Wednesday, 26 December 2018


Recently, we have been reading much about “Interfaith Dialogues,” where members of different faiths discuss/share/debate religious beliefs. I personally got a few invitations to partake in such events.

What exactly is it?

So, despite being very short on a commodity called “time,” I decided to embark on a short journey to try and understand what exactly this “Interfaith Dialogue” entails.

I trust that starting any discussion with the intent of making it a productive one, ensuring that all sides speak the same language and have the same understanding of key terms, a short definition of the term, would be useful.

Here are three sources for the definition of the term “Interfaith.”

The first a basic one from Merriam-Webster defines it as “involving persons of different religious faiths.” For those who consider themselves more educated, here are two more by the Cambridge Dictionary and the Oxford one, successively.
“relating to activities involving members of different religions,” and “Relating to or involving different religions or members of different religions.”

For the innocent bystander, such, an almost identical definition of the term “interfaith,”  as bringing together people of different faiths, is the fulfillment of the vision of the end of days and Biblical prophecies. And indeed, it can hold much potential of improving relationship and repair rifts that are, in many cases, the result of religious differences and conflicts as history has proved to us time and again.

My question, though, is, will debating or discussing religious differences really going to bring about the so well sought “kumbaya?” Might it not cause a deeper rift? What is the likelihood that following such debates or religious encounters anyone may change their beliefs? Has the invention of the term “Judeo-Christian” brought more peace between Jews and Christians? Some say “yes,” some say “no,” others say “maybe.” Is it quantifiable? Has appropriation, or usurpation of Jewish symbols, terms and ideas by some Christians resulting from “Interfaith Dialogue,” coupled with Jews allowing it, helped Jews in any way?

My answer is NO!
In my experience such debates ended in deeper divides and more vain hatred. Why can’t members of any faith adhere to and practice what Lord, Rabbi Sacks calls ”The Dignity of Difference?” Why do some members of some faiths feel a need to use scare techniques (I was once told that if I do not accept Jesus/Yeshua I “will burn in hell”) or promises of a “better Afterlife” to lure and gain followers?

Is religious interfaith indeed the ONLY answer to ensure a better future for all?

Why can’t Jews, Christians, Muslims or members of other faiths enter a fruitful and productive “Interfaith” exchange in areas such as business, culture, sports or art? Why does it always have to be a “religious interfaith?”

As my dear, wonderful and very wise friend, Roger Froikin likes to end his stimulating, well thought of and challenging comments, “think about that!” 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

An Open Letter to FB

Dear Facebook,

I was just released from your 30 days “jail.”

Let me tell you, and I know I speak for others who might be afraid of your response to their attempts to challenge you for similar grievances, about a few newly discovered observations as it is not the first time I am being privileged to be banned from posting.

Privileged? Some may ask. Yes, privileged, I say.

As some of your “judges” may know (after all, you are reading each one of our posts, don’t you?!) I have recently started my studies towards a PhD. Additionally, I am  at the last stage of submitting for publication, my second book, “Waltzing the Waves,” which I am working together with my wonderful editor Dr. Sandra Alfonsi.

Being “jailed” by you has actually freed me for these far more important tasks than engaging in debates that rarely contribute to anything and mostly end with foul-mouthed comments (and in your case with being jailed) for merely trying to warn others against the antics of dishonest people who use every trick in the book to lure innocent and naïve victims into their web of deceit. It has also spared me the need to be witness to your gross injustice against and efforts to silence the few forces of Light while enabling the forces of Evil to continue their spouting of hatred and incitement to violence.

I am also glad that your “Appeals Process,” the one your founder told the Senate about, is practically nonexistent. Again, as you well know, since you seem to miss very little on FB, I have tried a few times to appeal your harsh verdict merely to continuously be ignored. Had you had a proper one, and had I been successful in appealing my “jail” sentence, I would have spent more time fighting it than on my more important and far more rewarding academic goal.

And BTW, I have also noticed that even if I am “Jailed”, you keep sending me messages “reminding” me of previous milestones in my life and suggesting I share them with my friends, or reminding me that people miss me, asking me to write something. Here is one such example that I received recently, one of several while I was “jailed” by you:

Oh really? Of course they have not heard from me for a while. Have you forgotten that you put me in “jail” and banned me from posting? Likewise, offering me your occasional “business” proposal while I cannot respond (not that I will enter any business ventures with you!), is nothing but a mockery to me. What exactly is that supposed to mean? Have you lost all decency, integrity and dignity towards those members who have for years engaged over your pages and helped you, yes, helped YOU get to where you have?

You probably have also noticed (after all, while you are sitting there playing G-d determining who by water and who by fire and missing very little) that I did not even bother to create another profile to evade the “jail” sentence? I have been there. I have done that. NO MORE!

In short, my recent experience of being banned has been nothing but a blessing in disguise.

For that I owe you so much and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Alternately, I have decided to put YOU at the bottom of my priority list and visit you only WHEN I must  or when I have nothing better to do. It is sad indeed because you could have used this tool, called Face Book to bring people closer and make this world a better, safer and more promising place. Evidently, it is not on your list of “things to do!” After all, since when do Peace and harmony attract and gain spectators and an audience, two groups that you seem to have thrived on from the moment of your inception?

You may choose to remove me forever from here due to this post which you may consider as going against your “Community Standards.” If that is the case, then so be it. I promise you that I will not panic, or get desperate. You have plenty of these here. I do have a life, and it is not ONLY virtual. 

The only ones I will miss are the good people the ones  I learn so much from, the ones who bring so much light into my world and into the world of FB. And that, dear FB, is the worst punishment of them all!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Jewish Rights to Eretz Yisrael, a guide for the perplexed and uneducated

Dear readers,

As some of you might know, I am in the final stages of editing my next novel, with the help of my fantastic editor, Dr. Sandra Alfonsi. The novel, entitled, "Waltzing the Waves," surrounds the sordid affair of the Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael during the British Mandate.
Unfortunately, there are still some who claim we have no legal, historical or political rights for Eretz Yisrael. This article is for them! Please share and let us educate the world. Thank you! 

The two most significant events in modern history leading to the creation of the Jewish National Home in Eretz Yisrael:1. The founding of the Zionist Movement by Herzl in 1897 2. The Balfour Declaration of 1917
The Zionist movement which is but part of the noble concept of Zionism, a concept practiced only by Jews for a few millennia was created at the First Zionist Congress in Bazel, Switzerland in 1897. Herzl himself recognized that Judaism is what lies at the core of the Movement when he said:
 “Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the return to the land of the Jews.

Following the victory over the Ottomans in WWI, the area called Eretz Yisrael which the Romans renamed “Palestine” in an effort to disassociate the Jews from their ancient Homeland, representatives of the Zionist movement, headed by Chaim Weitzman, approached the British government in an effort to impress upon them the need to set up a Jewish National Homeland in Eretz Yisrael.

On November 2nd, 1917, Lord Arthur James Balfour, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs issued the following:

“Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”

The Balfour Declaration served as the basis and shaped the essence of the British “Mandate For Palestine.”

In 2007 Eli Hertz wrote the following:

“The “Mandate for Palestine,” an historical League of Nations document, laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine, a 10,000- square-mile3 area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an entitlement unaltered in international law and valid to this day. The legally binding document was conferred on April 24, 1920, at the San Remo Conference, and its terms outlined in the Treaty of Sèvres on August 10, 1920. The Mandate’s terms were finalized and unanimously approved on July 24, 1922, by the Council of the League of Nations, which was comprised at that time of 51 countries, and became operational on September 29, 1923.”

In other words, the British were entrusted with the important task of preparing for and setting up of the Jewish Homeland in Eretz Yisrael.

Winston Churchill, the then British Secretary of State for the Colonies, eloquently articulated it in June of 1922 when he said: 

"When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole many take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride. But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection."

If anyone wishes to rewrite history and remove Jewish rights to Eretz Yisrael in order to replace it with their narrative, a word I have little, if any use for, especially when it comes to the middle east conflict (, I am afraid they will have to remove Lord Balfour, Winston Churchill, the San Remo Accord and other facts altogether from the annals of history.
Because, when it comes to history, it is the facts that matter. And you all can rest assured that I will keep reminding you of that!

Shabbat Shalom

Monday, 3 December 2018

The Great Yet Little Applied Lesson of Chanukah

Last week, as we were about to enter the Jewish Holy Day of Chanukah, I wrote an article about miracles. For many, and unfortunately so, I might add, Chanukah begins and ends with the miracle of the can of oil that lasted eight days when it should have sufficed for one day only.

A beautiful and cheerful story indeed which merely tells us why the holiday lasts eight days but not why we celebrate it. The second “why” is one of the most important lessons in our Jewish history, a lesson we seem to have forgotten.

For me, and many others, Chanukah is about the Jews taking over and shaping their own destiny. It is about Jews and ONLY Jews defining who we are and what our tradition, its symbols and concept are all about.

As during the times of the Maccabees, nowadays we also have Hellenizing Jews. Yes, I am talking about those Jews who lack a backbone, appease and cater to those who they believe can save them, little realizing that in many cases, those who claim to love us, are merely doing it in pursuit of their own agenda be it political, religious or economic ones.

Some of us call it, the “Ghetto mentality,” the kind Jews had been forced to adopt while living  under the rule of foreigners for a very long time. In Yiddish, there is a special term for it, the “Sha Shtil,” (be quiet) mentality.

These Jews who possess and practice such a mindset will go out of their way to please those they feel may give them a sense of security or a longer life sentence. They will let them usurp their most treasured symbols, allow them to define them and let them advocate for them wherever threats to Jewish existence lurk - all in the name of gaining and buying safety for one day longer.

Funny, because all around us, we see the opposite is happening. Minorities, be it people of colour, members of indigenous nations or anyone else, are offended and rightfully so, should an outsider engage in efforts to define them or usurp any of their symbols.

However, should a Jew “dare” to stand and speak up against such endeavours by others to do the same to us, they get chastised, blocked, offended and are subject to witch hunts.

I bet those members of our People whose blood has filled the rivers of history are probably turning in their graves witnessing and wondering if Jews have learned any lessons from their untimely death

Is that what was the fabric of our destiny when we entered nationhood? Were we meant to be followers rather than leaders? Was that the purpose of establishing a Jewish state in our ancient Homeland, merely to allow it to be conquered physically and ideologically?

Whatever happened to Jewish pride, the kind that the Maccabees restored, “in those days at this time?” What happened to their defiant Spirit or the Spirit of the heroes of Metzada? How about the vigor of the warriors of the Warsaw Ghetto or the Jewish partisans who fought in the forests of Europe against the Nazis? How about the essence of the members of the underground movements, in the years that preceded the establishment of the Jewish state, to whom we owe our presence here in Eretz Yisrael?

Let us bring it back!

Am Yisrael Chai in Eretz Yisrael, its past, present and future Home 

Friday, 30 November 2018


“There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle. You can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

As we are approaching the Jewish holy day of Chanukah, we prepare to commemorate the story of heroism of the Maccabees. For many, though, that holiday is mostly associated and linked with the term “miracle.” We hear about the miracle of the can of oil that lasted 8 days when it should have sufficed for one day only. We also hear of the miracle of the victory of few over many.

For some, it is unreasonable to believe in miracles. Not for me.
That is why I elected to live my life according to the latter part of Einstein’s quote. In a way, it was my destiny. It is the kind of a reality I was born into, a reality that had been shaped by a world devoid of vision, trust and hope.

Lest some may deem my words a riddle, let me explain.

It is not a secret that I am a daughter of two Shoah survivors. Their survival was, in my view, a miracle. It transpired against all odds. And if some define the term “miracle” as defying all laws of nature, then their survival, without a doubt, was one. I will not tire the readers with episodes from their life while facing the fragility of their existence under the oppression of the Nazi war machine. Their kind of horrific experiences and those of others who went through it have been documented. Those records are publicly available.

Neither am I going to sit here and play the victim. That would be too easy.

Instead, I chose to celebrate my parents’ survival. It was a miracle, just like many other milestones in Jewish history. Miracles are the golden thread that runs through it. The more we, Jews, accept that notion, the greater is our celebration of Life.

Through my parents’ unwavering gift of Life, and by default, I, likewise, consider my presence here, on this earth, a miracle.

And no miracle should be wasted.

Whether one believes that miracles are predestined and are part of a grand scheme of our universe, or disjointed, with each creating their own miracles, in either case, it is futile if gone wasted. Preserving the outcome of a miracle, vesting and upholding it is an art that some are yet to master.

One way to grasp the significance of miracles in both our Jewish, private and national life is to sustain and carry the memory of how bitter and harsh life had been before the miracle occurred. Memory through commemoration is the process in which we tie our past experiences and apply the information to our present and hopefully make it better and safer for all. 

And that, dear readers, is one of the messages of Chanukah.

May we all continue to live our life as a miracle and join in its celebration.

Chag Sameach

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Age of Anti-Intellectualism

“People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant.” 
Helen Keller

What a scary scenario, if you ask me.

As a teacher, it is my task and, above all, my duty, to raise young people to think, foster and support inquisitive minds. It is also my duty to teach them to weigh data and relevant information in an unbiased manner. As hard as it may sound and be, it is a mission (and teaching, in my book, IS a mission) that should be aimed at educating and encouraging them to not let one’s personal beliefs interfere or stand in the way to pursuing the truth based on facts and concrete evidence.

Unfortunately, as the quote by Helen Keller suggests, this does not seem to always be the case in our modern world.

True, we are exposed to an abundant amount of information but are not always given the tools nor the time to address it, analyze it, form our own opinions and reach our own conclusions about it. Many opt for the easier, faster way of internalizing it, through immediate absorption, without bothering to check its accuracy, veracity or separate the essential from the trivial.

I see such dysfunctional approaches in many of the subjects taught at today’s school. It is reflected in the way students perform on tests or projects. I mostly see it, however, during discussions of current events.

I make it a habit to discuss current events every lesson. The areas we cover include culture, sports, historical events that affect our daily lives and of course, politics. The last two realms are where I encounter such trends as described by Keller, most.

Whatever happened to personal, cultural and historical integrity, I keep asking myself as I hear students sharing their news items. In many cases, they parrot what they hear or read in the news outlets without even one bit of effort to cross reference or check the sources, their credibility or even accuracy. As far as many are concerned, if it is on the news or somewhere on the internet, then it is a Gospel.

I fear for their future. To grow up in a world devoid of personal responsibility, honesty yet copiously filled with narratives and semi truths which are planted merely because they suit someone’s agenda, can, in my humble view, only lead to disaster. What I see and what keeps unfolding itself to me is a “herd mentality” at its best.

What is even more scary is the notion that if some pro-intellectualism (as opposed to the titular concept of anti-intellectualism) individuals dare stand up and address such intellectual dishonesty, they are being chastised and isolated.

Permit me, at this point, to quote a well-known Jewish writer, thinker and philosopher, Achad Ha’am. I remember reading him as part of my High School education in Yisrael.
Achad Ha’am distinguished between Archaeological Truth and Historical Truth. They are not necessarily, he claims, one and the same.

Unlike Archaeological Truth, be it in the form of exhibits or other, which can confirm real events in the history of mankind, Historical Truth, unfortunately, is on many occasions, the one that fuels and dictates the life of humanity. According to Achad Ha’am, whoever leave their mark on humanity’s timeline, even if they are the figment of someone’s imagination, that entity becomes a Historical Truth to many. Hardly, the “intellectual” approach to addressing vital issues, if you ask many educators. Sadly, what we see more and more is the encouragement to the avoidance of thinking.

Is that the purpose of education? Is this the goal of imparting knowledge and information? Do we want to create a generation bereft of the ability and the desire to express, not their own personal truth, but facts in the form of hard evidence? Can we, at this stage, afford to relinquish our moral and intellectual compass to truths other than the ones that can be substantiated, valid and at the same time reasonable as well?

Like many of my past articles, I would like to end this one on a positive note. However, the bleak reality that surrounds us does not allow me this luxury.

Shabbat Shalom

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