Sunday, 29 July 2018

Atta Farhat – A Druze hero




I trust that by now, many have heard about the New “Basic Law,” recently passed by the Yisraeli Knesset. The law which is based on the essence of Medinat Yisrael, as stated in our Declaration of Independence, changes nothing on the ground. It merely anchors and reaffirms the essence of the Jewish state.

Members of some minorities are up in arms protesting it. Thankfully, not all. Some, like my dear friend, Atta Farhat, head of the Druze Zionist Council, a proud and loyal Yisraeli Druz, supports and endorses it.

I spoke to him yesterday afternoon. The following are his words.

“Yisrael is the National Home of the Jewish People. This basic principle appears in all basic national and international documents pertaining to the State of Yisrael, starting with the Balfour Declaration, through the British Mandate, UN Resolution 181 and culminating in our Declaration of Independence.

Up until now, this  principle was not anchored in the Law. At the same time, Yisrael has always been committed to provide, equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of race, religious creed, race or  gender.

The State of Yisrael is a Jewish and Democratic state. Its Democratic nature is expressed in a variety of laws and rulings of its Supreme Court. The basic laws including the basic law honouring the dignity of Man and his freedom, stressed it. This law merely focuses on the Jewish identity aspect of the Jewish state and defines the need for self determination of the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael.

The new law, completes the basic law calling to honour Man and his freedom and does not contradict it. It is nothing but another effort to cement those laws of the State of Yisrael . It adds and will also include an identity clause.

The law also anchors existing values and symbols which determine the nature of Medinat Yisrael, its Holy Days as has been the practice from its inception. It reaffirms the Law of Return, which reflects Yisrael as the National Homeland of the Jewish People and which was recognized by the Supreme Court as an important basic law. It gave these laws a constitutional status.


Image result for Atta Farhat

This Law also states that Yisrael will open and strengthen Jewish settlements. This springs out of the understanding that this is a National value towards fulfilling the Zionist dream, a principle that has guided previous Yisraeli governments. Similarly, and parallel to this, present and previous governments have worked towards providing solutions in the non-Jewish sectors of the Yisraeli population. The law does not aim at creating separate communities in Yisrael based on religion and nationality.

Additionally, the law sets practical objectives which express the core of Yisrael as the National Home of the Jewish People: its emblem, its flag, its language and the right of return, among others. It provides a guarantee by the state of Yisrael to work and strengthen the connection between the Jewish People in Yisrael and the Diaspora.
According to this law, the Arabic language will receive a special status. Its inclusion in state institutions will be stated in law. There is a clause in this new law that ensures that the status of the Arabic language will not be hurt.

This law is necessary, especially these days, when many try to shake the foundations of the rights of the Jewish People to Medinat Yisrael to settle and live in its ancestral and historical Homeland yet toil ceaselessly to recognize a Palestinian state. This is hypocrisy and double standard and double moral.

Finally, many of the clauses that appear in this Law appear in many other Western Democracies.

Those I represent, myself included, oppose turning Yisrael into a “state of all of its citizens,” its infiltrators as it poses a threat to the continued existence of the Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.

Finally, the Left and the NIF have joined hands to create a rift between the Jewish People and our Fellow Druze.”

Friends, it is people like Fatta that Yisrael needs more of. Let us all join hands and support him and the uphill battle that he is currently facing.

Am Yisrael Chai

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

When a Child's Toy Becomes a Weapon of Terror






“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.” 
― 
Dave Pelzer

Is there anyone here who does not recall the song of joy that filled their heart upon seeing those brightly coloured rubber sacs inflated with air and then sealed at the neck, used as a children's toy or a decoration? 

We call them Balloons. 

They have been an inseparable part of and associated with happy events and the celebration of special milestones in our life. They come in different shapes, colours and they generally carry a cheerful and optimistic atmosphere.

That is and should continue to be the sole purpose and sole use of balloons.

Some, unfortunately, have transformed this token of bliss into a weapon of terror. They have burst the legacy of these playthings and turned them into a nightmare, an inferno. We have witnessed it in the recent antics of some Gazans as reflected in the thousands of acres of scorched fields on the Yisraeli side of the border.

I cannot help but compare this new form of warfare to a similar phenomenon some had been through a couple of years ago. Surely, many remember the movie “It” about an evil clown that causes havoc and destruction. Any child would tell us that clowns are meant to bring only joy, laughter and pleasure.  Imagine turning clowns, the source of bliss to many children be it at parties or hospitals, into a subject of dread and apprehension.

Can we even begin to fathom the effects of such antics on the hearts, minds and souls of those who witness the metamorphosis of their childhood symbols of happiness and elation into a vision of destruction and death? Do we even have the tools to measure the damage inflicted upon young lives and the shattering of dreams of a bright future? How will anyone ever be able to explain to them that at the end of the day, we have failed them? Will we ever be able to rectify the denial of hope, of aspirations and the fantasy lining of the fabric of their innocence - all privileges that no child should be deprived of?

I was among those young souls a few days during Operation “Protective Edge,” several years ago. I witnessed their pale faces, their sad expressions. That was war. Every child knows that war is bad. I doubt they have had any expectations then, even at their young tender age.

However, to depict symbols of innocence, toys and tokens of joy and reassurance and turn them into weapons of terror is a measure that NO children, wherever they dwell, should ever experience.

Hoping for better days for all.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Temple Menorah - What Did It Really Look Like?







“And six branches shall extend from its sides, three branches of the menorah out of one side, and three branches out of the other side”  Shemot (Exodus) 25:32

Any reader of chapter 25 in the Book of Shemot (Exodus) which is dedicated to the customs associated with the Tabernacle, will quickly notice that much attention is given to the description and the embossing of the fine details and ornaments of the Menorah. Little or rather nothing is said about the shape of its six branches nor its stand or base.  
Why, some may ask, the sudden interest in it?

Actually, it is not sudden. Many, and for a long time, have tried to discern what the Temple Menorah really looked like.

Of course, we are all familiar with the one depicted on Titus’ Arch in Rome, the one that was among the spoils of the Temple which were taken to Rome by the Jewish slaves following the destruction of the Second Temple. Many would also recognize that the emblem of the State of Yisrael, the Jewish Homeland, is fashioned after it.


There are, so it seems, some inconsistencies between what we have been familiar with and the description of this holy Jewish symbol in traditional sources.

One of them is the description of the Menorah given in the Book of Zechariah. It is different than the one that stood in the First Temple. The one in Zechariah has an added feature, a “bowl at the top,” which served as a vessel to hold the oil. -  a detail that is not mentioned in the instructions given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

That, however, is a minor detail which is not given much attention in Jewish writings. The added “bowl,” can probably be attributed to and be the result of a more developed version of the original Menorah, a kind that might have been more widespread during second Temple period.

What I find fascinating about the Menorah, though, relates more to the shape of the branches and its stand. The branches are generally illustrated as semi-circular in shape, as we can see on Titus’ Arch.
Archaeological evidence, as in many other incidences, helps us shed light on this issue. A Jewish coin, for instance, minted in 40 BCE shows the Menorah as having curved branches thus lending support to the suggestion that the Menorah had indeed semi – rounded branches.

Another archaeological revelation which renewed interest in the shape of the Temple Menorah was the subject of a Press Release by the Yisrael Antiquities Authority in August 2011. It announced the discovery of “an engraving of the Temple Menorah on a stone object” (which I personally saw) in a two millennia old drainage tunnel near the City of David.



The Authority’s release went on to suggest that “a passerby who saw the Temple Menorah with his own eyes….incised his impressions on a stone.” The drawing, albeit a crude one, clearly shows that the branches are more straight than circular (the depiction of the base proves that the passerby could have drawn curved lines had he witnessed the Menorah as having rounded arms or branches).

Some Jewish sources provide other insights into the question of the shape of the Menorah’s branches. Rashi, for instance, suggests in one of his commentaries on the Torah that the branches of the Menorah “extended upward in a diagonal.…” fashion rather than in a curved, rounded one. The Rambam, like Rashi, though he never makes any definitive statement concerning the branches, shares his view on it. In his commentaries on the Mishneh Torah and Mishnah, he adds drawings which leave no room for doubt. In them, he depicts the branches as extending diagonally and in straight lines.  



Rabbeinu Avraham, the son of Maimonides, states: “The six branches... extended upward from the center shaft of the menorah in a straight line, as depicted by my father, and not in a semi-circle as depicted by others.”
A Depiction of the Menorah Based on the Drawings of the RambamAs in the case of the engraving found in the City of David and judging by the fact that the curvature of the base is drawn so precisely, most likely with the aid of a compass, it is apparent that the artist could just have easily drawn curved branches had he so desired.
The base of the original Temple Menorah has also been a subject of controversy for many years. The one carved on Titus’ Arch is very different from the one found in the City of David. It also differs from the drawings attributed to the Rambam. The excavators of the City of David were quoted as saying that the graffito found in there “clarifies [that] the base of the original [ancient] menorah … was apparently tripod shaped.”
The unique, two-tiered, broad, solid and hexagonal Menorah base depicted on Titus’ Arch, has led many to believe that it is nothing like the Menorah would have looked like for two reasons. The first pertains to the fact that the Greeks discovered all polygons much later, during the Pythagorean era. Though, early Egyptians and ancient Chinese developed such geometry, it was mostly used for navigational purposes.

The second, and a more germane reason, relates to Jewish law. Archeologists concluded that some of the panels of the Menorah carved on the Arch (though partially eroded), display creatures such as eagles, sea serpents, dragons and other heathen images which Jews would not have allowed to be present at the Temple.

Experts agree that there is no reason to question the authenticity of the depiction in Titus’ Arch. Its details and its size reflect the sculpture’s close familiarity with the Temple vessels as described in the Tanach and various other Jewish sources.

The question, however, remains, how can the disparity between the two representations of the Menorah base be compromised?

There is no doubt that the Menorah as we see it on the Arch bears a strong Roman influence. The eagles are a well-known symbol of Roman sovereignty. Dragons were a prevalent ornamental motif in Roman art. A similar base albeit with more pagan images, was excavated in Didymus, Turkey where there once stood a Roman temple.

These clues have led scholars to the almost unavoidable conclusion that the disposition towards Roman art coupled with Jewish prohibition of pagan images could be ascribed to one person, Herod, who throughout his appointment as “King of Judea” tried to impose Hellenistic traditional concepts and values upon his oppressed Jewish subjects.

If that was indeed the case, it is safe to assume then that the Menorah plundered from the Temple was not the one that the Maccabees had intended it to be following their rebellion, a symbol of religious freedom. Rather, it was another attempt to suppress it. This might also be the reason why the Menorah was not present on Jewish coins commemorating the Jewish rebellion in 69-70 and 135. Other symbols from the Temple were used in its place.

Regardless of the changes and the origin of some of the details of the Menorah, it has become a symbol of Jewish religious freedom and political sovereignty and Jewish pride for the Eternal Jewish Homeland in Eretz Yisrael.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Magic of Hebrew




The Hebrew language... is the only glue which holds together our scattered bones. It also holds together the rings in the chain of time.... It binds us to those who built pyramids, to those who shed their blood on the ramparts of Jerusalem, and to those who, at the burning stakes, cried Shema Yisrael!”


I love languages. I speak six and teach three.  These factors, I believe, have provided me with a rather fair and objective way to study and evaluate the wisdom of languages. Furthermore, it has given me a tool to better understand and more greatly appreciate my own as the wise words of Johann Wolfgang van Goethe lucidly articulated it: “He who knows no foreign language does not know his own.”

Of course, everyone should love their own language first. I do. I love Hebrew, the few millennia old language of the Jewish People. I love it not merely because it is my language and the language of my People that connects our Jewish past, present and future as Y.L. Peretz suggested in the quote above. I love it because, I found that of all the languages that I know and teach, Hebrew is, by far, one of the most cogent and sensible.

And before anyone accuses me of being “an elitist” or being “biased,” please allow me to explain.

Hebrew, one of the most ancient languages in the history of mankind, is based on the root structure. What this means is that every word consists of basic three letters (sometimes four). These three letters are called Shoresh (root).

Just like the root of a tree that spawns a stem and branches, so does the root of a Hebrew word produce and create words (I understand that Latin is another language, albeit classical, that utilizes root etymology). Similarly, just as a root of a tree forms branches that are linked to it and resemble each other, so does the root of  Hebrew words help form words that, in most cases, share a similar meaning and are hence related.

Let me expound on this unique attribute of Hebrew with a few examples.

Zachor  זכור, which means remember, is a word almost every Jewish person is familiar with. Remember is not only a word, it is a central tenet in our Jewish culture, one that is an integral part of the DNA of the Jewish People, past and present
The three-letter root of  the word זכור is:   ז כ ר

A brief look at the list below will reveal that these three letters appear in all of them. Hence it is their root. Ensuing the logic that I tried to render above will help us see how these words are related.

זכרון,  zikaron: memory
 מזכרת, mazkeret: souvenir
 זכר zachar: remember
 זכר zecher: remnant
זכר  zacahar: male
מזכירה mazkira: secretary

To any non-Hebrew speaker, in this case, English speakers, some of these words would seem unrelated. And this is where the magic of Hebrew comes into play. Ensuing the logic that I tried to render above will help us see how these words are related. The simple fact that they all share the same Shoresh implies that they are related in their meaning, as I suggested above.

We can all agree that the English words: memory, remember, souvenir (which is supposed to remind us of places and people) remnant (which refers to that leftover that is supposed to remind us of something or someone) are related.

However, what do “male” and “secretary” have to do with memory, or remember, you may ask.

Let us start with the easy part. A secretary shares the same root of זכר  because he/she are expected to remember and remind their bosses of their schedule and other important issues.

There are, though, two possible explanations as to why the word “male” shares the same shoresh with “memory.” The first is found in the Reuveni essay which compiles a collection of Midrashim (the sages’ interpretation of Jewish Holy Scriptures). There, we are told that G-d names man “male” so that he can remember His Creator and his Commandments, for that is what man was created for.

The second explanation can be discerned through comparing semitic cultures.
In those cultures, the male was the provider, the one who inherited the family assets, whose name was passed on to posterity. That is how he was going to be remembered
 
No wonder then that Hebrew is also called לשון הקודש” (Leshon Hakodesh, the Holy language). קודש (Kodesh) is derived from the shoresh  ק ד ש which means to dedicate, to sanctify. It is the language of Am Yisrael and the Jewish People, עם קדוש (Am Kadosh, Holy nation) the ones who G-d sanctified and dedicated to Himself.

Am Yisrael Chai



Saturday, 30 June 2018

He Came to Curse and Ended up Blessing





There is a great lesson for Yisrael’s foes in this week’s Parashah (Torah Portion), Balak, a lesson that repeats itself numerous times through history, one they simply refuse to master.

The lesson has to do with the meaning of the name Yisrael, a name given to Yaakov (Jacob), a name the essence of which describes the destiny of Am Yisrael and the Jewish People. It is soaked with historical facts, ones that withstood the trials and tribulations of time. This historical evidence is blotched and sprinkled on the core of every Jewish generation from time immemorial. Our enemies rise to curse us and try to kill us but the Eternal of Yisrael being the loyal guardian of our People always subverts their intentions and turns their efforts to destroy us into making us stronger and more resilient while their curses transform into a blessing.

This week’s Parashah tells about Balak the king of Moav who follows the moves, battles and conquests of Am Yisrael as they make their way to Eretz Yisrael after they left Egypt. As he is not aware of G-d‘s command to Moses not to destroy Moav, naturally, he is concerned about the safety of his land and decides to join hands with Midian, another brutal enemy of Am Yisrael, to fight them.

The two states decide to send emissaries to one, Bilaam, a well-known sorcerer and ask him to curse Am Yisrael and bring defeat and destruction upon them.

G-d then appears to Bilaam at night and orders him to bless, not to curse Am Yisrael. Bilaam, fears G-d and continues to refuse to do as Balak orders him.

Balak, however, does not give up. He sends another delegation to Bilam. Again, Bilam refuses.

That night, G-d appears once more to Bilam and tells him to join Balak but to say only what He, G-d, instructs him to say.

Much to Balak’s dismay, Bilam ends up blessing and glorifying Am Yisrael.

Interestingly enough, some of his blessings are more of a formative account or even a prophecy. They accurately describe the eternal core of Am Yisrael, its determination, resilience and the nature of their relationship with the Nations, a relationship that is unique to Am Yisrael. Above all, it also describes G-d’s unending support for the Eternal Covenant that He entered with Am Yisrael.

Bilaam starts by saying: "How beautiful are your tentsJacob, your dwelling places, Israel” (Bamidbar 24:5) He is, in my view, describing the Yisrael of today. That is what Yisrael, the pearl, the flower of the middle east looks like. It is the Home of a people who after two millennia of wanderings have come back home, turned the desert into fertile land, built homes, schools and a high-tech empire.

Bilaam further states a fact that  is obvious to many :

the nation shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9) 

The term “reckoned” can be interpreted in two ways. One, that Am Yisrael is not counted among the nations of the world. The other, that Am Yisrael will themselves not reckon the opinion of other Nations.

That, too, is a truth we witness daily, especially the former part of the interpretation of that verse. A few years ago, I wrote an article on the subject. I called it: “The Lonely Yardstick.” In it, I shared that the world has three yardsticks to judge nations. One for democracies. One for dictatorships. One for Yisrael only. It is a very lonely yardstick, just like Yisrael which is not always counted among the nations of the world and is often the subject of severe criticism merely for its desire to guard its sovereignty and the security of all its citizens.

Finally, there is one more truth that Bilaam’s blessing states which I wish to bring to the readers’ attention. I am referring to verse 23:21 "No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” The unconditional Love of G-d to Yisrael is eternal. To our transgressions and occasional misbehaviour (we are still humans and I never claimed we were perfect!), G-d sometimes turns a blind eye.  We witness it here daily. Miracles upon miracles. G-d is always within Am Yisrael, ready to fulfill His promises to the descendants of Yaakov who became Yisrael. The Lion of Judah, Bilaam continues his blessing in the form of a prophecy, “Shall rise up and devour its victims.”

A bird’s eye view of the recent history of Yisrael demonstrates and attests to the accuracy of Bilaam’s prophetic words of blessing.

That is the unassailable lesson of this week’s Parasha. Am Yisrael and the Jewish People have been sentenced to life, to continue to thrive and always triumph. It lies at the heart of the name Y I S R A E L : “For you have fought with G-d and men and you shall prevail”

Now, if the enemies of Yisrael inside and out would finally take heed and internalize this very important lesson wouldn’t it be nice?

Shavua tov

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Those, Like Yisrael and Trump, Who Are Doing It....




“Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.” – Chinese proverb

Giving up on an idea, a venture, or on unraveling a difficult issue can happen when one is tired. It can also happen when one is uninspired or confused.

Who among us has never been in that situation which can be frustrating or daunting? It happens to everyone at some stage in their life. Giving up might in many cases be the only option left for them.

Unfortunately, there are also those who outrightly brush off any efforts to try and tackle an issue before they even examine it. They do it claiming no matter how one addresses it, it simply cannot be done. Whichever the reason, this is one way to solve a problem or rather to perpetuate it.

Fortunately for mankind, there are those who choose to persist, overcome challenges and roadblocks standing in their way to achieve their goal. They do it despite all the voices that try to discourage and dissuade them from acting or doing and prefer to keep the status quo. They have the "Chutzpah," the fearlessness and desire to dare, remain hopeful, have faith and not resort to the easiest way out of doing nothing.

It reminds me of a story I once read. Its lesson, I believe, a very important one. Let me share it with you.

It tells the story of two twins, one was a pessimist and always complained about anything. The other was an optimist and always looked for the good in everything as optimists generally do. On one of their birthdays, their parents decided to give the pessimist the most expensive of presents. These included a T.V., a computer and other gifts that would make any other child joyful. The optimist twin received a pile of horse manure which he found on the floor in the middle of his room.

As expected the pessimist complained about each gift. Nothing was good enough for him. The optimist, on the other hand, ran through the house as if looking for something. He was cheerful, happy and smiling.

“Why are you running through the house?” his parents asked him in surprise, trying to stop him. “What are you looking for?”

“The pony that you bought for me,” answered the happy young boy. “I am looking for the pony.”

And you know what? I believe that one day he will find his “pony,” provided no one succeeds in interrupting him when doing it.

The lesson is clear.

Thirty years ago, in the 1980’s, Former President Ronald Reagan proposed a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It was nicknamed “Star Wars.”  All those who prescribed to the attitude of “it cannot be done” mostly because of political oriented blindness came out yelling “it cannot be done.”  Yet Yisrael, persisted and engaged in “doing it” and eventually managed to do at least part of it and with that the ability to protect a country from missile attacks (Thank you for reminding me of that Roger Froikin).

Fast forward to the present. Merely six months ago, no one believed that the US would move its embassy to Yerushalayim. It happened. Only several weeks ago, the West Coast of the US was under imminent threat of a nuclear attack from N. Korea. Few if any believed it was doable. They mocked, belittled and laughed at President Trump, again either because of political orientation or media influence, for his desire to bring that threat to an end and doubted that it could happen. A few days ago, an agreement between the two countries was signed.

President Trump may not have yet found the pony but only a few traces of it. However, through his determination, diligence and at the rate he is moving and doing it, while focusing on his goal, he will one day. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Politics of Dercency



 I once saw a poster that read: “Decency is a relative thing.” I doubt there is better evidence of that than what one experiences in the Middle East, a complex region where the disparity between the archaic and the modern is mirrored in the attitudes, beliefs, norms and traits of its juxtaposed realities.
Although the structure of certain values which are universal in their nature seem to be shared by some individuals and groups on both sides of the Middle East divide, there is definitely a substantial difference in the relative importance or priorities that is attributed to them.  It is this relativity of importance, goal or motivation that dictates any action carried out in their name. 

Decency, to the Western, enlightened world, denotes positive attributes such as morality, honesty, politeness and civility.  It stands for the display of attitude towards others, and practice of respect for them and for their beliefs.  It also upholds and observes the dignity of difference. It is, by far, one of the principal indicators which separate between primitivism and progress.  It is the thin line that divides between relics of the outmoded and the drive towards the better and improved.  Decency, in the Middle East is, in my view, one facet of interaction that distinguishes between these two.  It is this which sets “them” and “us” apart.
They revel in death, we celebrate Life.  They flaunt intolerance of anything which is foreign to their own way, we welcome and share it.  They suppress minorities, we try to provide them with equal opportunities.  They subdue women, we honor them.  They impose, we adapt.  We willingly share that which they so indecently usurp.  They are busy destroying facts; we engage in unearthing them.  They are engrossed in rewriting history, we in teaching it as it evolved.
What we try and go out of our way to practice, sometimes at a very dear price human and otherwise, is the kind of decency that many of us in the West were raised to follow. On the other hand, there lies the kind of indecency that they practice, and in which they continue to raise their children. We may not be perfect but we exercise the kind of decency that is going to help us get there.  Their indecency will only continue to lead to more havoc and destruction.
Unfortunately, a currently visionless world, brainwashed by a well-oiled propaganda machine, is either too weak, too lazy, too fearful or simply motivated by an overdose of political correctness, refuses to remove its blinders. Instead, it elects to remain intoxicated by a false elixir, while allowing the indecent dictates of its temporarily euphoric yet permanently venomous laws of decency rule its universe.
Hopefully, in a world that, at least until recently, was run by principles which transmitted inherent, permanent and cherished values which were intrinsic to its survival as part of the family of humanity, many will wake up to realize that in the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt, The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.”