle happened; the Soviets issued exit visas to everyone on the list.

Zerach organized the exit of thousands of people, by first sending them on the trans-Siberian train to Vladivostok, and then paying for ships to transport them to Japan. He himself stayed with his wife and newborn son in Lithuania until October, while continuing to send Jews to Japan. He and his family escaped Europe only after he learned that the NKVD (earlier version of the Soviet KGB secret police) was looking for him. In Japan, Zerach Warhaftig continued to visit foreign embassies again and again in effort to secure exit visas for Jews.

You can read the rest of Zerach Warhaftig’s outstanding contribution to Israel’s political and legal systems at the link.

A wonderful film about Warhaftig’s life was produced a few years ago by the late  Israeli journalist Adir Zik. Unfortunately most of the film is in Hebrew and I have not managed to find a version with subtitles. But there is enough English in it to get an idea of what was going on.

May the memories of the righteous people, Jews and Gentiles, who helped so many thousands to escape, be for a blessing, and may their heroism be taught as a lesson for future generations.

יהי זכרם ברוך

Posted in History, Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments