01/25/2017 04:11:21 PM
[Dear Friends, I normally don't use this blog for posting sermons, but I've gotten so much feedback about this drasha that I thought I'd make it available. Feel free to post on social media. Thanks, -DK]
Parshas Shemos 5777 - A New President, A New Hope, An Uncertain Future
- As I am speaking, the new president and his family are enjoying their inauguration weekend. This morning, there is/was a National Prayer Service held in Washington’s National Cathedral. I think it only fitting that we add our prayers on this Shabbos to the millions of voices praying for the same thing: That the new president be imbued with wisdom and fortitude to succeed in making the world a better place and creating a future that is filled with peace and prosperity for all peoples of the world.
- Now, of course, rabbis around the world today are also noting that there’s no coincidence that our parsha opens with the words (1:8), “וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף:”. We are experiencing a “new king” in the world of our own; Egypt is a good metaphor for the United States, a land that has been so hospitable to Jews for centuries.
- But if we are going to cull a pasuk from our parsha, how do we reconcile that last part of the pasuk, “אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף”? How can that possibly apply to Pres. Trump? Has there ever been a president in our lifetimes that has shown such open philosemitism? Has there ever been a president with a Jewish daughter, Jewish, yarmulke-wearing grandchildren, who has koshered his kitchens and made Shabbos accommodations for his family? Has there ever been a president who has expressed so much forceful support for Israel and who has expressed so much commitment to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem? Has there ever been a president whose Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be a senior advisor and will be negotiating directly between Israel and the PA? Has there ever been a president who has appointed such a right-wing hard-liner as (Orthodox Jew) David Friedman to be his ambassador to Israel? Has there ever been a president to appoint such an Israel-supporting ambassador to the U.N. as Nikki Haley, who openly condemned the U.S.’s betrayal of Israel in UN Resolution 2334? Do you recall a president whose presidential oath was followed by a Tanakh-laden prayer from an Orthodox rabbi, R’ Marvin Hier? Is there a president in recent memory who said that we have nothing to fear because, above all, “we will be protected by G-d”? How can this be the king who “knows not Joseph”?!
- How can it be, that as we are reading today from the Torah about the descent of the Jewish people into antisemitism, discrimination and slavery, that we celebrate a president who seems fully committed to Israel and its people? How is this consistent to a time when we are seeing not a descent, but rather an ascent from a past administration which, while also embracing Jews in its inner circle (although admittedly a different kind of Jew), betrayed Israel in its final days in office?
- You may already be aware of the Midrash cited by Rashi regarding the meaning of “מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ” – the Midrash deliberates if he really was a new king, or if he was the same old Pharaoh who just pretended not to know Yoseph. But there’s a second part to this Midrash (Sh”R 1:8) that isn’t as well known. This Midrash portrays Pharaoh as the same man who knew Yoseph, but who was faced with a quandary. While he recognized the greatness of the Jewish people and their vital contributions to the State, the citizenry grew resentful of the Jews and wanted them out:
רבנן אמרי למה קראו מלך חדש והלא פרעה עצמו היה, אלא שאמרו המצרים לפרעה בא ונזדווג לאומה זו, אמר להם שוטים אתם עד עכשיו משלהם אנו אוכלים והיאך נזדווג להם, אלולי יוסף לא היינו חיים, כיון שלא שמע להם הורידוהו מכסאו שלשה חדשים, עד שאמר להם כל מה שאתם רוצים הריני עמכם והשיבו אותו, לפיכך כתיב ויקם מלך חדש
[The people came to Pharaoh and said, “Let’s gang up on these Jews.” Pharaoh responded, “Fools! Don’t you realize that everything we consume as a nation is because of them, and now you want to gang up on them? If it weren’t for Yoseph we wouldn’t even be alive!” Because he refused to listen to them, the people ousted him from office for a period of three months, until he finally agreed to do whatever they asked.]
- This Midrash is powerful for two reasons. Firstly, it indicates that the reason the people became anti-Semites was precisely because of all that Yoseph had done. They were completely indebted and owed their very lives to Yoseph for his revolutionary efforts at social engineering a generation before. People can develop resentment against those who innovate and contribute for their welfare, feeling that they are completely in their debt. It was precisely Pharaoh’s acknowledgment of the gift of the Jews that made the people anti-Semitic. When Jews do too little OR when Jews do too much, the world gangs up on us.
- Secondly, regardless of how passionate and committed Pharaoh was to Yoseph and his family of Jews, he couldn’t withstand the will of the people. A king is, after all, just a politician with a crown. He will cave to the fickleness and whims of the masses in order to retain his power. If it means throwing the Jews under the bus, so be it. That is precisely why Chazal tell us (Avos 1:10), “אל תתודע לרשות”.
- This week I read an excellent article by Yossi Klein Halevi about the two past presidents, both Obama and Trump, who have prided themselves as the most “Jewish” presidents ever. Both presidents have boasted about having a cabinet of advisors filled with Jews. Obama made not only a Channukah party, but also a Seder every year, and the liberal Jews of America adored him. The problem, states Klein Halevi, is that for both presidents, there are “good Jews” and “bad Jews”. For Obama, the good Jews are J-Street and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the bad Jews are Andrew Breitbart and Bibi Netanyahu. For Trump, the good Jews are David Friedman and his son-in-law Jared, and the bad Jews are all those New York Times reading liberal Jews in Manhattan.
- This is a powder keg of antisemitism waiting to explode. First, of all, Jews can’t even agree upon what the most dangerous anti-Semitic threat is, which only weakens our internal resolve and ability to combat antisemitism. Furthermore, each president has a segment of Jews that they dislike, and so the masses, upon witnessing the two different kinds of Jews, can select their “brand” worthy of demonization and use that to craft the next anti-Semitic trope.
- Here’s where we’d do well to look at history. The nineteenth century in Germany saw a period of great acceptance of the Jewish people, something unprecedented in centuries of European history. Jews shared economic and political prosperity with their fellow Germans. By the turn of the century, here’s what New World Encyclopedia states:
A higher percentage of German Jews fought in World War I than that of any other ethnic, religious or political group in Germany—in fact, some 12,000 died for their country. The chancellor during the first two years of the war, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, was the son and grandson of German Jewish public servants. Ironically, it was a Jewish lieutenant, Hugo Gutmann, who awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, to a 29-year-old corporal named Hitler. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Gutmann left Germany and escaped to the United States.… German Jews enjoyed full equality in the Weimar Republic, many receiving high political positions such as foreign minister and vice chancellor. The Weimar constitution was the work of a German Jew, Hugo Preuss, who later became minister of the interior. Marriages between Jews and non-Jews became somewhat common from the nineteenth century; for example, the wife of German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was Jewish.
- One may also point to the fascinating case study of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Scholars today recognize that while a small portion of his writings are critical of Jews and Christians alike, Nietzsche overall had high regard for most Jews. He even broke his friendship with Richard Wagner, in part because of Wagner’s antisemitism. Nietzsche admired the industriousness of the Jews and actually at one point advocated taking the strongest Jews, whom he regarded as a pure race, and mixing them with the Aryan race.
- He wrote about his opposition to anti-Semitism: “The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe.” Indeed, they fit his aristocratic prescription since they survived “thanks above all to a resolute faith that does not need to feel ashamed in the presence of ‘modern ideas.’” Germany, he continued, would do better to deport the anti-Semites than the Jews who would provide many good qualities.
- He writes: “What Europe owes to the Jews?--Many things, good and bad, and above all one thing of the nature both of the best and the worst: the grand style in morality, the fearfulness and majesty of infinite demands, of infinite significations, the whole Romanticism and sublimity of moral questionableness--and consequently just the most attractive, ensnaring, and exquisite element in those iridescences and allurements to life, in the aftersheen of which the sky of our European culture, its evening sky, now glows--perhaps glows out. For this, we artists among the spectators and philosophers, are--grateful to the Jews…. The Jews … are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe, they know how to succeed even under the worst conditions…”
- But then chillingly, he writes words that today especially hearken back to Pharaoh:
“…That the Jews, if they wanted it--or if they were forced into it, which seems to be what the anti-Semites want--could even now have preponderance, indeed quite literally mastery over Europe, that is certain; that they are not working and planning for that is equally certain.”
- And yet, Hitler and the Nazis used Nietzsche’s writings to develop the Nazi manifesto of ridding the world of the pestilence of the Jews. By October 1935 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels imperiously announced that ‘It is forbidden to list the names of fallen Jews on memorials and memorial plaques for the fallen of the world war.’ The Nazis systematically eliminated any and every mention of Jews and their contributions to German society and history.
- Especially in light of the strong nationalistic message contained in Trump’s inaugural speech, we should be aware of the similarities between then and now. Of course, for every similarity between pre-War Germany and today, there’s a difference. Still, history should always give one pause. And so, I think we need to celebrate and be optimistic about the future. But I also think we need to be somewhat sober and circumspect. Does this spell the end of the troubles between the U.S. and Israel, or is it only the beginning of new trouble ahead? Is this the beginning of a new era of renaissance for all things Jewish in the Disapora, or does this mark the beginning of the end? Is the pendulum swinging too far in the favor of the Jews? Should we be looking ahead, four or eight years from now, when the pendulum swings just as violently back in the other direction? While President Trump knows Yoseph very well, what resentment of Yoseph will he leave in his wake? What will the body politic have to say about philosemitism, and what is the forecast for Jews in North America 5, 10 and 20 years from now?
- Sorry to rain on our parade, but I think that as we ponder these questions we must always remember the fateful words of Obadiah (1:17) quoted by the Chofetz Chaim in 1933:
(“Mount Zion will be for our refuge and it shall be holy; and the House of Jacob will reclaim their rightful inheritance.”)
Under the new “melekh” of the U.S., may we see Yeshuos and Nechamos that bring us to the ultimate redemption, bb”a.
07/23/2014 04:20:38 PM
To show our unity with the people of Israel during the Gaza War
Day Three (July 23): Ashkelon, Ashdod, and more
Today was a very emotional day for a number of reasons. Firstly, we visited some injured chayalim, mostly injured by shrapnel. They unanimously told us that all they want to do is leave their hospital bed and get back to the front. Secondly, we visited a family in Ashdod whose home was damaged from a Russian Grad missile fired from Gaza. Finally, we ourselves were caught in the middle of at least five red alerts today and had to scramble to a safe area. I’ll go through our day step by step.
But first off, I must remind you that everywhere we've gone, Canada is the hero to all of Israel today. So many people have been thanking us for having such upright and morally unambiguous leaders, especially in light of the tepid support Israel’s gotten from the US during this offensive.
This morning, we were debriefed by Miri Eisen, former spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office. She was very direct and pragmatic about the possible outcomes of this conflict, but emphasized that the resolve and consensus of almost all Israelis is to finish this operation and see it through until Hamas’ tunnel system is completely demolished. Yes, there’s a lot of fear, anxiety, depression within Israeli society right now, and this can't be easily dismissed. But overall, people are optimistic about the operation and the future of our country.
Next, we head to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon to meet with CEO Dr. Hezi Levy. Throughout our visit, since we represent UJA, we’ve been given different pitches for how we can help. Dr. Levy explains to us that the hospital isn't fortified and wasn't built for being protected from shelling, since it was built back in the 60’s before there ever was a Hamas. Northern hospitals are more advanced in this respect, having already protected themselves from Hizbullah and Syria by fortifying their hospitals (those of you who were on our mission this past December will recall seeing the new fully underground hospital facility at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital). Here's our group in the hospital lobby (you may recognize Sheldon Potter, a BAYT member, who joined us for today):
The Barzilai Hospital serves a population of 500,000, over 600 beds, and over 1500 employees. During this war operation, the hospital is trying to release all non urgent care patients so that they can recuperate in a safer place. This has given rise to many ethical dilemmas as to which procedures to do and not to do during wartime. How to deal with prematurely born neonates, elective procedures, etc. As a result of the war, current hospital occupancy is about 50% of normal due to evacuations.
Dr. Levy pointed out that the hospital is also treating a Palestinian soldier injured in the conflict, and pointed to the Rambam’s prayer for the doctor, posted in the hospital lobby, in which Maimonides pledges to treat everyone, the rich, the poor, the beloved and the hated, all alike. Barzilai also treats and helps deliver many Palestinian babies.
As Dr. Levy was finishing his presentation and we were getting ready to leave the “safe room” where we were convening, the red alert alarm went off. This was our first experience with red alerts, and we quickly returned back to the room. We heard and felt a series of booms – this was Iron Dome anti-missile system deflecting and exploding a series of enemy missiles in mid-air.
When it was safe, we went to see the wartime neonatal unit. The regular neonatal unit is now closed, and has been relocated to the bomb shelter (miklat). Very sad to see these preemies being treated in a tiny bomb shelter. But at least they’re safe from the outdoors. Here's a photo of the miklat "unit", from the outside, and then inside:
Our next stop at Barzilai was to visit injured chayalim. I tell you, dear friends, it was here and at the shiva house yesterday where I really felt that each and every one of you was with me performing the chesed at my side. Each boy/young man had a different story for his injuries; some were injured in Gaza, some just outside of Gaza. Most of the boys were chayalim but there was also a 16-year old who took shrapnel for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We had to leave since the Minister of Internal Security, Yitzchak Aharonovich, came to visit the chayalim:
We left Barzilai hospital and stopped for our lunch break at an outdoor mall. As we were getting ready to leave, once again the siren went off. From Ashkelon, you have 15 seconds to find a safe place to go, and lo and behold, 15 seconds later we heard the loud boom while under a concrete overhang. My heart skipped a beat, I'm sure, but once again iron dome protected us. In the picture below, you may be able to make out the wisps of smoke which show the trajectory of the missile and where it was blown up mid-air.
On to Ashdod, which is a few kilometers further away from Gaza, but is still well within the range of the latest Hamas technology. Our first stop was at the Elta Radar Systems Corporation, an integral part of Israel’s Aerospace industry, and which was instrumental in designing the Iron Dome system. We were fully debriefed with declassified material, but since no cameras were permitted inside, I can’t share any more information with you other than to tell you that we Jews are Baruch Hashem an amazing people, creative, brilliant, innovative, and blessed with some of the greatest scientific minds in the world today (as if you didn’t already know). Where no one else succeeded, Israel is the only country with such an effective system as Iron Dome to defend her citizens from the incessant onslaught. By the way, during our debriefing, three more alarms went off and each time we had to recess to a safe part of the building.
On the road between Ashkelon and Ashdod, we passed several of these signs:
It says: "Eitanim b'Oref, Menatzchim b'Chazit" - "If we're strong on the home front, we'll be victorious on the battlefront!" Wow.
At this time, we said goodbye to one of the members of our group who has a son in the army. Through a contact that our guide Tzvi had, the father was able to get word that his son is on the Egyptian border, and so he took a cab and and was able to go and meet him. The poor father was teary-eyed and anxious for most of the trip and we were all excited and happy for him that he'd get to see his boy, one of our Canadian boys who is on the front lines defending our people.
We then visited Beit Canada of the Jewish Agency in Ashdod, which is partially funded by UJA Canada. We schmoozed in the Miklat with some new immigrants, some from Turkey, some from the FSU, one lady from Cuba!
From there, we went to visit a family in Ashdod whose apartment was hit by a missile and was damaged. Beit Canada gave them a check to help repair the damage and take care of living expenses and they wanted to show their gratitude by having us in their home and showing us where the missile hit and where they’d repaired the damage. Here he is with his daughter, explaining to us the damage. He also pointed out that for the first time, his daughter and son are waking up at night with nightmares, and are scared to leave the house and even to go to the bathroom by themselves. As we were leaving the house, once again the red alert alarm went off and we had to run quickly back in until all was quiet.
Being in Ashkelon and Ashdod, we realize how many immigrants comprise these cities, especially people from the Former Soviet Union. One of the things UJA Canada is involved with funding is helping Hesder Yeshivot help with conversions of young men from the FSU who aren't halakhically Jewish. UJA funds programs in the yeshivot to allow these boys to be a part of a frum chevre in Tzahal and it thus becomes easier for them to convert once they are acclimated to the yeshiva lifestyle. My objective in writing this blog is not to advertise for UJA, but I make this note to remind us all in the Orthodox community that UJA is doing really incredible and wonderful work for Klal Yisrael, both locally and in Eretz Yisrael.
Back to Tel Aviv, where we had to scramble to find alternate plans to get home. As you may have heard, the FAA ruled that all American carriers cannot fly in and out of Israel. As a result, some European carriers, and Air Canada, followed in suit. I am once again grateful to the generous chevra at our shul who authorized an additional expense to get me home before Shabbos with an El Al flight.
We had dinner with David Weinberg, Director of the Israel office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. David debriefed us about what he's seeing in Israel today and is very supportive of the current operation.
I hope to see you all for Shabbos where I will share with you some of the raw emotion of this overwhelming experience. I feel that you are with me through your prayers, good wishes, and by your reading this blog. I’d also like to encourage you to GO; Israel can use the chizuk, but more, we went to offer chizuk and we leave ourselves strengthened by the greatness of our brethren. I’ve already heard that our member Marcee Rosenzweig is leaving shortly for Israel and will be joining the OU mission next week and I'm sure there are more who will be leaving shortly. If you can get to Israel, by hook or by crook, now’s the time to go!
See you soon, b’Ezrat Hashem, and may we hear besurot tovot, and a quick end to our people’s suffering.
Canadian Solidarity Mission to Israel, July 21-23, 2014
07/22/2014 04:13:42 PM
To show our unity with the people of Israel during the Gaza War
Day Two (July 22): Sderot, Be'er Sheva, and more
The news is changing so rapidly, so I can only report on the latest hour of information.
We leave early for Sderot, and hear the news that there are now over 180 casualties of the war in hospitals, some with serious injuries. 28 chayalim are now confirmed deceased. There was talk of a humanitarian cease fire today, but that never happened, although we are told that compared to previous days, today was relatively quiet.
The consistent message that we've been hearing from everyone is that it is NOT in Israel's best interests to stop this operation before the tunnels are completely eliminated, because if we don't get rid of the tunnel network now, we'll just be faced with another tunnel nightmare in the near future. Hamas' tactic is known to ask for a cease fire to give them time to repair the damage and regroup
Tzvi Sperber is our tour guide, a musmach from Hesder yeshivot, who just got back from Poland doing a tour. He runs a non-profit organization, J-Roots (jroots.org) , dedicated to using Jewish sites around the world as educational tools about Judaism.
We said Tefillas HaDerekh in our armored and bulletproof vehicle with special kavanah, knowing that our protection is in the hands of the Shomer Yisrael.
It was very difficult to read of the funerals taking place now in Israel for the fallen. Last night there was a funeral in Haifa for a chayal boded (a soldier who has no family in Israel), by the name of Nissim Sean Carmeli. Nissim's parents live in Texas and they waited for his parents to arrive for the levaya. The owner of Maccabi Haifa had heard that Nissim was a fan and so urged people to come for the funeral; 20,000 people attended. Nissim's parents were overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. We heard about this and decided to spend some time at the end of our day to be menachem avel (comfort the mourners). We thus took a detour to Raanana before returning at the end of the day to Tel Aviv and spent a few minutes with the Carmeli family. They couldn't believe that Jews from Canada would care so much about them and their son, and this brought the father to tears.
Back to our trip: Tzvi told us that Israeli intelligence now is truly remarkable, but there are still many holes since we don't have that many people left in Gaza. There are cameras all over the Gaza border and they are manned by women in Sderot who alert the army of what the cameras are picking up.
We come to Sderot on the shuk day where the vendors are selling fresh fruit and vegetables with a few tzatzchke sellers. The supportive signs are all over. The one below reads: "באחדות ובגבורה ננצח!" (With unity and strength we will be victorious!). It's a bit surreal to see people going about their daily lives while at the edge of a battlefield.
We go to an underground bunker in Sderot where there's entire an intelligence office. We meet with Eddie Azran who's the rep for the Toronto twinning to Sderot through UJA.
He tells us: What is going on in the rest of the country is normal for Sderot over the last 8 years, since Gaza was given back. We're told that with each war the enemy is learning more and is readier to fight. We find ourselves paying a higher price to live in peace with the continued threats.
Next we meet with Mayor Alon Davidi. He tells us that artists and singers are coming daily to Sderot to entertain the children in the community centre - very important to preserve the children's emotional health. There are 24,000 residents in Sderot today, which has increased greatly over the last 10 years. All schools, day care centres, markets are open. Sderot is a symbol of the struggle against the radical enemies of Israel. If you're looking for a city to invest in, invest in Sderot!
We are also met by Rabbi Dovod Fendel of the Hesder yeshiva in Sderot, a NY native, and he impresses upon us the importance of the yeshiva to the war effort. We will later travel to the yeshiva and see how it has become a temporary stopover site for the chayalim to get their gear ready and come for a warm meal and some relaxation before going back into Gaza.
Kurt Rothschild meets with us in the bunker office - what a nice surprise to see this Toronto patriarch. Here's us together on the rooftop of the Sderot yeshivat Hesder in front of the famous Menorah made of Kassam rockets.
Went to Bnei Shimon, a network of yishuvim just a bit farther from Gaza than Sderot and on the way to Be'er Sheva.
Then to Beer Sheva. Our first visit was to a daycare centre. While most camps and daycare are closed, those people who are government workers or doctors who serve vital jobs are able to keep their children in the community centre for a day care program. It was great fun handing out "tzchachkes" to them, and I thank my amazing wife, Karen, for picking up some small toys right before I left for Israel.
Afterwards we went to another major planning centre underground, almost like a war room. There are high def screens where a group of ladies watch every single major intersection and field phone calls about emergency services.
It was there that we met the mayor of Be'er Sheva, Ruvik Danilovich, a passionate and charismatic leader. He emphasizes that he speaks for all Israelis who feel unanimously that while the price of fighting this war is very high, to himself, to his city, to all the chayalim, to all the people in Israel, it is vital to complete the operation so that we can finish this once and for all.
We are once again debriefed on our way back to the hotel after being menachem avel in Raanana. The army now estimates that operation will need another 2 weeks and is asking the govt to grant it full freedom to continue.
We're also informed that the despite the fact that Israel is in the midst of a huge war, Nefesh B'Nefesh just brought 230 olim today from the US! Kol hakavod!
We eat dinner at a restaurant with Michael Oren, a great admirer of Canada and the former Israeli ambassador to the US. He tells us: this is the largest military op since Yom Kippur war. There are many more tunnels than was thought, and they are extremely difficult to detect. Israel was the first to find the solution to missiles, developing the 21st century technology of Iron Dome anti-missile system. But with tunnels we are facing a medieval, primitive threat, which requires a low-tech solution. Oren suggested digging a moat all along the Gaza border, just as was done in medieval times. We need to remember that historically, defensive technology always lags behind offensive technology, so we'll need to get to work asap.
Morale in Israel is hight, although there's an aggregate trauma to all Israelis as a result of the rockets. Additionally, Israeli is suffering major economic losses, with the war already having cost $2 billion. Israel will sustain it, we've been thru worse. Regarding the media attitudes toward the war, it's true that the media has been somewhat more sympathetic this time around, but the media is starting to play to an old Hamas ploy: force Israel to raise the civilian casualties in Gaza, and the world will start to side with them. You can read his full article here.
Finally, we've just been informed that several airlines have canceled their flights to and from Israel, with the exception of ElAl. There was a rocket that exploded not far from Ben Gurion airport today, and with the news of the Malaysia airliner shot down, people are freaked out. We'll keep you posted as this news continues to develop.
In the meantime, Israelis continue along with their lives. Tel Aviv is still bustling, perhaps not exactly as much as a typical summer, but the beaches and restaurants are filled with people. Israelis are a strong people, and confident and optimistic about the future. B'Ezras Hashem we will prevail decisively, very soon!
Canadian Solidarity Mission to Israel,July 21-23, 2014
07/21/2014 04:01:13 PM
To show our unity with the people of Israel during the Gaza War of 2014
Well, not really day one, since it started with dinner tonight at the hotel in Tel Aviv at 7 pm. But the truth is, my day started in Israel with the limo from the airport to Tel Aviv. My driver was a very animated gentleman who wanted to make sure I knew that in addition to being a driver, he’s a medical clown who performs for children and adults in the hospital. I told him he’s got double Olam Haba: One, because he brings smiles of joy to the sick, and two, because when he drives, he causes everyone to daven. But this is just another piece of the fabric of our holy people who, even in the midst of warfare, are compassionate and caring.
I’m very grateful to UJA Canada for allowing me to join this mission at the last minute. I literally signed up Motzai Shabbos to be able to leave the following day and arrive in Israel on Monday morning. So many others have done the same, and I encourage you to think about this also. I know that there is a grass roots effort afoot in Toronto to bring a delegation of “amcha”, members of our community, to Israel next week, leaving Sunday July 27 and beginning that Monday. If you’re interested, please contact Joseph Fried, at email@example.com. Let us hope that the fighting will be over very soon.
Back to our mission: We had two speakers at dinner: First, Yossi Tanuri, the director general of UJA Canada. He shared with us that the support among the Israeli public is virtually unanimous in its great admiration and praise of the army and the current operation. He showed me a short film of chayalim camped out outside Gaza dancing in a circle, singing the words, “Anachnu ma’aminim b’nei ma’aminim, v’ein lanu al mi l’hisha’ain ela al Avinu shebaShamayim!” (We are believers the children of believers; we have no one to rely on other than our Father in Heaven!) What a moving clip, to see our soldiers, many with kippot and tzitzit dancing with great joy and achdus as they prepare to protect our people. You can see a similar clip of chayalim dancing to the same song at the Kotel, here.
Currently, Israel is working on staving off two threats: the missile threat is baruch Hashem being averted through the technology of the Iron Dome system, another brilliant Israeli invention. But the other threat is the very elaborate tunnel system, hundreds of well-built, cement-reinforced tunnels that run throughout Gaza and many that come underneath land in Israel. This is currently the greatest threat because it’s impossible to know where the next tunnel will emerge from. Israeli intelligence is working on neutralizing this problem as well.
We then heard from Canadian ambassador to Israel, Her Excellency, Vivan Bercovici. The message that resounded from the ambassador and from everyone around the table is that there’s never been a better time to be a Canadian Jew, and the level of support, unequivocal and unqualified support for Israel, is unprecedented in the history of Canadian-Israeli relations. Our prime minister, Stephen Harper, has done an incredible job, together with his foreign minister, John Baird, as well as his entire cabinet, to be beacon of moral clarity to the rest of the western world. So much so, the ambassador explained, that she gets constant calls and emails from politicians of other countries, asking her, “What is Canada saying?” We have, due to a vacuum of unambiguous support from the U.S., become the moral beacon and voice of support. Whereas Canada was out of limelight in the past, being always ancillary to her big sister in the South, Canada is now the voice that is “moving the needle” on the world stage and having real influence. You can see a reminder video of our prime minister’s office’s strong support here.
Ms. Bercovici urged us all to follow her on twitter where she’s getting out the consistent message. It’s important for us to be vocal in social media since Hamas supporters are so vocal in the media today.
You can see a photo of our delegation below. Important for us all to know that two of the men with us on the mission are also fathers of soldiers who are in active duty right now. We also have parents at the BAYT and I’d like to ask us all to be mindful of these children of ours in our daily prayers. The names of the two sons from our mission are: Aryeh ben Sheva and Yaakov Aharon ben Silka Tema. Please also keep our BAYT members, Yirmiyahu Moshe ben Rivka Leeba in your prayers, and for those parents who have children in the army, please send me their Hebrew names and we’ll be sure to add them to the list.
As your representative here on the mission, I feel your warm embrace of support as we move forward on our journey tomorrow. Please keep all of us in your prayers. We will be in Sderot and Beer Sheva and then on Wednesday to Ashkelon and Ashdod. May the Shomer Yisrael continue to watch over His first-born Son, Am Yisrael.
Day 4: A Day for the Birds, Academia, and Saying Thanks and Goodbye
01/22/2014 03:55:57 PM
Today was our last day of this historic expedition with Prime Minister Harper to Israel. We left early from the airport in order to spend most of the day up north at the Hula Nature Preserve, organized and maintained by Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, what you and I know as JNF (Jewish National Fund). The purpose of the trip was to name the Nature Preserve in honour of PM Harper, and the auditorium within in honour of Mrs. Harper.
When Jews first came to the area, they drained the Hula swamp in the hopes of improving the area. What they neglected to realize was that the swamp was necessary for the ecosystem, in that this was a migratory stop for hundreds of millions of birds traveling across Europe, Asia, and Africa via the Middle East. In the last couple of decades, the swamp was replenished and the area is now once again habitable and hospitable to these migratory birds. So hospitable, in fact, that many birds now no longer just use the Hula Valley as a stop on their journey; they instead call it home. Sort of a cool metaphor for our people, eh?
When we first arrived, we were greeted in a make-shift tent auditorium with refreshments, but were quickly ushered onto makeshift tour buses that were led by tractors.
And indeed, although I initially thought that perhaps the guides were exaggerating about the number of birds that come here every fall and spring, we got just a small sample of the birds who remain here over winter, and the number was massive.
We saw birds….
And more birds…
And yet more birds…
(you get the idea). Birds as far as the eye could see.
Mr. Harper, who’s devoted, together with so many Canadians, to the preservation of wildlife and our ecosystem, received a well-deserved honour for an outdoors Canadian. He was presented in a special ceremony by JNF, and graciously expressed his thanks.
This was also a great day to catch up with a number of Canada and BAYT expats, who came out both to Hula and to Tel Aviv U. Here is but a sampling of photos, and forgive me if your photo isn’t yet up on the blog, but bl”n it soon will be.
A special commemorative postage stamp was issued by the Israeli government especially for the occasion, and we all received one as a souvenir:
We then proceeded back on the buses, straight to Tel Aviv University. Because of the big schlep to go all the way up to Hula Valley, which is right near the Lebanon border, we didn’t arrive at Tel Aviv U. until around 6:30. We waited again in an auditorium and the PM arrived and was presented with a number of speakers and musical presentations. He was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the university. A number of the speakers noted how important it was for PM Harper to agree to receive this honour from an Israeli university, because much of the world today is involved in the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, dedicated to marginalizing and isolating Israeli academia. This, of course, is the type of anti-Semitism that the PM referred to in his historic speech at the Kenesset, which involves singling out Israeli above all other countries in a wave of hypercriticism that is unprecedented for any other country.
The PM graciously accepted his honour, and was also addressed by the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, a very humorous and good-natured fellow. He had heard how the night before, the PM had rocked the house with his performance, and so he proceeded to play Auld Lang Syne on his halil. We then heard a beautiful quartet perform Antonin Dvorak’s “The American” in honour of the PM (I guess American is short for Canadian).
The PM then answered some important questions from the MC of the evening about Canada’s economy and its foreign policy regarding the Middle East. One of the great things this administration can be proud of is the fact that before PM Harper took office there was a trade agreement between Canada and only five other nations. Today, there is a trade agreement with 42 nations.
When asked about Egypt and Syria, the PM was quite tough, stating about Egypt that while others were overly enthusiastic about the so-called “Arab Spring,” he was more circumspect since free elections should not produce another oppressive and xenophobic regime, but should rather produce democracy. About Syria, he stated that one of his reasons for going to Jordan was to see how Canada could help with the huge Syrian refugee problem that has ensued because of the “heartbreaking” loss of life in Syria. His toughest words were reserved for Iran, however, when he stated that Canada will be watching vigilantly to see if Iran’s words match their actions. Canada will be the first to re-introduce the toughest sanctions and will urge the international community to follow in suit, should Iran fail to deliver on its promises.
The evening was capped with a reception where each one of us got to shake the PM’s hand and take a photo. I don’t have it yet, but when I do, you can be sure I’ll post it! Someone remarked what a tough job it is to just stand there, shake 300 people’s hands, and say a few nice words. I responded, “I do that every Friday night!” (and I love it!). What did I say to the Prime Minister when shaking his hands? I’ll tell you over Shabbos, stay tuned….
So now I’m here at the Ben Gurion Airport, sitting on the floor while my laptop and phone are plugged into the recharge station, waiting for our plane. I’m looking forward to seeing you all over Shabbos, when I hope to deliver a more meaningful message in person.
What I can tell you now is that I’ve never been prouder to be a Canadian Jew. What a country and what amazing leadership! Prime Minister Harper has already promised to return to see the progress of his nature reserve in Hula, and who knows, maybe I’ll get to go back with him someday!
I can't conclude this blog without expressing deep hakaras hatov - gratitude - to all the people who made this amazing and historic trip happen. Of course, to Mr. & Mrs. Harper, but also to all the MP's who advocated for members of their riding, and especially to all the aides and planners, both members of the MP's staff and volunteers, who did a truly outstanding job. One young staffer, David Bellous, was such a good-natured mensch and worked so hard. I also heard that his mother follows this blog. And so, to David's mom, know that your son is a wonderful young man - you raised him well!
Warmest regards from a beautiful and holy country, our country, Israel.
Signing off for now,
Day 3: Yad Vashem, the Kotel, and Rock 'n Roll
01/21/2014 04:12:58 PM
Another packed day, not just with one, but two prime ministers. Our day began with a debriefing by Fmr. Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. This man is extremely intelligent, articulate, and a great statesmen. I remember when he spoke at a university campus at UC Irvine, was heckled by Islamic students, and civil discourse on campus would never be the same. He spoke about the dangers of Iran but the reasons for optimism in a country that has a per capita income rivaling western Europe and a 5-1/2% unemployment rate.
From there, we went on an excursion to Yad Vashem where we'd meet both PM Harper and PM Natenyahu for a ceremony. Of course, most of us have already been, but it’s always fascinating to go with someone who’s never been before and “see” the experience through their eyes.
Of course, it’s never easy being at Yad Vashem, and bringing back all those feelings of our lost parents, grandparent, and the million and a half children murdered during the Shoah.
After we were broken up into smaller groups for private tours, we all gathered into the ceremonial room, a large atrium that is for special ceremonies. We patiently waited for PM Harper to finish his private tour of the museum, imagining his taking in all of the horrors contained with the museum walls.
(With Thornhill MP Peter Kent)
The mood, of course was quite somber, when Mr. & Mrs. Harper, Mr. & Mrs. Netanyahu, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and other dignitaries entered the room for the ceremony.
First Mr. Harper lit the eternal bonfire. He then laid down a wreath on behalf of Canada in memory of the millions murdered in the Shoah. Finally, we heard a Maley memorial prayer and the ceremony concluded.
We then made our way to the Kotel (Western Wall). Here’s where it all began to be worthwhile. Imagine driving nearly from one end of Yerushalayim to the other without a second’s delay for traffic. Because our bus was part of the PM’s motorcade, all traffic was cordoned off until our procession passed. To drive through the empty streets of Yerushalayim was both exhilarating and unsettling at the same time, but we made it to the Old City and the Kotel plaza in record time!
5:30 pm we’re at the Kotel.
(With MPs Mark Adler and Peter Kent)
(With Rabbi Yehoshua Weber, Clanton Park Synagogue)
A special part of the outdoor section of the Kotel, between the men’s and women’s section, was cordoned off for the PM to have a moment of solitude by the Wall. He entered with the chief rabbi of the Western Wall and a few others. PM Harper inserted a “kvittel” (note) into one of the crevices, said his own personal prayers with his hand on the Wall, and soon we were finished. We quickly davened Maariv and made our way to the buses.
JNF – Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, who do the annual Negev dinner which this year honoured PM Harper, were hosts of tonight’s lavish dinner, which featured a who’s who of Israeli VIP’s. Both PM Netanyahu and PM Harper made toasts in honour of each other. Bibi thanked Mr. Harper for placing the truth as a higher priority than politics, and Mr. Harper reminded us all that words alone would not be enough to remain strong, that we had to retain our resolve to defend our people and land at all costs.
Then, it was time to have fun, and because the organizers know how much Mr. Harper loves oldies music, they brought in a band called The Sixties, who played really well. Then, Mr. Harper got into the action. He played and sang, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Hey Jude”. The crowd went wild! Another great cap to a great day.
A song sheet from the evening so that we could help the Prime Minister in his mission:
Tomorrow is the last day of our delegation. We will be traveling up all the way north to the Hula reserve to bestow the official naming of the nature reserve in honour of Mr. & Mrs. Harper.
Then we’ll proceed to Tel Aviv U. where Mr. Harper will be bestowed with an honourary doctorate. Stay tuned!
Update this content.
Day 2: A Day That Will Live on in Jewish History
01/20/2014 03:46:04 PM
Indescribable. Overwhelming. Euphoric. These are but mere words that cannot truly capture the last few hours, felt by Jews throughout the world, but most of all, Canadian Jews. Stephen Harper's address to the Kenesset today was truly monumental for so many reasons. Today, all Jews are Canadians.
If you haven't watched the address yet, see it here. To read a transcript (which will tell you what he said, but now HOW he said it), click here. Now, let me press rewind for a moment, and go over our day.
Our day began (after Shacharis) with a breakfast that featured Jonathan Medved (a long-time oleh from L.A.), who spoke about the "Start-Up Nation" that has made Israel one of the most sought after countries for high-tech investment, and also providing one of the highest rates of return for its investors. Truly, exciting things are happening in Israel. Also exciting is that he spoke about a changing culture, where corporate Israel is realizing that tzedakah is important, and indeed, more and more start-ups are tithing their earnings and sharing it with the needy of Israel.
In the morning, we were given the option of going to a base near Ashkelon to see the Iron Dome and other defense mechanisms that Israel is utilizing today to keep our people safe. I opted to spend the morning instead with my son, Aharon, who is studying in yeshiva. I had the privilege of visiting my rebbe from yeshiva days, Rav Avraham Kanarak, who is, bli ayin hara, a nanogenarian and who is still active in my old yeshiva, Chafetz Chaim of Jerusalem, where Aharon is studying. We visited Rav Kanarak today, father and son, to visit with this man who studied in the Kaminetz yeshiva in Europe with some of the gedolei yisrael before the war.
At 2:45 pm, we departed for the Kenesset. Here's a beautiful view of some Canadian flags from outside the hotel:
In addition to our regular delegation badges, we were each issued a 2nd badge to get us into the Kenesset:
We arrived at Kenesset, and took note of the beautiful red carpet rolled out for the PM's visit:
Here I am with my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Daniel Friedman of Beth Israel of Edmonton:
As we got closer to the entrance, we could see the beautiful greeting sign that awaiting Mr. & Mrs. Harper:
MK Rabbi Dov Lipman and I had been texting throughout the day, and we had arranged that at some point he'd meet us in the lobby while we were waiting for the PM. It was great to catch up with Rav Dov, and he shared with me some very encouraging news about the latest draft of the new law requiring national service of all Israelis, something that hopefully will be very attractive to all sectors of Israeli society (more on that later).
We waited for some time for the PM's car to arrive, and then finally, at around 6 pm, there he was, entering the Kenesset lobby to great applause. As he was welcomed in front of a beautiful Chagall wall hanging, Mr. Harper was presented with an unprecedented honor, something that has never been done before, a key to the Kenesset. Mr. Harper would later quip in his speech that now he feels he come and go to the Kenesset whenever he likes:
We finally made our way into the Kenesset room, the place where it all happens. At our seats we each found the program:
We were given wireless translation devices, but of course, I wanted to hear Kenesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, PM Binyamin Netanyahu, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog in all their Hebrew glory, as they went on about how Canada is the best friend Israel has in the world today, about how we have a prime minister who puts truth before politics, and who recognizes the great existential challenges that Israel has on a daily basis.
Of course, this is a politics, and it was interesting to hear the subtle and not-so-subtle political posturing that Bibi and Herzog took during their respective speeches in approaching the proposals for a future Palestinian state, including how to deal with John Kerry and other international brokers.
And then it was time for the main event, PM Harper's speech. You must listen to it, again, here. Listen for the moments of applause, and also look for the heckling of these two Arab MK's, pictured in the center:
They heckled Bibi, who took it all in stride - indeed, he noted that this was the only government where heckling was permitted! He further noted that despite all their griping, not one Israeli Arab wants to leave Israel!!
But then they also heckled during Mr. Harper's speech, which was both embarrassing and vindicating. Great, I thought, let the entire international community how these MK's are acting like "chayos" on the world stage. Let the world see how Israel gives a voice to its enemies even when they behave in such a deplorable, uncivilized fashion. Finally, the got up and left, which earned them a very loud ovation.
It was also great to note the great satisfaction and "bromance" between Bibi and PM Harper, which was palpable both during Bibi's speech, and while looking at his face, which was beaming, smiling, and nodding, during most of PM Harper's speech. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if during their private session last night, Bibi helped Reb Stephen write his most salient points!
Mr. Harper's speech ended with the historic words, "Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you." There were so many other historic statements that the PM made, it's hard to extract only a few. He noted that Canadians have a tendency to do what is right even when that decision doesn't provide expedient benefit to Canadians, and sometimes at great personal cost of life to Canadians. True, Canada hasn't always chosen wisely, especially during the years leading up to and during WWII, when many Jews were denied entry as refugees, but Canada acknowledges this mistake and is working to make sure that Israel will remain as strong as possible. His three points of guarantee to Israel were: (1) Canada deplores all those in the U.N. and world leadership who question Israel's very right to exist. (2) Canada believes that Israel should exercise its full rights as a great nation within the U.N. community of nations, and not be singled out for constant haranguing. (3) Israel's being singled out as a violator of human rights and being an "apartheid" state, are not only outrageous and patently false (as witnessed by our Arab MK's), but also is a new form of "sophisticated" anti-Semitism that hides behind anti-Israel accusations.
After this exhilarating moment of history, after everyone had waved their Canadian flags and applauded as loudly as we could, we left Kenesset and came back to the hotel for a beautiful dinner sponsored by CIJA and the Koschitsky family. What an amazing day!
So much more to say, but I've got to get to bed! More tomorrow, be'H.
Day 1: We Travel to Israel!
01/19/2014 11:59:42 AM
Greetings from Yerushalayaim! We are here now on Sunday evening with the Prime Minister's delegation. About to go to our next event. Flying with Mr. & Mrs. Harper was quite a thrill, even though we haven't really interacted with them yet (PM Harper was working throughout the trip and wasn't seeing the rest of the passengers). But the spirit on the plane was amazing! Imagine a plane full of about 130 Canadians traveling to Israel to be greeted with a red carpet welcome.
Motzai Shabbos we zoomed from our hotel to the special hangar where the PM's plane was waiting. A special accommodation was made for Shabbos observant passengers; we had to drop off our luggage on Friday since the window between Shabbos' end and the departure time was so narrow.
Here I am about to board the plane.
Before I left, Karen ordered some cookies from a bakery and I was able to get them to the PM who was at the front of the plane. Even though we haven't had a chance to interact, his aide who brought them sent me back a gracious "thank you" from Mr. Harper.
We took off right after Shabbos and flew to Cologne, Germany, where the plane had to refuel. That's where we also davened Shacharis:
A few hours later, we arrived in Israel to great fanfare! Here's a pic of Mr. & Mrs. Harper disembarking from a distance:
We were driven to Jerusalem, debriefed at a quick meeting, and then fed by a reception sponsored by Colel Chabad. Radio personality Yishai Fleisher interviewed Larry Zeifman, Frank Dimant, and myself tonight for his program, which you can listen to here (yishaifleisher.com)
You may have heard about the kerfufle created by a Muslim group about my joining the trip, which you can read about here. I've decided not to comment on this until after the PM's trip is over.
More, b"H, tomorrow!
Erev Shabbos, Parshas Yisro, in Ottawa!
01/17/2014 01:23:17 PM
A guten Shabbos kodesh - just recently arrived in Ottawa, where many of us will be spending Shabbos, since the PM's plane leaves from Ottawa at 6:45 pm. Special accommodations were made for Sabbath observant delegates, allowing us time to arrive at the Hangar where the jet will be taking off. We had to drop off our luggage at the Hangar today, before Shabbos, in order to expedite our coming late.
This trip means missing my family and my kehilla for Shabbos, but it is a sacrifice that I believe is well worth it. I will be back in Toronto, be"H, before next Shabbos, so I only plan to miss one weekend with you.
It's appropriate for me to give a shout out to Raffi Rutman who will be celebrating his aufruf this Shabbos in shul. Mazel tov to Raffi and to the kallah, Chaviva Augenblick, and mazel tov to the Augenblicks and Rutmans, two wonderful BAYT families.
Look forward to updating you soon!
Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos,
01/13/2014 05:25:57 PM
Hi, This is Rabbi Korobkin. I'll be using this blog site to update you on how things are going on the mission to Israel with Prime Minister Harper, from January 19-22. Please check back here often and I look forward to having exciting updates for you.