Thursday, June 28, 2007

What's goin' on in Jerusalem?

Some photos from downtown:

On Ben Yehuda street, someone covered his entire balcony with a giant messianic portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe reading, "Long live our master, teacher and rabbi, king messiah forever and ever." You know, I've had my doubts about that, but once I saw this poster I was suddenly persuaded.

A busy day on Agrippas Street.

And in the shuk.

One thing I love about Jerusalem is that it's built over layer after layer of civilizations. Sometimes the ghosts of the past like to poke their heads above ground and peek into the present. Here are some buildings that are just sitting there, exposed from previous construction, in the middle of Jaffa street. Who knows how old they are, what purpose they served, or who built them.

Last shabbat I was able to drive the Magic Carpet down to Modi'in and visit Moish. Let's see, the last bus for Modi'in leaves Jerusalem at 3:45 PM and arrives at 5 PM. That means that I would have to leave my house at 2:30 PM to get downtown in time to catch it. So from 2:30 through 5 PM, that's 2-1/2 hours of travel time. But now, with the Magic Carpet, I was able to cruise down the 443 and get there in 25 minutes. So I saved myself a cool 2 hours, like magic!

Me and Moish

This Shabbat, I'm heading out to commit all kinds of war crimes and acts of apartheid, to use the words of Jimmy Carter. This time, I'm going with Magshimey Herut first thing Friday morning to visit a Jewish outpost in the Judean hills. We will be oppressing the poor indigenous ancient Palestinians, who have lived in Judea from time immemorial, unlike the Jews, by painting a kindergarten, planting trees, and helping the Jewish imperialists establish their colony.
Should be fun!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Got My Wheels

The call came in last Wednesday night. My car is ready and waiting, for some reason it's at the Ford dealership instead of Mazda. Paid my insurance, grabbed my ID card, and was out the door first thing Thursday morning.

I had discovered a shortcut to the bus stop which involves leaving the paved roads and hiking up this rocky, thorn-brushy hillside. It gets me to the bus stop about one minute faster than the normal route, and can save me twenty minutes if I end up catching the earlier bus. Almost cresting the hill to the bus stop, I heard that distinctive diesel rev. Oh no! I had a split second to make the decision. If I don't make this bus, I've got to wait another twenty minutes, sometimes forty minutes. But there's just no way that the time and distance will work out, even if I sprint. Well, what have I got to lose? I kicked into high gear and raced up to the road bounding over the brick wall dividing the sidewalk from the wilderness just as the bus pulled away. On a normal day, I would have surrendered, perhaps punched the aluminum bus shelter to shake off the frustration, and resigned myself to a twenty minute wait. But not today. I kept the sprint up, trying to beat the bus to its next stop. The doors opened and passengers loaded on as I closed the distance. Faster faster FASTER. I was able to touch the back end of the bus just as the doors hissed shut but it pulled away just a few seconds too soon. I grabbed hold of a tree to rest and catch my breath. Plenty of time for that now. And who is that idiot honking at me?

The taxi window rolls down.
"Where are you going?"
"No, I don't have money for a taxi."
"Was that your bus?"
"I don't have money for a taxi."
"Just get in."

I plunk into the back seat, still panting and sweating, and he's flying up the hill. As we turn the corner, the tail end of the bus comes into view. Closer... closer... Pretty soon the bus has stopped, and the taxi driver swerves his vehicle in front of the number six, preventing the driver from pulling away from the stop until I've had a chance to board.
"Have a nice day."

With the tenth and final tab punched on my bus ticket, I'm greeted with a round of applause form the teenagers sitting in the back who have watched the whole drama. Last time, baby!

I transferred to the 14 and finally made it to Talpiot. Hiked down Hevron Street, made a left and came to Beit Lechem (Bethlehem,) and behold! I had found the dealership!

Next I went to collect my car. Took all of ten minutes.

Of course, fuel is expensive in Israel, but hey, I just HAD to go for a joy ride.

Har Homa, "Wall Mountain,"a once "controversial" building project back in the nineties, now all built up, which helped secure Jerusalem as a Jewish city.

Where am I?


The controls.

I had an hour until I was scheduled to go on a tour, down in Kiryat Belz, so I was looping through the city, racing between the Malcha Mall, Talpiot, the yeshiva in Kiryat Moshe, and downtown, any one of which would have taken an hour or more by bus, and now took only five to ten minutes tops.

Of course, on the way downtown, traffic was murder, and the streets were crawling with police. I suddenly realized that Wednesday was the "Pride" (homosexual) parade, the Hebrew word for pride being pronounced "ga'eh." Almost half of Israel's police force had been dispatched to separate sodomite activists and religious counter-protesters, so roadblocks and detours were everywhere.

Hillel Street Blues (Kudos to Chana for guessing the correct photograph)

At King George street: "Well, as long as Queen George doesn't show up, we should be all right."

At the Maaleh Adumim Interchange: Okay boys, keep your eyes open for anything queer.

Note: I can't take credit for the next two photographs, as I didn't actually go to the parade.

Here they come!

The fact is there's no way that religious Jews can win this fight in the eyes of Israelis. Any protest at the desecration of the sanctity of Jerusalem will only be inflated by Israel's anti-religious media into being portrayed as violent intolerance and closed-minded bigotry. Of course, despite their claims of being the next generation fo Freedom Riders risking all in the name of tolerance, they certainly didn't have the courage to walk through any Muslim neighborhoods. I guess there is room for "cultural sensitivity" when facing authentic intolerance.

Meanwhile, the major rabbis from all yeshivot called on their students to refrain from violence or counter-protesting. Most religious people simply cleared out for the day, rather than expose themselves or their children to impurity.

In my opinion, the fact that sodomy advocates even need to have this parade is indicative that even they understand on some level that this type of behavior is an aberration. After all, one would never see a heterosexual pride parade. It reminds me of the heavy marijuana users I knew in college who taped huge psychedelic marijuana leaf posters outside the door to their room. It was broadcasting a message to the world: "I'm aware my behavior is harmful, and I'm going to destroy myself anyway."

As for me, I just rolled up the windows, shut out the traffic jam and read the user's manual, fidgeting with all the switches and knobs. The ride is smooth and quiet., so much so that I really don't even hear the honking and yelling outside. I've dubbed him the "Magic Carpet."

The bus ride out took an hour and a half. The car ride home took fifteen minutes. Israel just got a whole lot smaller.
The magic carpet, asleep and resting at home. Isn't it cute?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Destinations Unknown

During Shabbat in Sderot, we took some time with Rav Goldenberg to learn the halachot (Jewish practice) regarding visits such as these. After all, Pikuach Nefesh, the preservation of life, is a fundamental principle of Judaism. One is not only permitted but commanded to violate Shabbat, as well as almost every other mitzvah in order to save a life. The only three aveirot (violations) which one is not permitted to do even at the cost of one's own life are murder, idolatry, and forbidden sexual relations. Visiting a town under rocket bombardment like Sderot does not fall under any of these three categories, so it would seem that the visit should be forbidden.

Is it permissible to visit a border town which is on the front lines if that entails danger?

Of course, I'm doing this from memory, so I don't have the actual sources handy, but the explanation is as follows:

First off, one must define what is danger. As anyone who lives in Israel can testify, risk is a subjective matter. There are a few in Israel who do not drive over the green line (the 1949 armistice line,) even to settlements far from Arab communities. Then, there are those who will not drive beyond the wall. Of course, some are happy to drive past the wall, but only drive on route 60 and other "secure" roads during the day. And there are a brave few who will drive anywhere any time, even right through an Arab village. The example given during our shiur (lesson) came from older times, when a farmer living in the countryside asked his fellows about taking a sea voyage. The other villagers, of course, were terrified of the dangers and instructed him not to place his life at risk. But when he reached the port, the city dwellers there watched sailing ships come and go all the time, and of course approved the mission without a problem. Often fears can be inflated, and this is especially true regarding those who visit Eretz Israel.

There is a small probability that even just walking outside of one's house, one would be run over by a truck. Should one therefore avoid going to shul in the morning? Of course not. The general standard which is used to determine danger is that if a place is visited by merchants, it is generally considered safe enough. If people are willing to visit an area in order to make a profit, then of course they can visit it to fulfill a mitzvah. This would apply even to areas where there is no direct mitzvah to be present.

Secondly, we have to remember that we can't always use one precept of Torah to eliminate another positive commandment (this is not true in all cases, consult your local rabbi.) For example, it is forbidden to cause one's self to bleed on Shabbat (don't scratch your insect bites.) But the Torah commands us to perform a brit milah (circumcision) on the eighth day after the birth of a baby boy. If the eighth day falls on Shabbat, then brit milah overrules Shabbat, and we commence. Similarly, one might claim that it is Pikuach Nefesh to avoid enacting the death penalty in a capital case. However, the Torah itself commands us to enact the death penalty, and thus the positive mitzvah overrules the preservation of life.

Unlike outside Israel, where there is no commandment for Jews to settle, and one should therefore flee a war zone immediately, the commandment of Yishuv Haaretz, settling the land, applies to Jews in Israel. No nation was ever built or maintained without wars and sacrifice, and it therefore follows that if the Torah commands us to settle and build, it is implicit that we will be exposed to some risk. Therefore, like the capital case, the injunction of Pikuach Nefesh does not apply.

While our visit was not directly an act of settling the land, we were there to give our support to the residents and strengthen them, and therefore it falls under the same category. Even if that were not the case, Sderot is still a place that's visited by merchants, and therefore even a casual visit would still be permissible.

Monday, June 25, 2007


I apologize for this unanticipated interruption in blogging. I started cropping and editing photos for pasting, and did so many of them that I didn't have time to actually make a proper post. Here are a few previews:

Can anybody guess at which outpost this photograph of the family of Rav Menachem Listman, director of the English department at Machon Meir, was taken?

Can anybody tell which settlement I'm photographed in front of here?
Anyone know which famous Jerusalem building I'm inside of here?
Hillel Street Blues: Anybody have a guess as to why all these cops are on the street?
Anybody know what this bug is called?

All these questions, and dozens more you never even thought of, will be answered in the coming days on Planet Israel. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Halachic research


I received the following comment from Yaakov on my previous post, "Gaza Violence Commentary, Part II"

You write: "While a Jew is forbidden from celebrating in the demise and death of his enemies,..."

I have to differ with this statement. Talmud Bavli, Megillah 16a: Mordechai Kicks Haman (as Haman is helping him up onto the horse). Haman (who apparently knows Tanach) says: doesn't it say in Mishlei "בנפל איבך אל תשמח" - Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy? Mordechai responds: this passuk refers to Jewish enemies, but regarding non-Jewish enemies (like Haman, PLO and Hamas) it says (Devarim 33:29) ואתה על במותימו תדרוך - and you will trample on their haughty ones.

Upon the downfall of enemies of the Jewish people who happen to be Jewish (such people exist, even today), upon their downfall we do not rejoice. But upon the downfall of our non-Jewish enemies, it is incumbent upon us to rejoice.

Well, I asked around, and turns out Ya'akov is right and I'm wrong. You are, in fact, allowed to celebrate the demise of national enemies. If one witnesses the demise of a personal enemy, one should refrain from rejoicing. It's better to daven that the personal enemy should do teshuvah (return/repentance) and make a mensch of himself.

And the news keeps coming out of Gaza, in whispers. While the rest of the world is getting used to the idea of a Gaza firmly under Hamas rule, it would seem that, while the fighting has ended, the killing has not. Hamas has been doing some weeding, rounding up boys from Fatach-allied clans, many around 14 years old or younger, hogtying them, and throwing them from high-rise buildings. Floods of former Fatach Jew-killers, now bleeding and begging Israel for medical assistance, are swarming around the Erez gates. Of course, Israel's ultra-left supreme court stepped in and ordered that they be treated at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile, Hamas is threatening to start a suicide bombing campaign in Yehuda and Shomron, not against Jews, but against their Fatach rivals. Hey Hamas guys, if you're reading this, I've got a message for you: Talk is cheap.

Anyway, been doing lots of touring and photographing, so stay tuned...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Effect of the Terror

I was glad we could bring smiles to some weary faces, and the people in Sderot were definitely glad to see us. Still, the visit makes clear the limited effect of solidarity. At the onset of Shabbat, we wove our way through apartment complexes and homes to a shul (synagogue) on the opposite side of the city, one of many in town which had been converted from a bomb shelter. Along the way, the town looked relatively normal, with rows of clean stucco houses, playgrounds and parks. But once and a while one would see a house with a wall having been completely blasted off, rubble strewn in the front yard. And the playgrounds were empty. The background was filled with the sound of thumping helicopters and buzzing unmanned areal surveillance drones. Occasionally, the thumping and buzzing was punctuated with the popping of high-caliber automatic weapons fire. We all looked to David, our resident Army veteran.
"Qassam?" someone asked.
"Nope, someone's shooting."
"Now that was a Qassam."

The nine of us arrived a few minutes late. Ten are required for a minyan, a quorum of Jewish men necessary to recite all the prayers, but only three men from the neighborhood showed up, so they had waited. The Gabbai (the guy who runs the shul) explained, "We used to have a minyan, but people are leaving, one by one."

Helicopters fly by overhead, dropping flares to confuse potential surface-to-air missiles.

"They don't make any difference. Helicopters do nothing. Do you know how much it costs to keep a helicopter in the air for an hour? Thousands of shekels."

I guess that's where the 100% car tax on the Mazda 3 goes.

"Last week, our rabbi left. He was almost hit by a missile. Everyone wants to leave. We can't send our children to school here any more."

Israel's latest crop of Post-Zionist leaders are completely incapable of solving this problem. There is a reasonable fear that if Israel sends a brigade of foot soldiers into Beit Hanoun, they won't come back out. There is also a fear that the most effective tactic, siege combined with areal bombardment to depopulate the town, will result in an international outcry which would outweigh any political pressure they might feel domestically. The best that Israel's rulers have come up with so far is "rocket-proofing" the town, building massive walls around school houses and nurseries. Of course, so far, all fatalities have been people walking in the open, not indoors, so even if they had already completed all these projects years ago, they would not have saved any lives.

It's unnerving how skilled the Arabs have become at the art of inflicting psychological warfare. It's not the actual danger, so much as the constant exposure, which grinds down the nerves. Since the Arabs began rocketing the Jewish civilians of Sderot seven years ago, ten have been killed. That would be an average number for a successful bus bombing during the Intifada. Israelis became so experienced with the in-your-face sudden-death terror that they learned to recover quickly. After an attack, medical teams and repair crews came to clean up, and the scene would be under control within hours, unrecognizable as the site of an atrocity within one day. Buses kept running, shattered windows were repaired, and the survivors continued with life as best they could.

Sderot is a town that was left behind by the Intifada, stuck in the fear of 2000. If Israel's ruling class is going to do something, they had better do it fast. Life in Sderot is like one continuous, seven year suicide bombing, and people are starting to pick up and leave.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Flower Power

Leaving the school building we found piles of roses waiting for us. Our mission, if we chose to accept it (we did,) was to go door to door delivering flowers and saying hello to the good people of Sderot, letting them know that there are still Jews who are willing to come down and spend a Shabbat with them.

Roses are red.

Toys and goodies for the kids.

A poster for the event, "Shabbat Sderot, Raising the flag with Sderot." (Note: I'm blogging this now, but the event was actually about 3 weeks ago.)

Everybody takes a clump.
Provisions were not made for carrying the things. They're covered in thorns.

Quick Lars, take the picture! My hands are bleeding!

My shirt seems to provide adequate protection from being stabbed by thorns.

Adam brought his guitar. At first I thought this a bit, well, excessive.

But the kids seemed to ignore my flowers and just wanted to hear Adam playing guitar. Once the sound spread out, people were coming out of their apartments to make requests. Pretty soon we were all dancing around. It was a sweaty day, so the old ladies brought down soda and cups. Soon we had our own mini-concert going.

Play, "Ain Lanu Al Mi Lehishaer!"

We got the kids dancing.

We gathered up our yeshivah comrades and walked back to the school as a bunch. Adam kept playing, and pretty soon it was something like a parade.

Lars and me, ready for Shabbat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The School

On the bus ride down, we were all handed information sheets on what to do in the event of a Qassam attack, later explained in English by Rabbi Goldenberg:

When the "Tzeva Adom" (red color alarm for incoming Qassam rockets) goes off, you will have fifteen seconds. Of course, sometimes you'll have less time. Sometimes, the siren doesn't go off at all before the rocket hits. If you are indoors, stay away from the windows, move to the most centrally located room in the building. If you are outdoors, try to run to the stairwell of a building. If you are in a field, lay down and place your hands over the back of your head, covering the cerebral cortex. They like to fire the rockets in barrages, so after the siren has gone off, remain indoors for at least five minutes.

Rav Goldenberg gives us a precautionary safety lesson.

We were led to our rooms. We ended up sleeping on the floor of a protected school. Blue doors indicate rocket-shielded rooms. White doors indicate non-shielded rooms.

David in the hallway. Note the blue doors.

Ari, how can you eat eggs at a time like this?

Yours truly on the floor.

The entire school building has been completely encapsulated in concrete, steel, and shrapnell-proof windows.

Hanging out.
Still, it was a good feeling to be in a religious school. I wish I had the opportunity to study at a school like this, and hope some day I can raise kids who will.

On the cafeteria, wall, a mural of the righteous.

Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who ministered to the prisoners held by the British.

"Baba" (Grandpa) Sali, spiritual leader of Moroccan Jewry in the early years of Israeli independence.

Chofetz Chaim, the leader of religious Ashkenazi Jewry who taught that Lashon Harah, "Evil Speach," is one of the worst sins a person can commit.

Rav Avraham Kook, who founded the Nationalist-Religious approach to Israel, Zionism, and secular society.

But enough hanging around, it was time to hit the streets...

Monday, June 18, 2007

South to Sderot

After seven years of non-stop rocket attacks, Sderot is beginning to show the signs of fatigue.
With internal Gazan strife raging, one of the Gaza terror gangs tried to gain support by launching a barrage of 40 missiles in one day at Sderot.

Walking through the National Religious neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, home of the Machon Meir yeshiva, public message boards, transformer enclosures, and any empty wall space calling for an Operation: Shield Wall 2, the original Operation: Shield Wall being Israel's invasion and recapture of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) which put the "Al Aksa Intifadah," the most recent Arab insurrection against Jewish political independence, out of business.

Operation Shield Wall 2 in Gaza - To save Sderot and the Northern Negev

Unfortunately, the situation in Gaza is a bit more complicated. Unlike Judea and Samaria, which consists of towns and cities surrounded by mountains and open countryside, Gaza itself is small, flat, and crowded. Plus, having expelled the settlers there, Israel no longer has a presence on the ground, the first, most basic step towards gathering intelligence.

Debates go back and forth over military solutions, but really there's nothing that a non-military, unconnected immigrant can do about all of that. Our government is incapable or simply callous to the misery their lack of policy inflicts on Israel's southern residents, so the rabbis of the National Religious movement got together to take action independently. Busloads of students from national religious yeshivot, some from as far north as Tsfat, converged on Sderot. Time to send in the troops.

Jeff and Lars, getting ready for action.

Lars, in Sderot