Friday, May 30, 2014

Sometimes You Get what You Need

The Stones in Israel
I have always been a Beatles fan. Still am. The Stones? Not so much. Although I do like some of their stuff, I found Mick Jagger's lyrics and performance style a bit too raunchy for my tastes. I also liked the more mainstream melodic sound of Lennon/McCartney. But today, I am a Stones fan. And I think we should all be. From the Jewish Press:

Long time readers of yesterday’s papers know that was instrumental in bringing the Rolling Stones to Israel, 2000 light years from home.
Our Rolling Stones Purim spoof was hot stuff and it was just like the hand of fate flipped a switch and suddenly the Rolling Stones are in another land.
Now time waits for no one, even the Rolling Stones when it comes to when the Shavuot holiday ends. But now it looks like time is on my side as the Rolling Stones have delayed the start of their performance to 9:15PM in little Tel (&) Aviv to allow religious fans to get to the concert. We love you!
Who says you can’t always get what you want?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sean Penn - An American Hero

Sean Penn and Jacob Ostreicher in less happy times
An amazing story that should be read world-wide. From The Algemeiner:
Jacob Ostreicher, the Orthodox Jewish American who was held captive in Bolivia for three years, on Sunday revealed details for the first time on how actor Sean Penn helped bring him back to the U.S. last December and personally nursed him to mental and physical health.
“I spent two weeks rolled up in a fetal position in Sean’s house… and through it all, Sean sat with me for hours, sometimes sitting with me all night, rubbing my back, saying quietly, ‘Stay strong Jacob, give yourself some time,’” Ostreicher said in a speech at Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s This World: The Values Network’s Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, where Penn received the organization’s Champion of Jewish Justice Award.
“Who do you think was the first person I saw when I walked off that plane onto U.S. soil for the first time in three years? It was none other than Sean Penn with a team of immigration officials,” Ostreicher said. “Sean put me up in a five star hotel… and then brought me to his home and gave me a warm bath, stocked his refrigerator with kosher food and told me ‘Jacob, my house is your house.’”
Ostreicher, a Brooklyn native, traveled to Bolivia in December 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization. No formal charges were ever been brought against him but he was still imprisoned, and has always maintained his innocence.
Ostreicher and Penn have been tight lipped about the details of the escape, which at the time was described to The Algemeiner by a source as an “operation.” However, during his speech on Sunday, Ostreicher revealed that Venezuela provided assistance. He thanked the Venezuelan government  for “what I can really describe as a heroic demonstration of ‘bikur cholim’ ['visiting the sick']. If it wouldn’t be for the government of Venezuela, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”
Penn also made Ostreicher’s health a priority when he visited the Jewish New Yorker in the notorious Bolivian prison in which he was held. When the actor met Ostreicher in Bolivia, the captive weighed less than a 110 pounds.
“Sean’s first question was, ‘When was the last time you saw a doctor?’ I told Sean that my lawyers have been working for the last six months to try to get me some medical attention,” Ostreicher said. “That very same night, at 1 in the morning, Sean came back but this time with a doctor by his side and within 48 hours, he had me transferred to a hospital.”
“I can’t get into all the details of the next year and a half or how difficult the road to freedom was, or how many times Sean saved my life, but suffice it to say he literally dropped everything for a fellow American halfway across the planet even to the point that Sean himself had to flee Bolivia,” Ostreicher explained.
Ostreicher said he was apprehensive about seeing his family when he first returned to the U.S., but Penn dragged him to see his daughter and grandchildren. During that first family meeting, Ostreicher said he stood beside Penn and told his grandchildren about the “very strong man who wasn’t afraid of anything” that helped him escape captivity.
Ostreicher told the audience on Sunday that the children looked to Penn and were “marveling at the superhero before them.”
“Was that the story you were all expecting to hear tonight? About this anti-American, Jew-hating, Israel-loving communist Sean Penn?” he concluded.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Berel Wein Does it Again

Rabbi Berel Wein (Times of Israel)
Wow! Two in a row! My admiration for this man keeps on increasing. From the Jewish Press:

I think we can all agree that the two main stories in the Jewish world in the past century were the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel.
These two cataclysmic events changed Jewish society radically if not even permanently.
Yet much of Orthodoxy inexplicably ignores them as though they never happened.
The Holocaust and the rise of Israel occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools, and days of commemoration of these events are absent on school calendars.
Instead there is a mindset that harkens back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy – a world that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories and hagiographic biographies and by doctored photographs and omission of uncomfortable facts.
An entire talented and vital society is doomed to live in the imagined past and disregard present realities. And if the view of the present is unfortunately shaped by historical and social disconnect and denial, then certainly the longer and equally important view of the future will be distorted and skewed.
Sooner or later reality must sink in and when it does, the pain, anger and frustration over past distortions and failures will become very difficult to bear.
The great struggle of most of Orthodoxy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries against Zionism influenced all Orthodox thought and behavior. As late as 1937, with German Jewry already prostrate before Hitler’s madness and Germany already threatening Poland, the mainstream Orthodox rabbinate in Poland publicly objected to the formation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel on the grounds that the heads of that state would undoubtedly be secular if not even anti-religious.
They were correct in that assessment, but since the Holocaust was then an unimaginable event in their worldview, they continued in their opposition to Jews leaving Poland to settle either in the United States or in Israel. Because of this past mindset, the Holocaust is more unsettling – theologically, at least – to Orthodoxy then perhaps to any other group in the Jewish world.
Much of Orthodoxy chooses to ignore the issue or to contrive lame excuses and causes for this catastrophe. In my opinion, while there is no human answer to the event itself, it cannot be ignored.
One of the consequences of confronting it would be to admit that great and holy men can be wrong in their assessment of current events and future occurrences. But much of Orthodoxy is so hagiographic about its present and past leaders that it cannot bring itself to admit that. As such, the past cannot truly help to assess the present. A false past is almost as dangerous as having no past at all.
Dealing with the modern state of Israel is an even more vexing issue for much of Orthodoxy. The creation of the Jewish state, mainly by secular and nonobservant Jews and by political and military means, was not part of the traditional Jewish view of how the Land of Israel would again fall under Jewish rule.
Since it occurred in the “wrong” way and was being led by the “wrong” people, this too shook the mindset of much of Orthodoxy. One of the great and holy leaders of Orthodox society in Israel stated in 1950 that the state could not last more than fifteen years. Well, it is obvious that in that assessment he was mistaken.
But again, it is too painful to admit he was mistaken and therefore the whole attitude of much of the Orthodox world is one of denial of the fact that the state exists, prospers, and is in fact the world’s largest supporter of Torah and the traditional Jewish religious lifestyle.
It is too painful to admit that our past mindset regarding the state of Israel is no longer relevant. But as long as large sections of Orthodoxy continue to live in an imaginary past and deny the realities of the present, it will remain impossible to properly address such issues as army or national service, core curriculums of essential general knowledge for all religious schools, and entering the workforce and decreasing the debilitating poverty and dysfunction of so many families.
The solutions are difficult and they cannot be dictated or legislated no matter how popular such steps may appear to be. But the change of mindset to the present must certainly and eventually occur. Jews have always been up to this task and I am confident we will be able to do so now as well.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Magnificent Rabbi Berel Wein

Rabbi Berel Wein
If more Charedi rabbis would think like him, what a wonderful world it would be! From an interview in the Times of Israel:

Chicago-born Rabbi Berel Wein made aliya 17 years ago — “because this is our home; because this is the only place you can really live a Jewish life; because the future of Jewish life is here.”

A former congregational rabbi in Miami Beach, and later the kashrut supervisor of the Orthodox Union, he founded and for 20 years headed Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, New York, handing it over to his son when he moved to Israel. Just turned 80, he’s now the rabbi of a synagogue in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem where he’s made his home.

I wanted to speak to Wein after the Knesset last month finally passed a law ostensibly aimed at ensuring a fairer “sharing of the national burden” — intended to compel ultra-Orthodox Israeli males to serve in the army and then enter the workforce, with provisions for criminal penalties for draft dodgers. Hardly beloved even by its legislators, the law strikes many as a missed opportunity — an imposed solution that is unlikely to produce its desired result and is already being bitterly resisted. Central to the probable failure, critics argue, is the degree to which it was formulated amid resistance from ultra-Orthodox leaders, rather than via genuine consultation with them.

I figured Wein, a smart, original thinker who ran a yeshiva in the United States and who clearly regards himself as Haredi, might have some thoughts on how we could do better. Excerpts:

Where do you see the root of the Haredi-secular disconnect?

Most of the Haredi community has not made peace with the existence of the State of Israel: It shouldn’t have happened. It couldn’t have happened. The wrong people made it happen.

They’re still fighting the 19th- and 20th-century battles of Eastern Europe. This ignores the Holocaust and other changes that have affected the Jewish people.

‘This country began as a socialist, atheistic, anti-religious country. It has since moved away. But the scars still affect our society. As Nixon said, you’d be paranoid if the whole world was against you’

There was a period when it was a little different. When the state was founded, [the ultra-Orthodox newspaper] Hamodia headlined with a Shehechiyanu (blessing thanking God for the achievement) — even though they knew Ben-Gurion was not about to put on tefillin. But religion here became so politicized — it became a fight over the school system…

But the basic problem, again, is that the Haredi community — not to compare it to the Arab world — didn’t accept the state. If it did, the problems would be diminished.

Still, bottom up, acceptance is taking hold. Shas [the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox political party] has accepted the core curriculum in its schools…

Not so the Ashkenazim.

 Charedi protest of the emerging draft law  on March 2, 2014 (TOI)
The Ashkenazim demean the Sephardim. Why aren’t there 15 Ashkenazi Haredi Knesset seats? Because many of their voters don’t vote Haredi. The community has grown but the number of MKs hasn’t grown. Too often, the politicians don’t serve the community; the rabbis follow them and not vice versa, and the politicians feed them [self-serving] information.

This country began as a socialist, atheistic, anti-religious country. It has since moved away. But the scars still affect our society. As Nixon said, you’d be paranoid if the whole world was against you. MKs pass a law — you assume it’s out to get you. We’ve spent 150 years battling just to eat kosher! [Tel Aviv Mayor] Ron Huldai wants stores open on Shabbat? We won’t give in on anything. We’re not sending one guy to the army! We’ll bring out 300,000 people to demonstrations.

So how would you fix all this, notably including the army and employment issues?

There needs to be greater acceptance of the Haredi public in secular Israel. I just read a poll that showed a large proportion of employers don’t want to employ Haredim.

We need to change the curriculum in Haredi and secular schools. Average Israelis are completely ignorant of Jewish history, tradition and faith. We have to meet in the middle. We can meet in the middle. Lapid the father [the late Yosef (Tommy) Lapid] was anti-religious. [Yesh Atid party leader Yair] Lapid the son wants to be more gracious. He should have gone to [leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis such as the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi] Ovadia Yosef, to the Gerer rebbe, to Rav Shteinman.

As regards the yeshivot and entering the workforce adopt a US-style model: A young man studies in yeshiva till say 22-25, and then he decides if he wants to do that all his life or go out into the world. In the US, you can get a bachelor’s degree in Talmudic Literature and then you can go on to study law, medicine. The Association of Rabbinical Colleges is recognized by American universities. It gives a degree. Here that’s anathema — the interaction with the university world — to get a degree, go to Hebrew University, say. But the community needs this — it needs psychologists and doctors.

If you’ve studied Talmud for six years, you’re not dumb. You sit for hours tackling problems. You have developed language skills. Analytical skills. Apart from the spiritual. It’s not all about two people fighting over an ox. Most yeshivot here are serious.

The Talmud contains a great deal of worldly knowledge. It’s the best provider of psychological knowledge that I know of; it offers a breadth of knowledge. Yeshiva graduates can excel.
Haredim want to enter the workforce. And Haredi politicians know — they tell me privately — that the current situation is untenable. If Lapid had sat down with the Haredi leadership, they could have come up with something together.

Where should the army obligation fit in?

For one thing, most of the world’s armies are volunteer armies.

Not enough people would volunteer here.

‘Those who oppose the army as un-Jewish are misunderstanding Judaism’
People would serve. What is the IDF today? 250,000 to 300,000 people? (Actually some 175,000 in the standing army, with 450,000 in the reserves.) You’d get that without a problem, especially if there were inducements.

The IDF performs a social function too, as an integrator, offering opportunities…

It did. I don’t know that it does today.

There’s no point in forcing Haredim to go in. The IDF, though it has bent over backwards, is not able to meet the lifestyle demands of the Haredim. And the IDF doesn’t want 40,000 Haredim. The IDF is seen as a straw man to put the Haredim in their place, which is not what the IDF sees itself as doing. And the Haredim see it as being out to convert them, which it isn’t.

But those who oppose the army as un-Jewish are misunderstanding Judaism. Those in the Haredi world who say it’s the yeshivot that save and protect Israel? Through all of Jewish history from Joshua to the Second Temple, there was an army. The Maccabees were an army. King David.

God helps those who help themselves. God gives us opportunities.

How do you think the draft and employment issues will play out?

More Haredim will join the army — a slow, but steady trickle. The Nahal Haredi [unit] is a success, beyond what was imagined.

Some sort of core curriculum will be negotiated. More Haredim will join the workforce and general society, the rest of society, will be less afraid of them, will start to see them as people rather than black-hatted caricatures.

That’s very optimistic.

The Lord has a plan for us. It takes time. Sixty-six years is not long in historical terms. It took the United States 200 years to tackle slavery and work toward equality. Here we’re integrating people from all over the world, all backgrounds. We’re a miracle.

In 1900, there were 6,000 Jews here. By the 1920s, it was 60,000. In 1948, it was 600,000. And last census was 6 million. If Herzl woke up to this, he wouldn’t believe it.