Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Safest Place on Earth

Once again, rumours of war are abuzz in the Middle-East. Syria and Israel have begun another round of threat trading, even as Hizbullah rearms, Syria receives new shipments of Scuds and Iran makes alliances with other rogue nations around the world. Iran moves perilously closer every single day to achieving a nuclear bomb with which to wipe the State of Israel off the map, G-d forbid. Tensions are rising as Israel and its neighbours prepare for another war. Despite all of this, Israel remains the safest place of Earth for a Jew.

Around the world, Jews are in a very precarious situation. Anti-semitism worldwide has reach uncontrollable levels with Jews being regularly attacked, synagogues desecrated, Jewish institutions vandalized and an overall hostile attitude towards Jews being the norm. On university campuses on both sides of the Atlantic, Jews are demonized and threatened. Anti-semitism, after going into a brief hibernation following the horrors of Auschwitz, is no longer a taboo. In Europe, decades of liberal immigration policies have transformed the streets of London, Paris and Berlin into those of Riyadh, Marakech and Karachi. The demographic revolution in Europe is irreversible as the continent falls under the domination of the sword and the crescent. The assertive and radicalized Muslim populations in these countries have make clear their desire not to integrate but rather to dominate. They have been waging an intifada against the Jewish populations of Europe, abetted by their leftist collaborators, and this conflict threatens to explode against the Jews at any moment. In the United States, the economy teeters on collapse while the president cynically manipulates the Jewish establishment in a political and diplomatic assault on the State of Israel. This administration intentionally twists the words of its top general to make it seem that Israel- the Jews- are responsible for hatred of America and attacks on American soldiers.

Unfortunately, Jews in the Diaspora may find themselves in mortal danger very soon. The perfect storm is being created- a failing economy, the rise in radical Islam, aided by their liberal allies, as well as a resurgent fascist movement in Eastern Europe, and the return of traditional anti-semitism masqueraded as hostility towards Israel. And yet, do these dangers to Diaspora Jewry not threaten the Jewish state as well?

The first answer is simple: If a Jew must be endangered because he is Jewish, it is best to do so as a Jew in his own Jewish country. It is better to be hated as a Jew while one is living in the Jewish state than to be hated as a Jew living in a foreigner's land.

And what to answer to those who point to the existential danger which looms over the State of Israel? What do we say to those who worry about an Iranian mushroom cloud over Tel-Aviv, G-d forbid? We can point with pride and confidence to the soldiers, air force and army of the State of Israel which are committed to protecting the Jewish people. Yet this answer does not satisfy everyone. What if they fail? How can we trust in planes and tanks?

To this I answer: Do not trust in planes and tanks, but rather in the G-d of Israel. It is inconceivable that G-d would bring His people back from the four corners of the earth, reestablish them sovereign on their own land and lead them victorious through several major wars, only to wipe them out. G-d has a plan for the people of Israel and no harm will befall them. "Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers!"

Throughout the Torah and Neviim, G-d promises that there will never be a third exile and that He will bring His people back to their land to redeem them. Yes- there are plots against Israel afoot. Yes- Iran is building a bomb. Yes- things looks dark and gloomy. Despite all this, I would rather rely on G-d's word. The Torah guarantees us this. “You will dwell securely in your land; I will provide peace in the land; you will lie down and no one will make you afraid.” May it come speedily in our days.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What is Yom HaAtzmaut?

The Rabbis of the Gemara ask in the Tractate of Shabbat: Mai Chanukkah? "What is Chanukkah?" In regards to Purim as well they ask: "What is Purim?" The Rabbis of the Gemara were certainly familiar with the stories and observances of Chanukkah and Purim. Their question meant: "What is the significance, the purpose and the meaning of Chanukkah and of Purim?" Similarly, today we must ask ourselves: "What is Yom HaAzmaut? What is its essence and its meaning?"

Mai Yom HaAtzmaut? What is Yom HaAtzmaut? What is the significance of the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel after a 2000 year hiatus? What is the meaning of the great signs and wonders, the miracles that accompanied our return to our homeland? What does the revival of a dead language, the ingathering of the Jewish people from North, South, East and West, the blossoming of the deserts of the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of its desolate cities mean? Is this coincidence, haphazard and happenstance, or proof and testament to the existence of the G-d of Israel as ruler and director of history?

Yom HaAtzmaut must be viewed as the atchalta de'Geula, the beginning of our Redemption. How does Redemption come? The Prophet Yishayahu speaks of the Redemption: "In its time, I will hasten it" (60:22). Redemption can come in one of two ways: it can come in the way of "I will hasten it", with incredible miracles, with outpourings of divine kindness and clear revelations, or the way of "in its times", through natural processes, hard work and suffering. As our rabbis teach: "If they merit- I will hasten it. If they don't merit- in its time" (Sanhedrin 98).

The reestablishment of the State of Israel marks the beginning of the Redemption in its time, a redemption hidden and clouded through the forces of nature, devoid of the merit of the Jewish people. If this redemption is not based on our merit, then what is it based on? The Prophet Yechezkel provides us with the answer:

"And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. According to their way and their misdeeds did I judge them. And they entered the nations where they came, and they profaned My Holy Name, inasmuch as it was said of them, 'These are the people of the Lord, and they have come out of His land.' But I had pity on My Holy Name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they had come. Therefore, say to the house of Israel; So says the Lord God: Not for your sake do I do this, O house of Israel, but for My Holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations to which they have come. And I will sanctify My great Name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord-is the declaration of the Lord God-when I will be sanctified through you before their eyes."

The Prophet makes it clear that the essence of exile is Chillul HaShem, the Desecration of G-d's Name, because the nations said: "These are the people of the Lord, and they have come out of His land." The fact that the nation of G-d are exiled from their land is a desecration of G-d's Name, and makes Him seem to be powerless or nonexistent (c"v). Conversely, the return of the Jewish people to their land before the eyes of the entire world is the greatest Kiddush HaShem, Sanctification of G-d's Name, because it proves that G-d alone controls and rules the world.

Exile is a Desecration of G-d's Name. When Jews are weak, when they are persecuted and oppressed, G-d's Name is desecrated. Every pogrom and Inquisition, every blood libel and attack on a Jew is a desecration of G-d's Name. When the nations of the world mock and curse the Jewish people, the blaspheme and deny G-d. When Jews are beaten, expelled, raped and murdered, G-d's Name is humiliated. This denial of G-d and hatred for the Jewish people characterized the Exile. This terrible Desecration of G-d's Name reached its apex during the dark and unspeakable Holocaust, when the nations of the world banded together to annihilate the Jewish people. The wicked Nazis, during the years of the Holocaust, managed to murder one third of the Jewish people, to destroy entire communities in gas chambers and ovens, to turn Jewish fat into soap and Jewish skin into lampshades. They had no mercy on the young, the old, men and women. Jewish powerlessness was at its ultimate as the Nazi sadists taunted the Jews who were marching to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka: "Where is your G-d? Why doesn't He save you?"

This is when the full measure of humiliation and desecration was reached and G-d could no longer bear it. "Not for your sake do I do this, O house of Israel, but for My Holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations to which they have come." And thus G-d declared the beginning of the Redemption, the end of Exile- of Chillul HaShem. This meant the shaking off of the fear of the gentile, of the helplessness and weakness of the Jewish people, of a sovereign and free Jewish state. No longer would Jews cower in fear before their enemies! No more Auschwitz! No more Crusades and Inquisitions! The dream of Jewish strength, of Jewish hands holding Jewish guns defending the Jewish state was now a reality.

Through the incredible miracles of the reestablishment of the State of Israel, G-d demonstrated that He controls human events and shapes its destiny. The rebirth of the Jewish nation from the ashes of Europe, the revival of the Hebrew language, the return of the exiles from Yemen, Poland, Russia, Morocco, Ethiopia, and the four corners of the earth, the victory of the tiny Jewish state against one million Arab troops committed to its annihilation, are all proof of G-d's guiding hand. Yom HaAtzmaut is a day of Kiddush HaShem, when we celebrate G-d's amazing salvations and kindnesses to His people. Never in the annals of history has a nation scattered around the globe come home from two millenia of exile and persecution to reestablish itself in its ancient homeland.

The Prophet Yechezkel gives us a powerful metaphor through which we can understand Yom HaAtzmaut. In a famous vision, the Prophet describes being shown a valley full of dry bones, as far as the eye could see. G-d commanded Yechezkel to prophecy over these dry bones, and these bones grew sinews, muscles and skin. They stood up, yet they were void and empty of spirit. G-d told Yechezkel to prophecy again, and life was blown into these bones. Astonished, G-d explained the meaning of this to Yechezkel:

""Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Behold they say, 'Our bones have become dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off to ourselves.' Therefore, prophesy and say to them, So says the Lord God: Lo! I open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves as My people, and bring you home to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and lead you up out of your graves as My people. And I will put My spirit into you, and you shall live, and I will set you on your land, and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and have performed it," says the Lord."

G-d showed Yechezkel the shattered communities of Europe, the smoking chimneys of Auschwitz, the mountain of ashes of Majdanek, the killing fields of the Ukraine. He showed him the terrible destruction wrought against the Jewish people. Yechezkel began to lose hope as he saw the bleak reality of the Jewish people. At that moment, G-d's reassurance came to him: "I open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves as My people, and bring you home to the land of Israel." G-d would bring new lift to the dry bones of the Jewish people. They would be reborn in their own country.

When we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, we must be conscious of this important message. G-d had mercy on His people and sanctified His name among the nations. "What is Yom HaAtzmaut?" Kiddush HaShem! G-d has begun the process, but it is up to us to finish it, to bring the Final Redemption through our own merits, by a return to Him. We must bring the Redemption swiftly and speedily.

May we soon witness the fulfillment of the promise of the Prophet Yechezkel speedily in our days:

"So says the Lord God: On the day that I will have cleansed you from all your iniquities, and I will resettle the cities, and the ruins shall be built up. And the desolate land shall be worked, instead of its lying desolate in the sight of all that pass by. And they shall say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden, and the cities that were destroyed and desolate and pulled down have become settled as fortified [cities].' And the nations that are left round about you shall know that I, the Lord, have built up the ruined places and have planted the desolate ones; I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will perform [it]. So says the Lord God: I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do for them; I will multiply them-the men-like a flock of sheep. Like the flocks appointed for the holy offerings, like the flocks of Jerusalem on its festivals, so will these cities now laid waste be filled with flocks of men, and they shall know that I am the Lord.""

Amen. Chag HaAtzmaut Sameach!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Real Meaning of Never Again

This is an old post from last Yom HaShoah. I think that it still applies.

"We, pilots of the Israeli Air Force, flying in the skies over the extermination camps, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims, carrying their silent cries, saluting their bravery, and vowing to be a shield to the Jewish Nation, and to its Land, Israel."

An oft-repeated cliche repeated by both Jewish leaders and the international community is that of "never again". Presidents and Prime Ministers visit Yad VaShem, pay tribute at Holocaust Memorials and shed crocodile tears over the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, while proceeding to condemn and attack Israel. The same leaders that stood silently in commemoration of the Holocaust denounced Israel with the most hateful vitriol during its moment of greatest need, as it was fighting to defend itself and its citizens. Never again, they pledged. Never again? Is that really so?

The Holocaust teaches many universal messages. It teaches mankind to be ever vigilant against the forces of hatred and intolerance, whenever they arise against any people or group. It warns us never to allow bigoted speech and ideas fester and grow. It shows the ease with which an entire nation can descend to the depths of depravity and immorality. Yet, for the Jewish people, the Holocaust has one sharp and poignant message: Never again to be weak.

Since the destruction of the Second Temple, for two millenia, Jews lived as strangers in foreign lands, minorities under the rule of others. In Christendom and in Islamic lands, Jews were forced to lived in ghettos, mellahs or juderias, to wear distinctive and humiliating clothing, had restrictions on their professions and employment and endured severe discrimination. Jews were at the mercies of the lords of the land and had to comply with their wishes, whether it be being forced to hear a conversionist sermon delivered by a priest in a synagogue on Shabbat, or to pay a jyziah tax in a debasing ceremony to their Muslim overlords. Jews were spat upon and cursed, beaten and abused at will. The two thousand years of Jewish life in Europe and the Middle-East, with the exception of occasional periods of prosperity and tranquility, was marked with constant fear and insecurity. Ravaged by pogroms and Crusades, Inquisitions and forced conversions, massacres and jihads, Jews lived with their lives always hanging in a narrow balance. A new king or pope, ruler or clergyman, could put the Jews in peril.

In this climate of ingrained loathing and despising of the Jews, Hitler came along. He used the traditional anti-semitic motives of the Catholic church as well as new anti-semitic racial theories to stir up the people's hate. The policies of the Nazi Regime, even before the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem was implemented, were designed to crush and dehumanize the Jews. The Jew looked in trepidation at the Nazi brownshirts, Gestapo and SS, unable to defend or stand up for himself. Like animals, Jews were crammed into cattle cars, suffocated in gas chambers and burnt in ovens. The Nazi beasts could not have accomplished their genocide without the help of their Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, etc. collaborators and executioners. Nor could they have managed without the world's silent approval. The Pope looked away when the Jews of Rome were rounded up from under his very window. Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill all knew about the death camps, about the killing fields and mass graves in the Ukraine, about the gas chambers and crematorium in Poland, yet closed their doors to Jewish refugees. Allied bombers flew over Auschwitz but the military didn't see the use of bombing the train lines. As Jews needed a place to flee to, the British, at the urging of the Arabs and the Nazi-collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini, may his name be accursed, prevented Jewish aliyah to the Land of Israel, and even sent refugees back into the hands of the Nazis.

Just yesterday, on Holocaust Memorial Day, a group of partisans who fought the Nazis in the forests of Europe, visited an IDF air force base. One woman asked an officer in our air force if our pilots could reach Iran. "They can reach anywhere," he answered. This answer, powerful and moving for its simplicity, conveys the true meaning of never again. Never again will we wait in vain for Allied planes to bomb the gas chambers. Never again will we wait for world aid which did not come. Never again will we allow ourselves to be weak, to be victimized, to be powerless. Never again will we accept any conditions on where we can live, what we can wear, on our professions or possessions. Never again will we be at the mercies of the gentiles, begging for our lives. This pilot was saying that we may have been 60 years too late for the Jews of Europe, but we were not too late for the Jews of Yemen or Ethiopia. Never again will we be too late! We may not have been able to save the Jews of Warsaw, but our planes reached Iraq and Entebbe. Our planes can fly to Lebanon or Gaza, and they may yet fly to Iran, destroying the enemies of the Jewish people. We will not stand idly by our brothers blood, whether they are being rounded up and deported to annihilation, living under constant bombardment and rocket attacks or in the shadow of a nuclear attack. We know that the world abandoned the Jews to their fate, that deals were not made and safe havens closed off. Today, we can reach anywhere.

Another survivor made her own request of the air force of Israel, "What I ask of you is to make sure that there will not be another Holocaust." As long as brave Jewish men and women don the uniform of the Israeli Defense Force and protect the Jewish people from on land, sea and air, there can never be another Holocaust. We have learnt the terrible price of being weak. Being defenseless and without a homeland came at the horrendous cost of a third of our nation. The hatred of the world for the Jews has not diminished one iota since the trains came to a halt and the crematoriums stopped giving off their accursed smoke. Across Europe and North America, in public forums and university campuses, the Jewish State is being delegitimized and marked as a pariah. We must not heed the words of these haters for we know too well how dearly we pay without a state of our own. The only thing that stands between us and Auschwitz-Birkenau are the soldiers of the IDF. Those who condemned the army going in to Gaza must know that they only went in there to protect and defend the Jewish people. They are what keeps us from the narrow brink, from the mound of ashes at Majdanek, from the halls of shoes and piles of hair. To the Jews of Europe, massacred because of the world's apathy and our own weakness, scattered in the forests of Teblinka, the fields of Birkenau or the mass graves of the Ukraine, we promise never again to be weak, to allow ourselves to be bullied and beaten. For this is the true meaning of "Never Again".

Friday, April 9, 2010

Obama's Czechoslovakia

Obama subscribes to the liberal worldview that believes that the Muslim world is simply reactive and not active in its own right. The hostility between the Islamic and Western world is one wholly provoked by Western, and specifically American, actions. Obama's predecessor, Bush, brought relations with the Islamic world to a new low with his rhetoric, aggressive policies and unilateralism. Obama intends to rectify this situation and inaugurate a new era of peace and co-operation between America, the West and Islam. As Obama said in his June 2009 speech to the Islamic world in Cairo: "I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition."

The price to pay for this new beginning? The sacrifice of Israel on the altar of appeasement of Islamic hatred. In all of Obama's policies regarding Israel since assuming office, his actions have favoured the Palestinians and the Arab world at the expense of the Jewish state. While the Obama administration chose to manufacture a crisis and reprimand Israel over the construction of homes for Jews in its capital, the "moderate" Fatah party was holding a ceremony to rename a public square in honour of the perpetrator of the worst terrorist attack in Israel's history. Apparently, to Obama, Jews building in Jerusalem necessitates public rebuke and shaming of the United State's greatest ally, while Israel's "peace partner" honouring the murderer of 37 innocent Jewish men, women and children, deserves nary a protest.

It was recently reported by security officials that Obama would remove the words 'jihad' and 'Islamic extremism' from US counter-terrorism documents. Of course, it goes without saying that Obama will not remove the words 'jihad' and 'Islamic extremism' from Islamic extremists. This willing blindness to Islamic fundamentalism and jihadist intention fits perfectly with Obama's belief that the root of the problem in the Middle-East is Israel- that the "occupation" and "settlements" fuel the jihadists which attack American and Western targets. The Obama administration deliberately chose to misinterpret the words of US General Petraeus to claim that Israeli policies endanger US troops.

Obama's open hostility to Israel is no secret and was only most recently expressed in his humiliation of Israel's Prime Minister when he came to Washington to deliver a speech before AIPAC. Obama is pressuring Israel to make dangerous concessions: to retreat to the indefensible "Auschwitz lines" of pre-1967, to expel hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes and to partition Jerusalem, Israel's capital. At the same time, he continues to whet Palestinian maximalist aspirations and encourage violence and terror. According to Palestinian officials, Obama encouraged Palestinian 'resistance', meaning terror and violence against Israel.

Obama continues to wave the Iranian threat over Israel's head in order to promote his peace process to nowhere. His year of attempted engagement and diplomacy has failed as Iran is racing ever closer to a nuclear bomb. Even as Obama gathers more world leaders for useless summits over sanctions, Iran unveils third-generation advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment. US support for an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities seems as remote as ever.

Israel is finding itself increasingly isolated, being pushed into a corner by a hostile American president prepared to appease the tyrants and demagogues of the Islamic world at its expense. As Obama pursues more futile policies and actions, Iran continues its genocidal threats and comes closer to building a nuclear bomb with which to attack Israel. For Israel, the clock is ticking for a strike on Iran. It will receive no support from the United States as Obama plans to make Israel his Czechoslovakia. Israel cannot rely on the United States to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. America will not come to the Jews' rescue- just as it didn't bomb the railway tracks to Auschwitz. Israel can only rely on its own strength, and its Father in Heaven.