Friday, April 26, 2013

Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger: All that is ours, is theirs

Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger: All that is ours, is theirs April 26, 2013

Yesterday I heard a radio program about the upcoming holiday, on Saturday night and Sunday, Lag B’Omer.  Part of the traditional celebration includes singing and Torah-talk around large bonfires.  A question was posed as to why we light these bonfires.
Again, traditionally, this is supposedly the day that the great Rabbi, Shimon Bar Yochai died, some 2,000 years ago. He is buried in the northern city of Meron, and tens and hundreds of thousands of people flock to that site for this event.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, or Rashbi, as he is known, was the author of the Zohar, the source of what is called ‘Jewish mysticism.’ Actually, the word is misleading. People don’t learn this, wiggle their noses and make people disappear. These teachings deal with the inner workings of Torah, and includes very holy thoughts and ideas. There are those who think that  ‘Kabbalah’ as it is called, is very easy and an open subject to study. In reality, it is very deep and very sacred, and also very difficult to comprehend, in an authentic manner.

Rashbi was a very holy man, and the revelations he brought to us, thousands of years ago, are still studied today. On Lag B’Omer, we celebrate Rashbi and his teachings.

However, there are those who say that this day is not when Rashbi died. Rather, the story is more like this.

His primary teacher was perhaps the greatest scholar who lived, that being Rabbi Akiva. He is well-known as a person, who, up to the age of 40 did not know how to read or write. Only after marrying did he leave to study Torah, and after 24 years, was known as a Torah sage par excellence. He lived during the time of the Roman conquest, and was a primary backer of the Bar Kochva revolt, which failed, and left tens of thousands dead. Rabbi Akiva himself was put to death for teaching Torah to the masses.

It’s written that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students, all of whom were killed during the revolt. Only five remained. One of them was the renowned Rashbi, who was ordained by Rabbi Akiva. That ordination took place, most likely, on Lag B’Omer. In other words, on this day, we celebrate the continuation of Torah, the flame which the Romans tried to extinguish, but were not able to.

In other words, actually Lag b’Omer is a celebration of light, a celebration of Torah, of renewal, of continuation, of success against all odds, a celebration of sanctity.

This is why, I believe, we light bonfires on this special day, to radiate light.

In a week and a half, Hebron will celebrate another festive event, very much related to all of the above. On Thursday, the 29th day of Iyar (9/5) Rabbi Moshe Levinger will be presented with the Lion of Zion Moskowitz Prize for life achievement.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger fits all of the expressions of celebration just conveyed.

First, and foremost, Rav Levinger is a true Torah scholar. As a principal student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l, Rav Levinger studied and later disseminated the teachings of this teachers’ father, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, one of the most profound and important teachers of the past century. 

Following the Six-Day War, Rabbi Levinger was sent to undertake a project only dreamt about, that being the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron. Together with his wife Miriam, who has stood by him as his ‘right-hand man’ for decades, the Levingers arrived in Hebron for Passover in 1968. And they’ve been here ever since.
At the forefront of the ‘settlement movement’ Gush Emunim, bringing Jews back to Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and the undisputed leader of the newly established Kiryat Arba, and later in the city of Hebron itself, Rabbi Levinger succeeded against all odds. The 1979 move of women and children into Beit Hadassah was led by the Levingers, and together with other very courageous and holy souls, brought Jews back to the city of Abraham.

In the space of a short article, it isn’t possible to enumerate all the trials and tribulations, as well as all the accomplishments of Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger.  But what is overtly clear is that their fortitude, their faith, and their actions, have unalterably changed Jewish history. Their unadulterated love for Israel, all facets of Israel: Torah, the people of Israel, and perhaps first and foremost, Eretz Yisrael, can only be described as a beacon, not of light, but of a laser beam, penetrating the hearts and souls of millions around the world, and bringing people back home, to the heartland of our nation, to Hebron.

In recent years Rabbi Levinger’s health hasn’t been great. A stroke left him partially paralyzed. But, the giant that he is, such medical issues do not prevent him from continuing to study and teach Torah. Every day, despite the difficulty, he walks up the long stairs to pray morning prayers at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

When Rabbi Akiva came home, after 24 years of Torah study, his wife Rachel ran to him and fell at his feet. The Rabbi’s students, seeing an impoverished woman at their master’s feet, tried to move her away. Rabbi Akiva stopped them, saying to them, ‘this is Rachel, my wife. All that is mine and yours, is hers.

So too we can say about Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger: Without their dedication, example, and dauntless endurance, where would we be today?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beit Ezra: The government's second test?

Beit Ezra: The government's second test?
April 23, 2013

Last December I wrote an article about Beit Ezra – the Ezra House – here in Hebron.

“Presently, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is Jewish land, and that there are no real, justifiable, legal Arab claims to this property. However, the State Attorney General’s office has decided that Arabs who lived on this land which they stolen from Jews have ‘protected resident status’ and refuse to allow Hebron’s Jewish community to utilize the property. This, despite a ruling by an Israeli military judicial panel of three judges which concluded that there is a firm legal basis to allow the Hebron Jewish Community to utilize this land.”

A few days ago, one family moved out. Another family sealed off two rooms of their home. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the buildings be emptied by April 24. They did not require the government to fulfill the other half of the original commission’s conclusions: that the buildings be transferred to Hebron’s Jewish community for public use, such as a nursery school or kindergarten.

So, as with other Jewish property in Hebron, these structures remain vacant. They can be added to a long list: Beit HaShalom, Beit HaMachpela, Beit Shapira, ‘the Shuk,’ aka, the Shalhevet neighborhood, to start with.

There are a number of points which must be stressed:

1. The reason the buildings were evacuated quietly is because the community agreed to accept the verdict of the original panel. In other words, despite all labels attached to us, we are law-abiding citizens, and despite the government’s continued refusal to adhere to its own agreements and obligations, we do.
2. We fully expect the original commission’s conclusions to be implemented. We fully expect to receive total license to utilize these buildings, as was specified in the panel’s report. We expect the government to fulfill its obligations immediately, as we have fulfilled ours.
3. The present government and Knesset includes many of Hebron’s staunchest friends. Ministers, deputy ministers, and MKs, in the Likud, the Jewish Home party and even in Yesh Atid, must now come through. They were not elected just to occupy a comfortable chair, a big office and drive around in a state-financed car. Their job is to accomplish what we’ve all set out to do: that is, to continue Jewish dominion in Judea and Samaria. Our presence must include all facets of every day, normal life. We cannot be excluded from our land and our property because we are Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, in the State of Israel. To the contrary, because we are Jews in Israel we must be encouraged to settle our land. That is why Jews came back to Israel – to live here.
4. This is a classic example of left-wing, political agendas attempting to prevent Jewish residency on our land, here in Hebron. Our representatives, in the government and in the Knesset must take affirmative action to ensure, not only that Jews won’t be expelled from their land and property, but rather will be persuaded to continue moving into such areas, as Hebron and other places throughout Judea and Samaria.
5. MK Orit Struk, from Hebron, whose own apartment is adjacent to Beit Ezra, said: "The government is determined to carry out the judicial recommendation of former Deputy Attorney-General Mike Blass while ignoring the decision of the Settlement Ministerial Committee to allocate Ezra House to the Jews of Hebron, in addition to the ruling of the Supreme Court to decide the issue before evacuation."
6. While these words are one hundred percent correct, they are not enough. This government must end continued expulsion of Jews from their homes, and perhaps, first and foremost in Hebron, the first Jewish city in Israel. We expect our friends and representatives to use their democratically-obtained authority to put an end to these disgraces. They are nothing less than an abomination, and desecration of the God’s sanctity. He didn’t give us Eretz Yisrael in order to have Jews expel Jews from their land.

We hope and pray that Beit Ezra will not remain an empty shell for very long, and that soon we will celebrate it redemption, here in Hebron. A few days ago Minister Naftali Bennett, following government approval of the ‘Open Skies’ program, was quoted as saying that the government had ‘passed its first test.’ So perhaps Beit Ezra is its second test?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Essence, Remembrance and Independence

Essence, Remembrance and IndependenceApril 14, 2013
Late last week my wonderful wife of almost 34 years attended a mini-high school reunion.

Ora grew up in Givatayim, on the border of Tel Aviv, in a ‘traditional’ Jewish family. Many Jewish customs were followed, but they weren’t religiously observant, or Orthodox. She attended regular public school.

Last week she traveled to Tel Aviv to visit with her class, together with their 10th-11th-12th grade teacher. She hadn’t been in touch with most of these people over the years, but had spent much time with them as a teenager.

She hasn’t stopped speaking about this reunion since. Unfortunately, her reflections aren’t overly positive.  Most of the 20 or so people who were present were either never married, or are divorced, and many have ‘partners.’ I’m not sure if all of them people together have the number of children and grandchildren we have.

One of the woman told how she lived with a man for a number of years, but never married. When he became very ill, they ‘decided’ to split up. Another woman told how, after she became ill with cancer, her husband decided enough was enough, and left her.

The group sat in a living room, each person giving an account of their lives over the past decades, with children married to non-Jews, etc. etc. This was all accepted without any side comments, or exclamations.

Until my wife said that she lives in Hebron. Whoop. Everyone woke up. The ‘teacher’ remarked how ‘settlers were taking over a hill-top here and a hill-top there.’ Ora put an end to the snide observations, saying she’d come to hear what everyone was up to and to participate, without getting into political discussions. Then she went on to give them a lesson in Jewish heritage in Hebron, and later invited them to come visit.  She was also the only religious person in the group.

It wasn’t all bad. One man told how he was dedicating his life to a son injured very badly in an auto accident.

But all-in-all, Ora wasn’t impressed.

The teacher was, writing a letter to the class after the event, telling them how proud she was of them, how they’d been a great class way back when, and how they were still wonderful.

I asked Ora what she was talking about, and she answered that they’d succeeded in business, had a good life style, etc.


Last Saturday night I attended a class given by a very well-known Rabbi, a learned scholar. I’d heard about him and seen some of his writings, but had never attended a class with him.

Wow! Was I in for a shock.

The class was broken into three parts. The middle section dealt with the intricacies of Jewish law and the Passover sacrifice on Temple Mount. I found that very interesting. But the beginning and end of the class dealt with a humongous battering of Zionism, the creation of the State of Israel and Israeli independence.  I was stunned. The Rabbi’s attack, which I can almost classify as vicious, attempted to obliterate the ideology by which I’ve lived for almost four decades. This being that the State of Israel is, as of yet, far from perfect, but is, most definitely, a Divine gift, after a 2,000 year exile from our land. These teachings are primarily expressed in the works of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook and his son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook.

The Rabbi, in other words, if I understood him correctly, basically supports a total dismantling of the State and its rebuilding. He stated, again, according to my understanding, that the framework of the State is unimportant; only the substance or essence is of any significance.

I haven’t yet had a chance to discuss this with the Rabbi. But by my way of thinking, of course the core of all bodies is the spirit. But a soul without a body is, (at least in this world) indefinable. So too, a body without a soul. They need one another. A candle unlit shines no light. A flame, without a wick, extinguishes and too, shines no light. The flame needs the wick, the candle, and the candle too, needs the flame.

So too, Israel. Without a framework, without a sovereign element, we have no way to express our unique identity as a people, as a culture. And without that tradition, what are we? Are we different from anyone else?

These two elements, as I’ve tried to articulate, seemed to be missing in the two programs outlined above. A group of sixty year old people, who have what to show for their lives? A good salary? True, money usually helps, as does a good job, but what about the essence. Where is the family, the children, the grandchildren? When my wife mentioned our kids and grandkids (in double digits plus), the group was stunned. What about other values? How can a person leave their ‘spouse’ because they are sick, at a time when they are most in need?

With all the problems and issues we have today in Israel, and that we’ve had over the years, (and who knows what the future will bring), how can we not thank G-d for the unbelievable miracle called Israel? We are commanded to express gratitude for the good granted to us, individually, and as a people. The state of Israel, after 2,000 years of exile, after a holocaust which annihilated over six million of our people, how can anyone be so blind as to not see the Divine phenomenon of our existence, in our land.

True, there is still much to fix. We are far from finished. But come Memorial day, when we reflect on what we’ve lost in order to achieve what we’ve achieved, and when we celebrate Independence Day, we must examine our values.

Independence Day is called, in Hebrew, Yom HaAtzmaut. Atzmaut, meaning independence, is also very similar to the word Azmut, which means essence. It also is very similar to the word, Atzamot, meaning bones. Bones are a framework. Like the candle. Atzmut, essence, like the flame. Together they are Atzmaut – Independence. Both are essential.

Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Palmer Conviction: Kudos for truth

The Palmer Conviction: Kudos for truth
April 3, 2013
Amazing. Something of a miracle.

A couple of weeks ago a military court judge, Major Amir Dahan, was quoted in the Israeli press as saying that ‘rock throwing’ by Arabs was not necessarily attempted murder, rather a “prank” (as the phrase ‘ma’ase kundas’ is translated by google.) In other words, hurling rocks at moving vehicles isn’t necessary attempted murder. Rather, a ‘kid’s game.’ Numerous officials, including the military commander of the Judea/Hebron brigade, Col. Avi Bluth , and I’m told, also Central Command General Nitzan Alon, were quoted as rejecting this ‘prank’ statement, calling rock-throwing ‘terror.’

Dahan’s designation was especially disturbing for several reasons. First of all, rocks have killed people. Second, rock-throwing, as a form of Arab terror, has increased considerably over the past months. Third, the judge quoted heads the military court panel trying Arab terrorists indicted for throwing rocks and killing Asher and Yonatan Palmer hy”d.

Since the murder in September 2011, and the murderers’ capture, it was clear that the only feasible, reasonable, acceptable verdict could be first degree murder, as opposed to manslaughter, or any other watered-down conviction.

But, as is too well known, in Israel, logic and rationality don’t necessarily come into play, particularly in the justice arena, i.e. courts. We have witnessed many too many decisions that seem to be based more on politics than on facts and pure justice.

That being the case, the Palmer family, together with their friends, supporters and all others seeking such justice waited with abated breath for the court’s verdict, wishing, but not expecting. When you expect too much, the disappointment can be cataclysmic.  Especially when dealing with the murder of two beloved people by terrorists.

So, when yesterday afternoon, that same judge, Major Amir Dahan, and his two companions on the bench, spoke for almost an hour and a half, reading their landmark decision, the tension was palpable. The first of the two terrorists was convicted: of first degree murder. For participating the murder of Asher and Yonatan, who were killed by rocks hurled at their car.

This certainly is not a reason for joy. We are all much too well aware that no verdict will ever bring those two holy souls back to their families.  And I don’t live under any illusions. It’s clear that the decision will be appealed. At some point, Israeli absurdity may kick in. And unfortunately, at least as far as previous horror cases show, such as the slaughter of the Fogel family at Itamar, the convicted murderers will not be sentenced to death. They’ll receive tickets to a two or three star hotel, with free room and board, until set free in a ‘prisoner exchange’ or a ‘good-will gesture,’ or some other farcical excuse.

But, even though ‘celebration’ is not the right word to use, at the very least, some sort of satisfaction may be expressed. An official Israeli judicial panel has recognized that rocks can be considered lethal weapons, weapons of terror, utilized to kill Jews.

So, what do we gain? No one can pull the wool over our eyes. All must know:  Murder is murder is murder.  Terror is terror is terror. Jewish lives will not be forsaken.

Kudos for truth.