Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Spark of Return

The Spark of Return
by David Wilder
The Jewish Community of Hebron
September 19, 2006


Usually when I give tours in Hebron, I do the talking and the visitors do the listening. Hebron's highlights are much more than just seeing the sites. The history, the culture and tradition and, for me, the stories, are what make a good tour. However yesterday, in the midst of an excursion around the city of the Patriarchs, my guest turned to me and said, 'now I want to tell you a story.' And what a story it was, especially for this time of the year, only a few days from Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

The story starts in Hebron, August, 1929. The riots that swept Hebron left 67 dead and over 70 wounded. One of those who survived, and was not physically injured was a young woman from a well-known family. True, she wasn't physically hurt, but the anguish, hearing the screams, witnessing the rape and torture, experiencing the horror, left not only scars, but open wounds on her soul.

She decided 'enough is enough. I don't want any more of this.' She met a British officer, married him and fled Eretz Yisrael. For Australia. Leaving her Jewish roots, her family roots, her Hebron roots, far behind.  But just Australia wasn't enough. She made her way, with her husband, to some remote village, populated by Australian aborigines, basically forgetting what seemed to her to be a retched past.

The years went by and she gave birth to a son who grew up having no inkling of his mother's past. He too married an Australian women and had children of his own.

But something bothered him. Israel. Israel kept tugging at him, for no rational reason. He couldn't get Israel out of his mind, and was almost literally going crazy. His wife had no idea what was happening to her husband and didn't know how to help him. His mother, remembering her past, kept her mouth shut.

Finally, he couldn't take it any more and left Australia to visit the holy land. When he returned he still couldn't rid himself of a constant attachment to Israel. At long last, seeing her son's turmoil, the man's mother sat down with him and told him her story. 'My son, I am a Jewess – I came from the holy city of Hebron, and fled, following the horrors of the 1929 massacre. If I am a Jew, than you too, my son, you too are a Jew, from a prestigious Jewish family, a family of deep fertile Jewish roots, from the first Jewish city in Eretz Yisrael.'

Yesterday's guest told me how he happened upon the family, this man and his mother, who turned their home into something of a 'little Israel' in the middle of nowhere in Australia, hosting Jews, and primarily Israelis who make it a point to come and visit there because 'there's a family there who helps Israelis.'

Why is this story so appropriate for the days preceding the High Holy Days? In every Jew is a spark, a spark of sanctity, a spark which cannot be extinguished, even in the most dreadful circumstances. A person can try to run, flee, escape, but the spark is an integral part of his being. It cannot be left behind. It can be buried deep within the soul, it can be forgotten or ignored, but it cannot be quenched. This is the spark of Judaism.

During this time of the year, observant Jews attempt to deal with the concept of 'Tshuva' which is usually translated as repentance, but literally means 'return.' Repentance literally means remorse or sorrow, but this is only one aspect of Tshuva. In order 'to do tshuva' a person must repent, but that alone is not enough. If a person is sorry about what he or she did, but then turns around and does the same thing again, of what value is the remorse? Rather, repentance is the first stage, but the second stage is to accept upon oneself a vow, not to repeat the same mistake again. And to really try and keep that self-made promise.

In Judaism, this concept is called Tshuva – returning. Returning to what? To our fundamental selves, to the purity of our initial being, returning to the life that G-d laid out for us, via Torah and mitzvot, fulfilling the positive precepts and refraining from forbidden acts.

Why is this called 'tshuva' – returning, what are we returning to?  We are returning to that spark, deep inside us, rediscovering it, allowing its light to warm us, to envelope us, to fill us with a Divine spirit; to allow that spirit to be at one with us and to try and live accordingly, each person at his own level and ability. So it was with this one man, living so far away, but sensing a spark deep inside him, pulling him, not giving him peace, until he discovered the source of his existence, the roots of his life, the spark of Judaism which was a part of his soul.

This year has not been easy in Hebron. Trying to live with the pain of last year's expulsion from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron was difficult enough. However, the hurt didn't stop there. This year, since February, Hebron residents were expelled from 12 homes – nine in the Mitzpe Shalhevet neighborhood, known as 'the shuk' and another three apartments in Beit Shapira, just down the road from the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The Rinat Shalhevet Torah center, opened in the Mitzpe Shalhevet neighborhood in memory of murdered infant Shalhevet Pass hy"d was forced to move. All in all, not an easy year. So, in retrospect, how do we deal with these issues?

The answer, I believe, is buried in the above story. First, we have to remember that our very existence today in Eretz Yisrael is something of a miracle. For two thousand years Jews lived as a persecuted minority, being forced, in many instances, to convert or be killed. Thousands, tens of thousands, were murdered for one reason alone, because they were Jews. Our return to Eretz Yisrael was, and is, nothing less than a true Divine miracle. A rekindling of a spark.

Our return to Hebron, even after the return to the Land, even after creation of the State of Israel, is too a miracle. Who could have dreamed of Jews living next to Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, off-limits to Jews for 700 years? Following the 1929 riots and massacre who would dare live in a city of such hate? Yet, back we came, again a miracle, this time the miracle of 1967 and the Six-day war.

Following Oslo and the Hebron Accords, the Hebron Jewish Community was as good as finished – so we were told. How can Jews continue living in a community filled with terrorists who controlled about 90% of the city, including the strategic hills, which surround the civilian Jewish population?

And then, exactly six years ago – the Oslo war, on the eve of Rosh HaShana, 2000, - for two years the terrorists used those hills to shoot at us in an almost unceasing attempt to chase us from our homes. Yet they did not succeed. The Jewish Community of Hebron would not be vanquished. The spark continued to grow.

True, sometimes there are setbacks, at times the powers of evil give an illusion of bettering the powers of good. But this is only an optical illusion, temporary, soon to be forever changed.

Because the same spark that pulled and tugged a man who grew up as a non-Jew in the depths of Australia, bringing him back to his Judaism, that same spark continues to pull and tug at the Jewish people, wherever they are, be it in North America, Europe, South Africa, or Israel. That is the spark that brought us back to our land, to Eretz Yisrael, that brought us back to our Hebron, and that will eventually bring us back to Mitzpe Shalhevet, the rest of Hebron, to Kfar Daron and Netzarim, and to all of Eretz Yisrael,

That is the spark inside our neshama, inside our souls, individually and collectively, the spark of Torah, the spark of Am Yisrael, the spark of Eretz Yisrael, the spark of Tshuva, the spark of return.

Shana tova – Happy New Year.

With blessings from Hebron.

This article can be commented on at: http://www.davidwilder.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 7, 2006



Shalom and thanks for writing.


A number of people have written asking why I didn't mention Moshe Feiglin in my last commentary "The bullet's in the chamber" [www.davidwilder.blogspot.com].


There were who suggested that I may have a personal aversion to Feiglin, and this in not correct. I have met him on various occasions, though we are not personal friends. I regard him with great respect, as a Jew with tremendous mesirut nefesh (dedication) and for what I consider to be sizable achievements, beginning with "Mitvtza Machpil" and Zu Artzenu and continuing through the present.


As much as I admire Moshe Feiglin, and the political inroads he has made, I do not consider him to be a serious candidate for Prime Minister, at least, not at the present.


Why not? There are several reasons:


  1. As we have seen from recent catastrophies – i.e., Barak and Olmert, Prime Ministers' without necessary experience are not suited for the job. (That doesn't mean that anyone with experience is suitable!)  To the contrary, their inexperience has proved to be calamitous. Feiglin is undoubtedly G-d fearing, honest, and has all the qualities necessary for a true Jewish leader. This does not me, however, that he can justifiably jump from civilian clothing into the Prime Minister's seat. The Prime Minister of Israel must be able to make decisions which are not only ideological. They must also be professional. As we have recently witnessed, the lack of ability so obvious in the persons of our present Defense Minister and Prime Minister costs lives, and could, G-d forbid, put the existence of the State of Israel in jeopardy.  Despite Feiglin's tremendous abilities, I personally do not believe that he has, as of yet, garnered the experience necessary in various fields, to allow him to successfully become Prime Minister at this time.
  2. It has been noted that he is popular within the Likud and that a campaign to enlist further Likud members from the right could bring about his election as chairman of the Likud. This, in turn, could bring about his election as Prime Minister. I believe that these ideas are inaccurate. As the last election proved, the chairman of the Likud cannot be guaranteed 1st or 2nd place in the Knesset. The Likud  came in tied for third.  Also, memories prove to be too short.  Only a few years ago Labor nominated Amram Mitzne as chairman of the Labor Party. As a result Labor plummeted and a party like Shinui was able to skyrocket. Traditional Labor voters could not vote for Mitzne due to his left-wing extremism, and, as a result, voted for Shinui. In other words, that fact that Feiglin might be able to capture the Likud leadership does not, in any way, guarantee support for him for Prime Minister. To the contrary, I personally believe that were he to be elected chairman of the Likud, the result could have disastrous implications. Traditional Likud voters would likely turn left (as we witnessed only a few months ago, with the huge swing to Kadima) thereby again bringing to power, strong, left-wing parties.
  3. One must also take into account the present form of Israeli elections, i.e. voting for a list, and not for an individual prime minister. As long as the present system exists, how can we vote for a list containing people who favored, or at the least, did not actively reject the expulsion from Gush Katif, the abandonment of over 80% of Hebron and the very Oslo agreements which triggered the current talks of further expulsion of tens of thousands of Jews and continued abandonment of Eretz Yisrael. Even if Moshe Feiglin stands at the head of the list, what does he have behind him?


The question then asked is, what is the alternative, and as I stated my article, there aren't too many favorable alternatives. Israel has a serious leadership problem. There are ideal solutions, which, unfortunately, do not yet seem to yet be achievable. Until there is a major change, we have no choice but to work within the frameworks which currently exist, as faulty as they are. At the same time, we must attempt to bring about the changes necessary to overcome these difficulties. However, shooting ourselves in the foot is not going to bring about the salvation we so yearn. For these reasons, I did not present Moshe Feiglin as an alternative candidate for Prime Minister in the commentary: "The bullet's in the chamber.'


With blessings from Hebron for a Happy, healthy New Year,

David Wilder


Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The bullet's in the chamber

The bullet's in the chamber

September 5, 2006


Almost everyone I speak to asks the same question: What or who, is next?


Olmert's gone. Whether indicted by Attorney General Mazuz on any of the corruption charges being investigated, or expelled from office as a result of the findings of any of the committees investigating the failures of the Lebanese war, or, perhaps being on the losing end of the next Israeli elections, which will probably occur in the very near future. Or any other possibility that can be thought of. Olmert's gone. He has to go.


Olmert's removal from office, together with those surrounding him: Amir Peretz, Tzippy Livni, Dan Halutz, and a few others, is a case of life or death. The brains of the country are petrified at the thought of the current regime running Israel when, say, Syria attacks, or Iran starts flinging bombs at us, or should a few of our neighbors get together and decide to replay 1973. It is preferable not to let the possible results escape our lips. But it's no secret. Totally irresponsible, inexperienced, political crooks running the country is a sure recipe for disaster.


According to Debka (sometime straight-on and other times a little off) – in Hebrew (only partially accessible in English), a very recent evaluation by the American government of Israel and the present administration led to the conclusion that the State of Israel is in bad shape. The article's final line, quoting Bush, "Those Israelis, they're not what we thought." (It doesn't make any difference if he really said it or not – it's the truth!)


In truth, one need not be a veteran intelligence analyst to realize that the Israel of 2006 isn't the Israel of the past. Much has changed. Any political leadership willing and able to tear its own citizens from their homes, basically forsaking them, only to witness the catastrophic results in the shape of missiles flying from the very land they abandoned, yet still proclaiming the necessity to continue with a further expulsion and abandonment, this is real bad news. Yet, despite the continued Kassam attacks, the current Prime Minister planned on implementing just that. G-d forbid.


For the time being perhaps the priorities have changed. But not the principles behind them. Eretz Yisrael is still profane. Only secularity is holy.


That's when the so-called 'big question' comes into play. Once Olmert goes, who’s next. Who is the next Mashiach (Messiah)?


Years ago we thought it would be Begin. A big disappointment. Then, after the advent of Olso-Rabin-Peres, we all sang and danced upon Bibi's victory. Total euphoria. Quickly doused. A modern-day Shabbatai Tzvi. The false Messiah at his best. And again, not yet learning, after the Barak (Ehud) calamity, breathing a deep breath of relief at the election of Arik. That deep breath was almost our last. His stranglehold left us down and almost out.


And now, we are on the verge of replaying the tape. Who is this year's hero?


I suppose there are any number of answers to the question. There are also various levels of answers: Theoretical and/or practical.


On the theoretical level, personally, I would definitely prefer an observantly religious Jew taking the reins, a person with fear of G-d, and not fear of Bush, Annan, EU, etc.


However, at the moment, the chances of that happening within the framework of the present form of Israeli government seems to be miniscule, if at all, possible.


So, who do we want to see in the PM's office. Assuming that the choice falls between a candidate from the Likud, Labor, and (ugh) Kadima, again, personally, the only person I could probably trust is Rubi Rivlin. But it doesn’t look like he has too much of a chance to take control of the Likud. He might make it to the President's Home in Jerusalem, which is a nice honor, but politically, not worth much more than that.


Realistically speaking, it looks like we're going to get Bibi back again. This time, without the celebrations. We know what we're getting.


A few years ago I asked someone close to Netanyahu if he was sorry about Wye – the fateful accords he agreed to sign, which ultimately cost him his job. The answer: Yes, Bibi's sorry, but not for the right reason. He's sorry about Wye because it cost him his government, but he still doesn't realize that Eretz Yisrael isn't to be toyed with.


It doesn’t look like Bibi's changed. His positions concerning Gush Katif certainly don't point to deep repentance. His position concerning unilateral concessions seems to be clear, but cutting up Eretz Yisrael in a negotiated 'piece agreement' would be acceptable.


So, what do we do?


First, pray. Pray that G-d should bring us the real Mashiach before the next elections. (If he arrived today we wouldn’t object.)

And if G-d doesn’t see it our way? We certainly don't have to vote for Netanyahu. But, should he be elected, the pressure has to be exerted even before he takes the oath of office.


What pressure? It has to be 100% clear that any Israeli leader who plays around with Eretz Yisrael, who even thinks that he has a mandate to dismantle our homeland, will, quite simply, fall, will be removed from office at the first available moment.


We may have to play out the scenario again and again, with one Prime Minister after another, until one of them finally wakes up. Eventually it will happen. It's not an optimal plan of action, but we may not have any choice.


What is the alternative? We've experienced that for the past couple of months, leaving us with 3 POWs, 156 dead and I don't know how many wounded. And this is the least of it. For as Debka reported, and here, accuracy has nothing to do with the concept, Israel's credibility is quickly running down the drain. And in practical terms, our survival is dependent on just that credibility, on our enemies understanding that they don't have a chance against us. Should our deterrent image tinge, should the vision of Israel as a supreme opponent, incapable of being defeated be quashed, we are in big trouble. And that's what' starting to happen. It doesn't mean that we will lose the BIG war, but the price we may have to pay to win is excruciatingly unthinkable.


In short, we have to get our act together real fast. Because at the moment, with Olmert and Co. running the show, I get the feeling that we're playing a Middle East version of Russian roulette. And I'll tell you a secret: I cheated and peeked. The bullet's in the next chamber.


With blessings from Hebron.

You are invited to comment on this article at: http://www.davidwilder.blogspot.com/