Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Trump and Nationalism











“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” Charles de Gaulle

The basic definition of the term “Nationalism” provided by Merriam-Webster is "loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its own culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.”

Unlike English, Hebrew has a distinction between what de Gaulle defines as “Nationalism” in the sense of Patriotism (Leumi), loyal to one’s People versus "Leumani" which would consist of the second part of his quote “hate for other People.”

The first, Leumi is what I would hope citizens of EVERY country should be, great patriots and loving their Nation first. I know I am one. The second, Leumani, no sovereign country, no Nation should possess.

Why did I suddenly choose to write about and discuss this term, you might ask?

Someone just sent me a clip of a speech by Trump where h declares himself as “a Nationalist.” For me, that amounts to nothing more than saying, “I put America First!” President Trump is merely declaring his loyalty to America, its economy, its citizens and their well-being first.

Who among us would not want their leader to have their interest in mind FIRST before those of others? Should it be an unacceptable trait of anyone’s leader? Should that word be a modern day “Scarlet letter?” Should it constitute a “four letter word?
Not for me, dear readers.

I am a proud “Jewish Nationalist.” I am a proud Zionist which for me is akin to  “Jewish Nationalist.” My People, My Nation comes first. Does that mean that I qualify for the second part of de Gaulle’s quote which means I hate others?

Not at all!

My busy schedule which is considerably less busy than that of President Trump, only allows me to dedicate all my efforts, time, energy, money and other resources for OUR Jewish People first. Yes, I do care about the pain and suffering of others. However, my charity begins at Home, here in Eretz Yisrael. That makes me a Leumi. I have always vowed that if our Jewish People and all Yisraelis live in safety and security and I am free to care and do something about eliminating the pain and suffering of others, I will gladly dedicate my self to helping them. Until then, I am and will forever remain a “leumi" in the de Gaulle sense of “patriotism!”

Likewise, President Trump puts America and Americans first. Putting one’s People first just like myself and many others does not constitute hatred or racism towards others. It simply means he is a Leumi (a patriot) and not, Leumani (a bigot whose “hate of people other than” his “own comes first”).

That is my kind of President. Isn’t it yours?

Friday, 21 September 2018

Moshe's Art of Teaching







This week’s Parasha stresses the importance of listening and memorizing. These two verbs appear in the Tanach many times. The root אזן (listen, harken) appears in close to thirty verses in the Tanach. The root זכר (remember) in its various adaptations appears over 350 times.

Any teacher who is well versed in the art of teaching will tell us that adhering to them will achieve the results of great and effective learning. Hearing is not enough. In order to grasp any lesson, one needs to listen attentively and not only internalize it but also memorize it in order to ensure that the learning process of any subject, any lecture has been mastered.


I was first exposed to importance of reviewing and memorizing when I was in second grade. The teacher taught us a very meaningful saying and asked me to make a poster of it. It read, “Anyone who learns Torah but does not repeat the learning is like a man sowing but never reaping.” I remember toiling over that poster as a young child, etching its message on my brain, committing it to memory and eventually getting into the habit of practicing it.

That is what G-d, through Moshe, is doing in this week’s Parasha, “Ha’azinu,” (harken) in D’varim 32. A quick glance at the format in which this Parasha was written, reveals that it is in the form of poetry rather than prose, unlike most other parashot. Instead of long sentences and full paragraphs, one finds two columns and short words. I venture to say that it reflects the way it was delivered, as poetry.  Moreover, I trust it was done so for a reason.

The message of this week’s Parasha is one of the most important ones delivered to Am Yisrael. It is brought forth as they are about to enter the Promised Land WITHOUT Moshe. They need to be prepared, be coached and provided with the proper and relevant tools. These include remembering the Torah, its Mitzvot and the power of Emunah, belief and faith. 


Moshe is worried about the future of Am Yisrael and rightfully so. Has he not witnessed them for over forty years of wandering in the desert? Have they not complained many a times even when their food and other needs were provided for them? He knows how impatient, weak and unprepared they are. History has taught him that Am Yisrael is not the strongest nor the toughest assembly for coping with the harsh reality and new conditions that face them in Eretz Yisrael.

Moshe, the ever-astute teacher, leader needs to ensure that, after he is gone, the processes of learning and mastering his final lesson, will be affixed in the collective memory of our People forever and be evoked as one of his most significant legacies for Am Yisrael and the future of our people.

Under the circumstances, what a better way to teach it than using poetry, a rather unconventional teaching method, to help ensure that the tenets of that intended lesson will forever be inscribed upon their hearts, brains and souls?

And what a powerful message it is. Moshe turns to the Heaven and Earth, his eternal witnesses, two of G-d’s creations that encapsulate time, space and matter "הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וַאֲדַבֵּרָה; וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ אִמְרֵי-פִי" (Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;hear, you earth, the words of my mouth). 

And sometimes, on a very quiet starry night, when the world is asleep, if you harken closely, you can hear Moshe's final words echoing everywhere, reaffirming G-d's promise to Am Yisrael and the Jewish People, the promise that like the Heaven and Earth, we, too, are eternal.

Chag Sameach

Friday, 14 September 2018

A shattered Dream for one, a Blessing for others





Of all the verses of this week’s Parasha, one is branded in my mind more than others. It is Deuteronomy 32;52, where G-d tells Moshe:

Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel."

Imagine coming very close to your life’s goal yet never fulfilling it. Imagine seeing your long-woven dream close to being realized and watcing it slipping away. How about running that marathon that you have been training to for months merely to find out that as close as you reach the finishing line, you will never get to it?

Must be awfully frustrating.

The above verse captures, in my view, the essence of that feeling, that sentiment. That bittersweet aftertaste is saturated with the emotions of grievance, irritation and desertion.

In 1992, on a trip to Jordan, I was standing where Moshe was when watching his dream fade away. I remember looking into the distance, seeing the Land I so love while feeling every fiber of my nationhood vibrating in me, bursting to break into an elating dance, the kind one experiences when one becomes united with the universe that surrounds us.  So close yet so far away. So attainable yet unreachable. Almost touching it yet more evasive than ever.

I can still feel the tears welling in my eyes soothing the flames of fire that the dry wind and the burning desert sun ignited and fueled. The growing lump in my throat chokes and stifles the soundless shrieks in the face of the injustice committed on that mountain. The deafening silence that surrounds me threatens to devour me.

Unlike Moshe, I walked the Land, I planted trees, worked, tended and helped free it. I am one of his humble servants who swore to guard it, watch over my People and defend it for our posterity. How much luckier can one get?

I, along with many other members of our wonderful People pledge to carry Moshe’s legacy and continue to fulfill the dream he led us to realize.

And “Our journey is just beginning.” May it continue, and may we go from strength to strength as we resume our life’s mission and the fulfillment of his vision along this Holy Land.

Shanah Tova and Gmar Chatima Tovah

Friday, 7 September 2018

Choosing Life





הַעִידֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ: הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים, לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ " This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live - Deuteronomy 30:19


Living is about choices. Living well is about making the RIGHT choices. The choices we make have a great impact on our lives and in many cases those whose lives we touch.

Who among us does not wish their life to be anything but happy, rewarding and fulfilling?

In my view this week’s Parasha, Nitzavim (standing in front of G-d) where Am Yisrael reaffirms the Covenant we willingly and enthusiastically entered with G-d at Mount Sinai, is what Judaism and our great tradition, in fact our whole Jewish existence, is all about. It is encapsulated in one commandment, the center of this Parasha, “Choose Life.” 
If that is a commandment, you may ask, where then is the choice here? After all, selecting one’s life’s path implies making decisions through free will. Commandments, generally, dictate actions, warnings and provide precautionary measures aimed at saving lives and preventing death.

Opting to “choose life,” is, I believe, looking at the glass as half full, finding the positive in every experience, getting the most out of it and reaping its rewards. It kind of forces one to revert to the old cliché, “Look at every day as the first day of the rest of your life.” It keeps one dreaming, encourages and pushes growth, dispels and removes fear. Life is the most precious present. One does not and should not even contemplate discarding of such a gift.

In addition to one’s own reward that result from choosing life, G-d also lists a whole host of other benefits that He will bestow upon those who will follow His Covenant and pick Life. “וְלֹ֥א אִתְּכֶ֖ם לְבַדְּכֶ֑ם אָֽנֹכִ֗י כֹּרֵת֙ אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית :הַזֹּ֔את. . כִּי֩ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֶשְׁנ֜וֹ פֹּ֗ה עִמָּ֨נוּ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד הַיּ֔וֹם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְאֵ֨ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵינֶ֛נּוּ פֹּ֖ה עִמָּ֥נוּ הַיּֽוֹם” (And not only with you am I entering this Covenant, but with those who are here and those who are not here. Deuteronomy 29:13-14). This Covenant embraces and binds future generations as well. It is the ticket to eternity, the promise of Hope and Continuity.

Imagine waking up in the morning to such a commandment and gearing the direction of your day, your goals, your objectives and your choices towards one end, choosing Life. Imagine making that commandment your pillar of Cloud during the day and Pillar of Fire at night, using it as the compass that will guide your perpetual journey, lead you eventually to a destination crowned with the petals of brilliance and bliss, ensure your safety and well-being and above all pave your way to a gratifying future to you and your posterity.

This is the essence of Am Yisrael and the fabric of our Jewish tradition. During times of havoc, pain and destruction, our defiant spirit never gives up. We pick up the pieces of our, pogroms, Shoah, Terror and wars torn and shattered subsistence and in following that commandment, we build bigger and better tabernacles out of them. We are, by far, the most optimistic nation on earth. It is the secret to our success and to our intellectual and spiritual prosperity. It is the elixir of our ongoing presence in a world that on more than one occasion wished to bring about our demise. It is the adage that keeps echoing, day and night on the walls of our Jewish core, “AM YISRAEL CHAI.”


Shanah Tova and may this year be a year of Love, Joy and choosing Life.




Monday, 27 August 2018

A Little Known Genocide







History has been laced with genocides. Some, however, received much coverage and are known to many, albeit by name only.

But few, so it seems, know about the first genocide of the 20th century, the one that took place not on European soil and by members of the Second Reich, a few decades before the rise of Hitler.  I am referring to the genocide committed against the Herero Tribe of Namibia, a genocide that left them close to extinction.

I recently spent a couple of weeks with members of the Herero Tribe. What a wonderful experience it was. I visited their villages, their homes and their schools. They are generally happy people, hospitable and polite. Looking at them, it would be hard to trace any hint of the fact that merely two generations ago, attempts were made to rid the world of them and their beautiful heritage.
That is why I set out to learn as much as I could about this little known atrocity, share it and educate others about it.

For that, I will have to take you, the readers, back in time to 1884. That year, the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck assembled what has come to be known as “The Berlin Conference.” Its purpose was to determine the future of the African continent. As part of it, Bismarck designated South West Africa as part of the German Empire and suitable for settlement.

 

Following that declaration, the Germans began to appropriate more and more land from the local population while at the same time introducing laws and policies aimed at limiting and restricting it. One of the reasons that the presence of the Second Reich was moderately tolerated in that part of the world was because in many instances, its representatives acted as intermediaries between feuding tribes. However, as it turns out only when it suited them. The treaties they engineered were dubious, ambiguous and drawn merely to serve their interests. According to Dutch historian Jan-Bart Gewald, the German colonial governor “Leutwein, gladly offered military support to controversial chiefs, because violence and land seizure among Africans worked to his advantage.”
 In the early days of the German colonial venture in Namibia, the Herero People which, along with other tribes, were part of Namibia’s indigenous population, were still strong both economically and socially and were thus able to fend off German colonization efforts.  The Rimferpest plague which struck their herds in 1897,though, left them fragile both economically, as it destroyed their main source of wealth, as well as physically since it shuttered their source of protein.

That, however, did not prevent from the Herero to stand firm against the endeavours by the Germans to take over their land. By 1904, tensions rose to a peak and under the leadership of their paramount chief, Samuel Maherero, the Herero rebelled against the Germans, a rebellion that turned into a full-fledged war in which 123 Germans were killed. Kaiser Wilhelm II sent thousands of troops to fight the reels. The Herero were defeated and fled to the Kalahari Desert, where many were left to die of hunger and thirst.

What, to me, was the most devastating part of this whole chapter was that all members of the Herero and other tribes that the Germans came across, men women and children, were sent to concentration camps where they were used as slave labour to build railways and buildings which can still be seen throughout Namibia.




According to an article published by the BBC in 2011,
German scientists collected skulls of Herero members, and shipped them to Germany “to perform experiments seeking to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans over black Africans.” 



This, of course, helped plant the “seeds for the Nazi genocidal ideology which was later followed up by similar research of other “inferior” groups by the likes of Dr. Mengele and his ilk.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Judaism and Slavery






As some of you know, I have recently returned from a trip to some parts of Africa.

Each time I visit that continent, I cannot help but recall that dark chapter of its history, the one relating to the slave trade. An estimate of 12 million slaves entered the Atlantic Trade between the 16th and 19th centuries, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database. Many died on board the ships that carried them and those that survived were subject to horrendous treatment upon arriving in the New World.

Slavery is an old practice that was prevalent in the ancient world. It is first mentioned in the Hamurabi Code of Laws. Even the Tanach addresses the issue, though overall, it opposes such a practice as reflected in Leviticus 25:55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Personal freedom is considered a prime value in Jewish Scriptures and is even given a special recognition in the first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Moreover, Torah laws forbid the theft of people for the purpose of selling them as slaves (Deuteronomy, 24:7). Whoever engages in such antics is sentenced to death (Exodus 21:16). The law mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:16 which forbids the surrendering of an escaped slave, back to his or her owner, is an exception in the ancient near east and is unique to Judaism.

The Hebrew word for “slave” is eved and is derived from the word La’avod (to work). It means “a non-paid worker.” Slaves, according to the Torah, are the property of their owners until the time of their release.

Unlike modern day slavery (which unfortunately we still witness in some parts around the world), in both the Hamurabi Code and the Tanach, it is a form of paying debts. A person who was unable to pay off his or her debt would give one of their family members to the lender as a payoff. Both sources believe that it is a way to restore the debtors to their previous status in a “more dignified” manner and can be done by court order only.

One of the differences between the two sources is that the “slavery” period is only three years, according to Hamurabi, whereas the Tanach ( Exodus and Deuteronomy) doubled the period to six years probably in an effort to synchronize it with the six working days of the week or the six years before Shmita. That, perhaps, is the reason why, according to the Torah, the master is required to bestow gifts on the slave upon his release.

It is also noteworthy to mention, at this stage, the essential difference between the verses addressing the slave in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Unlike the former, the latter equates male and female slaves which, for ancient times and patriarchal societies was rather unique.

Another difference between the Hamurabi Code and the Torah concerns disobediant slaves. While both discuss branding their ear for following their insubordination and rebellion against their master, the Hamurabi Code is a form of punishment involving the removal of the ear while in the Torah, it merely involves piercing and comes to symbolize “eternal slavery.”

The aforementioned difference is an excellent example of how the Biblical law maker takes an ancient law and bends it to suit the needs, values of the Yisraelite culture of the First Temple era.

Though the above discussion applies only to Hebrew slaves, Maimonides (1138-1205) was the first to address the duty towards the humane treatment of gentile slaves. In his Mishneh Torah (Laws of Slaves 1: 6), he expresses uneasiness with the treatment of gentile slaves which the Torah sanctions to work with “harsh labour” (b'farekh).

It is not in vain that Maimonides is considered the first ever abolitionist.

Let me finish with some of his quotes on slavery which are laced with Tanach quotes, all reflecting his wisdom and compassion in accordance with Jewish Scriptures and moral code:

“It is permissible to have a Canaanite slave perform excruciating labour (farekh). Although this is the law, piety and of wisdom require a person to be compassionate, pursue justice and not to overburden his slaves, or inflict distress upon them.

He should feed them and give them drinks from all his available food and drink. This was the practice of the ancient Sages who would feed their slaves the same dishes that they themselves partook and feed their animals and slaves before they did themselves.

As is written in Psalms 123:2 “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.”

Similarly, a master should not abuse a slave verbally or physically. Torah only intended work for them, not humiliation. One should speak kindly to them and pay attention to their grievances as Job 31:13-15 states:  

“If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had grievance against me, what will I do when G-d confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One form us both within our mothers?  

May we all follow in the footsteps of Maimonides’s prudent and sensible legacy and protect and defend the dignity of Man.

Shabbat Shalom




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