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      Fundamentally Freund
      by Michael Freund
      An alternative approach to Israeli political commentary.
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      Michael Freund is Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister´s Office under former premier Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He has lived in Israel for the past decade.
      Av 25, 5765, 8/30/2005

      Thank you, Yossi Beilin!


      The people of Israel owe a debt of gratitude to Meretz party Chairman Yossi Beilin.

      With a single remark, the dovish Beilin provided a telling reminder of just how far the Israeli left has strayed from the basic principles of justice and morality.

      Beilin After Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned head of the Fatah Tanzim terrorist group, won a decisive victory in the Palestinian Authority’s electoral primaries over the weekend, Beilin wasted little time in calling for the terror-master’s quick release from prison.

      Barghouti heads one of the Palestinian camps that do want peace and so this is the moment to end his sentence and allow him to lead the Palestinian nation,” Beilin said.

      Right there, encapsulated in that one remark, is everything that is wrong with the Left and its approach.

      After all, Barghouti is currently serving 5 life terms for his involvement in terror attacks and the murder of Israelis.

      But as far as Yossi Beilin is concerned, why should that get in the way of Barghouti’s promising political career?

      So instead of standing on principle and insisting that all those who murder Jews be brought to justice and made to pay a price for their actions, people such as Beilin would prefer to look the other way, appeasing terrorists, accommodating them, and ultimately capitulating in the face of their ongoing dedication to violence.

      That is neither moral nor ethical. And if that is the basis upon which Beilin wishes to make peace, then it is shaky, indeed.



      Av 24, 5765, 8/29/2005

      The Eternity of Israel


      I recently returned from a moving and emotional visit to Krakow, Poland, a city rich in Jewish history as well as tragedy.

      Jews have lived in Krakow for over seven centuries, but the Germans nearly succeeded sixty years ago in wiping out any Jewish presence in the area.

      Now, after Nazi persecution and Communist oppression, a miraculous rebirth of Judaism is slowly, tentatively taking place there.

      As I note in the article below, it is just one more reminder that the Jewish people are eternal and indestructible.

      The Jerusalem Post, November 16, 2005

      A Tearful Rebirth in Krakow

      By Michael Freund

      This past Shabbat in Krakow, Poland, Benjamin Klein had every reason to let the tears flow freely.

      The scene was the city's famed Rema synagogue, where the great 16th century scholar Rabbi Moses Isserles once presided. The small sanctuary was filled to capacity, as the melodies of Friday evening hymns and supplications filled the room.

      Rema_synagogue_in_krakow_1 Hundreds of religious Israeli high-school girls packed the women's section, overflowing into the hall while dutifully reciting the service. The men's section represented a microcosm of world Jewry, ranging from aging Polish Holocaust survivors to a Bnei Brak rabbi to members of a high-powered AIPAC mission from the United States.

      It had been 66 years since Klein had last prayed here when, as a Jewish youth growing up in Poland, he was forced to flee in the face of the Nazi onslaught.

      At the time, he no doubt thought he might never see his birthplace again, let alone experience a traditional Shabbat service in the synagogue of his childhood.

      Indeed, on the eve of the Holocaust, Krakow was home to some 68,000 Jews, who constituted 25% of the city's population. Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter, where the Rema synagogue is located, was a bustling center of Jewish religious, cultural and intellectual life.

      But the Germans and their allies murdered 90% of Krakow's Jews, striking a nearly fatal blow to the city's centuries-old Jewish presence.

      Now, decades later, Klein had come back to visit, having survived war, persecution and calamity. And what he found was simply overwhelming, even for a man with considerable resources of inner strength and fortitude.

      In the heart of this blood-soaked land, where Jews had been so ruthlessly hunted down and killed by their former neighbors and friends, the melody of Lecha Dodi ("Let us go and greet the Sabbath bride") was once again being recited in all its power and glory.

      And, just three weeks ago, Krakow welcomed Rabbi Avraham Flaks, who was sent by Shavei Israel, the organization that I head, to serve as the city's first official Chief Rabbi since World War Two.

      As he took in the scene around him, Klein's eyes began welling up. "Now, I know," he whispered to me, his voice breaking with emotion, "now, I know. We really are an eternal people."

      Under the devoted leadership of Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Jewish community president Tadeusz Jakubowicz, Krakow Jewry is slowly working to rebuild, renovating synagogues and cemeteries, reclaiming Jewish communal property and trying to reach out to the unaffiliated.

      Only 157 people are officially registered as members of the community, but it is widely believed that over 1,000 additional Jews live in Krakow, many of whom have only recently discovered their Jewish roots. After the horrors of the Holocaust, which were followed by decades of communist oppression, many Jews sought to hide their ethnic and religious identity, even from their own offspring.

      Now, however, many of these "hidden Jews" have begun to emerge, seeking to reclaim their heritage.

      ON FRIDAY evening, I met several of these heroic returnees, three young women who have chosen to defy societal pressure along with deep-seated anti-Semitism in order to embrace Judaism and return to the faith of their forefathers.

      It was nearing the end of the Sabbath meal when I went over to their table to introduce myself. Noticing that they were in the middle of saying the Grace After Meals, I sat down quietly and patiently waited for them to finish.

      With deep concentration, they carefully recited each sentence, taking well over 10 minutes to complete the relatively short prayer, thanking the Creator for the food and nourishment that He provides. While doing so, they slowly rocked back and forth in their seats, as though their souls were dancing in tandem with the words.

      "There were all kinds of hints in my family that we were Jewish, but everyone was afraid to talk about it," said one, whom we'll call Anna. "I have no proof, I have no papers. I always felt a pull to things Jewish, but I never understood why," she said. Until, that is, when she uncovered her family's most carefully-guarded secret.

      "Immediately after the war, my great-grandfather changed his family name from a Jewish name to a Polish one. As soon as I discovered that," said Anna, "I knew I had to come back to my roots."

      Asked where she sees herself in 10 years‚ time, Anna blushes before letting out a nervous chuckle. "Married, with children," she says, quickly adding, "Jewish children, of course. I want my kids to grow up as proud, halachic Jews."

      After getting up from the table, I notice a young bearded man wearing a yarmulke, speaking in Polish with one of the waiters. Later, when I asked Rabbi Schudrich about him, he proceeded to tell me the young man's remarkable story.

      As a youth, the boy had a girlfriend. Both were fervently anti-Semitic skinheads, who later married each other. Shortly thereafter, the wife discovered that she had paternal Jewish roots. Her interest in Judaism deepened, and she began making special meals to mark the Sabbath each week. Though shocked, the young man went along because he loved his wife.

      But his parents were nonetheless upset, and insisted that he put an end to his wife's burgeoning interest in Judaism. When he confronted them about the intensity of their opposition, his parents broke down and revealed to him that they both, in fact, were Jews, and that for decades, they had sought to hide their identity for fear of the consequences.

      Now, several years later, that young couple, who began their married life as anti-Jewish skinheads, are now living as Torah-observant Jews.

      ON SHABBAT, as the Torah was being taken from the Ark during the morning service in the synagogue, the voices of the Israeli high-school students rose up in a crescendo, their crisp and clear Israeli-accented Hebrew echoing throughout the small sanctuary, and doubtless beyond to the heavens above.

      "To You, O L-rd, is the greatness, the power and the glory..." all those present sang in unison.

      I turned to see Benjamin Klein's reaction and to gauge whether he found the moment as moving as I.

      When I did, I noticed that the tears in this holy place were once again flowing freely. Only this time, they were my own.

      -----------------

      The writer is Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.



      Av 23, 5765, 8/28/2005

      Terror Returns


      Here we go again.

      In the aftermath of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinians have wasted little time in getting back to the business of terror.

      In just the past four days, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed and killed a young Jewish yeshiva student in Jerusalem, an Israeli border policeman was stabbed in the throat in Hebron by a Palestinian attacker, two Qassam rockets were fired from northern Gaza at the Israeli town of Sderot, and a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up today at Beersheba’s bus station.

      Beersheba_bombing_1 This chain of events, of course, comes as little surprise. For months, opponents of the Gaza withdrawal were warning that an Israeli retreat would only serve to whet the appetite of the terrorists, inspiring them to demand more, and more, and more.

      And that is precisely what has occurred. Is it any wonder that senior Hamas bomb-maker Muhammad Deif took the unusual step the other day of releasing a video in which he said, “Today you leave Gaza in humiliation. But we promise that tomorrow, all of Palestine will turn into hell for you.”

      It is time for Israeli policy to stop being guided by wishful thinking and by the fantasies of the left, and to start facing the reality that our foes can not be appeased, only defeated.



      Av 18, 5765, 8/23/2005

      With their heads held high


      Once again, the media got the story completely wrong.

      For weeks, we were told endlessly and repeatedly about how the "extremist settlers" would use violence, even gunfire, to prevent the Gaza withdrawal from taking place. Pundits and commentators had a field day, competing with each other to paint ever darker scenarios about the lengths to which the "gun-toting Jewish militants" would go to thwart the planned retreat.

      And then, in one fell swoop, the media and its calumnies were revealed to be little more than ignorant propaganda.

      Expulsion_photo_2 Under incredibly trying circumstances, the Jews of Gush Katif conducted themselves with dignity, showing their fellow Israelis and the rest of the world just how wrong they have been to demonize and delegitimize them as "fanatics" and "extremists". There was no gunfire, only tears and prayer and hope that one day they will return.

      But don't expect any mea culpas from the media, which is more interested in ratings than in truth. The bottom line is that the Jews of Gush Katif left with their heads held high - unlike most of the reporters who covered them.



      Av 15, 5765, 8/20/2005

      Jewish Gaza Will be Rebuilt


      In light of what happened in Gush Katif over the past few days, it might seem tempting to yield to despair.

      Gush_katif_withdrawal Our enemies are rejoicing, our brethren are homeless, and our Land has been divided against our will.

      These are difficult times for Israel and the Jewish people, but we can not and must not succumb to despondency. G-d is on our side, our cause is just, and eventually we will prevail.

      We must hold our heads up high and march forward, nourishing the dream and working towards the day when Gush Katif will once again return to our people.

      On this theme, I wrote an article that ran in the Jerusalem Post a couple of days ago, and it appears below. The bottom line is very simple: if we stand strong in our faith and firm in our belief, Jewish Gaza will again be rebuilt.

      The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2005

      Jewish Gaza Will Be Rebuilt

      By Michael Freund

      The siege of Gaza Jewry has begun. It is hard to believe that we have reached such a point in the nation's history. After so many years of struggle and sacrifice, those once celebrated as pioneers by successive Israeli governments are now jeered at as they face expulsion from their homes.

      Yesterday's heroes have been transformed into villains, with Gaza's Jews demonized as obstacles to peace and treated with contempt by much of the media.

      Withdrawal under fire, once derided as capitulation to terror, has now become government policy, as the Palestinians celebrate their success in chasing out the Jews and speak of Jerusalem as now being within their reach.

      And, in an unprecedented move, the Israel Defense Forces have been deployed against the citizens of their own state, with the express purpose not of defending the Jewish people but of exiling them from parts of their ancestral patrimony.

      Is this the end of Zionism? Could it be that the 2,000-year old dream of the Jewish people to return to all parts of our land has been vanquished?

      Some Israelis certainly seem to think so. In an article this past Monday entitled "The dream is over," Haaretz commentator Yoel Marcus wrote with barely concealed joy about a "farewell to the idea of Greater Israel," going so far as to label those who still cling to such a vision as "Land of Israel lunatics."

      Veteran journalist Nahum Barnea, in a July 1 column in Yediot Aharonot, went a step further, asserting that " Israel can live without Gush Katif. It can even live without Jerusalem."

      But I, for one, refuse to call it quits. Despite the heartbreaking scenes from Gush Katif over the past few days, and the folly of the government's withdrawal, this is no time to yield to despair or give up hope.

      To be sure, Zionism suffered a terrible blow this week as the Jewish state unilaterally retreated in the face of terror. While many on the Left may be cheering this move, anyone with even an ounce of human, Zionist and Jewish dignity still remaining surely recognizes just how painful and traumatic this turn of events is for the Jewish people.

      But this is hardly the first setback we have suffered in our long and sometimes torturous return to Zion, and it is almost certainly not the last.

      Indeed, every ideological movement inevitably encounters stumbling blocks and impediments on the road to reaching its goals, and Zionism in this regard is no exception. The real test of a movement's strength lies not in whether it can avoid such difficulties, but in its ability to get up after a fall and continue marching forward.

      TAKE GAZA, for example, from which Jews have been expelled seven times in the past two millennia. The Roman governor Gavinius threw out Gaza's Jews in the year 61 CE. Subsequently, they were exiled by the Crusaders, Napoleon, the Ottoman Turks, Arab rioters in 1929, the Egyptian army in 1948 and now by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

      Each time, however, the Jews eventually returned, guided by their determination and their faith that this land truly does belong to us. They rebuilt Jewish Gaza, the land of our ancestors, and I have no doubt they will do so again one day, once the situation permits.

      Economists like to speak about what they call the "elasticity of demand," which is essentially a measure of how consumers respond to changes, such as price.

      I would argue that Zionism and the belief in Greater Israel is essentially inelastic, meaning that even in the face of setbacks and defeats the Jewish people will continue to cling to the justness of our cause.

      People on the Left such as Marcus and Barnea might very well differ, but their perspective is ultimately narrow and shortsighted, and it ignores the long sweep of Jewish history.

      For even in the darkest and most foreboding periods of the Exile, Jews never doubted that they would one day return. Massacres and pogroms, Inquisitions and expulsions never broke our collective spirit, and neither should the events of this week.

      The fact is that Sharon and the Left may be able to withdraw from Jewish history, but they cannot withdraw from Jewish destiny. They can bend and twist and stretch classical Zionist and Jewish beliefs, but they cannot break them.

      For even in the face of uncertainty the dream of return lives on. It might take years or even decades to achieve, but of one thing we can all be sure: The Jewish people will eventually bounce back from this fiasco, just as we have throughout the millennia.

      And soon enough, the sand dunes of Gaza and the hills of northern Samaria will once again most assuredly be ours.